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January 2008
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March 2008

Contemplating an LA Opera Subscription

During my last visit, my mother extracted a promise to take her to see Madama Butterfly whenever it happened to come around in Southern California. Of course, I remembered that Madama Butterfly is to be performed at Los Angeles Opera next season, and thankfully only overlaps slightly with Idomeneo in San Francisco. This means I may go to 6 performances at LA Opera, and since San Francisco Opera's season looks slightly dull, I considered getting some sort of LA Opera subscription. However, they are only selling full subscriptions at the moment, though LA Opera's definition of "full" is different than mine and includes 7 and 8 opera packages in addition to all 9 operas.

2008 National Council Auditions Grand Finalists

Carolina Castells, soprano from Miami, Florida
Simone Osborne, soprano from Vancouver, British Columbia
Jennifer Johnson, mezzo-soprano from St. Louis, Missouri
Daveda Karanas, mezzo-soprano from Mandeville, Louisiana
Dominic Armstrong, tenor from Kirksville, Missouri
René Barbera, tenor from San Antonio, Texas
Christopher Magiera, baritone from Lake Forest, Illinois
Edward Parks, baritone from Indiana, Pennsylvania
Stephen A. Ray, baritone from Sherwood, Arkansas

The nine finalists will sing next Sunday with the Met Orchestra conducted by Stephen Lord. Interestingly, one of the new Adler Fellows, Daveda Karanas, is among the finalists. Patricia Racette will host the concert, and there will be a special performance by mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, who won the contest in 1992.

Press Release | Official Site |Tickets

Lip-synching at English National Opera

Clive Bayley lost his voice during last Saturday's opening performance of the new Lucia di Lammermoor production at ENO. His understudy, Paul Whelan, sang from the side of the stage as Bayley mouthed the words and acted.

I've experienced something like this only once, at Bayerische Staatsoper's staged production of the oratorio Saul. David Daniels took ill, so Brian Asawa sang his part from the pit as the stage director acted the part on stage.

AP Article | Production | English National Opera

Dicapo Opera Theatre's 2008-2009 Season

September 11-14 2008: The Crucible
October 10-18 2008: Turandot
December 13-21 2008: Fantastic Mr. Fox
January 16-17 2009: Lily
February 19- March 1 2009: Šárka/La mort de Sainte Alméenne
April 16-19 2009: L'Italiana in Algieri

Next season includes a world premiere of Kurt Weill's Lily and the US premieres of Janácek's Šárka and Honegger's La mort de Sainte Alméenne. Dicapo has also commissioned Francesco Cilluffo to write The Mortara Case, to be performed in the 2009-2010 season.

Press Release | Official Site

Pittsburgh Opera's 2008-2009 Season

October 18-26 2008: Samson et Dalila
November 15-23 2008: The Grapes of Wrath
February 7-15 2009: Don Pasquale
March 28- April 5 2009: La Bohème
May 2-10 2009: L'Italiana in Algeri

Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe is singing Dalila, which should be interesting. Vivica Genaux and William Burden sing the lead roles in L'Italiana, as they did in San Francisco a few seasons ago, and it is the same cute Santa Fe production as we saw here. Former Adler Fellow Sean Pannikar will sing Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath.

Official Site | Post-Gazette Article | Tribune-Review Article

Der Zerbrochene Krug and Der Zwerg at LA Opera

Dwarf* Notes *
Der zerbrochene Krug had its US premiere at Los Angeles Opera yesterday, along with the West Coast premiere of Der Zwerg, both part of James Conlon's Recovered Voices: A Lost Generation's Long-Forgotten Masterpieces project. Both operas are impressive. The comedic Der zerbrochene Krug (1941/1942) was Viktor Ullmann's last composition before he was sent to Theresienstadt. Based on Heinrich von Kleist's 1806 play of the same name, the 40 minute opera treats a seemingly simple story,  the standard Commedia dell'arte love triangle. However, Ullmann's opera can be read on literal, sexual, and political levels, and is all the more fascinating for it. The music has some wonderful percussive parts, which the orchestra well. The production, directed by Darko Tresnjak, is perfectly charming. Peggy Hickey's choreography for the overture is particularly brilliant, a shadow ballet clearly explains all that happens before the scrim comes up is both helpful and very funny. As for singing, I was glad to hear Melody Moore as Eve, she is one of my favorite sopranos in recent years to come out of the Adler Program in San Francisco. She has a good handle on her vibrato, and never sounds harsh, yet her volume is fine. Elizabeth Bishop (Frau Marthe Rull) made me a bit uncomfortable, and her voiced uvular fricative was not quite right, especially in the word "hier." Richard Cox has a pretty tenor voice, though a bit quiet, and he played the indicant Ruprecht well. James Johnson was hilarious as Adam, his diction was clear and dramatically, he never missed a beat.

Alexander Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg is reminiscent of both R. Strauss and Mahler, and I was very surprised indeed to have liked it, even moved to tears. The opera is based on Oscar Wilde's The Birthday of the Infanta, which in turn was inspired by Velázquez's Las Meninas. Ralph Funicello and Linda Cho outdid themselves in set and costume design, as adorable as their work for Der zerbrochene Krug is, the Velázquez world come to life is gorgeous. No less important was David Weiner's contribution as the lighting designer, the use of light through the many doors worked well. Mary Dunleavy was certainly imperious and cold as Donna Clara, she was perfect as the cruel Infanta, though at times it was difficult to understand her German. Ghita, the kindly maid, was sung beautifully by Susan B. Anthony. Rodrick Dixon was excellent in the title role, his volume was good and acting quite fine, though also, at times, I found his diction less than perfect.

* Tattling *
The house was not full, which was sad considering how good the performances were. The applause did last a long time. During the intermission I overheard some ladies speaking with security guards and ushers. Apparently there was some altercation due to a cellular phone that had been on, but had not rung. One of the ladies was turning her phone off during the performance and another patron hit her shoulder rather brusquely and admonished her not to speak on the phone. One of the ladies felt it was because they happen to be Latinas, and in her account explained that they had not just come out of the jungle and knew their manners. The opera employees said they could not do much about what had happened unless the ladies wanted to press charges against the person in question, in which case the police would come, but the report would go on that person's record at Los Angeles Opera. They were also moved down to the Loge. I've never seen an altercation at LA Opera, but one of the employees mentioned that it was rather common, as people are quite passionate about opera.

Otello at LA Opera

Laotello* Notes *
A Los Angeles Opera co-production of Verdi's Otello with Opéra de Monte-Carlo and Teatro Regio di Parma opened yesterday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The production, directed by John Cox and designed by Johan Engels, involved three boxes, and thus instantly reminded me of the Macbeth lately at San Francisco Opera. Fortunately, no one was chained to any of the boxes, and they were not noisily shoved around. However, the set was a bit boring, despite how much activity took place, people moving in and out with furnishings. Otello is to knock over a bench at the end of Act II, presumably in anger, instead, the singer looked poised and ready to push the bench over at the right moment, because someone had asked him to. Generally the choreography seemed poorly motivated, except for the fight scene in Act I. The costumes included many turbans and leather coats, Emilia's costume was notably unflattering, her black outfit stuck out for no particular reason in Act II, when the chorus all wore light grey, beige, or white.

Cristina Gallardo-Domâs was unable to sing Desdemona because of an unspecified infection, and they flew in Elena Evseeva from New York yesterday morning to replace her. Evseeva sang well considering this, though she looked uncomfortable. She was a bit loud and off-balance with the other singers, her diction was poor, her voice cracked a few times, but she also had some celestial moments. In the title role, Ian Storey did not have the most impressive debut, though he did look heroic enough, and he was always audible. The higher part of his register sounds constrained and has too much vibrato, he had one particularly false note in Act II when he was singing to Iago (Mark Delavan). Delavan was the highlight of the evening and I am looking forward to hearing him as Wotan in San Francisco this summer. Some of his lower notes were not as resonant as they could be, perhaps, but for the most part his voice is strong and his dramatic sense quite sound. Next to Eric Halfvarson (Lodovico), Delavan's voice seems less heavy and booming, the contrast was effective. I found Ning Liang strangely shrill as Emilia, a sensation that rarely occurs for me in hearing mezzos. Tenor Derek Taylor (Cassio) sounded sweet, but was underpowered.

For the most part, James Conlon had a good handle on the orchestra, and they sounded more together than usual. The horns sounded off key in Act III.  There were problems synchronizing the singers with the orchestra, the chorus was off in Act I, and at points, the ensemble in Act III was complete chaos.

* Tattling *
The pre-opera interview of James Conlon was delayed, as he was speaking to Evseeva. Conlon gave a good overview of Verdi and his Shakespeare operas, and mentioned that nothing ever happened in Wagner's operas in comparison. The bells sounded before he could give a plug about
Recovered Voices, and he joked that we shouldn't go anywhere as the performance could not start without him.

Before the performance, a couple of men stepped over me to get to their seats, and they high-fived each other over their girlfriends. They spoke a bit too much during the music, though the three people between us did dampen the sound so they were easy to ignore. What was more difficult to block out was the person in either Y or X 1 of the Orchestra Ring who insisted on crumpling his or her plastic bag during the last two acts.

Manon Lescaut Live in HD Met Simulcast

MetmanonI am going to skip out on tomorrow's Live in HD Met Simulcast of Manon Lescaut, as there is quite enough of Puccini in my future. It is tempting, as the cast looks good. I heard Mattila sing the title role several times in 2006, and that production was one of the best that season. Marcello Giordani will sing Des Grieux, I found his voice somewhat strained the only time I heard him in Simon Boccanegra, but certainly many complimentary words have been written about him as well. Dale Travis will be Geronte, Dwayne Croft sings Lescaut, and Sean Panikkar has the small part of Edmondo, as he did in San Francisco as an Adler Fellow. The performance at the Met is sold-out.

Cast [PDF] | Live in HD Official Site | Participating Theaters on the West Coast | Washington Post Review

Houston Grand Opera's 2008-2009 Season

October 17- November 1 2008: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
October 30- November 14 2008:
Beatrice and Benedict
January 23- February 6 2009: A Midsummer Night's Dream
January 30- February 6 2009: Chorus!
April 17- May 2 2009: Rigoletto
May 1-9 2009: Brief Encounter

Next season, Elizabeth Futral and Nathan Gunn sing in the world premiere of André Previn's Brief Encounter. Dolora Zajick sings Santuzza in Cavalleria and Brandon Jovanovich has his HGO debut as Turiddu. The lineup is oddly devoid of Puccini, and is quite complementary to Dallas Opera's season.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site

Metzmacher and Grimaud at SFS

Grimaud* Notes *
Last week Ingo Metzmacher conducted San Francisco Symphony in a program of Ligeti's San Francisco Polyphony, Bartók's Piano Concerto No. 3, and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 6. Pianist Hélène Grimaud was the soloist for the Bartók, and she played splendidly, without any of the silly dramatic flourishes one often sees with famous pianists. Her pianissimo passages, particularly at the end of the first movement, were sublime and the more aggressive parts of the music were played effortlessly but not without passion.

Overall, the program sounded rather insectile, each piece had bits of humming strings. The Ligeti was nerve-wracking, a bit like traffic crossed with a hearing test, and the ending was quite witty. The woodwind soloists all sounded lovely in the Shostakovich, and I had a strange hallucination that the violas were human voices in the first movement. Metzmacher had a good handle on the musicians, they sounded perfectly together.

* Tattling *
The audience was typically well-behaved, though a person in Row B of the First Tier read some printouts during the Bartók using a flashlight that was difficult to ignore. A pair of women next to me were disturbed by this but only discussed it at intermission, and chose to leave, though probably not just because of said flashlight.

The only two things I knew about Hélène Grimaud before hearing her were that she has a fondness for wolves and that she was unable to complete her solo recital last year in Los Angeles, a performance some friends of mine attended. I did not have high hopes for her performance here, but was pleasantly surprised. She looked elegant in black, wearing a subtle sparkled halter top and wide-legged trousers with a side-tie sash.