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June 2008

Shahrzad Dance Company's May 2008 Performances

Last weekend was the first time in five weeks that I did not see at least one opera. Not bad, considering it is not opera season in San Francisco. However, there was scant rest, somehow I ended up stage managing performances of Shahrzad Dance Company, as I was only the last piece. I pretty much want to abscond with a costume from "Delbar" (pictured below), as it includes that hat. The music "Delbar" sung by Sima Bina has finally replaced the I Puritani choral parts that have been running through my head since I was in Seattle.


Staatsoper Unter den Linden's 2008-2009 Season

August 16-17 2008: Medea
August 30- September 18 2008: Fidelio
September 5-19 2008: The Gambler
September 7-21 2008: Tristan und Isolde
September 16 2008- February 20 2009: Il barbiere di Siviglia
September 27- October 25 2008: Eugene Onegin
October 3 2008- January 25 2009: Tosca
October 7- December 4 2008: La Traviata
October 31- November 4 2008: Dido & Aeneas
November 7- December 11 2008: Così fan tutte
November 16 2008- July 4 2009: Hölderlin
November 20- December 21 2008: L'Italiana in Algeri
December 10 2008- February 14 2009: Turandot
December 19 2008- July 6 2009: Die Zauberflöte
January 10-30 2009: Carmen
January 16-20 2009: Phaedra
February 15-28 2009: Faust
February 21- March 7 2009: Der Rosenkavalier
March 6-9 2009: Parsifal
March 15-31 2009: Don Giovanni
April 8-12 2009: Lohengrin
April 15-24 2009: Macbeth
March 14- April 2 2009: Aida
May 8-17 2009: Orlando Paladino
May 22-June 6 2009: Un ballo in maschera
May 25- June 2 2009: Elektra
June 7-29 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
June 12-19 2009: Salome

René Pape sings Gremin in Eugene Onegin, Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, in Méphistophélès in Faust, Gurnemanz in Parsifal, and Heinrich der Vogler in Lohengrin. Waltraud Meier sings Leonore in the first performances of Fidelio and returns for Kundry in Parsifal. Lawrence Brownlee sings Count Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia. Gustavo Dudamel conducts Don Giovanni. Haydn's Orlando Paladino replaces the Armida that was to be directed by Peter Mussbach.

2008-2009 Season | Official Site

Seattle Opera's Aida and Elektra Pre-Sale

Aidapresale_3Perhaps if one still has some good-will toward Seattle Opera because of their latest offering, and would like to purchase tickets to Aida and Elektra, their online pre-sale starts today at 9am. The title role of Aida is being shared by Lisa Daltirus and Ana Lucrecia García (instead of Andrea Gruber), though I imagine the main draw is still Stephanie Blythe as Amneris. The production, from San Diego Opera, opens August 2nd and runs until the 23rd. Elektra brings the debuts of Janice Baird and Jayne Casselman. Baird is to sing Brünnhilde in Seattle's 2009 Ring, and just made her debut at the Met as Isolde. Elektra runs from October 18th to November 1st. I'm sure I will not attend, as the San Francisco Opera season will be in full swing. I am torn about the Aida though, it all depends on how busy August ends up being.

2008 Merola Summer Productions

July 6 2008: Free Schwabacher Summer Concert
July 8 2008: Schwabacher Summer Concert
July 18-20 2008: Albert Herring
August 1-3 2008: Don Giovanni
August 16 2008: Merola Grand Finale

Tickets go on sale today for the Merola Summer productions. San Francisco Opera's Merola Opera Program is an 11-week intensive training program for singers, coaches, and stage directors. Previous Merolini include Ruth Ann Swenson, John Relyea, William Burden, Norah Amsellem, and Carol Vaness.

This year's participants are (via Janos Gereben):

Apprentice Stage Director
Jimmy Smith, Rumson, New Jersey

Apprentice Coaches
Dennis Doubin, Moscow, Russia
Eileen Downey, Grand Ledge, Michigan
Alan Hamilton, Houston, Texas
Carl Pantle, Oakley, California
Allen Perriello, Gibsonia, Pennsylvania

Kate Crist, Agency, Iowa
Leah Crocetto, Adrian, Michigan

Rena Harms, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Joélle Harvey, Richburg, New York
Amanda Majeski, Gurnee, Illinois
Ellen Wieser, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Nicole Birkland, Moorland, Iowa
Natasha Florez, Los Angeles, California
Renée Tatum, Carlsbad, California

René Barbera, San Antonio, Texas

David Lomelí, Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico
Tyler S. Nelson, Salt Lake City, Utah
Nathaniel Peake, Humble, Texas

James Benjamin Rodgers, Blenheim, Marlborough, New Zealand

Young Joo An, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Eugene Chan, Rohnert Park, California
Austin Kness, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Darren Perry, Frederick, Maryland

David W. Pershall, Temple, Texas

Adam Cioffari, Columbus, Ohio
Carlos Monzón, Guadalajara, Mexico

Benjamin LeClair, Royal, Iowa

Ben Wager, Havertown, Pennsylvania

Press Release [PDF] | Merola Official Site | Summer Productions

Opera Junk Mail Compare and Contrast

This morning I checked my post office box, and it completely filled with opera flyers and solicitations for donations to opera-related causes. On the second point, it was amusing to see the form letter (complete with laser-jet printed fake signature) from the Adler Fellowship Program's Making Voices Sing campaign was from Carol Vaness, whose voice can be quite loathsome. She hasn't sung at San Francisco Opera since her 2004 Tosca. On the other hand, Seattle Opera's form letter was from Mariusz Kwiecien, and states that he is "so excited to come back to your lovely city." Inflected forms of the word passion occur six times in the page-long letter. If I weren't so infuriated by Seattle Opera, I might be swayed by "Kwiecien." But I haven't recovered from Iphigénie en Tauride, it still annoys me to think of that busy Wadsworth/Lynch production and that hideous performance by Nuccia Focile. Nor can I forget the horrifying horn solo in "Va tacito e nascosto" from Giulio Cesare, which was just an embarrassment. Perhaps I should just give up on seeing Baroque opera in Seattle, though this is a moot point, as it isn't even an option next season.

Perhaps I need to develop a form letter to counter all the opera flyers I receive:

Dear San Francisco/Seattle/Los Angeles/San Diego Opera:

Thank you for sending me information on your summer offerings/I Puritani/Tosca/your 2009 season, but I already have had my tickets for over a year/already went in standing room/am afraid of one of your lead sopranos/find it all very dull, plus/though you've already had a change in cast/that A cast soprano was really bad/your last few productions were decent/that one production I went to wasn't too good. Also, please note that information on your coming performances is easily accessible on the Internet, and it would be quite nice if you stopped stuffing my mailbox full of dead trees/increasing your carbon footprint so I'd appreciate it if you took me off your mailing list for flyers.

Thank you.


[Fake Laser-Jet Printed Signature Goes Here]

The Opera Tattler

Alternate Cast of I Puritani at Seattle Opera

Eglisegutierrez_3  * Notes *
The alternate cast of
Seattle Opera's I Puritani was almost infuriating. It was as if the intensity had been sapped out of the whole cast, and then, for some sadistic reason, poured into the soprano. It is a pity that newcomer Eglise Gutierrez was not in the A cast as Elvira, if she had been, the Brownlee/Kwiecien/Relyea performances would have been unbelievable. Her voice is more on the metallic side than Amsellem's, colder, and at first, not as penetrating. The lovely pianissimo of her high notes in Act I gave her somewhere to build from as far as the drama was concerned. Gutierrez also was fiercer in the mad scenes, though tiny, she pushed the rather tall Morgan Smith (Riccardo) with conviction, and ferociously tore at her veil.

The horns were more in tune during the overture this time, and the horn solo of Act II was better. The orchestra drowned out Denis Sedov during his last lines, but other than that sounded good. Sedov was better than I remembered, he was only slightly gravelly and was less awkward than John Relyea. His voice is not as velvety as Relyea's, and certainly quieter. Morgan Smith acted well as Riccardo, he was committed to the movement in the Act I sword fight, though one did feel slightly nervous for little Bradley Williams (Arturo). Smith's legato is not as gorgeous as Kwiecien's, but his voice is pretty. Williams was less vital than Brownlee, he was reedy and a little quiet, though always audible. He sang "Son salvo...La mia canzon d'amore...Ad altro lato" well in Act III.

* Tattling *
I had forgotten that concessions at the Seattle Opera card those who look under a certain age. I had purposefully dressed childishly and worn pigtails, because I find it quite frightening when strangers wish me a "Happy Mother's Day." Thus, I was carded for my glass of merlot, and the young lady at the counter inadvertently gasped when she saw my birth-date. It was very flattering.

The matinée was considerably less full than the evening before, perhaps because of the casting difference. There were many more watch alarms marking the hour, during Arturo's first aria in Act III, I heard no less than four watches, and as Elvira sang "A una fonte afflitto e solo,"  two more sounded.  I was in the same spot behind Section 2, at CC 2, but all alone. I would have stayed there, but for one thing, the young woman in BB Seat 5 was giving a running commentary during the arias.

An elderly woman with a walker was unable to make it down to her seat in the orchestra level. She arrived after 2pm, ostensibly the start time of the opera, and her caretaker and an usher were not able to get her to her seat. Instead, she sat on her walker (it was the sort that folds into a chair) behind Section 1, and spoke loudly in a Slavic language to her companion during the overture. After this she unwrapped candies and sucked on them in a most disgusting and loud manner. I did feel bad for the people in front of her, as no one was supposed to be in that area. I also felt bad for her, the usher simply seemed to abandon her until Act I Scene 1 was over. However, she did not want to move, so I took a seat in Row AA to get away from the noise. I could still hear her from several meters away, but it was less vile from a distance. She disappeared after Act II, perhaps finding her seat or maybe leaving altogether.

Seattle Opera's I Puritani

Ipuritanicast1_4  * Notes *
Bellini's last opera, I Puritani, had its Seattle Opera premiere at the beginning of the month, and Linda Brovsky's production is magnificent. The sets, the work of Robert A. Dahlstrom, look inspired by the Getty Center, as there are many steel staircases and landings. This kept the action in the vertical plane rather than the horizontal, so though the set was static, it was not dull. This also kept the staging simple and made the singers visible from different parts of the house. Peter Hall's sumptuous costumes were from the Met, though he modified them to work with the staging. The lighting designer, Thomas C. Hase, was tasteful in his approach, never harsh or overwhelming.

The horns were flat at first in the overture, and one note in the horn solo of Act II was sour, but they all managed to be in tune by the end. Otherwise the playing was good, the orchestra was usually with the singers and was not too loud. Also out of tune was Norah Amsellem (Elvira), from the very beginning I cringed at her voice during the off stage quartet (La luna, il sol, le stelle) in Act I. The arpeggios in first duet were poor, and the last note was quite unpleasant. Amsellem's voice is lucid and beautiful when she isn't flat, even resplendent, but she was often a half or quarter tone off. This was especially evident in Act III, when she sang "A una fonte afflitto e solo" and the tenor repeats these lines in "La mia canzon d'amore." She was most in tune for Act II, perhaps madness, at least at first, becomes her. Amsellem did look beautiful as Elvira and her acting was not bad.

On the other hand, Mariusz Kwiecien was wonderful in "Ah!, per sempre," his legato was gorgeous, and his singing as Riccardo was clearly distinct from his Don Giovanni of last season. In fact, I barely recognized him, his manner was so different and someone has finally figured out what to do with his hair. Kwiecien did rush during "Bel sogno beato" and was not with the orchestra, but sang beautifully in the rest of the opera. His singing in Act II with John Relyea was the highlight of the evening. Relyea was instantly recognizable from his gait and posture. His characterization of Giorgio wasn't terribly dissimilar from his Banquo or Garibaldo, as far as coloring, but he did sing well. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee did not have a convincing wig, but he was not disappointing as Arturo. His voice is bright and flexible, with a bit of strain at the top, but still lovely.

* Tattling *
The orchestra level was nearly all full, but before the performance began an usher kindly offered the standees seats as he explained that the opera was very long. Seattle Opera put two intermissions into this opera, which made for one 75 minute block, followed by 45 minutes and 35 minutes blocks that could have easily been combined.

There were no mobile phone rings, but there was one watch alarm with many beeps in succession during the Act II overture. Someone was making vocalizations on the orchestra level, I could not tell if they were singing along or just snoring. Plenty of talking, whispering, and coughing was observed, and a woman in Section 2 of the orchestra level, in Row BB Seat 6 both spoke and coughed a fair amount. I tried to look at her disdainfully when she stared at me during the Act III overture. I'm not sure why she was staring, given that she had to turn her head around to do this, and the light reflecting off her glasses made it very obvious that she was doing so. 

Adventures in Standing Room Ticket Procurement

Though I have been in standing room at Seattle Opera for at least 9 performances, I never quite figured out how their system works. This is partially because standing room is never full, and partially because I let my erstwhile Seattle Opera companion, the Opernphrenologe, take charge, as she was living in Seattle up until fairly recently.

Since the Opernphrenologe moved to Germany earlier this year, I wrote a missive to Seattle Opera to explain their Standing Room Policy, which they promptly answered. I posted what I found relevant on my page on "Standing Room, Rush, and Other Last-Minute Ticket Options for Various Opera Houses," but I missed something quite essential. The ticket office is not in the opera house. It is not even particularly close to the opera house, in fact. Now it is much more clear to me why the lease of Mercer Arena, which will bring all of Seattle Opera's operations under one roof, is such news.

Yesterday, my plan was to take the bus to Downtown Seattle from the airport and then just walk over to Seattle Center, where McCaw Hall (Seattle Opera's house) is. It is easy to navigate because one only needs to head toward the Space Needle. Unfortunately, I was not able to get on the 194 bus, as it was completely full and had to wait 20 minutes for the next one. I had put away my protective noise-canceling headphones as I had run out of podcasts. I had thought it would be nicer, when buying my bus ticket, to actually be able to hear. It is interesting what one misses when insulated by such headphones. For instance, as I walked through Seattle Center, an individual growled at me, which I ignored. He went follow me for a bit, and  said something that implied that I did not speak English, but I was too much in a hurry to correct him. I guess a person in loose workout clothes, clutching a copy of The Brothers Karamazov, and dragging around fancy German luggage is simply asking to be harassed.

At any rate, I got to the opera house just 10 minutes after the ticket office opens. However, McCaw Hall looked distinctly closed, and I knew something must be wrong. Thankfully, I was able to look at the Seattle Opera Web site from my mobile phone. The ticket office is at 1020 John Street, a mile away from the opera house, tucked under a parking lot. I was most amused by their apt explanation of how to find the office: "Look for the orange Seattle Opera billboard next to the 13 Coins Restaurant parking lot. There is rooftop visitor parking to the right of the billboard; Seattle Opera's Ticket Office is one level below this lot." I did eventually find my way, and got to the ticket office by 12:30. Of course, it didn't actually matter, standing room had less than 6 people. I learnt latter that tickets are actually also available by phone at (206) 389-7676 or (1-800) 426-1619.

Boren Avenue at John Street:


The Orange Sign (Note how the street ends.):


The Parking Lot:


Vienna Philharmonic, Sexism, and Racism

From Susan Elliott's May 9, 2008 Article in

In addition to being virtually all-male, the Philharmonic is also all European. One player actually told me, without hesitation, that Asians are incapable of producing the "Vienna Philharmonic sound."

I've been to Austria four times, and despite having a governor born in Thal bei Graz, I found both Salzburg and Vienna a little uncomfortable. I'm not sure if being able to speak and understand a fair amount of German was to my advantage. Interestingly, in my experience, when crossing the German/Austrian border, the Schengen Agreement doesn't seem to apply to those of swarthy complexions. Granted, the above comment could have been made by a European who isn't Austrian. But is it surprising that someone employed by the Wiener Philharmoniker felt comfortable saying that?

Bayerische Staatsoper's 2008-2009 Season

October 2 2008- July 24 2009: Macbeth
October 4-11 2008: Das Gehege / Salome
October 5 2008- July 13 2009: Norma
October 19-25 2008: Die Bassariden
October 23- November 2 2008: Eugene Onegin
November 1-6 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
November 8 2008- May 21 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
November 10 2008- January 31 2009: Wozzeck
November 22 2008- March 27 2009: Tamerlano
November 24 2008- July 26 2009: Luisa Miller
November 28 2008- July 7 2009: Werther
December 9-14 2008: Doktor Faustus
December 13-18 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- May 31 2009: La Bohème
December 21-28 2008: Die Zauberflöte
December 23 2008- June 15 2009: La Traviata
December 31 2008- February 24 2009: Die Fledermaus
January 4-10 2009: Carmen
January 19- July 14 2009: Palestrina
February 2-18 2009: Elektra
February 7- July 22 2009: Nabucco
February 20-26 2009: La Calisto
February 23- July 6 2009: Lucrezia Borgia
March 1- July 31 2009: Falstaff
March 14- July 30 2009: Otello
April 8- July 9 2009: Jenůfa
April 9-12 2009: Parsifal
April 26- May 2 2009: Così fan tutte
May 13-15 2009: Madama Butterfly
May 16-23 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 8-30 2009: Aida
July 5-19 2009: Lohengrin
July 13-20 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
June 14- July 30 2009: Idomeneo

Nicola Luisotti is conducting a new production of Macbeth next season at the Bavarian State Opera. Željko Lučić sings the title role, Nadja Michael sings Lady Macbeth, and Dimitri Pittas is Macduff. Anna Netrebko sings in the May performances of La Bohème, with Joseph Calleja as her Rodolfo. John Relyea sings Colline. Relyea is also singing the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro, with Lucas Meachem as the Count. Angela Gheorghiu is Violetta Valéry in the June performances of La Traviata, singing opposite Jonas Kaufmann. Simon Keenlyside is Germont. Paolo Gavanelli sings the title role of Nabucco during the Münchner Opernfestspiele 2009. Earlier in the year he also sings Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.

New Productions for 2008-2009 | Official Site

Bluebeard's Castle and L'enfant et les sortilèges at Berkeley Opera

Lenfantbo * Notes *
Berkeley Opera is midway through a run of Béla Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle and Maurice Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges.
The double bill makes for a short evening, a mere 2 hours and 10 minutes including an intermission. I was skeptical of the "unique multi-media staging," as both productions involved projections on an upstage screen. The Bartók used Naomie Kremer's videography, which at best looked like an animated version of Dave McKean's Sandman covers. At other times the images were a bit psychedelic, particularly when Door 4 is opened, the overlay of a human eye, flowers, and water. Door 7 looked like something out of a video game, Legend of Zelda, perhaps.

However, the music was wonderful. The orchestra, under the direction of Jonathan Khuner, sounded quite good. I did not like Kathleen Moss' voice at first, it was harsh and somewhat wobbly. But once she warmed up she sounded both crystalline and expressive. Paul Murray was more stoic as Bluebeard, but his singing toward the end of the opera was lovely. 

The projections for L'enfant et les sortilèges were the work of Ariel Parkinson, and were more like digital backdrops rather than the videography of the previous piece. This complemented the both the dancing and the music. Misha Brooks was the petulant child, he acted well, but I was too distracted by the amplification to get an impression about his voice. The other singers sang from the sides of the theater and were represented on stage by either dancers or puppets. The 4 young dancers were clearly talented, and were well-synchronized.

Musically, I preferred Bartók to Ravel, but the latter had many more singers and because of the staging, the sound was unbalanced. Mezzo-soprano Paula Chacon sang especially well as the Chinese Cup and the Shepherd, she also sang the roles of Mama and the Dragonfly quite nicely. Baritone Anders Froehlich was hilarious as the Grandfather Clock.

* Tattling *
Yesterday's performance looked like it was sold-out. People were better behaved for the Bartók, but spoke during the Ravel.

Cass Mann took over the parts of the Shepherdess, the Bergère, the Owl, and the Bat for an indisposed Raiña Simons.