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CAMA's 2008-2009 Season

October 16 2008: Piotr Anderszewski
October 29 2008: Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra
November 17 2008: Thomas Adès
December 2 2008: Christian Tetzlaff
January 24 2009: San Francisco Symphony
February 19 2009: Cecilia Bartoli
March 18 2009: Academy of Ancient Music
March 26 2009: Estonian National Symphony
April 22 2009: Australian Chamber Orchestra
May 2 2009: Los Angeles Philharmonic

I'm tempted to go hear Andreas Scholl at CAMA (Community Arts Music Association) in Santa Barbara, as he is singing with the Australian Chamber Orchestra there. It maybe overkill given that he will also be in Berkeley later that week.

Official Site | 2008-2009 Season

Cincinnati Opera's 2009 Season

June 11-13 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 25- 27 2009: Don Carlo
July 9-11 2009: Ainadamar
July 23-31 2009: Carmen

Cincinnati Opera's 2009 season includes Michelle DeYoung singing Princess Eboli in Don Carlo, Dawn Upshaw as Margarita Xirgu in Ainadamar, and William Burden as Don José in Carmen.

Cincinnati Opera Official Site | 2009 Season

Cantatas, Songs, and Arias from the Time of the English Restoration and the Glorious Revolution

Charles_II_of_England  * Notes *
A friend of mine, harpsichordist and organist Vince Ho, is having a concert series at St. Alban's over in Albany, CA. The latest installment was yesterday's "Cantatas, Songs, and Arias from the Time of the English Restoration and the Glorious Revolution." The music performed was from the time of Charles Stuart's exile in Europe and his reign as Charles II. Vince's approach on the organ was straightforward, blunt even. The soprano, Stefanie Renee Wetter, has a very clear, bright voice. In the two Giacomo Carissimi pieces, "Filli non t'amo più" and "Lamento di Maria Stuarda," Wetter's voice bordered on overly sweet, like a mouthful of sugar. Her volume was good, though her breathing was occasionally noticeable and there was the tiniest amount of strain at the top of her range.

The second half included several pieces from Purcell's The Fairy Queen, which Wetter sang beautifully, coming off as much less cloying. She has a fine control of her vibrato and good diction, and she sang "Ye Gentle Spirits of the Air" particularly well. The harpsichord was not exactly in tune, but it had just come from the UK and is adjusting to the climate, one imagines. The playing did sound a bit labored as a result. The encore was the lovely "Endless Pleasure" from Semele.

* Tattling *
There was scattered chatter from the audience, and they did applaud too early for William Gregory's Suite in D minor. At least there were no electronic sounds whatsoever.

Monkey: Journey to the West

Monkey Damon Albarn's Monkey: Journey to the West finished a short run at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden from July 23rd to 26th. The work is in Mandarin but was first performed last year in Manchester, and has since appeared at the Théâtre du Châtelet and the Spoleto Festival USA.

Reviews of ROH Performances: Daily Mail | The Independent | Telegraph | Guardian UK | Bloomberg | Financial Times | Times Online | Evening Standard

Reviews of Spoleto Performances: New York Times | Charleston City Paper | Washington Post | Greenville News

An Opera Outing


I'm being kept quite busy with non-opera activities, so I present to you an opera painting from 2003. This acrylic on paper work was painted after I had gone to a performance of Händel's Serse at the Bavarian State Opera. It was one of the few times in Munich that I wasn't in standing room. The Königsloge is quite nice, the painting does not capture how shiny it is. This is one of the first paintings I had ever sold.

Details of Painting | Performance Review of Serse

Tosca at Berkeley Opera

Tosca_Berkeley_Opera * Notes *
 Yesterday's matinée performance of Tosca ended Berkeley Opera's 2008 season. The main conceit of the production, directed by Barbara Heroux, was an upstage pentagon screen on which images were projected. The images alternated between representing the physical scene and showing the internal state of the characters. The latter were invariably paintings from famous Italians, including Titian, Tintoretto, and Caravaggio. The costumes were attractive, especially Tosca's Act II red gown, which was flattering and well-made.

The orchestra sounded fairly good under Jonathan Khuner, though there were a few times when the singers were just a hair ahead of the players. The singing and acting from Michael Crozier (Jailer), Steven Hoffmann (Angelotti), and Nicolas Aliaga (Sciarrone) were all fine. Bass John Bischoff (Sacristan) was particularly good, not only was he funny, his voice is quite nice. José Hernández was a touch quiet as Spoletta, though his voice is not unpleasant. John Minàgro (Scarpia) lacked heft, and at times one could not hear the actual words he was singing, though the notes were discernable.

Tenor Kevin Courtemanche did not make for a dashing Cavaradossi, but his voice was beautifully lucid. His Act III aria "E lucevan le stelle" was the strongest moment of the performance. As for Tosca herself, soprano Jillian Khuner sounded both heartbreaking and lovely during "Vissi d'arte." However, she had a rather wide vibrato and did occasionally sound painfully shrill.

* Tattling *
For the most part, the audience was well-behaved, no watch alarms were able to sound because of the two intermissions, and no cellular phones rang. There was much cellophane unwrapped during the beginning of Act II.
However, I was bullied out of my seat for the last act. I was over in the left side section, in the last row, and it was rather splendid as there were only 4 or 5 people in these seats, so everyone was nicely spread out. Also, the supertitles were half-obscured, so I was able to ignore them with ease.

An obese woman had been sitting near the back, three seats in on the left. She was not comfortable as she had a cough and did not exactly fit in her seat. In fact, a person next to her tried to make more room by trading seats with a smaller companion. Just before Act III, the woman in question was speaking to her companion and pointed at me, then sat directly in front of me in the left side section, as the seats here had no arms. I could tell that she was not going to be considerate, so I moved to the last row in the middle section. The woman moved into the seat I had been in, moved the chairs around, and unwrapped cough drops.

Merola's Albert Herring

Albert-herring-merola-2008-kl * Notes *
This evening the Merola Opera Program's Albert Herring opened with the first of two performances. The production, directed by Peter Kazaras, is charming. Donald Eastman's sets are clever and use the small space well. The lighting design from Kate Boyd is nice and simple. Though the opera was originally set at the turn of the 20th century, this production seems to inhabit a time closer to when the opera was written. For example, Wendy Lynn's lovely costumes were from the 1930s or 40s rather than the Victorian era. The only real compliant I have about the production has to do with Act III, when most of the characters are lamenting the apparent death of Albert. Some of the singers open umbrellas inside Herring's Green Grocer out of grief, which didn't seem well-motivated. Then the ensemble clumped up and started doing strange head-bobbles. At least they were more or less together.

Mark Morash conducted the dozen orchestra members well, and they sounded crisp for the most part. The cello and viola solos were particularly good. There were a few moments when the singers were not exactly with the orchestra, but these did not last long. Most noticeable were the claps of the children in Act I, they were not all on beat. In general, the children's voices were a bit cloying, one can only imagine that this was intentional.

The singing from the Merolini was impressive nearly across the board. Natasha Flores has both warmth and depth, she made the most of Mrs. Herring, and shone in Act III. Renée Tatum was funny as Nancy, her voice is pretty, and blended well with Darren Perry's clear-toned Sid. Benjamin LeClair made easy work of Mr. Budd, his volume was good and his voice is appealing. Tyler Nelson (Mr. Upfold) also sang with ease, his full tones were very pleasing. Eugene Chan was amusing as the vicar Mr. Gedge, though this role does not show his voice off, he sang well. Comely Ellen Wieser looked elegant, her voice was unpleasantly shrill, but this was not inappropriate for a neurotic schoolmarm. Nicole Birkland had her vibrato under control as beleaguered Florence Pike and Kate Crist was hilarious as Lady Billows. Crist has beautiful low notes but her high notes are somewhat harsh. James Benjamin Rodgers was utterly delightful in the title role. He acted well and his resonant voice was a joy to hear.

As for the actual opera, I enjoyed the various comical lines. I was especially taken when Florence Pike sang Act I's "Doctor Jessop's midwife," which has the word brain in it, not something that is normally in a libretto. I nearly had a hysterical fit when Albert sang "Albert the Good" in Act II Scene 2, as he sings the words "Albert the sheep" and also mentions guinea pigs and pastries.

* Tattling *
The audience was not too bad, no watch alarms or cellular phones were noted. There was talking during the orchestral parts, I had to hush the couples both behind and in front of me during the Act II overture, despite the fact that we just had an intermission.

A woman in the production crew, I assume it was the costumer Wendy Lynn, wore Stop Staring's Pleats Dress in an eggplant shade. Her gloves, hat, and stole were charming with it, but one is not quite sure about fur in summer.

Keith Burstein News

Manifest-destiny-opera Composer Keith Burstein declared bankruptcy after running up legal fees of £67,000. Burstein attempted to sue the London Evening Standard because of an unfavorable review of his opera Manifest Destiny (Soprano Bernadette Lord as Leila pictured left in a production photo).

Having read Veronica Lee's 142-word review from August 15, 2005 (it is in the PDF below), I did not get the impression that Burstein is terrorist sympathizer. It does not, however, sound like the opera was success. Compare this to the BBC review, which says the work "does not induce rousing emotion." The Telegraph commented that the "political message is banal and fatally one-sided." In all fairness, there were also some very positive reviews from and The British Theater Guide.

Official Keith Burstein Site | Official Production Site for Manifest Destiny | Burstein v Associated Newspapers [PDF] | Independent Article | Guardian UK Article

Il Trovatore at Festival Opera

Il Trovatore at Festival Opera * Notes *
Festival Opera, the third largest opera company in the Bay Area, opened the 2008 season with Il Trovatore yesterday at the Hofmann Theatre. Giulio Cesare Perrone's production is straightforward, his set design is simple but evocative, only small changes are made for the different scenes. The only obvious weak point was in Act I Scene 4,  when Leonora mistakes Di Luna for Manrico. Everyone was quite visible during the scene, so in Act I Scene 5 (pictured above, photo by Robert Shomler), when Leonora realizes she was wrong and sings "Ah, dalle tenebre tratta in errore io fui," one must work hard at suspending disbelief. Naturally, this was not helped by the fact that the Count di Luna, Scott Bearden (on the right), could hardly look more distinct from Noah Stewart (on the left) as Manrico. So when the supertitles flashed something like "the darkness deceived me," the audience tittered, and the woman next to me commented that "it must have been very dark."

The period costumes from Susanna Douthit were attractive, though I was confused by the gypsies at first, for some of them looked like normal citizens of Berkeley on any given day. I thought the gypsies were dressed in contemporary clothing, but after a second look, I realized it was because just a few of the women's exposed hairstyles looked fairly modern. Likewise Azucena could have been in a tribal belly dance troupe, particularly because of the designs painted on her face.

Michael Morgan conducted at a good clip, and the orchestra sounded fine. There were a few strange notes from the French horn, but only near the beginning. There were times when the chorus was not quite with the orchestra, undoubtedly this will improve with time. The anvils were played by choristers, and they were not all exactly on the beat. The organ in Act III Scene 2 sounded rather canned, it came out of the speakers, one of which sputtered for half a second.

In the smaller roles, tenor Alexander Taite (Ruiz) and mezzo-soprano Jessica Mariko Deardorff (Ines) both sang well and fit the look of their parts. Kirk Eichelberger had a rather big-voiced Ferrando, at least for this space, his bass is somewhat gravelly but not unpleasant. Mezzo Patrice Houston had some deep, lovely tones as Azucena, but she could also be rather terrifying. Her breathing was noticeable and some of her pitches were not convincing, but for the most part she did well. Scott Bearden was slightly off key in his Act II Scene 2 aria "Il balen del suo sorriso," but his voice has good heft and warmth.

I was most interested in soprano Hope Briggs (Leonora), as she was to sing Donna Anna last summer at San Francisco Opera, but was, to her dismay, replaced by Elza Van den Heever at the last moment. Briggs started off with a distinctly nasal sound, her voice strong, strident, and muscular. A couple of her arpeggios were strained, but for the most part, she sang well. She was moving in her last scene, fully convincing as the self-sacrificing heroine.

In the title role, former Adler Fellow Noah Stewart had a great deal of vibrato for his first high notes off stage. He also seemed to run out of breath at the end of the famous "Di quella pira." Otherwise Stewart sang admirably, he was plaintive in  "Sconto col sangue mio," this has a bone-chilling beauty. Stewart will be covering at the Met next season, certainly he is one to watch.

* Tattling *
I was dreadfully late as I find Walnut Creek difficult to navigate. Although I have been to the Lesher Center for the Arts before and it is only half a mile south of the Walnut Creek Bart station, I still managed to become lost. In my flustered state, there was a bit of a mix up at the box office, so I only took my seat at 8:00pm exactly.

The orchestra level looked very full, but the audience was fairly polite. The talking was limited to the aforementioned scene, whispering was at a minimum and not during the singing. No watch alarms were noted, but unfortunately, there was a phone ring at the beginning of Act IV. At least it was during the recicative. During the quieter moments, some speaking was audible from the lighting booth, though this was less disruptive during the second half of the performance.

Many of the usual suspects attended this performance, and afterwards I cornered Merolino apprentice coach Allen Perriello during the reception. Albert Herring, which opens next Friday, sounds like it is going well. Noah Stewart and Hope Briggs were inundated with fans and supporters, but I did manage to speak briefly with the former.