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Merola Grand Finale 2008

Merola3  * Notes *
This year's Merola Opera Program ended twelve weeks of training with a Grand Finale last night at the War Memorial Opera House. The performance was staged simply, using a set that included a couple of steps to a rickety parquet floor and a pair of stage right doors. The costumes were standard recital fare, tuxedos for the men and evening gowns for the women. Joel Revzen conducted the San Francisco Opera Orchestra to good effect, everyone sounded in tune and there were only a few moments when the singers were overwhelmed. There were also some synchronization issues during the trio "Una bella serenata" from Così fan tutte and "Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm" from Die Zauberflöte. The singers and orchestra were just slightly off in these cases, in the former it was probably just nerves as it was the first number, and in the latter perhaps it was because of the stage directions were somewhat complicated. Mozart provoked the strangest staging of the evening, for Così, Barbie dolls were abused and for Die Zauberflöte, a pistol was produced as the flute, and a bag of cocaine stood for the bells. The most laughter, however, erupted from tenor David Lomelí's disrobing during "Un dì se ben rammentomi."

The young singers have improved noticeably since the Auditions for the General Director in June. There were only a handful of problems. Adam Cioffari was slightly quiet as Guglielmo, but was audible. Ellen Wieser was shrill as Inés, though as Gilda, her voice blended very nicely with YoungJoo An's in "Un dì se ben rammentomi." Rena Harms, who was so incredible as Donna Elvira in the Merola production of Don Giovanni, did not sing the First Lady as gorgeously. She cracked, perhaps because of the fake (I imagine, anyway) cigarette she was smoking. Ben Wager was a bit difficult to hear at one point during Luisa Miller's "Tu puniscimi, O Signore," though he was extremely menacing as Wurm. Wager was overwhelmed by the orchestra, and Leah Crocetto's voice was, at times, a good deal louder than his. However, Wager sang Golaud well during "Mes longs cheveux descendent" from Pelléas et Mélisande. Both Joélle Harvey (Mélisande) and Eugene Chan (Pelléas) sounded wonderful during this piece as well, Harvey's flexible voice is clear and light, Chan's high baritone is sweet.

In the first half, standouts included the duets "Ah, mon courage m'abandonne" from Werther and "Nedda! Silvio! A quest' ora" from Pagliacci. Renée Tatum and Nathaniel Peake were well-matched as Charlotte and Werther in the former. Amanda Majeski was had a lovely pure tone as Nedda, and Austin Kness was heartbreaking as Silvio. In the second half, Majeski was haunting as Vanessa in "At last I've found you," and James Benjamin Rodgers was a very fine Anatol. David Lomelí was an outstanding Duke of Mantua in the aforementioned "Un dì se ben rammentomi" from Rigoletto. Though, as mentioned before, quite loud, I was most impressed by the versatile voice of Leah Crocetto, hers is one that is already a force of nature. Her Luisa was strong and resonant, and her performance earned her the longest ovation of the evening.

* Tattling *
The audience was ill-behaved in the Grand Tier, everyone around me spoke during the music, assuring each other about the quality of the singers. Watch alarms and various electronic noises were noted. After the intermission I made my way to the top of the balcony and listened to the rest of the performance in peace, as there was absolutely no one near me.

My foray into the world of the press involved some antics. I appeared at the appointed Grove Street entrance and waited a good long time only to be told my tickets were at the box office. Then I waited in that enormous line for several minutes and was told I should go to the Grove Street entrance as my name was not with the box office. I had to make a fuss, something I do not enjoy, especially since I know all the people at the box office by sight and would rather be on good terms with them. But I did get in without having to wait in any more lines and milled around the press room. Not knowing exactly what to do with myself there, I was advised to eat cheese, and it certainly was pleasant enough.

What They Seem Premiere

WhatTheySeemLogoWhite   * Notes *
Interlochen Academy of the Arts graduate Red Bennett's opera What They Seem premiered yesterday evening at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco. The jaunty music was directed smoothly by Cole Thomason-Redus, and the six musicians in the orchestra all sounded fine. What could be done with only oboe, piano, cello, trombone, percussion, and keyboards was impressive. Likewise, the singers were all talented. Soprano Raiña Simons sounded clear and warm as the Cat, and also acted her role of the Saint perfectly well. Soprano Krista Wigle had good timing as the Businessman. Kindra Scharich was an expressive and charming Grocer. Ross Halper's tenor is reedy but pleasant, and he was cute as the Hairdresser. Nathan Marken (Animal Seller) was slightly thin-toned, but the baritone looked the part. I found Kimarie Torre the most difficult to understand as far as diction was concerned, but her Fortune Teller was appropriately wild-eyed. Kristen Brown was grand as the Mayor, her volume was good. Bass-baritone Robert J. Cowan (the Butcher) has a lovely timbre. The children, Bola Origunwa (O'stella) and Yomi Origunwa (O'stello), did not have much singing, but were disarming.

The set, designed by Gilbert Johnson, was sweetly threadbare and not overly complex. There were a few times when the players could be seen exiting and entering, but otherwise the Michael Mohammed's direction seemed to go well. Costumes (Meg Newman) and hats (Krista Fatka) looked nicely-made. It was clearly an earnest effort on all parties. The weakest part was the libretto, written by the 18-year old composer and Sherry Boschert, a journalist and novelist. The plot was transparent, lacking both charm and substance. Also, I did not understand why the Businessman was called such, he was interested in observing and interpreting, as he sang many times. He seemed much more like a scientist or academic than a businessman. Obviously, there are plenty of great operas with utterly ridiculous story-lines. However, it is with good reason that most operas, even new ones, are based on extant work.

* Tattling *
There were no empty seats in the house, though most everyone there seemed to know someone in the cast and crew, not to mention one another. As such, the audience was well-behaved and attentive. No cellular phones or watch alarms were heard.

There was noise coming from the upstairs, people could be heard walking around. Perhaps they were attending the opening of "Mes LatinoAmericano."

Official Site | Bloomberg Review

Surf Tailz and Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera is targeting young men between the ages of 14 and 25 with a film entitled Surf Tailz. Baritone and surfer Craig Yates is working on the project and one can read about it on WNO's official site. The South Wales Echo has a rather misleadingly titled article on the endeavor as well, "Baywatch: The Opera" this is not. Firstly, Baywatch is about lifeguards (at least, that's my understanding), not surfing. Second, the project at hand is not an opera, it is a film produced by an opera company. Lastly, Porthcawl is hardly Los Angeles.

On a related and somewhat more serious note, the company has a new music director, Lothar Koenigs, who started this month.

Press Release on Lothar Koenigs | Craig Yates' Blog about Surf Tailz

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Festival Opera

Maldjian-sauerland  * Notes *
Festival Opera's delightful production of A Midsummer Night's Dream opened last Saturday in Walnut Creek. Michael Morgan and Mark Foeringer did a fine job with the direction, the choreography never lagged and fit the music well. The sinuous dancing was not perfectly synchronized, but was enchanting nonetheless. The flying effects used for Puck were perfect for the role, and could have stolen the whole show had the singing and acting been weak. Peter Crompton's set is simple but charming, consisting of large upstage constellation map, many pieces of cloth with the same print hanging from the ceiling, and various platforms again with this design on them. The costumes, by Susanna Douthit, dated from the early seventies. The fairies looked like they came off of the playa in their wings, sequins, and shiny tights. Denise Gutierrez complimented this with glittery makeup and a few candy-colored wigs. I was reminded of the Om Shanti Om, perhaps only because that was the last movie I've seen set in the seventies. It was a bit funny when the singers made reference to Athens, as they were all dolled up for the disco, but this was not terribly distracting.

The orchestra sounded fine to me, but I do not know this particular opera at all, and the music occasionally made my joints hurt. There were a few moments when the singers and orchestra were not together, but these were mostly in Act I. The chorus sang nicely, and the four soloists were all solid. Katie Behnke was exceedingly bell-like as Mustardseed.

The rest of the rather large cast was fairly good. Igor Vieira and Lauren Groff were well-matched vocally in the roles of Theseus and Hippolyta. Vieira was overwhelmed by the orchestra, but he ended well. Groff certainly looked like an Amazonian queen, even in a beaded-fringe gown. The rustics were completely wonderful, the voices of Joshua Elder (Starveling), Trey Costerisan (Snout), John Bischoff (Snug), Jonathan Smucker (Flute), John Minágro (Quince), and Kirk Eichelberger (Bottom) blended nicely and the comic timing was perfect. Bischoff was particularly resonant, he drew out his words well. Eichelberger was again rather loud, as he was for Il Trovatore, but this brashness suited the role of Bottom better than Ferrando. His acting was impeccable.

The four lovers were not evenly matched, Stacey Cornell was quieter as Helena than Nikolas Nackley as Demetrius and Jessica Mariko Deardorff was louder as Hermia than Jorge Garza as Lysander. Cornell was shrill and shaky at the beginning but had some lovely moments later on. The role of Hermia sat better in Deardorff's voice than Ines (Il Trovatore).

I was most disappointed by Willam Sauerland as Oberon. His voice is sweet and pleasingly girlish, but he was quiet. His voice cracked during Act II, but besides this his transitions between head voice and chest voice were smooth. Thankfully, Ani Maldjian was a splendid Tytania. Not only did she somehow look gorgeous in a fuchsia sequined tube-top, she sounded lucid and ethereal.

* Tattling *
For the second performance, the house had a few empty seats, so I assume getting tickets, should you want them, will not be a problem. The audience was rude, there was much talking and a loud cellular phone rang during Act II on the right aisle of the center section, sixth row back.

I had the misfortune of being in front of two very noisy men of a certain age, who began the evening by exclaiming about all the grey-hair in the audience. I did try to hush them when they spoke during the music, but they could not be quiet. Apparently they were friends of John Minágro, and one of them kept pointing him out every time he appeared on stage. I learned that Minágro made the sword used in the production, as this was stated more than once.

* Reviews *
Civic Center | The Reverberate Hills | Saturday Matinee | Contra Costa Times | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Francisco Chronicle

Wordless Music Interview

Wordless Music is a New York-based concert series, which brings indie rock, electronica, and classical music together. The series has its San Francisco debut on August 21, 2008 with a program of Jonny Greenwood, Avro Pärt, John Adams, Fred Frith, and Mason Bates. The Opera Tattler spoke to Ronen Givony, the founder and director of the Wordless Music Series, on the telephone last week.

How did you come up with the name "Wordless Music?" Has that been confusing to people?
The name "Wordless Music" was originally intended to imply a neutral space between classical/chamber music on the one hand and electronic/ambient music and instrumental rock on the other -- that fuzzy borderland where people like Stars of the Lid, Brian Eno, Eluvium, Aphex Twin, etc., fit in, or don't -- neither pop nor "classical." Also, at the beginning, the series was geared largely toward strictly instrumental rock/electronic and classical music. Over the second season (which is just wrapping up) I learned to loosen up a little and just invite bands and artists that I like, and who I admire, regardless of whether they happen to write two-minute punk songs or piano miniatures or 20-minute symphonic suites -- musicians who can't help attracting listeners who themselves are open-minded, intelligent, and curious enough to learn about new things. In a word -- the only unifying principle behind the composers and artists presented under the banner of Wordless Music -- whether it's Bach, Haydn, múm, Messiaen, Stravinsky, Deerhoof, Andrew Bird, Times New Viking, Gavin Bryars, Explosions in the Sky, Steve Reich, Do Make Say Think, or Jonny Greenwood -- is that I love their music, and I think more people might want to know about it.

So I'm very curious about this concert series, since most of the audience is drawn in by the rock acts. I read that it was 90%, is that right?
Yes, I would say this is because of the difference in name recognition -- most headlining acts in rock and electronic music rarely set their schedules more than 4-6 months in advance (often closer to 2 or 3), unlike in classical music, where people are sometimes booked years in advance, and it's almost impossible to get internationally renowned names on less than one or two years' lead time. But it's also because the classical music part of Wordless Music programs is intentionally repertoire-driven rather than personality-driven. Since so many people at Wordless Music shows have never been to a classical concert before, I myself am more interested in devoting programs and introducing my audience to people like Bach or Ligeti or Charles Ives, rather than one particular interpreter over another. Last, it's inescapable that people interested in indie rock tend to find out much more quickly about shows since so much of this news is only disseminated online -- meaning, a fan of Wilco or Explosions in the Sky knows that a show with one of these bands will sell out in a few days (if not a few hours) if they aren't ready to buy tickets as soon as they go on sale.

One of the goals in your mission statement is to "bring audiences together," but if most of your audience skews young, aren't you just bringing classical music to a particular audience rather than making two separate audiences interact with one another?
To a certain extent that's true. Again, since the majority of people in the room probably bought tickets to see Grizzly Bear or Andrew Bird, or the piece by Jonny Greenwood, rather than the pianist who is playing Bach, most of the musical introductions taking place that night will be in a certain direction. That said, there are also lots of people who are devotees of the more traditional side of contemporary/new music who have written to thank me for introducing them to the indie/electronic acts -- I'm thinking of when David Lang and Greg Sandow both raved to me about Do Make Say Think, in particular. I heard unanimous raves from every classical music person in the crowd who went to see Deerhoof, and also acts like Grizzly Bear, Beirut, Sigur Rós, and The Books.

You get an audience that the marketing people at classical music institutions covet. Why do you think that is?
I think the young people that marketing directors and traditional classical institutions are interested in are of a very particular stripe -- young investment bankers, lawyers, venture capital/hedge fund types, society types -- people that have money and can donate, and (it seems fair to say) are there for social and status reasons, in addition to just the music. By and large, the marketing people at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall are in their 40s and 50s, and are spending all this time wondering how on earth to attract these allegedly inscrutable 20- and 30-somethings, all when they don't actually know anyone in their 20s or 30s. The audience I'm interested in is people that don't necessarily have lots of money but are interested in hearing good music above all.

Especially in my classical and new-music programming, I always remind the performers that many of the young people in the crowd will probably never have heard Haydn or Messiaen or Stravinsky before, and so to try to make the strongest possible impression in the shortest amount of time as possible. The challenge is similar to making a mix tape, where you just have 10 tracks, and 45 minutes, say, and so you have to pick the most strongest and memorable music. The two objectives I ask of my classical- and new-music performers are: (1) during the show, make the indie rockers think, "Wow, I can't believe I've been missing this the whole time," and (2) after the show, send them home with the feeling that "I need to immerse myself in this as much as possible."

Also, is an indie rock audience inattentive compared to a chamber music audience? It's been my experience that the people at indie rock shows want to be there, they are interested in particular bands and know the songs and such. On the other hand, much of the classical music audience is there because they feel they have to be, they've reached a certain age and this is an appropriate activity because of their social status. They might not have any idea what they are hearing and they are practically forced to listen to new music. Have you been programming a lot of new music? It looks like it from what I've seen, Avro Pärt, John Adams, Ligeti, though you've also programmed Bach, Chopin, Bartok.
A lot of classical music people love to look down their noses at rock/jazz/pop music people: their attention spans aren't long enough, they won't get it without the benefit of laboriously detailed program notes, etc. (I actually had the artistic director of a Lincoln Center constitutent group say to me once: "So you're telling me that people who are into this band -- Radiohead? is that their name? -- that they actually have the capacity to sit through a Beethoven trio or a Bartok quartet?")

In my experience, however, fans of indie rock and electronic music are even more respectful and earnest in their listening than your typical Lincoln Center audience. Go see Wilco or Radiohead or Sigur Rós perform some time, and then compare the vibe in those rooms with that of Alice Tully or Avery Fisher Hall when a Webern or Messiaen piece is played, and you tell me which is the more respectful audience. For the most part I have trained myself not to be distracted by all the sounds one can expect at any classical music concert in New York -- the hearing aids going of, the not-entirely-unconscious coughing and rifling through bags at the start of any halfway modern/contemporary piece -- but it's still a bummer.

Have you been to San Francisco and are you coming to the performance at Herbst Theatre on August 21st? The venue seats 916 people, and it's a venue where I've heard everything from an interview of Philip Glass to Philharmonia Baroque to Beirut in.
I've been to San Francisco twice and loved it both times. Quite a few of my friends from college now live out there. I'm definitely going to the performance. I think I get in on Tuesday for rehearsals, the performance is Thursday, and I'm going to hear Radiohead at Outside Lands on Friday. San Francisco is a great place -- an almost unfairly beautiful city -- and has a lot of commonalities with New York. So if I am ever held at gunpoint and told that I have to leave my beloved borough of Brooklyn, I wouldn't mind moving to San Francisco.

Could you talk a bit about how this SF debut came together? You are having a string orchestra play Pärt, John Adams (Shaker Loops), Fred Frith, and Mason Bates, plus "Popcorn Superhet Receiver." Why these pieces? I know you had a couple of sold out concerts earlier this year in January of "Popcorn Superhet Receiver" with Gavin Bryars' "The Sinking of the Titanic" and John Adams' "Christian Zeal and Activity."
A great deal of the credit for the San Francisco show deserves to go to Terra Reneau of Café du Nord and Swedish American Hall, with whom I have been discussing a Wordless Music co-production since our first season, and also Minna Choi, who is the tireless founder and artistic director of the Magik*Magik Orchestra.

How about the big piece, "Popcorn Superhet Receiver," the work by Radiohead's lead guitarist, Jonny Greenwood? How did you manage to get the North American premiere? What is the music like?
One day about a year and a half ago, I suppose, I read a news story on the Internet that the BBC Orchestra had given the premiere of a commissioned work by Jonny Greenwood. I thought to myself: why haven't I heard about this? And more important, how do I get in on this? So I wrote to Radiohead's management, not thinking anything would come from it. But I got an e-mail back within a day or two, saying, 'No, you're actually the first person who's asked me about this.'

As far as the actual piece, I was extremely surprised upon hearing the full work. As we all know, it could very easily have been another rock-star-going-classical vanity project, but in my opinion it fully stands up on its own as real music, regardless of whether you know that the composer happens to play in the biggest rock band in the world.

Official Site | Concerts On Demand from WNYC | Tickets

Porgy and Bess as an Opera

Capetown-porgy-bess Cape Town Opera's Porgy and Bess is opening at Den Norske Opera in Oslo today, after a successful premiere at Deutsche Oper Berlin last month. The work was first performed as an opera in 1976 at Houston Grand Opera, and, at the moment, seems to be having a resurgance in popularity. There is a massive co-production that was just at Dallas Opera, that included Florida Grand Opera, Houston Grand Opera (1995), Los Angeles Opera, Opera Cleveland, San Diego Opera (1995), San Francisco Opera (1995), Seattle Opera (1995), and the Wang Center for the Performing Arts. Lyric Opera of Chicago is also performing a production originally created for Washington National Opera (2005) this November. This same production, by Francesca Zambello, will be at San Francisco Opera next summer, and was at Los Angeles Opera last year.

Many of the same singers come up in these productions, as the Gerswhins did not want the lead characters in black-face. Gordon Hawkins has sung Porgy in Washington, Dallas, and will share the role with Lester Lynch at the Lyric Opera. Kevin Short and Alfred Walker shared the role of Porgy in LA. Indira Mahajan has sung Bess in Washington, Los Angeles, and Dallas. Morenike Fadayomi was also Bess at Los Angeles Opera and will share the role with Lisa Daltirus in Chicago. To my knowledge, neither of the title roles has been cast in San Francisco, apparently Bess is a particular challenge, and I heard that Mahajan did not impress someone important during a Dallas performance last February.

Reviews: Cape Town Opera at Deutsche Oper | LA Opera | 1st Cast at Washington National Opera | 2nd Cast at Washington National Opera

SF Opera Survey 2008

There is nothing I like better than a survey on opera, and San Francisco Opera does seem to send them my way every year. Here are the latest questions, complete with Opera Tattler answers.

* * *

Hello. San Francisco Opera would like to thank you for agreeing to participate in this study! Please be assured that all of your answers will be kept strictly confidential and will be used only for the purposes of this study. The survey should take no longer than 10 minutes to complete. As a thank-you for your time, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of three $100 cash prizes.

We'd like to start by asking you some classification questions.

Are you?
x Female

In order to ensure that we are reaching people in all age groups, please indicate into which of the following age ranges you fall.
Under 18    
x 25-34    
75 or older    
Prefer not to answer    

Our records indicate that you recently signed up at the San Francisco Opera website to receive free tickets to attend the San Francisco Opera simulcast of Lucia di Lammermoor at AT&T Park on June 20, 2008.

Were you able to attend the simulcast event?
x No

What factors prevented you from attending the San Francisco Opera simulcast event? Please select all that apply.
I was sick/not feeling well    
No transportation available    
Don't like general admission seating    
Lost the tickets    
Friends canceled on me    
Don't like AT&T Park    
The weather (rainy, too cold, too hot, etc.)    
x Something else came up    
Not enough concessions    
Some other reason (Please specify)         

How did you first learn about this San Francisco Opera simulcast event? Please select all that apply.
Newspaper - San Francisco Chronicle Pink Section    
Newspaper - San Francisco Chronicle other than Pink Section Newspapers - other than San Francisco Chronicle    
Outdoor signs (banners, billboards, bus shelters)    
E-mail messages    
Mailings (postcards, brochures, newsletters, etc.)    
Through my company    
Word of mouth, family, or friends    
Websites (entertainment, news, etc.)    
x San Francisco Opera website (    
Other (Please specify)    
None of the above    

Our next few questions are about your experiences with the San Francisco Opera besides the simulcast.

When was the last time, if ever, that you saw an opera performance at the San Francisco Opera? Please do not include simulcast performances.
x Past 3 months    
Past 4-6 months    
Past 7-12 months    
1-2 years ago    
Over 2 years ago    
Don't know/can't recall

Using a scale from 1 to 7 where "7" means "Very interested," and "1" means "Not at all interested," please rate your overall level of interest in attending an opera performance at San Francisco Opera in the future.

How likely are you to attend an opera performance at San Francisco Opera within the next 12 months?

What factors, if any, would prevent you from attending an opera performance at San Francisco Opera in the future? Please enter your response in the space provided below and be as specific as possible.
If I had a lobotomy. Or if I died. If SF Opera had an all Puccini program all the time, I might go less.

Listed below are some factors that might negatively impact your likelihood to attend an opera performance at the San Francisco Opera or prevent you from going more often than you currently do. For each one, please indicate whether it is a Major Factor for not going, a Minor Factor for not going, or Not a Factor. Please select a response for each item.
Event is too formal             Not a factor
Language barrier             Not a factor
Not familiar with or don't like the specific operas             Minor factor
Tickets are too expensive             Minor factor   
The Opera is for people of higher status or wealthier than I am             Minor factor   
Difficulty/cost of travel/parking         Not a factor   
Don't like opera in general         Not a factor   
Prefer to spend leisure time other ways         Not a factor   
My partner/spouse/significant other doesn't like opera     Not a factor       
Hard to make time to go             Not a factor
The Opera is for people who are older than I am         Minor factor   
Opera performances are too long             Not a factor
Don't like the production styles             Not a factor
Seen specific operas too often             Major factor

Admission to the most recent simulcast was free. Would you be willing to buy a ticket to an outdoor San Francisco Opera simulcast?
x Yes    
Don't know/not sure    

Approximately how much would you be willing to pay per person for admission to an outdoor San Francisco Opera simulcast?
Less than $5    
x $10    
More than $35    

Would you be willing to buy a ticket to an indoor San Francisco Opera simulcast at a movie theater or performing arts venue?
x Yes    
Don't know/not sure    

Approximately how much would you be willing to pay per person for admission to an indoor San Francisco Opera simulcast?
Less than $5    
x $20    
More than $35

We are interested in learning more about previous experiences you may have had with opera in general, not just San Francisco Opera.

Approximately how many times, if any, have you attended any live opera performance in the past 2 years?
x 5 or more    

Which, if any, of the following statements about opera apply to you personally? Please select all that apply.
x Some of my friends are fans of opera    
x I listen to opera on CD    
x I have purchased opera music on CD or electronically    
I have watched opera performances on TV in High Definition (HD) format
x I own opera performances on video or DVD    
I listen to opera on the radio    
I watch opera on cable or satellite television    
x I have attended opera broadcasts at movie theaters    
x Members of my immediate family are fans of opera    
None of the above    

Which of the following statements best describes your previous exposure to opera?
x I was first exposed to opera as a child    
I was a young adult when I was first exposed to opera    
I was not exposed to opera until I was an adult    
I do not recall when I was first exposed to the opera    
I have no previous exposure to the opera    

How much do you like opera overall?
x Like extremely
Like very much
Like quite a bit
Like somewhat   
Like slightly
Do not like at all

Using the list provided below, please indicate your three favorite genres of music.
x Opera    
Gospel Music    
Symphonic versions of popular Music    
Chamber Music    
Alternative Rock    
Hip Hop or Rap    
Bluegrass/Appalachian folk music    
x World Music (music from diverse cultures)    
x Classical Music (symphonic or prominent recitalists)    
None of the above

Merola's Don Giovanni

 * Notes *
The Merola Opera Program's Don Giovanni opened with the first of two performances last night. Director Catherine Malfitano's production is a bit busy, bursting at the seams with movement. For example, from the very beginning, the overture had an elaborate pantomime, showing us many of the principal characters and detracting from the music. At other times the choreography was effective, as in the first fight scene between the Don and the Commendatore or the hilarious interaction between lovers during "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto." The sets, by Wilson Chin, consisted of four walls meant to look like arcades, and could be arranged in different ways for the various scenes. Mark Gilmore's lighting went well with this set, as did Ulises Alcala's period costumes.

Conductor Gary Thor Wedow's tempi seemed a little erratic, at times uncomfortably slow and at other times somewhat fast, so the contrasts of speed were strong, but possibly arbitrary. There were many timing issues when the orchestra was not with the singers, or not exactly with each other, though one imagines tomorrow's performance will be better. It may be that the space for the orchestra is not ideal, the musicians did look awkwardly crowded in the shallow, narrow pit. There were some pitch problems as well, from the violins and horn especially. Nonetheless, there were absolutely gorgeous moments, and the finale was splendid.

The young singers were entirely impressive. Joélle Harvey (Zerlina) and Adam Cioffari (Masetto) did start off a bit quietly at first, perhaps because they were upstage, but sang nicely. Both of Joélle's arias were lovely, as she has a sweet, flexible voice, though she did have a few rather audible breaths. Carlos Monzón hammed it up as Leporello, and sang  "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" to great effect, not overly loud and with a fair amount of ease. The audience loved him, and even clapped in the middle of the aforementioned aria. Ben Wager was cast well as the Commendatore, though his voice is a bit light, he was convincing. The Donna Elvira, Rena Harms, was outstanding. She did start off with much rasping, and was able to seem completely mad, but was able to turn it all around during the quartet "Non ti fidar, o misera." Rena's Act II aria "Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata" was moving. David Lomelí was a most sympathetic Don Ottavio, his Act I aria was a little rushed at times, but he was wonderful in Act II. The radiant Amanda Majeski sang Donna Anna beautifully, though she had an awful lot of vibrato at the beginning and was at times too loud for the small theater. Austin Kness was lovable enough in the title role, he did seem slightly nervous. His timing for "Fin ch'han dal vino" was good, and his voice is certainly pleasant.

* Tattling *
The audience was well-behaved, only one watch alarm was heard, and only scattered whispers near the beginning. Of course Don Giovanni has many funny parts, but the woman next to me laughed a lot by herself during the first act, and I did wonder if she was trying to signal to her date that she was having a marvelous time. This was only a minor distraction, what really got me off track was listening too hard to the violins, as I was only a few feet from them. This is the trade off for sitting closer to the front at Cowell, the audience is better, but the orchestra is just more prominent than it should be, as it is on the same level as the seating. Also, seagulls were very clearly heard at least on three occasions during Act I, after the quartet and before the party scene.

I was delighted to note bloggers in the audience, on stage, and in the orchestra.