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February 2009
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April 2009

Madama Butterfly Live in HD Met Simulcast

This account of the Met simulcast of Madama Butterfly comes from Upstairs Tenor, who is an usher and supernumerary at San Francicsco Opera.

  * Notes * 
Anthony Minghella left us too soon, but his production of Madama Butterfly is, at least, a testament to his memory. Stark and beautifully designed, with incredibly specific and insightful Personregie down to the tiny role of Butterfly's mother, the production is one of the best things the Met has done in years. The much talked about puppet portraying Butterfly's son was wonderfully realistic, though ill-served by close ups that revealed the faces of the puppeteers, usually covered by veils, in HD. Renée Fleming hosted the intermission interviews, and proved herself a competent interviewer.

The reliable Patrick Summers conducted a sensitive, well-thought-out performance, even if the woodwinds were somewhat lacking at several points. The cast was excellent, lead, as it is, by the dream-cast Cio-Cio San of Patricia Racette. Racette, who stepped in at late notice after Cristina Galldro-Domas took ill, is easily the best Butterfly singing today, and the camera caught every nuance, every quirk of the eyebrow and every smile in her expressive face. Her Pinkerton, Marcello Giordani, was a bit shaky in Act I, but much stronger after his hour's rest offstage. Maria Zifchak has been the Met's regular Suzuki for years, and examined up close, now we know why: who knew she was such an exquisite actress? Those were real tears during the Humming Chorus. Dwayne Croft, sounding like a dream, also returned to give an expert Sharpless, keen to every facet of the role. Greg Fedderly appears to have cemented his position as the reigning king of character tenors, and his snide Goro was a treat. Dean Peterson's gravelly-voiced Bonze and the surprisingly sympathetic Yamadori of David Won rounded out the principal cast.

* Tattling * 
There was a small dropout in the feed right in the middle of "Un Bel Di." Thank God it only lasted about two seconds. The audience at Daly City's Century 20 Theaters was quite well-behaved save a few watch alarms, but during the opening of this production, a completely silent dance performed by a Geisha, I heard a cell phone go the Met Audience. That's Technology for you.

Luisotti conducts SFS

* Notes *
This week the incoming music director of San Francisco Opera, Nicola Luisotti, is conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Kodály, Bloch, and Brahms. The Galántai Tánkoc (Dances of Galánta) from Kodály were great fun. The woodwinds sounded clear, the clarinet and oboe were particularly lovely. In the second piece, cellist Michael Grebanier highlighted the plaintive qualities of Bloch's Schelomo. The symphony and conductor certainly contributed, the wall of sound they created was lush with textures. Luisotti's conducting is theatrical, one was worried he was having convulsions. He was irrepressibly animated during Brahms' Symphony No. 4. The brass had more than a few fuzzy moments, but the rest of the orchestra played well.

* Tattling *
For the first half of the performance I was at the very back of the house, the Second Tier, Section CC, Row H. The woman in Seat 9 took off her clogs during the performance and noisily fanned herself, but at least did not speak very much except at the very beginning. For the second half of the performance I was convinced to move to the Side Terrace. It was amusing to watch Luisotti from up close, but I had some difficulty containing my mirth.

Gluck and Slumdog Millionaire

* Notes *
The Opera Tattler was quite caught off guard by the performance of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice in Slumdog Millionaire. Otherwise, this rather predictable film was nice to look at, like a prettily wrapped present. Good triumphs over evil, love conquers all, but not without the help of both fame and money.

* Tattling *
Someone's beer bottle shattered during the film, this both loud and startling. My companion started laughing during the Gluck, but I suppose that's perfectly appropriate given that I cannot seem to see movies that do not involve opera.

Bach: Favorite Cantatas

* Notes *
The American Bach Soloists performed four Bach cantatas yesterday evening in San Francisco. The concert began with a bit of a rehearsal for the audience, as we were to sing the final chorales for Cantatas 140, 78, and 80.

When the actual soloists started singing Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, they were a bit difficult to hear over the instruments. The tenor, Jeffrey Thomas, who is also the Artistic and Music Director of the ensemble, seemed a bit frail. His recitative "Er kommt, er kommt" was not secure, and one was a bit afraid his voice would crack at any moment during "Zion hört die Wächter singen." On the other hand, soprano Yulia van Doren sounded bell-like and baritone William Sharp quite warm in their first duet, "Wann kömmst du, mein Heil." The violino piccolo was assertive here, but certainly played well.

The sole solo cantata was Ich habe genug, BWV 82, sung by William Sharp. The performance was less than scintillating, but was lovely in any case. John Abberger's oboe playing was fine and clean for the most part, only a few of the trills sounded somewhat smudged.

Jeffrey Thomas was in better voice for in Jesu, der du meine Seele, his aria was good. The duet, "Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten," between the soprano and alto was gorgeous. The alto, Jennifer Lane, has a pretty voice that is not perhaps not striking, but blends well. The low strings and basso continuo all played very beautifully as well here.

There were times during Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott in which the singers seemed almost incidental, because of the prominence of the high strings. However, van Doren had a creamy clarity, despite a few slight gasps.

* Tattling *
The audience sang better than one would expect, even the diction was fairly good. There was no speaking during the performance, nor much electronic noise except some high-pitched hearing aid sounds. There was a little rustling of programs and a few times objects were accidental dropped on the wooden floor.

James Conlon at SFS

* Notes *
James Conlon conducted San Francisco Symphony in a performance of Berlioz, Liszt, and Shostakovich yesterday evening. The horn timing seemed somewhat off in Berlioz's Le Corsaire Overture, though I do not know the piece, so certainly I cannot say this definitively. The flutes played very deftly, and the brass did sound quite clear near the end of the piece. Jean-Yves Thibaudet was the soloist for Liszt's second piano concerto. The work is lush and pretty, and Thibaudet had a contrasting blunt vehemence at times, though he certainly played well. The part with only cello and piano was particularly lovely, and Thibaudet's arpeggios sounded remarkably harp-like.

Conlon spoke on the themes of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, and the orchestra gave the various musical examples. Conlon's arrangement of Shostakovich's opera into a suite is engaging and the orchestra played with a great intensity. There were moments that were almost unbearably loud. With the exception of occasional raggedness from the horns, the musicians were in fine form.

* Tattling *
The audience was well-behaved, only a bit of coughing and one watch alarm were heard during the music.

James Conlon at WSNC

* Notes *
James Conlon, the Music Director of Los Angeles Opera, and Dr. Katherine Syer gave talks at the Wagner Society of Northern California today in San Francisco. Conlon spoke on how he came to love classical music and Wagner, and how he decided to become a conductor a young age. We heard that the two conditions of accepting the position in LA was contingent upon being able to conduct both music by Wagner and composers suppressed by the Nazis. He also assured the audience that unless the Dorothy Chandler falls apart, the Ring Cycle will take place in Los Angeles. Much of his talk emphasized the primacy of music in opera, and how the ascendancy of the stage director can put this in jeopardy.

Syer spoke on the many Ring Cycles that have been put on in the last decade. She discussed the use of masks and puppets, then turned our attention to uses of advanced technology, such as live camera feeds and the like. She showed clips of a production staged in Mexico City, in which almost all the singers wore masks. The performance took place behind a scrim, which had the image of a ring on it to frame the action. The other production that was focused on came from Vlaamse Opera, which uses video cameras and many television screens.

* Tattling *
James Conlon has sense of humor, he was amused by the introduction he was given, and denied that he likes oreos, as the Wikipedia article on him has claimed. He had a rather difficult time leaving, as many people stopped to talk to him on his way to the door.

The people giggled at a particular staging shown and described to us by Dr. Syer. She jokingly admonished that it was "a very serious moment," and someone in the audience muttered that she was "going to become a Verdi fan."

The WSNC seems rife with bloggers, no less than three were spotted in the audience. It was rather sad to not be harrassed by Ruth Jacobs at the door. I had finally convinced her that I was, in fact, a member of the Wagner Society when we shared a box for Simon Boccanegra last September.

PBO's 2009-2010 Season

September 10-15 2009: Apothesis of the Dance: Haydn Bicentennial  
October 9-17 2009: An Adversarial Friendship: Muffat, Telemann
November 5-14 2009: The Passion of Dido: Purcell's 350th birthday 
December 4-11 2009: Gloria!: Vivaldi, Torelli, Sammartini
February 11-14 2010: An Elegant Romance: Brahms  
March 5-13 2010: The French Suite in Europe: Dumanoir, Lully, Telemann
April 8-13 2010: Orlando's Madness: Händel

Philharmonia Baroque announced their next season today. Susan Graham will be singing Dido in Dido and Aeneas this November. Orlando will be performed next year in April.

Official Site | 2009-2010 Season

Medallion Society Luncheon 2009

* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Medallion Society Luncheon was held yesterday at the Ritz-Carlton. George Hume, Sheri Greenawald, and David Gockley addressed the 660 people in attendance. Barbara K. Jackson was given the Spirit of the Opera Award.

Adler Fellows Andrew Bidlack, Leah Crocetto, Dennis Doubin, Kenneth Kellogg, Austin Kness, David Lomelí, Heidi Melton, and Allen Perriello performed works from Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Il Trovatore, Pagliacci, and La Traviata.

* Tattling * 
The audience fairly good, though one's expecations were not particularly high, given that it was a luncheon. Mr. Feldheim of Not For Fun Only made a fine date to this event. He tolerated costume-like attire and all manner of opera-related chatter. Our table had a thank you note from SF Opera's Head of Music Staff, John Parr.

Souvenir at ACT

Souvenir * Notes *
Stephen Temperley's Souvenir, a play about Florence Foster Jenkins, is closing at ACT this weekend. The work is hilarious, and Judy Kaye does an impressive job singing quite badly. For the most part, Donald Corren was engaging as her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon. His piano playing and singing were both perfectly fine. R. Michael Miller's set is simple but lovely and the costumes from Tracy Christensen looked historically accurate and made use of pleasing colors.

The pacing was good, having just two characters never got dull, and one could appreciate the terrible singing even without knowing the arias or songs at hand. The first half of the evening was very funny, but after it bit it seemed somewhat cruel. A certain amount of self-delusion is probably unavoidable, and one did start to feel bad for Jenkins.

* Tattling * 
The audience was sparse, though still rather noisy. Someone's listening device bothered me for most of the performance, the high pitches produced were unnerving.

Det Kongelige Teater's 2009-2010 Season

September 6- October 28 2009: Eugene Onegin
September 6-26 2009: El Cimarron
October 7 - November 12 2009: Lucia di Lammermoor
October 21-22 2009: La Traviata (Den Jyske Opera)
November 8 2009 - June 12 2010: Carmen
November 15- December 11 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
December 20- February 1 2010: Tannhäuser
January 18- March 28 2010: Die Zauberflöte
January 9 - February 7 2010: Pelléas et Mélisande
February 9- April 12 2010: The Rake's Progress
February 17-18 2010: Idomeneo (Den Jyske Opera)
March 20- April 17 2010: Jephtha
March 26- May 1 2010: Elektra
April 23- May 19 2010: Skin Deep
April 30- June 5 2010: My Fair Lady (Concert Version)
May 4- June 7 1010: Waiting in Nowhere

2009-2010 Season | Official Site

Alvin Ailey at Cal Performances

Hope-boykin * Notes *
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater gave a series of performances in Berkeley last week. Program A included the West Coast premiere of Hope Boykin's Go in Grace, which features live music from Sweet Honey in the Rock. In principal, live music and live dance together seems like it would be great. In practice, having the singers on stage was distracting, at times they obstructed the audience's view of the dancers. Go in Grace is a distinctly narrative work, and one felt all the words were getting in the way of the dancing. George Faison's more light-hearted Suite Otis was stronger, the segments that went with "I Can't Turn You Loose" and "Satisfaction" were particularly vital.

Program C was overwhelmingly Baroque. Mauro Bigonzetti's Festa Barocca was amusing, though I admit I was disoriented as they danced to a recording of Andreas Scholl singing "Va tacito" and "Dove sei." Hope Bodkin was particularly good, her hand and arm movements were gorgeous. She was also hilarious, as her role called for. Hans van Manen's Solo featured music from Bach. The three dancers were absolutely wonderful.

All the programs ended with Ailey's breathtaking signature work, Revelations.

* Tattling * 
The audience talked a bit, and there were many flashlights and mobile phone screens on during the dancing. The 50th anniversary film about the company that was played was a bit too much like an infomercial. The person in BB 2 kicked my arm with her bare foot during the Saturday evening performance.

Martha Argerich at SFS

Argerich * Notes *
San Francisco Symphony gave a concert of Gabrieli, Ligeti, Ravel, and Liszt last Friday. In ecclesiis from Gabrieli's Symphoniae sacrae was lead by chorus director Ragnar Bohlin. The piece sounded both clear and lovely. Michael Tilson Thomas took over for Ligeti's Requiem, an eerie work in which both wails and hives could be detected.

Martha Argerich was the soloist for Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major, she played crisply and charmingly. The piece has a martial flair but is rather light. The concert ended with Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo from Liszt, which struck me as maudlin but not unenjoyable.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly quiet. MTT was his usual talkative self, mentioning Rilke, Bellini, Fra Angelico, Brian Wilson, and Freddie Mercury.