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Fates of Flesh and Stone

Flicka-jake * Notes * 
A performance of recent songs by Jake Heggie closed Music at Meyer's 2009 Season on Monday. Emily Albrink began the evening by singing Rise and Fall, four songs set to texts by Gene Scheer, accompanied by Heggie himself on piano. Albrink's soprano is cold and bell-like, she was particularly good in the last song, "The Shaman," which was rather jazzy. Brian Leerhuber sang 2 pieces from For a Look or a Touch. I find Leerhuber a very solid singer, but not striking. Cellist Emil Miland played a third piece from the work, "Silence," and this was possibly the most beautiful moment of the program. Next came tenor Nicholas Phan singing 4 songs based on the life of Poulenc, Friendly Persuasions. His voice is sweet and appealing, and his accompaniment of Julie McKenzie (flute), Carey Bell (clarinet), and Emile Miland (cello) was impressive.

After the intermission, the darling bass-baritone John Lindstrom sang a song set to Robert Browning's "Grow Old Along with Me!" Kristin Clayton and Frederica von Stade sang Facing Forward/Looking Back, 4 songs about mothers and daughters. Clayton had a few gasps, but her voice blended very nicely with von Stade's. This was the first time I have gotten an inkling into why von Stade is held in such high regard, her voice can be scintillating, and in those close quarters this was apparent. Catherine Cook held her own singing Statuesque with an ensemble of flute, clarinet, saxophone, violin, and cello. Her voice is distinct, she had good volume for this space, and she is hilariously funny. She did crack or wheeze a little, but it was hardly distracting. The work itself did have a Broadway or jazz sensibility, and was fun.

* Tattling * 
The performance was dedicated to the ailing Zheng Cao, who is friends with Heggie, von Stade, & co. The audience was fairly well-behaved, no cellular phones rang, no watch alarms sounded, and there was only a bit of whispering. During intermission, the coffee line was rather chaotic, and I noticed that the marketing director of San Francisco Opera cut in front of us. A moot point given that there was only decaf, so we did not actually get any coffee in the end.

San Diego Opera's 2010 Season

January 30- February 7 2010: La Bohème
February 20-28 2010: Nabucco
March 13-21 2010: Roméo et Juliette
April 17-25 2010: La Traviata

San Diego Opera is only having four operas next year instead of the usual five, but the casting remains strong. Piotr Beczala sings Rodolfo in Bohème, as he did in San Francisco last year. Željko Lučić sings the title role in Nabucco, with Sylvie Valayre as Abigaille. Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello star in Roméo et Juliette, and Elizabeth Futral and Marius Brenciu star in La Traviata.

2010 Season | Official Site

Madama Butterfly at San Diego Opera

Sdo-butterfly * Notes * 
A revival of Madama Butterfly closes San Diego Opera's 2009 season. Musically, the opening last night was very strong. Edoardo Müller roused a vigorous performance from the orchestra, the tempi were never sluggish, but never overly taxing either. The chorus was together and created a straightforwardly lucid sound.

The principals were also quite even. Tenor Joseph Hu had just the right amount of simpering and unctuousness to suit the role of Goro. Suzanna Guzmán rushed in her vocal entrance as Suzuki, but was impressively ferocious later on. Malcolm MacKenzie had warmth and heft in his sympathetic portrayal of Sharpless, but did not overwhelm Carlo Ventre as Pinkerton. Ventre is not exactly the brash embodiment of an American naval officer circa 1904, but he sang well. There was some constriction in his higher register, but his appealingly reedy voice did cut through the orchestration and even sparkled at times. His duet, with Patricia Racette in the title role, at the end of Act I was particularly lovely. Racette's performance was consistent, though she started off with much vibrato, is occasionally shrill. Her pianissimo can be sublime and her "Un bel dì" was magnificent.

On the other hand, Francesca Zambello's production, directed here by Garnett Bruce, was fairly incoherent. Often scenes were set in the American consulate, rather than the "casetta" of the libretto. Even with my poor Italian, it was surreal to hear text so at odds with the scenery. This was especially strange for the first scene of Act II, when Sharpless is dismissed by Butterfly, but it is she that has come to the consulate. However, there was never a dull moment and Michael Yeargan's airy set was attractive. Anita Yavich's costumes suited the production, the turquoise haori worn by Butterfly over her Western dress in Act II was rather eye-catching. In the end, Alan Burrett's lighting did unify the production, and the last scene is striking.

* Tattling * 
At least 3 watch alarms were heard at 9pm, though no cellular phones rang. There was very little talking, and this was restricted to the instrumental segments.

The hall looked quite full, and there seemed to be a few issues at the box office, as far as tickets purchased online not showing up at will call.

Labadie Conducts SFS

Labadie * Notes * 
This week Bernard Labadie conducts San Francisco Symphony in a program of Haydn and Mozart. The Friday performance in San Francisco began with Haydn's Sinfonia concertante in B-flat major. The strings sounded precise and the brass clear, the overall effect was refined but jaunty. Dan Nobuhiko Smiley (violin), Peter Wyrick (cello), Jonathan Fischer (oboe), and Stephen Paulson (bassoon), all played beautifully.

Mozart's Gran Partita was played elegantly by thirteen members of the orchestra. The woodwinds were exquisite, though the horns had a few bad notes in the second and sixth movements. At least they pulled it together for the final movement, which ended with pomp and brilliance.

* Tattling * 
Attendance was a bit sparse, but there were quite a lot of squeals coming from hearing devices that were audible during the second piece. At least the other electronic noise was at a minimum, as was the whispering.

Moderated by Ron Gallman, the Off The Podium panel consisted of the conductor and the four soloists from the first piece. Labadie talked a bit about how B-flat major was uncommon in 18th century music, and we heard a good story from Paulson and Smiley about looking at an autograph score of the Gran Partita in Washington, DC.

SF Performances' 2009-2010 Season

September 30 2009: Thomas Hampson, baritone 
October 4 2009: Imani Winds 
October 10 2009: Paula West, vocalist
October 10 2009: Peter and Zoltán Katona, guitars
October 18 2009: Juilliard String Quartet
November 12-14 2009: DV8 Physical Theatre
November 13 2009: Xuefei Yang, guitar
November 16 2009: Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano
December 1 2009: Angela Hewitt, piano
December 3 2009: Anonymous 4
December 5-11 2009: Marino Formenti, piano
December 5-19 2009: Alexander String Quartet with Robert Greenberg
December 12 2009: Pepe Romero, guitar
December 15 2009: Marc-André Hamelin, piano
January 10 2010: Steven Isserlis, cello and Kirill Gerstein, piano
January 12 2010: Nathan Gunn, baritone
January 16- March 27 2010: Alexander String Quartet with Robert Greenberg
January 22 2010: Richard Goode, piano
January 23 2010: Brad Mehldau, piano
January 23-24 2010: Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company
January 24 2010: David Aaron Carpenter, viola
January 29 2010: Pavel Steidl, guitar
January 30 2010: Luciana Souza Trio
January 31- February 6 2010: Midori, violin
February 4 2010: Shantala Shivalingappa
February 17 2010: King's Singers
February 18-20 2010: Akram Khan Company/National Ballet of China
March 9 2010: Jennifer Koh, violin
March 16 2010: Thomas Adès, piano
March 20 2010: Quartet San Francisco
April 2 2010: Alice Coote, mezzo-soprano
April 3 2010: Alexander String Quartet
April 6 2010: Alisa Weilerstein, cello and Lera Auerbach, piano
April 15 2010: Kuss Quartet
April 22 2010: Yuja Wang, piano
April 24 2010: The Rest is Noise in Performance
April 25 2010: Yevgeny Sudbin, piano
April 29 2010: Manuel Barrueco, guitar
April 29- May 1 2010: Compañía Nacional de Danza
May 2 2010: Kronos Quartet
May 4 2010: Skride/Vogler Trio
May 16 2010: Eugene Brancoveanu, baritone

San Francisco Performances announced their next season last week.

Official Site | Press Release [PDF]

Cost Cutting at SF Opera

San Francisco Opera's General Director has announced further cost cutting of 1 million dollars from the 2009-2010 budget. Cuts include four open positions that will not be filled for the time being, one week of unpaid leave in January for all administrative staff, no employer contributions to the 401(a) plan, employees having to contribute more to their health care, no more parking subsidies, and a 5% pay cut for the top five executives of the company.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site

Götterdämmerung at the Met (Schenk)

Goetterdaemmerung * Notes * 
Saturday's performance of Götterdämmerung ended the second Ring cycle this season at the Met. The orchestra was consistent, immaculate for the most part, though with some sour notes in the brass. The singing was all at a high level. The opening Norn scene was striking, each voice differentiated from another, and each beautiful. Christian Franz (Siegfried), sounded a bit better than in the previous opera. Though strained, he did create a light, pretty sound just before he drank the love potion, and with the Rheintöchter. Katarina Dalayman's Brünnhilde was appealingly warm and human. She struggled less here than in her initial appearance in Die Walküre, and her sound was creamy and rich. John Tomlinson was authoritative as Hagen, though a bit thin in some of his higher notes, but in general his voice had both heft and resonance. The chorus sounded together and very strong.

The set was actually visible for most of the evening, and even the costumes were not entirely grey or brown, so they contrasted with the stage. Again, the choreography consisted of a great deal of pacing, though Brünnhilde did point dramatically and threw things. The set changes were loud, and were clearly audible because the music in between scenes was rather soft. However, the overall effect was good, the kitschiness of the production does not get in the way of the music, and the admirable musical values carry the performance.

* Tattling * 
Many watch alarms were heard, and there was a particularly annoying one during an important rest. One watch alarm rang nearly a dozen times.

There was much aggressive hushing during the first overture, which happened again at the end of the opera, as the audience applauded before the music was done. This is undoubtedly prompted by how the curtain is lowered, several seconds before the orchestra stops playing.

Prodaná nevěsta at Opera Boston

Cutler-majestic * Notes * 
Opera Boston's delightful production of The Bartered Bride opened yesterday at the Cutler Majestic. The setting of the opera was updated to Spillville, Iowa, just after the Great Depression. Most of the text was sung in an English translation, though some of the choral parts were in Czech, and somehow, this actually worked. The sets were simple, but inventive, involving many platforms that will pushed around by cast members and various flat objects hanging from the ceiling that could be raised or lowered to change a scene.

The costumes were attractive, except for Mařenka's, which just did not look like it fit the period. Perhaps it was the particular shade of green. The circus performers looked incredible, however. The clowns, acrobats, and dancers all looked great. Daniel Pelzig's staging was completely adorable without becoming cloying and the choreography was done quite well.

The orchestra sounded thoroughly rehearsed under Gil Rose, and played admirably, despite their rather small-scale. The singers, likewise, sounded very together. James Maddalena was a hilarious Kecal, and though his voice is a little thin, he did not miss a beat in his comic timing. Jennifer Aylmer also acted in the title-role quite excellently. Her voice is appealing except in her highest register, which is somewhat shrill. Patrick Miller's Opera Boston debut was hopeful, his Jeník was perfectly charming. His Act II aria was certainly a highlight of the evening.

* Tattling * 
Watch alarms went off at each hour, and there was some talking in the audience.

"Grazing juicy bacon makers," from the first act trio, was perhaps the most amusing line of the opera.

Colin Davis at BSO

SirColinDavis * Notes * 
Boston Symphony Orchestra's season ends this week with a program of Mozart and Berlioz conducted by Sir Colin Davis. The Friday matinee performance was packed, and rightfully so. The crisp, stately sound of the orchestra was a contrast with pianist Imogen Cooper's lusher tones. Ms. Cooper used a fair amount of pedal, especially during the first movement, but kept an elegant line nonetheless. The brass was not always perfectly clean, however, the strings were particularly fine.

Berlioz's Te Deum struck me as being bombastic and ridiculous, though it was performed with a great deal of joy. The playing was strong, as was the soloist, tenor Matthew Polenzani. Mr. Polenzani's voice has a wonderful lightness but also has a certain richness.

* Tattling * 
Many watch alarms were heard, as well as a cellular phone during the "Tibi omnes angeli." Worst of all was the loud, iterative sound of a breathing device. Audience members would turn their heads in an effort to locate just where the noise was coming from, and even the performers seemed to notice.

Just before the Berlioz a woman commented that she had been afraid we were to hear Bruckner, and expressed her relief we were not.

Siegfried at the Met (Schenk)

Siegfried * Notes * 
The performance of Siegfried at the Met yesterday evening was a mixed bag. The orchestra sounded lovely, despite some roughness in the brass. The playing was deft and rich. The singing, however, left much to be desired. Siegfried himself, Christian Franz, had a rather frail sound. He had some pretty, warm moments, but he seemed to gasp quiet a bit. He was overwhelmed by the orchestra in Act III, though occasionally some of his shrieking carried over the pit. His percussion was rather good though. Linda Watson was fair as Brünnhilde, her vibrato wide, but her lower range is pleasing. Wendy White was engaging as Erda, without any trace of harshness. Robert Brubaker and Tom Fox sounded fine as Mime and Alberich, and Albert Dohmen rounded out the cast as the Wanderer.

The staging was particularly absurd this evening. For one thing, Siegfried gives Mime a high five, and all of the former's buffoonish, crude nature is heightened in this production. Mime and Alberich skipped, their giddiness and glee was palpable. The set and costumes continue to lack contrast, the characters do not look distinctive at all. The dragon was difficult to make out from the Family Circle, and he seemed to be underwater from the way he was lit. Though the transitional lighting between scenes in the last act was actually clever, one did feel that the scene was different, though the set was not switched out.

* Tattling * 
A cellular phone rang at the beginning of the opera, and another one vibrated on two separate occasions during this act. As poor Franz cracked and wheezed though the second scene of Act III, half a dozen watch alarms went off in the course of 10 minutes. Apparently it was around 11pm.

Talking and whispering continued, though not to the extent of Das Rheingold. The couple next to us in standing room were roundly hushed, and they did remain mostly quiet after that. There was quite a lot of laughing as well, from everyone, it seemed. The titles must have been funny, and the staging certainly was.