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October 2009

Manon at Opera San José

Manon-san-jose * Notes * 
Opera San José's new season opened with Manon last night. The orchestra sounded clean under the baton of Joseph Marcheso. On the whole, the intonation was spotless and the soli from the woodwinds and strings were particularly nice. The organ did have a rough entrance at the beginning of Act II. Dianna Shuster's production was uncomplicated, though the part where Manon gets Des Grieux attention by hopping up on a bench and walking back and forth for entirely too long was somewhat silly. The costumes and set all looked perfectly reasonable given this opera.

The singing was even, and the singers well-matched. Silas Elash had a lot of power as the elder Des Grieux. Krassen Karagiozov was a slippery, evasive Lescaut. Alexander Boyer (Des Grieux) had some pleasant warmth, though his voice did sound a bit compressed at the top. Khori Dastoor looked lovely in the title role, her voice is icy and metallic without being too abrasive. She sang "Adieu, notre petite table" prettily. Her accent in French was somewhat noticeable, though this was true of most of the cast overall.

* Tattling * 
There were some murmurs during the music, but no electronic noise. The ovation at the end was quite effusive, despite some audience attrition at the two intermissions.


Il Trovatore at SF Opera

Sfo-trovatore * Notes * 
The 2009-2010 season at San Francisco Opera opened with
Il Trovatore last night. David McVicar's production is elegant, and Charles Edwards' rotating set made the scene changes straightforward. Maestro Luisotti's debut as music director was effervescent, and the orchestra sounded fine. The chorus was clear and together. Renée Tatum and Andrew Bidlack, the Adlers in the small roles of Inez and Ruiz, both sang well and with warmth.

Burak Bilgili seemed nervous as Ferrando, his notes were a bit choppy and he was slightly off from the orchestra. Dmitri Hvorostovsky was a confident Count di Luna, with lovely phrasing. Hvorostovsky did lack effortlessness at times and his breathing could be rather loud. On the other hand, Stephanie Blythe (Azucena) seemed to have endless lung capacity and a perfect smoothness in her transitions. Her last few notes of the opera were, however, a bit ugly.

The revelation of the evening was undoubtably Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora. Her voice scintillates, her tone is lucid, her control is exquisite. Her Act III aria, "D'amor sull'ali rosee," was beautiful. Marco Berti made a valiant attempt in the title role, his voice being rather loud and not particularly subtle. He was able to match everyone else in volume, and he even managed to convey some pretty, tender moments, along with utter despair, in the last act.

* Tattling * 
Some people kept talking during the famous "Vedi le fosche notturne," despite being repeatedly hushed. A siren was heard in Act I, Scene 2. Someone's cellular phone rang several times as Hvorostovsky sang in Act 4. At least it was during his recitative.


Semele at De Munt

Semele * Notes * 
Last night the new season at De Munt opened with a rather bizarre production of Semele. Zhang Huan's production featured a 450 year old Ming temple, which was very lovely and worked perfectly well as a stage device. However, other elements did not integrate as gracefully, such as the Mongolian song that followed "Endless Pleasure," which though beautiful, was intentionally jarring. The huge mirror that appeared for "Myself I shall adore" was painfully obvious, and the sumo wrestling match at the end of Act II was simply outrageous. The Chinese dragon puppet at the end entertained, and it was tied to Jupiter because of associations with rain and weather. One was not sure what to make of the obvious Orientalism at hand, and wonders if Zhang is trying to reassure his Western audience or perhaps poking a bit of fun at it.

The Baroque ensemble Les Talens Lyriques sounded gorgeously clean and clear under the direction of Christophe Rousset. They were perfectly together and played absolutely splendidly. On the other hand, the chorus of De Munt were less than exact. Likewise, the singing from the principals was a hodgepodge, no one was particularly great, nor were they horrible.

Sarah Tynan sounded bird-like as Iris, though her upper register was shrill. Nathan Berg subsituted for Kurt Gysen as Somnus, and sang Cadmus, both roles sounded fine but not distinguished. David Hansen sounded reedy as Athamas, fairly bright but not very warm. I could not stop thinking of The Bonesetter's Daughter when I heard Ning Liang singing either Juno or Ino, her accent in English is unmistakeable. Her singing for Juno was quite jagged, she did get a feel for the character's vindictiveness in her voice. Jeremy Ovenden had some pretty moments as Jupiter, though his voice was underpowered. Though lacking in precision, Ying Huang too had some brilliance to her voice. Both the top and the bottom of her voice are not smooth, and have a tinselly quality. Her English diction was comprehensible.

* Tattling * 
The two people at the head of the dragon puppet moved too early, before Jupiter had finished his last aria. The end of the work was cut by two scenes, and finished with Semele's death.

Members of the audience talked whenever there was no singing, sometimes at full volume. Thank goodness my host was good enough to hush the chief offenders near us. Not to be outdone by music or speech, people checked their emails and took photographs with cameras that made beeping sounds. The ovation was enthused but not prolonged.


Seattle Opera 2009-10 Young Artists

The 2009-2010 participants of the Young Artists Program at Seattle Opera are sopranos Megan Hart, Vira Slywotzky, Marcy Stonikas; mezzo-sopranos Jenni Blank and Maya Layhani; tenors Alex Mansoori and Bray Wilkins; baritones Michael Krzankowski and Eric Neuville; and bass Erik Anstine. Layhani and Mansoori were both recently in San Francisco Opera's Merola Program.

Young Artists Program | Official Site


Germanisches Museum, Nürnberg

Rembrandt-selbstbildnis-1629 From Prague we headed back to Franconia, to see the early Rembrandts at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg. Before heading to the museum, we took a brief tour of the Altstadt, walking past St. Lorenz, across the Fleischbrücke to the Hauptmarkt, where we admired the Frauenkirche and the Schöner Brunnen. We made our way to the Rathaus, and sat outside St. Sebald, then wandered up to the Albrecht-Dürer-Haus. After a very pleasant lunch at the Albrecht-Dürer-Stube, a place completely decorated with embroidered linen and framed Dürer prints, we went to the museum itself, which turned out to be undergoing renovations. Thus, only one Rembrandt was on display, the Self-Portrait (c. 1629), a copy of which exists in Den Haag.

In this panel (38 x 31 cm) Rembrandt is in his early twenties, wearing a gorget, the left side of his face in shadow. He gazes directly at the viewer, looking quite young but dignified. The painting was thought to be a workshop copy of the painting in Den Haag, but the opposite turns out to be the case, and the Nürnberg painting is the original.

We took a look at a few Dürer paintings, the most interesting of which may be the Portrait of Michael Wolgemut, 1516. Dürer was apprenticed to the painter and printmaker Wolgemut from 1486 to 1489. The museum also has an impressive collection of musical instruments, and it was fun to see their glass harmonica up close.

We were drawn to the special exhibit at Spielzeugsammlung of the Germanisches Museum which is housed in a different building than the main museum. At the moment their exhibition entitled "Der Allererste Struwwelpeter" celebrates the 200th birthday of Heinrich Hoffmann, the author of Der Stuwwelpeter. The annex is worth going to if one has an interest in dollhouses or paper theaters. The latter was more interesting to us, some of the paper theaters seemed to be designs of opera productions.


National Gallery, Prague

Prague-rembrandt When my Bayreuth trip came together, I agreed to go on a Rembrandt tour of Belgium and the Netherlands directly afterwards. The friend who accompanied me to the Festspiele has a bit of an obsession with the Dutch painter, and because she did not manage to see the painting in Prague, I offered to take her, given the relative proximity of Bayreuth to the Czech Republic. This involved waking up at 5 in the morning, taking the train to Kirchenlaibach, then connecting to Marktredwitz, and still again switching trains in Cheb. Weirdly enough, I've done this more than once, and in the station in Cheb I was struck by how silly it was for us to be drinking coffee in this small bordertown. Everyone else on this particular morning was eating soup and drinking beer. It also occurred to me, that my Czech has deteriorated to three words: pivo (beer), káva (coffee), and páni (gentlemen).

In any case, we did make it to Prague in the afternoon, and naturally left luggage was closed at Praha hlavní nádraží. So we dragged our luggage to the main branch of the Národní Muzeum, bought tickets, and left our luggage there before racing across town, as the Rembrandt is housed in the Sternberg Palace (Šternberský Palác) near Pražský hrad. I had not counted on the Charles Bridge being so crowded, so it took a good deal of time. Generally, I must have looked rather annoyed, for my facial expression when someone offered me a flyer for some concert made him jump back.

We went directly to see Rembrandt's Scholar in His Study, 1634, an oil on canvas (145 x 134.9 cm). I find this painting particularly sympathetic for an early work, the warmth of the red in the scholar's cap contrasted with the bluish black of his mantel is pleasing. Also the shape of the composition is somehow gratifying to the eye, though the books are not especially well-rendered.

Afterward we wandered the rest of the two floors of the museum, and I was unable to find Dürer's Feast of the Rose Garlands. We did admire both Bronzino's Portrait of Eleonora da Toledo (c. 1545) and El Greco's Head of Christ (1590-95).