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Vänskä conducts Beethoven's 8th

Beethoven-8 * Notes * 
Last night Osmo Vänskä lead San Francisco Symphony in a program of Sallinen, Sibelius, and Beethoven. Aulis Sallinen's Symphony No. 1 was rather oceanic, filled with waves and swells. The viola solo, played by Yun-Jie Liu, was particularly lovely, as was the duet between the viola and second violin. Sibelius' Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 47 featured Vadim Repin, who could play with a smooth lyricism or more agressive vociferousness. The brass blared a bit too much in the first movement, but the rest of the orchestra played with feeling. After the intermission we heard Beethoven's Coriolan Overture, which was appropriately grand. Vänskä conducted a playful, spritely Symphony No. 8 from Beethoven. The horns sounded a bit like they were underwater, but the trumpets were fine. The woodwinds were great as usual, especially the bassoons and the clarinets.

* Tattling * 
There was some talking, but most disruptive was a cellular phone, which rang at least 4 times during the Sallinen.
Many bloggers were in attendance, and I was lucky enough to snag a seat courtesy of a particular interviewer.

Cecilia Bartoli's Sacrificium Puzzle

Cecilia-bartoli-sacrificium Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli's latest CD, being released today in the US, is about the Age of Castrati. Entitled Sacrificium, Ms. Bartoli collaborates with Il Giardino Armonico, the early music ensemble headed by Giovanni Antonini. The arias featured are composed by Nicola Porpora (1686-1768), Antonio Caldara (c. 1670-1736), Francesco Araia (1709-1770), Carl Heinrich Graun (c. 1703-1759), Leonardo Leo (1694-1744), Leonardo Vinci (1696-1730), Riccardo Broschi (c. 1658-1756) and Geminiano Giacomello (c. 1692- 1740). The tour to promote the album includes performances in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the UK, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, and Denmark.

As part of the release, one can play a puzzle, it is a bit like a scavenger hunt, perhaps. The fourth question is hosted by this blog, and is as follows:

It is hard to say what castrati sounded like, but there are recordings. Who is the only recorded castrato?

For the third question visit Sequenza21, and for the fifth question visit ClassicallyHip.

Official Site | More About Sacrificium | Puzzle

Davitt Moroney plays Das Wohltemperirte Clavier

Wohltemperierte-clavier * Notes * 
Davitt Moroney gave a marathon performance of Bach's Das Wohltemperirte Clavier as a part of Cal Performances last weekend. This took about 5 hours to complete, and was humanely divided up so that one did not sit for more than an hour at a time. On Saturday evening Part I was played, Sunday afternoon was the first half of Part II, and the second half of Part II came after a 90 minute dinner break. The lights were kept up so that the audience members could read either the extensive program notes or the score. This, along with Moroney's cheerful, amusing commentary in between pieces, lent a studious but comfortable atmosphere to this event in Hertz Hall.

Moroney played the Well-Tempered Clavier on the harpsichord, and the work sounds rather different on this instrument than on the piano. Even having heard these pieces nearly exclusively on piano, one must admit that a historically informed performance can be very effective. Moroney played in a dry, almost astringent manner. He is the very antithesis of the various flashy pianists that contemporary audiences seem to adore so much. One appreciated that he allowed the music to speak for itself, and Bach was never boring in the least.

* Tattling * 
The hall was only a little over half full, and I intentionally purchased tickets for the last row. Most of the back rows only had 6 or 7 people in them. For the most part, people were very quiet, and all the electronic noise was limited to times when music was not being played.

SF Opera Costume Sale 2009

Sfopera-sale * Notes * 
The fourth San Francisco Opera Costume Sale continues today from 11 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, and was clearly well-publicized. The queue started well before 9 in the morning yesterday and extended south on Indiana Street, and then west on 22nd Street all the way under the freeway (280). People waited in line for more than 3 hours to get inside, as they only allowed a certain number in at a time. One imagines and hopes that today it must be more calm, as it was an absolute circus yesterday.

There certainly was a bizarre assemblage of items within the San Francisco Opera Scene Shop. It was fun to see the costumes up close, especially those of operas one has seen on the War Memorial Stage. It is odd to think one could own the costume of Ruth Ann Swenson wore as Ophelia in Thomas' Hamlet from the 1996 season, or a fluttery gown worn by Precious Auntie from The Bonesetter's Daughter. It was humanizing to read the measurements of the various singers and dancers, giving the proceedings a bit of a museum-like aspect.

If one was invited to the Costume Sale Preview on Friday evening, as donors at a certain level were, this was definitely preferable. This event had no lines and cocktails were even served. I tried on four gowns in an hour: ones from La Traviata (Nelly Miricioiu as Violetta, I believe), L'Africaine (Evelyn Mandac, Ruth Ann Swenson as Inèz, 1972 and 1988), Le Nozze di Figaro (Jill Grove as Marcellina, Merola 1995), and Die Fledermaus (Sara Catarine as Adele, Western Opera Theater 1993).

* Tattling * 
I mistakenly went through an unattended box that was evidently part of the rather long line to purchase items on Saturday, and was scolded roundly by the indignant woman to whom this box belonged despite the fact that she was on her mobile phone.

Osmo Vänskä and Antti Siirala at SFS

Osmo-vanska * Notes * 
Last night Osmo Vänskä lead San Francisco Symphony in a program of John Adams' Slonimsky's Earbox, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, and Dvořák's Symphony No. 7. Slonimsky's Earbox was quite cute, a sort of jaunty circus music. The orchestra crackled under Vänskä, and it was a good opportunity to hear the new principal violist, Jonathan Vinocour, who played his solo beautifully. The horns were not perfectly clear in Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto, but the oboe sounded lovely. The pianist, Antti Siirala, was unobtrusive but still engaging. The last movement was downright alarming. The second half of the performance gave us a lush, dramatic rendition of Dvořák. The playing was persuasive, Vänskä brought out the best in the woodwinds and even the brass.

* Tattling * 
Some talking and whispering was noted, especially from those in E 105 and 106 of the orchestra level. Siirala received a standing ovation, but Adams did not.

Salome at SF Opera

Nadja Michael, photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's Salome had a second performance last night, after opening last Sunday. Maestro Luisotti was more restrained in this than in Il Trovatore or the Brahms he conducted across the street. The orchestra never overwhelmed the singing, but still had a florid quality.

The sleek production, designed by Bruno Schwengl, is elegant and has gorgeous lighting. Oddly, the costumes were attractive for everyone but Salome, Herodes, and Herodias. Salome's first costume was a flowing evening gown whose cut emphasized the length of Nadja Michael's torso, a contrast to the typical coltish look of an adolescent girl. This dress did move splendidly, unlike the third costume, a heavy gold-toned velvet sack. Herodes and Herodias looked fond of sequins. Director Seán Curran's choreography was straightforwardly modern, though the Dance of the Seven Veils was not entirely convincing, the ridiculous bat-like movements Salome made with her arms draped in a black veil was laughable. Michael was entirely committed to both the acting and dancing, and she was terrifying. Her singing almost didn't matter. She could sound scarily sweet or shriek like a banshee, bringing to mind Diamanda Galás.

The rest of the cast was almost uniformly great. Garrett Sorenson sounded appropriately plaintive as Narraboth. Greer Grimsley was imposing as Jochanaan, especially when singing off-stage. His disdain came through brilliantly. Kim Begley was a slimy Herodes, yet his voice was bright and had a certain appeal. Irina Mishura (Herodias) was also impressive, sounding imperious and rich.

* Tattling * 
The audience was engaged with the performance, very little talking was observed. There were watch alarms at the hour, and someone's mobile phone rang right before Salome went on about touching Jochanaan's hair.

Heidi Melton at Lieder Alive!

Melton * Notes * 
Last night Lieder Alive! presented a recital featuring soprano Heidi Melton and tenor Eleazar Rodríguez accompanied by John Parr at SFCM. Rodríguez started the evening with Beethoven's Adelaide, which he sang with great enthusiasm. This was followed by a technically clean and very sweet rendition of Schumann's Dichterliebe. He only had the slightest bit of strain singing one top note and a couple of low notes that did not project as well as the middle of his voice. Otherwise, his voice is lovely and his breathing very much under control.

Heidi Melton sang Wie Melodien zieht es mir, Nicht mehr zu dir zu gehen, and An die Nachtigall from Brahms. These were quite pretty, but the Wagner's Wesendonck-Lieder that followed were incredible. Melton's creamy but powerful voice suits Wagner and one cannot help but look forward to hearing her as Sieglinde in a few years. The emotional content of each song was perfectly apparent, and she never sounded constricted anywhere in her range.

* Tattling * 
There was some coughing, but almost no talking, and no electronic noise.

Aida at the Metropolitan Opera

Met-aida * Notes * 
A revival of Aida opened earlier this month at the Metropolitan Opera, and the Opera Tattler attended last Saturday's matinée at a score desk. The orchestra sounded tastefully restrained under Daniele Gatti, but not without emotion. The tempi and the dynamic nuances were unmistakable, and the playing was fairly clean and rarely overwhelmed the singers. The chorus was very much in unison, synchronized with each other and the orchestra.

Stefan Kocán sounded both creaky and shaky as Il Re, whereas Carlo Guelfi (Amonasro) was much more authoritative and commanding. Johan Botha's hefty voice is not particularly sweet, and his attempts at dolce and dolcissimo were not exactly on the mark. As Radamès, Botha was able to make distinctions in the dynamics, yet be heard. Dolora Zajick (Amneris) was cold, especially at first, but her "L'aborrita rivale a me sfuggia" was incredible. In the title role, Violeta Urmana had a range of expression in her voice, she could sound completely insane or absolutely delicate. The chorus and the three leads came together beautifully for "Immenso Ftha" at the very end.

* Tattling * 
The seating on the sides of the Family Circle confused more than one person, and I was asked more than once if I was in a given person's seat. I tried my best to explain that I was at a score desk, and that it was unlikely that he or she would want to sit where the stage could not be seen anyway. There was a minor altercation between a young lady and an elderly one, it seems that people can be quite cantankerous about the seating.

There was lots and lot of applause at the beginning of the Triumphal March, perhaps because of the horses used in this production. One is tempted to see The Met: Live in HD broadcast of Aida this Saturday.

La fille du régiment at SF Opera

Damrau-florez * Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's La fille du régiment opened last Tuesday. The production, directed by Laurent Pelly, is outrageously silly, involving laundry, potatoes, and very large maps. Karine Girard's slapstick choreography was cute and worked well on the all the singers. The acting overall was charming and everyone looked quite comfortable. It was surprising how much French dialogue there was, but for the most part, the momentum of the absurdity kept the performance moving.

The orchestra raced through the score under Andriy Yurkevych, but managed to stay together. The chorus sounded like they were having fun. Kenneth Kellogg acted and sang convincingly with the chorus as the corporal. Meredith Arwady was an imperious Marquise de Berkenfield, her voice is dark and velvety. Diana Damrau was winsome in the title role, sprightly and darling. She did have the slightest bit of strain when singing loudly at the top of her voice, but had a pleasant suppleness otherwise. Juan Diego Flórez sang sweetly, his high C's were brilliant and not shrill in the least.

* Tattling * 
There was more than one conversation going on during the music, but nothing too obnoxious to be ignored. The audience was particularly delighted by the elderly wedding chorus and by the mini tank Flórez enters on near the end.

2010 Adler Fellows

The incoming 2010 Adler Fellows are Susannah Biller, Sara Gartland, Maya Lahyani, Ryan Belongie, Brian Jadge, and Tamara Sanikidze. They join current Adlers Leah Crocetto, David Lomelí, Austin Kness, and Allen Perriello. Outgoing 2009 Adler Fellows are sopranos Heidi Melton and Tamara Wapinsky; mezzo-sopranos Daveda Karanas, Daniela Mack, and Renée Tatum; tenors Andrew Bidlack and Alek Shrader; bass Kenneth Kellogg; and Apprentice Coach Dennis Doubin.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site