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December 2009

Dudamel conducts City Noir

Adams-dudamel * Notes * 
On Friday Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of Esa-Pekka Salonen, Lou Harrison, and John Adams. The Salonen is heavily orchestrated in the manner of much contemporary music, with a plethora of percussion, including six bongos and four tom-toms. Dudamel kept the volume to non-deafening levels, even if the brass did have harsh moments. The Piano Concerto from Harrison that followed had significantly fewer orchestra members on stage. At times it seemed that the soloist, Marino Formenti, and the orchestra were not playing in the same piece. This kept the music quite interesting, in any case. Formenti's playing was appealing and sensitive, yet could be brutal.

City Noir had a world premiere at LA Phil last month, but John Adams was in attendance nonetheless. The work has nearly twice as many sorts of percussive instruments as the first piece. The musicians seemed together and engaged, the viola solo in the second movement was particularly fine, as was the trumpet solo in the last movement. If nothing else, Dudamel certainly conveyed excitement.

* Tattling * 
There was no whispering or talking in the Terrace View, and very little noise in general from this section. Coughs could be heard throughout the hall. It was remarkable to see how few empty seats there were, given that the program consisted entirely of new music.

Tamerlano at LA Opera

Laopera-tamerlano * Notes * 
Yesterday evening Tamerlano had the third of five performances this season at Los Angeles Opera. William Lacey had the orchestra sounding uncharacteristically crisp, serving the music well. Most of the singing was of a high standard, only Ryan McKinny (Leone) and Jennifer Holloway (Irene) did not stand out, both lacking heft and fullness. Sarah Coburn sounded and looked pretty as Asteria, though her vibrato could be excessive. She sang her Act II aria, "Se non mi vuol amar," nicely. Patricia Bardon cut a fine figure as Andronico, and the warmth of her voice was pleasant. She too sang with rather too much vibrato for this sort of music. Plácido Domingo (Bajazet) sounded surprisingly lovely, even if the music does not particularly suit him. Domingo seemed only slightly fragile, his timing imperfect, however, his timbre is beautiful, so sweet. In the title role, countertenor Bejun Mehta had a fresh effortlessness, his volume strong, without sounding strained or constricted.

The production, directed by Chas Rader-Shieber, was a somewhat silly. The most unintentionally hilarious bit was in Act II when Tamerlano took Bajazet's long brocade coat and wore it over his suit in an apparent fit of tyranny. David Zinn's scenery was clean and his costumes elegant. Best of all was the lighting from Christopher Akerlind, understated at first, and building up to the last act, which featured red reflected off of the black floor rather dramatically.

* Tattling * 
There were some mobile phone rings, most disruptive in Act III, during the recitative between Tamerlano and Bajazet. The couple in H 75 and 76 of Balcony B would not stop talking during Acts I and II, despite my repeated attempts to express my displeasure with their noise levels. The male half of this couple had a bad cold and snorted about 25 times in the first act, and I was sure they would not return after the first intermission. They did come back, only to litter cotton swabs and tissues all over the ground around their seats, and to take photographs of Domingo. Their camera emitted various high-pitched sounds during the music. I asked to be reseated after the second intermission, and the ushers were very accommodating and helpful.

From the House of the Dead at the Met

Fromthehouseofthedead * Notes * 
Leoš Janáček's final opera, Z Mrtvého Domu (From the House of the Dead) had a third performance at the Met last Saturday evening. The production marked the debuts of both conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and director Patrice Chéreau in this house. The austere staging featured a monolithic grey set from Richard Peduzzi, yet was not static as there was much movement of people and stage elements, not to mention some startling effects with massive amounts of paper. The incorporation of the supertitles into the set was cunning, though unfortunately prone to technical difficulties, in this case an error message was displayed prominently at the end of the opera. Also, the choreography could be rather too loud, a distraction from the music.

Salonen had the orchestra under control, producing a beautiful sound that supported the singers. There were only a few harsh, muddy moments in the brass. The ensemble cast was well-rounded. Tenors Stefan Margita (Luka/Filka Morozov) and Kurt Streit (Skuratov) played off each other at the end of Act I, both have fine, but distinct, voices. Streit sang quite mournfully in Act II, with good volume and warmth. In Act III, baritone Peter Mattei portrayed Shishkov with conviction, his desperation and anguish were evident.

* Tattling * 
The back of the Family Circle had rows of empty seats, and by the time the music started, only two people were in standing room.

Turandot at the Met

Turandot * Notes * 
Last weekend's Saturday matinée of Turandot at the Met proved quite pleasing. Evidently the Zeffirelli production is extravagant, and judging from the audience reaction, the opulence was very much appreciated. Andris Nelsons had the orchestra playing rather loudly at times, the sound was full and rich. There was more than one time that the singers and orchestra were not synchronized, but not enough to spoil the grand effect of the whole piece.

Joshua Hopkins, Tony Stevenson, and Eduardo Valdes were amusing as Ping, Pang, and Pong; their voices sounded nice together, and their timing with each other was precise. Samuel Ramey wobbled a great deal as Timur, he certainly sounded elderly, which is perhaps fine for this part. Marina Poplavskaya (Liù) sang "Signore, ascolta!" with a beautiful plaintiveness, though her breaths were somewhat loud.

As for our two leads, neither were completely splendid, but certainly not terrible either. At times, Maria Guleghina shrieked her way through the title role, however, she was impressively imperious. Frank Poretta (Calaf) was carefully pacing himself for "Nessun dorma," which he sang with sweetness and strength. It did not sound effortless, but it was most moving.

* Tattling * 
As I waited in the standing room line for From the House of the Dead, I received a deferential message from the Lectures and Community Programs Fellow letting me know I had been reseated to Score Desk 2, as a band was going to be where I was ticketed for, and that the House Manager and Box Office had both been advised of this. When I arrived at the Score Desk Level, I saw several music stands ready for the off-stage band, and indeed some trumpets and trombones played from there in Act III. One of the house staff found me at Score Desk 2, and kindly made sure that everything was organized properly.

Il Trittico at the Met

Tabarroset * Notes * 
The latest run of Il Trittico at the Met opened last night. Stefano Ranzani made a fine debut, his tempi were elastic, and for the most part the orchestra did not overwhelm the singers. Patricia Racette sang the three soprano roles, as she did recently in San Francisco. Her voice showed some strain, and the quality of her vibrato could be unpleasant. Her costume as Giorgetta was not the most becoming. Aleksandrs Antonenko was quiet as Luigi, and though menacing as Michele, Željko Lucic did not cut through the brass at the end of Il Tabarro. Stephanie Blythe was almost endearing as Frugola, her voice is strong, warm, and hefty. Her duet with Paul Plishka (Talpa) was not exactly together, and she was much louder than he.

Suor Angelica featured some lovely choral singing. Racette's acting came across as histrionic (from the back of the Family Circle, in any case), collapsing in a melodramatic pile of skirts not once but twice. Her singing could be moving, especially in the last scene. Blythe again was impressive as La Principessa, haughty and controlled.

Gianni Schicchi was perfectly amusing. Racette's "O mio babbino caro" had some shrillness, and Saimir Pirgu (Rinuccio) strained at the top of his voice. Stephanie Blythe was actually very funny as Zita, as was the rest of Buoso's family. There were only a few issues with timing. Alessandro Corbelli was hilarious as Gianni Schicchi, he is a fine actor, and his voice, though lacking weight, is perfectly suitable for this role.

The production, directed by Jack O'Brien, with sets from Douglas W. Schmidt, is the quintessence of the Metropolitan Opera style. Everything was simply a literal recreation of historical scenes, Il Tabarro was Paris in 1927, Suor Angelica Tuscany in 1938, and Gianni Schicchi 1959's Florence. Of course, this is breathtaking in its lavishness. The Seine looked like it had been brought to New York, there was a donkey that was lead across the convent courtyard, and when the set sank to reveal Lauretta and Rinuccio on the roof, it was difficult not to applaud.

* Tattling * 
The usual watch alarms rang at the hour, most distractingly in Suor Angelica. The audience clapped for every set. There was some talking, and vehement hushing as well.

Muti at NY Philharmonic

Muti * Notes * 
Riccardo Muti conducted the New York Philharmonic in a program of Lizst, Elgar, and Prokofiev last Thursday, and I attended a lively open rehearsal in that morning. The orchestra was in street clothes, as one would expect, and Muti himself was perfectly coiffed, looking foppish in his hot pink sweater. Lizst's Les Préludes, Symphonic Poem No. 3 began the day, and it was surprising how much stopping and starting there was, it truly was a working rehearsal. This was followed by a rather lovely performance of Elgar's In the South (Alassio), which Muti explained was a odd title for him, since Alassio is north of where he is from. The trumpets sounded beautifully clear, and the viola solo came off very nicely. After a brief intermission, we heard selections from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. The orchestra played with exuberance. After one movement Muti commented "What is missing is a sense of dance, a sense of the body that moves," and it was obvious he had a fine rapport with the musicians.

* Tattling *
A hearing aid screeched a few times at the beginning of the Liszt. There was some talking from the students in attendance, and a mobile phone rang during the Prokofiev.

Kepler at BAM

image from * Notes * 
The US premiere of Kepler by Philip Glass was last Wednesday night at BAM. The opera is rather more like an oratorio than an opera, being that of the 7 solo roles, only one was a named character, Kepler himself. All the singers were from the Upper Austrian State Theatre, Linz, and they acquitted themselves rather well, as far as the chorus is concerned. The soloists blended nicely together, but as Kepler, Martin Achrainer was difficult to hear over the heavy orchestration, as was tenor Pedro Velázquez Díaz. The soprano Alaine Rodin replaced Cassandra McConnell, and was somewhat shrill, but was otherwise inoffensive.

The Bruckner Orchester Linz played nicely under Dennis Russell Davies, though they overwhelmed the soloists at times, they were never painfully loud. As for the opera itself, charmingly enough the texts were in German and Latin, especially adorable was when Kepler sang about the polyhedral models of the orbits of various planets. "Ohne echtes Wissen ist das Leben tot" also had a particular beauty.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly silent, though there was one watch alarm at each hour, and a few people left early despite there being no intermission.

Salzburg 2010

July 27-August 8: Rihm's Dionysus
July 31-August 24: Orfeo ed Euridice
August 1-17: Lulu
August 8-28: Elektra
August 9-29: Don Giovanni
August 10-30: Roméo et Juliette
August 9-14: Norma

The Salzburger Festspiele schedule includes conducting from Ingo Metzmacher, Riccardo Muti, Marc Albrecht, Daniele Gatti, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and Friedrich Haider.

Schedule | Official Site

Ensemble Parallèle's Wozzeck Preview

Alban-berg-1910 * Notes *
A reception and sneak peak of Ensemble Parallèle's forthcoming Wozzeck production was held in a private Richmond District home last night. The musical portion of the evening featured bass-baritone Bojan Knežević, who is singing the title role. Accompanied by Scott Foglesong on piano, he sang Leporello's "Catalogue" Aria from Don Giovanni and Alberich's Curse from Das Rheingold. The intimate setting was a bit intimidating for the audience, perhaps. Knežević has a gorgeous voice.

Nicole Paiement, the Artistic Director and Conductor of Ensemble Parallèle, gave a talk about Wozzeck and the 1995 reorchestration for 21 musicians from John Rea they are to perform at the end of January here at YBCA in San Francisco. She went through an entire dramatic and musical overview within half an hour, with a few musical examples. Her enthusiasm for this project is palpable. She had Rea's score in three volumes and encouraged audience members to take a look after her presentation.

* Tattling *
I had the great pleasure of being both being mistaken for and meeting the journalist Chloe Veltman. I also had the opportunity to chat with the Associate Director of Communications at San Francisco Opera, the stage director of this Wozzeck, the General Manager of the ensemble, Paiement, and Knežević.

Don Giovanni at Bayerische Staatsoper

Don-giovanni-bso2009 Our correspondent in Germany, Opernphrenologe, was recently in Munich. What follows is a lightly edited review of the new Don Giovanni production that recently opened at Bayerische Staatsoper.

   * Notes *
The premiere of Don Giovanni, directed by Stephan Kimmig, in München started out badly enough. The curtain opened to reveal a naked old man with saggy boobs, shivering. From that point on, the production continued to get steadily worse. Behind him were a bunch of shipping containers that moved around and opened throughout the opera. One of the worst scenes was the wedding party, which was a rave with two 3-foot high penguin statues that people danced with. The masks were snorkeling masks, and there were half-naked lesbian snow bunnies humping each other here and there. Even worse was the send-Giovanni-to-Hell scene. Heaven was a shipping container, this time filled with people dressed like priests and army soldiers. Giovanni was cooking dinner in his modern kitchen (located in a shipping container that also contained around 20 mannequins), and he was sent to Hell by shaking hands with a chain of hand-holding army dudes and priests. When they let go, Giovanni fell to the ground next to his modern food processor. Profound. There was also a film screen that added absolutely nothing to the production, except to perhaps make it worse, as if it needed help in that department. At the end, everyone danced around, and old-naked-man came out again with his old-man-boobs to blow on some pinwheels.

Mariusz Kwiecien (Don Giovanni) did not sing as well as I remember him singing before. He sounded like he was mumbling and there was not much dynamic range in his voice. Perhaps he had a cold? Then again, he was definitely slimy, and an especially bad moment was when he pretended to give a doll a horseback ride on his knee. Maija Kovalevska (Donna Elvira) was a hippy backpacker chick in this particular production. Her voice was sweet and lovely, and she was incredibly fit. She must work out a lot. My favorite singer was Pavol Breslik (Don Ottavio), and I guess others agreed since he received loud applause at the end. His interpretation of the music was wonderful, with lots of dynamics and a sugary tone. However, even he could not make up for the flat, off-tune, and downright ugly singing of Ellie Dehn (Donna Anna). Her famous aria was like nails on a chalkboard. Fortunately for her, most people do not have perfect pitch and she received lukewarm applause at the end (with only a few buh's). The orchestra was also lightly buh'd. It is true that they were a bit sloppy, but they were not bad. They were like a player piano that had played the same tune one too many times. Some of the horn section looked angry when they were buh'd, which I suppose is understandable. After all, it is the conductor's (in this case, Kent Nagano's) job to interpret the music and not allow them to be sloppy.

The producers were heartily buh'd at the end. Some people responded to the buh'ing with loud applause, as if they somehow "got" the profundity of the production while the buh'ers did not. Or perhaps they just found the old-man-boobs incredibly sexy. I might guess the latter.

* Tattling * 
We did not have tickets for this production, since it sold out and I tried to buy tickets too late. Instead, we bought tickets from vicious female ticket scalpers who fought amongst themselves to unload their overpriced tickets on us. It was fearsome to watch them in action, and we both needed to tipple afterwards. My companion was an Opera Virgin, and we acquired her ticket from the only nice scalper in the bunch. I suspect that my companion will never willingly attend opera again -- the production was that bad. The audience was unusually engaged compared to the average performance (but perhaps not for a premiere). They seemed extremely pleased with themselves during the hearty buh'ing at the end.

Opening of Otello at SF Opera

SF Opera's Otello, photo by Cory Weaver * Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's last production of the year, Otello, opened this afternoon. Maestro Luisotti had the orchestra sounding richly fluent. The English horn, bassoon, and bass were particularly lovely. The brass instruments also had some good moments, though when they all played together there sometimes was a buzzing quality to the sound. The chorus sounded cohesive and forceful.

The production is perhaps deceptively simple, with a serviceable, three-tiered set designed by John Gunter. Various elements were employed to artfully transform the space as necessary, including Duane Schuler's lighting, not to mention the use of fire. It was a shame that much of the set was obscured if one happened to be too far back in the balcony.

Renée Tatum was a sympathetic Emilia, she was wonderful in the last act, her voice filled with anger and despair. Beau Gibson (Cassio) was plaintive, but his higher register was slightly quiet and strained. Marco Vratogna was brutish as Iago, at times growling. He could also be sickeningly sycophantic, in short, a fine villain. Vratogna was overwhelmed by the orchestra a few times, and was not as powerful as Eric Halfvarson (Lodovico). Zvetelina Vassileva's Desdemona was agreeable enough, though perhaps it would have been nicer had she not pulled at the back of her gown whilst her back was to the audience in Act III. She did sound very pretty in the last act, and tragic as well. Johan Botha proved to have the ability to sound sweet, especially in the duet with Vassileva that ends the first act. He has a couple of notes in the top of his tessitura that do not have the ease of the rest of his voice. However, he does have a great deal of volume that he is able to control quite beautifully.

* Tattling * 
The audience was middling, we had a rough start in which someone's watch alarm just kept going off in Acts I and II. There was the loud sound of velcro being unfastened. There was tittering when the supertitles read "Acts 3 & 4" rather than the translation of the text being sung. Worst of all was the light applause after Desdemona went to bed, the clapping muffled the sound of the bass.

PBO's Dido and Aeneas in Berkeley

Purcell-portrait * Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra continued a run of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in Berkeley last night, along with a full program of other works of this composer. The performance set up was different this time, with the orchestra on stage behind the singers. The acoustics are better in this venue, First Congregational Church, than in Herbst Theatre, and the principals were never overwhelmed. The overall effect was scintillating, the orchestra was clear and the chorale's timing was perfect. Cyndia Sieden (Belinda, First Witch) again sounded lovely, even though her voice is not as hefty Céline Ricci's. Ricci (Second Lady, Second Witch) reined in her acting. Brian Thorsett sang his two roles (Spirit in the likeness of Mercury, First Sailor) with vigor.

Jill Grove gave a consistent performance of the Sorceress, and was appropriately comic, though also a bit frightening. William Berger portrayed Aeneas with strength, his voice is warm and pretty. Of course, Susan Graham was magnificent as Dido. Her last aria, the famous "When I am laid in Earth," was tranfixing in both its beauty and sorrow.

* Tattling * 
There was quite a lot of flipping of pages in programs, whispering during the music, and noise from velcro, zippers, and wrappers. People even had to be hushed during Susan Graham's first notes.