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Die Gezeichneten at LA Opera

Stigmatized-la-opera * Notes *
Franz Schreker's Die Gezeichneten opened last night as part of LA Opera's Recovered Voices series. The music is rather voluptuous, yet oddly shimmery as well, and certainly is very beautiful. For the most part, the orchestra held together under James Conlon. The sound, while at times quite robust, did not overwhelm the principal singers. The brass had some blurry edges, particularly in an exposed moment near the end of the opera. The chorus, however, sounded lovely in the last act and entirely together.

Despite the obsurity of the opera, there were many familiar faces to be seen in this production. On stage were former Merolini Matthew Moore and Ben Wager, as well as former Adlers Kenneth Kellogg and Eugene Brancoveanu. Beau Gibson, who was in Salome and Otello this season in San Francisco, sang Menaldo very prettily. Another stand out in the smaller roles was Keith Jameson, who was deliciously evil has Pietro.

The three lead roles were sung admirably. Baritone Martin Gantner was a brazen Count Tamare, he swaggered and suited the part. His voice is strong, and has a nice warmth. The tenor, Robert Brubaker, had a fine debut as Alviano. His sound had a surprising heft to it, although he was not exceptionally loud. He was sympathetic, and he delivered the last lines of the opera with poignancy. Anja Kampe showed great flexibility as Carlotta, she acted convincingly and her voice is tremendous. Her duets with Brubaker in Act II and Gantner in Act III were both impressive.

Ian Judge's production was busy and cluttered, despite having rather little in the way of props. The projections, designed by Wendall K. Harrington, covered a scrim in front of the stage, the upstage background, and the raked floor. Perhaps my perspective was off, given that I was all the way at the top of the house, and I was not experiencing all these visuals in their appropriate context. At times I felt relieved that I could not see the upstage projections, as the ones I could see were dizzying enough. There were spectacular moments, but the rape scene near the end was brutal. One would have liked, perhaps, to have been warned about this beforehand. Unlike the rather tame and boring bacchanal from Tannhäuser a few years back, this "orgy," though appropriate to the circumstances of the plot, was intensely disturbing.

* Tattling * 
Balcony B had rows of empty seats, so it was not difficult to find a seat away from other audience members. However, both talking and snoring were heard during the performance.

Händel's Orlando at PBO

William-towers * Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra opened a run of Händel's Orlando last night at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. The opera was semi-staged, which made a rather silly opera perhaps even less convincing than it might have been. Production aside, the music was lovely. The orchestra sounded cohesive and jaunty under Nicholas McGegan. The strings were crisp and clean, and though the woodwinds were less than perfect in the first Sinfonia, they were otherwise very good. The horns fared pretty well in Act I, Scene 3's "Non fu già men forte Alcide," only a handful of errors were noted.

The cast was uniformly strong. Bass-baritone Wolf Matthias Friedrich (Zoroastro) did gasp slightly, but has a warm, rich tone. Susanne Rydén was very funny as Dorinda, and her crystalline voice was not without warmth. Sometimes I was not always sure she was hitting the middle of each note, especially at the beginning of Act I, when she chirped through "Quando spieghi i tuoi tormenti." The mezzo-soprano, Diana Moore, had impressive breath control, and her big aria in Act II as Medoro came off fantastically.

The fullness of Dominique Labelle's voice worked nicely for Angelica, she was never overwhelming and her vibrato was under control. One of the best moments of the opera was the trio at the end of Act I featured Labelle, Moore and Rydén. In the title-role, countertenor William Towers may have started off a bit thinly, but sang beautifully for the rest of the evening. His "Gia lo stringo, gia l'abbraccio" in Act III was wonderful.

* Tattling * 
Aside from some whispering in the first act, the audience members around me on the right side of the orchestra level were attentive and quiet. There was noticeable audience attrition at the second intermission, as the performance was 3.5 hours long.

Outwater conducts SFS

Zipangu * Notes * 
Edwin Outwater is conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Gounod, Duncan Sheik, Claude Vivier, and Poulenc this week. Gounod's rather swirly Ballet Music from Faust sounded lovely, especially the woodwinds during the Danse antique (Allegretto). Duncan Sheik's Song Suite from Whisper House, arranged by Simon Hale, involved two amplified vocalists (including the composer himself) and an electric guitar. The singers were easy to hear, even a bit too loud, but the guitar and the harmonium seemed lost under the heavy orchestration. The horns sounded clear at the end of "Earthbound Starlight."

Outwater introduced Vivier's Zipangu, explaining what the word meant and the eerie, jarring sounds to come. The small string orchestra played the unsettling piece with precision. The rest of the orchestra returned for Suite from Les Biches, which sounded jaunty and lush.

* Tattling * 
Perhaps it was because there were so few people in attendance that the Center Terrace ticket holders were reseated. The elderly couple next to me in Loge P where extremely amusing. They must have been somewhat deaf, for they spoke at full volume during the music. In the middle of Gounod the male half of the couple said "It's very famous music" and his companion did not comprehend him and asked "Huh?" rather loudly. They did not seem to enjoy the Sheik at all, and I moved to the orchestra level after intermission, so I did not get to hear how they felt about the second two pieces.