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Die Walküre at LA Opera

LA Opera's Walkuere, photo by Monika Rittershaus/LA Opera * Notes * 
Los Angeles Opera's Ring cycle continued with Die Walküre yesterday evening. The orchestra sounded fairly good under James Conlon, though at times they did play gingerly, carefully hitting each note. The cello solo in the beginning of Act I Scene 1 was lovely, but the brass did not sound clean for Hunding's Leitmotiv. There was a painful brass mistake as Siegmund sang in Act I Scene 3, but otherwise only a few stray sour notes and haziness. The playing was mournful and together for the end. The singing was gorgeous, particularly in Act I, with Eric Halfvarson (Hunding), Michelle DeYoung (Sieglinde), and Plácido Domingo (Siegmund). All three have such beautiful voices, with enough heft to be heard over the orchestra. DeYoung sounded silvery and young, rather different than her role as Fricka the previous evening. Domingo did admirably, considering he had surgery for colon cancer just in March. At times it was difficult to discern exactly what words he was singing, but the prettiness of his voice came through. Ekaterina Semenchuk was strong as Fricka, very rich and stirring. Linda Watson fared less well as Brünnhilde, sounding shrill in Act II, but did have some tender moments in Act III. Her sister Walküren sounded hale and hearty, they even managed their choreography convincingly and no one fell. Vitalij Kowaljow was believable as Wotan, especially during Wotans Abschied von Brünnhilde und Feuerzauber.

The production, from Achim Freyer, is a stylized riot of color and movement, including clown makeup, light sabers, contortionists, dancing, spinning horse/bicycle hybrids, and the like. Sieglinde and Siegmund do spend a lot of their time in Act I singing from across the stage from each other, and it was a palpable relief to see them actually in contact with one another in Act II. The staging is novel, the end of Act II was especially stunning, and the Walküren scene (Act III Scene 1) was amusing.

* Tattling * 
The audience was embarrassingly ill-behaved, talking even during the singing. Watches were heard not only at the hour, but one went off for 10-12 rings as an alarm during Act II. One person's cellular phone rang on at least 3 occasions, once before the watch alarm and twice afterward, and there was yet another phone heard at the end of the act. Cough drops in cellophane seemed to be unwrapped at every quiet moment. On the orchestra level, a certain visitor from New York made her own announcement before Act II about this, and thus managed to enjoy some respite from the crinkling for the rest of the opera.

Das Rheingold at LA Opera

Rheingold-la-opera * Notes * 
Los Angeles Opera's first Ring cycle began with Das Rheingold last night. James Conlon had the orchestra sounding cohesive and supportive, though the musicians and singers were not always perfectly together. There were a few sour notes from the brass, but for the most part the playing was not bad. The voices of Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), and Ronnita Nicole Miller (Floßhilde) were pretty set against each other. Tappan was particularly fluttery in Scene 1, one could immediately imagine her as the Waldvogel in Siegfried. The three Rheintöchter sounded mournful and beautiful at the end of the opera. Jill Grove has improved as Erda, the role still does not seem easy for her, but she did hit her notes. Ellie Dehn was especially brilliant as Freia, and I am curious to hear her as the Countess in San Francisco Opera's Le Nozze di Figaro later the year. Michelle DeYoung's Fricka was appropriately shrewish and almost biting at first, but her pleasantly metallic voice is beautiful. Morris Robinson had the volume for Fasolt, but lacked the full resonance of Eric Halfvarson (Fafner). Beau Gibson and Wayne Tigges spent much of their time far upstage as Froh and Donner, respectively. It was difficult to gage the weight and heft of their voices. Richard Paul Fink continues to be a convincing Alberich, he snarls and acts even through his mask. Arnold Bezuyen (Loge) was caustic at times, but also could sound sycophantic or even unctuously caressing. As Wotan, Vitalij Kowaljow, sounded authoritative and displayed his great command of his low range.

Achim Freyer's production has an entertaining circus element to it, as far as costumes and effects. It also is a strange cross of Star Wars, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels. There really were light sabers in the production, for instance. The steep rake was a challenge, Richard Paul Fink fell after Scene 1, and the other singers had similar problems. All of the scenes were quite arresting, much was going on, but for the most part it all made some sort of internal sense. However, the very last part, when the Gods are to go to Valhalla, a nondescript object suspended from wires swept across the stage. The audience in Balcony B clearly could not discern what this was meant to represent and many people started talking at this point.

* Tattling * 
There was no applause during the music, but there was a lot of talking during the overture and the transitions. At least two watch alarms were heard at 8pm and 9pm. My seat in Balcony B was ideally situated on the aisle, but in the middle section and in the front, so I was glad that the Wagner Society of Northern California pulled through for me in this case. The person next to me either took a nap during parts of Scenes 2 and 3, or was meditating on the music with great concentration. His regular breathing was quiet but noticeable.

MTT conducts Mozart, Holloway, & Schumann

Erin-wall2010 * Notes *
This week Michael Tilson Thomas conducted San Francisco Symphony in a program of Mozart, Holloway, and Schumann. The performance began with Mozart's "Bella mia fiamma...Resta, o cara" and Holloway's Clarissa Sequence, both of which featured the soprano Erin Wall. The Mozart showcased her pure, clear sound, and though Wall warbled a bit, she never was unpleasant. The brass was slightly hazy, but the woodwinds and strings were transparently lovely. The Holloway had a few good moments, and the Wagner quotes in "Fire and Apotheosis" were amusing. Wall's last notes were rather low, perhaps not showing a soprano to her best advantage. The orchestration was rather heavy, and it seemed that there were about two and a half more orchestra members on the stage than for the Mozart. It was impressive to hear one singer take on such a lot of musicians, but it was not always easy to make out the text. The brass was appropriately menacing and the oboe was especially fine
. The music was at times feebly romantic, but perhaps that suits the plot at hand. After the intermission came a cheery rendition of Schumann's Symphony No. 3. The trumpets sounded particularly good at the end of the first movement. The Scherzo was fluid, brilliant, and rolling, but the slow movement was occasionally slack. The ending was lively and hopeful.

* Tattling *
There was just a little talking during the Holloway in Premier First Tier last night. One did note a lot of yawning during the piece from the few people in the Center Terrace.

A second violinist rushed off the stage after the third movement of the Schumann. Perhaps it was her cellular phone that was ringing the standard Nokia tune just at that moment.

The National at the Fox Theater

The-national * Notes *
The National played the second of two shows at the Fox Theater in Oakland yesterday as part of their current North American and European tour. Most of the songs performed were from their new album entitled High Violet. The lead singer, Matt Berninger, has a rather low baritone, and seems very shy. He would often turn away from the audience and sort of dance facing the drums. There were a few times during "Squalor Victoria" when the lights were on the audience, and this was blinding. In addition to the regular lineup of voice, percussion, bass, guitar, and keyboards, there was also some viola, trombone, and trumpet in the orchestration. This band played was rather louder than I expected.

* Tattling *
The audience was fairly quiet and attentive, many people took photographs of the band during the music. I was a bit unnerved that I knew all of the words to most of the songs that were played. I was a bit disappointed they did not play "So Far Around the Bend," which was arranged by Nico Muhly.

Teatro ZinZanni and J/P HRO

0136PennJPBenefit100525 * Notes *
Teatro ZinZanni did a benefit performance for the J/P Haitian Relief Organization last night in San Francisco. Held in a Jugendstil Spiegeltent from 1920 down on Pier 29, the evening began with a couple of songs from Jerry Hannan followed by a short film on Haiti. We heard the Teatro ZinZanni Orchestra throughout the evening, and were introduced to many of the acts by Frank Ferrante, who also did some ridiculous improv as Caesar with 3 members of the audience. His entrance as emperor briefly featured the soprano Rachel DeShon. The other performances included the incredible Vertical Tango from Sam Payne and Sandra Feusi, Liliane Montevecchi singing a saucy number, Ling Rui and Fang Ming in some frightening aerialist acrobatics.

The night also included a few songs from Joan Baez, who sang with great heart and lots of vibrato. Sean Penn spoke a bit about his organization's efforts in Haiti. The focus now seems to be on safely sheltering displaced people before hurricane season is in full swing. This was followed by a supposedly silent auction that involved quite a lot of banter from Robin Williams. At one point Williams kissed someone for $10,000, and Baez someone else for $5,000. An offer for Sean Penn to kiss someone in the place of his or her chosing was not bid upon as far as I could tell. Geoff Hoyle went onstage in an uncomely state of undress, and encouraged Williams to join him, but was thankfully rebuffed. Former mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown did a fine job of collecting more donations in various buckets. About $100,000 was raised.

The aesthetics of this circus involved corsets, hats, and feathers, so I felt right at home. It was impressive that the non-profit Teatro ZinZanni gave this performance gratis, and still more so that so many of the performers contributed to the auction. All in all this was a very surreal and absurd evening.

* Tattling * 
This event happened at the same time as the Barbara Boxer fundraiser at the Fairmont. Understandably, Gavin Newsom was not in attendence at Teatro ZinZanni, opting to go to the event whose attendees included Barack Obama.

There was some talking during the performance, but no electronic noise. Table 13 included a trapeze artist who was once a performer in Teatro ZinZanni, and now teaches at the San Francisco Circus Center. We talked a bit about how lovely the soprano Kristin Clayton is, as she is also a regular performer there.

MTT conducts Stravinsky, Bernstein, & Ravel

Chichester-Psalms * Notes *
Michael Tilson Thomas conducted San Francisco Symphony in a program of Stravinsky, Bernstein, and Ravel last week. The performance was supposed to include Stravinsky's Threni, but EXAUDI, the vocal ensemble to be featured, was held up by issues with a group P-1 visa. Instead we heard Stravinsky's Ode and Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. In the former, the brass sounded typically fuzzy from the beginning, but the strings and woodwinds were clear. The second movement was played viviciously. The Bernstein was performed with well, the playing was focused, as was the singing. The boy soprano, Zachary Weisberg, was self-possessed, and sang beautifully, in the frightening manner that only boy sopranos can sing. The music did have moments that were reminiscent of West Side Story, which was very amusing, though vaguely incongruous with the texts used.
The second half of the performance consisted of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, a choreographic symphony in three parts. Again, the playing and singing had a fine unity and loveliness. The brass sounded warm. The circus-like violin solo at one point in the music was particularly fine.

* Tattling *
There was some talking from a couple on the orchestra level in Row T Seats 5 and 7 during the Bernstein. They did not reappear after the intermission, but someone in U picked up their slack and spoke during the a little bit during the Ravel.

Eleazar Rodríguez's Senior Recital

Eleazar-rodriguez * Notes *
Tenor Eleazar Rodríguez's senior recital at San Francisco Conservatory of Music was last night. Accompanied by pianist Alexander Katsman, Rodríguez sang songs from Charles Gounod, Ottorino Respighi, Joaquin Turina, and Robert Schumann. The Gounod sounded very pretty, sweet, and bright. His voice is flexible and does not sound constricted at the top. When he moved on to the Respighi he floated the last notes of "Nevicata," and showed off some beautiful low notes in "Nebbie." Of the Turina pieces, "Nunca Olvida" was particularly splendid.

After the intermission came Dichterliebe, which began with a fluid ease. There was a moment in "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne" where pianist and singer were not exactly together. A few of the low notes were lost in "Ich grolle nicht." On the other hand, "Aus alten Märchen winkt es" had a fine liveliness. Compared to Rodríguez's performance last October, he was more focused, and his communication of the emotional content here gained some clarity. The two encores were Tosti's "Chanson de l'adieu" and Donizetti's "Una furtiva lagrima." One hopes he will sing the role of Nemorino in Merola Opera Program's L'elisir d'amore this summer, and if so, this is certainly something to look forward to.

* Tattling *
The audience was filled with all the usual suspects: students, staff, members of the Opera Standees Association, volunteers for San Francisco Opera's coffee service, and Adler Fellows. As a result, everyone was rather quiet and attentive. Some of the singers in rehearsal for SF Opera's Die Walküre had to hurry over to make in time, but managed to do so before the music began.

Brancoveanu sings Sviridov

Brancoveanu* Notes *
Yesterday afternoon San Francisco Performances presented baritone Eugene Brancoveanu in a recital of Georgy Sviridov, Maurice Ravel, Henri Duparc, Franz Schubert, and Carl Loewe. The performance began with Sviridov's Russia cast adrift (1987), songs set to 12 episodic poems by Sergey Yesenin. Brancoveanu conveyed the range of emotions in the music and text with warmth. He communicated tenderness, despair, and triumph with great clarity. His accompanist, John Parr, played the piano fluidly, and with an understated grace. There were only a few moments where they might not have been exactly together, but the 34 minutes of Sviridov were arresting. This was followed by Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, which Brancoveanu also sang at his Salon at the Rex two years ago. He dedicated the "Chanson romanesque" to his wife, who was in attendance. The "Chanson épique" was grave and measured, and the "Chanson à boire" was humorous.

After the intermission we heard four songs from Duparc, and Phidylé was particularly beautiful. Then came three songs from Schubert and three from Loewe. Brancoveanu's diction is extraordinarily clear, imparting the sensation that one can actually understand German. In most of these songs Brancoveanu sang as more than one character, using his falsetto more than once, to mostly good effect. Of especial interest here were the two settings of Goethe's Der Erlkönig, sung one after another. The encore was Strauss' Zueignung ("Ja, du weißt es, teure Seele").

* Tattling *
San Francisco Performances was kind enough to provide me a press ticket to this event, and as a result I sat behind the Chronicle reviewer, who pointed out an error in program notes, which lists Sir Edward Elgar as being the composer of Russia Cast Adrift. The late seating just after this work was performed, and a woman in leopard print climbed over said reviewer before deciding she ought to sit with her friends in the center of Row H instead, and duly climbed over him again. It may have been her mobile phone that rang twice in the middle of Schubert's "Die Stadt."

SF Performances' 2010-2011 Season

October 8 2010: Paula West, vocalist with the George Mesterhazy Quartet
October 9 2010: Takács Quartet
October 15 2010: 31st Season Gala
October 16 2010: András Schiff, piano
October 17 2010: John Williams, guitar
November 2 2010: Robert McDuffie, violin with Venice Baroque Orchestra
November 10 2010: Measha Brueggergosman, soprano and Justus Zeyen, piano
November 11 2010: Arnaldo Cohen and Mihaela Ursuleasa, pianos
November 11-13 2010: Sankai Juku
December 1 2010: Elza van den Heever, soprano and John Parr, piano
December 4 2010: The Bad Plus
December 4-18 2010: Alexander String Quartet with Robert Greenberg
December 11 2010: Turtle Island String Quartet; Mike Marshall, mandolin; and Cyrus Chestnut, piano
January 15 2011: Los Angeles Guitar Quartet
January 15-May 14 2011: Alexander String Quartet with Robert Greenberg
January 28 2011: Anthony Dean Griffey, tenor; Warren Jones, piano; and Paul Brown, fiddle
February 2 2011: Till Fellner, piano
February 10 2011: Daniel Hope, violin and Jeffrey Kahane, piano
February 19 2011: Hilary Hahn, violin and Valentina Lisitsa, piano
February 25 2011: Regina Carter, violin with Oakland East Bay Symphony
February 27 2011: Jenny Lin, piano
March 4-5 2011: Stephen Petronio Company
March 8 2011: Pacifica Quartet with Jörg Widmann, clarinet
March 18 2011: Christopher Maltman, baritone
March 19 2011: Duo Melis
March 20 2011: Julie Albers, cello and Adam Neiman, piano
March 24 2011: Leila Josefowicz, violin and John Novacek, piano
March 30- April 3 2011: Paul Taylor Dance Company
April 3 2011: Pavel Haas Quartet
April 7 2011: The Silk Road Ensemble
April 9 2011: Dubravka Tomšič, piano
April 16 2011: Tetzlaff Quartet
April 22 2011: David Russell, guitar
April 25 2011: Robert Greenberg Lecture about Philip Glass
April 28-30 2011: Lucinda Childs' Dance
May 14-15 2011: Edgar Meyer, double bass
May 21-22 2011: Doug Varone and Dancers
May 24 2011: Kate Royal, soprano and Chris Glynn, piano

San Francisco Performances announced their next season today. Frederica von Stade and Jake Heggie will be performing as well, but when is to be announced.

Official Site | Press Release [PDF]

Amelia at Seattle Opera

Kate Lindsey (Amelia) and William Burden (Dodge). © Rozarii Lynch photo * Notes *
The world premiere of Daron Aric Hagen's Amelia had a promising opening at Seattle Opera last night. The production, directed by Stephen Wadsworth and designed by Thomas Lynch, is both smart and tasteful. Some of the scene changes were rather noisy, and this was particularly unfortunate as it interrupted the music.

Wadsworth's story came together in the libretto, written by poet Gardner McFall. The text did not display the awkwardness that marks many contemporary operas. The words fit the music, and the deft overlapping of narratives condensed the plot without being confusing or tedious. Layering of the Icarus myth and the life of Amelia Earhart with the main story line worked surprisingly well. There were a few moments that were ungainly, and it might have been better to be shown rather than to be told, given that this was an opera.

The orchestra, conducted by Gerard Schwarz, sounded lively. The brass sounded clear in Act I, but perhaps had more trouble with the second half. The cello sounded brilliant, especially at the beginning of Act I Scene 2. Hagen's orchestration could be overgrown, and at times it was somewhat difficult to hear certain arias. However, the use of silence was effective and compelling. There was quite a lot of singing as an ensemble, and the voices were handled astutely. The a cappella section at the end was striking.

The singing was all quite lovely. Museop Kim, David Won, and Karen Vuong were convincing in their duel roles as North Vietnamese villagers and American hospital staff. The voices of Nicholas Coppolo (Icarus/Young Boy) and Jordan Bisch (Daedalus/Young Boy's Father) were evocative and blended nicely together. As the young Amelia, Ashley Emerson was eerily child-like. Her voice was very pretty, flexible, and youthful.

Jane Eaglen fit the role of Amelia's Aunt Helen perfectly, and produced a full sound without overwhelming the others. Jennifer Zetlan cut a cunning figure as the Flier, the way she sat on the hospital bed with utter aplomb as Amelia is whisked off was strangely delightful. Zetlan's voice was piercing, a good foil for Eaglen. Nathan Gunn was fine as Paul, the husband of Amelia, as was Luretta Bybee as Amanda, her mother. William Burden (Dodge) sounded warm and sweet, and could be heart-rending. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey impressed in the title role with her clear, bright voice.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking during the music. A cellular phone rang during Act II as William Burden sang.

This was the first time in many years that I was not in standing room for Seattle Opera, and my press contact for Amelia made sure I was sent to the box office for a seat upgrade. I was right in front of the composer himself on the orchestra level.

Cal Performances' 2010-2011 Videos

Here are some of the videos from Cal Performances that were presented at the press conference for the 2010-2011 season. The first is of tenor Ian Bostridge speaking on Händel, the second on the Britten operas being presented, and the third of soprano Jessica Rivera and composer Mark Grey discussing Atash Sorushan. Subscriptions go on sale today at noon.

Official Site | Subscriptions

Santa Fe Opera's 2011 Season

July 1- August 27 2011: Faust
July 2- August 26 2011: La Bohème
July 16- August 19 2011: Griselda
July 23- August 25 2011: The Last Savage
July 30- August 17 2011: Wozzeck

Santa Fe just announced that their new chief conductor is Frederic Chaslin and what is coming up for the 2011 season. Bryan Hymel and Dimitri Pittas share the role of Faust, opposite of Ailyn Pérez. Ana María Martínez and David Lomelí sing in La Bohème. Meredith Arwady, David Daniels, and Amanda Majeski sing in Vivaldi's Griselda. Daniel Okulitch and Anna Christy are the leads in Menotti's The Last Savage, which is to be sung in English. Former Adler Fellow Sean Panikkar will also be in this opera. Richard Paul Fink sings the title role of Wozzeck, with Nicola Beller Carbone as Marie. Eric Owens will be the Doctor and Stuart Skelton the Drum Major.

Season | Official Site