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August 2010

Star-Spangled Sing-Off 2010

San Francisco Opera and Classical 102.2 KDFC are having competition for who is to sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" at the simulcast of Aida this September. Video submissions can be uploaded to KDFC's Web site from July 6 to 25, and listener voting takes place from August 16 to 29. A panel of celebrity judges will review the contestants and choose the winner to perform at AT+T Park.

Official Site | SF Opera

Merola's Elisir Casts 2010

The casts for Merola's L'elisir d'amore have been announced today.

Thursday, August 5 and Saturday, August 7
Nemorino: Daniel Montenegro
Adina: Nadine Sierra
Belcore: Benjamin Covey
Giannetta: Hye Jung Lee
Dulcamara: Thomas Florio

Friday, August 6 and Sunday, August 8
Nemorino: Alexander Lewis
Adina: Valentina Fleer
Belcore: Ao Li
Giannetta: Abigail Santos Villalobos
Dulcamara: Sidney Outlaw

Festival Opera's Madama Butterfly

Madama-butterfly-poster * Notes *
Festival Opera's of latest production of Madama Butterfly opened last night in Walnut Creek. The orchestra sounded full and loud under Joseph Marcheso, although there were only thirty-six musicians. The brass was surprisingly clear and tuneful, but the strings fared less well. One of the celli was noticeably out of tune throughout the performance.

The singing was all perfectly appropriate and fine, though there were times when the singers did not quite keep up with the orchestra. John Bischoff was convincing as the Bonze, as was Elizabeth O'Neill as Kate Pinkerton. Nicole Takesono was a bit breathy as Suzuki, but her movements were graceful.

Philip Skinner (Sharpless) was strong, sounding completely in command of his voice and acting. As Pinkerton, Christopher Bengochea was slightly tentative in Act I, his voice sounded pretty at certain points, and strained in others. He sounded better in Act III, especially at the end. In the title role, Teresa Eickel looked young and vulnerable, and sounded robust. Her voice is penetrating, and was somewhat shrill in Act I. Her "Un bel dì" was vocally effective, though she checked to see that the fan in her belt was secure more than once as she sang.

The costumes were incoherent and distracting. The chorus looked like goths at Ren Faire, since they all had black hair, heavy makeup, and elaborately gathered skirts. The costume that Kurt Krikorian (Prince Yamadori) was so puzzling it was difficult to assess his voice. It looked like he forgot to wear part of his costume, or that his attire was inspired by burlesque belly dancers. Andrew Whitfield, likewise, was dressed rather oddly for Goro, and seemed to have wandered in from Dickens Fair. The set, in contrast, was clean and simple, consisting of a few different levels and large screens. Shadows play was used during the overtures and other opportune moments. Sometimes this worked, and was even beautiful, but at other times the effect was grotesque rather than elegant.

* Tattling *
Some kind friends were generous enough to have given me tickets for this performance, and Herr Feldheim indulgently accompanied me. There was some talking from the audience, but no electronic noise. The person behind me in Row J Seat 112 of the orchestra snapped her gum during much of Acts II and III, but was mercifully quiet during the big numbers, including the Humming Chorus.

A stage hand came in in the two-minute pause between the last two acts and placed a cushion on the stage, pulling us out of the opera just for that moment.

Master Class with Jane Eaglen 2010

Jane-Eaglen * Program *
"Sorge infausta una procella" from Orlando
Sidney Outlaw, baritone and David Hanlon, piano

"Ces lettres" from Werther
Robin Flynn, mezzo-soprano and Natalia Katyukova, piano

"Il lacerato spirito" from Simon Boccanegra
Kevin Thompson, bass and Michael Spassov, piano

"In fernem Land" from Lohengrin
Kevin Ray, tenor and David Hanlon, piano

"Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém" from Rusalka
Janai Brugger-Orman, soprano and Michael Spassov, piano

* Notes *
Jane Eaglen gave a master class for the Merola Opera Program last night at Herbst Theatre. The evening included a diverse repertoire as well as many different voice types. Sidney Outlaw started off with Zoroastro's Act III aria from Orlando. Eaglen noticed that the aria started a bit low for Outlaw, and questioned him about the ornamentation, which he had written that afternoon. She suggested lifting the breath and got Outlaw to sound brighter, more open, and less like he was singing Monteverdi. Robin Flynn sang Massenet next, her voice is has a pure, light quality. Eaglen teased Flynn about being an athlete, as the latter recently did an Alcatraz swim and plans to run the San Francisco Marathon. Natalia Katyukova played "Ces lettres" beautifully, perhaps with a touch more extravagance than strictly necessary. Bass Kevin Thompson sang Fiesco's romanza "Il lacerato spirito," as he did at the Auditions for the General Director, but this performance was more vivid. Eaglen praised the great resonance and colors of Thompson's voice, and asked him to place the breath higher so he did not have to reach for the higher notes.

Kevin Ray sang Lohengrin's Narration in Act III with the music, as the piece is new to him. There was a good deal of tension in the voice and one could hear his breathing distinctly. Eaglen got him to relax, and told him that "mushy was good." Ray was able to sing more legato and with less strain. The performance ended with Janai Brugger-Orman, singing the gorgeous "Song to the Moon." Her voice is both sweet and icy. When Eaglen had her relax the jaw and use more control, Brugger-Orman sounded more fluid.

* Tattling *
Jane Eaglen is charmingly self-effacing, and joked that it was obvious she did marathons just like Ms. Flynn. She also mentioned that the key to high notes was in squeezing the bottom, and since she had a big bottom, she had big high notes.

Day at Merola 2010

Schwabacher2010cast * Notes * 
This year's Day at Merola was Tuesday, beginning with a lunch in Lower Level Café of the War Memorial Opera House. A couple of members of the Opera Standees Association who are also sponsors of tenor Alexander Lewis kindly invited me to join their table. Mr. Lewis conversed with us about how he stayed in Jane Eaglen's house as a kid, his voice changing, The Ring, countertenors, and Mozart. It was especially endearing when he related his realization that as a tenor rather than a baritone there was no role for him in Le Nozze di Figaro. Alex is going to move to New York soon, to participate in the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. At lunch I also had the pleasure of meeting Kevin Thompson, the one bass of the Merola Program this summer.

It was difficult to decide between the L'Elisir d'Amore rehearsal, Sheri Greenawald's master class, and Mark Morash's master class, as all of these occurred in the first time slot, starting at 1:30pm. I ended up in the Chorus Room for Greenawald's master class, accompanied by Jenna Douglas. Colleen Brooks sang "Wie Du Warst" from Der Rosenkavalier, Eleazar Rodríguez sang "Here I Stand" from The Rake's Progress, and Kevin Thompson sang "O, wie will ich triumphieren" from Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Everyone sang well, but with Rodríguez, one could only feel regret for not making it to his performances as Tom Rakewell for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Greenawald had Rodríguez concentrate on where the rests were in the music, and illuminating the text.

Kathy Cathcart gave a master class accompanied by David Hanlon that started with Ryan Kuster singing the "Abendlied" from Das Rheingold. Kuster's voice is very bright. Janai Brugger-Orman sang Menotti's "Steal Me, Sweet Thief," from the one act radio opera The Old Maid and the Thief. Cathcart got Brugger-Orman to sing with a good deal more energy, and difference was very clear. Dan Kempson sang "Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen, Zagen," Harlequin's aria from Ariadne auf Naxos with beauty.

For the second half of the day, I went up a flight of stairs to the Ballet Studio for master classes with Martin Katz and Steven Blier. Katz focused on Bel Canto. Natalia Katyukova accompanied Robin Flynn, who sang "Deh! tu, bell'anima" from I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Ryan Kuster, who sang "Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni" from La sonnambula. For both of these, a lot of time was spent on the recitative before the arias, and Katz got a good laugh out of the audience by translating "E vicin la fattoria," then having Kuster sing the line. Renée Rapier sang "Cruda Sorte" as she did for the Auditions for the General Director, but with Michael Spassov as her accompanist instead of David Hanlon. Rapier's dark sound was very sassy, and Katz got her to sound lighter and more bubbly.

Blier's master class involved art song, as one would imagine, and he joked that the day's event should have been called "Death by Aria." We heard Colleen Brooks sing Schoenberg's "Galathea," which she wrote her thesis on, with Jenna Douglas playing piano. At one point Blier had Michael Spassov lie on the ground so that Brooks could sing to him, and this worked well, though might have been somewhat embarrassing. Spassov certainly was a good sport. Accompanied by David Hanlon, Daniel Montenegro sang "Canción al arbol del olvido." Abigail Santos Villalobos sang "La tarántula é un bicho mu malo" from Giménez's La tempranica and Reynaldo Hahn's "La lune blanche." Her voice is pretty, and Michael Spassov's playing was pleasantly dry. The final song of the evening was "Pierrots Tanzlied," which Dan Kempson sang with great beauty. Natalia Katyukova's playing was also impressive.

* Tattling * 
As soon as I walked into the lunch room I was asked if I was from Korea, and can only imagine I was mistaken for Hye Jung Lee. Even though I answered in the negative, it was still assumed I was a Merolina, and I was directed to the person with the name tags. Evidently only Merolini and Amici di Merola get them, as I was bluntly informed.

The attendees of this event are, for the most part, the die-hard, obsessive fans of opera. There was aggressive jockeying for the front row seats of each master class, such that we were made to leave the room before Blier's class, for safety purposes.