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October 2010

Another Look at SF Opera's Werther

SF Opera's Werther Act II, photo by Cory Weaver * Notes *
The San Francisco Opera's penultimate performance of Werther this season was held yesterday evening. From balcony standing room, the balances between the singers and the orchestra were better. Emmanuel Villaume did keep the orchestra together, the sound was gleaming and rich. The chorus of children was also lovely.

It was apparent that all the singers have such beautiful voices, from Susannah Biller in the tiny role of Kätchen, to the title role sung by Ramón Vargas. Perhaps both Vargas and Alice Coote (Charlotte) are more compelling in other repertoire, however they nonetheless were very pleasant to hear.

The set does look rather different from the balcony, many of the projections are lost, but one can see the shadows of the tree branches on the ground in the last scene. The many staircases are also more evident from above. The production is definitely weird and does not follow Goethe's text in a literal sense. This said, I did find the whole thing strangely attractive. Perhaps because I do not care for this novella in the first place, the departures from it did not bother me.

* Tattling * 
The balcony looked fairly full, but I was offered a seat more than once. Unfortunately, since there were empty seats, the audience felt comfortable getting up and moving over during the Act III overture. There was some talking and watch alarms. The most disruptive moments were when people unwrapped their candies during key points in the music. No matter how quiet one tries to be, cellophane always seems to be very loud, and doing this slowly just drags out the noise over a longer period of time. I was especially annoyed when this happened during the Letter Aria.

LA Opera's Figaro

Figaro Act I, photo by Robert Millard * Notes * 
A revival of Le Nozze di Figaro at LA Opera opened this afternoon. Plácido Domingo kept the orchestra at a good clip, though not exactly brisk, the tempi were comfortable. There were many synchronization problems with singers and the orchestra. The bridesmaid duet in Act III went especially awry, either the singers were out of tune, or the brass was. The chorus held together, however, and the character roles were all perfectly fine. Daniel Montenegro was all but unrecognizable as an elderly Don Curzio, Philip Cokorinos seemed suitably confused as Antonio. Valentina Fleer made for a girlish Barbarina, and her "L'ho perduta, me meschina" was lovely and mournful. Christopher Gillett (Don Basilio) was reedy and unctous, Alessandro Guerzoni (Doctor Bartolo) was stuffy and silly, and Ronnita Nicole Miller (Marcellina) was sassy and a touch too youthful.

Renata Pokupic was winsome as Cherubino, breathlessly enamored. Her "Non so più cosa son" was slightly quiet, but her "Voi che sapete" was clear. In contrast, Martina Serafin sounded loud and full as the Countess and her "Dove sono i bei momenti" lacked a sense of yearning. She could overpower the other singers, but did rein in her volume in "Sull'aria...Che soave zeffiretto." Bo Skovhus was delightful as the Count, his voice is warm but not too heavy. Marlis Petersen was sweet and airy as Susanna, but always audible and her Figaro, Daniel Okulitch, sounded robust and facile.

The production was odd, Ian Judge's direction involved a lot of pacing and reclining. The big dance number in Act III was a hybrid of flamenco and lindy hop that was funny and well-excuted, but it did not really tie together with the rest of the choreography. Some of the costumes were Rococo and some of them looked very fifties. Tim Goodchild's set made for seamless set changes, and looked clean and pretty until the last act. For some reason, this last scene has a wide open stage, so that timing for the ensembles was compromised, as there is nowhere to stand without being seen. Then there was a haunted house in the background with a giant moon, completely at odds with the sleek elegance of the other scenery. At least the spectacle ended with onstage fireworks.

* Tattling * 
The audience talked, but at least people were quiet when hushed. Watch alarms were heard at each hour. A cellular phone rang three times during Act I starting from when Figaro says "Chi suona? La Contessa."

The production garnered much laughter at inappropriate moments, sometimes simply because of the timing of the supertitles. I, for one, laughed very hard at the fireworks.

I had the good fortune to be invited backstage after the performance, and was able to deliver a commissioned cupcake pirate painting.

Merola Distinguished Alumni Award 2010

Dolora-zajick-sf-opera-aida2 Mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick was presented the Merola Distinguished Alumni award this evening at a reception in the Wattis Room of Davies Hall. The 5 past recipients of this award include baritone Thomas Hampson, Maestro Patrick Summers, and sopranos Ruth Ann Swenson, Carol Vaness, and Deborah Voigt. Zajick is currently singing Amneris in San Francisco Opera's Aida.

Press Release [PDF] | Merola's Official Site

World Premiere of Il Postino at LA Opera

La-opera-il-postino * Notes *
The Los Angeles Opera 2010-2011 season opened with the world premiere of Daniel Catán's Il Postino. The music is lush and ornate, has soaring lyrical lines, and is pretty enough to not scare those wary of new music. Though the action takes place in Italy, and the title is Italian, the libretto is in Spanish. This was amusing, a sort of inversion of famous operas like Carmen or Il Barbiere. Neruda's poetry is used in the text, especially the poem "Mañana XXVII."

The set and costumes, both designed by Riccardo Hernandez, likewise were attractive. The tiled turquoise and cobalt floor was especially stunning, though one imagines the effect is better from the balcony than the orchestra. Jennifer Tipton's lighting designed featured many spotlights, and the those projections by Philip Bussmann that were visible in the balcony involved many words and water.

Grant Gershon conducted the orchestra, the sound was full, the brass blurred. The onstage banda was charming, and the accordion was particularly wonderful. The chorus sounded lovely in Act III, this was one of the most moving parts of the piece. The clear standout in the smaller roles was Gabriel Lautaro Osuna (Mario's father), who sang a gorgeous a cappella aria in the wedding scene of Act II. The music here was poignant.

Nancy Fabiola Herrera was hilarious as Donna Rosa, Beatrice's suspicious and protective aunt. Her warm voice betrayed no strain. In contrast, Cristina Gallardo-Domâs trembled her way through Matilde Neruda, and the Act II duet with Plácido Domingo (Pablo Neruda) was not flattering to her. Amanda Squitieri (Beatrice Russo) was icy and piercing, at first perhaps a bit shrill, but she sounded strong in the last act.

Charles Castronovo was winsome in the title role, he projected the earnest, often abashed nature of Mario Ruoppolo clearly. Though he has a very pleasing sound, vocally he could not compete with Domingo. The latter sang with vigor and youth, despite having not sung in the final dress rehearsal because of a sore throat.

* Tattling * 
The audience was better behaved than usual. There was some speaking and unwrapping of cough drops during the music. A few watch alarms were also heard. The worst noise seemed to come from the lighting booth at the very back of the house.

The crowd at the stage door after the performance was formidable. One person was heard to joke that he had could not believe someone made an opera of Kevin Costner's post-apocalyptic film. A pair of immodest girls in revealing gowns were seen congratulating tenor Daniel Montenegro (1st Thug).

MTT conducts Harrison, Copland, & Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky-4 * Notes * 
San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas returned to Davies Hall with a program of Lou Harrison, Copland, and Tchaikovsky last night. Harrison's rather orientalist A Parade was cheerful and shimmery. The duet between the concertmaster and principal violist was particularly lovely. This was followed by two Copland pieces, the first, Quiet City, featured English horn and trumpet. Playing the former, Russ DeLuna had a pleasant, mellow sound. Playing the latter, Mark Inouye sounded sweet. Copland's Organ Symphony did not engage me, though organist Paul Jacobs played beautifully. After the intermission we heard Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F minor. The oboe was gorgeous in the Andantino in modo di canzona. The Scherzo was charming, the strings did a great job with the pizzicato ostinato. The brass was powerful and only had one vulnerable moment in the Finale.

* Tattling * 
There was some whispering during Wednesday's performance in San Francisco. The regular watch alarms were heard a the hour. We were asked to be especially quiet during the Organ Symphony, as it was recorded. Even still, someone on the left side of the Orchestra Level managed to drop something during this music, and was glared at by the indignant patrons in Row R.

SF Opera's Figaro

Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) and Danielle de Niese (Susanna) with members of the chorus, photo by Cory Weaver * Notes *
The most recent revival of Le Nozze di Figaro opened last night at San Francisco Opera. Zack Brown's Goya-inspired set is nearly thirty years old, but is perfectly serviceable. Though the scene changes are awkward between acts, everything does look quite nice. The direction from John Copley is thoughtful, he handled the chorus especially deftly. The motivation for every movement was apparent.

Maestro Luisotti conducted the 42 musicians of the reduced orchestra, and played the fortepiano. The sound was verdant. The strings and woodwinds sparkled, and the brass was pleasant but hazy. The tempi were fast, and there was never a dull moment.

The cast was uniformly impressive, both in singing and acting. The chorus sounded particularly pure and clear in Acts I and IV. Adler Sara Gartland had a promising debut as Barbarina, her aria that starts Act IV went well. Robert MacNeil made the most of Don Curzio and was funny. Likewise, Bojan Kneževiċ sounded great as a rather wild-eyed Antonio. John Del Carlo (Doctor Bartolo), Greg Fedderly (Don Basilio), and Catherine Cook (Marcellina) were spirited and had perfect comic timing.

Michèle Losier (Cherubino) did not win me over in her first aria, her voice had a hysterical edge to it instead of sounding breathlessly youthful. Her "Voi che sapete" was pretty, and she does look convincingly boyish. In the title role, Luca Pisaroni started off slowly and lacked punch. By "Non più andrai" he did sound lovely, and looked comfortable on stage. Pisaroni's voice has taken more weight since we last heard him as Masetto in 2007. Danielle de Niese made for a sweet but sassy Susanna. Her "Deh, vieni, non tardar" seemed effortless. Lucas Meachem and Ellie Dehn were both strong as the Count and Countess. Meachem was warm and vibrant. Dehn can sound perfectly brilliant, and there was only the slightest roughness in "Dove sono i bei momenti."

* Tattling * 
Before the performance I had the pleasure introducing Axel Feldheim to Adler Leah Crocetto, the cover for the Countess, in the press room. We found we were seated in the same row as Adler David Lomelí, who got an introduction as well.

There was light talking during the music. Some audience members did not heed the request to remain seated during the brief pauses between acts. At least one person even made a telephone call during the first one. A watch alarm was heard during "L'ho perduta, me meschina."

John Copley was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal by David Gockley after the performance. Copley told an anecdote about Marilyn Horne being picked up at SFO. He also expressed his pleasure of being placed on the "diva list," as many renowned divas have received the aforementioned award.

Danielle de Niese Interview

Danielle de Niese, Decca / Chris Dunlop Soprano Danielle de Niese (pictured left, photograph courtesy of Decca / Chris Dunlop) will have her debut at San Francisco Opera today as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. Later this season she sings Despina in The Met's Così fan tutte, conducted by William Christie. In March de Niese will fulfill her dream of working with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, singing the title role of Rodelinda at Theater an der Wien. The Opera Tattler caught up with Danielle on Friday after a talk with students from the San Francisco School of the Arts and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music that followed the final dress rehearsal of Figaro.

Where did you grow up in LA?
Hancock Park.

Do you still consider it home even though you live in the UK and your parents live on the East Coast?
I do still think of LA as a big home for me, since I spent my adolescence there, in the 90s.

Is your family musical? How did you find opera?
My mother sang, not classical music, but she still always gets the final word on how I'm sounding. My dad's parents also sang. On the other hand, my brother is a pharmacist, and though I do have loads of cousins, 40 or so, but none of them are singers. My parents had me take tons of lessons, everything from dance to tennis to karate. I just took to singing like a duck to water. I remember when I was a kid I would look forward to taking my voice lessons on Saturday mornings; it was my favorite day of the week!

Does it help to be pretty in this industry? Perhaps you can't say, since you've been pretty all along!
[Laughs] That's so sweet of you to say, thank you! I wish I could give a yes or no answer to this one, but it is very grey. I think you have to have personality over looks, but you of course have to have a voice. Opera is about singing. I don't think it hurts to be beautiful, but it is more a plus than anything else. I know it sounds strange, but there are loads of pretty singers, so you have to have something more to give.

You've performed in a lot of Baroque operas, what do you find appealing about this music?
Baroque music is good for young voices, the orchestration is light. In Baroque music, you have the da capo aria, and as a singer you can compose your own ornamentation. It is only in Baroque music that you are allowed the freedom within the form this way. If you sing Mimì, Puccini's music is all written out, and though every performance is different, it is on the page in a way that something like Cleopatra is not.

In 1988 you won Young Talent Time, an Australian television contest, singing a Whitney Houston medley. Do you have a favorite song from Whitney?
The medley was of "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" and "Greatest Love of All," so I definitely love those two songs. "I Will Always Love You" is also one of my favorites, since I loved the movie The Bodyguard.

What sort of dance are you trained in?
Ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and folklorico. I concentrated most on modern, jazz, and tap though.

What is on your ipod that isn't opera?
I can't live without my ipod! Some of my favorite non-classical music includes Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, and Beyoncé.

What sort of cardio do you do?
I used to run, because if you are pressed for time, running is very efficient. Unfortunately, I can't run right now because one of my knees is filled with fluid. So I've been on the multi-stride elliptical, which bounces and is easier on the joints. I'm even getting one for my house in England. I also swim and do some weight training.

How many pairs of shoes did you bring to San Francisco?
Let's see, 22 pairs? That's actually not too bad for me, I'm really my mother's daughter, and love shoes and handbags. But the weight restrictions are strict now, so my books outweigh my shoes.

What makes Bob Ross so awesome?
I just saw a re-run of Bob Ross on PBS, with his big gorgeous hair, exuding an effortless calm. He was just so sweet and I can't believe he is gone! Drawing is the one artistic thing I really can't do, and Bob Ross made it look so easy.

Do you like cupcakes?
Though I don't go out of my way to have them, I do like cupcakes.

Which scene in Figaro would look best depicted with cupcakes as singers?
Definitely the night scene of Act IV. I can imagine all the cupcakes peeking around the pines. You know they are half pines, right?

Yes, we have to pretend they go all the way around, but they are flat in the back!

Ellen Hargis & Paul O'Dette at SFEMS

Hargis_ODette * Notes * 
The San Francisco Early Music Society recently presented soprano Ellen Hargis and lutenist Paul O'Dette in a concert of Barbara Strozzi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Cesti, and Alessandro Piccinini. I skipped the second half of Opera in the Park for the San Francisco performance, and did not regret it. Hargis has a pure, clarion tone. Her high notes are brilliant, only a few of her lower notes did not sound quite as lovely. O'Dette played cleanly, his rather dry technique suited the music and the singer. I especially enjoyed the rhythms of Strozzi's "Questa è la nuova."

* Tattling * 
Hargis made a paper airplane during "L'Astratto." The audience appeared quite elderly, and I felt younger than ever seated a few rows back from the front of St. Mark's Lutheran Church. A cellular phone rang during the first Adagio of Scarlatti's "Orfeo," but otherwise everyone was very attentive and supportive.

Cal Performances Fall Free for All 2010

Postcard Front - Final Cal Performances opens the 2010-2011 season with an impressive array of free performances next Sunday, September 26th. Our beloved San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Leah Crocetto, Sara Gartland, Brian Jagde, and Tamara Sanikidze are participating. Other performers include Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, the Mark Morris Dance Group, Melody of China, the John Santos Sextet, the Pacific Mozart Ensemble, the Word for Word Theater Company, Teslim with Kaila Flexer and Gari Hegedus, the Diamano Couras West African Dance Company, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Ensemble, classical guitarist Marc Teicholz, singer/musician Melanie DeMore, and the UC Jazz Ensembles. The Opera Tattler is quite sad to miss this, but will be out of town.

Fall Free for All | Official Site