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BluePrint: Riding the Elevator into the Sky

Breckenridge * Notes *
The ninth season of the BluePrint series at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music opened on Saturday night. The performance started with the West Coast premiere of Laura Schwendinger's Chiaroscuro Azzurro, which featured violinist Wei He. The New Music Ensemble sounded tightly together under conductor Nicole Paiement, whose every move seemed carefully noted by the musicians. Schwendinger's music ranged from ghostly to strident to meditative.

After intermission we got a bit of a preview of Ensemble Parallèle's forthcoming Orphée production, first in the form of the selections from the Orphée Suite, arranged for solo piano by Paul Barnes. Keisuke Nakogoshi played movements II, III, IV and VII. The playing was compelling, simply very beautiful. This was followed by the world premiere of David Conte's Sexton Songs, sung by soprano Marnie Breckenridge (pictured above, photograph by Michael Strickland) who is also singing in the aforementioned Orphée. Breckenridge was ill, and there may have been an ugly edge to her voice as a result, but she was arresting in these five poems by Anne Sexton set to music. Again the ensemble sounded clear and coherent.

* Tattling *
Since I sat next to John Marcher and behind SFMike, there is very little to tattle about as far as the audience. The audio system did misbehave and played during the Glass instead of just before the Conte.

MTT conducts Revueltas, Villa-Lobos, Varèse, & Beethoven

Lions-roar1 * Notes * 
Michael Tilson Thomas is conducting San Francisco Symphony a program of Revueltas, Villa-Lobos, Varèse, and Beethoven this week. Revueltas' Sensemayá sounded tropical and percussive, and Villa-Lobos' Ciranda das sete notas was quite pretty. Principal bassoon player Stephen Paulson was the soloist in the latter, and the lines were beautifully lyrical. The strings sounded supportive and legato, the principal bassist played particularly well. Before Varèse's Amériques, at least on Friday night, Michael Tilson Thomas addressed the crowd, telling us that this piece would be a "life-changing experience" and that the music sounded like "intoxicated football hooligans." The piece simply annoyed the three people I attended the symphony with, and many of the other audience-members around us. I was, however, very amused by the cow-siren sound that was employed, and completely boggled by which instrument this was on stage. At intermission, we ran into Donato Cabrera, the assistant conductor of SFS, and he helpfully identified this as the lion's roar, a percussion instrument. The concert ended with Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. The playing, while lovely, was not entirely cohesive. There was too much slack in the first two movements, especially the gorgeous Allegretto.

* Tattling * 
There was quite a bit of whispering in the First Tier and far too much clapping in between movements. I believe MTT asked the audience to not clap and to "guard the silence" after the Poco sostenuto — Vivace of the 7th, unfortunately to no avail.

Marco Vratogna Interview

Gold_shoes Baritone Marco Vratogna (pictured left in San Francisco, note trousers and shoes) just finished singing Amonasro in the season opening run of Aida at San Francisco Opera. He is scheduled to sing Jack Rance in La Fanciulla del West at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Ezio in Attila at La Scala in June. The Opera Tattler and the Last Chinese Unicorn met Marco with a rather raucous group of friends for dinner at Jardinière after his final performance of Aida last night.

How did you get involved with opera in the first place?
As a joke! I started singing in clubs and places like that, and got a lot of encouragement. I had a deal with my father that he would pay for my training for a year, and I would have to show some sort of success.

It has clearly worked out! Are there singers in your family?
My father's father was a tenor, he won a singing competition and got an engagement to sing Tosca in Rome. He couldn't do it, because, unfortunately, my grandmother became ill with multiple sclerosis.

What do you love about singing opera?
Everything! Especially the adrenaline rush of being on stage.

You sing a lot of villains such as Jago, Macbeth, and Attila. Which one do you identify with the most and why? Is this your favorite role to sing musically?
I don't really identify with these villains, except that they are all powerful men. My favorite is Macbeth because this role has many layers, is very intense, and is different in every moment.

Is it more fun to play the bad guy? Don't you ever want to get the girl though?
Yes, it is fun! No, you see what happens to the tenor! [Gestures to the next table at Marcello Giordani, Radames in Aida]

Do you have a dream role?
Rigoletto! This dream is coming true soon, I sing it in 2012. The opera is a masterpiece, and Rigoletto is the culmination of all the great Verdi baritone roles.

People are already saying that you were born to sing Rigoletto. How will you prepare for this role? Do you typically do a lot of research when learning new roles to try to understand your character both musically and psychologically?
I do research and read. Hugo's Le roi s'amuse is historically based, so my job is find the true story in that, to show you who the real person was.

You are a very physical performer, embodying your roles. Does this come naturally or have you studied movement?
Naturally. People want reality, so in a sense you just have to be yourself.

Are you excited about singing Attila at La Scala? Why is the La Scala audience so notoriously aggressive, booing and cheering with such fervor?
There is such a history at La Scala, the biggest stars have performed there, so the expectations are very high. The audience is crazy for opera.

You and Maestro Luisotti are very good friends. How is he to work with?
I met Nicola in 2001 for Stiffelio at Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi, in Trieste. He is great with singers.

Who would win in a game of thumb war? [OT and LCU demonstrate, and LCU promptly wins]
Me, of course!

How long has Luisotti had that long-sleeved navy polo?
At least 10 years. Nicola has a uniform! It is important, so that he can be identified as the leader, which he is, as the Maestro.

Do you have a favorite opera house?
San Francisco. The audience is responsive and knowledgeable. They can distinguish talent.

What singers do you admire and respect?
Baritones Ettore Bastianini and Piero Cappuccilli; tenors Franco Corelli and Aureliano Pertile; and sopranos Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas.

Complete this sentence. My idea of happiness is...

Spell horrible:

What do you do when you are not singing?
I am working on an electric and solar powered yacht business.

Here are some stereotypes about Italian men and you tell us if they apply to you:

Italian men like to eat pasta.

Italian men are passionate, hot blooded and jealous.

Italian men are spoiled by their mamas.

Italian men wear speedos, gold shoes, and tight pants.
Yes, in Italy all the football players wear gold shoes! Nice!

Italian men do not like to open doors and close windows.
I don't open the door, but I do close the window!

Humorous Observations on SF Opera's Figaro

Dehn-meachem * Tattling *
Yesterday's matinée performance Le Nozze di Figaro at San Francisco Opera started late and was rather chaotic. There was much traffic coming into the city, perhaps because of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the annual free music festival held in Golden Gate Park. Several latecomers were sent to the back of the balcony to stand, and most were not very happy about it. One person in the balcony, I could not tell if he was in standing room or in the last row, lost his temper. He practically yelled "Stop talking, shut up" at the offending people. Just before Act I ended, a member of the house staff came by and repeatedly announced that they should go to the appropriate level of the War Memorial to that their seats.

I accidentally arrived half an hour before my volunteer shift and ended up making the coffee for the SF Opera Guild Coffee Service for the first time. I did not get it done quite in time for an Adler Fellow mezzo-soprano, but I hope she got some later. During intermission I had a very quick conversation with the principal trumpet player, and an even speedier one with Bojan Kneževiċ. I wandered up to watch John F. Martin take photographs of Danielle de Niese and Ellie Dehn, he may have even convinced the Opera Tattler to have her portrait taken too.

* Notes * 
This time I paid special attention to just what Maestro Luisotti was interpolating into Figaro. Besides Eine Kleine Nachtmusik in Act I Scene 6, there was a tiny bit of "Treulich geführt" from Lohengrin two scenes later. The beginning of the third entr'acte of Carmen in Act III, before Scene 13 showed up briefly. Might have also heard Mozart's Sonata Facile in the eighth scene of the last act.

A Second Look at SF Opera's Figaro

Figaro-actiii-bartolo-marcellina * Notes *
The fourth of nine performances in San Francisco Opera's Le Nozze di Figaro revival this season was last night. From the back of the balcony everyone sounded robust. Maestro Luisotti's conducting highlighted the subtitle of this opera, ossia la folle giornata, and his playing of the fortepiano was filled with vim. I was better able to appreciate all the interpolated bits and pieces whilst reading the score. Much deserved praise has been given to the new principal oboe and clarinet, but the bassoons also sound lovely. The chorus sounded clear and pretty, except for in the Act III contadinelle, which seemed slightly off from the orchestra.

I was surprised how much of the humor comes through the voices and playing without the visual aspect of the performance. Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) was particularly funny, and all the character roles were very strong. I still did not care for Michèle Losier's "Non so più" and noticed the horns were not perfectly in tune in her second aria. Danielle de Niese's breathing was evident at times, especially in Act II's "Venite, inginocchiatevi!" and Ellie Dehn occasionally gasped in Act III. All these quibbles aside, I throughly enjoyed learning more about this piece by listening to this performance.

* Tattling * 
As I was volunteering in the gift shop, I only made it up to the balcony just before curtain. Thankfully, SFMike was saving me a spot on the bench beneath the light. No one bothered me during the music, though I had to explain more than once that I was not a singer and was only looking at the score for fun.

The supertitles were timed well, and all the laughter happened just at the right time. I believe there was applause for the Act IV set, or else something delightful happened onstage before Barbarina's aria that I missed.

At intermission the Last Chinese Unicorn was kind enough to bring me a beverage and afterward she waited patiently for me with tiny strawberry cupcakes. By the time we left they had locked most of the doors, and it was commented that we might as well be locked in, since we are at the War Memorial all the time.