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LA Opera's Lohengrin

La-opera-lohengrin * Notes *
Yesterday's matinée performance of Lohengrin opened at Los Angeles Opera was the second of six. The new production, designed by Dirk Hofacker and directed by Lydia Steier, is exceedingly silly. The set is on a turntable and appears to be set amidst German ruins in a Prussian army camp. One especially enjoyed the fact that the swan that brings Lohengrin is a bed covered tent (pictured left with Soile Isokoski and Ben Heppner, photograph by Robert Millard). The choreography was not well-motivated and perhaps merely served the set, which was rotated at various points. At times it seemed that people rushed aimlessly around the stage and ended up at their marks too early.

Maestro Conlon kept the music going at a good pace. For the most part the woodwinds sounded pretty. The brass make a few mistakes, especially in Act II, but managed to be effective. The chorus was lovely, though again, as with Rigoletto, there were a few times when synchronization was a problem. "Treulich geführt" came off beautifully, sounding clear and together.

There were many familiar faces in the cast. Robert MacNeil and Greg Fedderly were the First and Second Noblemen, while Domingo-Thornton Young Artists Matthew Anchel and Museop Kim were the Third and Fourth. Baritone Eike Wilm Schulte was the Herald. All sang nicely.

Most of the principal singers were impressive. Dolora Zajick made for the perfect Ortrud, she sang with strength, richness, and with appropriate haughtiness. James Johnson played a tormented Friedrich von Telramund, his voice too is robust. Kristinn Sigmundsson sounded noble as King Heinrich.

Soile Isokoski gleamed as Elsa, and sounded particularly sublime in "Einsam in trüben Tage." Some of her lower notes in Act II were not as lucid as her high ones. In the title role, Ben Heppner struggled. From the start the production did not make him seem heroic. When he emerged from the tent he hardly cut a fine figure, as his coat was unbuttoned, which was not a flattering look. If Heppner was in good voice, this would not have mattered, but unfortunately this was not the case. He had a few good moments, his voice has a warmth to it, and volume. However, he wailed his way up to high notes that were strained and rough. It was painful to hear him hail Elsa in Act II and he even cracked badly in the last act.

* Tattling * 
Nearly every type of unpleasant behavior was on display from the audience members in Balcony B. The couple in K 40 and 41 talked nearly every time a soloist was not singing, so even during the famous Bridal March. The woman in L 37 unwrapped cough drops and incessantly scratched herself during Act I, but had the good sense to leave, as she clearly was not feeling well. Someone in Row M tapped her stiletto heels against the concrete floor distractedly, while someone else in Row L quietly sang along. A mobile phone rang during Act II, but it was on so low that he or she did not even hear it, and did not turn it off. There was periodic beeping, perhaps from a recording device. Flash photographs were taken during the ovation. The worst offender was a person at the back of the house with a very loud phone, which rang at the end of the opera on four separate occasions.

LA Opera's Rigoletto

La-opera-rigoletto * Notes *
Rigoletto opened at Los Angeles Opera last night. San Francisco Opera's production, designed by Michael Yeargan and directed by Mark Lamos, takes inspiration from the painter Giorgio de Chirico. The stage looked clean, and Mark McCullough's lighting was effective in defining the various spaces, but garish at times. Constance Hoffman's attractive costumes did not seem to take as much from the scuola metafisica art movement founded by De Chirico, except for the color palette, perhaps.

Music Director James Conlon kept the orchestra together, and the brass sounded more focused than usual. The flute may have had some harsh moments, particularly in "Caro nome," but the oboe was sweet and clear, especially in "Tutte le feste al tempio." The cello solo in "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata" was also strong. The chorus sounded clear, but was not always with the orchestra.

Many of the smaller roles were filled by Domingo-Thornton Young Artists, including Matthew Anchel (Count Ceprano), Janai Brugger-Orman (A Page), Valentina Fleer (Countess Ceprano), Carin Gilfry (Giovanna), and Museop Kim (Marullo). All aquitted themselves well, but Carin Gilfry's lustrous voice stood out, even against Sarah Coburn's brilliant Gilda.

As Maddalena, Kendall Gladen acted convincingly, but was somewhat difficult to hear in the quartet of Act III, her voice blended too well with the orchestra. Andrea Silvestrelli was threatening as Sparafucile, his voice has such an endless richness to it. Daniel Sumegi sounded in character for the elderly Count Monterone, gravelly and shaky. Sarah Coburn had a burnished warmth as Gilda, but also a pleasing bird-like quality. She hit a sour note in "Caro Nome," but was otherwise great. Gianluca Terranova was dashing as the Duke of Mantua, he did started off barking a bit too much, but sang more legato as the night wore on. His voice is not meaty, but he sparkled above the orchestra effectively without screaming. George Gagnidze was fairly subtle in the title role. He was behind the orchestra in the "la ra, la ra" part of Act II. He was moving in the final scene, the duet ("V'ho ingannato!") with Coburn was beautiful.

* Tattling * 
One was amused to see that the dancers in the opening scene had their bosoms revealed again, as they had been covered up in San Francisco's last revival. There was not a huge amount of talking from the audience in Balcony B. I had a coughing fit during Act I Scene 2, and someone was kind enough to give me a cough drop. The woman next to me in J36 had her leather jacket draped over the arm rest. I should have said something but it was difficult to get her attention, she was ill and engaged in conversation with her companion. After the performance ended, she swung her jacket against me as she put it on, and I could only laugh at how ridiculous this was.

SF Opera's Aida (November/December Cast)

Trimphal-march   * Notes * 
The November/December run of Aida at San Francisco Opera opened last night with Maestro Giuseppe Finzi at the helm and a bevy of new principal singers. The orchestra sounded rather pretty but not perfectly secure, there was some slight squeaking from the woodwinds, brief fuzzy moments in the brass, and the finale of Act II was not exactly together. Though comparisons are odious, it is difficult not to compare this cast with the one that opened the season in September. On the whole, this group was more balanced as far as both singing and acting is concerned.

Somehow the performance did not coalesce, even though the individuals involved are all talented. Tenor Brian Jagde made the most of the small role of the messenger, and Leah Crocetto sounded robust yet mysterious as the priestess. Christian Van Horn made for a powerful the King of Egypt, and Eric Owens was likewise strong as Ramfis. Quinn Kelsey was beautifully lyrical as Amonasro, his characterization is markedly different than Marco Vratogna's, but still formidable.

Carlo Ventre had a lot of volume as Radames, his voice is reedy, and has a weeping quality to it, almost as if he was sobbing out the lines. Guang Yang (Amneris) was also rather loud, her voice flexible, but she seemed to rush at a few points. Michele Capalbo obviously understood every word she sang as Aida, and nuanced her voice appropriately. She too has a large, dark voice, but she was not always smooth, there were catches and gasps here and there. During "Ritorna vincitor" in Act I we heard drilling and banging coming from backstage.

* Tattling * 
Latecomers talked a great deal as they waited in balcony standing room to be seated. A mobile phone rang right before the words "Immenso Ftah" are sung in Act I, and watch alarms were heard at each hour. During intermission I heard a ridiculous woman complain in Mandarin about how fat Capalbo was, and her companion corrected her, saying that it was Yang that was the heavier one. She only responded that no, they were both fat. After this, someone was nice enough to give me a ticket for the Balcony Circle, but unfortunately people talked aloud throughout. The French speakers in Row D Seats 13 and 15 were particularly chatty.

Don Carlo at the Met

Met-don-carlo Metropolitan Opera's Don Carlo, a co-production with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, opened last night. What follows is the Unbiased Opinionator's account of the prima.

* Notes * 
Very rarely does an opera with a 7:00 pm start time and midnight closing curtain, on a Monday night, rivet an audience into rapt silence. Absent Bayreuth-style, hour-long intermissions, the performance can be a grueling experience, for singers and audience alike. I am happy to report that the evening sped by –with compelling stage direction, impressive set design and above all, a very strong cast led by a conductor who knew what he wanted from the score and radiated both confident mastery and reverence and respect for the difficult tasks faced by the principals.

It would require a curmudgeon the likes of Wagner's Beckmesser to nit-pick the performance last evening, the season premiere of Don Carlo at the Met. The opera was performed in the five act version in Italian, not the original French version, and is loosely based on the Schiller play, reworked by the playwright François Joseph Méry (1798-1866). The libretto was completed by Camille de Locle after Méry's death.

Verdi spent over twenty years tweaking what is considered by many, and most definitely by this reviewer, as Verdi's magnum opus. Many of his revisions were undertaken after Aida and the Requiem, and Verdi's growth and mastery, acquired after composing Aida (an opera similar in scope and ambition to Don Carlo, where the private passions of individual players take place before an enormous historical back-drop) and the Requiem, which drew Verdi into the realm of the sacred, seem to culminate in the final version of Don Carlo, where personages of enormous political power struggle to reconcile their private loves, disappointments and sense of tragic doom with the crushing political burdens forced upon them by history.

The sets and costumes were in every way effective and impressive, no more so than in the monastery of St. Just, with its subterranean catacomb containing the sarcophagus of Charles the Fifth, and the striking set of the third act auto-da-fe with the Valladolid Cathedral cast in gold, the sky blood red, and a huge portrait of Christ in torment dominating stage left, which at the end of the Act becomes a transparency behind which we see the remains of heretics burned at the stake. All the horror of the Spanish Inquisition was felt here. Torture and death by fire were suggested, not imposed on the audience literally, which increased the sense of terror and mania underlying the Inquisition.

Roberto Alagna's performance of the title role, after initial dryness and forcing in his only aria "Io la Vidi," was impressive and moving. This role is thankless and in most performances only memorable if the tenor is not up to its demands. Don Carlo has but one real aria, and the role is extremely long and taxing. As the evening developed, Alagna become more convincing, with an powerful top and deeply felt expression.

To this reviewer, the musical and dramatic high point of the show was Ferruccio Furlanetto's rendition of the King's great aria "Ella Giammai M'amo." It would take an entire review in itself to explore the rich detail, the sonority and variety of vocal and expressive color Furlanetto was able to bring to this aria, perhaps the greatest aria for bass ever written by Verdi. The arching phrase "Amor per me non ha," greatly feared by basses, is repeated twice. In the first of two repetitions, this great artist succeeded in slimming his large voice into a slender, yet ringing, stream of sound. He did not allow himself to be rushed by the conductor, taking all the time he needed to properly breathe and prepare for each, ever more challenge phrase, but in no way diminishing the intensifying drama of this scena. In the reprise of the difficult phrase mentioned above, he opened up with a massive, engulfing sound that was overwhelming in its emotional intensity, as the King, possessing all the political might of the world, mourns his wife's lack of love and his solitude.

Marilyn Horne, a great Eboli in her day, correctly describes the this role as actually requiring three singers; one with the flexibility of the Veil Song, one for the enraged Eboli, rejected by Carlo in their in the first scene of Act III, and one who can pull out all the stops for the virtuosic showpiece "O Don Fatale." The mezzo Anna Smirnova was really only truly suited to the last of these challenges: her Veil Song was labored and lacked subtlety. However, her powerful, dark vocalism and marvelous high B in her Third Act aria were breathtaking. Marina Poplavskaya's Elizabeth was sung with great beauty and a sublime fil de voce- the ability to thread a high note into a spinning pianissimo. Unfortunately, she was overburdened by the challenges of this long evening, and her final aria "Tu Che la Vanita" was effortful, with a forced top and limited emotional impact. Simon Keenlyside, who performed an admirable Hamlet last year at the Met in Ambrose Thomas' opera, was a fine dramatic presence, but seemed a bit out of his depth vocally. He was often overpowered by the orchestra, and his aria "Per me Giunto," where he pledges his life to saving beleaguered Flanders and declaring his loyalty and bond of love to Carlo, was weak.

The great stage veteran, Eric Halfvarson, a memorable Hagen in Götterdämmerung, captured impressively the ancient, blind yet all-powerful and menacing Grand Inquisitor. At this stage in his long career, Halfvarson's voice tends to spread and wobble at climactic moments, but this is a mere cavil – so effective and blood-chilling was his delivery and presence. His cardinal red robe, the only color in the darkness of Phillip's chamber, was a blood-shot reminder of his fanatical pursuit of heretics and the horror of burning at the stake of his victims. In the great confrontational duet between the King and the Inquisitor, I had the sense that phrases were not given an opportunity to resonate, but rather were precipitously jammed together by the conductor, which diminished somewhat the impact of this tremendous scene. Secondary roles were well sung, especially by Lalya Claire (in her Met debut s the Elizabeth's page Tebaldo) and the Celestial Voice (Jennifer Check), who is given the daunting tasking of performing a short, very high and exposed angelic line at the end of the Act III. She met this challenge with courage, and sang from a position high in the auditorium balconies, not on or behind the stage. The Friar (Alexei Tonvitsky, in his Met debut) was imposing. A special mention should be made of the 6 Flemish Deputies, who sing in unison in the Act III auto da fe, imploring King Philip for relief for the Flemish people. The blend was perfect, resulting in the sense of one voice pleading, yet dignified.

There were too many marvels emanating from the pit to describe them all. The horn section, playing in unison at the beginning of Act IV was perfect in its somber sonority. I had the occasion to hear this performance from two positions, one in the front row of the Grand Tier, where the orchestra seemed overloud, since its sound projects upward while the singers' voices tend to project directionally forward into the hall. A seat in Orchestra Row Z, just under the parterre boxes, gave a better sense of balance, and my initial impression that conductor Yannick Nézet-Séquin was insensitive to the singers was corrected when I heard the performance in this horizontal acoustic plane.

* Tattling * 
As this was the opening Gala Performance of Don Carlo, the audience was especially glamorous and well-dressed. Disruptions by cellphones and yakking were minimal, and people remained after the performance long enough to render a loud and fitting approval of the evening's performance, which will remain in my memory as one of the best I have heard at the Met.

Serse at Berkeley West Edge Opera

Serse-el-cerrito * Notes *
The production of Serse that recently completed a run at Berkeley West Edge Opera turned Händel's opera seria on its head, to amusing effect. Though I was reluctant to go to this, as I had just heard and seen a fantastic Serse in Houston only 7 months ago, the experience in El Cerrito was not without rewards.

Mark Streshinsky did a fine job with the production, the stage looked clean, the branches woven into the shape of a plane tree were attractive, and the opera managed to be rather funny without being stupid. Though the orchestra was together under conductor Alan Curtis, there were consistent intonation problems, especially in the strings. The chorus had trouble staying with the orchestra, perhaps because they were so far upstage.

The cast acted well. Donald Sherrill was hilarious as Elviro, especially when pretending to peddle flowers. Anna Slate was also very entertaining as the ridiculous Atalanta. Ryan Belongie sounded wonderfully warm and clear as Arsamene. Angela Cadelago made for a winsome Romilda, though her singing was not perfectly clean and her vibrato was somewhat distracting. Cadelago was lovely in the finale, as was the chorus. Paula Rasmussen sounded lucid and strong throughout in the title role.

* Tattling * 
The audience was engaged by the performance, though somewhat confused by the convoluted plot. There was much talking during the first half of the opera from the people in Row U Seats 24-26 in the balcony. Thankfully, I had the good fortune to not be seated next to anyone, and was able to move away from them.

Und kichern und huschen vorbei

Bryn-terfel * Notes * 
Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel is currently in California for performances at LA Phil this week, but he stopped by Berkeley for a recital presented by Cal Performances last night. The first half of the program was devoted to Schumann, and Terfel sang Belsatzar, Liederkreis, "Die beiden Grenadiere" from Romanzen und Balladen, and Mein Wagen rollet langsam. Accompanied deftly by Malcolm Martineau, Terfel exuded generosity and charm as a performer. The Liederkreis was particularly telling, Terfel sang with ease, the dynamic contrasts were beautiful, and his every word was clear. The last Schumann piece, Mein Wagen rollet langsam, was quite funny, and Terfel made is way off stage as Martineau continued to play.

Terfel and Martineau were likewise evocative and engaging in Finzi's Let Us Garlands Bring. The Quatre Chansons de Don Quichotte from Ibert was lovely, especially the "Chanson de la Mort." The last part of the program was a tribute to the Welsh-American baritone John Charles Thomas. Terfel proved rather droll here, singing various pieces and telling stories about John Charles Thomas. He started with Joyce Kilmer's poem "Trees," moved on to the Welsh folksong "Ar Hyd y Nos," and sang Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Ghosts' High Noon" with much spirit. Terfel had us join him for "Home on the Range," and even joked the audience was better than the one at Carnegie Hall, where he gave essentially the same recital last Wednesday. The tribute ended with The Lord's Prayer set by Albert Hay Malotte.

The three encores were "Trade Winds" by Frederick Keel, "Green-Eyed Dragon With the Thirteen Tails" by Wolseley Charles, and "Tally Ho!" by Franco Leoni. Terfel sang the second piece with music, since it was only given to him last week after the aforementioned recital in New York.

* Tattling * 
Bryn Terfel commanded the rapt attention of the audience, which was unusually quiet. The young woman next to me did impatiently urge an usher to get out of her line of sight at the very beginning of Liederkreis. There was quite a lot of screaming during the ovations, someone even was moved to ululate.

Carmen at the Met

Carmen-metMetropolitan Opera's new production of Carmen was revived this season. Here is the Unbiased Opinionator's account of the performance that occurred on November 16th.

* Notes * 
The Metropolitan Opera's reprise of its 2009 production of Carmen, directed by Richard Eyre, updates the story from Prosper Mérimée's 1830s setting to the time of the Spanish Civil War. This concept is not new: Frank Corsaro imposed it on the low-budget New York City Opera production back in 1984, which was reprised several times. I saw the NYCO production in the late 90s, and an unfortunate parallel must be drawn: one has the impression that the updating is done only to save money by substituting drab costumes and sets for what should be a rich visual spectacle. Audiences "listen with their eyes" as well as their ears, as the saying goes, and in this case the visuals cast a pall on the entire opera, with some exceptions, to be noted below.

One exception to the dreariness of the color palette of this production was the striking blood-red slash streaking downward through the fire curtain as one entered the auditorium, which found an admirable symmetry in the gown in which Carmen meets her fate at the end of the opera: a black lace dress (trajes de faraleas) with an identical red streak down the front, something akin to a lightening bolt.

To this listener, the performance was murdered in its cradle by the impossibly fast tempi chosen by conductor, Edward Gardner, in his Met debut. The opening overture was driven to such an extreme that the only the marvelous Met orchestra could have kept up. The result was a depressing lack of rhythmic drive, absence of phrasing, loss of clarity of instrumentation and ragged ensemble. This was particularly obvious in the third act, and the failure of coordination verged on outright disaster. Perhaps Gardner was told by management to keep his eye on the clock, as overtime starts at midnight. Seated relatively closely to the stage, I could not discern a prompter's box, and absent a prompter, and even with TV monitors, the cast displayed almost telepathic capacity with which to maintain minimal coordination with the pit. I believe this to be one of the curses of our time, the confusion of speed with energy.

The admirable Met chorus seemed underpowered in this performance, except for lyric passages which were sung with great beauty and balance. The children's chorus was brilliantly energized and forceful. I often marvel at the capacity of a child's voice to carry in a house the size of the Met, an object lesson to adult singers and to voice teachers alike.

We had, once again, the ever present Met turntable set design; rotating vertical cuffs which serve in their various permutations as cigarette factory, tavern, gypsy hideout and bullring. Peter Mumford"s lighting design washed the stage in a dim haze throughout the evening. Piercing, brilliant Spanish sunlight was nowhere to be seen, even in the final act, except at the moment where Jose murders Carmen, when the sky momentarily turns blood red.

The Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanča possesses a voice of great beauty, graced with a secure technique and a powerful top. She is also blessed with an extremely attractive physical presence and the ability to move well on stage. However, one wished for more risk-taking, more earthiness. Her delivery undercut Carmen's predatory sexuality by substituting finely formed vocalism for dramatic power. It seemed that she either lacked, or was unwilling to dig into, the chest register where the music and drama require it. This is a great challenge for a good singer: how to go beyond certain technical boundaries without risking vocal health. I would love to hear this singer in other repertory, Mozart, Strauss or Mahler, where her cool Baltic temperament and vocal gift might be heard to better effect.

Tenor Brandon Jovanovich's Don José was vocally gratifying and visually handsome. He possesses a voice with the sufficient "blade" (as Colin Davis used to call it) with which to fill the large Met auditorium, and he finished his Flower Song with a beautiful voix-mixte B-flat. He overcame an initial impression of physical stiffness and unease and built his delivery to fine dramatic effect in the last act. On the minus side, he was not served well at the opera's conclusion by the costume designer, who draped him in what looked like a monk's robe with a huge cross dangling across his chest – a too literal take on his line to Carmen: "laisse moi te sauver." A fine bit of staging, having José slam Carmen into a wall, dazing her as he pleads with her not to desert him, was spoiled by an unsupported piece of the set which tottered comically upon impact.

Of the remaining cast, John Relyea's Escamillo was to this listener a disappointment in every respect except one, his dashing physical presence. I have greatly admired this singer in other roles, particularly, Faust in Berlioz's Damnation of Faust. Here, however, his ample bass-baritone was hampered by a swallowed delivery and weak top. Nicole Cabell as Micaëla, while sweet of voice, seemed underpowered in the Met's cavernous auditorium although she played the role with sincerity. At the risk of belaboring the point, one has to again fault the conductor, who put Cabell into a rhythmic vice in her signature aria "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante." His dictatorial, metronomic beat robbed this singer of any chance to employ expressive rubato or flow. She wisely delivered her high B front and center, figuratively wresting the baton from Edward Gardner's hands and giving herself a chance to make a true impact. Michael Todd Simpson as Moralès and Keith Miller as Zuniga were effective. Joyce El-Khoury (in her Met debut) as Frasquita, Eve Gigliotti as Mercédès and their gypsy cohorts didn' t stand a chance vocally, given Gardner' s whirlwind tempi, although they executed their choreographic and dramatic duties with expertise.

A special mention should be made of the beautiful and expressive dancing of Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey, and of the beautiful rendition of the Act III Entr'acte by members of the Met orchestra.

* Tattling * 
The Met audience was better-behaved than usual, although one man behind me insisted on humming alone with the "Toreador Song" in the overture. Two women of a certain age insisted on exchanging remarks despite nasty looks from UO and from Miss LCU. There was the usual, inevitable standing ovation by the audience members who chose not to bolt for the doors the minute the show ended. How one longs for European audiences, who rarely give standing ovations, except for performances of extraordinary "once-in-a-lifetime" impact.

Elza van den Heever sings 4 Last Songs

Michael_tilson_thomas * Notes *
Michael Tilson Thomas is conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Schubert and Richard Strauss this week. MTT introduced the Schubert piece, the Entr'acte No. 1 (Allegro molto moderato), from Incidental Music for the Play Rosamunde, D.797, noting it has never been played by SF Symphony before and is in B minor like Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. The Entr'acte struck me as being a bit silly, but fun to play. The orchestra did sound together and the dynamic contrasts were good. Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder was more impressive, not least of all because of the soprano, Elza van den Heever. Her voice is thrilling, and she soared over the orchestra with a beautiful calm. The second Strauss piece, Ein Heldenleben, Opus 40, seemed rather long in comparison to the first. Violinist Alexander Barantschik played well, as did the pair of harpists and the off-stage trumpet players.

* Tattling * 
The people in the center of Row E on the Orchestra Level were very quiet and attentive.

On the Upcoming Fortnight (Terfel & Heppner)

Tonight I am off to the third performance of San Francisco Opera's The Makropulos Case. It is so wonderful, I regret not being able to attend every performance. During the fourth performance on next Saturday I will be in Berkeley hearing Bryn Terfel sing Schumann, Finzi, and Ibert. Since I have never heard Terfel before, I am making an exception about recitals, which I generally disdain. For the last performance of Makropulos I will be hearing at Los Angeles Opera for Lohengrin. The cast includes Ben Heppner in the title role, and as I have never heard him live either, it may be worth missing the Janáček.

Byrn Terfel at Cal Performances | Lohengrin at LA Opera

GBOpera Collaboration

The Opera Tattler is pleased to announce an exclusive collaboration with GBOpera, the Italian-based online opera magazine. Founded in 2008 by Giorgio Bagnoli, the publication features reviews of shows staged in the major theaters of Northern and Central Italy, the latest stories in the opera world, and interviews with some of the most prominent singers and personalities in the bel canto panorama. GBOpera's artist interview series, "Senza Trucco" ("Without Makeup"), aims at highlighting and exposing the more personal aspects and characteristics an artist is compelled to leave behind the scenes when going on stage. GBOpera is constantly updated with various kinds of news, from press releases to information concerning TV broadcasts, to sections devoted to such themes as an artist's career or technique issues. The magazine has also recently expanded its coverage to include the ballet world.

Measha Brueggergosman at SF Performances

Brueggergosman Whilst the Opera Tattler attended the opening performance of The Makropulos Case at the War Memorial Opera House last Wednesday, the Last Chinese Unicorn was at the nearby Herbst Theatre for a program presented by San Francisco Performances.

* Notes * 
As soon as the lovely Measha Brueggergosman stepped on stage she lit up the entire theater. She was dressed in vibrant colors, wearing a luscious, deep red gown with a bright orange wrap draped over her shoulders, but it was her exuberant ear-to-ear smile that was the source of her radiance. She opened her mouth and what poured out was divine. Her voice is the perfect balance of warmth and brilliance. There are some singers who make you nervous and keep you at the edge of your seat because you are never quite certain whether or not they will deliver the next note with precision or enough nuance, or if they might run out of air. Brueggergosman is not one of those. She produces a sound that is deeply anchored in the belly with excellent breath control and effortless delivery. Her voice puts the audience at ease so they can sit back, relax and enjoy the music. She also sings with such expressiveness on her face that there is no need for her to move her arms, which remain firmly planted at her sides.

The program consisted of songs in German (Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Berg), French (Duparc), and Spanish (Turina) plus two romantic piano pieces played by the accompanist Justus Zeyen, who is also known for his collaborations with renowned German bass-baritone, Thomas Quasthoff. Zeyen's playing was earnest without the theatrical bells and whistles we too often see from some of the younger pianists today (who will remain nameless, as we all know who they are). His Chopin Nocturne in D-flat Major, Opus 27, No. 2 was especially poetic. Zeyen played with the physical stillness and stoicism of Arthur Rubinstein, but the notes had a tender song-like quality to them filled with bitter-sweet melancholy. Measha's German diction was certain better than her French. Her "Nachtstück" D.672 by Schubert, "Wiegenlied," Opus 41, No. 1 and "Ständchen," Opus 17, No. 2 both by Strauss were sublime. The Spanish songs were fiery and feisty, with elements of magical realism. Musically I did not care much for the Berg, but I suppose they were fine.

During intermission Measha did a costume change and came out in the second half rocking a full-length sassy sparkly silver sequin number. It was hot. Whistles and gasps were heard from the audience. She even changed her lip color to something a little more bright and pink to go with the outfit. This is clearly a woman who knows how to put together a look. For her encore, the soprano sang Samuel Barber's "Sure on this Shining Night." The real litmus test was passed with the purchase of her newly released CD titled Night and Dreams. That is how much I enjoyed Measha's singing and her charming on-stage charisma.

* Tattling * 
My date complained about some unpleasant body odor emanating from the elderly man sitting next to her. Other than that, the audience was well-behaved and appropriately held their applause for the breaks in between sets.

Michael Francis & Rufus Wainwright at SFS

RufusWainwright * Notes * 
Michael Francis is currently conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Milhaud's La Création du monde, Rufus Wainwright's Five Shakespeare Sonnets, and Weill's Symphony No. 2. Last night's performance began with the jazz-influenced piece by Milhaud. The small ensemble did not appear to include a viola. The saxophone, clarinet, and oboe were particularly good. Next came the sonnets, which were sung by the composer himself. Wainwright used a microphone, which was unsurprising. His music was pleasant enough, but I did not really know what to make of it. It seemed that he could have done just as well with a piano rather than a whole orchestra. The Weill symphony was strong, the brass was together and not harsh, and the woodwinds sounded wonderful.

* Tattling * 
There was much talking and coughing during this performance. It was heartening to see many more younger people in the audience than usual.