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ABS performs Purcell and Händel

American_Bach_Soloist_1 * Notes *
The American Bach Soloists performed four odes for the "royal women of Britannia" yesterday evening in San Francisco. The first two works were from Purcell, and both for Queen Mary, namely Now Does the Glorious Day Appear and Come, ye Sons of Art. Both orchestra and chorus sounded neat and square under Jeffrey Thomas, and the only discernable error was a small squeak of the oboe during the soprano solo in the second piece. The soloists were all pleasant, Aaron Sheehan (tenor) and Clifton Massey (countertenor) were especially expansive and pleasing in sound. Countertenor Jay Carter did a fine job of stepping in at the last moment for an ailing Ian Howell.

The second half of the program consisted of two Händel pieces, the first a Te Deum for Queen Caroline, the second the birthday ode for Queen Anne, Eternal Source of Light Divine. The trumpet was impressively in tune for the Te Deum. The chorus and orchestra were very much together, and never overwhelmed the soloists.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet. In between the first two pieces the person behind us in Row D politely asked Axel Feldheim to move over one inch so that he could see.

Ensemble Parallèle's Orphée

Orphee5966 * Notes *
Philip Glass' Orphée was performed impressively by Ensemble Parallèle last night in San Francisco. The 14 musicians sounded lush but clean under Maestra Nicole Paiement. Brian Staufenbiel's production involved rather stunning circus art, including Roue Cyr, aerialism, and juggling. However, the video art, especially in the beginning, did not quite work, and people even laughed at the repetition in the introduction. It was used sparingly, and the pleasing retro circus feel was certainly attractive. The vision was carried through all the way from start to finish and the acting was convincing from all sides.

The singing was all very strong. Aglaonice, sung by Brooke Muñoz, sounded sweet. Austin Kness sounded robust in his two roles as a policeman and commissaire. Thomas Glenn was haunting particularly as Cégeste, also singing the role of the Reporter. Philip Skinner (Poet/Judge) was threatening, as was appropriate. Susannah Biller was a characteristically brilliant Euridice. John Duykers (Heurtebise) sang with tenderness, and Marnie Breckenridge (the Princess) was alluring. Breckenridge sounded icy and pure. In the title role, Eugene Brancoveanu was most awe-inspiring, his voice is hearty and sympathetic.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly well-behaved, but for some reason, the circus artists brought out the worst in them. The women in G 111 and 112 of the orchestra level could not stop talking during Act II, and one of them insisted on clapping and screaming for the aerealist despite the music.

Bychkov conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker

Vienna-phil * Notes * 
The Vienna Philharmonic's latest tour with Semyon Bychkov started in Cologne, has 5 stops in California, and ends in Toronto. Last night's performance at Cal Performances in Berkeley was the first of three different concerts here.

The evening began with Schubert's Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major. The sound was fastidious yet with much warmth and sweetness. The tempi changes were clear, and each of the movements were rendered transparently. The two parts of the first movement were distinct and had so much energy, the audience could be contained from clapping. The first three variations of the Andante lilted, while the fourth and fifth ones were more restrained, then the coda lilted yet again. The Menuetto danced, and the Presto vivace was robust.

After an intermission we heard Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. The playing was taut and ominious. The brass sounded lucid, the strings shimmered. This was followed by Béla Bartók's Suite from A csodálatos mandarin. The dense, chaotic work was played colorfully, but with control. The fugue was particularly brilliant.

* Tattling * 
The people around me were rather chatty before the performance and during the intermission. The man to my right got a lecture about the Vienna Philharmonic and the program notes were even read to him. He did listen to the performance in rapt silence. The person behind me happened to be a physics student writing for the Daily Cal, said writer was interograted extensively by a woman seated in H 6 of the orchestra. Everyone managed to be quiet during the music, except H 6's companion, who felt it necessary to exclaim during Bartók. He took my hushing of him well, and did not speak again.

Marnie Breckenridge Interview

Breckenridge This weekend soprano Marnie Breckenridge (pictured left) will be singing the role of the Princess in Ensemble Parallèle's production of Orphée by Philip Glass. She will be singing in The Rape of Lucretia with Castleton Opera, which will be presented by Cal Performances in Berkeley next month. Last week, the Opera Tattler met with her in a practice room of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music between rehearsals.

You attended San Francisco Conservatory of Music, so welcome back! Are you from California?
Yes, though the Conservatory was on Ortega Street then. I grew up in Claremont, California, lived in San Francisco and Napa, but now I live in New York.

I see you have sung in English quite a bit, such as in Love and Other Demons, Candide, and The Rape of Lucretia. Orphée of course is in French, what are the challenges of not singing in your native language?
French was the first foreign language I studied, before I knew I was going to be an opera singer. It does feel different in the body than English.

How did you get the role of the Princess?
I was already singing with Nicole Paiement for the BluePrint Series, so Brian Staufenbiel asked me to audition for the Glass. I sang Juliette's Waltz, and I got the part. I've never sung Glass before but I'm absolutely loving the challenge.

I've seen some of the previews, and the production looks very exciting. Your character looks like a ringmaster in the videos that have been shown. Where have you been rehearsing?
We've been here at the conservatory, and rehearsing at a circus school too. We don't get into Herbst until the Wednesday before the opening. The performers in this production are incredible. The Roue Cyr artist, aerialist, and juggler are as much a part of this opera as the singers.

What was your first opera?
The first opera I sang in was Così fan tutte, and I was Despina.

Favorite opera?
I love all of Janáček's operas. Wozzeck and Der Rosenkavalier are also favorites.

Dream role?
Norma! I will probably never sing it, but I do sing it in the shower.

Who do you look up to?
The list is very long, and also, in a way, very short. Renée Fleming is amazingly consistent, and a nice person too. I admire Anna Netrebko, Angela Gheorghiu, Barbara Bonney, Kathleen Battle, but my all-time favorite is Leontyne Price.

How do you feel about live simulcasts?
As far as exposing opera to more people, it is really great. However, opera is a live art form, and you feel all the vibrations physically, so simulcasts do not recreate a full experience of it.

Do you feel pressure to be able to move and act well?
I have always been physically active, I danced ballet, jazz, and did gymnastics before deciding to become an opera singer. I've also acted, I was in ACT's summer training program. So I am coming to this from the other side, I've had to figure out how to move less! So I haven't felt that pressure.

Are there musicians in your family?
My mother plays piano, she also sang, and played organ at church.

Do you play an instrument?
I play piano. I played flute in band, but I didn't like the freezy brain feeling it give you.

What are your hobbies and interests?
I am interested improv, my husband is in a troupe. I go to art museums. I especially enjoy Monet, Manet, and Delacroix, but I also love trying to figure out more abstract paintings, like those of Jackson Pollock.

MTT conducts Feldman & Mozart at SFS

Rothko-chapel * Notes * 
This week San Francisco Symphony performs a contemplative program of Urbaitis, Feldman, and Mozart. Ragnar Bohlin conducted the San Francisco Symphony Chorus in Mindaugas Urbaitis' Lacrimosa, an inoffensive, pretty piece, which was sung with beauty. Before Michael Tilson Thomas conducted Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel, he addressed the audience, and did an impression of the late composer. The piece itself is pensive, the chorus made for a humming cloud to support the percussion, celesta, and viola solist Jonathan Vinocour. The latter played thoughtfully and with warmth. He walked about the stage silently in stocking feet, from one of the five music stands to another. Most of the audience seemed to be there for Mozart's Requiem, which was sung and played perfectly well. The chorus was strong, the orchestra clear, and the soloists blended nicely. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke sang with particular loveliness.

* Tattling * 
The audience on in the Loge was silent. At least one person was looking at her phone during the Feldman.

Il Turco in Italia LA Opera

La-opera-turco * Notes *
The opening performance of Il Turco in Italia at Los Angeles Opera was delightful. The production originates from Hamburgische Staatsoper, directed there by Christof Loy, with attractive costumes and sets from Herbert Mauerauer. Here Axel Weidauer directed the amusing action to good effect, the audience certainly was engaged. Even though the specifics of immigration and Orientalism are different between Hamburg and Los Angeles, the production still made sense to an American viewer. For example, the fear of both the Romani and the Turks is more keenly felt in Germany than the United States, but this did not detract from the our understanding of the opera.

As usual, the Los Angeles Opera orchestra was sounding its best under Music Director James Conlon. The brass soli were a bit tentative, perhaps occasionally sour, but not bad. The chorus had a particularly transparent sound.

Kate Lindsey made her Los Angeles Opera debut as Zaida, she was awfully spunky and sang with zest. Maxim Mironov's light, pretty tenor suited Narciso, though there were times when he was not audible over the orchestra. Paolo Gavanelli was most impressive as Don Geronio. His voice is luminous and warm, and he always embodied the role convincingly. Thomas Allen was charming as Prosdocimo, his comic timing perfect.

As Fiorella, Nino Machaidze looked stunning, and sang well. Her voice has a penetrating quality to it, just bordering on shrill. Simone Alberghini (Selim), the Turk of this opera, was comic and his voice had good volume. He does have a lot of vibrato, but this was fine for this role.

* Tattling * 
The performance was dedicated to Maria Altmann, who died last Monday.

There was some light talking from the audience on the orchestra level, but otherwise, everyone behaved acceptably. The slow moving zombie dancers in the background of many scenes were given great applause, though so were the singers, and Machaidze received a standing ovation.

The Met's 2011-2012 Season

September 26 2011- February 4 2012: Anna Bolena
September 27- November 17 2011: Nabucco
October 1 2011- February 18 2012: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
October 13 2011- March 3 2012: Don Giovanni
October 27 2011- May 9 2012: Siegfried
November 4- December 1 2011: Satyagraha
November 14- December 10 2011: Rodelinda
November 18- December 8 2011: La Bohème
November 29 2011- January 9 2012: Faust
December 5 2011- March 8 2012: Madama Butterfly
December 12 2011- January 6 2012: La Fille du Régiment
December 16 2011- January 7 2012: Hansel and Gretel
December 31 2011- January 30 2012: The Enchanted Island
January 10-28 2012: Tosca
January 27- May 12 2012: Götterdämmerung
February 2-25 2012: Ernani
February 9- March 3 2012: Aida
February 27- March 17 2012: Khovanshchina
March 5-31 2012: L'Elisir d'Amore
March 15 -April 9 2012: Macbeth
March 26- April 23 2012: Manon
April 4- May 5 2012: Das Rheingold
April 6- May 2 2012: La Traviata
April 13- May 7 2012: Die Walküre
April 27- May 11 2012: The Makropulos Case
May 4-12 2012: Billy Budd

The press release went out on February 16th. The 2011-12 season of The Met: Live in HD will feature 11 transmissions, beginning on October 15 with Anna Bolena and continuing with Don Giovanni (October 29), Siegfried (November 5), Satyagraha (November 19), Rodelinda (December 3), Faust (December 10), The Enchanted Island (January 21), Götterdämmerung (February 11), Ernani (February 25), Manon (April 7), and La Traviata (April 14).

Met Futures | Official Site

Iphigénie en Tauride at the Met

Iphigenie-met * Notes * 
The latest revival of the Metropolitan Opera's Iphigénie en Tauride on Saturday seemed under-rehearsed, but still has potential. There were many instances when the singers were not with the orchestra, especially as far as the chorus was concerned. Perhaps the elaborate choreography was to blame. The dancers here were more together than in Seattle Opera's 2007 version. Thomas Lynch's set does look more open from the last row of the Met than in orchestra standing room at McCaw Hall. Thomas Wadsworth's production is cluttered, and one gets the sense that he is worried his audience either does not understand what is going on or is in danger of becoming very bored. In any case, the orchestra sounded fluid under Maestro Patrick Summers.

The main cast had a lot of power, and everyone could be heard. Susan Graham may have had poor start in the title role, but did sound lovely in "Ô malheureuse Iphigénie" at the end of Act II. There were moments of roughness later in the evening, but Graham does have a glowing, beautiful sound. Plácido Domingo was strong as Orest, his reediness as a tenor was not distracting, and he was distinct from Paul Groves (Pylade). Groves sang "Unis dès la plus tendre enfance" particularly well. As Thoas, Gordon Hawkins managed to sing his high notes smoothly, and was robust throughout his range.

* Tattling * 
Standing room in the Family Circle was nearly empty, as most everyone could take a seat in the last few rows, which were far from full.

I am sorely tempted to hear the Met in HD broadcast of this opera on February 26th.

4th Performance of Nixon in China at the Met

Kathleen-kim-nixon-in-china * Notes * 
Though the fourth performance of Nixon in China at the Metropolitan Opera was simulcast yesterday, the Opera Tattler was nonetheless to be found in Family Circle standing room. While Adrianne Lobel's set was streamlined and efficient, Peter Sellars direction seemed overblown. The dancing, choreographed by Mark Morris, was attractive. The lines were good, though not completely exact from dancer to dancer.

The orchestra sounded together under the baton of the composer himself, John Adams, whose sense of timing is apparently impeccable. The chorus too appeared synchronized and clear.

Richard Paul Fink's role of Kissinger may have been small, but he certainly made the most of it. In the title role, James Maddalena looked and moved like Nixon, but he sounded strained and wobbly. Russell Braun sang Chou En-lai with conviction, and Robert Brubaker likewise impressed as Mao Tse-tung. Janis Kelly struck me as a bit shrill at first, but her "This is prophetic!" had great charm. Kathleen Kim was terrifying as Chiang Ch'ing. Her big aria in Act II was both imposing and arresting.

* Tattling * 
The line for standing room was only 20 people deep in the morning, but there were quite a lot of people standing by the time the performance began. The person behind 202 of the last row of the house was not particularly considerate. He encroached so much on the person next to him that she had to ask an usher to intervene. Near the end of the performance, he began to make a great deal of noise as he got himself ready to leave.

I must admit I was not well-behaved either. At intermission I may have been seen "accidentally" tossing someone into one of the lobby walls, after which I collapsed into hysterical giggles. After careful consideration, the (pernicious) fellow at hand was kind enough to not press charges, for which I am quite grateful.

Don Pasquale at the Met

Netrebko-kwiecien-don-pasquale * Notes * 
Don Pasquale had its 133rd performance at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night. From what I could see at Score Desk 2, the sets and costumes, designed by Rolf Langenfass, were entirely traditional. One can only imagine Otto Schenk's 2006 production was likewise.

The orchestra sounded lucid under James Levine. The trumpet solo at the beginning of Act II was especially fine. The chorus was also fine. Anna Netrebko, while not possessing a particularly apt voice for bel canto, otherwise acquitted herself in the role of Norina convincingly. Her voice remains robust and dark, her gasps rather audible. Matthew Polenzani sounded sweet and disarmingly vulnerable as Ernesto.

Mariusz Kwiecien (Malatesta) started off with a slight wooliness, but sounded strong otherwise. His acting skills were apparent through his voice. In the title role, John Del Carlo was similarly shaky at first, but again, his consummate acting came through vocally. The Act III duet, "Cheti, cheti, immatinente," was particularly charming, and we were even favored with an encore of this as the finale scene was set.

* Tattling * 
Though I did not receive my score desk ticket in the mail as I expected, the Met Opera Guild's Community Programs Fellow made sure it was waiting for me at the box office. During the performance itself, a family of three seemed completely confused about where they were sitting in the Family Circle. In any case, they were not together, and felt fit to wander over to one another and speak aloud as the performance occurred. Mercifully, they went elsewhere after the intermission.

Andris Nelsons at NY Philharmonic

RehearsalAndrisNelsons_0008 * Notes * 
Last week Andris Nelsons conducted the New York Philharmonic in a program of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5. Pianist Jonathan Biss sounded less mechanical than I remembered. He listened to the orchestra and kept with them. The Allegro con brio was agile and the Largo rather dreamy. The Shostakovich was engaging and well-played. The Allegretto was biting, the Largo here elegant.

* Tattling *
There was light talking from students. Biss had an odd way of bobbling his head during the final movement of the Beethoven. The maestro made many dramatic gesticulations and made low gutteral sounds as he conducted.

Ton Koopman & Mario Brunello at SFS

Mario-brunello * Notes * 
Ton Koopman is conducting San Francisco Symphony this week in a program of J.S. Bach, Haydn, C.P.E. Bach, and Schubert. Last night's performance began with J.S. Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3. The playing was stately and vigorous. One of the trumpets might have had a single bad note, but otherwise the playing was clean. The orchestra maintained a refined sound for Haydn Cello Concerto No. 2. In comparison, soloist Mario Brunello (pictured above) was sloppy, his instrument buzzed and jarred at times. Yet he pulled it off, his personality and warmth shone through. Brunello clearly listened to the other musicians and was playing with them. In any case, it was not a boring performance. C.P.E. Bach's Symphony in G Major was lively and Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major was light and sweet. Maestro Koopman made many sweeping gestures and was able to find good contrasts in tempi.

* Tattling * 
The audience on the orchestra level spoke aloud a few times, but on the whole was fairly silent. The lady in K 107 wore a most dashing fake

Premiere of Nixon in China at the Met

Nixoninchinamet The Metropolitan's production of John Adams' Nixon in China opened February 2. Here is the Unbiased Opinionator's account. The Opera Tattler may write about the February 12 performance.

* Notes * 
Once derided as a "CNN Opera," an opera taking its theme from contemporary news flashes, and thus lacking in substance, "Nixon in China" has achieved a permanent place in the standard operatic repertory. Often incorrectly described as a "minimalist" opera, the score has many moments of intense lyricism and almost Wagnerian sweep.

The Met's production is a virtual duplication of the 1987 Houston world premiere. Set design, including the famous arrival of "The Spirit of '76" (as the Nixon administration christened Air Force One), direction by Peter Sellars, Mark Morris' splendid Act II choreography, costumes and blocking were identical to the world premiere, and held up very well in the cavernous Met auditorium. James Maddelena, who created the part of Nixon in the first production of the opera, sang Nixon in the Met production. A bright red curtain was substituted for the Met's usual gold brocade.

The composer himself conducted. He was greeted by loud applause and clearly had the propulsive, complex score under tight control.

This was clearly a big event, preceded by large media build-up and attended by President Nixon's daughter, Patricia, her husband Edward Cox and their son. I am happy to report that the evening exceeded the expectations which the hype preceding an event of this high profile often creates.

As in other operas with an historical backdrop, Verdi's Don Carlo, and Masked Ball for instance, the opera probes the thoughts and emotions of principal players in an important moment in history. In this case it was President Nixon's path-breaking trip to China in 1972, the first attempt at creating politic and military détente with the "Middle Kingdom" after a prolonged and geo-politically dangerous lack of contact.

The opera succeeds in capturing the essence of President Nixon, who was clearly aware of the enormous media attention the trip received. His opening aria, with its propulsive repetition of the words "History" and "News," shows Nixon the politician, eager for favorable publicity before his bid for reelection.  His final duet with Pat, with his reminiscences about his experiences in World War II, shows the human, vulnerable aspect of this complex human being, much maligned at the time of his resignation and now in the process of rehabilitation and recognition for his accomplishments as a statesman and as President.

The role of First Lady Pat Nixon is the emotional and musical epicenter of the evening. She is portrayed highly sympathetically and her great aria: "This is Prophetic!" was beautifully sung by soprano Janis Kelly. Her closing lines "Bless this Union...May it Remain Inviolate" was intensely moving. One audience member broke out in enthusiastic solo applause, and one wondered if it were for the music, or for the plea that the nation remain unshattered by political division, a sentiment clearly relevant to the American political scene today.

Henry Kissinger fared poorly. He was cast as a stiff buffoon, and acts the part of the randy landlord (a complete departure from the historical reality of the occasion) in Madame Mao's ballet The Red Detachment of Women (brilliantly choreographed by Mark Morris and executed with astonishing energy and precision by the Met corps de ballet), which was performed for the Nixons and their entourage. Richard Paul Fink made the most of the role.

James Maddalena's performance was that of a singer whose best days are clearly behind him. He had evident vocal problems, especially in his first scene, and sang with overly darkened diction and a hooty, wobbly vocal quality. The principals in most of the opera were heavily amplified, and the amplification did not serve Mr. Maddalena well, with his audible cracking and throat-clearing. Although he acted the part well, capturing some of Nixon's physical stiffness, his dramatic achievement could not compensate for his inadequate vocalism.

Robert Brubaker presented an astonishingly well-sung Mao, which is written in an impossibly high range, and he captured the decrepitude of the aged yet iron-willed leader very effectively. Another stand-out was Russell Braun's performance as Chou En Lai, to which he brought nuanced and expressive singing. Chou En Lai in historical fact was an exceptionally cultivated and politically savvy leader. Denied treatment for bladder cancer by Mao's malignant wife Chiang Ch'ing (sung with great virtuosity by soprano Kathleen Kim), his final rumination ("How much of what we did was good?) was extremely effective and the capacity Met audience held its breath momentarily before delivering a thundering ovation.

* Tattling * 
Two young lovebirds seated before me irritated my neighbor to the point where she repeatedly poked the backs of their seats to stop their blocking of her line of sight. Otherwise, the audience sat in rapt, attentive silence.

Faust at Hawai'i Opera Theatre

HOT Faust Ticket * Notes *
Hawai'i Opera Theatre just finished a 3 performance run of Gounod's Faust on Tuesday. The set was typical of what is seen regional opera houses, simple and employing multiple platforms. The use of projection was restrained, mostly in the background or on the lowered scrim before each act. General and Artistic Director Henry G. Akina's stage direction was straightforward, and the handling of the chorus was particularly deft.

The orchestra sounded a bit mushy at first in the overture under Maestro Mark Flint, the tempi somewhat slow and grave. The strings were nice, the first violin sounded great during his soli. The brass was slightly harsh at times, but there were only few intonation errors.

The chorus had some problems staying exactly together, but the sound was full. "Gloire immortelle de nos aïeux" and "Sauvée! Christ est ressucité!" were both strong. Leon Williams stood out from the chorus nicely as Wagner, and Dorothy Byrne was amusing as Marthe. Buffy Baggott made for an endearing Siébel, her voice is pleasant, without too much vibrato. Luis Ledesma (Valentin) sounded reedy and light.

The audience adored local singing Méphistophélès, Jamie Offenbach. Vocally he was warm, and perhaps slightly gravelly, but his embodiment of the character seemed complete. In the title role, John Bellemer was slightly stiff but acquitted himself well as far as singing. Melody Moore sounded sweet, warm, and clear as Marguerite. She looked demure in the first half of the opera, and appropriately unraveled by the end until her salvation.

* Tattling *
One could not help being delighted by the long white gowns worn by the female ushers. The audience was enthusiastic, but had a hard time remaining silent. A small elderly woman behind me in B 53 of the balcony had a cough, and spent much of her time unwrapping drops or loudly consuming them. She had difficultly staying still and bounced vigorously in her seat. She did leave at the second intermission. The performance received a standing ovation.

Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2011-2012 Season

October 1-29 2011: Tales of Hoffmann
October 10- November 5 2011: Lucia di Lammermoor
November 7-29 2011: Boris Godunov
November 19- December 11 2011: Ariadne auf Naxos
December 6 2011-January 22 2012: Die Zauberflöte
January 21- February 8 2012: Aida
February 12- March 17 2012: Show Boat
February 29- March 24 2012: Rinaldo

Lyric Opera of Chicago announced the 2011-2012 season today. Matthew Polenzani is Hoffmann. Ferruccio Furlanetto sings Boris with Stefan Margita, Erik Nelson Werner, Andrea Silvestrelli, and Raymond Aceto. Deborah Voigt stars in Ariadne and Sondra Radvanovsky stars in Aida. David Daniels sings in Rinaldo with Luca Pisaroni, Elza van den Heever, and Sonia Prina.

Press Release | Official Site