Previous month:
February 2011
Next month:
April 2011

Yuri Temirkanov conducts the St. Petersburg Philharmonic

Yuri-temirkanov * Notes * 
The Sunday performance of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, conducted by Maestro Yuri Temirkanov in San Francisco, was sold out. The program of Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich, and Brahms held together well. The orchestra played with dark warmth, perhaps a bit sloppily, but with confidence. Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Overture No. 3 with dignity and cheerful bluster, in turns, as appropriate. Next came Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1, with cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Weilerstein played with ungenial violence, and it was exceedingly clear that she was the soloist. Her timing was good. She did break a string in the last movement, and scuttled off to replace it, carefully carrying her long red gown so that she did not trip. The Fourth Symphony of Brahms that followed the intermission was chaotic at times, but very charming. The encore was "Nimrod" from Elgar's beautiful Enigma Variations.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly quiet. There was some trouble keeping the music on the first stand of the First Violins during the Brahms.

NY Festival of Song Schwabacher

Blier * Notes * 
The artistic director of New York Festival of Song, Steven Blier, gave a Schwabacher Debut Recital yesterday evening. Entitled Amores Nuevos, the program consisted of Spanish art songs, zarzuela arias and duets, Latin American art songs, and Latin American popular songs. As one would expect, Blier played piano for these selections, with David Hanlon joining in when four hands were required.

Baritone Austin Kness sang "Cómo quieres que adivine" with warmth and good volume. Though funny, "La mujer de los quince a los veint"e from La tabernera del puerto came off less well. In contrast, tenor Daniel Montenegro sounded somewhat cold in "Si con mis deseos." His pleasant, reedy voice was shown to better advantage in "De este apacible rincón de Madrid." The soprano, Sara Gartland, emoted throughout her pieces with conviction. "Me llaman la primorosa" was particularly charming. Her voice is strong and piercing, and though a note or two that strayed off pitch, her presence more than made up for this.

Kness did well with "Despierta, negro," sounding grave and serious. Gartland, Montenegro, and Hanlon made up an able ensemble for the piece. Gartland and Montenegro also sounded lovely in the duet "Caballero del alto plumero" from Luisa Fernanda.

* Tattling * 
Steven Blier told us many amusing stories before he played. I had the good fortune to be a guest of the whistling voice of Woodstock at this recital. I was very sorry to leave at intermission, but I was scheduled to hear the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic an hour and a half after the Schwabacher began.

Albert Herring at Cal Performances

TheBrittenProject_AlbertHerring_01_Credit_F&ESchmidt * Notes * 
This weekend Cal Performances presented Castleton Festival's Albert Herring. The production involves much abuse of artificial fruit. It was particularly unsatisfying when the title character threw fake peaches against a Plexiglas window in Act II. The use of astroturf was, however, entertaining.

The cast, as with The Rape of Lucretia, boasted not a few lovely voices. The three children (Harry, Cis, and Emmie) were amplified, but sounded clean and pure in tone. Rachel Calloway was perfectly hysterical as Mrs. Herring. Adrian Kramer and Tammy Coll made for a funny, attractive pair as Sid and Nancy. Benjamin Bloomfield (Superintendent Budd), Tyler Nelson (Mr. Upfold), Alexander Tall (Mr. Gedge), Ashleigh Semkiw (Miss Wordsworth), and Kristin Patterson (Florence Pike) all acted and sang their roles with ease. Brian Z. Porter did well as Albert Herring, his diction was clear. Best of all was Nancy Gustafson as a very amusing Lady Billows. Her voice is luminous, flexible, and never shrill. The musicians, conducted by Lorin Maazel, played directly, but were a bit loud for the singers.

* Tattling * 
The audience members talked lightly, especially during overtures. There were a few watch alarms that sounded at each hour.

The Rape of Lucretia at Cal Performances

TheBrittenProject_ROL_06_MatthewWorth(Tarquinius)&TamaraMumford(Lucretia)_Credit_GiuseppeDiLiberto * Notes * 
Cal Performances presented Castleton Festival's The Rape of Lucretia this week. The opera itself struck me as highly contrived, even for an opera, framed by not one but two narrators. There was a lot of telling rather than showing. The production was not particularly illuminating, though it did have moments of beauty, especially the lighting of the scene in Lucretia's room. On the other hand, the use of flashlights at the beginning of Act II was obnoxiously blinding.

The cast featured a host of fresh, youthful voices. Marnie Breckenridge and Alison Tupay sang Lucia and Bianca clearly. Ekaterina Metlova's contralto was impressive, her low notes had such richness and her high ones soared. Her accent in English was noticable, however. Michael Rice was strong as Collatinus, as was Michael Weyandt as Junius. Matthew Worth (Tarquinius) was terrifying as the villain. "Within this frail crucible of light" was incandescent, and Arianna Zukerman sang the female chorus smoothly. Vale Rideout (male chorus) also sang well. The orchestra played steadily under Lorin Maazel, never overwhelming the singing.

* Tattling * 
The backstage noise was distracting. Many stage directions were completely discernable from the audience.

NCCO plays Bach, Schubert, Mendelssohn

Melody-moore-ncco * Notes *
New Century Chamber Orchestra opened a series of performances entitled "Mastery of Schubert" in Berkeley yesterday evening. They began with Bach's Violin Concerto in E major, with NCCO's music director, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, as soloist. Salerno-Sonnenberg has a very peculiar motor pattern, and seemed to be brimming with energy. The piece was played vibrantly, with dramatic contrasts in dynamics. This was followed by 4 Schubert Lieder arranged by Clarice Assad and sung by soprano Melody Moore. Moore sounded clear, her pure high notes are warm and unconstrained. It was especially interesting to compare the two settings of "An den Mond." The orchestra fell readily into the background. The performance ended with Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat major, played by the 18 musicians present. The playing here was not overly romantic, in fact, lacking prettiness, but again, very driven. The first movement in particular had much fire, despite the heavy rain that was audible on the roof of First Congregational.

 * Tattling * 
There was minor whispering. An electronic device went off between the first two movements of the Bach. There was slight confusion during the Schubert, as the first piece was listed last in the program.

Dutoit conducts CSO

CSO * Notes * 
On Tuesday night Charles Dutoit conducted Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program of Berlioz, Penderecki, and Elgar. The concert began with Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture. The brass was clear, and the piece was played with much charm. For some reason, I experienced the Concerto grosso for Three Cellos and Orchestra from Penderecki that followed as an unrelenting stomachache. The most of the phrases seemed rather sinister to me, especially those shared by the low strings. The soloists, John Sharp, Kenneth Olsen, and Katinka Kleijn, played well. The principal horn sounded mellow and clear. After the intermission came Elgar's Enigma Variations. The orchestra had a glittering, tight-knit sound. The clarinet and viola soli were particularly beautiful. The cello melody in XII was lucid and lovely.

* Tattling * 
The audience was silent for first half of the program. At least 4 people on the orchestra were either concentrating with their eyes closed during Penderecki, or were asleep. There was light whispering during Elgar. The person in A 102 of the Center Terrace rather mysteriously told his companion in A 104 "second tier, first medallion" near the end of Elgar.

Orlando Furioso at Champs-Élysées

Orlando-furioso * Notes * 
Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées was an airy, understated affair. Directed by Pierre Audi, the action seemed to involve much spinning around, overturning furniture, and the like. Particularly amusing was when Orlando sang to a slowing descending Venetian chandelier at the end of Act II. Patrick Kinmonth's sets and costumes were pleasant in their palette of greys, blacks, and whites. However, it might have been difficult visually to tell the characters from one another.

Ensemble Matheus, conducted by Jean-Christophe Spinosi, played prettily but with a certain jaunty percussiveness. The chorus of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées likewise was fine and together. Romina Basso (Medoro) was consistently just slightly late. Verónica Cangemi was convincing as Angelica, as was Kristina Hammarström as Bradamante. Christian Senn sang Astolfo with great strength and pleasant tone.

In the role of Alcina, Jennifer Larmore was the most commanding I have heard her. She does gasp somewhat, but especially at the end, this did not detract from her performance. Marie-Nicole Lemieux did not seem the most fit as Orlando, but she did project masculinity. She sounded vulnerable from the first scene. She had a loveliness in the last act that was poignant. By far the most impressive was the Ruggiero, Philippe Jaroussky. His clear voice had a gorgeous ease.

* Tattling * 
There was light talking and mobile phone usage throughout the performance. A man who had been sitting on the stairs asked if anyone was sitting in the jump seat off of mine during Act II. This completely confounded me, why would one want to sit so close to a stranger? The person in question did in fact take the seat, and fidgeted for all of the next act. I think he might have had allergies, as he scratched his arms and rubbed his face unceasingly. To avoid further contact with this person, my companion helpfully took my seat for Act III, and I sat in the jump seat.

Melody Moore Interview

Melody-moore This week the soprano Melody Moore (pictured left) performs with New Century Chamber Orchestra. She will be singing in Stephen Schwartz's Séance on a Wet Afternoon at New York City Opera next month, Gordon Getty's Plump Jack with the Münchner Rundfunkorchester in May, and returns to San Francisco for the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis' Heart of a Soldier in September. Last week, the Opera Tattler spoke to her by telephone.

How did you get involved with opera?
Purely by the encouragement of others. I was in my high school choral program, and the director pulled me aside, and got me to audition for the Texas All State Choir. I had some piano as a child, but as far as music goes, it was mostly church music around me, or bluegrass, or country, since I'm from Memphis. The choral director gave me sheet music and tapes to listen to, and I sang alto in the Texas All State Choir. Only 300 people are chosen a year. I never even know you could have a job as a singer, but I went to school for music in Baton Rouge, Louisiana because of my music teacher. I did also study music therapy.

So you were a mezzo-soprano? When did you switch?
I sang lyric mezzo rep until I was 26 or 27. I always had a lot of top, a B natural and even a C, so my music teacher had me explore that. I don't know if I ever fully transitioned to a soprano mindset, however.

How are mezzos different from sopranos?
There are fewer lyric mezzo-sopranos than lyric sopranos, so it is a more competitive environment for the latter group.

What are you singing with New Century Chamber Orchestra? How has it been?
They are a great group, very tight-knit, and they play like one instrument. I enjoy coming back to work with them. This concert is Schubert, Bach, and Mendelssohn. I will be singing 4 little tiny songs, Schubert Lieder. They have a lovely arc of poetry to them, dreaming about love but not being fulfilled, or rather fulfilling love through the search for love.

Did you just sing Kurt Weill at San Francisco Ballet?
Yes, it was a blast. I was in the pit, and no one could see me so there was no pressure, I just had to deliver the text. Weill really gets down to brass tacks, his music is bawdy and gutsy.

With the exception of Faust earlier this year in Hawai'i, you have a lot of new music for 2011. What are the challenges of contemporary music?
Thankfully I do learn fast. I sit with the score and listen to recordings of the orchestra, if there are any. I try to get the scope, shape, and bones of the music so I know where I fit in. All the music I am working on this year is tonal, though there are challenges with mixed meter in the Schwartz, the meter can change 3 or 4 times on a page, from 9/8 to 7/8 to 5/8, and so forth. Looking over the Getty, it does seem to be mostly in 4/4 and 3/4. I will have to learn it in the next month, so I will be busy! I do feel really comfortable with the Theofanidis, as we work-shopped it in December, and there haven't been any major changes.

What is your workout regimen?
I work with a trainer, just as I prefer to work with a coach with my singing. It is good for me to be responsible to a person as far as exercise is concerned. It makes me feel ready for the day. Working out has been great for me, I had a year of terrible back pain, so strengthening my core has been key to changing that.

What are your hobbies and interests?
I love to cook, I love the alchemy of it. I also love reading. It makes me sad that there is not enough time in one's life to read all the books worth reading.

I love books too! What are your favorites?
Cormac McCarthy's The Road. To me, it is one of the most beautiful love stories. That might sound strange, given that the awful circumstances of the novel, but the love of the father for the son is incredible. Another favorite of mine is The Handmaid's Tale. You could say I am drawn toward dystopian novels.

Any guilty pleasures you are willing to share?
I enjoy American Idol. It is completely awful, but I watch it every week. When it comes on air I feel chipper!

Death in Venice at La Scala

Death-in-venice * Notes * 
Saturday night's performance of Death in Venice at Teatro alla Scala had a strong visual appeal. Unfortunately, since so many of the sightlines seem rather poor in the house, this aspect may have been lost on the droves of audience members that left at intermission. Jean Kalman's lighting was particularly beautiful, evoking the colors of Venice. The choreography, from Kim Brandstrup, was descriptive without being too mannered. The orchestra, conducted by Edward Gardner, shimmered and swirled. The percussionists played well, and with restraint, though one did drop a drumstick during Act I.

Because I barely know this opera, it was exceedingly difficult for me to gauge the quality of singers voices. I was struck by the clarity of Anna Dennis' tone, she was haunting as the strawberry-seller. John Graham-Hall certainly made a fine effort as Gustav von Aschenbach. He was believable in his acting, and seemed genuinely tortured. His last notes were especially eerie, though a bit rough.

* Tattling * 
The person in Seat 5 of the Box 9 Right on the fourth floor felt that she could simply sit in Seat 1. When an American couple came to claim Seats 1 and 2, the woman in Seat 5 was extremely annoyed. She made a great fuss and her companion, in another box, came in and there was much arguing in a Slavic language. Unfortunately, this was during the music, and they were sternly hushed. Finally they were frightened off by a certain Limburger. After intermission, the nice American couple wished us well, and took off, since they were rather jet-lagged. As mentioned earlier, audience attrition was marked, about 30% of the attendees left.

Nott & Gluzman at Luzerner Sinfonieorchester

KKL * Notes * 
Yesterday Jonathan Nott conducted Luzerner Sinfonieorchester in a program of Arvo Pärt, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Dmitri Shostakovich. Pärt's Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten was haunting, played with a certain tenderness, and even warmth. This was followed by the Gubaidulina's Concert for Violin und Orchestra "In tempus praesens." The soloist, Vadim Gluzman, played with fire with the orchestra buzzing and humming along. After the intermission came a tastefully played Symphony No. 15 by Shostakovich. There were two or three times when the horns had to play in unison and sounded cloudy, but for the most part the brass was clear and vibrant. The first cello and the concertmaster were particularly striking, as were the percussionists.

After the performance proper came a "Nachtkonzert," in which Gluzman played Eugène Ysaÿe's Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 27, No. 2 in A minor and Lera Auerbach's T'filah (Prayer) for Solo Violin. Both were played with vim.

* Tattling * 
There were the requisite titters over the Rossini quotes in the Shostakovich.

Cav/Pag at Opernhaus Zürich

Opernhaus-zuerich * Notes * 
Opernhaus Zürich held a performance of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci Wednesday night. Grischa Asagaroff's production was straightforward, the set simple, the costumes very cute. The orchestra sounded lovely under Stefano Ranzani, fluid and clear.

Cavalleria rusticana featured Beatrice Uria-Monzon (Santuzza) and José Cura (Turiddu). Uria-Monzon embodied her role, the anguish in her voice was palpable. Cura sang with strength, his reedy voice was easy on the ear. The rest of the cast supported them well. Cheyne Davidson did have some timing problems as Alfio, particularly in his first vocal entrance. Katharina Peetz was alluring as Lola and Cornelia Kallisch maternal as Mama Lucia. The latter had a poignant scene with Cura near the end of the opera.

The female lead of Pagliacci, Fiorenza Cedolins, was less exciting. Her singing was not bad, perhaps it is simply more difficult to sympathize with the character of Nedda. Cura sang Canio compellingly, his voice sounded secure, his high notes without strain or compression. Carlo Guelfi was persuasive in the Prologue and threatening as Tonio. The supporting cast here was likewise fine, including Boiko Zvetanov (Peppe) and Gabriel Bermudez (Silvio). The orchestra continued to play with spirit, and cello soli were particularly beautiful.

* Tattling * 
There was much whispering in the boxes. A man tapping out the rhythm during Pagliacci, but he was silenced with a stern glance. The maestro tried to stop the ovation after Cavalleria rusticana's intermezzo by dismissively waving his hands.

La Finta Giardiniera at De Munt

La-finta-giardiniera * Notes * 
De Munt has revived a production of La Finta Giardiniera from the National Theatre, Prague, but based on one originally from De Munt that premiered in 1986. Directed by Karl-Ernst Herrmann and Ursel Herrmann, the production featured a little person, one Mireille Mossé, who seemed to be the ringmaster of this circus of an opera. She gave monologues in German before each act, some silent commentary throughout the scenes, and seemed to direct the rather absurd plot, which worked well. It made the motivations of the characters clearer. Given that there are 7 principal singers, and over 3.5 hours of music, any insight was welcome. The set consisted of a grove of trees upstage, a narrow pond downstage, and a strip of stage around the orchestra pit. From the front orchestra level, it almost felt as if the audience was in the performance.

John Nelson conducted De Munt's orchestra, which sounded jaunty and spirited. All the principals suited their roles, both vocally and dramatically. Adam Plachetka was strong as Roberto (Nardo). Katerina Knežíková was funny as Serpetta, her voice bird-like and pleasant. Stella Doufexis was a boyish Ramiro, clear voiced and beautifully icy. On the other hand, it took me a bit to warm up to Henriette Bonde-Hansen (Arminda). Perhaps I was overwhelmed by her cow print ensemble, complete with hat and purse. Her first aria was fine though a little dull, but her second aria was impetuous and had more fire. Jeffrey Francis (Podestà) acted convincingly, but his voice was a bit underpowered. Jeremy Ovenden sounded both warm and sweet as Belfiore, and his comic timing was precise. In the title role, Sandrine Piau impressed. Her singing was delightful, rich but with the appropriate lightness and grace for Mozart.

* Tattling * 
There was light whispering, especially for the first overture. The audience attrition for this 4 hour and 15 minute performance was marked.

Jonas Kaufmann at Cal Performances

Kaufmann On the evening of Sunday, March 13, LCU and UO attended the highly anticipated song recital of internationally acclaimed tenor, Jonas Kaufmann. Co-presented by Cal Performances and the San Francisco Opera, the performance took place at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. What follows is a discussion of the performance between LCU and UO.

LCU: Kaufmann is typically very expressive in his operatic roles and I was surprised that he employed minimal facial expressions and hand or body gestures with this program. It was pure, honest singing; not mawkish or overly theatrical, which is often the danger when opera singers attempt the German Lied - they can't seem to leave the drama at the door. But Kaufmann sang with disciplined restraint, relying solely on the nuances of his voice to articulate the emotions and meaning of the songs. His delivery was lean and exact, with that touch of German austerity. Now UO, I understand that last summer you sang with Kaufmann in the Bayreuth production of Lohengrin. How does his style and vocal technique on the opera stage compare with what we saw tonight?

UO: Well, I think it all boils down to one thing: Kaufmann knows how to act with his voice. He trusts the material he sings and knows that if he delivers it in a straightforward way, masterpieces such as Dichterliebe will speak for themselves. In this day of live HD transmission and emphasis on extreme naturalism and cinematic facial expression, I think singers feel compelled to exaggerate their facial gestures and body movements. Even when he sang Lohengrin, Kaufmann generally did what was required of him by the director, in terms of gestures and movement around the stage, no more, no less. Certainly he didn't change his technique. That's what makes him so unique. For instance, he sang Lohengrin's Grail Narrative in Bayreuth with all the nuance that he brought to tonight's lieder recital. He isn't afraid employ the entire dynamic spectrum of his voice, from ultra-soft to ringing, metallic forte. He's one of the few singers out there today who has the ability to sing through an entire spectrum of loud and soft, in a way that reads in large halls. And it all carried beautifully, in part, of course, due to the wonderful Bayreuth acoustic. It worked well tonight, in a hall that isn't acoustically as generous.

LCU: As a singer and voice teacher, could you explain the technical challenges of Schumann's Dichterliebe for the tenor voice despite the fact that Jonas made it look so effortless? He sings with the ease of Fritz Wunderlich!

UO: Two of the highest vocal hurdles of Dichterliebe occur in the very first song. The "strong, weak" stresses of the words "aufgegangen" and "verlangen" are situated right in the tenor's so-called "passaggio," right where the voice has to negotiate a register shift that is quite challenging. Then just look at the word, for instance, "verlangen." The pitch change from G to F# -moves through two liquid consonants ("l" and "ng"), so a seamless vowel connection in this tricky part of the voice is quite difficult. Also, most of the songs are set quite low. This is partly in order to accommodate a high note in "Ich Grolle Nicht" that is not so stratospheric that it becomes an quasi-operatic acrobatic feat, with everyone on the edge of their seats waiting for the poor guy to crack! Of course, I think we would both agree that Kaufmann could have managed this with no effort at all, but the tonalities of all the songs have to have a coherent relationship to one another, and not be transposed all over the place. So the cycle is quite "range-ey." You also have potential pitfalls in intonation, particularly in the song "Am Leuchtenden Sommermorgen," where there are a lots of really radical modulations. Coming to Wunderlich: he had a very different, very sweet and less baritonal quality to his sound when you compare him to Kaufmann. You really never think of technique when you hear Wunderlich, it's all like child's play to him. Kaufmann came close to this ease of delivery last night, I think.

LCU: In one of his interviews, Kaufmann said that there is a huge difference between singing and speaking the German language. Kaufmann's diction is deliberately round because he chooses not to 'spit' his consonants, allowing for a smoother legato line. You mentioned that he has been criticized for doing this and for sounding too Italianate as Lohengrin (even though Wagner himself considered it his most Italian opera). However, does the German Lied call for a distinct German sound with all of its idiosyncrasies intact?  At Bryn Terfel's recital just a few months ago, I noticed that he was very emphatic with his consonants and even though he's Welsh, Terfel sounded more German to me than Kaufmann. Does the mellowing out of the harsh and choppy qualities compromise the rugged beauty, character, and integrity of the German language?

UO: I think we'd agree that in Lieder, especially, text and music have to be co-equal. You can't have one at the expense of the other. But there are choices to be made; do you maniacally over-pronounce at the expense of vocal quality?  Believe me, a lot of German coaches want just that!  Zellerbach Hall seems to me to be one of those places that swallows consonants, so perhaps that accounted for a certain loss of clarity. It's a big question, especially in opera: when do you modify text and vowels in order to allow the voice to be free?   Kaufmann seems to me to be one of those singers whose credo is "prima la musica, e poi la parola", in other words, music first, then text, to put it a bit simplistically. My impression in Bayreuth was that those who didn't care for his approach to Lohengrin felt that it was too human, not "knightly" enough. It wasn't so much about lack of clear diction or a matter of style, as I recall. But believe me, the supporters of his Lohengrin there far outweighed his detractors in number!

LCU: I have to tattle on myself - I shamelessly hooted and hollered and cheered like I was at a Michael Jackson concert. At one point George Hume, who sat across the aisle from me, even flashed me a dirty look. I was having a religious experience and just couldn't help myself. What do you think of the Berkeley audience?  How do they compare with the audience at the Met and Carnegie?

UO: I guess you didn't see me sinking lower and lower into my seat! What's wrong with enthusiasm?  I believe European artists in general are gratified by our American, somewhat over the top applause. I thought the Berkeley audience was just terrific -- absolutely silent during the singing. I saw a woman following along with a vocal score, and most people didn't turn the pages of their programs in the middle of a song, causing a rush of brittle sound to interrupt the music. Many times I have the feeling that, at the Met and other big venues in New York, and particularly on Broadway, people leap to their feet in a robotic, automatic standing ovation. Maybe that's just to convince themselves that the evening was great, because the ticket prices are so high! I enjoyed the respectful, informed Berkeley audience – very European – informed, respectful and quiet.