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February 2011
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Hercules at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Eric-Owens-Lucy-Crowe-Marckarthur-Johnson-in-Hercules-Dan-Rest * Notes *
The cast for Lyric Opera of Chicago's Hercules is nothing short of impressive. The Thursday matinée performance seemed well-attended, even the lecture from director Peter Sellars was rather full. Sellars certainly expressed a strong conception for how he staged this oratorio, and has both respect and understanding for the work. However, sometimes it is difficult to see past all the artifical miming, especially with the chorus. While the movements were humorous, I suspect one is not supposed to laugh at the lines "Jealousy! Infernal pest!"

The set is attractive, not unlike an elaborate, classically-informed water feature in an outdoor mall. The lighting was rather literal, red when fire or passion was mentioned, blue and green if water was invoked. The costumes were somewhat puzzling, the women looked like they were SCA members in their casual wear, the men vaguely like they were from the Pacific Northwest.

The orchestra lacked crispness in the overture under Harry Bicket. There were parts that were more focused and pretty, and those that were less so. The cello in "There in myrtle shades" was overwhelming, and the first brass part during the triumphal march was somewhat sour.

The chorus was slightly off from the orchestra in the second choral number, especially when the choral soloists sang. The singers did their choreography well. The last chorus, "To them your grateful notes of praise belong," was moving and beautiful.

The principals were all exceedingly fine, both in acting and in singing. Despite being ill, Richard Croft (Hyllus) sounded warm and sweet, though quiet at times. Lucy Crowe was brilliant as Iole, her voice is gorgeous, and "My breast with tender pity swells" was one of the best arias of the afternoon. David Daniels made the most of Lichas, sounding clear and lovely. In the title role, Eric Owens showed a full range of emotions with his scant three arias. The last was particularly stirring. Likewise, Alice Coote effectively displayed her dramatic abilties within the constraints of the Baroque form. Her Dejanira is incredibly human, and her voice has strong low notes and striking high ones.

* Tattling *
A phone rang during the first half of the show. Many audience members in the boxes fell asleep, at one point there was quite the chorus of snores. Worse yet, an elderly couple in Box 9 kept speaking during the music, once in the overture, once during Daniels' first aria, and once during Crowe's first aria. Thankfully, they responded fairly well to being asked to be quiet, and they left at intermission.

Armida at the Met

Fleming_as_Armida An account of the February 18, 2011 performance of Armida at the Metropolitan Opera from the Unbiased Opinionator.

* Notes * 
The tale of Armida, derived from an 16th Century epic poem by Tasso, has inspired composers from Lully and Händel to Dvořák and the contemporary British composer Judith Weir. The story of the crusader Rinaldo, tricked into love by the sorceress Armida, was also the source for an impressive cantata for men's voices by Brahms.

Rossini's version was composed during a fruitful period in Naples, in which he was assured of the best soloists, chorus and orchestra available at the time. In Armida, he had the luxury of writing for an unusual cast that includes seven tenors. The title role is among the most virtuosic and demanding in the entire dramatic coloratura repertory.

The Metropolitan's production was created by Mary Zimmerman for the 2010 season. Ranging from a painted stage curtain reminiscent of Titian, to Armida's infernal realm with a coffered dome in the style of the Pantheon (complete with an incongruous, huge black spider), to fantasy palm trees bathed in the rich color palette of the post-impressionist Henri Rousseau, the set design was striking.

John Osborn's sang the role of Goffredo, with its stratospheric high notes and demanding coloratura, most impressively, setting a high bar for the evening. The remaining secondary tenor roles were well cast.

The true hero of the evening, both dramatically and vocally, was the Rinaldo of Lawrence Brownlee. He sang with astonishing agility and a rich and varied range of vocal color. Compounding the difficulties of the role are the large ensembles, which require enormous stamina. Brownlee met these challenges with an ease of vocal delivery that was jaw-dropping. All the while scaling height after technical height, he managed to convey the expressive humanity of Rinaldo himself -- a transcendent achievement.

The Met's production of Armida was mounted for Renée Fleming. In the 1996 concert version given by the Opera Orchestra of New York, conducted by Eve Queler, this reviewer experienced Ms. Fleming's triumphantly fiery delivery at a time when the soprano had begun to shed her nice girl image and had started applying the "diva dust" required to sell this role.

While the intervening 15 years have brought Ms. Fleming many triumphs on the great stages of the world, they have not been kind to her in this impossibly challenging repertory. The artist sounded indisposed. Her singing was characterized by a pallid top, labored coloratura and a lack of vocal presence that bordered on inaudibility. The breathy attacks and scooping that have become a Fleming trademark seemed only to further undermine her technique. One hopes for happier moments in her upcoming performance as the Countess in Strauss's Capriccio, repertory in which this fine artist continues to excel.

Graciela Daniele's choreography, marvelously executed by the Met corps de ballet, featured a solo dance role Rinaldo performed with bravura by Eric Otto. The solo instrumental contributions, especially those of concert master David Chan, cellist Rafael Figueroa and principal harpist Deborah Hoffman, were masterful.

* Tattling * 
Absent a stellar singer in the title role, Rossini's Armida is a very long evening, and the audience thinned noticeably after both intermissions.

PBO's 2011-2012 Season

September 15-17 2011: Dido & Aeneas
September 22-25 2011: Mozart & Haydn
October 25-30 2011: Arias for Farinelli
November 18-22 2011: Marion Verbruggen & The Italian Baroque
December 2-6 2011: Bach's Mass in B minor
January 26-29 2012: Richard Egarr: Masters of the English Baroque
March 6-11 2012: Steven Isserlis: The Classical Cello
April 20-25 2012: Händel's Alexander's Feast

Philharmonia Baroque announced their next season today. Stephanie Blythe will be singing Dido in Dido and Aeneas this September, Mark Morris Dance Company performs. Vivica Genaux sings in the October performances of Vivaldi, Fasch, Telemann, and Rameau.

Official Site | 2011-2012 Season

MTT & Anne Sofie von Otter at SFS

Anne Sofie von Otter - photo credit Mats Backer * Notes * 
This week San Francisco Symphony performs a lovely program of Hindemith, Stenhammer, Nielsen, Sibelius, Grieg, and Brahms. Before Michael Tilson Thomas conducted Hindemith's Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass on Thursday night, he addressed the audience, saying the program notes, while good, did not convey how much joy there was in playing it. He also did an impression of Leonard Bernstein. The piece was played with vigor but prettiness. The end of the first part had a nice expansiveness without being overwhelming as far as volume. The principal trombone played particularly well in the slow section of Part II. The big soloist of the evening was mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, who joined San Francisco Symphony in a sampling of Scandinavian songs. The texts were mostly in Swedish, but there were ones in Danish, Norwegian, and Finnish too. Von Otter has a pure, lucid sound. She did seem at times a bit ahead of the orchestra. The sustained notes of Grieg's En Svane were beautiful, as was the illusory Var det en dröm? that ended the set. Von Otter gave a delightful encore of Wilhelm Peterson-Berger's Aspåkers-polska. The second half of the performance was devoted to Brahms' Serenade No. 1 in D Major. The playing was pleasant, though the horn had a couple painful notes in the first movement. The brass did sound nice in the second Scherzo. The clarinet and oboe were exceptionally winsome in this piece.

* Tattling * 
A watch alarm rang throughout MTT's talk before Hindemith. The audience was exceedingly silent during the songs. There was whispering during Brahms, and applause between the last two movements.

Merola Behind the Scenes Event 2011

Adler Fellows, photo by Scott Grieder * Program *
"Je suis encore toute étourdie" from Manon
Sara Gartland, soprano and David Hanlon, piano

"Quando me'n vo" from La bohème
Sara Gartland, soprano and David Hanlon, piano

"Aprite un po' quegli occhi" from Le Nozze di Figaro
Ao Li, baritone and David Hanlon, piano

"O du mein holder Abendstern" from Tannhäuser
Ao Li, baritone and David Hanlon, piano

"Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Samson et Dalila
Maya Lahyani, mezzo-soprano and David Hanlon, piano

"O mio Fernando" from La Favorita
Maya Lahyani, mezzo-soprano and David Hanlon, piano

* Notes *
San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald and San Francisco Opera Center Director of Musical Studies Mark Morash held an event (pictured above, photo by Scott Grieder) about how they cast and program the Merola Opera Program's Schwabacher Summer Concert. We got to hear three mock auditions given by current Adler Fellows Sara Gartland, Ao Li, and Maya Lahyani. Gartland sang "Je suis encore toute étourdie" with a lovely vulnerability. Greenawald and Morash noted the easy top of her voice and the quality of the passaggio. Gartland is a very fine actress, and this came out in her flirty "Musetta's Waltz."

Next came Ao Li, who sang Figaro's Act IV aria with beauty. Greenawald remarked that Li has a giant head, which is good for Wagner, and praised him for his legato and the gorgeous line of his voice. Li also sang Wolfram's moving aria from Act III of Tannhäuser.

Our last performer was the fiery Maya Lahyani, who started with Dalila's famous aria. Greenawald and Morash agreed she is a real mezzo and that she would not be singing Rosina or Cenerentola. Lahyani was compared to Tatiana Troyanos and was told she is a riveting actor, so perhaps she would be good for Baroque pieces. Lahyani also sang "O mio Fernando" with great feeling.

Greenawald and Morash picked 3 phantom singers to cast with, these being David Lomelí, Alek Shrader, and Ryan Kuster. From this they constructed a 60-70 minute program of scenes from Don Giovanni, Le Comte Ory, Il Puritani, The Rake's Progress, and La Favorita.

* Tattling *
Greenawald and Morash debated on the proper spelling of "Anne Trulove." As for the audience, man were quite engaged in the lively proceedings. There were some that were slightly restless, a few cellular phones rang, and a few left early.

Zubin Mehta conducts Israel Philharmonic

Mehtazubin * Notes * 
Maestro Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra are currently on tour in the United States. Monday night's confounding performance in San Francisco included a program of Beethoven, Webern, and Schubert. The evening started with a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," followed by "Hatikvah." Then came the Leonore Overture No. 3. The string players sawed their instruments without drama. The brass was both hazy and blaring, and the playing of the off-stage trumpet lacked a sense of salvation. The Webern Passacaglia and Six Pieces for Orchestra were were not particularly subtle, but the "Very slow" fifth piece had some appeal. Schubert's Symphony in C Major, The Great was nearly devoid of beauty. One of the French horns had a nice moment. The woodwinds, on the other hand, were not in tune with each other, and some odd sounds emerged from their section. The encore was a bluntly played overture from Die Fledermaus, which Mehta dedicated to Josef Krips.

* Tattling * 
The audience was extremely enthusiastic, but many talked throughout the performance. A few cell phones were heard. The orchestra received a standing ovation.

The next day I was asked why there were protesters outside of Davies.

San Francisco Symphony's 2011-2012 Season

September 7 2011: Gala with Lang Lang, piano and Itzhak Perlman, violin
September 14-17 2011: MTT conducts Beethoven, Hindemith, Brahms; Yo-Yo Ma, cello
September 21-25 2011: MTT conducts Mahler's 3rd
September 29- October 1 2011: Mozart, Adès, Stravinsky
October 5-9 2011: Shostakovich, Glazunov, Tchaikovsky, Elgar; Joshua Bell, violin
October 13-16 2011: Conlon conducts Shostakovich, Mussorgsky/Ravel
October 19-22 2010: Luisi conducts Verdi Requiem
October 23 2011: LA Phil plays Adams, Chapela, Prokofiev
October 24 2011: Adams, Stravinsky, Berlioz
October 27-29 2011: Gilbert conducts Beethoven, Dutilleux, Haydn
October 31 2011: Phantom of the Opera (1925 film)
November 2-4 2011: Bychkov conducts Strauss, Schumann
November 5 2011: Día de los Muertos Concert
November 6 2011: SF Symphony Youth Orchestra
November 6 2011: Chamber Music at Davies
November 6 2011: Joshua Bell, violin
November 11-13 2011: MTT conducts Schubert
November 17-21 2011: MTT conducts Gubaidulina, Brahms; Jane Archibald, soprano
November 23-26 2011: MTT conducts Wagner, Brahms; Gil Shaham, violin
December 6 2011: Boston Symphony Orchestra plays Berlioz, Mozart, Carter, Bartók
December 7 2011: Boston Symphony Orchestra plays Harbison, Ravel, Mahler
December 8-10 2011: Salonen conducts Sibelius, Salonen, Wagner; Leila Josefowicz, violin
December 10-11 2011: Cabrera conducts Peter and the Wolf
December 11 2011: Chamber Music at the Legion of Honor
December 16-18 2011: Messiah
December 31 2011: New Year's Eve Masquerade Ball
January 5-8 2012: MTT conducts Liszt, Ligeti, Tchaikovsky; Christian Tetzlaff, violin
January 12-14 2012: MTT conducts Janáček, Debussy
January 15 2012: Cabrera conducts the Bay Area Youth Orchestra Festival
January 19-22 2012: Heras-Casado conducts Stravinsky, Ravel, Dallapiccola, Falla; Khatia Buniatishvili, piano
January 22 2012: Paul Jacobs, organ
January 25-29 2012: Zukerman conducts Mozart, Hindemith
February 2-14 2012: Blomstedt conducts Mozart, Tchaikovsky
February 5 2012: Chamber Music at Davies
February 8-10 2012: Blomstedt conducts Bruckner
February 11 2012: Chinese New Year Concert
February 12 2012: Chamber Music at the Legion of Honor
February 14 2012: Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays Honegger, Bates, Franck
February 15 2012: Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays Schubert, Clyne
February 16-19 2012: de Waart conducts Schreker, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns
February 23-25 2012: Alessandrini conducts Haydn, Mozart
March 1-3 2012: Dutoit conducts Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky,  Bartók
March 4 2012: Isabelle Demers, organ
March 8-9 2012: MTT conducts Copland, Harrison, Ives
March 10-14 2012: MTT conducts Foss, Cowell, Cage
March 15-17 2012: MTT conducts Bates, Adams, Feldman, Varese
March 18 2012: Chamber Music in Davies
March 25 2012: Cabrera conducts SF Symphony Youth Orchestra
April 1 2012: Christopher Houlihan, organ
April 11-14 2012: Perlman conducts Vivaldi,Tchaikovsky
April 15 2012: Chamber Music at the Legion of Honor
April 15 2012: Cleveland Orchestra plays Mendelssohn, Saariaho, Shostakovich
April 16 2012: Cleveland Orchestra plays Beethoven, Adès, Smetana
April 19-22 2012: Deneve conducts Roussel, Saint-Saëns, Stravinsky; Thibaudet, piano
April 27-28 2012: Malkki conducts Grisey, Prokofiev, Sibelius; Gutierrez, piano
April 29 2012: Chamber Music at Davies
April 29 2012: Academy of St. Martin in the Fields plays Beethoven; Joshua Bell, violin
May 1-5 2012: Glover conducts Handel, Bach
May 2-5 2012: Bach, Handel; Barantschik, violin
May 10-12 2012: MTT conducts Barbary Coast and Beyond
May 13 2012: NY Phil plays Berlioz, Lindberg, Tchaikovsky
May 14 2012: NY Phil plays Dvořák , Bartók, Debussy, Ravel
May 16-29 2012: MTT conducts Mahler, Schnittke, Beethoven
May 20 2012: SF Symphony Youth Orchestra
May 24-27 2012: Vänskä conducts Aho, Prokofiev, Shostakovich; Hilary Hahn, violin
May 31- June 3 2012: Robertson conducts Britten, Dvořák ; Dawn Upshaw, soprano
June 2 2012: Black and White Ball
June 9 2012: Philadelphia Orchestra plays Hindemith, Ravel, Shostakovich
June 10 2012: Philadelphia Orchestra plays Ranjbaran, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Scriabin
June 14-17 2012: MTT conducts Faure, Sibelius, Rachmaninoff; Yuja Wang, piano
June 21-23 2012: MTT conducts Lizst, Bartók; Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano
June 24 2012: Chamber Music at Davies
June 27-30 2012: MTT conducts Schoenberg, Beethoven; Erin Wall, soprano

The San Francisco Symphony announced the 2011-2012 season today. Jessye Norman, Dawn Upshaw, Michelle DeYoung, and Erin Wall sing. Guest conductors include James Conlon, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Osmo Vänskä.

Press Kit | Official Site