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SF Opera's Die Walküre Cycle 1

Sfopera-walkuere-act3-2011 * Notes * 
Cycle 1 of Der Ring des Nibelungen at San Francisco Opera continued last night with Die Walküre (Act III pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver). Francesca Zambello's production shows the human side of every character, both God and hero alike are shown as flawed yet accessible. The use of fire, dogs, and parachuting Valkyries came together to create a spectacle. The staging could get busy at times, and some of the motivation behind the entrances and exits of characters was not always clear. There was also strange moment of humor when the sword was revealed. Jan Hartley's projections help to tell the story in naive images, but they lack a certain elegance. The sets, from Michael Yeargan, range from Hunding's extremely detailed house to the clean bleakness of Brünnhilde's rock. Catherine Zuber's costumes reinforce the narrative, especially in the changes in wardrobe for the female leads. Sieglinde sheds layered dresses and Brünnhilde's tomboy vest transforms into a warrior woman's bodice.

The orchestra sounded utterly lovely, Donald Runnicles drove the tempi without losing control. The strings were transparent and shimmering. The harp, clarinet, bassoon, and flute had especially fine soli. There was some sourness in the Walhall motive in Act I, but the Völsungen and Siegfried motives were clear and beautiful. The final scene of the opera was superbly played.

As with last year, the Walküren included many current and former Adlers and Merolini: Maya Lahyani (Siegrune), Tamara Wapinsky (Helmwige), Sara Gartland (Gerhilde), Daveda Karanas (Waltraute), Melissa Citro (Ortlinde), and Renée Tatum (Grimgerde). Joined by Lauren McNeese (Rossweise) and Cybele Gouverneur (Schwertleite), they produced a great deal of sound and pulled off their choreography with aplomb.

Daniel Sumegi was a physically imposing Hunding, the somewhat husk-like quality of his voice is not a detriment to this character. Elizabeth Bishop made for a sympathetic Fricka, her voice is full. Mark Delavan may be difficult to hear at times, but his voice has a pleasant timbre and he articulates the words with conviction. Brandon Jovanovich had a promising role debut of Siegmund. His voice rang out with warmth. Anja Kampe's Sieglinde was moving. Her vibrato did not detract from the intensity or beauty of her voice. Nina Stemme continues to be a dazzling Brünnhilde.

* Tattling * 
The audience in standing room upstairs was, for the most part, silent. Some latecomers may have argued aloud with an usher about taking their seats. One of them turned off his cellular phone, which made a chime to indicate this. Another phone rang somewhere in the balcony during a quiet part of the music of Act I. The scene changes were not an issue for this opera, and the prompter was less audible.

SF Opera's Das Rheingold Cycle 1

Rheingold-scene-4-sf-opera * Notes *
Francesca Zambello's "American" Ring opened with Das Rheingold Tuesday night at San Francisco Opera. Many of the video projections (by Jan Hartley) had been changed. Instead of reminding one of screen-savers, they look more like scenes from a Lord of the Rings video game. The projections for the beginning were a vast improvement from the ones used in 2008, the images of clouds and water went better with the music. Michael Yeargan's attractive sets are elegant, but the transitions were are noisy and we could even hear instructions to cast or crew when the scenes were switched.

Catherine Zuber's costumes do a good job of differentiating characters when this is appropriate. Of course, the Rheinmaidens, Nibelungs, Gods, and Giants all have a distinct look. Within that, it was easy to tell Fasolt from Fafner, or Fricka from Freia, from simple differences in attire. As for the staging, there was a certain campy humor to it, Donner's part with the stage directions "Ein starker Blitz entfährt der Wolke; ein heftiger Donnerschlag folgt" (Scene 4 pictured above, photo by Cory Weaver) was especially absurd. Zambello clearly thought through many of the holes in the plot. Loge showed up at the end of Scene 1, so we see how his promise to the Rheinmaidens could have been made. An apple is left on the table, which Wotan grabs to sustain him for a trip to Nibelheim. Mime hangs around a bit after the other Nibelungs run back home in Scene 4, and he clearly runs off stage right, to the woods.

The orchestra sounded beautiful under Runnicles, the tempi were not lax, but not rushed either. The brass was in fine form, there were only a handful of small errors, most noticeably in the overture. The Rhinemaidens sounded as comely as they looked. Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), Renee Tatum (Flosshilde), and Stacy Tappan (Woglinde) were playfully alluring in Scene 1 and doleful in Scene 4. Ronnita Miller was impressive as Erda, her rich contralto is gorgeous. David Cangelosi was the downtrodden, abused Mime, he whined and cried just as one would expect. Melissa Citro's acting as Freia was convincing, but she had a tendency to be shrill. Donner (Gerd Grochoski) and Froh (Brandon Jovanovich) were both sung drolly and added to the comedic aspects of the opera.

Andrea Silvestrelli sang Fasolt with warmth, and Daniel Sumegi made for a good foil as the more pragmatic Fafner. Gordon Hawkins (Alberich) was well matched with Mark Delavan (Wotan). Both have pretty voices that are not hefty, but are never harsh. Elizabeth Bishop made for a very human Fricka, clearly in love, and insecure in that love. Her voice is robust. Štefan Margita stood out as Loge, unctuous and mocking. His smooth, bright singing seemed flawless.

* Tattling *
The prompter was easily heard in Scene 2, and someone yelled "Hurry up" during the transition between Scenes 3 and 4.

The audience in orchestra standing room whispered a good deal, but only during the transitions. Someone without a place at the railing had a plastic bag that she kept moving around, creating an annoying amount of rustling. During the ovation, someone in the Orchestra Ring section booed Citro and Hawkins.

SF Opera's Ring Panel Discussion

Das-rheingold-sfopera2011 Yesterday evening Kip Cranna moderated a panel discussion on Der Ring des Nibelungen (Das Rheingold Scene 1 pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) which opens next today at San Francisco Opera. The panelists were mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop (Fricka), baritone Mark Delavan (Wotan, Wanderer), baritone Gordon Hawkins (Alberich), tenor Brandon Jovanovich (Siegmund), soprano Heidi Melton (Sieglinde in Cycle 3, Third Norn), and tenor Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried in Siegfried).

The panelists were asked how they became Wagnerian singers, what other repertoire they sang, and the character development of their particular roles in the Ring. The tone was lively and amusing, clearly the cast members were having a lot of fun. Elizabeth Bishop defended Fricka. Gordon Hawkins asked the audience members if they thought Alberich really was the bad guy in the Ring, and even asked us why. Jay Hunter Morris told us he had no idea if he would have a voice left by the end of the Siegfried opening and was "tickled" that he did.

Since Bishop and Hawkins were in the Washington National Opera version of this production, they were asked about the differences from the present incarnation in San Francisco. Bishop mentioned the opening scene had a jungle gym, and Hawkins corrected her, saying it was a sluice. The costumes have evolved, as have the projections.

It was slightly surprising that neither director Francesca Zambello nor conductor Donald Runnicles were present. Zambello was out of town doing one of her many other jobs. Runnicles had gotten married earlier in the day, and was thus understandably unavailable.

Seattle Opera's Speight Jenkins to Retire

Ring-cycle-seattle-das-rheingold August 4-25 2013: Der Ring des Nibelungen
August 2-23 2014: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Yesterday Seattle Opera officially announced Summer schedules for 2013 and 2014. Asher Fisch will conduct the Ring. The cast includes Alwyn Mellor (Brünnhilde), Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Greer Grimsley (Wotan), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Margaret Jane Wray (Sieglinde), Stuart Skelton (Siegmund), Dennis Petersen (Mime), and Richard Paul Fink (Alberich).

Asher Fisch will also conduct Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which will be Speight Jenkins' production as General Director. He will retire on September 1, 2014.

2013 Ring Official Site | 2014 Meistersinger Official Site

Orpheus Luncheon 2011

Seacliff_District_SF * Notes * 
Adler Fellows tenor Brian Jagde, baritone Ao Li, and pianist Tamara Sanikidze gave a delightful performance at San Francisco Opera's Orpheus luncheon yesterday. Jagde started with the grave "Ah, la paterna mano" from Macbeth. Li gave us some humor by singing one of Don Magnifico arias from La Cenerentola, I believe it was "Sia qualunque delle figlie," but I could be mistaken. Jagde and Li sang the Act IV duet between Marcello and Rodolfo from La Bohème. One was grateful this short recital was squeezed in after both Sanikidze and Jagde were at the final dress of Walküre until quite late the previous night.

* Tattling * 
The audience was rapt and quiet. Somehow I barely made the performance on time, and they started just as I took a seat.

Final Dress of SF Opera's Walküre

Sf-opera-walkuere-final-scene-2010 * Notes *
If yesterday's final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Die Walküre (Mark Delavan and Nina Stemme pictured left; photo from the 2010 production by Cory Weaver) is any indication, the cast is disconcertingly strong. Given how gorgeous last year's Walküre was, the promise of an even better run now is remarkable.

* Tattling *
The traffic getting to the Bay Bridge heading west was heavy, as someone suspected of being under the influence of alcohol threatened to jump from the upper deck.

Final Dress of SF Opera's Das Rheingold

Das-rheingold * Notes *
The final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Das Rheingold (Mark Delavan, Jennifer Larmore, Tamara Wapinsky, Charles Taylor, and Jason Collins pictured left; photo from the 2008 production by Terrence McCarthy) was yesterday. Nearly 70% of the cast has changed from the opening San Francisco performances of this production three years ago, so it was fascinating to watch how things have developed thus far. Many of the projections have been changed, but the essentials remain the same.

* Tattling *
I find the aesthetic of the Gods in Francesca Zambello's production very amusing for some reason. When Donner is to clear the air with his hammer, marked "Ein starker Blitz entfährt der Wolke; ein heftiger Donnerschlag folgt." in the score, I could not stop giggling. Something about how this is staged is simply hilarious.

Brandon Jovanovich Interview

Brandon-jovanovich This month tenor Brandon Jovanovich (pictured left, photograph by Peter Dressel) has role debuts of Froh and Siegmund in San Francisco Opera's Der Ring des Nibelungen. In August, Jovanovich sings Věc Makropulos at the Salzburg Festival. Next season he performs in Cologne, Munich, Chicago, Berlin, Houston, and Washington, DC. The Opera Tattler spoke to Jovanovich at the War Memorial before rehearsal on Tuesday.

How did you get into opera?
By accident. I sang in high school choir. I had wanted to be a football player, and I went to the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota on a scholarship. The first year I was there it got to -80ºF below with the windchill factor. It was just too cold! I transferred to Northern Arizona University, but they wouldn't give me a scholarship for football without seeing me play. I ended up sending a tape of my choral singing, and was accepted into the music department.

Do you play an instrument?
Unfortunately, no. I can play enough piano to plunk out notes, and occasionally I can play a whole chord. I took about a year of piano at the age of 7 or 8. After the first 6 months I was allowed to take swimming lessons, and in another 6 I got a skateboard. And after the skateboard, well, that was it, no more piano.

How is working in opera? Is it stuffy as it is purported to be?
Since opera has to compete with other forms of entertainment, we do have to move around and act. I'm down two pairs of jeans from Ring rehearsals so far. Really, I've ripped two pairs!

You recently had a debut at the Met as Don José in Carmen (January 2010), and then returned the following season. How did that go?
It was a bit nerve-wracking, but it was great. I was covering Alagna, but it ended up that he sang 6 performances and I the other 6. I didn't get to work much with the director, Richard Eyre, until I went back to sing the role again last Fall, but it was so nice working with him.

Alagna was in the simulcast though, yes? How do you feel about the HD simulcasts?
That's right. It does bring bring opera to the masses. Especially with the HD broadcasts, they are such high quality, and that is wonderful. I am also apprehensive, as I have heard that some directors are looking at their work with an eye for the movie theater. Maybe something looks too much like stage acting for the camera, but that's where we are.

Is this your first Ring?
Yes, it is my first Wagner, in fact. I did hear Die Meistersinger in Chicago back in 1999. The first Ring operas I heard were Das Rheingold and Die Walküre in Los Angeles last year. I was there singing Die Vögel.

That's right, they had Die Vögel on that same steep rake as the Ring. How was that?
It was terrifying. The choreographer, Peggy Hickey, had us doing ankle exercises to keep us injuring ourselves.

How did you get the role of Siegmund?
That's a very good question! I have no idea! They hired me in 2008, I believe. In 2007, when I won the Richard Tucker award. I sang "Winterstürme," so maybe Greg Henkel heard that and thought that this role was in me. Or perhaps they heard it in the Pinkerton I sang here in that same year.

Is it an intimidating role?
On one hand, yes. Wagnerites definitely set the bar at a particular level, and many great singers have sung Siegmund. On the other hand, it is exhilarating. The role fits my voice like a glove.

Is Siegmund a hard role to relate to?
He is a very odd character, even setting aside the whole incest aspect. He's a vigilante who sees the world in black and white.

What are you singing next?
Let's see. I am singing in a couple of Carmen productions, of course. I also have Tenor/Bacchus in Ariadne, Don Carlos, and Samson et Dalila in the next season. I am learning roles from Lohengrin, Fidelio, and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It is a lot of music to get into my wee little brain!

Your rep is varied, from Baroque to contemporary. What are the challenges of creating a role versus singing ones that everyone knows inside and out?
New works are important and rewarding to sing. You are given a blank slate and you get to create something, first and foremost with the composer, but also with the director, conductor, and your colleagues. I especially like Daniel Catán, as far as his style, his sound was his own, but people can relate to it.

Do you have favorite operas?
I should preface this with, I like everything I work on when I'm working on it, because when you are looking at the music and singing it all the time, you get to appreciate how great it is. But as for particular favorites, I love Peter Grimes and Jenůfa. From the very beginning of Jenůfa a nervousness invades your body, it just doesn't let up, and the very last five minutes are just sublime.

You've described yourself as a goofball before. Please explain.
I don't take myself too seriously, I like to make people laugh in rehearsals and to have fun.

Why don't you have a Wikipedia article?
I was wondering that too! I won't write one myself, and I don't mind not having one. I don't need to be in the limelight all the time.

SF Opera's Götterdämmerung Media Round-Up

Sfopera-goetterdaemmerung-act-3 Production Web Site | SF Opera's Ring Blog

Here we have a photograph from Cory Weaver of the Act III, Scene 3 of San Francisco Opera's Götterdämmerung with Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde), Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), Renee Tatum (Flosshilde), Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), Melissa Citro (Gutrune), and Ian Storey (Siegfried). Sunday's performance was impressive, and one looks forward to the 3 cycles in the next 3 weeks.

Performance Reviews: Financial Times | Not For Fun Only | Out West Arts | San Francisco Chronicle | Commanday on SFCV | Serinus on SFCV | SF Examiner

Götterdämmerung at SF Opera

Goetterdaemmerung-act2 * Notes * 
Today's premiere of Götterdämmerung (Act II pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) at San Francisco Opera was arresting. Maestro Donald Runnicles had the orchestra sounding vivid and beautiful. There were bad notes and cloudiness here and there in the brass, but nonetheless it hardly mattered. The woodwinds were evocative, the strings shimmering. The balance of orchestra and singers was not always favorable to the latter. For the most part the singing was audible and it was a great pleasure to hear the chorus sing this music.

The cast was strong. The Rheintöchter (Stacey Tappan, Lauren McNeese, and Renée Tatum) sounded pretty and plaintive. The Norns (Ronnita Miller, Daveda Karanas, and Heidi Melton) were well matched yet completely distinct from one another. Karanas also sang Waltraute convincingly, her pleading with Brünnhilde was poignant. Gordon Hawkins was suitably haunting as Alberich. Melissa Citro was a piercing Gutrune, and she channeled hysteria appropriately in the last act. Citro's mincing steps and girlishness read clearly even at the back of the house.

Gerd Grochowski played the consummate Gunther, plainly conveying the cowardice of the character. Andrea Silvestrelli (Hagen) was nearly faultless. He was brilliantly evil, and the texture of his voice worked to his advantage. His rich sound does seem to have an endless depth to it. Ian Storey (Siegfried) has some fine heft and volume to his voice, but he did sound somewhat sour. His control is somewhat imperfect, and he cracked at least one note in Act II. This said, his death scene was captivating. However, the obvious star of the performance was Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde. Her voice is powerful without being strained, her low notes have strength and warmth, and her high notes ring out with clarity.

Francesca Zambello's production ran out of steam by the end. For one thing, the torch Brünnhilde used to set the funeral pyre alight went out before she made it all the way upstage where this to take place. It was also confusing as to why Hagen exited the stage only to return much later to deliver his last line and meet his deserved demise. Zambello did infuse some humor into the early scenes with the Gibichungs, and if nothing else, she engaged the audience. Again, the projections from Jan Hartley seemed stylistically incoherent, and the overlap of images only created more of a muddle. Unfortunately, the noise of the set changes and some of the staging could be distracting. On the other hand, Michael Yeargan's sets looked nice and simple, and the Gibichung Hall was particularly elegant.

* Tattling * 
The audience in the balcony had some restless members. There was some quiet talking, and someone's mobile phone chimed during the first scene with the Norns. Axel Feldheim and SF Mike were silent and attentive.

The orchestra and crew all took their ovation onstage along with the maestri, principal cast, chorus, and supers.

Final Dress of SF Opera's Götterdämmerung

Goetterdaemmerung-prologue * Notes *
The final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Götterdämmerung (Heidi Melton, Daveda Karanas, and Ronnita Miller pictured left; photo by Cory Weaver) was last Thursday. According to Miss LCU, there was still a great deal of chaos as far as the staging is concerned, but parts were quite strong. Much of the singing was out, and Nina Stemme was particularly brilliant. Ian Storey (Siegfried) seems more robust than Jay Hunter Morris. Hopefully it will all come together tomorrow for the production opening.

* Tattling *
One of the norns mentioned that the Prologue pictured above has been challenging. It had been difficult for them to see, as the goggles had been fogging up and the terrain is not smooth.

An Evening of English Music at St. John's

28032011 036 * Notes *
Clarinetist Brenden Guy organized an evening of English music at St. John's Church in San Francisco yesterday. The performance started with some rather cute, pastoral music from Gerald Finzi and Arnold Cooke. Guy and Yeo Jin Seol played Finzi's Five Bagetelles for clarinet and piano. Arnold Cooke's Three Songs of Innocence were sung by soprano Indre Viskontas, accompanied by clarinet (Guy) and Ian Scarfe (piano). Viskontas' diction was clear and her voice was piercing. Before intermission we heard Valinor Winds play Holst's Wind Quintet Opus 14 in A-flat major. The group seemed to enjoy playing together, which is always nice to hear.

The last two pieces on the program were less adorable but more gratifying. Guy and Keisuke Nakagoshi played Herbert Howells' Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. The first movement was smooth and without harshness, the second movement was second half more vivid. Guy conducted 10 musicians in Britten's first piece, the Sinfonietta for Chamber Orchestra (1932). There was some beautiful playing, and I particularly liked the third movement Tarantelle: Presto vivace.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet. As I was surrounded by friends, including Axel Feldheim and SF Mike, this is perhaps not surprising. There were only some discernible sounds from the street outside. As a venue, the acoustics of St. John's are fine for chamber music, but the lighting certainly was not focused on the performers.

Chora Nova performs Vivaldi, Galuppi, Pergolese

Paul-flight * Notes *
Berkeley's Chora Nova ended the 2010-2011 season with a performance of psalm settings from the Italian Baroque last Saturday. The evening began with Pergolese's Confitebor tibi and Galuppi's Nisi Dominus. The both pieces were played and sung at a pretty mezzo-forte under the direction of Paul Flight (pictured left). The two sopranos were distinct from one another. Michele Byrd's voice was bright, while Jennifer Paulino's was warmer. For Pergolese, Byrd sang a countertenor part in a duet with tenor Brian Thorsett. This did not quite work, they just did not seem to be singing together. The Galuppi had more fire to it, but unfortunately, one of the violins broke a string before the last soprano duet.

The second half of the program gave us Vivaldi's Dixit Dominus. Playing and singing were diffuse but pleasant. Thorsett had a beautiful solo, and the trumpet here clean except for an odd squawk at the end. Flight sang the countertenor part in this piece, turning from the orchestra to sing to the audience.

* Tattling *
Someone in the balcony saw fit to undo her wrist brace during the second piece, apologizing, but creating a great deal of noise unfastening her velcro straps.