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Adler 2012 Speculation

Merola16 * Notes *
The Adler Fellows for 2012 are likely to be announced next month, so it is time to speculate on which Merolini (pictured left in the 2011 Grand Finale, photograph by Stefan Cohen) will return to San Francisco. Tamara Sanikidze will have completed her two years as an Adler this Fall, so we will get a new collaborative pianist. As for singers, the outgoing Adlers are sopranos Leah Crocetto, Susannah Biller, and Sara Gartland; mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani; countertenor Ryan Belongie; and tenor Brian Jagde.

This year there were many fine low voices. Bass-baritones Peixin Chen and Philippe Sly were perhaps the most impressive of the 20 singers. Chen does lack in diction and in English proficiency, but his low notes are incredible. All 6 baritones had lovely voices, but Suchan Kim and Johnathan Michie were exceptional. One should, however, note that only baritone called back during the General Director Auditions was Gordon Fang. As for tenors, though they could all sing pleasantly, they all had their various weak points, and none were really up to the bar of other recent Adler tenors.

The strongest soprano was probably Suzanne Rigden, she was the most consistent week over week. However, one suspects she is already in another apprentice program, as she was the only soprano not called back during the General Director Auditions. Marina Boudart Harris had the most memorable performance in the Finale. For the mezzo-sopranos, Renée Rapier has the warmest and darkest sound. Rapier is a Domingo-Thornton Young Artist, which leaves Deborah Nansteel and Laura Krumm. Both have pretty voices, with much brightness. Nansteel's voice is more dramatic, but Krumm has the advantage of being fit.

* Tattler Guesses *
Robert Mollicone
Marina Boudart Harris
Laura Krumm
Deborah Nansteel
Peixin Chen
Philippe Sly

Merola Grand Finale 2011

Merola 2011 * Notes *
Another Summer of the Merola Opera Program ended with this year's Grand Finale last night at the War Memorial Opera House. Ragnar Conde's staging for the performance was ornate, and the set used was one from Turandot, designed by David Hockney. The costumes were the usual tuxedos and evening gowns, the latter often in a palette of jewel tones ranging from sapphire to pink tourmaline. The dresses were all flattering, which was a nice change from some costume choices at other Merola performances this year. Johannes Debus conducted the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, occasionally the volume of the musicians in the pit overwhelmed the singers. There were also a few synchronization problems. It was nice to hear the overture to Rossini's Semiramide, and the brass was particularly lovely.

"Andiam, fidi, al consiglio...Invida sorte avara" from Ariodante was beautifully sung by Philippe Sly as Il Rè and Daniel Curran as Odoardo. Robert Mollicone's harpsichord playing was pretty here as well. The excerpt from Lucrezia Borgia sung by Renée Rapier (Orsini) and Heath Huberg (Gennaro) that followed was more awkward. Maybe part of the problem was the fussy stage direction, which involved nervous packing and fringed scarves. The first half of the performance did end on a high point, with Jonathan Michie singing "Batter my heart" from Dr. Atomic. Michie was completely convincing, his diction clear, and his voice has warmth and heft.

Ragnar Conde's humor worked well for the staging of "Ich gehe doch rate ich dir" from Entführung, Suzanne Rigden was spunky as Blonde and Peixin Chen a loveable buffoon as Osmin. Another highlight of the evening was "Das war sehr gut Mandryka" from Arabella, with Marina Boudart Harris (Arabella) and John Maynard (Mandryka). Boudart Harris sang imposingly, and without strain. Maynard gamely supported her with his pleasant sound. The last piece of the evening, "O che muso" from L'Italiana in Algeri, was very funny. Everyone eventually came out on stage, including the apprentice coaches, who all seemed to be singing in the chorus. The staging included much choreography, and many parasols were opened and closed. At times it seemed like chaos, but considering the text, it was not inappropriate. Philippe Sly was hilarious as Mustafà, as was Cooper Nolan as Lindoro. Suzanne Rigden managed to be a mousy Elvira, never upstaging Renée Rapier's sassy Isabella. Rapier's full, round sound was marvelous, her timbre is even throughout the ranges of her voice.

* Tattling *
Some light talking was heard when no one was singing on stage. The person in Row O Seat 105 chose to unwrap something during most of "Bel raggio lusinghier" from Semiramide.

Brian Jagde Interview

Brian-jagde Tenor Brian Jagde (pictured left as Pinkerton in Virginia Opera's production of Madama Butterfly, photograph by Anne M. Peterson) is currently an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera. He sings Vitellozzo in Lucrezia Borgia and Don José in Carmen for Families at San Francisco Opera during the 2011-2012 season, then heads to Fresno, Bozeman, Munich, Minnesota, and Santa Fe. The Opera Tattler caught up with Jagde on Wednesday.

How did you get into opera?
Last thing I'd thought I would do. I studied computer science and business for 2 years, but I sang in chorus at school at SUNY Albany. I realized that I liked playing around with computers more than programing them. I ended up auditioning for SUNY
Purchase College's Department of Opera Performance. My first performance was in The Magic Flute, and I was covering roles, singing, dealing with the sets, and even the lighting. Being on stage was incredible, especially feeling the sound of the orchestra.

Was it in college you discovered you were a tenor?
Actually, I had sung tenor up until college, and when I was there, I thought I had to produce a certain sound. So I went through college as a baritone. I have always had a high speaking voice, and, actually, being a tenor came naturally to me. It was funny, I was booked as Marcello in La Bohème at Virginia Opera, but I ended up singing Rodolfo at Syracuse. I really developed as a tenor in the Adler Program though.

How has the Adler Program been? I really liked your performance in Makropulos, but I know you have been covering a lot of roles too.
It has been really great, and I have learned so much. In Makropulos, the role of Janek is more of an acting role, playing someone so virginal and with such a problem of confidence. His father does treat him very badly, obviously. It was great working with Karita Mattila, she is just otherworldly. Covering roles has been eye-opening as well. Last Summer I was covering Brandon Jovanovich as Froh, and he is just the nicest person, so down to earth, but he has a great voice for the War Memorial, which is obviously such a huge space.

Was San Francisco Opera's Ring your first?
Yes, and I am so grateful. Of course was the singing amazing, not only with Brandon, but Mark Delavan as Wotan and Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde. But the production really was fantastic. I loved how human Francesca Zambello made the characters.

Speaking of which, how has your summer been going?
Well, I started off here covering Das Rheingold, and then headed off to sing
Bohème at Castleton. It really is in the middle of nowhere, there is hardly any cellular phone service or Internet out there. I had to get a phone card to even be able to make calls. But it was good to disconnect for a bit. I ended up rediscovering tennis while I was there, and it has been the best exercise. It is fun, and it is good to find physical activity that isn't a chore to do. After Castleton, I went to Italy for 10 days, and there is just such warmth there. I have been there before, but they just embrace opera singers. Rome is my favorite city in the world, so far.

Now you are back, covering Heart of A Soldier. How has that been?
That's right, I am covering Bill Burden (Daniel J. Hill) in Heart of A Soldier. The life of Rick Rescorla suits opera very well, his life involved a lot of singing! I think the biggest challenge of the opera is that a lot of time is covered, so it is up to the director (Francesca Zambello) to make those transitions make sense.

I understand you are also singing in the Stern Grove concert on your birthday this Sunday with Dolora Zajick. Are you excited?
Absolutely! I cannot think of a better way to celebrate my birthday! I am lucky that my voice and repertoire, with all the Puccini I am studying, because it affords me opportunity to sing the tenor/mezzo duet with her from Il Trovatore. Dolora has been very helpful too.

She is so good at that role, the first Trovatore I heard was with Dolora.
She said something really great, that there are two kinds of singers, regardless if you are famous or not. You can either sing 9 roles, and be the absolute best at those, or you can take on a wide variety, and sing 240 roles. She's obviously the former.

Ensemble Parallèle's 4 Saints in 3 Acts

Four Saints-Maya Srinivasan+Eugene Brancoveanu+Brook Munoz * Notes *
Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts (Maya Srinivasan, Eugene Brancoveanu, and Brooke Muñoz pictured right, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) opened in a new production from Ensemble Parallèle last night in San Francisco. The performances are a collaboration between Ensemble Parallèle and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in association with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Maestra Nicole Paiement had her small orchestra, which included an accordion, under control. It seemed like it would be easy to lose one's place in the music, and the musicians held together well. Director Brian Staufenbiel put his own narrative atop Gertrude Stein's charming libretto. Staufenbiel certainly does not lack ambition or ideas, and in the end the structure probably helped keep some audience members awake and engaged. The scene changes were seamless, all the props were either on wires or wheels. Because the furniture could be spun around, this was done several times. This worked best when the saints enter for Act III on their chairs, a veritable chair ballet. The colors used for the costumes gave the production cohesion, lots of white, with pops of red, yellow, and to a lesser extent, blue. The choreography, from Michael Mohammed, was pleasing and often quite funny.

There was much beautiful singing. Commère Wendy Hillhouse and Compère John Bischoff had a good dynamic with each other. Hillhouse has exceptional diction, and Bischoff has a wonderful timbre. The saints all sang prettily. The duet between Maya Kherani (Saint Settlement) and J. Raymond Meyers (Saint Stephen) was oddly poignant. The parts with Saint Teresa I and Saint Teresa II were lovely, soprano Heidi Moss has a brilliant clarity and mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi a smooth warmth. Eugene Brancoveanu sang St. Ignatius with a full richness.

The evening began with a new piece by Luciano Chessa entitled A Heavenly Act. The piece uses words from Stein's libretto for Four Saints in Three Acts, as the version we were to hear later was cut significantly by Thomson. Chessa's work has interesting textures and the dance segment was jaunty. Some of the shrill pitches were challenging. The production featured Kalup Linzy, who sang with a microphone and created video projections involving angels and clouds.

* Tattling * 
The person in Row A Seat 104, only a few feet from the conductor, spoke freely during the first piece, and occasionally in the second. She spent a lot of time pointing and talked without regard to either playing or singing.

For some reason, ushers often assume I am in the wrong seat or the wrong section. Just before the performance one of the YBCA ushers tried to confront me about where I was, despite the fact that there was no one behind me, and that where the person she was seating was supposed to be.

Porgy and Bess at Seattle Opera

11XPorgeBessXeb-152 * Notes * 
Porgy and Bess (Mary Elizabeth Williams as Serena and Gordon Hawkins as Porgy pictured left, photograph by Elise Bakketun) had a sixth performance at Seattle Opera on Sunday afternoon. Chris Alexander's production is serviceable, though perhaps blunt. The set, from Michael Scott, is attractive, but does not facilitate scene changes. The music was often interrupted by applause, and a fidgety silence predominated during the short breaks between scenes. Christina Giannini's costumes were nice enough, but Bess' initial red dress was not particularly flattering in cut. Duane Schuler's lighting was simple and elegant. Kabby Mitchell III choreography looked wonderful on the dancers, and on most of the singers, especially Michael Redding and Jermaine Smith.

John DeMain held the orchestra together, though there were times when singers and musicians were not precisely together. The soli were all very clear, almost jarringly so. The singers were strong, even the small roles of Strawberry Woman (Ibidunni Ojikutu) and Crab Man (Ashley Faatoalia) were cast perfectly. The chorus sounded fine, and were only occasionally not tightly synchronized. Angel Blue (Clara) sang "Summertime" beautifully, her voice lucid and icy. Gwendolyn Brown's Maria was sympathetic and funny, and her diction is marvelous. Mary Elizabeth Williams was impressive as Serena, her "My Man's Gone Now" was incandescent. A couple of notes were slightly throaty, though this actually fits the aria well.

Michael Redding was a force as Crown, he had a lot of volume, yet good control. Jermaine Smith played Sportin' Life with the right amount of sneaky, greasy charm. He was occasionally overwhelmed by either the chorus or orchestra. Lisa Daltirus was a curious choice for Bess, though one should note that she has sung the role quite a lot. Daltirus is oddly devoid of sensuality, especially in the way she moves, and there were occasional unattractive gasps or catches at the bottom of her voice. She can sound perfectly clarion, and this came through in her reprisal of "Summertime." Gordon Hawkins (Porgy) had a better sense of his own body, and though his voice is perhaps not the richest, he sang well. His speaking voice is quite lovely and effective. Both he and Daltrius contributed to a particularly moving "Bess, You Is My Woman Now."

* Tattling * 
The audience seemed unprepared for how long the first half of this opera was. The person next to me in CC 6 was the ideal standee: silent, attentive, and aware of the space around her. The couple standing at CC 8 and 9 were also pretty quiet, and kept their whispering to a minimum. A watch alarm was heard at 3pm, and a person in the last row of the orchestra did check her mobile phone during the pauses between scenes.

I must remember to use the NATO phonetic alphabet when spelling my surname, as there was all sorts of confusion at the box office when I picked up my ticket. Thankfully, the people at the box office are both polite and kind.

PBO Summer Festivals Tour 2011

Pbo-deyoung * Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra left San Francisco today to start a tour of summer festivals. The ensemble plays Händel's Orlando at the Ravinia Festival tomorrow, at Mostly Mozart on Saturday, and at Tanglewood next Tuesday. The semi-staged opera was performed by PBO in the Bay Area last year, with many of the same soloists.

PBO had a rehearsal in Berkeley yesterday, and the orchestra sounded bright and together under the direction of Maestro Nicholas McGegan. The cast shows a lot of promise. Wolf Matthias Friedrich (Zoroastro), Diana Moore (Medoro), and Dominique Labelle (Angelica) were consistent with their previous performances, and will undoubtedly do well. Yulia van Doren sang Dorinda very prettily. The Act I Scene 12 trio with van Doren, Moore, and Labelle was especially splendid. In the title role (written for Senesino), Clint van der Linde has his work cut out for him. Van der Linde sounded absolutely lovely in the Adagio part of Act II, Scene 11.

Seattle Opera's Annual Meeting 2011

Mccaw Seattle Opera's Annual Meeting was held today at McCaw Hall. The company announced that it achieved a balanced budget (unaudited) for the 2010-2011 season. The Seattle Opera Artists of the Year awards went to Aleksandra Kurzak for singing the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor last October, and to Zandra Rhodes, Costume Designer for The Magic Flute in May.

Press Releases | Official Site

Merola Opera Program's Barber of Seville (Friday)

Barbiere_Aug2-1111 * Notes *
The Merola Opera Program's Il barbiere di Siviglia (Act II, Scene 5 with Renée Rapier, Daniel Curran, Peixin Chen, Mark Diamond, and John Maynard pictured left; photograph by Kristen Loken) returned with a second cast on Friday night. The orchestra, conducted by Mark Morash, sounded more comfortable this time around. Again, this group of singers was vocally strong. As a whole, the movements were understated and the acting was not overblown. Marina Boudart Harris (Berta) sang "Il vecchiotto cerca moglie" mournfully. Peixin Chen impressed as Don Basilio, his voice is full and almost bottomless. His "La Calunnia" was robust. John Maynard's Dr. Bartolo was amusingly imprudent and conniving. Maynard sang smoothly and with ease.

Mark Diamond made for a gallant Figaro, and sang with a certain lightness, yet had good volume. Daniel Curran had trouble at the end of Almaviva's first aria, but recovered nicely. Curran's voice has a pingy warmth and much power. Our mezzo-soprano Rosina, Renée Rapier, bubbled and sparkled, but also has a pretty darkness in her low notes.

* Tattling *
There some whispering during the performance, but no obvious electronic noise. Someone's crutch fell during Act I, house right on the orchestra level, near the front.

Merola Opera Program's Barber of Seville (Thursday)

Merola-barbiere-thursday-cast-2011 * Notes *
The Merola Opera Program's Il barbiere di Siviglia (Act II, Scene 11 with Jonathan Michie, Suzanne Rigden, and Heath Huberg pictured left; photograph by Kristen Loken) opened last night at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. Mark Morash held the orchestra together without rushing terribly. The cast was robust, with many pretty voices and great physicality. The chorus was incredibly loud, despite the small number of singers. Deborah Nansteel sang Berta's one aria, "Il vecchiotto cerca moglie," very beautifully. Adam Lau was quite funny as Don Basilio, his low notes projected well, without being gravelly. Philippe Sly convincingly transformed himself into the incredibly silly, old man that is Dr. Bartolo. His voice is lovely, and his "A un dottor dell mia sorte" was memorable.

Jonathan Michie had excellent comic timing as Figaro, and sang with bright warmth. Heath Huberg (Almaviva) was dashing, though at times slightly strained, but pleasantly light. Suzanne Rigden (Rosina) has a dizzying ability to sing high notes, her coloratura technique is impressive.

Eric Flatmo's set involved a great many of tinsel garlands and furniture placed on end. This made for simple scene changes. The lighting, designed by Jax Messenger, was at times harsh against the already very shiny surfaces. Roy Rallo's direction was consistent, his ideas were carried all the way through the production and were humorous. I enjoyed his deliberate use of anachronism. The costumes, from Kristi Johnson, appeared period, except for Rosina's outfit, which consisted of a long bubble skirt, a high-waisted robe with many fastenings, and boots.

* Tattling *
The man behind me in K 4 spoke at full volume for much of Act I, during Basilio's only aria and Bartolo's first one. There was especially confusion about identifying each character at the beginning. There was some electronic noise that seemed to be associated with the production, perhaps associated with cuing.