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October 2011

PBO plays Mozart, Beck, & Haydn

Kelley_R_J_c_Matt_Dine * Notes * 
Nicholas McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra opened the 2011-2012 season with Mozart, Beck, and Haydn. The concert started with Mozart's Symphony No. 38 in D major. The playing lilted, the brass seemed slightly rawer in style compared to the strings and woodwinds. The featured soloist of the program was R.J. Kelley (pictured left, photograph by Matt Dine), playing Mozart's Concerto pasticcio for Horn in E-flat major with the orchestra. The natural horn just seems an impossible instrument to play in tune, and one wonders what sort of personality is drawn to such a difficult vocation. Kelley made a good go of it, and sounded best in the second movement Romanza. The instrument can have a warm and mellow quality that is quite beautiful.

The second half of the performance gave us a cheerful rendition of Beck's overture from La mort d'Orphée. Haydn's Symphony No. 98 rounded off this delightful evening. The oboe sounded particularly nice, and the playing altogether was animated and genial.

* Tattling * 
Some latecomers seated in the back of the orchestra level held up the performance in between the two Mozart pieces. A cellular phone was heard during the last piece, again from this area.

SF Opera's Lucrezia Borgia Media Round-Up

Sf-opera-lucrezia-borgia-act-i Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Lucrezia Borgia (Act I pictured left with Elizabeth DeShong as Maffio Orsini, Michael Fabiano as Gennaro, Renée Fleming as Lucrezia Borgia; photograph by Cory Weaver) are coming in.

Performance Reviews: Out West Arts | San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Francisco Examiner | San Jose Mercury News

SF Opera's Lucrezia Borgia

Renee-fleming-lucrezia-actiii * Notes * 
Washington National Opera's production of Lucrezia Borgia opened yesterday evening at San Francisco Opera. The performances mark the return of Renée Fleming, who has not sung in an opera at the War Memorial for more than a decade. John Pascoe's designs for Lucrezia are rather puzzling. The set is oppressive and the different scenes do not always look distinct from one another. The fanciful costumes have often been executed in shiny fabrics. The attire for the diva herself is indeed whimsical, her Act III outfit (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) seems more suitable for a super hero than a Renaissance duchess. Pascoe's direction is consistent with his design aesthetic. The choreography, though synchronized, seemed contrived. The final scene was utterly baffling. The entrance of the chorus was awkward. The motivation for dragging the corpses back onstage was unclear. Why were the five singers carried out through the upstage doors only to be pulled back from the downstage wings?

The orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Frizza, played fleetly, and was often ahead of the singers. The volume had a tendency to overwhelm the singing. However, the harp had a beautiful lucidity in Act I, and the brass was clear in Act III. Many of the young cast members showed much promise. In the smaller roles, Brian Jagde (Oloferno Vitellozzo) and Daniel Montenegro (Rustighello) stood out. Jadge's voice has brightened and opened during his Adler Fellowship, and he could be heard in Act I over the orchestra. Though a bit light, Montenegro's voice has a mournful sweetness.

Vitalij Kowaljow made for a fittingly brutal Duke Alfonso, his voice has strength and depth. Also strong was Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini), who has a gorgeous sound. Her singing was clean, but she dropped out near the end of Act III's "Minacciata è la mia vita" with Michael Fabiano (Gennaro). Fabiano looked visibly confused by this, and also stopped singing until they could both get back on track for the final notes of the duet. Other than this misstep, Fabiano sounded very good. His voice has heft and beauty. In contrast, Renée Fleming was disappointing. She does have a lovely ease and pleasing timbre. However, she seemed a bit tepid. Her relatively minor intonation errors were more glaring than they would have been if she had projected more confidence. She was engaging in the final act, and her soaring high notes were effective. Oddly enough though, at the end, the orchestra seemed to just swallow up her voice.

* Tattling * 
There was whispering and unwrapping of cough drops during the music, but no discernible electronic noise, at least on the orchestra level of the opera house.

NCCO plays Bloch, Mendelssohn, & Shchedrin

StuartCanin-color * Notes *
New Century Chamber Orchestra began the 2011-2012 season with a program entitled "Carmen Revisited," including works from Bloch, Mendelssohn, and Shchedrin. The first performance last night in Berkeley commenced with Bloch's Concerto Gross for String Orchestra with Piano Obbligato, the pianist in this case being Miles Graber. Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the rest of the musicians sounded strong without being overly pretty. NCCO certainly has a lot of vigor, in any case. The second piece, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in D minor, featured NCCO'S former Music Director, Stuart Canin (pictured above, photograph courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle). Canin's playing is perhaps imprecise, but his phrasing has its appeal. After the intermission came Shchedrin's Carmen Suite. Again, the ensemble played forcefully, and the principal second violinist even broke a string in the second movement. The musicians seemed to relish the fortissmo parts of the music.

 * Tattling * 
There was a lot of street noise during the second half of the performance. At some point an audience member in the balcony got fed up and closed one of the windows.

New Century Chamber Orchestra's 20th Season

NCCO2010-2239 * Notes * 
On Tuesday New Century Chamber Orchestra (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken Anstey) held a press luncheon in honor of the ensemble's 20th Anniversary Season. Executive Director Parker E. Monroe, Board President Paula Gambs, and Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg all spoke about how things have been going for the ensemble of late. Ticket sales have been up, and the ensemble's first tour in February seemed successful. New Century goes on tour again in November.

This season's featured composer is Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, her "Prologue and Variations" is part of the programming for the December concerts, and NCCO will premiere a new work of hers in May 2012. It was also announced that Salerno-Sonnenberg has renewed her contract as music director.

* Tattling * 
The press luncheon began with introductions around the room. Herr Feldheim had been speaking to one of NCCO's violinists after the open rehearsal, and arrived late. Salerno-Sonnenberg demanded to know who he was when he did join us.

LA Opera's Così fan tutte

La-opera-cosi-fan-tutte-actii * Notes * 
Nicholas Hytner's 2006 Glyndebourne production of Così fan tutte (Act II pictured left with the Los Angeles Opera chorus, Aleksandra Kurzak as Fiordiligi, Saimir Pirgu as Ferrando, Ruxandra Donose as Dorabella, and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Guglielmo; photograph by Robert Millard) opened at Los Angeles Opera last Sunday. The scenic design from Vicki Mortimer involved a muted Rococo interior and a smooth modern patio complete with water feature. Mortimer also was responsible for the costumes, which had the standard traditional look and featured some gowns that looked inspired by cotton candy and peppermints. Ashley Dean directed straightforwardly enough, though the movement of furniture and the drawing of shutters was not always clearly motivated.

The orchestra played fleetly under the direction of Maestro James Conlon. The brass was uneven, and someone had particular trouble in Act II, Scene 4. One can only imagine that the horn must be one of the most stressful instruments to play. The chorus, however, sounded lucid and together for much of the opera.

The singing was all pleasant. The singers sounded best when they sang together, and it seemed they were listening to one another. The acting was also strong, perhaps because most of the cast looked youthful and as if they could really be these characters. Roxana Constantinescu made for a cute Despina, she swallowed a few of the notes, but was winsome. Lorenzo Regazzo (Don Alfonso) did not have much heft to his voice, yet his comic timing was precise. Regazzo got laughs at the correct spots, even if most of the audience presumably does not understand Italian.

Ildebrando D'Arcangelo sang Guglielmo emphatically. There was half a phrase in the duet "Il core vi dono" where his voice disappeared, but the rest of his performance was quite nice. Saimir Pirgu's Act I aria as Ferrando ("Un'aura amoros") was especially pretty, and sounded almost like a lullaby. Pirgu does not have a huge voice, and can sound a bit pinched when singing at full volume. Ruxandra Donose sounded cold and bright as Dorabella, her breathing were noticeable in "Smanie implacabili." Aleksandra Kurzak (Fiordiligi) was perhaps the strongest. Her low notes may have not projected well in "Come scoglio," but her high notes were not shrill or effortful.

* Tattling * 
The center of Balcony B was much more full for this matinée than for opening night. Oddly, the audience was quieter, only the people in Row M Seats 43 and 44 were unacceptably noisy. This couple tried sitting elsewhere during the overture, only to return, causing a lot of discussion. They spoke during much of Act I, but did find seats with a better view for Act II.

LA Opera's Eugene Onegin

La-opera-eugene-onegin-acti * Notes *
The 25th season of Los Angeles Opera opened with Eugene Onegin (
pictured left with the Los Angeles Opera chorus, Ronnita Nicole Miller as Filipievna, Margaret Thompson as Madame Larina, Oksana Dyka as Tatiana, and Ekaterina Semenchuk as Olga; photograph by Robert Millard) last night. The 2006 production originates from Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, directed there by the late Steven Pimlott, and was co-produced by Finnish National Opera. Francesca Gilpin directs these performances with simplicity and directness. At first, Antony McDonald's costumes and sets employ a pleasing color palette of pale greens, bright reds, and crisp whites. This develops into further bold contrasts in other scenes, all quite smart. The only misstep was the use of three paintings projected on the scrim, not only did the back curtain get caught on the scrim twice, the effect was a bit obvious and detracted the drama. Otherwise, the set was especially charming, especially the use of water and the final ball scene as an ice skating party.

Maestro James Conlon kept the music going at a fine clip, and the Los Angeles Opera orchestra sparkled. There was a brass blooper in the overture, but the sounded lovely in the Letter Scene. The singers of the chorus were not always perfectly together but sang gamely.

Much of the singing was pretty and heartfelt. James Creswell was vocally convincing Prince Gremin, though did not appear particularly elderly in his movement. Ekaterina Semenchuk made for a hearty Olga, and in some of the early ensembles along with Ronnita Nicole Miller (Filipievna), Margaret Thompson (Madame Larina) it seemed a bit as if they were in a sing-off, so powerful were all the voices. Tenor Vsevolod Grivnov (Lensky) has a pleasantly creaky voice with brightness that cut through the orchestra. His big aria in Act II went well.

Oksana Dyka sang Tatiana with vitality. Her lack of restraint in the Letter Aria was the perfect foil for her self-posession in Act III. Dyka had some throatiness and slight shrillness in Act I, but nothing inappropriate. Dalibor Jenis (Eugene Onegin) also nuanced his voice from one scene to the next. He was abrasive in the early scenes, but showed sweetness when necessary.

* Tattling * 
Some electronic sounds were noted during the performance, a few mobile phones and hearing aids could be clearly heard. There was talking all around me in Balcony B. For Act I, a woman directly behind me just had to mention how "awesome" the set was, not once but twice. During the second half, the woman in Row L Seat 38 would not cease her talking during the recitatives. I hushed her, and her husband chuckled, and at least tried to keep her quiet. After the performance, she mistook Maestro Conlon for the director, and insisted that he must not have read the libretto in English translation.

MMDG's Dido and Aeneas

MMDG_Dido&Aeneas_08_Credit_BeatrizSchiller  * Notes * 
The Mark Morris Dance Group (pictured left, photograph by Beatriz Schiller) opened the new season at Cal Performances with Dido and Aeneas yesterday evening. The audience seemed completely rapt by the experience, and I have never attended a Baroque opera with so little fidgeting or noise. Morris fills all the music with choreography, so there is not a moment in which audience members feel comfortable speaking, especially since the work is only an hour long without an intermission. The dancing is unsentimental and not overly pretty. Limbs were thrown about at angles, and looked rather different on each of the 12 dancers. There were times when the choreography was much more like miming than dancing, and Morris is not shy of being crude. Humor was infused into many of the scenes, especially when dealing with witches or sailors. The dancers characterized their different roles clearly.

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra started off less crisply than usual under Mark Morris himself, but did often sound lovely. There was a slight squeaky quality to the dance at the end of Scene 2. The chorus also sounded fine. Since all of the singing was from the pit, most of the soloists sounded a bit like they were singing from the bottom of a well. Soprano Yulia Van Doren (Belinda, First Witch) sang prettily, and soprano Céline Ricci (Second Woman, Second Witch) was distinct from her. Brian Thorsett sounded bright though not hefty as the Sailor. Philip Cutlip (Aeneas) sang with warmth and lightness. Stephanie Blythe gave a vivid performance as both Dido and the Sorceress. Her voice has both volume and gravity.

* Tattling * 
The audience members around me were almost completely silent and no electronic noise was noted.

Puccini and Lucca in San Francisco

Nicola_Luisotti_by_John_Martin_2 * Notes * 
The Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco has collaborated with the Giacomo Puccini Foundation, the City of Lucca, Associazione Lucchesi nel Mondo, San Francisco Opera, and San Francisco Opera's BRAVO! Club to host an exhibition entitled "Puccini and Lucca in San Francisco," which opened on September 15 and will close October 13. The exhibition includes several panels that feature images related to Puccini and his native city. Several costumes from San Francisco Opera's Tosca, Suor Angelica, Turandot, and La Bohème are also being displayed.

At the opening last night, San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti (pictured above, photograph by John Martin), spoke briefly in Italian about Puccini. Thankfully, the Event Coordinator of Italian Cultural Institute was game enough to give an impromptu translation of his remarks. Luisotti is from the same province as Puccini, and has been performing his music in one capacity for decades. It turns out that an uncle of Maestro Luisotti, one Don Guido Luisotti, was friend with Puccini himself. Apparently a hunting invitation to Don Guido from Puccini even survives. The evening also included San Francisco Conservatory of Music's Ian Scarfe playing Puccini on piano as guests viewed the exhibit or chatted to each other.

* Tattling * 
I had been invited to this reception by Luisotti's publicist, as I have generally gone out of my way to avoid Bravo! events. I must have made some flippant remark about my distaste for the Bravo! Club, because evidently a certain other publicist conveyed my aversion to one of their board members. In any case, everyone I met at this event was quite pleasant, and it was an amusing opportunity to practice Italian.

Opera San José's Idomeneo

Idomeneocoro * Notes *
Last weekend the 28th season of Opera San José opened with Idomeneo. The production (Act I pictured left, photo by P. Kirk) directed by Brad Dalton, is gorgeous. Steven C. Kemp's set looks meticulously researched, and Johann Stegmeir's costumes were quite pretty. The choreography, from Dennis Nahat, did not always go with the text, but worked well on the singers. The dancing was rather festive, but not executed perfectly.

The orchestra sounded smooth and energetic under Maestro George Cleve. At times the musicians in the pit were slightly ahead of the principal singers. The chorus kept together for the most part, and were not overly loud. Overall the singing of "Cast 1" that performed on Sunday was nice, if not occasionally timid. Mozart leaves the voice exposed, and small errors are noticeable.

Sandra Bengochea was a flirtatious Ilia, had good volume, but her enunciation of the Italian was not always clear. Jasmina Halimic was very funny as Elettra, without sounding harsh. She does have a bit of a gasp at the bottom of her voice. Her last aria was outstanding, however. Betany Coffland (Idamante) is convincingly tall and slim enough to play a young man, her metallic voice is sounds strong and high, and perhaps a bit tinny at the top. In the title role, Alexander Boyer made valiant attempt. His voice has a pleasant warmth. Boyer did seem afraid of the coloratura, and his "Torna la pace al core," while pretty, was not completely decisive. Nonetheless, his performance was part of an enjoyable and satisfying afternoon.

* Tattling * 
The audience seemed utterly delighted to be at this matinée, and clapped with enthusiasm for singing and sets alike. There was hardly any whispering or electronic noise.

SF Opera's Heart of a Soldier Media Round-Up

Heart-of-a-soldier-nj-melody-moore Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Heart of a Soldier (Melody Moore as Susan Rescorla and Koa the Golden Retriever as Buddy pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) are, to put it gently, decidedly mixed.

Performance Reviews: Associated Press | Civic Center | Financial Times | Los Angeles Times | New York Times | The Reverberate Hills | Out West Arts | San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Examiner | San Jose Mercury News | SFist | Wall Street Journal

Heart of a Soldier World Premiere

Heart-of-a-soldier-act-ii * Notes * 
The world premiere of Heart of a Soldier (Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) given by San Francisco Opera last night. The opera is about the life of Rick Rescorla, the director of security of Morgan Stanley who lost his life as the in the September 11th attacks after evacuating 2,700 people from the World Trade Center. The first half of this ambitious work covers 28 years of Rescorla's story, with five different scene changes spanning four continents. The act is only an hour long, so it is great deal of narrative jammed into a tiny space. Basically, this means a lot of recitative and the need for quick scene changes. Librettist Donna Di Novelli's words seem to take precedence over composer Christopher Theofanidis' music. The second half deals with Rescorla's last three years in New Jersey and New York. Here the ensembles, duets, and arias are less burdened by having to tell the story. The ending was particularly strong.

Director Francesca Zambello's style suits this opera, as the characters are of course very human, being based on real events of recent memory. The set, designed by Peter J. Davison, has some movement, but is transformed by Mark McCullough's lighting and S. Katy Tucker's projections. The result was mostly a success, though sometimes the layering seemed overwrought. Also, having the towers so far upstage was a challenge for some of the singers. The choreography seemed natural, everyone moved nicely and with ease.

Maestro Patrick Summers had the orchestra sounding clear and flowing. The chorus sounded together and robust. The rest of the cast boasted many fine singers. Michael Sumuel (Ted, Tom) sang with warmth and nuance. Nadine Sierra was plaintive as Juliet. Melody Moore was convincing as Susan Rescorla, her voice clear-toned and arresting. William Burden too was persuasive as Rescorla's best friend, his duets with Thomas Hampson (Rick Rescorla) were quite beautiful. Hampson sang enthusiastically, and his charismatic presence is commanding.

* Tattling * 
The evening began with "The Star-Spangled Banner," and a fluttering American flag was projected on the scrim. The audience was impressively quiet, there was no late seating on the orchestra level, and almost no whispering.

SF Opera's Turandot (Opening Night 2011-2012)

Turandot-sf-opera-actiii* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's 89th season opened last night with a revival of Turandot (Iréne Theorin, Marco Berti, and Joseph Frank in Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver). David Hockney's production is as garish as ever, but quite functional, as the sets only move minimally for the scene changes. This keeps the backstage noise negligible, and lighting made for smooth transitions. The choreography was not synchronized, and oddly, the dancers as acrobats made the most glaring errors of this type.

Musically, this performance of Turandot was rather robust, especially in volume. Even still, the orchestra, conducted by Music Director Nicola Luisotti, only occasionally overwhelmed the singers. The playing was florid, but shimmered when necessary. The chorus sounded strong and even.

Our Ping, Pang, and Pong (Hyung Yun, Greg Fedderly, and Daniel Montenegro) were winsome. Yun's baritone is warm, and for the most part, Fedderly and Montenegro have sufficient brightness to be heard over the orchestration. Raymond Aceto seemed an ideal Timur. Though the staging for his exit with Liù's corpse in Act III was awkward, Aceto sang with beauty and feeling.

Leah Crocetto (Liù) gave perhaps the finest performance of the evening. Her pianissmi were breathtaking in "Signore, ascolta!" and she sang "Tu che di gel sei cinta" exquisitely. Marco Berti sang Calaf loudly, yet without strain. He sang "Nessun dorma" cleanly, but did not sustain his last note for its full value. In the title role, Iréne Theorin was not particularly sympathetic. Her powerful voice is unsettling, which is appropriate for portraying the cruel princess.

* Tattling * 
Opening night's audience is invariably ill-behaved. The family in front of me in the last row of the balcony, Seats 112-118 passed a pair of binoculars back and forth the entire opera. At least they seemed engaged in the experience. The apparent mother of this family unwrapped a candy for nearly all of Crocetto's first aria, and spoke during "Nessun dorma" because she was so excited about recognizing the music. Afterward, she said she loved the "theme song" of the opera.

Shrem/Farrow Gift to SF Opera

A-Jan-I.-Shrem-and-Maria-Manetti-Farrow Jan I. Shrem and Maria Manetti Farrow (pictured left) have made a commitment of $3,000,000 to San Francisco Opera in support of Music Director Nicola Luisotti and Italian repertory. Mr. Shrem and Ms. Farrow will assume the volunteer leadership role of Chairs of the Amici di Nicola of Camerata and establish the Great Interpreters of Italian Opera Fund at San Francisco Opera.

Press Release | Official Site

Luisi named the Met's Principal Conductor

Luisi James Levine had injured his back after a fall last week, and underwent emergency surgery. He has withdrawn from his performances at the Metropolitan Opera for the rest of the year. Fabio Luisi (pictured left, photograph by Barbara Luisi) has been named the Met's Principal Conductor and will conduct the first five performances of Don Giovanni on October 13, 17, 22, 25, and 29 matinee, and Siegfried on October 27 and November 5 matinee. Louis Langrée will conduct the last four performances of Don Giovanni on October 31, November 3, 7, and 11. Derrick Inouye will conduct Siegfried on November 1.

Press Release | Official Site