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September 2011
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November 2011

Philippe Jaroussky & Apollo's Fire at Cal Performances

PhilippeJaroussky_01* Notes * 
Apollo's Fire, lead by harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell, performed in Berkeley yesterday afternoon as part of a North American tour with countertenor Philippe Jaroussky (pictured left). The Cleveland-based early music ensemble is aptly named, and the musicians certainly do play with fiery passion under Sorrell's direction. The intonation was imperfect, but it was heartening to hear how much energy was brought to the music. The program began with Vivaldi's Allegro from the Concerto Grosso in D major, arranged here by Sorrell. The ensemble went right into Händel's "Agitato da fiere tempeste" from Oreste as Jaroussky walked onto the stage. This was followed by "Ho perso il caro ben" from Il Parnasso in Festa, also by Händel. Jaroussky's voice is otherworldly, being very flexible and having such an ease to it. The violin concerto (Vivaldi's Op. 8, No. 5) interspersed between the first two Händel arias and the second two was rather more strained. One was struck by how violent the attacks were in this piece. The following arias were from Imeneo and Ariodante. Jaroussky sang both "Se potessero i sospir miei" and "Con l'ali di constanza" seamlessly. His breath control is astounding, and it is odd indeed that such an ethereal, gorgeous sound is produced by a rather awkward, skinny fellow.

The second half of the concert started with Händel's Prelude in A major, for solo harpsichord and his Chaconne from Terpsichore (Il pastor fido). This was followed by three Vivaldi arias: "Se mai senti spirati sul volto" from Catone in Utica, "Vedrò con mio diletto" from Giustino, and "Frà le procelle" from Tito Manlio. Vivaldi's Concerto Grosso "La Follia" gave Jaroussky a break between the first and second arias, and also showed off the ensemble's playing to best effect. Jaroussky sang the Vivaldi splendidly. The three encores were an aria by Porpora, "Venti, turbini" from Händel's Rinaldo, and "Ombra mai fu" from Händel's Serse.

* Tattling * 
The audience was, for the most part, quiet and attentive. Unfortunately, someone's watch alarm rang many times during two of the Vivaldi arias, and a cellular phone rang as well.

A Preview of SF Opera's Serse

Sfopera-xerxes-acti* Notes * 
Händel's Serse (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opens this afternoon at San Francisco Opera, and I for one am quite sad not to attend. Instead I offer you a preview, based on attendance of rehearsals. Nicholas Hytner's production, directed here by Michael Walling, originates from English National Opera and was last seen at Houston Grand Opera. The palette employed for the set is pleasingly spring-like, with much white and green. The supernumeraries are white and are wearing bald caps. The chorus is painted grey, and seem to look quite like statues.

Patrick Summers, last seen on the San Francisco Opera podium for Heart of a Soldier, conducts these performances. The cast includes many fine singers, including David Daniels (Arsamene), Lisette Oropesa (Romilda), and most of all, Susan Graham in the title role. The supporting cast is also promising. Heidi Stober was very funny as Atalanta in Houston, as was Sonia Prina (Amastre), and they reprise these roles in San Francisco. Both Wayne Tigges (Ariodate) and Michael Sumuel (Elviro) made their San Francisco Opera debuts in Heart of a Soldier earlier this season. One may have heard Tigges as Donner in Los Angeles Opera's recent Ring cycle. Sumuel sure to be winsome in his comic role.

Luisotti conducts the SF Opera Orchestra in Beethoven

A--San-Francisco-Opera-Orchestra* Notes * 
Cal Performances presented Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) in a performance of Beethoven on Friday evening. The musicians began with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. The oboe was especially fine in the Allegro con brio, and the brass were lovely in the Andante con molto. The strings were particularly restrained in the piano and pianissimo portions of the third movement. The second half of the program was devoted to Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. Again, the woodwinds played with characteristic beauty. The violas were rather unostentatious in the second movement. Though the playing overall was not perfectly clean, it was wonderful to see how much all the musicians loved the music and to witness how much joy Luisotti brought to both the pieces. One is dumbfounded when considering this orchestra is in the midst of Don Giovanni performances and will open Xerxes on Sunday, not to mention the Carmen that is also in rehearsal.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking, but it was limited to only a few minutes. My companion's water bottle managed to roll down an aisle of the orchestra level during Beethoven 7.

Simon Keenlyside at SF Performances

  SFP-SimonKeenlyside-02* Notes * 
San Francisco Performances' 2011-2012 recital series continued with baritone Simon Keenlyside (pictured left, photograph by Ben Ealovega) accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau last night. There were programs this time, and all the texts were provided. As it happened, the recital was so gripping that it was quite difficult to even look at the words. Keenlyside's diction is crystal clear, whether singing in German, English, or French. Likewise, Martineau's playing is very clean without being dry or boring. The evening began with 7 songs from Mahler. "Frühlingsmorgen" was funny and "Liebst du um Schönheit" quite beautiful. Keenlyside sounds very comfortable, but his movements are rather idiosyncratic, and he does not quite what to do with his hands, it seems. The Mahler was followed by the first set of George Butterworth's songs based on poems from A Shropshire Lad. Keenlyside introduced the songs by asking us not to write them off as "English pastoral frippery," noting Housman's poems deal with mortality and became popular during the Second Boer War. The songs are rather dark, "Is my team ploughing?" is particularly distressing, and both singer and pianist pulled these songs off brilliantly.

After the intermission we heard 6 songs from Richard Strauss. The words were all enunciated perfectly, and "Befreit" was especially transparent and lovely. The program ended with songs of Duparc and Debussy, of these, perhaps "Phidylé" was most impressive. The 4 encores were Schubert's "Der Einsame," Ireland's "Sea Fever," Grainger's "Sprig of Thyme," and Schubert's "An Mein Klavier." All were sung and played with the vibrancy and freshness that characterized the entire performance.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet and no electronic noise was apparent. At intermission a certain classical music critic pointed out that many of the panels that had lined Herbst's walls had been removed this season. I could only agree that the sound seems warmer and more focused.

Casting Change for The Met's Götterdämmerung

Jay-hunter-morris-siegfriedJay Hunter Morris (pictured left in the title role of Siegfried at the Metropolitan Opera, photograph by Ken Howard) will replace Gary Lehman as Siegfried in the Metropolitan Opera's new Götterdämmerung, which opens January 27, 2012. Lehman has withdrawn due to a viral infection. Morris himself has withdrawn from performances of Moby Dick at San Diego Opera, and the role of Ahab will be sung by Ben Heppner.

The Met's Press Releases | San Diego Opera's Press Releases

Dudamel conducts LA Phil in Adams, Benzecry, & Berlioz

Gustavo-dudamel-lapa_low* Notes * 
Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel (pictured left, photograph courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association) returned for a second performance at San Francisco Symphony on Monday night. This program also began with a fanfare from John Adams, this time the more meditative Tromba lontana. The playing was fine, though perhaps a bit more shimmer to the strings would have been nice. The second piece, Esteban Benzecry's Rituales Amerindios, was rife with literal representations of nature. Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique rounded out the evening. The woodwinds sounded impressively demonic, particularly the clarinet. There were sharp contrasts of both dynamics and tempi, but somehow the piece lacked a certain tension. The encore was the Hungarian March from of Berlioz's La damnation de Faust, which was played with great vigor and volume.

* Tattling * 
The audience silent with the exception of the woman whispering in Row L Seat 3 on the Orchestra Level. There was a distinct smell of cannabis emanating from someone in center section of Row J after the intermission.

Casting Changes for SF Opera's Carmen

B--Kate-AldrichKendall Gladen and Anita Rachvelishvili will share the title role of Carmen with Kate Aldrich (pictured left), whose arrival is delayed by illness. Gladen sings November 6 and 9, Rachvelishvili sings from November 12 through 23, and Aldrich sings from November 26 through December 4.

The role of Mercédès, originally scheduled to be sung by Adler Fellow Maya Lahyani, will now be performed by mezzo-soprano Cybele Gouveneur.

Press Release | SF Opera's Official Site

Dudamel conducts LA Phil in Adams, Chapela, & Prokofiev

Gustavo-dudamel* Notes * 
Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (pictured left, photograph by Mathias Bothor courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon), marked the first of six visiting American orchestras to take residency at San Francisco Symphony with Sunday's performance. The program began with Short Ride in a Fast Machine from John Adams. The piece does not pull punches, and the playing was clean if not slightly brash. Enrico Chapela's amusing MAGNETAR, Concerto for Electric Cello and Orchestra followed. The soloist, Johannes Moser, gave a credible performance. The employment of gesture, the mimicry of speech, and the heavy metal sensibility of the work were all quite entertaining, but one is not certain it all held together coherently. The last piece on the program was Prokofiev's Fifth. The brass was clear and bright. The tempi distinctions were subtle, and the slower movements were somewhat lax, but the faster movements were more vibrant. The encore was the opening of the Gavotta: Non troppo allegro of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, which was played with a lovely sense of motion.

* Tattling * 
The audience whispered a little, but was, for the most part, silent. The beginning of MAGNETAR elicited restless laughter. Both Adams and Chapela were present, and were applauded with vigor. Someone's cellular phone vibrated in Section D of the 1st Tier during the second movement of the Prokofiev.

BluePrint: North and South

NicolePaiementRogerSteenBW* Notes *
The tenth season of the BluePrint project opened yesterday evening at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The concert started with John Harbison's North and South, with mezzo-soprano Julienne Walker. The New Music Ensemble sounded clear and together under the expert direction of Maestra Nicole Paiement (pictured left, photograph by Roger Steen). Walker's voice is steely but flexible. The songs are jazzy and accessible. This was followed by Kurt Rohde's rather charming Concertino for Solo Violin and Small Ensemble (2010). The soloist, Axel Strauss, played nimbly with the ensemble. The piece is humorous, and the movements are all aptly named.

Erwin Schulhoff's Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra, Opus 43 was most impressive, especially the soloist, Keisuke Nakagoshi. The Allegro alla Jazz was played with vibrancy, and it was wonderful to hear how much fun everyone was having. The concert ended with an excerpt from Harbison's The Great Gatsby, arranged for chamber orchestra by Jacques Desjardins. The singers, mezzo-soprano Erin Neff as Myrtle and baritone Bojan Knezevic as Wilson, are both strong performers with beautiful voices. The duet they sang was semi-staged in that Neff fell to the ground, which struck me as slightly strange. Knezevic's accent was noticeable in words like "pretty" and "worrying," but he and Neff were easy to understand without looking at the text provided in the program. There certainly is much to look forward to in Ensemble Parallèle's production of the opera, which is scheduled for February 2012.

* Tattling * 
The audience was rather silent, only a few whispers and rustles were heard. During the ovation for the Rohde piece, I realized we had been seated next to the composer, and could not stop laughing over this. Two loud beeps were heard during the Alla marcia maestoso of the Schulhoff.

Conlon conducts Verdi's Requiem at SFS

Sondra.Radvanovsky_-_Photo_by_Pavel_Antonov* Notes * 
This week James Conlon conducts San Francisco Symphony in Verdi's Requiem. Fabio Luisi was originally scheduled to take the podium, but took over most of James Levine's fall engagements at the Met. Perhaps it is just as well, Maestro Conlon did a fine job with the work, the phrasing was lucid and taut. The pianissimi were especially beautiful. The chorus sounded robust.

As for soloists, tenor Frank Lopardo sounded a bit strange. He has a plaintive voice, but at times he seemed to hum rather than sing. In contrast, the bass, Ain Anger, sang with much less effort and much more confidence. Mezzo Dolora Zajick also gave a powerful performance, her full voice is never lacking in brilliance. Sondra Radvanovsky (pictured above, photograph by Pavel Antonov) however, was still the star of the evening. She never strained for the notes, her voice has a metallic brightness that does not get lost in the orchestration, but is never harsh.

* Tattling * 
There was a magnitude 3.8 earthquake at 8:16 pm, about 10 minutes into the performance on Thursday. A slight murmur was heard from the audience, but the singing and playing simply continued.

SF Opera's Don Giovanni Media Round-Up

Don-giovanni-act-iProduction Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Don Giovanni (Act I pictured left with Ryan Kuster as Masetto, Kate Lindsey as Zerlina, and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus; photograph by Cory Weaver) are slowly trickling in.

Performance Reviews: | Not For Fun Only | San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Francisco Examiner | San José Mercury News | SFist

SF Opera's Don Giovanni

Don-giovanni-sfopera-masks* Notes * 
The latest run of Don Giovanni opened last night at San Francisco Opera. The new production, directed by Gabriele Lavia, is fairly simple. Much of the singing takes place under the proscenium, which is great for hearing the arias, but not particularly dynamic. Half of the characters were able to find an impressive physicality in their roles, and others were rather static. Alessandro Camera's set was straightforward, consisting of 22 mirrors on wires, dozens of Rococo side chairs, and what looked to be an artificial lawn. Andrea Viotti's costumes had period silhouettes in a palette of burgundy, grey, and black. The masks for Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, and Don Ottavio (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) were rather funny. As a whole, the stage direction was similarly absurd, Lavia did not pack in that many ideas, but he held onto them for the entire show.

The orchestra sounded charming and exuberant under Nicola Luisotti. The musicians were not, however, always together. The violins might have gotten just a bit ahead in the overture, and there were definitely times when the orchestra was ahead of the singers. On the other hand, the playing was restrained enough to only rarely overwhelm the singing. The chorus sounded strong and together.

Much of the singing was very nice indeed. Morris Robinson (The Commendatore) stayed truly as still as a statue for the graveyard scene, and his vocal entrance in Scene 18 of Act II was authoritative and terrifying. Ryan Kuster was a clownish Masetto, and his voice has a sweet, youthful warmth. Kate Lindsey moved beautifully as Zerlina, and her high mezzo had a brilliant clarity. Serena Farnocchia was strong as Donna Elvira, and acted rather well vocally, though she was less convincing in her movements. It was odd that the director had her plop down on her knees so often. Marco Vinco (Leperello) was sympathetic, he moves with ease and agility. His voice, though not beautiful, is serviceable enough for this role.

In contrast, Shawn Mathey looked visibly uncomfortable as Don Ottavio, though understandably, given that he took over the role so recently. Mathey sounded on the verge of a panic attack in his first scene with Ellie Dehn (Donna Anna), but improved over the course of the performance. Dehn struggled in "Or sai chi l'onore." This was not helped by the production, which belied the words of the aria by having the first scene be a tryst rather than an attempted rape. Dehn's "Non mi dir" was less effortful and had more grace. Lucas Meachem's Don Giovanni was a menacing sociopath. His sunglasses hid his gaze and this did not benefit his performance. It seems this is a role that Meachem still has to grow into, even though his voice is smooth and pretty, he did seem stiff. Perhaps he was just constrained by the stage direction. He did race through "Fin ch'han dal vino" at an incredible speed. However, his "Deh vieni alla finestra" was tender and lovely.

The epilogue has been cut from these performances, a choice of the Maestro and director. While dramatically, it makes sense end with the Don descending into Hell, musically, I for one missed "Questo è il fin."

* Tattling * 
There was some whispering during the music in Orchestra Standing Room, mostly from latecomers who were not seated until the intermission. People were confused by a roped off section of the railing, apparently not knowing this means this location is not an appropriate place to stand. At intermission some very nice subscribers who were leaving early gave us their tickets on the Center Aisle.

Conlon conducts SFS in Shostakovich & Mussorgsky

Conlon-credit-ravinia-festival* Notes * 
This weekend James Conlon (pictured left, photograph courtesy of the Ravinia Festival) conducts San Francisco Symphony in Shostokovich's Symphony No. 14 and the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Before the soprano and baritone took the stage on Friday evening, Conlon spoke about the two pieces in turn, noting that the Shostakovich had never been played at SF Symphony before. The 11 songs that comprise the work are poems set to music, the original texts translated into Russian, with the exception of Kücherbecker's "O Delvig, Delvig," written in that language already. Sergei Leiferkus sounded mournful and gritty, which was quite effective for "De profundis" and "In Santé Prison." Olga Guryakova has a flexible, piercing voice that has a darkness to it. She was alluring in the "Lorelei" and was appropriately disturbing in "Keeping Watch." The concluding duet was beautifully played and sung. The piece calls only 19 string players and a percussion section of 8 instruments, so singers and orchestra were rather exposed. The 3 cellists were especially wonderful, and the 2 bassists were not far behind.

Pictures at an Exhibition seemed a welcome change in mood for most in attendance. The first trumpet played with strength and clarity. There might have been a missed cue in the percussion near the end. Conlon let the work breathe, never pushing the orchestra to race along. There were moments of stateliness and grace, but also ones of joy and playfulness.

* Tattling * 
The subscribers in K 11 and 13 of the orchestra were aggressive about moving over to K 5 and 7. The woman who took seat K 5 spoke loudly enough during the music to annoy the people in front of her, but she did not seem to notice the many glares she received. At least she slept silently for much of the Shostakovich.

Some distinctly high pitched noises from a hearing aid were heard throughout the performance.

Stephanie Blythe at SF Performances

SFP-Stephanie-Blythe * Notes * 
San Francisco Performances featured mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (pictured left, photograph by Kobie van Rensburg) in a charming recital last night. Somehow the programs for the performance went missing, and we were given photocopies of the most relevant pages. As it turned out, Blythe had not provided the texts in program, and she explained it was because she loved words and worked hard to be understood. She also joked about appreciated seeing people's faces as she sang, rather than the tops of their heads. Blythe and her accompanist Warren Jones read the 12 poems of Emily Dickinson that James Legg set to music, and later read the 3 James Joyce poems used in the Samuel Barber songs that followed. Though I enjoyed the directness of this approach, it seemed unnecessary, as they communicated the content through the music with great clarity. Blythe has excellent diction and a broad emotional range. She does have a great deal of volume at her disposal. Barber's "Sleep Now" was impressively stirring and painful.

The second half of the show was entitled "Songs from Tin Pan Alley" and included Jones playing a few rags by Joplin. Blythe was disarmingly funny, she and Jones hammed it up just enough, and it all seemed natural. Creamer and Layton's "After You've Gone" was especially amusing, as was Berlin's "I Love a Piano." Blythe sang Berlin's "What'll I Do?" with gravity, but without sounding operatic. I believe the encores were another Joplin rag (played by Jones), "How can I keep from singing?" (sung a cappella by Blythe), and "Beautiful Dreamer" (sung by Blythe and accompanied by Jones).

* Tattling * 
The audience was silent and attentive. More than one known Wagner fanatic was noted among the attendees.