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Master Class with Kevin Murphy 2012

Kevin-and-heidi-grant-murphy* Program *
"Che gelida manina" from La Bohème
Joshua Baum, tenor and Artem Grishaev, piano

"Bella siccome un' angelo" from Don Pasquale
Joseph Lattanzi, baritone and Elena Lacheva, piano

"Deh per questo istante solo" from La Clemenza di Tito
Sarah Mesko, mezzo-soprano and Kevin Miller, piano

"Madamina, il catalogo è questo" from Don Giovanni
Matthew Scollin, bass-baritone and Francesco Fraboni, piano

* Notes *
Pianist Kevin Murphy (pictured with wife Heidi Grant Murphy above) gave a master class for the Merola Opera Program on Tuesday at Herbst Theatre. Murphy sat in the audience during the initial performances of each the pieces, then would join the singers and pianists on stage to work on particular issues. Murphy noted that no one was worried about Baum's high C in "Che gelida manina," but had him work on pronouncing the vowels so they did not sag. Murphy instructed Grishaev to play with less articulation. Joseph Lattanzi and Elena Lacheva gave an elegant rendition of "Bella siccome un'angelo." Murphy was concerned about the marriage of text and music, and had Lattanzi speak the text, asking him to find words he liked and to be more conversational. Murphy suggested that Lacheva leave out notes so that the texture of the piece was more apparent. Sarah Mesko was able to get a more consistent sound as Murphy had her go word by word though particular lines. Matthew Scollin's face was incredibly animated as he sang The Catalogue Aria, and Murphy was able to get a brighter sound from him by the end of the class.

* Tattling *
Murphy declared at certain points that he hated the pursuit of a vocal line and also phrasing.

Seattle Opera's 2011-12 Shortfall

Mccaw Seattle Opera announced today that the company anticipates a shortfall for the 2011-2012 season. The company has operated without a deficit for 18 of the past 19 seasons, so this is cause for concern. As a result, the International Wagner Competition will replace Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for Summer 2014. The Young Artists Program will produce a concert with orchestra instead of a fully-produced opera in the upcoming season, and will go on hiatus for the following season. There will also be operational reductions including leadership salary cuts, lower artist fees, and the net loss of four full-time staff positions.

Press Releases | Official Site

Bluebeard at SFS

Mtt-bay-taper* Notes * 
This week Michael Tilson Thomas conducts San Francisco Symphony (pictured left) in a program of Liszt and Bartók. The opening performance began with Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1. Jeremy Denk played fluidly, but with clear articulation. Both Denk and the orchestra could sound blustery or playful as the music required.

The staged version of Duke Bluebeard's Castle was directed by Nick Hillel with help from co-director Nick Corrigan, who also did the video and visual design. A speaker, Ken Ruta, gives a theatrical introduction to the piece, unfortunately, he talks over the music, though just a little. Adam Wiltshire's set consists of five tall scrims placed in layers, the ones left and right being more downstage. There is also a large sculpture, made up of different pyramidal shapes, hanging high above the orchestra. Light and images are projected on all the aforementioned surfaces. The most successful of the projections are the more abstract ones. The use of motion can be occasionally overwhelming.

The music, both singing and playing, was most impressive on Thursday night. The role of Judith suits Michelle DeYoung's voice, which has a pentrating quality without being too acid. Alan Held is an effective Bluebeard, and sang with strength. The orchestra shimmered, MTT kept the volume under control, and the music flowed rather beautifully.

* Tattling * 
A cellular phone rang on the orchestra level as Ruta spoke at the beginning of Bluebeard.

Reinhardt Replaces Peake in SF Opera's Magic Flute

Norman-reinhardtAccording to a press release sent out today, Norman Reinhardt (pictured left) replaces Nathaniel Peake as Tamino in the final two performances of San Francisco Opera's The Magic Flute on July 6 and 8, 2012. Reinhardt makes his San Francisco Opera debut with these performances in a role he has previously performed with Opera Colorado and Leipzig Opera. Peake has withdrawn for personal reasons.

SF Opera's Magic Flute Media Round-Up

Sf-opera-magic-flute-actii-2012Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

The reviewers of San Francisco Opera's The Magic Flute (Act II pictured left with Nathan Gunn as Papageno, Nadine Sierra as Papagena, and supernumeries; photograph by Cory Weaver) agree that the production is visually appealing.

Performance Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice | San José Mercury News

SF Opera's Attila Media Round-Up

Sf-opera-attila-whole-actii-scene-2-2012Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Attila (Act II Scene 2 pictured left with Nathaniel Peake as Uldino, Diego Torre as Foresto, Lucrecia Garcia as Odabella, Quinn Kelsey as Ezio, and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Attila; photograph by Cory Weaver) have been, on the whole, positive.

Performance Reviews: Not For Fun Only | The Reverberate Hills | San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice | San José Mercury News

Ojai North! Programs 5-6

Leif-ove-andsnes-ojai-north-2012* Notes * 
Ojai North! at Cal Performances ended with two performances on Thursday. Program 5 began with two contemporary pieces, Hafliði Hallgrímsson's Poemi and Bent Sørensen's Piano Concerto No. 2. Both were played by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (Det Norske Kammerorkester), featuring violinist Terje Tønnesen in the first work, and Music Director of the Ojai Festival and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (pictured left, photograph by Felix Broede) in the second. Hallgrímsson's Poemi is evocative and tense. The musicians communicated clearly with each other and the playing was beautiful. The Sørensen had a little bit of everything: claves played by the whole orchestra, humming, rumbling, and brightness. The contrasts between the orchestra and pianist were carefully drawn, and the moments of similarity were also lovely.

It was interesting to note the opposite postures the two soloists took, Tønnesen seems flexible, and bends backward as he plays and constantly moves, while Andsnes hunches more or less in the same position. This of course has to do with their instruments as much as anything else.

The second half of Program 5 consisted of Berg's Four Songs Op. 2, sung by mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn with pianist Marc-André Hamelin and Leif Ove Andsnes playing Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53, "Waldstein." Stotijn's voice has a deep resonance, and her singing was sensitive and hypnotic. Andsnes played "Waldstein" with a grim determination. His style is dry, and for the Beethoven, seemed to lack a sense of breath.

After a break of thirty minutes, Program 6 began with Andsnes playing several György Kurtág pieces. Andsnes sounded precise and elegant. This was followed by a pretty rendition of Debussy's Danse sacrée et danse profane from the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, with Ida Aubert Bang as the harp soloist.

Stotijn and Hamelin returned to the stage with Cabaret Songs by William Bolcom. Stotijn's voice is perhaps not quite as well suited for this as the Berg earlier. The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra ended Ojai North! with Grieg's "Holberg" Suite. The musicians, having changed into summery street clothes, played with vigor. Everyone but the cellists stood and even danced during the Rigaudon. The exuberance of the playing was wonderful to see and hear.

* Tattling *
Someone's mobile phone rang during the Hallgrímsson. A service dog seated by Row G Seat 1 made several high pitched noises, and had to be taken outside in the middle of the Kurtág.

Magic Flute Opening at SF Opera

Sf-opera-magic-flute-act-i-scene3-2012* Notes * 
The Magic Flute (Alek Shrader as Tamino and the animals of the woods in Act I Scene 3 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera Wednesday night. The new production, from artist Jun Kaneko, is an utter delight. Kaneko's use of bright colors and whimsical shapes is charming. The video projection of his designs are integrated with both the music and Harry Silverstein's direction. The lighting, designed by Paul Pyant, helped unify the production into a coherent whole.

Conductor Rory Macdonald chose some fleet tempi at times, but for the most part the orchestra sounded taut and together. Mozart left the brass exposed, which was not always to the advantage of those instruments. The chorus did a fine job, and the last scene of Act I was particularly beautiful.

Greg Fedderly made for a very funny Monostatos and Nadine Sierra was a winsome Papagena. The three ladies, Melody Moore, Lauren McNeese, and Renée Tatum, played nicely off each other. Kristinn Sigmundsson (Sarastro) was imposing. As Pamina, Heidi Stober sounded warm and strong. Alek Shrader (Tamino) was ill, but still sang respectably. Nathan Gunn's light baritone was adequate for Papageno, and his acting skills served him well. Albina Shagimuratova shone as Queen of the Night.

The performances are in English, which is much more sensible than when San Francisco Opera did The Abduction from the Seraglio with sung German and spoken English back in 2009. I did notice that the Three Ladies used "fare thee well" as opposed to Pamina and Tamino, who sang "fare you well." Probably makes more sense to just go with the latter, given that the dialogue references drag, carb requirements, and other contemporary concepts.

* Tattling * 
Renée Tatum tripped in Act I, but recovered quickly, without losing her cool.

The woman in Row R Seat 8 on the orchestra level whispered loudly, but did manage to keep quiet when hushed. Some one in Row S fought with cellophane for several minutes of the second act.

Attila Opening at SF Opera

Sf-opera-attila-actii-scene2-2012* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's co-production of Attila (Act II Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened last night. The orchestra sounded cheerful and lively under Maestro Nicola Luisotti. The woodwinds, harp, and cello made notable contributions. The off-stage brass sounded clear. There were a few synchronization problems with the orchestra, chorus, and principals. This was obvious because Verdi's music, at least in this opera, keeps such predictable tempi.

Samuel Ramey sounded shaky in the small role of Pope Leo I, but looked dignified. Diego Torre's voice is bright, audible over the orchestra, but has a compressed quality to it. His Foresto was a bit wooden. Similarly, Lucrecia Garcia's Odabella was stiff. Her soprano has lovely resonances to it, but her control is imperfect, most noticeably in her upper register.

In contrast, Quinn Kelsey (Ezio) has a strong, warm-toned sound. His aria in Act II, "E' gettata la mia sorte," was the high point of the evening. In the title role, Ferruccio Furlanetto was commanding. He has some grit to his beautiful voice, and as ruler of the Huns, it is hardly inappropriate.

The action on stage, directed by Gabriele Lavia, was disappointing. No one looked particularly comfortable, and having child supernumeraries stand in the middle of the stage, as at the end of Act I, was ill-advised at best. Alessandro Camera's enormous set did not help. The carefully-wrought details made the staging inflexible. Scenes were meant to be transformed by the addition of a ship or a tree bough, but we are clearly in the same set, despite whatever projections happened to show up in the background.

The most convincing of these changes occurred in the last scene, which is set in a decrepit movie theater, complete with screen and strewn plush seats. While it was entertaining that Douglas Sirk's 1954 film about Attila the Hun, Sign of the Pagan, was played, it could be distracting. Despite my best efforts, I found myself staring more at Jack Palance and Ludmilla Tchérina than the singers.

* Tattling * 
The length of Furlanetto's coat knocked over a chair in Act I, and nearly tripped the singer.

The woman in Row R Seat 7 on the orchestra level talked at full-volume several times during the performance to her companion in Seat 5. My glares at her had almost no effect.

Chorus Director Ian Robertson marks his twenty-fifth year with the San Francisco Opera this year. He received the San Francisco Opera Medal after last night's performance.

Ojai North! 2012

Inuksuit-rehearsal-ojai-2012Ojai North! at Cal Performances | Ojai Music Festival

Ojai North! began on Monday with a free performance of John Luther Adams' Inuksuit (rehearsal in Ojai pictured left, photograph by Timothy Norris). 6 different performances occur from Tuesday through Thursday this week. Performers include pianists Leif Ove Andsnes, Marc-André Hamelin, and Reinbert de Leeuw; mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn; and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra.

SF Opera's Nixon Media Round-Up

Sf-opera-nixon-acti-scene2-2012Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Nixon in China (Act I Scene 2 pictured left with Chen-Ye Yuan as Chou En-lai, Ginger Costa-Jackson as Nancy T'ang, Buffy Baggott as Second Secretary, Nicole Birkland as Third Secretary, Simon O'Neill as Mao Tse-tung, Patrick Carfizzi as Henry Kissinger, and Brian Mulligan as Richard Nixon; photograph by Cory Weaver) look great.

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

Dark Sisters at Opera Company of Philadelphia

Dark-sisters-philadelphia-2012* Notes * 
Nico Muhly's Dark Sisters (Act I pictured left, photograph by Richard Termine) had a second performance at Opera Company of Philadelphia this afternoon. The opera, a co-production with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group, premiered in New York last November with the same cast.

Neal Goren also conducts the Philadelphia performances, and the small orchestra sounds together and supportive. The opera deals with a polygamist family in the Southwest whose children have been taken by Child Protective Services. Because the cast is made up of six females (five wives and one daughter) and only one male (who plays both husband and television personality), the piece is dominated by high voices. Sometimes the music exactly captured the gallinaceous cackling that tends to emerge from women conversing in a group.

Kevin Burdette distinguishes his two roles with skill. His voice is occasionally gravelly and lacked warmth, which seems right for this opera. Kristina Bachrach (Lucinda) sounds youthful. Jennifer Zetlan is convincing as the hypocritical, cruel favorite wife Zina. Margaret Lattimore (Presendia), Jennifer Check (Almera), and 
Eve Gigliotti (Ruth) all blend nicely. Gigliotti has the darkest voice of the cast. Caitlin Lynch makes for a believable Eliza. Her voice is pretty and bright.

The production, directed by Rebecca Taichman, is fairly straightforward. The set, from Mark Grimmer and Leo Warner, makes for smooth transitions, being rather simple and enhanced by lighting and video projections. Miranda Hoffman's costumes look suitable for followers of the FLDS Church.

* Tattling * 
There was some eating and talking from the last row of the Perelman Theater. A latecomer seated himself in the middle of that same row near the beginning of Act I, irritating the woman on the aisle.

My companion did not appreciate this opera at all, and only perked up when Eliza sang to the Angel Moroni.

Nixon in China Opening at SF Opera

Sfopera-nixon-hye-jung-lee-2012 * Notes * 
A new production of Nixon in China had a Bay Area premiere at San Francisco Opera last night. Lawrence Renes conducted a crisp performance, and for the most part the singers were audible over the amplified orchestra. The amplification of the principals and eight members of the chorus made it difficult to gauge the weight of the voices, creating a more uniform quality. The odd flattening of sound and Alice Goodman's libretto of charming non-sequiturs set to John Adams' memorable tunes make for a rather disorienting but attractive work.

The principal cast is convincing. Patrick Carfizzi is an appropriately disturbing Kissinger. Chen-Ye Yuan sang Chou En-lai sympathetically. Simon O’Neill sounded powerful as Mao Tse-tung, his high notes secure. Maria Kanyova impressed as rather human Pat Nixon, a contrast to Hye Jung Lee (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) as Chiang Ch'ing, at least in Act II. Lee is outrageously talented, her voice flexible and lyrical. She could be frightening without ever producing an ugly sound, and could purr lines when necessary. The only picky point one could make is that her accent is noticeable in certain words. Brian Mulligan may not perfectly embody Nixon, being a tad too young, but his movements and expressions are persuasive. Mulligan has an appealing voice, its richness is perhaps dulled by the amplification and the high tessitura of the part.

Michael Cavanagh's direction suits the opera rather nicely, not too literal with pleasant touches of whimsy. The set, from Erhard Rom, is uncluttered and lit expertly by Christopher Maravich. The projections, by Sean Nieuwenhuis, make novel use of space. The fluttering flags are a bit contrived, not to mention boring, but most of the other images are effective. Wen Wei Wang's choreography is acrobatic and the soloists are especially accomplished dancers.

* Tattling * 
Fifteen minutes before the performance, David Gockley gave a toast to the press corps covering the opening with Schramsberg sparkling wine, as this was served at the banquet depicted in the opera.

A loud mobile phone rang twice in center section of the Orchestra Ring during Act II It also rang just before Act III started.

During the first intermission I checked out the "Photo Corner" at San Francisco Opera, where one is meant to take pictures and upload them to Facebook or Twitter to be entered into a drawing.

Meet the Merolini 2012

Merolini-06072012-kristen-lokenThe 29 incoming Merolini (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) were interviewed by San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald, Merola Opera Board of Directors Chairman Jayne Davis, and President Donna L. Blacker yesterday evening, in the Green Room of the War Memorial Veterans Building. This year four of the participants are Canadian, two are Chinese, and there is a notable absence of Iowans. We learned that tenor Joshua Baum customizes LEGO minifigures and soprano Aviva Fortunata knits Mexican wrestling mask balaclavas. Tenor AJ Glueckert joked that his dream roles were Papageno and Tosca, the latter because he "likes to throw himself off of things." Apprentice stage director Jennifer Williams was a violist. Chuanyue Wang sang a bit of a Chinese folk song that happens to also be used in Turandot. 18 of the Merolini listed "cooking" as an interest, and tenor Andrew Stenson gave a delightful description of an smoked egg dish with onions and caviar.

Schwabacher Summer Concert
Anna Bolena
Giovanna Seymour: Erin Johnson
Anna Bolena: Melinda Whittington

La jolie fille de Perth
Le Duc de Rothsay: Joshua Baum
Mab: Erin Johnson
Henri Smith: Yi Li
Un ouvrier: Seth Mease Carico
Ralph: Hadleigh Adams
Le majordome: Andrew Kroes
Cathérine Glover: Melinda Whittington

Faust: Chuanyue Wang
Mefistofele: Andrew Kroes
Margherita: Elizabeth Baldwin

The Rake's Progress
Tom Rakewell: Joshua Baum
Anne Trulove: Elizabeth Baldwin
Nick Shadow: Seth Mease Carico

La finta giardiniera
Podestà: Casey Candebat
Sandrina: Jennifer Cherest
Arminda: Jacqueline Piccolino
Belfiore: Theo Lebow
Ramiro: Sarah Mesko
Serpetta: Rose Sawvel
Nardo: Gordon Bintner


Postcard from Morocco
Man with a Paint Box: AJ Glueckert
Lady with a Cake Box: Aviva Fortunata
Lady with a Hat Box: Carolyn Sproule
Lady with a Hand Mirror: Suzanne Rigden
Man with Old Luggage: Andrew Stenson
Man with the Shoe Sample Kit: Joseph Lattanzi
Man with a Cornet Case: Matthew Scollin


This year the Opera Standees Association is sponsoring Andrew Kroes and Chuanyue Wang.

Final Dress of SF Opera's Nixon in China

Nixon-in-China-Poster-SFOpera * Notes *
The final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Nixon in China (Michael Schwab's poster pictured left) was held yesterday at the War Memorial Opera House. The music seems quite challenging, but is sounding strong. Maestro Lawrence Renes stopped the orchestra in Act II as the playing was too loud, even though all the singers are amplified. It is hard to believe this orchestra has two other operas opening in the coming week, and just gave a concert of symphonic music last Sunday. The cast is excellent, and one looks forward to the local premiere on this Friday at 8pm.

* Tattling *
Box K was designated for live tweeting. I did not join in, as I am not skilled enough to listen and write at the same time, at least, without feeling strain.