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August 2012
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October 2012

SF Opera's I Capuleti e i Montecchi

Capuleti-montecchi-sfopera* Notes * 
A new production of I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Act I Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera on Saturday. Conductor Riccardo Frizza had the orchestra sounding rather jaunty. The horn, clarinet, harp, and cello all gave solid performances. There were moments when the orchestra was much louder than the singers, but it seems that the stage direction is more at fault than the conductor or musicians.

This co-production with Bavarian State Opera, directed by Vincent Boussard, features a spare, stylish set designed by Vincent Lemaire. Unfortunately, the opera calls for three different scenes in each of its two acts, and the set had to be inelegantly rearranged simply bringing the curtain down in-between each change. This gives audience members a chance to chat or check their electronic devices, and this inevitably bleeds into the actual performance.

As for the set itself, the gleaming black floor is sleek, but often squeaks as people move across it. The metal stairs of Act I Scene 3 and Act II Scene 1 keep certain singers too far upstage to be heard well. Having supernumeraries parade in stilettos up and down these stairs is also noisy. Christian Lacroix's gowns are bold, often bright, confections. The lighting design, by Guido Levi, is stark and dramatic, and works nicely with the abstract images on the various walls. The surrealistic details of the production involving saddles, flowers, sculptures, and even a sink were confusing to the audience.

Eric Owens made for an authoritative Capellio. Ao Li made the most of the small part of Lorenzo. The role of Tebaldo seemed quite difficult, and Saimir Pirgu sounded powerful but choppy. He did clearly portray anger in his early scenes and sorrow in Act II Scene 2.

The stars of the show were clearly Joyce DiDonato (Romeo) and Nicole Cabell (Giulietta). DiDonato has a warm, resonant voice, and sang with a beautiful fluidity and a notable ease. Cabell's voice is brilliant and flexible, but seemed anchored and precise. The final duet between the two leads was both devastating and stunning.

* Tattling * 
A couple of women and their daughters in the balcony, Row J Seats 106 to 112, were the picture of bad-behavior. Not only did they take photographs of the performance, they talked, posted to Instagram and Facebook, and texted all evening long.

MTT conducts Samuel Carl Adams & Mahler

  2ndsVlasMTT-by-Bill-Swerbenski-cropped-4x5* Notes * 
Last night Michael Tilson Thomas conducted San Francisco Symphony (pictured left, photograph by Bill Swerbenski) in the first of three performances of Drift and Providence by Samuel Carl Adams and Symphony No. 5 by Mahler. The Adams piece marks a West Coast premiere. The 20 minute work is scored for many instruments, including electronica, but is surprisingly quiet. It had a rather dry quality to it, and gave me the odd sensation of having the inside of my thoracic cavity gently smoothed by a fine-grained sandpaper.

The second half of the evening was devoted to the Mahler. The brass was quite forward and not particularly subtle. I enjoyed Mark Inouye's bright trumpet playing. The pizzicato in the Scherzo was lively and the Adagietto was neither too fast nor too lax.

* Tattling * 
Someone was excited up in the Center Terrace, and my companion noted this by creating a diagram in his program. I misunderstood at first and thought the Associate Concertmaster was behaving badly, which seemed highly unlikely.

Casting Change for the Met's Maria Stuarda

PolenzaniAccording to a press release issued today, Matthew Polenzani (pictured left, photograph by Dario Acosta) will sing the role of Leicester in all performances of the Met's Maria Stuarda this season, replacing Francesco Meli, who has withdrawn the role from his repertoire. At the moment, Polenzani is singing in the current production of L'Elisir d'Amore at the Met.

 Production Web Site for Maria Stuarda | Press Releases

2013 Adler Fellows

2012-AdlersThe incoming 2013 Adler Fellows are Jennifer Cherest, Erin Johnson, A.J. Glueckert, Chuanyue Wang, Hadleigh Adams, and Philippe Sly. They join current Adlers (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) Marina Boudart Harris, Laura Krumm, Renée Rapier, Joo Won Kang, and Robert Mollicone. The outgoing 2012 Adler Fellows are soprano Nadine Sierra, tenor Brian Jagde, bass-baritone Ryan Kuster, and coach and accompanist David Hanlon.

Press Release | Official Site

Cal Performances Fall Free for All 2012

Postcard Front - Final Cal Performances is holding a third Fall Free for All this Sunday, September 30th, from 11am to 6pm. Several student ensembles will be featured. Other participants include the Lily Cai Dance Company, the Cypress String Quartet, saxophonist George Brooks, Eth-Noh-Tec Storytelling, the Shotgun Players/Assassins, the Chitresh Das Dance Company, harpsichordist Davitt Moroney, Marcos Silva Brazilian Jazz, Kitka, storyteller Dianne Ferlatte, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, jazz and blues vocalist Pamela Rose, pianist Shai Wosner, shadow puppeteer Daniel Barash, and the Kronos Quartet.

Fall Free for All | Official Site

LA Opera's I Due Foscari

I-due-foscari-la-opera* Notes * 
Los Angeles Opera gave a third performance of I due Foscari (Act II pictured left with Francesco Meli as Jacopo Foscari and Plácido Domingo as Francesco Foscari, photograph by Robert Millard) Sunday afternoon. The orchestra seemed comfortable playing under the direction of James Conlon. The clarinet was especially pretty. The chorus sounded full.

The cast seems ideal, rendering the opera rather engaging. Ievgen Orlov radiated evil as Loredano, so much so he was enthusiastically booed by the audience when he took his first bow. Though Marina Poplavskaya does have a gasping quality to her voice, it worked to her advantage as the fiercely angry Lucrezia Contarini. Francesco Meli sounded bright and plaintive as Jacopo Foscari. There was a certain rawness to his singing that had the right appeal for the character. Plácido Domingo was convincing in the baritone role of Francesco Foscari.

The production features an elaborate set with many moving parts. At times the direction seemed hampered and constrained by all that was on stage. On the other hand, the circus-like scene that opened Act III was spectacular, and the ending effective and disturbing.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking in the Grand Circle, but mostly from one rather elderly person who probably had no idea he could be heard. A woman in the Founders Circle caused more than once disturbance during Act II as she climbed over several people to exit the hall.

LA Opera's Don Giovanni

Don-giovanni-la-opera-2012* Notes * 
Peter Stein's production of Don Giovanni (Act II pictured left with Soile Isokoski as Donna Elvira, David Bizic as Leporello, Roxana Constantinescu as Zerlina, Joshua Bloom as Masetto, Julianna Di Giacomo as Donna Anna, and Andrej Dunaev as Don Ottavio; photograph by Robert Millard) for Lyric Opera opened at Los Angeles Opera yesterday. The direction, from Gregory A. Fortner, is sensible, but entertaining. The entrances and exits of various characters on stage are clearly motivated. Relying heavily on drawn curtains to change scenes, Ferdinand Wögerbauer's set is stark and serviceable. Moidele Bickel's costumes share this neat simplicity.

James Conlon had the orchestra zipping along, often ahead of the singers. The brass sounded exposed at one point in the overture, but was otherwise satisfactory. The chorus members made for cheerful peasants in Act I, and sang heartily in Act II.

The cast has many charming singers. Joshua Bloom is convincing as Masetto, oafish and silly, but with a pretty voice. Roxana Constantinescu is a lusty, vivid Zerlina, yet sang "Batti, batti" with tender appeal. Soile Isokoski has a mellifluous voice, but could sound perfectly hysterical as Don Elvira, as the role requires. Ievgen Orlov could have sung The Commendatore with more authority, as his voice seems fairly strong. Andrej Dunaev impressed as Don Ottavio, singing both his arias with good volume. Julianna Di Giacomo (Donna Anna) sounded bright but silvery. In fact, all the female voices were very distinct from one another.

David Bizic's Leporello was more charismatic than Ildebrando D'Arcangelo's Don Giovanni. Bizic and D'Arcangelo sounded somewhat similar, perhaps because the latter is a bass-baritone. D'Arcangelo lacked appeal in "Là ci darem la mano," and sang "Fin ch'han dal vino" without verve. He was extremely funny in Act II whilst pretending to be Leporello, and he did sing "Deh, vieni alla finestra" with beauty and sweetness.

* Tattling * 
There was a tiresome amount of talking, singing, and snoring in the Grand Circle. The couple in Row P Seats 30 and 31 spoke to each other without regard to music or singing.

Bychkov conducts SFS in Shostakovich

39ALBychkov2-creditThomasBrill* Notes * 
Semyon Bychkov (pictured left, photograph by Thomas Brill) conducts San Francisco Symphony in Schubert's Unfinished and Shostakovich's 11th this week. The Schubert that started last night's proceedings was elegant. The pianissimo of the strings with oboe and clarinet in the first movement was simply beautiful. The sound was verdant and fresh. In the second movement, the brass was slightly cloudy at two points, but the woodwinds were excellent.

The Shostakovich that came after intermission required many more musicians than the Schubert. Bychkov kept a fine tension in the musical line, the slow parts were not lax, but contrasted with the faster sections of the piece. The quiet moments of the music were exquisite. The volume of the end of the second and fourth movements was rather deafening, and it was clear why some orchestra members wore earplugs. The trumpets played quite well, as did the English horn.

* Tattling * 
There were many cellular phone rings in the second half of the performance. It seemed whenever there was a gorgeous pianissimo was being played on stage, there was some electronic noise happening in the audience.

Casting Change for SF Opera's Moby-Dick

A--Jay-Hunter-Morris-Moby-DickJay Hunter Morris (pictured left, photograph by Photografeo Pty Ltd.) will replace Ben Heppner as Captain Ahab in San Francisco Opera's Moby-Dick, which opens on October 10, 2012. Originally scheduled to sing the last three performances, Morris will now sing all eight. Heppner has withdrawn from the production for personal reasons.

Moby-Dick at San Francisco Opera | Press Release

Opera San José's Les pêcheurs de perles

Opera-san-jose-pearl-fishers-callon-altman* Notes *
The Pearl Fishers (Act I with James Callon and Zachary Altman, photograph by P. Kirk) opened the 2012-2013 season at Opera San José over the weekend. Sunday's performance gave a compelling case for this opera, which is so much less popular than Bizet's Carmen. Maestro Anthony Quartuccio had the orchestra going at a neat, steady pace. The oboe solo in Act II was especially beautiful.

The chorus sounded spirited and robust, and were rather threatening in Acts II and III. Silas Elash is convincing as Nourabad. Melody King's Leïla has vigor, though not all her notes were perfectly in tune. James Callon (Nadir) also may have drifted slightly in his intonation, but sang well both with King and with Zachary Altman as Zurga. The duet between Callon and Altman, "Au fond du temple saint," was certainly a highlight of the afternoon.

The exotic-looking set, designed by Charlie Smith, seemed solid. Richard Harrell's direction involved much dancing from seven young people, who were quite amusing to watch.

* Tattling * 
The audience clapped after nearly all the arias and were generally pleased to be back at the California Theatre for a new season.

SF Opera's Rigoletto (Vratogna/Shagimuratova/Chacon)

18-Rigoletto* Notes * 
A second performance of San Francisco Opera's Rigoletto was held on Saturday. The cast had three different members: Marco Vratogna (Rigoletto), Albina Shagimuratova (Gilda), and Arturo Chacón-Cruz (The Duke of Mantua).

Chacón-Cruz was not consistent, he was rather hard to hear with the chorus in the first scene, but improved in the second two acts. His duet with Shagimuratova in Act I Scene 3 was vexing, it seemed that the singers were not listening to one another, and it hardly seemed they were in love. Shagimuratova's voice often did not blend nicely when singing with others, earlier in the same scene it seemed that she was having a shouting match with Vratogna. They did sound better together in Act II (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) and in the very last part of Act III. Shagimuratova does have a twittering sparkle to her sound. Vratogna's voice is much less pretty, as is appropriate. He did well portraying scorn, anger, and desperation. He had a harder time being doting or sad.

Though fairly simple, the production did not always help these singers. Shagimuratova's heavy-footedness in bounding up the stairs for "Caro Nome" hardly projected youthful exuberance. Though most of the singers moved with ease, one felt the direction was wan, and the movements on stage did not always have a strong sense of intention.

The orchestra sounded fiery and crisper last night, Nicola Luisotti continued to drive the music forward. The chorus had an even better evening than for the opening, and seemed together and uniform. All the other principals sounded secure. Robert Pomakov gave a nuanced, imposing performance as Monterone. Andrea Silvestrelli continued to impress with his distinctive deep bass.

* Tattling * 
The audience was far more attentive for this second performance. The house was not full, and standing room was particularly empty.

SF Opera's Opening Night Rigoletto

06-Rigoletto* Notes * 
The 90th season of San Francisco Opera got off to a fine start last night with Rigoletto, at least once opening night formalities were out of the way. Though not exactly precise, the orchestra bustled with enthusiasm, and Maestro Nicola Luisotti kept the music moving. The chorus sang with characteristic vigor.

This revival is the fourth outing of the de Chirico-inspired production in fifteen years. Michael Yeargan's set design is clean and quiet, other than the rather garish color palette. The scene changes are smooth, and the two pauses (between the first two scenes and the last two acts) did not take long.

The array of lovely voices in this opera is striking. The six current and former Adlers sang seven of the smaller roles and acquitted themselves well. It is especially pleasing that mezzo-sopranos Laura Krumm (Countess Ceprano and A Page), Renée Rapier (Giovanna), and Kendall Gladen (Maddalena) all sound so distinct from one another.

Likewise, bass Robert Pomakov made for a Monterone that could not be confused with the baritone of the title role. Andrea Silvestrelli is a threatening Sparafucile. His voice has beautiful resonances even in his lowest notes.

Francesco Demuro made a strong effort as the Duke of Mantua, but came up a bit short. His bright voice has an edge of hysteria to it, lending him an unmanly air. He gave a respectable rendition of "La donna è mobile" but somehow did not engage the audience.

Aleksandra Kurzak's Gilda is attractive, her intonation is exact, and she never grates on the ear. On the other hand, her dark sound seems too sensual for the naive daughter of Rigoletto. Željko Lučić (pictured above in Act I Scene 2, photograph by Cory Weaver) impressed in the title role. His sound has volume and richness. The tenderness of Act I Scene 2 contrasted nicely with the despair of the last scene.

* Tattling * 
The opera started even later normal for opening night. The General Director even made an announcement ten minutes after the hour that the proceedings would begin in another five minutes. John Gunn and George Hume welcomed the audience, made acknowledgements to various donors, let us know we were to be photographed from the stage in honor of the 90th season, and also informed us that there would be champagne for all after the performance. After several photographs were taken, Luisotti lead the orchestra and the audience in the National Anthem, so the performance itself began nearly thirty minutes late.