Previous month:
February 2013
Next month:
April 2013

Noah Stewart Interview

Noah StewartTenor Noah Stewart (pictured left, photograph by Mitch Jenkins) is singing the world premiere of Steven Stucky's The Stars and the Roses with Berkeley Symphony this Thursday.

How did you start singing?
I first started singing when I needed extra school activities while at junior high school in New York City. I was drawn to a diverse mix of musical styles ranging from jazz to Broadway and back. Before the age of 12, I had already sung in Latin, German, French, Swahili, and Hebrew. It definitely set the stage for an international career.

La costanza in amor vince l'inganno was the first opera you performed in, which seems unusual. How did that come about?
When I was a senior at LaGuardia High School or "The Fame School," I was given the options of Gospel Chorus or Opera Workshop. Most of my friends chose gospel, as it was closer to pop music, while I chose opera. At this stage, I was truly obsessed with opera and would jump at the chance for free tickets at the Met to see some of my favorite singers like Pavarotti and Jessye Norman.

Aminta, from Caldara's La costanza in amor vince l'inganno, was my first operatic role. (Tenor great, Beniamino Gigli frequently included songs like "Sebben, crudele" in his concerts.) My opera workshop teacher would stay after school teaching the recitatives, because he saw this passion for opera within me. Interestingly enough, it was the North American premiere of that opera. I wasn't your ordinary 16-year-old, I would say. By the time I auditioned for Juilliard, I had already sung with full orchestras for three years as a soloist for regular mass and oratorio performances while in high school.

Do you like creating roles, as for Appomattox?
I have been very fortunate to have had experience singing traditional repertory as well as contemporary music in my career. I enjoy working along side living composers and creating roles like T. Morris Chester in Glass' Appomattox here at SFO. It's nice to not have constant comparisons to artists and ghosts of the past. It also keeps up my technique as far as learning music.

What are your favorite operas?
At this time, my favorite operas to perform are those of the leading Italian and French heroic roles. I feel that the timbre and weight of my voice lends itself to the music of Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, and Massenet. I also enjoy the dramatic and physical challenges of a role like Don José, the dangerous soldier and lover in Bizet's Carmen.

How did you choose the pieces on your debut CD?
The music selections for the CD were made between the producer, creative team from Universal/Decca and myself.

How has working with Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony been?
I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Joana at Chicago Opera Theater on John Adams' A Flowering Tree. She is one of my favorite conductors around. Not only is she an incredible musician, but the sheer passion that she displays inspires me whenever I see her perform.

Tell me about the piece you are debuting.
The piece that I am premiering is comprised of three songs. The texts are poems written by Czesław Miłosz and the music is composed by Steven Stucky. The themes are nature and love, and are beautifully set.

Which singers to you look up to?
The singers of whom I look up to are the singers of the Golden Age. I collect historical recordings and often play them for inspiration and guidance. My favorite tenor and singer is Enrico Caruso who really changed what a leading tenor sounded like, combining a rich color capable of beautiful lyrical and dramatic shadings. The first time I saw and heard the voice of Leontyne Price, I was in love. It's like fine crystal and anyone I speak to who had the chance to hear her soprano says the sound was simply stunning. Other favorites include Gigli, Ponselle, Verrett, Bumbry, Callas, Corelli, and Cappucilli to name just a few.

You are really diligent with tweeting, how do you keep up?
I try to make time for it like so many things. The life of the modern day opera singer is very different from that of yesteryear. Being a New Yorker, I had to become good at multitasking.

What is your fitness regimen?
I try to do yoga as much as I can while on the road. I feel that it centers and helps me focus, as well as helps my breath in singing. I also love to enjoy the food and culture of every country and city I visit, so a gym membership is a must!

The picture you took of custard tarts from Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon was really cute. Are they really good for the voice?
They are good for the voice. Art is fed from life and great experiences. To be a great artist, you must be a communicator of many emotions. We feel special connections to our favorite people and artists. We do so because they are able to translate their experience through different mediums and forms of art. That custard definitely makes my High C a bit shinier, or so I like to think so.

Lucerne Festival zu Ostern 2013 Sinfoniekonzert 4

Jansons_BR_02* Notes * 
Mariss Jansons and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (pictured left, photograph courtesy of Bayerischer Rundfunk) performed Shostakovich and Beethoven as the closing concert of this year's Lucerne Festival zu Ostern. The orchestra played Shostakovich's Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54 first. The piece is quite odd, having a vernal, yet dark quality to it. The playing all around was splendid. The brass was clean but warm, the woodwinds gleamed, the strings shimmered, and the whole sound came together perfectly.

During intermission, the orchestra was rearranged to have first and second violins on the outside, the violas next to the seconds, and the celli next to the firsts. Before the violas had been downstage, the celli next to them, and the seconds next to the firsts. To end we heard Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. Jansens seems to have immaculate control of the orchestra, and the musicians played evenly, with precision, but much bright richness as well. I was impressed by how good the horn sounded, and how the piccolo, which seemed sinister in the Shostakovich, sounded perfectly bird-like in the Beethoven.

* Tattling * 
There was light whispering and some coughs during the music, but this was only a minor nuisance.

Lucerne Festival zu Ostern 2013 Chorkonzert 4

Mariss-jansons* Notes * 
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, and the Tölzer Knabenchor were conducted by Mariss Jansons (pictured left) in Britten's War Requiem op. 66 at Lucerne Festival Saturday evening. The orchestra sounded secure and polished. The brass fanfares in the Dies irae were particularly fine. The chorus was perfectly good. The boys' choir sang from backstage and sounded eerie.

The soloists sang well. Emily Magee's icy soprano was somewhat shrill in the Liber scriptus, but sounded creamier as the piece proceeded. The contrast of her voice with the warmth of the chorus was unnerving. Christian Gerhaher's voice is also pleasantly warm, complimentary to both the soprano and tenor. "Out there, we walked quite friendly up to death" was especially beautiful. Tenor Mark Padmore sounded otherworldly in this, and seemed incorporeal throughout the work, as suits Britten. The Lacrimosa with soprano and chorus interspersed with Padmore's solo "Move him, move him" was sublime.

* Tattling * 
This year's common cold features a terrible cough, and this was on full display at between the six movements of the War Requiem. The audience in the third balcony was quiet during the music, but the man in Row 4 Seat 13 clapped (and screamed) at a painful volume during the final ovation.

Bernard Haitink Master Class

* Program *
Johannes Brahms
Tragic Overture, Op. 81
Daniel Cohen

Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (first movement)
Giedre Slekyte

Claude Debussy
Nuages from Trois Nocturnes
Paolo Bortolameolli

BHA050* Notes * 
Bernard Haitink has been giving master classes in conducting for the Lucerne Festival for three days. This morning's session included three young conductors from Israel, Lithuania, and Chile. Festival Strings Lucerne, which can include brass and wind instruments, played with great patience. Daniel Cohen gave a breathless, almost cheerful rendition of Tragic Overture. Haitink said that Brahms should have more stature and serenity, mentioning later that his work should sound serious, dignified, but not boring. Cohen managed to bring this out within the 30 minutes allotted to him. Haitink suggested that Cohen not make faces and to keep the elbows out from the body.

The beginning of Beethoven's Ninth was conducted rather tentatively at first by Giedre Slekyte. Things got better, and Haitink was pleased. He praised her left hand, but told her the sound should be rounder and more mysterious. He went on to produce just these qualities with the orchestra. He also suggested she stop shifting from side to side so much, and not focus just on the box in front of her, i.e. the woodwinds.

Before the first break of the master class, Paolo Bortolameolli had the orchestra playing Nuages from Trois Nocturnes. Haitink felt the tempo was too slow, that it was "standing still." He mentioned that the French woodwinds were brighter in sound than one might think, and that the pianissimo had to be a bit louder so that the più pianissimo could be discerned. Haitink was concerned with the clarity of the lines, but by the end he told Bortolameolli that it was "getting more beautiful all the time."

Lucerne Festival zu Ostern 2013 Chorkonzert 3

John-eliot-gardiner* Notes * 
John Eliot Gardiner conducted (pictured left, photograph by Sheila Rock / Decca) English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir in Johannes-Passion BWV 245 at Lucerne Festival Friday night. The playing was crisp and genial, and any intonation errors were within reason given the period instruments. The singing was lucid and very much together. The choir has a gorgeous, clean sound.

The soloists are all fine singers. Hannah Morrison sang the soprano aria "Ich folge dir gleichfalls mit freudigen Schritten" with a spring-like freshness. Meg Bragle sang "Es ist vollbracht!" with strength. Tenor Nicolas Mulroy (Evangelist) was only slightly quiet when singing with the full ensemble, otherwise his voice is pleasant, while Andrew Tortise sounded sweet singing the tenor arias. Dietrich Henschel (Jesus) and Peter Harvey (Pontius Pilate and bass arias) made for a good contrast vocally.

* Tattling * 
The woman in Gallery 3 Left Seat 16 spoke on a few occasions during the music, while the men in Seats 19 and 20 tended to only whisper slightly. There were a lot of coughs when the orchestra was tuning between parts.

Il Matrimonio Segreto at Teatro Regio di Torino

11_matrimonio_0* Notes *
A run of Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto is currently being held at Teatro Regio di Torino. Francesco Pasqualetti conducted last night's performance, and the overture went nicely, but there were some raw, blurry moments in the pit.

Likewise with the singing, which was often quiet compared with the sound of the orchestra. Emanuele D'Aguanno (Paulino) seemed particularly strained. Barbara Bargnesi (Carolina) was cute, but her acting was on the dull side. Only Chiara Amarù, as aged aunt Fidalma, shone. Her sense of comic timing sparkled, and her voice is strong.

The singers were not helped by the bland production, which featured a generic set that could have been used for any number of operas or plays. All the action happens in a single symmetrical room, with three large doors up stage, and doors left and right.

* Tattling * 
A woman in Box 12 talked the entire performance. Apparently someone was explaining the libretto for a person who was unable discern what the words were from either listening to the singing or reading the super-titles.

La Cambiale di Matrimonio at La Fenice

Cambiale-matrimonio-2013-fenice* Notes *
This month Teatro La Fenice is performing Rossini's first opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio, in Teatro Malibran. The opera is only one act and director Enzo Dara certainly makes the most of the scant 75 minutes it takes to perform. The sets and costumes, from Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, feature the city of Venice in the background and on the clothing of the singers. The production also involves reams of textiles and Commedia dell'Arte supernumeraries. The opera itself is completely absurd, and has not a few jokes about the Americas, as the marriage contract of the title concerns a Canadian merchant.

Last night Stefano Montanari conducted the very cheerful orchestra, which sounded fairly clean and mostly together. The singing all sounded great from Ordine 2, Palco 19, since we were essentially above the pit and almost on top of the stage. The singers were fine actors and pulled off the slapstick humor in a charming manner. Omar Montanari (Tobia Mill) and Marco Filippo Romano (Slook) were particularly adept. Marina Bucciarelli sounded sweet as Fannì.

* Tattling * 
Teatro Malibran could use a good airing out, as the musty smell is pronounced and somewhat nauseating.

There was much talking and noise from electronic devices. At least one mobile phone rang. A man in the middle of the first row was texting during the performance and was scolded by the maestro.

Věc Makropulos at La Fenice

Fenice-makropulos-2013* Notes *
La Fenice is currently presenting the Robert Carsen production of Věc Makropulos. Carsen sets much of the action in an opera house, starting with Emilia Marty on stage during the overture, switching in and out of various opera costumes. Act II is clearly backstage after Turandot, and Act III is simply in Marty's dressing room. This is a pleasant enough effect and it was entertaining to try to guess which costumes were for which operas.

Gabriele Ferro conducted an enthused orchestra. The playing was not particularly clean, but was spirited. The singing too was somewhat lacking, some pushed the edges of their voices a good deal. Ángeles Blancas Gulín acted and sang the lead role with strength, and only sounded slightly shrill near the end.

* Tattling * 
There was some talking during the music.

Lucerne Festival zu Ostern 2013 Sinfoniekonzert 2

Orchestra-mozart2* Notes * 
Claudio Abbado and Orchestra Mozart Bologna (pictured left, photograph by Marco Caselli Nirmal) played a second concert at Lucerne Festival last night. The program started with Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 2, played with a smooth lucidity. Martha Argerich returned to the KKL Konzertsaal stage to play Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20. Both soloist and the orchestra played with a remarkable intensity. Argerich plays with such wonderful dexterity and economy of movement, yet with great vitality as well. Excerpts from the incidental music to Rosamunde opened the second half of the concert. The woodwinds sounded verdant. The pianissimo moments in the orchestra were particularly gorgeous. The evening was rounded out by a stunning rendition of Beethoven's Symphony No. 4. The sound was marked by a singular clarity of line and phrasing. The dynamic contrasts were clear. The strings played beautifully in the Allegro ma non troppo.

* Tattling * 
The galleries can be quite nice to sit in, as there are fewer audience members about to misbehave. The view of Martha Argerich's hands from where we were sitting was rather good.

Isabelle Faust at Lucerne Festival

Faust-isabelle-felix-broede_01* Notes * 
Violinist Isabelle Faust (pictured left, photograph by Felix Broede) played Bach's Sonatas and Partitas BWV 1001–1006 at Hotel Schweizerhof yesterday evening as part of Lucerne Festival zu Ostern. Faust's playing is fluent, her technique secure. Her tempi tend to all be rather rapid, and her slower, quieter playing sounded anemic. The Presto of Sonata No. 1 in G minor was breathtakingly speedy, while the Andante of Sonata No. 2 in A minor was a bit tedious. In Faust's performance, it was also difficult to tell that the various movements were based on dance forms, despite the certain light airiness to her playing.

The Allemanda of Partita No. 2 in D minor was wonderfully verdurous, and the Ciaccona also came off well. I felt her Sonata No. 3 in C Major was weakest, though her playing was refined, and the Allegro assai showed off how quickly she can play. Faust managed to play Partita No. 3 in E Major in under twenty minutes. It did not feel rushed, just efficient and effortless. As a performer, Faust is not overly flashy and seemed quite comfortable.

* Tattling * 
Several beeps were heard at the beginning of the first piece. The person in Row 3 Seat 8 Right coughed a great deal during Sonata No. 2, but tried her best to muffle herself. She did not return after intermission. It was challenging to exit the hall, as there was only one method of egress. The entryway is narrow and right by the garderobe, so it took nearly 15 minutes to get out the door.

Lucerne Festival zu Ostern 2013 Sinfoniekonzert 1

Abbado* Notes * 
Lucerne Festival opened its Jubiläumsjahr yesterday with Claudio Abbado and Orchestra Mozart Bologna (pictured left, photograph by Marco Caselli Nirmal). The early evening performance began with a vibrant rendition of Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3. The woodwinds played with particular exuberance. Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 followed with Martha Argerich, who missed her previous engagement with the orchestra a few days ago. Argerich played articulately, and with a wonderful sense of breath. After the intermission the orchestra played the Coriolan overture and Mozart's Symphony No. 33. The sound was clear and lively, and Abbado can get a light, dancing quality out of the orchestra, but has fine dynamic control as well.

* Tattling * 
Before Abbado appeared on stage, someone had to go out and remove the music stand at the podium, as it was not needed. In the first piece there was one minor brass error just before the soloist exited the stage to play the trumpet call, and it was almost as if he had left in disgust.

The person in Row 3 Seat 10 of Balcony 4 Right had a prolonged coughing fit during the piano concerto. Many of his fellow audience members gave him pointed stares and he was even (silently) offered cough drops. This person did not have the good sense to leave at the break, and coughed still more in the last piece.

SFCM's Ariodante

Partitura_aria_ariodante* Notes *
San Francisco Conservatory Baroque Ensemble presented two semi-staged performances of Händel's Ariodante last weekend. Corey Jamason conducted the orchestra, and the period instruments sounded full in Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall. Staying in tune proved rather challenging at times, at least on Sunday afternoon. The musicians did play with much spirit and zest.

The singing was rather good all around, the students fit their parts. Many of the singers were quite loud, especially bass Christopher Filipowicz. Others had difficulties at the edges of their ranges, whether it be uncontrolled high notes, or low notes that did not sit nicely in the voice. Nonetheless, the performance was delightful. Elena Galván was a bright-voiced, diffident Dalinda. Nikola Printz made for a threatening, sensual Polinesso. Johanna Bronk was impressive in the title role, her "Scherza infida" was beautiful.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly silent. A hearing aid was rather loud in Act I, but was not heard in Acts II or III. I learned that the person sitting to my right has the exact same birth date as mine. Later that day I learned that I would hear the sister of the person to my left play next week in Switzerland.

SF Opera Audited Financial Results 2011-2012

Xerxes-set-act-1San Francisco Opera's 89th season started on September 9, 2011 and finished on July 8, 2012. Nine operas were held at the War Memorial Opera House in 72 performances. The Company concluded Fiscal Year 2011-12 (FY 12) with a a deficit of $1,561,074 on an operating budget of $70,027,011. Total operating revenue for FY12 fell from $35,947,397 to $32,955,687, with income from ticket sales consistent with FY11 at $24,302,997. Contributions to the FY12 Annual Fund reflected a 6.5% increase over the previous year and hit a record level of $35,510,250 in financial support from approximately 8,300 donors.

Press Release | Official Site