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Auditions for the General Director 2013

Merola-general-director-auditions-2013* Notes *
The Auditions for the General Director of San Francisco Opera occurred last night after the matinée performance of Les Contes d'Hoffmann. The twenty-three singers in the Merola Opera Program performed, each accompanied by one of five apprentice coaches. There were some interesting tenors and mezzo-sopranos. The baritones, though all very loud and competent, seemed a little bland this year.

Mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb, tenor Issachah Savage, soprano Maria Valdes, mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde, tenor Pene Pati, and mezzo-soprano Daryl Freedman were called back. Both of these tenors had a robust warmth and their own particular sound. Švēde was most distinctive of the these female singers, her voice is quite deep. Pati and Freedman were especially praised by David Gockley.

Of those not called back, Gockley seemed most enthused about baritone Chris Carr, soprano Aviva Fortunata, tenor Matthew Newlin, and bass-baritone Thomas Richards.

SF Opera's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene Media Round-Up

Mary-magdalene-act-2-2013Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

The reviews of San Francisco Opera's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (Act II pictured left with William Burden as Peter and Sasha Cooke as Mary Magdalene, photograph by Cory Weaver) are varied, but mostly fair to middling.

Performance Reviews: Civic Center | Los Angeles Times | New York Times | San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Francisco Examiner | San José Mercury News

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene World Premiere

Sfopera-mary-magdelene-2013* Notes * 
The world premiere performance of Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (Nathan Gunn as Yeshua and Sasha Cooke as Mary Magdalene in Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) was held yesterday at San Francisco Opera. The overture had a interesting convoluted quality to it, and in general the orchestra, conducted by Michael Christie, shimmered. The music had labyrinthine moments, but was often straightforward and tuneful. Adamo wrote his own libretto, which seemed quite earnest but had wry glimmers of humor. The best of these may have been when the chorus sang "Ibid." when citing a reference for the second time in Act I.

This opera showcases the beautiful voice of mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke in the title role. Her clean, well-supported sound has an ethereal sublimity. Nathan Gunn (Yeshua) was a bit wobbly in comparison, but his acting was fine. As Miriam, Maria Kanyova was pointed and piercing, but this did not seem inappropriate for the role. William Burden (Peter) sounded as sweet and lovely as ever. His performance of a particular bridal song at the end of Act I is moving, as was his singing with Cooke in Act II.

The rest of the cast included many young singers in the smaller roles. Current Adler Fellow A.J. Glueckert sang one aria as Levi quite nicely. The chorus sounded solid.

* Tattling * 
Someone who probably has a mental-illness was in Orchestra Standing Room. He talked to himself, fidgeted, repeatedly scratched himself, velcroed and unvelcroed his man-purse for no apparent reason, and managed to scare off four people sharing the railing with him, including me.

Next General Director of Seattle Opera

130618rdAidanLang-7Aidan Lang (pictured left) has been named Seattle Opera's third General Director effective September 1, 2014. He will replace Speight Jenkins, who became General Director in 1983. Beginning immediately, Lang will be included in planning for the 2015-2016 season, working towards his first fully programmed season in 2016-2017.

Seattle Opera's Official Site | Press Releases

SF Opera's Così Fan Tutte Media Round-Up

08-CosiProduction Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

So far, the reviews of San Francisco Opera's Così fan tutte (Act I pictured left with Philippe Sly as Guglielmo, Christel Lötzsch as Dorabella, Ellie Dehn as Fiordiligi, and Francesco Demuro as Ferrando, photograph by Cory Weaver) are mixed.

Performance Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Francisco Examiner

SF Opera's Così Fan Tutte

Sfopera-cosi-act2-boat* Notes * 
A revival of Così fan tutte (Act II Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened yesterday at San Francisco Opera. The orchestra sounded fairly loud and fast under the baton of Nicola Luisotti, and often ran ahead of the singers. There were times when the musical lines became muddled, as the singers were not audible, especially during ensembles. In contrast, the chorus was solid and together. The recitative accompaniment was energetic and humorous. Maestro Luisotti (fortepiano), Giuseppe Finzi (harpsichord), Thalia Moore (cello), and Michael Leopold (theorbo) seem to have a nice rapport.

The production, directed by José Maria Condemi, is consistent with how it was staged in 2005. The set looks to be a hotel in Monte Carlo during the Belle Époque. The costumes are therefore striking and elegant, as are the Art Nouveau architectural elements.

The cast is youthful and convincing. Susannah Biller is cute and sprightly, her Despina got a lot of laughs. Bass Marco Vinco is such a good actor. His voice is not overly loud or pretty, but he is a fine Don Alfonso.

Francesco Demuro sounds creaky to me, at least when he is singing at full-volume, but is an appealing Ferrando. His "Un'aura amorosa" is endearing. Philippe Sly is fantastic as Guglielmo. His beautiful voice is rich and warm. Christel Lötzsch was so behind in her Act I aria, "Smanie implacabili," it was hard to gauge how good her voice is, since it just sounded like noise at that point. She does blend smoothly with the other singers, but seems a bit fluttery. Her volume and brightness is good, however. Just a few of Ellie Dehn's high notes were shrill Her Fiordiligi sounded robust yet still elegant.

* Tattling * 
I was fortunate enough to be standing behind L 112 of the Balcony, which happened to be empty. The air conditioning did hum quite a bit during the second half of the performance.

Meet the Merolini 2013

Meet-merolini-2013The 28 of the 29 incoming Merolini (pictured left, photograph by Scott Grieder) 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 Nourse Theater. This year four of the participants are Canadian and two are Iowan. We learned that bass-baritone John Arnold loves breakfast foods such as eggs, bacon, and toast. Apprentice stage director George Cederquist told a hilarious story about Joan Sutherland in her 1989 performance as Norma in Detroit. He also expressed a fondness for the operas of Orff, especially Der Mond.

Mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb was goth in high school and studied mathematics as an undergrad. Tenor Casey Finnigan joked that if there were a musical character on Big Bang Theory, it would be him, as he is a "tremendous nerd." Baritone Joseph Lattanzi gave a good-humored account of his Seattle Opera debut, in which he managed to fall flat on his back as Morales in Carmen. Both Jaqueline Piccolino and Robert Watson have made main stage debuts at San Francisco Opera, Piccolino is Stella in the current run of Les Contes d'Hoffmann and Watson was a nobleman in Lohengrin last fall. Apprentice coach Jeremy Weissmann explained what Vibram FiveFingers shoes are.

Schwabacher Summer Concert
Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni: Alex DeSocio
Donna Elvira: Aviva Fortunata
Leporello: Rhys Lloyd Talbot

Don Carlo
Don Carlo: Pene Pati
Rodrigo: Alex DeSocio

Otello: Issachah Savage
Desdemona: Aviva Fortunata
Iago: Alex DeSocio
Cassio: Matthew Newlin
Emilia: Zanda Svede
Lodovico: Rhys Lloyd Talbot

L'italiana in Algeri
Isabella: Zanda Svede
Lindoro: Matthew Newlin
Mustafà: Rhys Lloyd Talbot

Lucia di Lammermoor
Edgardo: Pene Pati
Raimondo: Rhys Lloyd Talbot 

L'amico Fritz
Fritz: Pene Pati
Beppe: Zanda Svede

The Rape of Lucretia
Male Chorus: Robert Watson
Female Chorus: Linda Barnett
Collatinus: David Weigel
Junius: Efrain Solis
Tarquinius: Chris Carr
Lucretia: Kate Allen
Bianca: Katie Hannigan
Lucia: Alisa Jordheim


Le Nozze di Figaro
Count Almaviva: Joseph Lattanzi
Countess Almaviva: Jacqueline Piccolino
Susanna: Maria Valdes
Figaro: John Arnold
Cherubino: Rihab Chaieb
Marcellina: Daryl Freedman
Bartolo: Thomas Richards
Basilio: Casey Finnigan
Don Curzio: Matthew Newlin
Barbarina: Alisa Jordheim
Antonio: Rhys Lloyd Talbot


This year the Opera Standees Association is sponsoring George Cederquist and Efrain Solis.

SF Opera's Tales of Hoffmann Media Round-Up

21--HoffmannProduction Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

The reviewers of San Francisco Opera's The Tales of Hoffmann (Act V pictured left with Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann and Jacqueline Piccolino as Stella, photograph by Cory Weaver) agree that this is a production worth hearing and seeing.

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

SF Opera's Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Sf-opera-hoffmann-2013* Notes * 
A new production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann (Hye Jung Lee as Olympia and Thomas Glenn as Spalanzani with the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera last night. Maestro Patrick Fournillier lead a lively orchestra. The brass sounded particularly good in the first third of the performance. The violin solo in Act III was beautiful. There were moments when orchestra and singers were not precisely together, but the players never overwhelmed the voices.

This elaborate co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu and L'Opera Nacional de Lyon is directed by Laurent Pelly, who also designed the costumes. Chantal Thomas' set is sedate in color but moves swiftly, facilitating scene changes. Projections are used sparingly, never detracting from the lighting or the set. The most charming part of the staging is certainly Act II, the Olympia part of the opera. The devices employed to move the life-sized mechanical doll Olympia are effective and hilarious.

The chorus was strong, as usual, and were rarely off from the orchestra. Thomas Glenn makes for a perfect Spalanzani, his voice is pretty and he can act. Steven Cole did well with the four character tenor roles, and was particularly winsome as Cochenille and Frantz.

Each of the three principal women has a distinctive sound. Irene Roberts (Giulietta) seemed cold and haughty, even in her voice. Hye Jung Lee was brilliant as Olympia, her "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" was the most amusing moment in the performance. Her voice is flexible and clear. Natalie Dessay fared less nicely as Antonia. Her volume was fine, but some of her notes seem frayed. On the other hand, could not help but sympathize with her character.

Christian Van Horn was delightfully evil as all four villains. At first, I was thrown off by the texture of Angela Brower's voice, but very much liked how her transformation from The Muse to Nicklausse is achieved. Her "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" with Irene Roberts was absolutely lovely. As Hoffmann, Matthew Polenzani sounded light and lustrous. His voice was easily heard from under the overhang on the orchestra level.

* Tattling * 
Since there were very few people in the last row of the orchestra level, there was little bad behavior to note. There did not seem to be any late seating, despite the early start time of 7:30pm.