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September 2014
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November 2014

LA Opera's Dido & Bluebeard

La-opera-dido-2014* Notes * 
Los Angeles Opera presented a double bill of Dido and Aeneas (Paula Murrihy and Liam Bonner in the title roles pictured left, photograph by Craig Matthew) and Bluebeard's Castle last night. The juxtaposition of these two works is pleasantly odd. Conducted by Steven Sloane, the orchestra could have sounded slightly crisper in the first piece, but the lushness of playing for the second piece suited its atmospheric score.

Director Barrie Kosky's production is from Frankfurt Opera, and certainly looks it. The set is attractively minimal, a pleated wall and long bench rather far downstage for the Purcell, and a rotating slanted circular platform for the Bartók. The use of lighting and choreography rather than video projections is welcome.

Kosky certainly did not lack for ideas, though some were unsettling, especially in the first offering. Countertenors are employed as the Sorceress and Witches, and it is disconcerting that all three happen to be bearded African American men in unflattering gowns, while the protagonist is a trim, blond white woman. Dido stayed on stage for the last chorus and gasped as all the singers and orchestra members left the pit one by one. This is, of course, opposed to the text of Dido's last aria but certainly commands attention.

The singing for Dido and Aeneas was good. The chorus sounded sprightly. G. Thomas Allen (First Witch) sounded warm. John Holiday's countertenor is also rather resonant, and he made for a disturbing Sorceress. Kateryna Kasper sang Belinda with much clarity. Liam Bonner was a prettily reedy Aeneas. Paula Murrihy sang Dido with conviction. Her voice is lucid and beautiful.

The staging of Bluebeard is a similar mixture of concrete and abstract depictions. We see blood, tears, gold, and foliage, all referred to in the libretto. There are not, however, any actual doors. Instead three identically suited men show up at different points and all sorts of theatrics ensue. It is impressive how much glitter pours from one man's sleeves for the third door. All three men drip water from their jackets as a representation of the lake of tears behind the sixth door. All rather imaginative, but the movements for the two principals required a great deal of physicality, and seemed a lot to ask for as the piece has serious vocal demands as well.

Robert Hayward was a plaintive Bluebeard. There were brief moments when he was difficult to hear given the volume of the orchestra and how he was facing as the stage turned. Claudia Mahnke makes for a sympathetic Judith. Her voice is strong and piercing without being harsh.

* Tattling * 
I was shamefully late for the performance, but was seated during "Ah! Belinda, I am prest with torment."

SF Opera's Tosca

Sf-opera-tosca-actiii1-2014* Notes * 
Another revival of Tosca (Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi and Mark Delavan as Scarpia in Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened last night at San Francisco Opera. Lianna Haroutounian had a fine debut on the War Memorial stage as Floria Tosca. She clearly has an emotional connection to the role and this was palpable even from the very back of the house. Her singing is passionate and her voice has strength yet can be sweet. Cavaradossi suits Brian Jagde, and his gleaming voice was a good match for Haroutounian. On the other hand, Mark Delavan seemed somewhat shaky, especially at first. His Scarpia is certainly gritty and cruel.

The rest of the cast was quite good. Dale Travis is always funny as the Sacristan and Joel Sorensen mincing yet threatening as Spoletta. Adlers Efraín Solís (Sciarrone) and Hadleigh Adams (Jailer) also sang well.

Riccardo Frizza conducted a rapid orchestra that had a lovely transparency of sound. The clarinets and bassoons were particularly wonderful in Act II. The harp sounded clear throughout the performance, as did the strings.

The opera house seemed full and the audience was enthused. This time-honored production, directed by Jose Maria Condemi, is a crowd-pleaser.

* Tattling * 
The audience was mostly quiet, but there was a man in the back of the balcony who had to make sure the people around him knew to pay attention to "Vissi d'arte" and "E lucevan le stelle."

SF Opera's Partenope

 Sfopera-partenope-acti-2014* Notes * 
Christopher Alden's delightfully humorous production of Partenope opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The stylish set (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver), designed by Andrew Lieberman, was enhanced by Adam Silverman's lighting. Costume designer Jon Morrell did a wonderful job evoking 1920s Paris and Man Ray. The staging matches the absurdity of the plot rather well, embracing silliness with use of bananas, dancing, and hand shadow puppetry. It was refreshing to see something a little less sedate than the other offerings of the 2014-2015 season so far.

The reduced orchestra of only 39 musicians sounded fresh and vital under Maestro Julian Wachner. The horns had a rough start but in the end managed to sound sublime. The continuo was played beautifully by the conductor and Peter Grunberg on harpsichord, cellist David Kadarauch, and theorbist Michael Leopold.

The most of the singers employed much physicality in their performances. Philippe Sly danced foppishly and sang with warm effortlessness. His outrageous costume in Act III involved a puffy pink flowered gown, red evening gloves, and a Pickelhaube festooned with bananas. Anthony Roth Costanzo was an endearing Armindo who managed to sing his first aria ("Voglio dire al mio tesoro") while falling down or hanging on to stairs. He also tap danced during "Ma quai note di mesti lamenti" in Act III. The clarity of his voice came through despite all these antics.  Alek Shrader's tenor sounded robust, and as Emilio he put on a hand puppet show that was amusing and engaging.

* Tattling * 
Our neighbors in Box I introduced themselves and shared a chocolate strawberry with us. There was a confrontation between a man at the back of Box H with a woman who showed up in the middle of Act II. He suggested that she did not have a ticket for Seat 4 and mentioned she had not been there for the first third of the performance.

SF Opera's Un Ballo in Maschera (Hampson)

Sf-opera-ballo-actiii-scene1-2014* Notes * 
A fourth performance of San Francisco Opera's A Masked Ball this season was held yesterday. The orchestra and singers were more synchronized, but there were times when the former was slightly ahead of the latter. At times this was excitingly chaotic. There were lovely soli from the cello, English horn, and clarinet. The harp was particularly beautiful throughout Act III as well.

The principal singers were consistent. Heidi Stober sang Oscar with an effortless grace. Dolora Zajick has a rich sound as Madame Arvidson. Ramón Vargas sounded sweet as Gustavus III. His high notes were somewhat tepid in the duet with Julianna Di Giacomo (Amelia) in Act II Scene 1. Di Giacomo was triumphant again in her role and garnered much applause and cheering.

Thomas Hampson (pictured above with Julianna Di Giacomo in Act III Scene 1, photograph by Cory Weaver) makes for a grave, measured Anckarström. His "Alla vita che t'arride" was more reserved than Brian Mulligan's and his Act III "Eri tu che macchiavi quell'anima" was more threatening.

* Tattling * 
Standing room was again not crowded, perhaps because San Francisco Opera hardly ever has Monday night performances. A mobile phone rang in Act I at the back of the north side of the balcony, and a woman chose to take the call but at least she hurried out of the hall to do so.

Steven Isserlis at PBO

Steven_Isserlis_credit_Satoshi_Aoyagi1* Notes * 
Cellist Steven Isserlis (pictured left, photograph by Satoshi Aoyagi) is playing with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in the Bay Area starting with a performance at the SFJazz Center last night in San Francisco. The program is bookended with symphonies by Haydn, the first one being No. 57 in D major, and the second No. 67 in F major. The hall is designed for amplified music, so period instruments can sound rather crackly. However, the sound system can compensate for this, and the second Haydn piece seemed warmer and more resonant than the first.

Nicholas McGegan conducted a jovial and sprightly performance. Symphony No. 57 was a happy way to open. The tuning of the violin duet in Symphony No. 67 sounded a bit strange to me. But the trio that follows of concertmaster Katherine Kyme, principal second violinist Anthony Martin, and principal cellist Tanya Tomkins was beautiful.

Isserlis joined the orchestra for what was listed in the program as Luigi Boccherini's Concerto for Violoncello No. 7 in G major, but was actually Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Concerto for Violoncello in A major. Isserlis gave a sparkling performance, his playing has long lines and a beautiful legato. After intermission, Isserlis informed us we had been subject to a "ghastly hoax" and explained that the Boccherini was to come, as they had already played the Bach. The Adagio was especially lovely. Isserlis played an encore that involved much switching from pizzicato to arco.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet and little electronic noise was noted.

SF Opera's Un Ballo in Maschera (Mulligan)

Sf-opera-ballo-2014-actiii* Notes * 
Last night San Francisco Opera performed A Masked Ball a second time this season. The traditional production is the same as the one seen here in 2006, Jose Maria Condemi's direction is similarly straightforward, if not slightly bland. The ball scene (Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver), however, is quite festive. This performance had Brian Mulligan singing Count Anckarström instead of Thomas Hampson, and Mulligan sings again on October 22nd. Nicola Luisotti conducted a rich and lush sounding orchestra. The volume was not overwhelming to the voices, at least from the back of the balcony. The orchestra was often ahead of the singers, this was particularly noticeable in Act II, when Anckarström appears to warn Gustavus.

Dolora Zajick is utterly convincing as Madame Arvidson, her deep, full sound is well-suited to the role. Brian Mulligan sounded strong as Count Anckarström, and his first aria, "Alla vita che t'arride," was gorgeous. Ramón Vargas (Gustavus III) has a pretty, reed-like voice, but was perhaps the weakest of the principals. Heidi Stober made for a dazzling and boyish Oscar. Julianna Di Giacomo (Amelia) sounded clear and sonorous. Her debut on the War Memorial stage certainly seems a success.

* Tattling * 
Axel Feldheim kindly saved me a spot at the railing, though it was not crowded in standing room, perhaps because the San Francisco Giants were playing the Washington Nationals in game four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park. The opera displayed the scores before the opera and during intermissions. The audience cheered when the results were favorable.

Gockley Announces Retirement

GockleySan Francisco Opera's General Director, David Gockley (pictured left, photograph by Terrence McCarthy), has announced his retirement in July 2016. He concludes a ten-year, seven-month tenure with the Company and a career spanning 44 years. Gockley, who will be 73 at the end of the 2015–2016 season, became the Company's sixth general director when he joined San Francisco Opera in January 2006. The announcement was made at a War Memorial Opera House press conference today.

Press Release | Official Site