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SF Opera Summer 2016 Cast Changes

Ellie_Dehn_HeadshotEllie Dehn (pictured left) replaces Nadine Sierra as Micaëla in the first cast of San Francisco Opera's Carmen, which opens May 27, 2016. Tenor Maxim Aksenov makes his War Memorial Opera House debut in the alternate cast as Don José replacing Riccardo Massi. Both Sierra and Massi are withdrawing for personal reasons. Jordi Bernàcer will replace conductor Carlo Montanaro for the final performance on July 3.

Soprano Ana María Martínez sings the role of Elisabetta di Valois in SF Opera's Don Carlo, replacing Krassimira Stoyanova who has cancelled because of "ongoing health concerns that prevent her from traveling long distances." Bass-baritone Ferruccio Furlanetto will sing the role of King Philip II in the final performance of Don Carlo on June 29, in lieu of René Pape who has a scheduling conflict. As planned, Mr. Pape will sing the first five performances on June 12, 15, 18, 21 and 24.

Carmen | Don Carlo | San Francisco Opera Press Release

SF Opera's Il barbiere di Siviglia

_B5A2612* Notes * 
A revival of Emilio Sagi's busy production of Il barbiere di Siviglia (Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) returned to San Francisco Opera after only two years. The proceedings last night did not come into focus until the finale of Act I, but the result was a definitive success, unlike much of what has gone on this season.

The director this time around is Roy Rallo, but the production was fairly close to Sagi's original work. One such subtle change was the guitar in the serenade was given to someone in the orchestra pit rather than being played by Almaviva. Llorenc Corbella's set is great for changing the scenes but it is hard to tell what is inside and what is outside, it is a platform with a few walls on the left side of the stage. Objects and people can enter and exit from under the platform, but this often felt a bit random, as during Don Basilio's La Calunnia aria, when a white curtain noisily appears under the platform and is blown across the right side of the stage. The main part of the set is also quite white, as are many of the costumes, so the end, which has lots of bright shawls, mylar balloons, cotton candy, confetti, and firework projections, is a happy contrast.

Maestro Giuseppe Finzi had the lively orchestra going at a fast clip and there were times were rather loud, especially during Act I. It was difficult to hear "Largo al factotum," even though Lucas Meachem (Figaro) ordinarily has a strapping sound. Meachem occasionally sounded out of breath, but he is a fine actor and is funny. Daniela Mack is a cheeky, charming Rosina. Her voice is not to my taste for some reason, something about her vibrato and the resonances of her sound, but she is competent and again, acts well. René Barbera is a wonderful Almaviva, his bright voice has a beautiful consistency from top to bottom. His coloratura is gorgeous.

Everyone sang nicely together, and the ensembles were a joy. The supporting cast is solid. Alessandro Corbelli is always impressive as Doctor Bartolo, his patter is excellent. Catherine Cook is a delight as Berta, as is Andrea Silvestrelli as Don Basilio.

* Tattling * 
The balcony was full for the night before Thanksgiving performance. There was some talking from old and young alike, but the audience seemed engaged and interested.

SF Opera's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

_B5A0405* Notes *
Let's not beat around the bush on this one, San Francisco Opera's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg  is very long and not for the faint of heart. Maestro Mark Elder's style is glacial, and while every single beautiful note is heard, it seemed tough on both the orchestra and the singers. Coupled with the attractive but tame production, it can make for a monotonous evening despite the gorgeous singing.

The exceedingly slow tempi are stately and Elder certainly had control of the orchestra. Playing that unhurriedly does seem to wear on the musicians though, and there was an obvious mistake by the oboe player in Act II and a painful brass blooper in Act III. Quite a surprise, given the oboist normally plays very beautifully and in this piece, the brass did really well otherwise. The singers got ahead of the orchestra, which is a distinct rarity.

The production by David McVicar is mild. The action happens under a fancy vaulted ceiling the whole time, with other elements to change the scenes. The switch from Hans Sachs' house in Act III Scene 1 to the festival banks of the River Pegnitz (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) in Scene 2 was wonderfully quiet. The costumes look like pretty cast-offs from a film adapted from Jane Austen, so it seems the setting is updated a few centuries. The choreography of the chorus in the first two acts is a bit on the silly side, and doesn't quite match the music or the setting. All that said, the production did not get in the way of Wagner's opera. It could have been funnier though.

The cast has a lot to recommend it. The bright tones of Sasha Cooke (Magdelena) and Alek Shrader (David) cut through the orchestration. Cooke has a particularly lovely voice, and one only wanted to hear more of her, the role being relatively small. As Eva, Rachel Willis-Sørensen has a cold, piercing sound but isn't nearly as grating or scary as some Wagnerian sopranos.

I really loved Martin Gantner as Beckmesser, his characterization is spot on and his voice has such pretty resonances. Brandon Jovanovich cuts a bold figure as Walther von Stolzing, he was fighting a cold during the first performance, which wasn't announced until before Act III. He almost lost it at the end of his big Act I aria, but managed to keep it together. He sounded tentative in the final act, but did sing the whole role.

James Rutherford is an impressive Hans Sachs, his voice has much vigor. He might sound a touch youthful for the role but he gave an imposing and solid performance.

* Tattling *
There was hardly anyone in the last rows of the balcony, and it was easy to see the stage from standing room. Someone a few rows ahead of the very back of the house had her flashlight on for the beginning of the opera, but her companion slapped her hand and insisted she put it away.

Some of the house staff was at the back of the balcony listening to the end of the opera, but one of their walkie-talkies sounded and they hurried away before they could hear the finale.

Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera

Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera in the Veterans Building's fourth floor and basement opens February 28, 2016. The 300 seat theater named for Dianne and Tad Taube will host the Schwabacher Debut Recital Series, three performances from the newly formed producing division of the San Francisco Opera called SF Opera Lab, two concerts of chamber works played by SF Opera Orchestra musicians, and Deborah Voigt's one woman show Voigt Lessons.

SF Opera Lab's first season features Schubert's Winterreise performed by baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser with 24 short films by William Kentridge, Ana Sokolović's a cappella chamber opera for six women Svadba–Wedding, and The Triplets of Belleville with live musical accompaniment by Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville with composer-conductor Benoît Charest.

Wilsey Center for Opera | San Francisco Opera Press Release

Final Dress of SF Opera's Meistersinger

Meistersinger-rehearsal-sfo* Notes *
It was a distinct pleasure to see and hear the final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Brandon Jovanovich and the cast pictured left) was held last night at the War Memorial Opera House. The cast is great, and I'm sure they will be even better once everyone is singing out for the first performance on Wednesday.

The orchestra beautiful and I loved hearing the musicians, despite Maestro Mark Elder's very slow tempi. It was so nice to see the violist carefully make notes in their scores and I appreciate sitting in the side boxes as to observe the members of the orchestra. The production is tame, there's some cute dancing, and the jugglers need to work on their act.

* Tattling *
It was fun to attend an Orpheus (the young people's donor program) event in the Jeannik Méquet Littlefield Intermezzo Lounge. I heard that the programming for the theater in the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera will be announced this week and while there is no Baroque opera, Matthias Goerne will be singing Schubert.

Also, it seems that some members (a violist and hornist?) of San Francisco Symphony are part of Orpheus, which is lovely to see.

Opera Parallèle's Christopher Pratorius Q&A

AG-rehearsal_Oct13My Q&A with composer Christopher Pratorius about his children's opera Amazing Grace commissioned by Opera Parallèle is on KQED Arts.

4th and 5th grade students of St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Oakland will perform the opera on November 12 at 6pm and November 14 at 11am and 1pm. Performances are free and take place at the African American Art & Culture Complex's Buriel Clay Theater (762 Fulton Street) in San Francisco.

The Met's Lulu

TS00725a* Notes * 
A spectacular new production of Lulu (pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) opened at the Metropolitan Opera last night. Director William Kentridge's staging is vibrant, and the singing and playing was strong.

There were times when the production was perhaps busy, there was a lot of enormous video art projected across the stage and much use of silent dancers, but Kentridge's visual language has a marvelous consistency. The silent film in the middle of the opera came out rather beautifully.

The orchestra gave a spirited performance under the baton of Maestro Lothar Koenigs, and the music is utterly disturbing, as is the whole opera. I felt viscerally ill, and have rarely been so physically effected by a performance.

All the singing was perfectly fine, the piece is well-cast. Tenor Daniel Brenna had a lovely Met debut as Alwa. Susan Graham was impressive as Countess Geschwitz. Best of all was the Lulu, Marlis Petersen. Not only does she have incredible legs that were put to good use in the staging, her voice is powerful but still has a wonderful fragility to it that works really well in embodying the role.

* Tattling * 
Standing room in Family Circle only had about four people, and there were plenty of seats for the taking. As there was nearly no one near me, there was little bad behavior on display. The video art is perhaps best viewed from afar, I was glad to not be on the orchestra level for this one.