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September 2018

SF Opera's Arabella

_T8A0778* Notes *
An elegant co-production of Arabella (Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The orchestra and singers were all very strong in Strauss' glittering Viennese comedy.

The huge cast for this opera boasted many familiar faces, from mezzo-soprano Jill Grove (Merola 1995) as the fortune-teller to soprano Hye Jung Lee (Merola 2010) as the Fiakermilli. The only new singer to the War Memorial stage was tenor Daniel Johanssen as the melodramatic Matteo who loves Arabella but is loved by her sister Zdenka who lives as a boy. Johanssen looks the part and sounds terribly plaintive as he longs for even a glance from his beloved.

It was a pleasure to hear mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens (Countess Waldner) again singing something rather less grave than Cassandre from 2015 or Klytemnestra last year. Baritone Richard Paul Fink was perfect as Count Waldner, his diction is clear and he's very funny, so different than his Edward Teller in Doctor Atomic or his Alberich.

Soprano Heidi Stober is a great Zdenka, I remember loving her in this role when I heard it in Santa Fe back in 2012. Her physicality is tomboyish and completely convincing, her voice sparkles and has a beautiful flexibility. Baritone Brian Mulligan too is wonderfully cast as Mandryka, his robust voice is velvety and he is a fine actor. He looks like he could wrestle a bear, as he is purports to do just after receiving Count Waldner's letter. Soprano Ellie Dehn has a white, clean sound as Arabella herself, and  looks as alluring as one would expect for someone sought after by no less than five suitors.

Director Tim Albery's production is very pretty, not least of all because of the set, designed by Tobias Hoheisel. The stylish grey interiors look great with the pops of color from flowers or the bright red jacket of the Fiakermilli.

Maestro Marc Albrecht had a promising debut. The orchestra gleamed, staying together without overwhelming the singers or being too square. I particularly loved hearing all the viola music in Act I.

* Tattling * 
This was poorly attended, and I got standing room ticket 22 only 15 minutes before curtain. The young man in Row J Seat 103 of the balcony blinded me with his phone at one point during Act I, and the young woman next to him in Seat 105 looked at her Apple Watch throughout the performance.


Opera Parallèle's In the Penal Colony

In-the-penal-colony-glass-2018* Notes *
This weekend Opera Parallèle is in Carmel for In the Penal Colony as part of the Days and Nights Festival. Philip Glass' potent chamber opera from 2000 is a perfect match for this company and the production gets to the nightmarish core of the short story from Kafka.

Maestra Nicole Paiement conducted the string quintet with her usual vim. Though the musicians were regulated over to the right front corner of the stage, they were balanced with the singers and were easy to hear without being overwhelming.

Brian Staufenbiel's direction is anything but static, there's so much going on even though we only have two singers and two actors. The set has two concentric turntables that can move at different rates and three jagged screens -- one in the middle and one for each side. It is just able the right amount of realism -- the torture machine is menacingly spiked -- mixed with off-kilter weirdness such as a portrait of the previous commandant which shows him with waving pink tentacles rather than a head.

The opera is in English and much of Rudolph Wurlitzer's text hews closely with Kafka but obviously is much shorter to accommodate the singing. There were no titles, and I really liked this as it forces the audience to play close attention to the singers. Tenor Javier Abreu has a sweet, sympathetic voice as The Visitor, making for a good proxy for the audience. Robert Orth has a great authority as The Officer, his bright, high baritone is convincing.

* Tattling * 
There was some scattered talking during the opera. I heard a familiar tiny, muffled sound behind me near the end of the opera, which turned out to be a newborn who was nursing as I left the hall.


SF Opera's Tosca

_37A5746* Notes * 
The new production of Tosca (Act II with Scott Hendricks as Scarpia, Joel Sorensen as Spoletta, and Carmen Giannattasio as Tosca pictured left; photograph by Cory Weaver) that opened last night at San Francisco Opera is an ideal first opera. The set looks like a meticulous reproduction of the places featured within Rome and the singing is strong. The young cast looks very convincing.

I don't think I've ever seen a Tosca that didn't try to recreate Sant'Andrea della Valle, Palazzo Farnese, and Castel Sant'Angelo, since they are such specific locales. This offering, designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, is no exception, but it was impressive how real everything looked. The costumes also look very genuine, there are no gratuitous wardrobe changes, Tosca doesn't even put on a coat to fetch Cavaradossi before their would-be escape. Shawna Lucey's direction is straightforward and effective. Act II was especially disturbing, Scarpia's sexual violence against Tosca is all the more palpable in light of current events and I winced from those scenes, even at the back of the balcony.

The cast is uniformly fine both vocally and dramatically. I was able to spot Hadleigh Adams (Angelotti), Dale Travis (a sacristan) and Joel Sorensen (Spoletta) right away, even without looking at the program, so often have I heard these singers from the War Memorial stage. Tenor Brian Jadge has also performed Cavaradossi here many times, and did well. His voice is as loud as ever, and his arias sounded great. His fall in Act III looked alarmingly authentic.

Soprano Carmen Giannattasio has a lovely vulnerablity as Tosca, her "Vissi d'arte" alone is worth the price of admission and she sang prostrate on the stage, but this did not seem to have any influence on the volume of her voice at all. She did sound shrill at times at first, but that suits the jealous questioning and nagging of her part in Act I. Scott Hendricks completely embodied Scarpia, he was slick and repulsive, his voice sounded suitably powerful.

Maestro Leo Hussain conducted the orchestra with vigor that bordered on chaos in Act I, but improved over time. There was a gorgeous solo from the harp and the brass played out with clarity.

* Tattling * 
The audience was sparse, and the latecomers in the last row north of center were terribly ill-behaved and talked so much that I had to move to the other side of the balcony to get away from them. Because there were not many people back there, they were even audible from that distance.

I don't know if it is because I have two little kids of my own, but children's voices in opera often creep me out now. Zachary Zele as the shepherd boy made me completely uncomfortable.