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SF Opera's The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs

Steve-jobs-2023* Notes * 
Mason Bates' The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, opened at San Francisco Opera last night, after being postponed for three years because of the pandemic. The opera has a propellent energy and lots of great singing.

This opera, with libretto by Mark Campbell, about the Apple co-founder and CEO does not seem like it could work, but somehow the circular structure, fast-moving non-linear scenes, and humor pull it together. In certain ways the opera is pretty traditional, there's a hero's journey, a mentor, and a true love that saves the protagonist. There's even some moralizing at the end, which reminded me of the final ensemble of Don Giovanni.

The set, by Vita Tzykun, flows easily from scene to scene as it is mostly segments of walls that can have projections on them plus props that are rolled on and off or picked by singers or stagehands. Kevin Newbury's direction is straightforward. There were times when the projections were slightly tiresome, like the moving motherboard  ones (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver), which reminded me of The PeopleMover Thru The World Of Tron ride at Disneyland back in the 1980s and 90s.

The music is percussion heavy, there are lots of mallets and seven timpani drums. The composer performs electronics in the piece using two MacBook Pros with the orchestra in the pit. There is also an acoustic guitar. Everything is amplified, including the singers, which is not unexpected but does somehow flatten the sound for me.

The chorus sounded very much together. Members of the chorus would have soli as Apple employees but would seamlessly rejoin the group. The principals were all quite strong as well. Adler mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Beteag was startlingly beautiful as she sang about calligraphy as a teacher at Reed College and Adler soprano Olivia Smith's Chrisann Brennan was crystalline yet flexible. Tenor Bille Bruley was convincing as Steve Wozniak, his bright sound is pleasing.

Steve-jobs-principals-2023Baritone John Moore also has a bright, resonant voice, portraying Steve Jobs as a cruel megalomanic and a vulnerable human being. His interactions with bass Wei Wu (Kobun Chino Otogawa) and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke (Laurene Powell Jobs) were best. Wu had the most entertaining lines as the Zen priest and spiritual mentor of Jobs, though Moore has a pretty good one about Bach and mosquitos in Scene 10. Cooke was radiant, her voice is ethereal but well-supported.

* Tattling * 
The orchestra audience did not whisper or talk, but I did hear some cellophane being rustled by someone around Row G Seat 6. Worse yet was the cellular phone that rang in the middle of Row H during Scene 17. It was very loud, but at least the phone was shut off right away.

SF Opera's Il Trovatore

_74A2548* Notes * 
Il Trovatore, the first opera at San Francisco Opera this season opened last night with lots of varied and beautiful playing from the orchestra. There was strong singing from the chorus and from the principals.

Maestra Eun Sun Kim continues to impress, her tempi hold my attention. The tradeoff is that there are moments when the free quality of the rubato causes a certain fuzziness. The orchestra does sound very full and fiery but it is always very easy to hear each individual line of the music.

This is a revival of David McVicar's elegant production (Act II Scene 1 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) but directed here by Roy Rallo. It works well and the huge rotating set from Charles Edwards is surprisingly quiet.

The chorus is robust, "Vedi le fosche notturne" in Act II was rousing. The beginning of Act III showcased these singers well too. I found bass Robert Pomakov (Ferrando) creaky at first, but his voice opened up over the course of the evening. Baritone George Petean had a strong San Francisco Opera debut as Count di Luna. His voice has a pleasant roundness and his "Il balen del suo sorriso...Per me ora fatale" in Act II was lovely. Mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk sounded weirdly ethereal as Azucena, it was not an interpretation I had considered before. Her voice doesn't have a lot of earthiness to it, but is very pretty and can be creepy.

_75A8856Tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz makes for a handsome Manrico and though he hits all the notes, his timbre has a hollow quality. He seemed almost to be shrieking "Deserto sulla terra" offstage in Act I. I also could not hear him at the end of Act II Scene 1 at all, even though he and Semenchuk were all the way downstage and the mezzo was not overpowering him. He did sound better in the second half of the opera. On the other hand, soprano Angel Blue (pictured in Act IV, photograph by Cory Weaver) has a resonant sound from top to bottom. She conveys the text very clearly, and I felt all the emotions that poor Leonora experienced. Her Act IV "D'amor sull'ali rosee" was particularly moving.

* Tattling * 
The audience on the orchestra level was well-behaved, there was very little talking around us, and only when there was no music happening. I did hear a cellular phone at the beginning of Act IV when Leonora is brought before the dungeon keep.

I tried to keep my inappropriate giggling to a minimum, but this opera's plot is so convoluted and incomprehensible that I did feel some mirth bubbling up at times.

Opera San José's Roméo et Juliette

IMG_3054* Notes *
Gounod's Roméo et Juliette (Sunday matinée ovation pictured, photograph by Charlise Tiee) opened Opera San José's fortieth season last weekend. The singing yesterday was very lovely and lyrical. It was well worth the drive to the South Bay to hear.

General Director Shawna Lucey directed this new production, which did not seem to be of a particular time or place. The costumes had elements of historic and contemporary clothing. It was difficult to tell if we were inside or outside, as there were numerous walls of greenery and crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It was interesting to see a crumbling cathedral window in the background of Acts IV and V, I feel like it was repurposed from Opera San José's elaborate production of Lucia di Lammermoor. The scene changes were simple and transitions were very smooth.

The direction included an alarming sword fight between Montagues and Capulets during the Prologue. While it did keep the audience engaged, the action involved a young girl being accidentally killed, which was distressing to watch and also a bit on the nose as far as the plot of this opera and Shakespeare's play. Antara Bhardwaj's choreography did work with this out-of-time production, the kathak meets ballet was elegant and it was great to hear some of the ballet music for this opera, which often gets cut from modern performances. Bhardwaj was also one of the four dancers to perform.

Gounod's music is tuneful and fun to listen to. As is often the case at Opera San José though, the singers were the main attraction of the afternoon. There were so many young singers, no less than a dozen soloists. I liked how they utilized the cast for the choruses as well, it did fill things out. But it was also clear that they were accustomed to being principal singers, and not everyone blended in exactly. I could very distinctly hear tenor WooYoung Yoon (Benvolio), for instance.

Bass Kenneth Kellogg exuded both exasperation and authority as The Duke of Verona while baritone Robert Balonek was a ostentatious Count Capulet. Tenor Alex Boyer makes for a villainous Tybalt and one could not help but feel badly for baritone Efraín Solís as Mercutio.

The title roles were splendidly cast. Tenor Joshua Sanders was believable as Romeo, he sounded reedy and plaintive. He has impressive control and was able to hit all his high notes without sounding strained. Soprano Jasmine Habersham (who shares the role of Juliette with Melissa Sondhi) started off a bit on the harsh side, though her "Je veux vivre" was exciting. Her voice really bloomed in the second half of the performance, I loved how round and full she sounded, and her character is certainly  the most sympathetic.

*Tattling *
There were all kinds of noises from hearing aid feedback to cellular phone rings in the first half of the show. There was also loud snoring from more than one person in the center orchestra section.

In the second half, there was less snoring but a person on the aisle of Row D or E kept rustling food in some kind of plastic wrap and seemed to drop several objects on the ground.