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SF Opera's Lohengrin

_74A5437* Notes * 
David Alden's Lohengrin opened at San Francisco Opera on October 15, but I only managed to attend the fourth performance on Tuesday. The orchestra sounded perfectly transparent and there was much lovely singing including a powerful chorus.

Music Director Eun Sun Kim gets a very clear sound out of the orchestra, I feel like I can hear all the parts neatly stacked up, it feels very vertical and lucid to me. It was very different than Luisotti's performance of this work with San Francisco Opera back in 2012, and I feel lucky to be able to hear the contrast.

This very dark and incoherent production (Act I pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) comes from the Royal Opera House, London, and likely works a lot better in that smaller space. It premiered back in 2018, and uses a lot of war imagery, there are guns and spears. The costumes are mostly from the 1930s but then Elsa inexplicably wears a slip dress and footless tights in Act I that are very 1990s. It's also really difficult to see what is going on, and the singers sound different depending on how the stage is set up or where they are standing within the stage. I did like the way everything seemed to be on rollers and it all went very smoothly. And there were a few very funny moments, like when Elsa's fluffy wedding gown descended from the ceiling in Act II and when Lohengrin shoves the marital bed across the floor in Act III.

_75A5506The chorus sounded wonderful, very full and cohesive. Bass Kristinn Sigmundsson sounded very shaky as King Heinrich, but perhaps it works for this role. In his San Francisco Opera debut baritone Thomas Lehman sounded very nice as the King’s Herald, his voice is pretty, but Alden had him act in some unsavory ways, he tries to shoot Elsa in the final scene. Mezzo-soprano Judit Kutasi (pictured in Act II with Simon O'Neill and Julie Adams, photograph by Cory Weaver) likewise had a strong San Francisco Opera debut, her icy sound was downright terrifying. Her singing was very much well-suited to Ortrud.

I love the warm resonances of baritone Brian Mulligan, but his voice is too lovely and sympathetic for Friedrich von Telramund. It was a bit disorienting for me, as I have pretty recently heard Mulligan as the Herald in the Met's broadcast last season. As Elsa von Brabant, soprano Julie Adams has a beautiful, honeyed sound, but it's not very pure and innocent which would work better for her part. Tenor Simon O'Neill certainly paced himself well as Lohengrin, he was very consistent. His sound is loud and cuts through the orchestra, but has an unpleasant thin reediness to it.

* Tattling * 
There was a surprising amount of talking as the singers were singing. Usually Wagner attracts focused listeners, but people both in front of me in Row J of the orchestra level and behind me in Row L spoke at various times. There was also a lot of coughing and sneezing, and I myself had a coughing fit in Act II which I mostly got under control with some hot tea as quickly as I could.

Lots of people also left at each intermission, so that by the end I could see the conductor because fewer people were blocking my view.

Ars Minerva's Olimpia Vendicata

Olimpia-vendicata-2023 * Notes * 
Ars Minerva returned to ODC Theater in San Francisco for the modern premiere of Domenico Freschi's 1681 Olimpia Vendicata ("Olimpia Avenged"). The Sunday matinée had all the features of an Ars Minerva production: a small orchestra with clean, dry playing; projected backdrops; medieval-inflected costumes with a Burning Man aesthetic; beautiful, clear singing; and a silly, convoluted plot that the cast leaned into and made very funny.

Francesco Aurelio Aureli's libretto concerns one Olimpia, princess of Holland, who is abandoned on a desert isle by her erstwhile lover Bireno, prince of Denmark. Olimpia is captured by the pirate Araspe, and sold to King Oberto of Hibernia, but under the name of Ersilia. Of course, Bireno is in Hibernia wooing Oberto's sister Alinda, who is in turn loved by King Osmiro of Scotland. King Oberto, naturally, falls in love with Olimpia/Ersilia. Antics ensue, and Olimpia ultimately gets the vengeance in the title of the opera.

Unlike some of the operas we've heard at Ars Minerva, this one has a baritone, in the role of the pirate Araspe. Nicolas A. Garcia made for a good contrast with the rest of the cast, which includes lots of voices in a more middle range, including tenor Sidney Ragland as Bireno's servant Niso.

Most impressive, perhaps, was contralto Sara Couden in the smaller role of Osmiro. The character is often hapless and unintentionally hilarious, Couden did a great job with the physical humor, and her voice is effortlessly deep and resonant. Mezzo-soprano Deborah Martinez Rosengaus was entertaining as Oberto, her voice is colder than Couden's but also has a good weight to it. Mezzo-soprano Nina Jones has a very clean, crisp sound as Bireno.

Both sopranos were very strong, Aura Veruni has a nice powerful voice that is flexible. Veruni conveyed a lot of Alinda's feelings in her face and body, her disdain for Osmiro and her conflicted views on Bireno. She did some hula hooping in Act I, Scene 2. Leslie Katter (pictured) was triumphant as Olimpia, her clear, bright sound worked well and her acting was spot on, from demure handmaiden to would-be vengeful murderer.

The staging was a lot of fun. There was a ferris wheel and lollipops at the end of Act I and a humorous fishing scene with animated jumping koi and characters wearing little row boats.

The orchestra, led by harpsichordist Matthew Dirst, was scaled back to only a string quartet plus violone, bass, and theorbo.

* Tattling * 
It was the birthday of costume designer Marina Polakoff and supertitle translator Joe McClinton, so we got to hear everyone sing them "Happy Birthday" at the end of the performance.