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SF Opera's L'Elisir d'Amore

_74A8128 * Notes * 
A new production of L'elisir d'amore opened at San Francisco Opera this afternoon. Updated to the 1950s and set in the Italian Riviera, today's performance was a delight to see and hear.

This co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago is definitely festive. The action takes place at the restaurant of the Hotel Adina (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver), owned by Adina, where Nemorino is a waiter. We are outside and can see the sea. The set and costumes are supposed to evoke Fellini's La Dolce Vita, and many of the characters do look very stylish. There are also three Vespas on stage in one of the scenes. The only down side of the set is that they brought the curtain down twice to change scenes, even though the set essentially stayed the same. It seems that something more artful might have been employed though everything happened reasonably rapidly.

Conductor Ramón Tebar's San Francisco Opera debut sounded fine, the orchestra played well, especially the woodwinds. There were a few moments when the orchestra got slightly ahead of the singers, but got back on track quickly.

The chorus was very funny and all the choristers sang together robustly. Baritone David Bizic was suitably blustery and arrogant as Belcore, he does sound gravelly in his lower range but for this role was not a problem. Baritone Renato Girolami was very amusing as Dulcamara, and his voice too has texture to it, more of a gritty sound. I never much noticed the role of Giannetta before, but Alder Fellow soprano Arianna Rodriguez sounded lovely, her voice is very clean.

_75A0453Tenor Pene Pati is truly a charming Nemorino. His voice is absolutely beautiful, bright and clear throughout his range and he sings with ease. His "Quanto è bella, quanto è cara" in Act I was impressive, and his "Una furtiva lagrima" was plaintive. He was well matched with soprano Slávka Zámečníková, in her American debut. Her voice is elegant and very pretty, and she seems to sing without effort. Her Act II aria "Prendi, per me sei libero" was splendid.

* Tattling * 
The house looked entirely full, as this was both the prima and a matinée. There wasn't much talking  or electronic noise in Box Z, only lots of laughs around us. I did hear a cellular phone ring right before the Barcarolle in Act II, Scene 1.

There was some sort of very loud alarm that went off right before "Una furtiva lagrima" that sounded like a bird warbling. The maestro stopped the music and asked for it to be turned off before starting over again.

Opera San José's Il Barbiere di Siviglia

OSJBarber_6872_PhotoBy_DavidAllen-scaled* Notes *
Il barbiere di Siviglia opened at Opera San José last Saturday, but I attended the matinée on Sunday. The performance was a cartoonish delight with lots of pleasant singing.

In his Opera San José debut Stephen Lawless directed this new production, which might not have had the best sense of space but was a lot of fun.

It was unclear if we were on the ground floor (pictured, photograph by David Allen) or if we were a level up, as there was a door downstage that was supposedly to the outside but there was also a balcony on that same level upstage. But I did like the liveliness of the production, the walls that didn't behave and stay put, the four flamenco dancers that would dramatically appear for really no reason except that the action takes place in Seville. The storm scene had a dream sequence in it, which was novel and effective.

Rossini's music is always enjoyable and the singers did a fine job. Mezzo-soprano Courtney Miller was a long-suffering and oddly endearing Berta and bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian was an especially creepy and greedy Basilio. Bass-baritone Joshua Hughes (Fiorello) sounded bright and robust, as did baritone Michael Kuo (Officer). Everyone was clearly characterized and acted very well,

Likewise the leads were all strong. Bass-baritone Dale Travis is always reliable, his Bartolo is very funny. Nikola Adele Printz is charming as Rosina, their clean, brilliant sound is not that of a coloratura mezzo-soprano, but they were able to work with their voice to give a splendidly resonant performance. Tenor Joshua Sanders is also very solid as Count Almaviva, his plaintive voice sounds strong from top to bottom. Baritone Ricardo José Rivera is a very loud and lovable Figaro, but his voice is pretty and he seemed all smiles.

*Tattling *
In the middle of Act I there were a lot of barking coming from backstage but we never saw dogs in the production. I was very impressed by how the service dog that seems to always be at afternoon performances at this opera house maintained their cool and did not make a single sound at all.

There was some light talking, I did hear a cellular phone ring once, and lots of cellophane noise at certain points.

SF Opera's Omar

_74A8653* Notes * 
Omar, an opera about a West African Islamic scholar sold into slavery, opened at San Francisco Opera this afternoon. The opera by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels is an artful combination of rhythms, syncopation, textures, and lyricism.

The main character of the opera, Omar ibn Said, is based on a real person who was born in Futa Toro (present day Senegal) and spent more than twenty years studying with Muslim scholars. He was captured in 1807 and enslaved, taken to Charleston, South Carolina, sold to a cruel master, ran away to Fayetteville, North Carolina, was jailed, and then subsequently sold to one James Owen, who was fascinated by Omar's literacy in Arabic and used this as a kind of party trick, giving samples of his writing as gifts to friends. Half a dozen documents that Omar wrote in Arabic survive, including an autobiography.

The production (Act II, Scene 4 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver), from Kaneza Schaal, is very attractive and involves quite a lot of cloth and Arabic calligraphy. The projections are thoughtful, I liked seeing Omar ibn Said's image from an ambrotype on the scrim before the piece began, and the way he was brought to life once the music started really worked well. Having the Arabic script projected as if it were being written was also a nice way to emphasize the importance of writing in this story. The costumes too were all covered with writing and it kept this opera from being a simple period piece. Having Omar enter from the audience dressed in contemporary clothing, and transforming himself into this character by putting on his costume on stage was effective, and drew us in right away. The dancing, choreographed by Kiara Ben, was often full of joy. The Ancestral Figure portrayed by Jermaine McGhee spun ecstatically in more than one scene.

The music has lots of West African drums, including the tar, the ghaval, the talking drum, and the djembes. There is also a focus on strings, there is even a viola solo at the beginning of Act I. A variety of influences could be heard, from spirituals to blues, but it is definitely an opera, with beautiful, sweeping lyricism. Conductor John Kennedy kept everyone together.

The 32 choristers sounded unified throughout the opera. It was especially moving to have them in the audience for the last scene, singing all around us. The rest of the cast was solid from top to bottom. Tenor Barry Banks has such a bright, sweet tone, that was absolutely disturbing as the auctioneer in Act I, Scene 3. He reappears as Taylor in Act II, sounding as lovely as ever. Baritone Daniel Okulitch plays both of Omar's masters, Johnson and Owen, and sounds strong.

_75A4890Mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven is haunting as Omar's mother Fatima, her voice is dramatic and very clean. Soprano Brittany Renee, as fellow enslaved person Julie, also has a crystalline sound with a good heft to it. Her scene with Omar where she reveals her father was also a Muslim was very sympathetic. Best of all is tenor Jamez McCorkle (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) in the title role. His voice is so pretty and clear, and his part is heartrending.

* Tattling * 
The audience was focused and quiet, I heard no electronic noise, people with phones out were admonished as were those who talked.

There were at least three people that were not able to make it through the last scene, and one even climbed over other people to get to the aisle.