Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Aida (Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) look positive as far as singing is concerned.
* Notes *
The most spectacular part of San Francisco Opera's new Aida is undoubtedly the singing, with the orchestra coming in as a close second. Last night's opening performance features the elegant work of contemporary artist RETNA but Francesca Zambello's production is stark and static.
RETNA's art is clearly influenced by calligraphy and graffiti, and it is heartening to see San Francisco Opera engage a younger and more diverse scenic designer than usual. Some of the scenes are quite striking while others are less so. There are a lot of grey walls, monumental painted designs, and bold lighting choices in blocks of color. The triumphal march scene of Act II Scene 2 (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) is disappointing, except for the final flash of glitter, while Act III, which features a huge moon swirled with clouds, three enormous calligraphic cutouts, and lovely blue lighting was much more visually arresting.
The first half did not have pauses to switch the four scenes but the second had two after both scene changes. The energy level always goes down in these moments, people turn on their cell phones or start talking, the music starts again, and it takes at least a minute to get back into the world of the opera again.
Zambello focuses on the human dramas of the piece, and eschews the cliches of elephants and sphinxes. The ballet was embarrassingly uncool, soldiers hopped around cheerfully as they threw around a lady captive in the triumphal march scene. The boy acrobats in the scene before in the chamber of Amneris was much more on point.
There was quite a bit of simple standing and singing, Zambello never gets in the way of the singers, and this cast is vocally powerful. It was gratifying to hear former Adlers Leah Crocetto and Brian Jadge in the two lead roles of Aida and Radames, they've come so far in the last few years and watching them develop over time has been great. Crocetto has a gorgeous legato and her voice commands attention, even though her acting does leave something to be desired. Jadge sounded strong throughout. The duet at the end, with the two of them sitting in front of a grey yet iridescent wall was the high point of the evening, both singers sounding beautifully sweet.
Ekaterina Semenchuk made for a fine Amneris, her voice is more delicate than Crocetto's, but has both rich creaminess and brilliance. Her appearance at the end of the opera above the protagonists -- she is shown through the scrim -- was decidedly odd. George Gagnidze gave a commanding performance as Amonasro, while Raymond Aceto's Ramfis sounded a bit shaky, at least at first.
The three small solo roles were taken by current Adlers. The King of Egypt seemed to sit a little low for Anthony Reed, Toni Marie Palmertree sounded more comfortable as a Priestess, and Pene Pati sounded wonderful as a Messenger. One looks forward to hearing these emerging talents in more meaty roles in the years to come.
* Tattling *
The orchestra level of the opera house and the boxes looked completely full. It was relatively quiet, someone around Row Z Seat 124 had a mishap with Siri on his phone, she couldn't understand what the overture was saying, apparently.
* Notes *
The November/December run of Aida at San Francisco Opera opened last night with Maestro Giuseppe Finzi at the helm and a bevy of new principal singers. The orchestra sounded rather pretty but not perfectly secure, there was some slight squeaking from the woodwinds, brief fuzzy moments in the brass, and the finale of Act II was not exactly together. Though comparisons are odious, it is difficult not to compare this cast with the one that opened the season in September. On the whole, this group was more balanced as far as both singing and acting is concerned.
Somehow the performance did not coalesce, even though the individuals involved are all talented. Tenor Brian Jagde made the most of the small role of the messenger, and Leah Crocetto sounded robust yet mysterious as the priestess. Christian Van Horn made for a powerful the King of Egypt, and Eric Owens was likewise strong as Ramfis. Quinn Kelsey was beautifully lyrical as Amonasro, his characterization is markedly different than Marco Vratogna's, but still formidable.
Carlo Ventre had a lot of volume as Radames, his voice is reedy, and has a weeping quality to it, almost as if he was sobbing out the lines. Guang Yang (Amneris) was also rather loud, her voice flexible, but she seemed to rush at a few points. Michele Capalbo obviously understood every word she sang as Aida, and nuanced her voice appropriately. She too has a large, dark voice, but she was not always smooth, there were catches and gasps here and there. During "Ritorna vincitor" in Act I we heard drilling and banging coming from backstage.
* Tattling *
Latecomers talked a great deal as they waited in balcony standing room to be seated. A mobile phone rang right before the words "Immenso Ftah" are sung in Act I, and watch alarms were heard at each hour. During intermission I heard a ridiculous woman complain in Mandarin about how fat Capalbo was, and her companion corrected her, saying that it was Yang that was the heavier one. She only responded that no, they were both fat. After this, someone was nice enough to give me a ticket for the Balcony Circle, but unfortunately people talked aloud throughout. The French speakers in Row D Seats 13 and 15 were particularly chatty.
Baritone Marco Vratogna (pictured left in San Francisco, note trousers and shoes) just finished singing Amonasro in the season opening run of Aida at San Francisco Opera. He is scheduled to sing Jack Rance in La Fanciulla del West at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Ezio in Attila at La Scala in June. The Opera Tattler and the Last Chinese Unicorn met Marco with a rather raucous group of friends for dinner at Jardinière after his final performance of Aida last night.
How did you get involved with opera in the first place?
As a joke! I started singing in clubs and places like that, and got a lot of encouragement. I had a deal with my father that he would pay for my training for a year, and I would have to show some sort of success.
It has clearly worked out! Are there singers in your family?
My father's father was a tenor, he won a singing competition and got an engagement to sing Tosca in Rome. He couldn't do it, because, unfortunately, my grandmother became ill with multiple sclerosis.
What do you love about singing opera?
Everything! Especially the adrenaline rush of being on stage.
You sing a lot of villains such as Jago, Macbeth, and Attila. Which one do you identify with the most and why? Is this your favorite role to sing musically?
I don't really identify with these villains, except that they are all powerful men. My favorite is Macbeth because this role has many layers, is very intense, and is different in every moment.
Is it more fun to play the bad guy? Don't you ever want to get the girl though?
Yes, it is fun! No, you see what happens to the tenor! [Gestures to the next table at Marcello Giordani, Radames in Aida]
Do you have a dream role?
Rigoletto! This dream is coming true soon, I sing it in 2012. The opera is a masterpiece, and Rigoletto is the culmination of all the great Verdi baritone roles.
People are already saying that you were born to sing Rigoletto. How will you prepare for this role? Do you typically do a lot of research when learning new roles to try to understand your character both musically and psychologically?
I do research and read. Hugo's Le roi s'amuse is historically based, so my job is find the true story in that, to show you who the real person was.
You are a very physical performer, embodying your roles. Does this come naturally or have you studied movement?
Naturally. People want reality, so in a sense you just have to be yourself.
Are you excited about singing Attila at La Scala? Why is the La Scala audience so notoriously aggressive, booing and cheering with such fervor?
There is such a history at La Scala, the biggest stars have performed there, so the expectations are very high. The audience is crazy for opera.
You and Maestro Luisotti are very good friends. How is he to work with?
I met Nicola in 2001 for Stiffelio at Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi, in Trieste. He is great with singers.
Who would win in a game of thumb war? [OT and LCU demonstrate, and LCU promptly wins]
Me, of course!
How long has Luisotti had that long-sleeved navy polo?
At least 10 years. Nicola has a uniform! It is important, so that he can be identified as the leader, which he is, as the Maestro.
Do you have a favorite opera house?
San Francisco. The audience is responsive and knowledgeable. They can distinguish talent.
What singers do you admire and respect?
Baritones Ettore Bastianini and Piero Cappuccilli; tenors Franco Corelli and Aureliano Pertile; and sopranos Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas.
Complete this sentence. My idea of happiness is...
What do you do when you are not singing?
I am working on an electric and solar powered yacht business.
Here are some stereotypes about Italian men and you tell us if they apply to you:
Italian men like to eat pasta.
Italian men are passionate, hot blooded and jealous.
Italian men are spoiled by their mamas.
Italian men wear speedos, gold shoes, and tight pants.
Yes, in Italy all the football players wear gold shoes! Nice!
Italian men do not like to open doors and close windows.
I don't open the door, but I do close the window!
* Notes *
The 88th season of San Francisco Opera opened in gaudy splendor with Aida last night. The ostentatious production, designed by Zandra Rhodes and directed by Jo Davies, did not fail to delight. The backstage noise of moving the sets was audible to the audience, and the flow of the masses of people was not always well-motivated. However, the dancing children in the first scene of Act II, and the gymnasts and cloth elephant in the scene that followed were absolutely wonderful. Nicola Luisotti conducted with passion. The low strings had some beautiful moments, specifically, the cello solo in "Ritorna vincitor," the violas during the ballet, and the basses near the end of the opera. The woodwinds were pretty, and the trumpets sounded clear. There were a few synchronization problems with the orchestra and singers, especially in the ensembles. Unsurprisingly, the chorus held together best when they did not have to move and sing at the same time. Adlers David Lomelí and Leah Crocetto both made fine contributions as the Messenger and Priestess, respectively. Crocetto's creamy yet metallic voice cut through from backstage with an eerie effectiveness.
Christian Van Horn (King of Egypt), Hao Jiang Tian (Ramfis), and Marco Vratogna (Amonasro) all were appropriate for their roles, both in acting and singing. Vratogna was almost beast-like, his voice is sturdy and he certainly seemed dangerous. On the other hand, Micaela Carosi was rather wooden in the title role. Her voice, while warm and resonant in her lower register, is not unlike fingernails on a chalkboard when she pushes too hard for the top notes. Marcello Giordani was infuriating in the same way, his "Celeste Aida" began ravishingly, but the higher, sustained notes, while powerful, lacked beauty. He also showed fatigue during his duet with Aida in Act III, but pulled it together for the very end, which was lovely. Dolora Zajick dominated the second half of the show, her Amneris was incandescent in Act IV.
* Tattling *
The opening night crowd was ill-behaved. Three young women in ZZ 112-116 would not stop talking, or posting photographs to Facebook on their mobile devices. Three Francophones behind me in standing room also felt it necessary to talk during the first half of the opera, though managed to be silent for the second half. Rather annoyingly enough, my hairdo disrupted Act II Scene 1, somehow I did not secure it properly and a cascade of flowers fell from my head. I could not stop myself from laughing, out of embarrassment, one imagines.
* Notes *
The orchestra sounded lovely under Nicola Luisotti in the final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Aida yesterday afternoon. The woodwinds were particularly good, especially the oboe and clarinet. Zandra Rhodes' bright and colorful production is coming together, and it was nice to see everyone transformed and everything in order after attending three previous rehearsals. There is some beautiful singing, but it might just be Dolora Zajick's show, as her Amneris thus far has been commanding. The opera opens the 2010-2011 season this Friday, and by all indications, it should be a wonderful spectacle.
* Tattling *
The line to get into the rehearsal formed before noon. Most of the attendees in Box B were rather ill-behaved. Not only did some arrive after the music started, was there even talking, and removal of shoes. The woman next to me wore an enormous floppy hat that she thankfully removed during the actual performance. She may have texted whilst no music was occurring, but it was difficult to discern given that she was on my right side.
There was a shocking amount of hooting and hollering after arias and at the end of scenes. Luisotti had to silence the audience after Act I with "I'm sorry to inconvenience you, but we have to start now." He did not have his customary white sweater on during the performance. Thankfully it was draped over his navy blue shirt when he came out to bow.
* Notes *
A revival of Aida opened earlier this month at the Metropolitan Opera, and the Opera Tattler attended last Saturday's matinée at a score desk. The orchestra sounded tastefully restrained under Daniele Gatti, but not without emotion. The tempi and the dynamic nuances were unmistakable, and the playing was fairly clean and rarely overwhelmed the singers. The chorus was very much in unison, synchronized with each other and the orchestra.
Stefan Kocán sounded both creaky and shaky as Il Re, whereas Carlo Guelfi (Amonasro) was much more authoritative and commanding. Johan Botha's hefty voice is not particularly sweet, and his attempts at dolce and dolcissimo were not exactly on the mark. As Radamès, Botha was able to make distinctions in the dynamics, yet be heard. Dolora Zajick (Amneris) was cold, especially at first, but her "L'aborrita rivale a me sfuggia" was incredible. In the title role, Violeta Urmana had a range of expression in her voice, she could sound completely insane or absolutely delicate. The chorus and the three leads came together beautifully for "Immenso Ftha" at the very end.
* Tattling *
The seating on the sides of the Family Circle confused more than one person, and I was asked more than once if I was in a given person's seat. I tried my best to explain that I was at a score desk, and that it was unlikely that he or she would want to sit where the stage could not be seen anyway. There was a minor altercation between a young lady and an elderly one, it seems that people can be quite cantankerous about the seating.
There was lots and lot of applause at the beginning of the Triumphal March, perhaps because of the horses used in this production. One is tempted to see The Met: Live in HD broadcast of Aida this Saturday.
* Notes *
Seattle Opera's Aida closed yesterday at McCaw Hall. The production, directed by Robin Guarino, was suitably grand. Michael Yeargan's set was attractive, the background of the pyramids was especially lovely. The scene changes were, however, not seamless. The curtain was brought down for a few minutes at a time, and the audience lost interest as we waited, lowering the intensity of the performance. Even so, the costumes from Peter J. Hall were striking, in keeping with the style of the set, and displayed a command of palette. For instance, Aida's first costume in teal and rose contrasted well with Amneris' costume of coral and turquoise, yet the effect struck a perfect balance, and did not look tired or ugly in any way. Robert Wierzel's lighting enhanced the production, and made the set seem to glow. The Donald Byrd's choreography was a bit transparent at times. Having servants walk around as if they were Ancient Egyptian paintings simply made me think of The Bangles. Nonetheless, some of the dancing was quite good, especially the solo in Act I Scene 2.
The orchestra was in fine form under debuting conductor Riccardo Frizza. They did have some problems being exactly with the chorus in Act I. The horns and trumpets were very close to being in tune during the Triumphal March, and played better than usual. Vocally, the performance was good but not great. Mezzo-soprano Priti Gandhi sounded tentative as the High Priestess, though her voice does have a pleasing lucidity. Karl Marx Reyes sang the small role of the messenger nicely. Luiz-Ottavio Faria (Ramfis) was a bit thin, and occasionally difficult to hear over the orchestra. He did sing well in the Act I finale. As Amonasro, Charles Taylor was not commanding, and one wonders why he is in the A cast rather than Richard Paul Fink. Taylor's voice is pretty, but was, at times rather gravelly for a baritone, and does not compare favorably to Fink's rich, full tone. I am unsure why former Merolino Joseph Rawley (King of Egypt) made almost no impression on me at all, just as before as Curio in Giulio Cesare a few seasons ago. Though not imposing, he sang well, though not exceptionally. Antonello Palombi was a bit uneven as Radames, he could be quite loud, but if he happened to be upstage he could sound muffled. His voice paired nicely with Aida's, having a reedy and vulnerable quality.
Lisa Daltirus started off shrill and screeching in the title role, and I was worried I would dislike her as much as Norah Amsellem (the tone-deaf soprano in Seattle Opera's Il Puritani earlier this year) or Andrea Gruber (who was to share this role with Daltirus, but mysteriously was replaced). Daltirus was always in tune, but her breathing was very audible and she showed some strain in her voice, especially at the top. Her lower range is pretty and she sang Act I's "Ritorna vincitor!" beautifully. The star of the evening, however, was Stephanie Blythe (Amneris). Blythe has good control and a warm but piercing quality that is impressive. She does have moments where her voice is less than creamy, a certain coarseness, but she did overshadow all the other singers.
* Tattling *
The audience was better than the typical Seattle Opera audience. There was no late seating, and the house looked completely full. Even standing room looked sold out. Someone was speaking during the first overture, but was quickly hushed, and after that only whispering was noted. There were no cellular phone rings, but there was a watch alarm near me at each hour, and at 10pm, I heard no less than 4 different watches sounding at different times.
December 4 2008- January 15 2009: Don Carlo
January 16- February 3 2009: The Makropoulos Case
February 5-25 2009: Tristan und Isolde
March 10-27 2009: Alcina
March 24- April 4 2009: I Due Foscari
April 7- May 10 2009: Il Viaggio a Reims
April 24- May 17 2009: The Rake's Progress
May 22- June 12 2009: Assassino nella Cattedrale
June 6-17 2009: A Midsummer Night's Dream
June 20- July 8 2009: Aida
July 13-17 2009: Eugene Onegin (Bolshoi)
September 19- October 6 2009: Orfeo
October 15-30 2009: Idomeneo
La Scala announced their 2008-2009 season today. Dolora Zajick is singing Eboli in Don Carlo. Waltraud Meier sings Isolde, with Daniel Barenboim conducting. Barenboim also conducts Aida next season. Salvatore Licitra shares the role of Radames (Aida) with Walter Fraccaro.The production of The Rake's Progress is the same Lepage one inspired by Giant we had in San Francisco this season. David Daniels sings opposite of Rosemary Joshua in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Perhaps if one still has some good-will toward Seattle Opera because of their latest offering, and would like to purchase tickets to Aida and Elektra, their online pre-sale starts today at 9am. The title role of Aida is being shared by Lisa Daltirus and Ana Lucrecia García (instead of Andrea Gruber), though I imagine the main draw is still Stephanie Blythe as Amneris. The production, from San Diego Opera, opens August 2nd and runs until the 23rd. Elektra brings the debuts of Janice Baird and Jayne Casselman. Baird is to sing Brünnhilde in Seattle's 2009 Ring, and just made her debut at the Met as Isolde. Elektra runs from October 18th to November 1st. I'm sure I will not attend, as the San Francisco Opera season will be in full swing. I am torn about the Aida though, it all depends on how busy August ends up being.
October 2 2008- July 24 2009: Macbeth
October 4-11 2008: Das Gehege / Salome
October 5 2008- July 13 2009: Norma
October 19-25 2008: Die Bassariden
October 23- November 2 2008: Eugene Onegin
November 1-6 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
November 8 2008- May 21 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
November 10 2008- January 31 2009: Wozzeck
November 22 2008- March 27 2009: Tamerlano
November 24 2008- July 26 2009: Luisa Miller
November 28 2008- July 7 2009: Werther
December 9-14 2008: Doktor Faustus
December 13-18 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- May 31 2009: La Bohème
December 21-28 2008: Die Zauberflöte
December 23 2008- June 15 2009: La Traviata
December 31 2008- February 24 2009: Die Fledermaus
January 4-10 2009: Carmen
January 19- July 14 2009: Palestrina
February 2-18 2009: Elektra
February 7- July 22 2009: Nabucco
February 20-26 2009: La Calisto
February 23- July 6 2009: Lucrezia Borgia
March 1- July 31 2009: Falstaff
March 14- July 30 2009: Otello
April 8- July 9 2009: Jenůfa
April 9-12 2009: Parsifal
April 26- May 2 2009: Così fan tutte
May 13-15 2009: Madama Butterfly
May 16-23 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 8-30 2009: Aida
July 5-19 2009: Lohengrin
July 13-20 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
June 14- July 30 2009: Idomeneo
Nicola Luisotti is conducting a new production of Macbeth next season at the Bavarian State Opera. Željko Lučić sings the title role, Nadja Michael sings Lady Macbeth, and Dimitri Pittas is Macduff. Anna Netrebko sings in the May performances of La Bohème, with Joseph Calleja as her Rodolfo. John Relyea sings Colline. Relyea is also singing the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro, with Lucas Meachem as the Count. Angela Gheorghiu is Violetta Valéry in the June performances of La Traviata, singing opposite Jonas Kaufmann. Simon Keenlyside is Germont. Paolo Gavanelli sings the title role of Nabucco during the Münchner Opernfestspiele 2009. Earlier in the year he also sings Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.
September 20- October 28 2008: Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci
September 22- October 10 2008: The Barber of Seville
October 10- November 12 2008: Partenope
October 22- November 22 2008: Aida
November 10- December 1 2008: Boris Godunov
November 27-30 2008: Riders to the Sea
June 12- July 10 2009: Madam Butterfly
Rosemary Joshua sings the title role of Partenope at English National Opera next season.
August 2-23 2008: Aida
August 16 2008: International Wagner Competition
October 18- November 1 2008: Elektra
January 10-24 2009: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
February 21- March 7 2009: Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung
May 2-16 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
I may avoid Aida, as Andrea Gruber is in the title role, and her vibrato is overwhelming. I am not terribly fond of Les Pêcheurs de Perles, but William Burden will sing Nadir, so I might just go, considering it is also during the San Francisco Opera hiatus. I am most interested in hearing Bluebeard's Castle, as I missed this in Los Angeles. John Relyea is singing the title role in Seattle. Mariusz Kwiecien is singing the Count in Figaro, but the rest of the cast may not be up to his level.
January 26- February 3 2008: Tannhäuser
February 16-24 2008: Maria Stuarda
March 22- April 2 2008: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
April 12-23 2008: Aida
May 3-11 2008: Les Pêcheurs de Perles