Alice Coote

Giulio Cesare at The Met

Giuliocesare_10052s* Notes *
David McVicar's production of Giulio Cesare (Act III pictured left, photograph by Marty Sohl) had a fourth performance at the Metropolitan Opera last night. Having attended no less than six performances of the Met's previous production, it was nice to see that McVicar's offering is much less staid. The shifts in costumes must have been confusing for those not familiar with the music, especially if one was seated far from the stage. Cleopatra, for instance, had everything from a long braid to a bob. The set, designed by Robert Jones, is both quite simple, in that it is transformed using sumptuous cloths, and elaborate, given the mechanized seascape used as a background. Andrew George's campy choreography is a delight. There were many dance moves that I will be practicing at home to Händel's music for hours to come. The more serious scenes did not come off as nicely, Cornelia's blood lust in Act III was alarming, and hearing audience members laugh at this even more so.

Maestro Harry Bicket kept the orchestra in line, neat and square. Having the violin soloist on stage for Act II's "Se in fiorito ameno prato" was charming. One of the horns in the finale did not play particularly well, but the horn soloist made very few errors during "Va tacito e nascosto." The chorus, relegated to the pit, sang well as usual. Guido Loconsolo (Achilla) sounded gritty. Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo) continues to improve as a singer, he is an excellent villain. His voice tends toward pretty and girlish, but he was able to convey the cruelty of his character. Alice Coote's voice contrasted perfectly with Patricia Bardon's, though both are mezzo-sopranos. Coote gasped slightly as Sesto, but was sweet and light, yet still had good volume. Bardon sang a rich, deep, and tragic Cornelia. The gravity of her role is a bit at odds with the production.

Natalie Dessay seemed to be giving the role of Cleopatra her all. She is fully committed to all her movements, and she is a pleasure to watch. She is vocally less consistent, there is an undercurrent of frog-like ugliness to her sound. Her high tessitura can glitter without any harshness, but there were times when her voice seemed to disappear. One of her notes in "V'adoro pupille" was rather strange and out of place. However, her "Piangerò la sorte mia" was lovely. David Daniels was perfectly fine as Giulio Cesare, his singing is robust, though he does have a lot of vibrato. There is a certain smoothness to the transitions between different parts of his voice.

* Tattling *
There were some problems with the white curtains during "Tu la mia stella sei."

In Family Circle there were many watch alarms at each hour and people chatted during the music.

Hercules at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Eric-Owens-Lucy-Crowe-Marckarthur-Johnson-in-Hercules-Dan-Rest * Notes *
The cast for Lyric Opera of Chicago's Hercules is nothing short of impressive. The Thursday matinée performance seemed well-attended, even the lecture from director Peter Sellars was rather full. Sellars certainly expressed a strong conception for how he staged this oratorio, and has both respect and understanding for the work. However, sometimes it is difficult to see past all the artifical miming, especially with the chorus. While the movements were humorous, I suspect one is not supposed to laugh at the lines "Jealousy! Infernal pest!"

The set is attractive, not unlike an elaborate, classically-informed water feature in an outdoor mall. The lighting was rather literal, red when fire or passion was mentioned, blue and green if water was invoked. The costumes were somewhat puzzling, the women looked like they were SCA members in their casual wear, the men vaguely like they were from the Pacific Northwest.

The orchestra lacked crispness in the overture under Harry Bicket. There were parts that were more focused and pretty, and those that were less so. The cello in "There in myrtle shades" was overwhelming, and the first brass part during the triumphal march was somewhat sour.

The chorus was slightly off from the orchestra in the second choral number, especially when the choral soloists sang. The singers did their choreography well. The last chorus, "To them your grateful notes of praise belong," was moving and beautiful.

The principals were all exceedingly fine, both in acting and in singing. Despite being ill, Richard Croft (Hyllus) sounded warm and sweet, though quiet at times. Lucy Crowe was brilliant as Iole, her voice is gorgeous, and "My breast with tender pity swells" was one of the best arias of the afternoon. David Daniels made the most of Lichas, sounding clear and lovely. In the title role, Eric Owens showed a full range of emotions with his scant three arias. The last was particularly stirring. Likewise, Alice Coote effectively displayed her dramatic abilties within the constraints of the Baroque form. Her Dejanira is incredibly human, and her voice has strong low notes and striking high ones.

* Tattling *
A phone rang during the first half of the show. Many audience members in the boxes fell asleep, at one point there was quite the chorus of snores. Worse yet, an elderly couple in Box 9 kept speaking during the music, once in the overture, once during Daniels' first aria, and once during Crowe's first aria. Thankfully, they responded fairly well to being asked to be quiet, and they left at intermission.

Another Look at SF Opera's Werther

SF Opera's Werther Act II, photo by Cory Weaver * Notes *
The San Francisco Opera's penultimate performance of Werther this season was held yesterday evening. From balcony standing room, the balances between the singers and the orchestra were better. Emmanuel Villaume did keep the orchestra together, the sound was gleaming and rich. The chorus of children was also lovely.

It was apparent that all the singers have such beautiful voices, from Susannah Biller in the tiny role of Kätchen, to the title role sung by Ramón Vargas. Perhaps both Vargas and Alice Coote (Charlotte) are more compelling in other repertoire, however they nonetheless were very pleasant to hear.

The set does look rather different from the balcony, many of the projections are lost, but one can see the shadows of the tree branches on the ground in the last scene. The many staircases are also more evident from above. The production is definitely weird and does not follow Goethe's text in a literal sense. This said, I did find the whole thing strangely attractive. Perhaps because I do not care for this novella in the first place, the departures from it did not bother me.

* Tattling * 
The balcony looked fairly full, but I was offered a seat more than once. Unfortunately, since there were empty seats, the audience felt comfortable getting up and moving over during the Act III overture. There was some talking and watch alarms. The most disruptive moments were when people unwrapped their candies during key points in the music. No matter how quiet one tries to be, cellophane always seems to be very loud, and doing this slowly just drags out the noise over a longer period of time. I was especially annoyed when this happened during the Letter Aria.

SF Opera's Werther

Vargas-sf-opera-werther * Notes *
Werther, in a brand new production, opened yesterday evening at San Francisco Opera. The set, designed by Louis Désiré, involves a rather large platform with a grove of telephone poles meant to be trees, lots of stairs, a mountain of luggage, and a creepy basement downstage where Werther lives. Periodically one of two large rectangles would come down, suspended from the ceiling, to indicate the seasons. They seemed to be covered in cheap leaf-motive wallpaper or some chintzy seasonal cotton print. However, the lighting design, from Duane Schuler, pulled all these elements together. The overall effect was both curiously elegant and nightmarish. Francisco Negrin's direction seemed to concentrate on the psychology of Werther himself. The use of live video capture was restrained, and the doubles for Werther were intriguing. One appreciated that there were no projections or other distractions during the overtures.

Emmanuel Villaume conducted the orchestra, which sounded shimmery and full. The strings and harp glimmered, and the brass was warm. It was startling to hear the alto saxophone, but probably only because one is not accustomed to hearing it in opera. The design of the set may have caused the balance to be off on the ground level, and instead of being supported by the instruments, the singers were often overwhelmed. Perhaps it sounded better in the balcony.

Adlers Susannah Biller (Kätchen) and Austin Kness (Brühlmann) looked and sounded lovely in their small roles. Robert MacNeil and Bojan Kneževiċ were charming as Schmidt and Johann. Christian Van Horn, as Charlotte's father, the bailiff, sounded clear. Brian Mulligan was robust as Albert. Heidi Stober (Sophie) chirped and fluttered nicely. Alice Coote made for a vaguely boyish Charlotte, perhaps because of the way she carries her shoulders and neck. Coote has a pleasant, warm tone. Ramón Vargas likewise has a pretty sound, though I did find him more sympathetic in a role like Nemorino than the melodramatic Werther.

* Tattling * 
I had the pleasure of greeting the San Francisco Opera Music Director at intermission, and also managed to find many friends in the press room. The audience was fairly subdued. There was at least one watch alarm at 9pm, and some squeaking from either microphones or hearing aids. Several people commented about how weird the production was, mostly in a negative way. The production team was booed.

Opening of Idomeneo at SF Opera


  * Notes *
The opening performance of Idomeneo at San Francisco Opera started off a bit shaky, but did hit its stride by the second act. John Copley's 1999 production has a very similar look to his Ariodante seen at the War Memorial earlier this year. Certainly this is no surprise, as the productions also share the same set designer and costume designer. John Conklin's set for Idomeneo is fairly quiet, there was less banging and such for the scene changes than in Ariodante. One was not quite sure what to make of the spoils of war hanging from ropes with pulleys in the first scene, but the rest of the set is perfectly reasonable, the backdrops are especially lovely. The costumes, from Michael Stennett, recall Tiepolo, not only in style but in palette.

Runnicles conducted the orchestra crisply enough, the only issues seemed to be a few minor pitch problems from the horns and oboes. Adler Alek Shrader sounded nice as Arbace, despite his youth, which is at odds with the role. In her debut at San Francisco Opera, Iano Tamar (Elettra) was overwhelmed by the orchestra in Act I, but was audible for the rest of the evening. Her voice has a certain smoky fragility, but is appealing. Genia Kühmeier's main stage debut as Ilia was more impressive. Though she has the slightest harshness at the top, her voice is beautifully clear and pure. Her "Se il padre perdei" in Act II was gorgeous.

Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote was exceedingly breathy in Act I, almost gasping. She did look convincingly male as Idamante, though she is perhaps a little shorter than Kühmeier. The rest of her performance was smoother, though it was not completely amazing. On the other hand, tenor Kurt Streit was vocally sensational in the title-role. He did have trouble with his train, it got caught on the set at one point and seemed to trip him. However, his performance was engaging nonetheless, and his Act II aria, "Fuor del mar," was gut-wrenching.

* Tattling * 
There was much whispering in Box A, but it did die down as the evening wore on. One watch alarm was heard three times, but there were no mobile phone rings. Someone did take a flash photograph at the beginning of Act II.

I was able to hear the prompter after Idamante first entered. There was very little backstage noise but a walkie talkie was clearly heard in Act III just after the chorus had gotten to place.

I absolutely loved the horse heads at the end of Act II and giggled hysterically during the applause.


Der Rosenkavalier at Seattle Opera

CarolvanessDieter Kaegi's production of Der Rosenkavalier was revived in Seattle last month. I remember seeing posters for the 1997 performances, in which Angelika Kirchschlager sang the role of Octavian. Alice Coote made her Seattle debut in the role this time around, and her voice was strong. She is petite next to Carol Vaness, but had a suitable boyish demeanor. Julianne Gearhart was cloying as Sophie, her voice so bright it was almost as if she was making fun of the role. Peter Rose was hilarious as Baron Ochs, he danced well, but his low notes were muddled. Carol Vaness was surprisingly inoffensive as the Marschallin, though her diction left something to be desired and she didn't have terribly good control, her acting wasn't bad.

The production itself was quite standard, the set was not elaborate but still traditional. The costumes were beautiful, all in fine rococo style. The choreography was overwrought at times. Baron Ochs' footmen got into many antics in the background, piling into the Marschallin's bed during Act I and chasing the help in Act II. Also in Act II, Valzacchi and Annina sneaked into Herr von Faninal's house and pretty much did a dance with vases while Sophie and Octavian proclaim their love for each other. While these foibles had some humor in them, in the end they were distracting and did not go with the music.


A production of Händel's Alcina from Stuttgart opened yesterday at San Francisco Opera. It garnered enthusiastic and cheerful (perhaps that was just me) booing at the end when the production designer, Anna Viebrock, came out for her curtain call.

What a self-indulgent, pretentious, inaccessible staging! It wasn't so much the modern dress, or the little junk room with peeling wallpaper, or even the huge and silly frame that was meant to be a mirror that really bothered me. They just made all the characters less than human, doing illogical things like undressing when angry, throwing things while music was going on, scuttling across the stage, and so forth. It made people laugh, when there was beautiful music going on, and seriously detracted from any sort of edification that could be happening.

Catherine Naglestad, as Alcina, had the strongest voice. It has rough edges and her diction isn't the best, but her projection is incredible. She did move like a wounded animal, especially when she first appeared intertwined with Ruggiero, shuffling along the floor. Part of the problem is that Naglestad is an adorably chubby girl with wide hips and skinny calves, so when she was barefoot for most of the production, wearing her innumerable mid-calf length black cocktail dresses, she just looked awkward and inelegant. The line between hip and foot was no good for an enchanting sorceress, however cute. Then they had her shuffling around on the floor for no reason, reminiscent of spiders.

The choreography and staging favored falling or throwing bodies and objects to the ground for no apparent reason, and frenetic stomping, hitting walls, choking, binding, and other such movements.

There were also two gunshots fired, that were quite loud and unnecessary.

Alice Coote was a fine Ruggiero, her voice warm and dark, and her movements utterly boyish. On the other hand, Catriona Smith was a prissy Morgana, and her upper range was absolutely shrill. They had her sing some of her part on the floor, and she doesn't have the voice to carry this at all.

The music was sublime. Roy Goodman conducted well, and it sounded very much together.