Ariodante Log

13. June 2008: Final Dress Rehearsal
Opera Tattler Review

15. June 2008: Opening
Opera Tattler Review

18. June 2008: From Box Q
* People clapped for Ruth Ann Swenson when she entered, interrupting the music.
* The floor is squeaky, especially when the dancers are doing pas jetés.
* Susan Graham missed a line in the duet at the end of Act I and looked visibly confused.
* Some audience members whispered during the opera, then at the end whilst clapping, stated it was a once in a lifetime performance.
* There was some talking coming from back stage in Act III, it felt like a slap in the face.
* Ruth Ann had a better performance this time than the opening.

21. June 2008: Cuts in this Production (Besides the 3 Ballets)
* Recitative in Act I Scene VII between Il Re and Odoardo
* Recitative in Act II Scene IV between Polinesso and Dalinda
* Dalinda's Arioso in Act II Scene IV "Se tanto piace al cor"
* Il Re's Aria in Act III Scene IV "Al sen ti stringo, e parto"
* Part of Lurcanio and Dalinda's Duetto in Act III Scene IX

24. June 2008: In the Heavens without a Score
* A late watch alarm sounded during the overture.
* Ruth Ann Swenson's held low note (an F?) in the first aria was strange.
* Verónica Cangemi had a rough start, both shaky and gasping.
* The horn trill in "Voli colla sua tromba la fama" near the beginning of the dal segno was not clear. 
* "Scherza infida" was wonderful, but there were high pitched noises coming from the microphones above the orchestra pit at the end.
* A cellular phone rang during the recicative between Lurcanio and Il Re in Act II Scene VIII.
* I was introduced to bassoonist Rufus Oliver.

27. June 2008: Checking the Cuts
* Confirmed all the cuts listed above.
* The B section and dal segno are omitted from an aria sung by Ginvera in Act III Scene IV.
* Ruth Ann Swenson's held low note in the first aria is at the end of her cadenza. She hit it exactly the same way, an indeterminate pitch that seems slightly too low for her.
* I had a bout of coughing during "Prendi da questa mano," so left for a minute to get some water.
* Cangemi was better in "Il Primo Ardor" this time, though her high notes were harsh in her Act III aria.  
* There was a distinct high-pitched sound coming from above the orchestra in "Scherza Infida" again.
* The horns sounded great, "Voli colla sua tromba la fama" was done very well. There was one hilarious intonation error just before Act II Scene VI.
* During Lurcanio's Act II aria, a man walked from the left side of the balcony to the right to get to the restroom, jangling his keys the whole way. He was asked to be quiet by an usher.
* I met sfmike of Civic Center in standing room, and was introduced to Patrick Vaz of The Reverberate Hills.

1. July 2008: Standing Room in the Orchestra Again
* It is the first half of the recitative in Act I Scene VII that is cut, from the words "Vanne pronto, Odoardo."
* The whole of the recitative "Lo stral ferì nel segno" in Act II Scene IV is cut.
* An exchange between Lurcanio and Dalinda in their Duetto in Act III Scene IX is cut, omitting from "Dunque amasti? O Dio, che sento."
* The choreography for this production is artificial, something I hadn't noticed before as I haven't really been watching the opera lately, only listening.
* Ruth Ann's held low note in the first aria at the end of her cadenza was on and sounded correct.
* The horns were fine, only slightly fuzzy at a few points at the more difficult parts.
* Cangemi was good. Her last aria was hysterical, but not inappropriate.
* Susan Graham fell before her second to last entrance, but she wasn't entirely on stage yet. She maintained her composure.  
* There was a distinct high-pitched sound coming from above the orchestra in the middle of Eric Owens' second aria, "Invida sorte avara."
* Heavy breathing was noted in standing room, but people were rather well behaved this evening. Someone did speak to himself, but not during the singing.
* Some walkie talkie noise was noted during Act II, but there were no other electronic sounds from the audience, at least, not around me.
* A reader of this blog spoke to me in the standing room line, it was nice to hear that I entertain people.
* I met M. C- of The Standing Room in standing room line, but did not get to speak to him as much as I would have liked.

6. July 2008: Final Performance
* Before the performance started Franklin "Pitch" Johnson, Jr. handed off a baton to John Gunn as the new chairman of the SF Opera Board.
* Someone in Box T answered her cellular phone during Ruth Ann's first aria, though she did exit the box before doing so.
* The singing was very strong as was the playing, as one would expect for the last performance of a run.
* Walkie talkie noise was noted in Act III just before "Da dubbia infausta sorte," at least no was music interrupted.
* A few high pitched noises were noted, though not at crucial moments.
* Ruth Ann Swenson received the San Francisco Opera medal, she gave a short speech and she sounded distinctly like a New Yorker.
* After the opera I waited at the stage door and introduced myself to Ruth Ann Swenson and Susan Graham. I felt highly absurd.

Eric Owens Interview

Eric-owens Bass-baritone Eric Owens is currently singing the role of the King of Scotland in Ariodante at San Francisco Opera until July 6. The Opera Tattler spoke to Owens last Sunday in San Francisco.

You started piano at 6, oboe at 10, and now you are an opera singer. Did you come from a musical family?
No, there aren't any professional musicians in my family. My mother had me take piano lessons, and I'm very glad she did, but at the time it wasn't exciting, practicing and all that. It's a funny story about how I got started with oboe. In junior high my older brother was in band, and I started off on clarinet. At one point an oboe became available because the oboist graduated, and I thought I'd take it up. Since there was only one, I knew I would be first chair. It is a great instrument, but you spend a lot of time making reeds, more time doing that than actually practicing. It makes oboists a little crazy, not that opera singers are exactly sane.

So how did you move from playing oboe professionally at 15 to studying voice?
I loved opera from when I was 10 or 11, but only started singing in choir in high school. The choir director pulled me aside to say I might have something there as far as my voice was concerned. So I took voice lessons at the end of high school and studied voice at Temple University.

Your San Francisco Opera debut was as Lodovico in Otello in 2002, and I remember that as being a crazy production because Ben Heppner withdrew. How was that experience?
It was very exciting! We practically played guess the tenor each night, since there were four different singers as Otello in that run. Pat Racette was a trooper, she barely rehearsed with some of them!

I did not realize you were even in Ariodante, because I was blinded by the prospect of Susan Graham, Ruth Ann Swenson, and Ewa Podleś. When I did notice my first thought was General Leslie Groves (from Doctor Atomic) is singing Handel? The music is so different. But obviously from the panel discussion and from your singing you love Handel. You were able to name Carestini as the castrato that first sang Ariodante and Gustavus Waltz as the first person to sing your role, the King of Scotland, so you did your research. How do you sing such different music? It's easier to research for newer operas, because many of the characters are historical, such as Leslie Groves, and there are tons of documents to look at, in English. That's much simpler than trying to find out information on operas based on older texts, you might look at a source text that isn't exactly in modern French for example, and perhaps that’s more difficult.

As for preparation, I'm lucky to have a strong foundation for my technique from my voice teacher, and I don't go about preparing for a role much differently even though the styles are very different.

In looking at your repertoire, I see you have performed some Handel, starting with Achilla in Giulio Cesare. What other Handel operas have you sung in besides this and Ariodante?
I've sung in Hercules (Hercules) and Jeptha (Zebul). Most of my career has been in the United States, and the Handel-craze is mostly in Europe. I'm not a singer people necessarily associate with Handel, not like David Daniels or Joyce Di Donato. Some singers specialize, but I couldn't do that, it would drive me crazy to sing, say, Rossini, all year long.

I read the score with last night's performance of Ariodante, and I have to say, I have an immense respect for all the singers and musicians involved. I could barely keep up and I was just reading along, I can't imagine having to play or sing that quickly.
Last night I had a moment when I just looked around and there I was, Ruth Ann's dad on stage, and it all sort of sank in and we don't always take time to appreciate how amazing it is.

I believe they cut one of your arias in Ariodante, is that right? It's a rather long opera, even with the cuts it is the longest opera at SF Opera this summer.
Yes, they had to make some cuts to keep it manageable, like you said, it is long. So they've cut some arias, part of a duet, and the ballets. I think they ended up cutting 30-40 minutes of music.

How was creating the role of General Leslie Groves in Doctor Atomic? Did you know you have the best line in all of opera?
I do?
"Three pieces of chocolate cake, 300 calories."
It was great working with John Adams and Peter Sellars. When I sing the line about the cake, it is like having a therapy session in front of a few thousand people, since I'm not exactly a small guy. Groves didn't get to be the top military leader in charge of the Manhattan Project by being nice, but that part is meant to humanize him, and I think it does.

You just had your Lyric Opera of Chicago debut with this role, and you will be singing Leslie Groves at the Met this October. Is it your Met premiere? Are you excited about being in a simulcast?
Yes, that will be my Met premiere. It's all very exciting, especially since it is a totally new production. I am also singing Sarastro at the Met in December.

Is it the production with all the puppets in it?
Right, it's the Julie Taymor production of The Magic Flute.

Could you talk a little about your experience in Grendel? I know it had some issues, it was supposed to have a world premiere at LA Opera on May 27, 2006, but it had to be pushed back to June 8, 2006. Do you think you'll sing it again?
Grendel really changed the trajectory of my career. You know, I usually end up playing the father or the king, and I don't think people knew I could sing something like Grendel, where I'm on stage for nearly 3 hours. It was a great experience.

The production had a lot of computers and motors, and they weren't talking to one another by the time we were supposed to premiere. That part was frustrating, so much time was taken up by tech that we didn't have all the time we needed to rehearse all the way through.

I know Julie Taymor wants Grendel to be performed again, and I hope they do it in the next 10 years, while I can still sing it.

The reviews were very good, Alex Ross wrote some really nice things about you in The New Yorker.
That was so great! I was a cartoon in The New Yorker. I think the only thing that could be better is being on Sesame Street. That would be so cool.

SF Opera's Ariodante Media Round-Up

Production Web Site | Press Release with Photographs | World of Opera

Singers: Susan Graham | Ruth Ann Swenson | Sonia Prina | Verónica Cangemi | Richard Croft | Eric Owens | Andrew Bidlack

Previews: San Francisco Examiner | Panel Discussion | Dress Rehearsal

Reviews of Previous Performances of this Production: Santa Fe Opera (1987) | City Opera (1999) | San Diego (2002)

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's 2008 Performances: The Opera Tattler | The Rehearsal Studio | MikeOpera | Contra Costa Times | San Francisco Chronicle | Opera Warhorses | | BayAreaReporter | San Jose Mercury News | Christina Waters | Zauberwelt | Out West Arts | SFist | Kinderkuchen for the FBI | Exotic and Irrational Entertainment | Prima la musica, poi le parole | Civic Center | Not for Fun Only

Opening of Ariodante at San Francisco Opera

Ariodante, Photo by Terrence McCarthy * Notes *
Today's matinée performance of Ariodante was the San Francisco Opera premiere of Händel's 33rd opera, which was first performed at Covent Garden in 1735. John Copley's production is slightly busy, there is a lot of movement to offset the supposed statis of the libretto. For the most part this was not distracting, though certain singers were noticeably quieter when they were made to move upstage during their arias. The sets, by John Conklin, are elegant and feature a large upstage frame, which alternately has different backdrops and props in it. The effect is often like a gigantic diorama. Some of the classical sculptures or architecture of the set were at odds with the Michael Stennett's sumptuous costumes, which had a more Baroque Venetian look, as they were based on the paintings of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. There were also several walls painted to look like marble that moved around to change the scenes, and this was visually excellent, though occasionally noisy. The choreography of Kenneth von Heidecke was innocuous enough, and was well-executed. Duane Schuler's lighting was complementary to the backdrops, the one of clouds and blue sky almost looked as if was pulsating, so vivid were the colors. The production made no overt reference to Scotland, though this is where the libretto is set.

Patrick Summers could never be accused of conducting in a sluggish manner, some of his tempi were brutally fast. There was a sour note in the brass section during "Voli colla sua tromba la fama," and a horn was off during the sinfonia at the end of Act I. However, the most beautiful moment of the opera was Ariodante's aria "Scherza infida" in Act II, and this was in no small part due to the orchestra. Susan Graham was incredible in the title role, her tone pure and bright. Graham was able to sing the same words over and over without being boring in the least, coloring the notes in an array of shades. She also looked dashing, her statuesque height is to her advantage in this role. Ruth Ann Swenson was lovely as Ginevra, her creamy voice showed little strain, though she was off from the orchestra for a few seconds in Act I. Sonia Prina had a promising debut as the villain Polinesso, her voice has a good heft and a richness, though she did have moments of difficulty. Her second aria in Act I ("Spero per voi") was particularly fine. She looked exceedingly boyish, though she is not tall. Verónica Cangemi (Dalinda) certainly had her work cut out for her, given how great the other female singers were. At her best Cangemi has a nice voice, clear and cold, with sufficient volume. At her worst she sounded ragged and a bit shrill, but this was rare.

Richard Croft was strong as Lurcanio, very sweet, though not terribly nuanced. Andrew Bidlack (Odoardo) acted well and was not overly loud, as some young singers can be. Eric Owens looked regal as the King of Scotland, his voice is not opulent and is slightly quiet. He was completely convincing in his heartbreaking Act II aria, "Invida Sorte Avara." It was passionate without being sentimental. As far as I could tell, Anders Froehlich did not sing in the role of Polinesso's squire, but he was menacing in his movement. The chorus was superb as usual, and ended the opera just wonderfully.

* Tattling *
In the last 5 minutes of Peter Susskind's opera talk, an elderly fellow with a cane insisted that he sit in the third row of the orchestra, despite the fact that the only free seat was not on the aisle, and the three people had to stand up to let him through. 30 seconds after the talk ended, this man turned to me and stated that I was in his seat. I told him I was getting up, though did not mention I was only waiting for the pair next to me to leave, as I hardly wanted to step over them. One of the ladies explained that orchestra seating was open for the lecture, to which he retorted "Well, it's not the lecture now." After a trip to the powder room, I returned to the third row to check just which seat it was, and the man was not in C 105 where I had been sitting. I am unsure why he took the trouble to bully me out of his seat, but I suppose he must be a subscriber to the M, N series and it probably took him years to get to that particular spot.

David Gockley has recorded a new message played before the performances. It does not mention turning off electronic devices, and I noticed there was a cellular phone ring during the da capo of Dalinda's first aria. There were no watch alarms on the hour, at least. Stage directions were audible before Polinesso's aria in Act II. The supertitles were apparently arch, for the audience laughed at them more than once.

To my disappointment the most absurd visual element was removed from the production. At the dress rehearsal there was an over-sized sculpture of a horse's head resting on the right side of the upstage frame during Ginevra's Act II mad scene. It did not read well, as the ear and mane were not visible, and at first I thought it was a frog or perhaps a hippopotamus. Then as Ginevra grew more frenzied, a second horse head was lowered from the ceiling. I did not find this much sillier than the colossal Venus head that has a strange forehead that appears in Act III or the extremely large Corinthian capital that also shows up in that space.

Final Dress Rehearsal of Ariodante

Copleysinging * Notes *
If the final dress rehearsal of Ariodante last night was any indication, I will likely go to as many performances of it as possible. The cast is strong, of course Susan Graham and Ruth Ann Swenson are wonderful, but debuting Sonia Prina, Veronica Cangemi, and Richard Croft are not disappointing either.

The orchestra sounded pretty good, the brass section was slightly rough at times, but not as much as in the premiere of Das Rheingold. Patrick Summers took the tempi quite fast. The style of playing was appropriate for the type of music at hand.

The production certainly looks like it is from the 80s, which can be pleasantly absurd, but more discussion on that after the opening, which is, incidentally, Sunday, June 15th.

* Tattling *
Before the rehearsal a person behind me insisted that if "the terrorists" decided to bomb the War Memorial Opera House, it would be no great loss, as it is, in his opinion, the worst opera house in the United States as far as acoustics and comfort are concerned. He was also adamant that the duets in Ariodante are very unusual for Baroque opera and he repeated this statement in between acts. It made me think of the duets in Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare, which was just confusing because those earlier works than Ariodante, since Senesino was singing those and Giovanni Carestini sang in the latter.

Yesterday was director John Copley's 75th birthday, and after the bows we sang "Happy Birthday." I've now sung with Ruth Ann Swenson and Susan Graham, which is probably not going to happen again.

Ariodante Panel Discussion

Ariodante-ken-howard Yesterday evening Kip Cranna moderated the last San Francisco Opera Insight Panel Discussion of the season. The three panelists were conductor and Houston Grand Opera's Music Director Patrick Summers, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (Ariodante), and bass-baritone Eric Owens (King of Scotland). Kip Cranna began the evening by asking which opera this summer was in Italian, set in Scotland, and has a mad scene. Evidently Ariodante shares all these qualities with the much more famous Lucia di Lammermoor.

Each panelist was asked about his or her first exposure to the operas of Händel. Maestro Summers first Händel opera was Tamerlano at Indiana University, Ms. Graham's first was Alcina at Paris Opera with two other Händel virgins (Renée Fleming and Natalie Dessay), and Mr. Owen's first was Giulio Cesare at Wolf Trap.

Apparently, both Susan Graham and Eric Owens played piano, and sometimes visualize the keyboard when hitting notes with their voices. This came up when Graham was asked if she improvised ornamentation, which she does not, as she "knows [she] would take the wrong turn." This happened once to her, and she is quite grateful for prompters. The prompter for Ariodante is Jonathan Khuner, and he has learnt Graham's "sign language," which involves miming notes on a piano.

The John Copley production of Ariodante was first done in Santa Fe in 1987, and has since traveled to Dallas (1998), City Opera (1999), and San Diego (2002). Somehow, the ballet costumes for the end of Act II have been lost, so that scene has been cut. Interestingly, each of the acts has a ballet at the end, but none of these will be in the version we will see in San Francisco. Other cuts include two arias and part of a duet, Summers estimated it was about 30 minutes of music that was left out, so each performance will be 3 hours and 30 minutes long, with two intermissions.

Ariodante: Production at San Francisco Opera | Synopsis | Libretto | Arias | Score