Brian Jagde

SF Opera's Manon Lescaut

_T8A0032* Notes *
A very loud revival of Manon Lescaut opened at San Francisco Opera last night. All the singing was strong, and the orchestra sounded exuberant under the baton of former San Francisco Music Director Nicola Luisotti.

My main memory of this production way back in 2006 is of Karita Mattila in the title role doing the splits in a very blue room. Soprano Lianna Haroutounian (pictured in Act II, photograph by Cory Weaver) is a more convincing Manon, her lack of splits notwithstanding. Her voice is passionate, she has a tendency to be sharp, but it isn't much of an issue unless she's singing a duet.

_37A3078Tenor Brian Jagde (pictured in Act III, photograph by Cory Weaver) is a dashing Chevalier des Grieux, his powerful voice can always be heard over the very bold and propulsive sound of the orchestra. Baritone Anthony Clark Evans as Lescaut was a touch quiet in Act I, overwhelmed by both orchestra and chorus, but was certainly audible in the rest of the opera, while bass-baritone Philip Skinner is a vivid villain as Geronte de Revoir. The latter's sturdy voice and fine acting won him boos during the final ovation.

The production, designed by Frank Philipp Schlössmann and directed by Olivier Tambosi is attractive. This team also created recent productions of The Makropulos Case, Falstaff, and Jenůfa, which is abundantly clear in the lighting, colors (lots of blue and grey), and especially the rocky wasteland scene at the end. This last scene requires a long pause to set up, and the super-title admonition demanded we stay in our seats for the scene change. Much of the audience pulled out mobile phones, unable to wait the few minutes between acts. I did appreciate that the curtain was down for the intermezzo before Act III, it was lovely to be able to really concentrate on the orchestra without any distractions.

* Tattling *
After hearing this opera three times now, I must admit I still do not like it. I think it might have to do with the source material, I just do not like Manon, her frivolousness and faltering nature doesn't appeal to me somehow. Perhaps I will try again with the score and focus on the music. Tellingly, I woke up this morning with Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel still in my head, as I had watched a DVD of it with my son yesterday afternoon in preparation for the performance we are attending at San Francisco Opera next weekend.

The audience was sparse, I arrived a little bit before 7pm and got the thirteenth standing room ticket, and could have easily sat in a seat in the balcony. Because of this, there was very little to note as far as bad behavior.

SF Opera's Carmen (Irene Roberts)

_B5A0984* Notes *
Calixto Bieito's new production of Carmen (The chorus in Act IV pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) San Francisco Opera marked his US debut last night. Directed here by Joan Anton Rechi, the show was not nearly as shocking as some of Bieito's work. In fact, the staging was quite deft, and there was very little of anything that could be seen as gratuitous.

The spare set looks great from the balcony, and the space was filled skillfully, whether with people or props. The chorus didn't arbitrarily clump but got on and off stage what seemed to be a natural manner. The graceful spirals looked especially nice from above. The scene changes were particularly good, especially the heart-stopping one between Acts III and IV.

Irene Roberts (Carmen) has an interesting voice, her breaths are very noticeable and there is a strident quality to it. Yet she also has a resonance and heft that is a contrast to her tiny, doll-like frame. She looked so vulnerable next to the hulking Brian Jadge as Don José.

Jadge is very bright and strong. It's a good thing too, since he is scheduled for ten of the eleven performances right now, instead of the six he was supposed to sing when the 2015-16 season was announced. He was to share the role with Riccardo Massi, who withdrew and was replaced by Maxim Aksenov last November, who in turn also withdrew, leaving Jadge to replace him except for tonight, when Adam Diegel sings the role.

Ellie Dehn, also a replacement for previously announced Nadine Sierra as Micaëla, was likewise powerful. It isn't a role I like, but Dehn was appealing and never shrill. Zachary Nelson was perfectly fine as Escamillo, those low notes are just so hard, and he could always be heard.

The many current and former Adlers in the cast acquitted themselves well, they move nicely and it is important in a show that has so much raw physicality. They also all have such robust voices. Edward Nelson was especially good as Moralès, as were Renée Rapier (Mercédès) and Amina Edris (Frasquita). It was impressive to me that I knew who they were from the back of the house, and that their acting could read so clearly from so far away.

The weak link in the performance was the orchestra, which played at breakneck speed under Carlo Montanaro. There are many beautiful parts in the score for the woodwinds and the strings, but the musicians were going so fast it was hard to pick out even one particularly lovely solo. The rapid pace made for poor synchronization.

* Tattling * 
There was a fair amount of talking in the balcony, but since it wasn't totally packed, I was able to shift myself away from  in standing room.

A phone rang on the right side of the balcony during a quiet moment in the final act.

SF Opera's Tosca

Sf-opera-tosca-actiii1-2014* Notes * 
Another revival of Tosca (Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi and Mark Delavan as Scarpia in Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened last night at San Francisco Opera. Lianna Haroutounian had a fine debut on the War Memorial stage as Floria Tosca. She clearly has an emotional connection to the role and this was palpable even from the very back of the house. Her singing is passionate and her voice has strength yet can be sweet. Cavaradossi suits Brian Jagde, and his gleaming voice was a good match for Haroutounian. On the other hand, Mark Delavan seemed somewhat shaky, especially at first. His Scarpia is certainly gritty and cruel.

The rest of the cast was quite good. Dale Travis is always funny as the Sacristan and Joel Sorensen mincing yet threatening as Spoletta. Adlers Efraín Solís (Sciarrone) and Hadleigh Adams (Jailer) also sang well.

Riccardo Frizza conducted a rapid orchestra that had a lovely transparency of sound. The clarinets and bassoons were particularly wonderful in Act II. The harp sounded clear throughout the performance, as did the strings.

The opera house seemed full and the audience was enthused. This time-honored production, directed by Jose Maria Condemi, is a crowd-pleaser.

* Tattling * 
The audience was mostly quiet, but there was a man in the back of the balcony who had to make sure the people around him knew to pay attention to "Vissi d'arte" and "E lucevan le stelle."

SF Opera's Madama Butterfly

Sf-opera-butterfly-acti-2014* Notes * 
Jun Kaneko's production of Madama Butterfly (Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio-San, Brian Jagde as Pinkerton, and Brian Mulligan as Sharpless in Act I pictured left; photograph by Cory Weaver) had a fifth performance at San Francisco Opera last night. The set and costumes have an elegant guilelessness. The staging, directed by Leslie Swackhamer, is likewise straightforward and makes charming use of four kurogo (stagehands dressed in black).

Maestro Nicola Luisotti had the orchestra sounding lush and sweeping. The chorus was robust. The casting is rather luxurious. Morris Robinson is a plush-toned Bonze. Brian Mulligan makes for a rich-sounding Sharpless. Elizabeth DeShong (Suzuki) has a startlingly lovely voice. The trio with Sharpless, Suzuki, and Pinkerton in Act II was exceedingly beautiful.

Brian Jagde is a convincing Pinkerton and he sang well. He has a lot of volume. Sadly, the opera hinges on having a great Butterfly, and Patricia Racette fell short. Her acting is certainly strong, and her voice has a lot of power and emotion. However, her wide vibrato marred the piece's best-loved arias.

* Tattling * 
Many people were late and stood in the standing room area on the orchestra level. Someone was upset about not being seated and complained loudly, hurling invectives at the ushers.

Patricia Racette as Tosca at SF Opera

Tosca-sfopera-racette* Notes * 
The second performance of Tosca at San Francisco Opera featured three different principals (Patricia Racette as Tosca and Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) to fairly fine effect. Patricia Racette's portrayal of Tosca is dramatically convincing. Though the timbre of her vibrato always makes this listener uncomfortable, she sings with a lot of fire. Racette's quieter passages can be quite pretty. She is a great actress, and despite being less than willowy, all her movements are easily read even from the back of the house. Her "Vissi d'Arte" was moving.

Brian Jagde has a bright, occasionally brassy, sound as Cavaradossi. His voice shows a good deal of emotion: cheeriness at the beginning, subsequent anger at Scarpia, and then tenderness with Tosca. He got carried away with the second "Vittoria" in Act II, but sang a poignant "E lucevan le stelle." Mark Delavan's performance of Scarpia was less ardent, and there were moments in Act I when he was completely drowned out by the orchestra. One longs for a bit more heft and weight for this role. Delavan improved in Act II, he was more audible and the attractiveness of his voice became more apparent.

* Tattling * 
There were significantly fewer latecomers to this performance compared to the first one on Thursday. There was some whispering, but no serious ill-mannered behavior was noted in the back of the balcony.

Arabella at Santa Fe Opera

Santa-fe-opera-arabella* Notes *
This season's revival of Arabella (Act III pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) opened at Santa Fe Opera yesterday. Sir Andrew Davis conducted a vivid performance from the orchestra, and the strings were particularly beautiful.

Many of the smaller roles were filled by singers familiar to those of us from San Francisco, such as former Merolini Susanne Hendrix (Fortune Teller) and Jonathan Michie (Dominik). Current Adler Fellow Brian Jagde sang Count Elemer with strength. Dale Travis and Victoria Livengood convinced as Arabella's rather silly parents.

Heidi Stober sounded lovely as Zdenka, and was suitably naive and boyish. Mark Delavan could have sung Mandryka with a bit more heft, but the weight of his voice suits this venue better than the War Memorial. He did inhabit the character and his movements were appropriate to his role. Erin Wall sounded icy yet sturdy as Arabella.

Director Tim Albery's production is fluid, and designer Tobias Hoheisel's work detailed but sedate. The three semi-circle walls arranged in different configurations for each act certainly has appeal.

* Tattling * 
There was again a lot of talking at this performance. The woman in Mezzanine Row G, Seat 107 would not be silent, even when glared at several times.

SF Opera's Lucrezia Borgia

Renee-fleming-lucrezia-actiii * Notes * 
Washington National Opera's production of Lucrezia Borgia opened yesterday evening at San Francisco Opera. The performances mark the return of Renée Fleming, who has not sung in an opera at the War Memorial for more than a decade. John Pascoe's designs for Lucrezia are rather puzzling. The set is oppressive and the different scenes do not always look distinct from one another. The fanciful costumes have often been executed in shiny fabrics. The attire for the diva herself is indeed whimsical, her Act III outfit (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) seems more suitable for a super hero than a Renaissance duchess. Pascoe's direction is consistent with his design aesthetic. The choreography, though synchronized, seemed contrived. The final scene was utterly baffling. The entrance of the chorus was awkward. The motivation for dragging the corpses back onstage was unclear. Why were the five singers carried out through the upstage doors only to be pulled back from the downstage wings?

The orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Frizza, played fleetly, and was often ahead of the singers. The volume had a tendency to overwhelm the singing. However, the harp had a beautiful lucidity in Act I, and the brass was clear in Act III. Many of the young cast members showed much promise. In the smaller roles, Brian Jagde (Oloferno Vitellozzo) and Daniel Montenegro (Rustighello) stood out. Jadge's voice has brightened and opened during his Adler Fellowship, and he could be heard in Act I over the orchestra. Though a bit light, Montenegro's voice has a mournful sweetness.

Vitalij Kowaljow made for a fittingly brutal Duke Alfonso, his voice has strength and depth. Also strong was Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini), who has a gorgeous sound. Her singing was clean, but she dropped out near the end of Act III's "Minacciata è la mia vita" with Michael Fabiano (Gennaro). Fabiano looked visibly confused by this, and also stopped singing until they could both get back on track for the final notes of the duet. Other than this misstep, Fabiano sounded very good. His voice has heft and beauty. In contrast, Renée Fleming was disappointing. She does have a lovely ease and pleasing timbre. However, she seemed a bit tepid. Her relatively minor intonation errors were more glaring than they would have been if she had projected more confidence. She was engaging in the final act, and her soaring high notes were effective. Oddly enough though, at the end, the orchestra seemed to just swallow up her voice.

* Tattling * 
There was whispering and unwrapping of cough drops during the music, but no discernible electronic noise, at least on the orchestra level of the opera house.

Brian Jagde Interview

Brian-jagde Tenor Brian Jagde (pictured left as Pinkerton in Virginia Opera's production of Madama Butterfly, photograph by Anne M. Peterson) is currently an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera. He sings Vitellozzo in Lucrezia Borgia and Don José in Carmen for Families at San Francisco Opera during the 2011-2012 season, then heads to Fresno, Bozeman, Munich, Minnesota, and Santa Fe. The Opera Tattler caught up with Jagde on Wednesday.

How did you get into opera?
Last thing I'd thought I would do. I studied computer science and business for 2 years, but I sang in chorus at school at SUNY Albany. I realized that I liked playing around with computers more than programing them. I ended up auditioning for SUNY
Purchase College's Department of Opera Performance. My first performance was in The Magic Flute, and I was covering roles, singing, dealing with the sets, and even the lighting. Being on stage was incredible, especially feeling the sound of the orchestra.

Was it in college you discovered you were a tenor?
Actually, I had sung tenor up until college, and when I was there, I thought I had to produce a certain sound. So I went through college as a baritone. I have always had a high speaking voice, and, actually, being a tenor came naturally to me. It was funny, I was booked as Marcello in La Bohème at Virginia Opera, but I ended up singing Rodolfo at Syracuse. I really developed as a tenor in the Adler Program though.

How has the Adler Program been? I really liked your performance in Makropulos, but I know you have been covering a lot of roles too.
It has been really great, and I have learned so much. In Makropulos, the role of Janek is more of an acting role, playing someone so virginal and with such a problem of confidence. His father does treat him very badly, obviously. It was great working with Karita Mattila, she is just otherworldly. Covering roles has been eye-opening as well. Last Summer I was covering Brandon Jovanovich as Froh, and he is just the nicest person, so down to earth, but he has a great voice for the War Memorial, which is obviously such a huge space.

Was San Francisco Opera's Ring your first?
Yes, and I am so grateful. Of course was the singing amazing, not only with Brandon, but Mark Delavan as Wotan and Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde. But the production really was fantastic. I loved how human Francesca Zambello made the characters.

Speaking of which, how has your summer been going?
Well, I started off here covering Das Rheingold, and then headed off to sing
Bohème at Castleton. It really is in the middle of nowhere, there is hardly any cellular phone service or Internet out there. I had to get a phone card to even be able to make calls. But it was good to disconnect for a bit. I ended up rediscovering tennis while I was there, and it has been the best exercise. It is fun, and it is good to find physical activity that isn't a chore to do. After Castleton, I went to Italy for 10 days, and there is just such warmth there. I have been there before, but they just embrace opera singers. Rome is my favorite city in the world, so far.

Now you are back, covering Heart of A Soldier. How has that been?
That's right, I am covering Bill Burden (Daniel J. Hill) in Heart of A Soldier. The life of Rick Rescorla suits opera very well, his life involved a lot of singing! I think the biggest challenge of the opera is that a lot of time is covered, so it is up to the director (Francesca Zambello) to make those transitions make sense.

I understand you are also singing in the Stern Grove concert on your birthday this Sunday with Dolora Zajick. Are you excited?
Absolutely! I cannot think of a better way to celebrate my birthday! I am lucky that my voice and repertoire, with all the Puccini I am studying, because it affords me opportunity to sing the tenor/mezzo duet with her from Il Trovatore. Dolora has been very helpful too.

She is so good at that role, the first Trovatore I heard was with Dolora.
She said something really great, that there are two kinds of singers, regardless if you are famous or not. You can either sing 9 roles, and be the absolute best at those, or you can take on a wide variety, and sing 240 roles. She's obviously the former.