Washington National Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 13- October 5 2008: La Traviata
September 20- October 7 2008: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
November 1-17 2008: Lucrezia Borgia
November 8-19 2008: Carmen
November 21- 22 2008: Petite Messe Solennelle
March 21- April 6 2009: Peter Grimes
May 2-17 2009: Siegfried
May 16- June 4 2009: Turandot

Renée Fleming has her WNO debut in Lucrezia Borgia. Denyce Graves sings the title role of Carmen, in the Zambello production from ROH. The Zandra Rhodes production of Les Pêcheurs de Perles is the one we had here in San Francisco in 2005.

LA Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 6-26 2008: Il Trittico
September 7-26 2008: The Fly
October 2-18 2008: Madama Butterfly
November 15- December 14 2008: Carmen
January 10-25 2009: Die Zauberflöte
February 21- March 15 2009: Das Rheingold
April 4-25 2009: Die Walküre
April 11-26 2009: Die Vögel
May 21- June 21 2009: La Traviata

Two U.S. premieres and the company's first Der Ring des Nibelungen. Quite a lot of film directors this season: William Friedkin (Il Tabarro/Suor Angelica), David Cronenberg, and Woody Allen (Gianni Schicchi). I'm most interested in hearing Nathan Gunn as Papageno and Plácido Domingo as Siegmund. I have to say I'm disappointed that LA Opera is starting Der Ring the same year as Seattle Opera and Washington National Opera, and only a year after San Francisco Opera unveils Francesca Zambello's production on the West Coast.

Press Release [PDF] | 2008-2009 Season Official Site

Carmen at ROH

Carmen_2* Notes *
A new co-production with the Norwegian Opera of Carmen opened at the Royal Opera House opened last month and runs until February 3, 2007. All the performances are sold out, but 67 tickets are held to be sold the day of the performance as day seats. Last Thursday I tried this, getting to the entrance situated under the covered arcade in the corner of Covent Garden Piazza at 7:15 in the morning. The queue was already 20 people long, but getting tickets wasn't a problem, we got bench seats in the Stalls Circle. The ticket seller seemed surprised and said it wasn't always so crowded.

The production, directed by Francesca Zambello, was not perfectly congruous. The costumes were traditional, but the set was just a few large walls placed at different angles for each act. There were props such as an orange tree and a statue of the Virgin Mary that were in keeping with the costumes but not the set. Also featured were an abundance of live animals, including a donkey, a horse, and chickens. Another crowd-pleaser was Arthur Pita's choreography in the form of acrobatics and dancing.

None of the singing was particularly good. Anna Caterina Antonacci had her Royal Opera House debut with the title role, which she is sharing with Marina Domashenko. Antonacci is a strong actress, she was sultry and a bit mean, perfect for the role. Her voice is nice within a certain range, but has some unpleasant qualities outside of that. She gasped a few times and was occasionally flat. I appreciated that this production had the castanets played by a percussionist in the pit, but it would have been nice if they had Carmen at least mime the playing instead of having her alternately stamp the rhythm in her feet or bang together mugs in her hands. Jonas Kaufmann was strained as Don José, his voice is small and slightly nasal. He was quite underpowered compared to Marco Berti, with whom he is sharing this role. Ildebrando D'Arcangelo looked uncomfortable as Escamillo, quite stiff. His voice sounds constrained somewhere in his throat, it has a husk-like feel. He sang half of "Toreador en Garde" on horseback, which was silly but the audience enjoyed it. Norah Amsellem was an insipid Micaëla, she was shrill, out of tune, had too much vibrato, and was even off from the music a few times.

* Tattling *
People talked during the overture, but were fairly quiet the rest of the time. There was some cellophane being unwrapped during Act I, which was hushed quite vigorously, and not by me for once.

Antonacci flashed her undergarments several times during the course of the opera, impressive given that her skirts were all ankle length.

The performance was only 3 hours and 10 minutes long with one intermission, even though they did the longer spoken dialogue version of the opera. They cut "A deux cuartos" from the beginning of Act IV, so that may have contributed to the brevity of the performance.

Closing of Carmen

The final performance of Carmen this season was on the 9th. The standing room area was fuller than it has been in a long time, not unlike the opening night of a season. The performance was adequate, though Hadar Halévy still gasped a few times and danced badly. However, Marco Berti was most impressive, and I hope he returns soon.

* Tattling *
Normally I would not attend an opera this popular on closing night, because it is bound to be crowded. However, I had promised some friends we would go, and there were six of us, four braving standing room. We got to the opera box office well before 9am, and there were already 5 people in line. We made it in time for the 6:20pm entrance time, and saved our places on the railing. When we returned, a person had shoved the programs holding two of my friends places onto my coat. When I confronted him I was told that clothing only indicated a saved place if it was a seat, and I was speaking nonsense. We continued to argue, and I tried asking 3 ushers for assistance, none of whom were helpful at all. The person did end up leaving some time during Act I.

Carmen, ou la Carmencita

Operacafe* Notes *
The fourth performance of Carmen this season was yesterday, and I had the chance of seeing the performance from Box A. From there I could discern that Hadar Halévy was gasping, rather than wobbling, at least, most of the time. She has a wholesome, sunny smile. Marco Berti was rather loud, but his voice is expressive, though his acting is not. On the other hand Ana María Martínez acted well as Micaëla, but was shrill in her higher register. Also acting well was Kyle Ketelsen as Escamillo. His voice is pretty, but was lost when the full orchestra played during "Toreador en Garde." Sebastian Lang-Lessing conducted at a break-neck speed in the beginning, which was thrilling and precarious. There were a few moments when the singers and orchestra were not precisely together.

* Tattling *
It impresses me that even people in boxes think it is fine to speak during the overture, and I had to hush some women in Box B. One would think if one is close enough to discern the performers expressions, one would realize that one can also be seen and possibly heard. The people in Box A 5 and 6 also talked a great deal during Acts III and IV, but only during the music, never during the spoken dialogue. It was odd since they were quiet in the beginning and it was a slow crescendo to nearly full-volume by the end.

* Overheard *
During the second intermission, I heard a woman ask her companions if "they were singing in French." I nearly fell out of my chair, and it made me spill my sparkling water all over the table.

The talking people in Box A also had a funny conversation in which they were convinced that Sean Panikkar was not in Carmen, yet he was in the program. This is because they were looking at the Manon Lescaut program, and they did not finish figuring it out by the time Act IV started. I'm not sure why they were trying to read the program in the dark during the scene change.

L'amour est un oiseau rebelle

Carmen_1* Notes *
Mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich is singing Carmen in the alternate cast at San Francisco Opera, replacing Hadar Halévy, who in turn is replacing Marina Domashenko in the regular cast. Aldrich debuted at San Francisco Opera last Saturday, her voice was strong at first, and she sang the Habanera beautifully. She also managed to flash her underpants several times during Act I. She lacked stamina, by Act III the her initial energy was noticeably dampened. Her castanet playing was better than Halévy's, though she did start off a bit too fast and lost some crispness toward the end. Perhaps we should not expect our singers to also be percussionists or dancers.

It is said that the singers of the alternate cast are often better than the regular cast, just less famous. This is not the case here, at least if one does not include the title role. Tenor Stuart Skelton had good volume but strained his high notes, and he lacked passion. He did look more convincing as Don José than Marco Berti. Adrienne Danrich was a contained Micaëla, her voice, though not quiet, seemed rather far away. Kristopher Irmiter was a muted and reedy Escamillo.

* Tattling *
There were many children at the Saturday noon performance, perhaps because both the Girl's and Boy's Choruses sing in this opera. One girl sat in a woman's lap in seat ZZ 108 for Act II, they whispered a great deal and the girl also crawled on the floor. I suspect she was in the Girl's Chorus, despite this undignified behavior.

There were a few mishaps with Act IV, both involved chorus members, all of whom are supposed to be frozen in place at the beginning of the act. A man in the middle of this Tableau Vivant somehow lost his balance and was moving, which was unintentionally funny. Later, a boy came in early and had a small solo before the children were supposed to start.

Opening of Carmen

Carmen* Notes *
Yet another revival of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's production of Carmen opened yesterday. This particular production seems to be a staple at San Francisco Opera, it comes around again every few years, the last time was in 2002, and the time before that was in 1997.

This production is fairly traditional and, in truth, slightly nondescript and inoffensive. The costumes are pretty, lots of full skirts and fringed shawls. Marco Berti sang very well as Don José, his voice was plaintive and had a great deal of volume but not too much vibrato. At times I found him almost too loud, something rare for a tenor. Berti isn't terribly dashing, certainly Ricardo Herrera as a rival (Zuniga) did not help things. The latter is tall and fairly handsome, it's a bit odd that Carmen goes for this short and plump Don José instead. Hadar Halévy had a respectable debut, her voice is nice enough, though she wobbled or gasped slightly a few times. Her castanet playing in Act II did leave something to be desired, it was unclear and tentative. Her dancing was not good, as she lacks the flamenco body type and her steps looked awkward. The rest of the cast sang and acted well, bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen was fine as Escamillo, and soprano Ana Maria Martinez was also quite good as Micaëla.

* Tattling *
Marcia Green seemed nervous at the beginning of her talk before the performance, but the topic was engaging. Instead of giving us a bit of history about Bizet and going through the plot, she followed the Fate motif throughout the opera. She did not go into detail about the Fate motif from a musicology standpoint, avoiding an explanation of augmented seconds and so forth.

The opera house was not particularly full, and I was given an orchestra ticket by a person who worked the opera before Act I, an unusual event. Unfortunately, I was seated directly in front of a woman with terrible congestion, she coughed and blew her nose during the entire opera. Unsatisfied by merely making all sorts of involuntary noises, the person in seat R 9 also talked quite a lot to her two companions in seats R 11 and 13. Among some of their erudite comments were: "Well, isn't that convenient," "They are like statues," and "Everyone is up there." Utterly charming, it is good to remember why I like standing room over the orchestra seating.

I was also rather confused by the pronunciation of the proper names in this opera. "Escamillo" was said with a glide, as in Spanish, but "José" was pronounced with an initial affricate, as in French, yet the final vowel was a stressed close-mid front vowel, as in Spanish.


Last night I attended San Francisco Opera's production of Bizet's Carmen with a certain friend. We agreed that the program's cover, which has been used on every program all season, is hideous. The work featured is Diebenkorn's Blue Surround (1982), that involves color aquatint, spit bite aquatint, etching offset, and drypoint with scraping. The dimensions are 55.8 x 48.2 cm for the image itself. Since we are philistines, we do not enjoy such works, and this was discussed even before we got to the opera because on our way we saw an advertisement for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, whose tagline was something like "come be moved."

The opera itself was nice enough. The singing was fine, the music, of course, very familiar. The soprano Maria Bayo (Micaëla) has an exceptionally pretty and strong voice. Tenor Richard Berkeley-Steele did well in his role of Don José, his voice was not disappointing. Bass Denis Sedov was better in his role of Escamillo than as Achilla in Giulio Cesare. His voice was still a little thin.

Carmen herself, the mezzo-soprano Marina Domashenko, was appropriate to the role. Her voice was a bit throaty and lacked a certain prettiness, which is just as well.

The choreography was pretty good in this production, people seemed more committed to their movements than in Giulio Cesare. At times I did wish that Domashenko would stand up straighter, sometimes she was simply all shoulders, with her arms akimbo.

They did well with the sets and costumes, everything was pretty and there were no disasters. I must say it was more pleasant to see Carmen at the opera house than at the Civic Center Auditorium, where I last saw this production during the 1996-97 season.