Christine Brewer

MTT conducts Missa Solemnis at SFS

Missa-solemnis * Notes * 
This week San Francisco Symphony and Chorus have been performing Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas kept the musicians synchronized. The orchestra was often rather loud, but the playing was clean. Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik's the violin solo in the Sanctus was beautiful. The brass was warm and pretty. The chorus was impressive, more so than the four soloists, though given a mass, perhaps this is appropriate. Both bass Ain Anger and mezzo-soprano Katarina Karnéus had a tendency to blend in well with the sound of the chorus and the orchestra. Gregory Kunde's voice had more ping, yet could sound a little constricted. Christine Brewer did not overpower her fellow soloists and never screamed the notes. It was gratifying to hear this piece live.

* Tattling * 
A man in BB 20 on the Orchestra Level spoke twice, but for the most part, only a few people around me whispered infrequently.

Santa Fe Opera's 2010 Season

July 2- August 26 2010: Madame Butterfly
July 3- August 27 2010: The Magic Flute
July 17- August 28 2010: The Tales of Hoffmann
July 24- August 19 2010: Life is a Dream
July 31- August 25 2010: Albert Herring

The 2010 season at Santa Fe Opera opens with Madame Butterfly with Kelly Kaduce singing the title role. Charles Castronovo sings Tamino in The Magic Flute. The season also includes the world premiere of Lewis Spratlan's Life is a Dream with Leonard Slatkin conducting. Former Adler Fellow Alek Shrader is singing the role of Albert Herring, with Christine Brewer as Lady Billows.

Season | Official Site

Wie, hör' ich das Licht?

Isolde_1* Notes *
Wagner Society of Northern California held a symposium on Tristan und Isolde last Saturday, October 21, 2006. There were seven speakers whose topics ranged from the day-to-day administration of Tristan at San Francisco Opera to a Jungian analysis of Wagner. The turn out was good, about a hundred people.

The highlight of the day was the round table with Christine Brewer and Jane Irwin, both were charming. Kip Cranna, who interviewed them, always speaks well. I also very much enjoyed Evan Baker's talk on Tristan und Isolde in Vienna, not least because of his amusing slides. Particularly interesting were Hoffmann's watercolors of the original sets for Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, which Baker photoshopped into an engraving of the Nationaltheater München's stage. This doesn't seem to have much to with the talk, subtitled "The Iconoclastic Mahler/Roller Production of Tristan und Isolde," but it did show how this Viennese production was a departure. He went on to speak about Adolphe Appia, the Wiener Werkstätte, and the Secessionists, all with plenty of visuals.

* Tattling *
The main purpose of this Wagner society is to wrangle tickets to the Richard-Wagner-Festspiele in Bayreuth. Sandra Molyneaux signed me up for a membership and later checked up on me to see how the day was going. She asked if I was interested in going to Bayreuth, and I must admit it is tempting. The last time I was there was in 1998 for a semester abroad, and naturally I did not have tickets to the Festspiele. It was interesting to see Bayreuth go from the quiet university town that it is most of the year to Wagnerstadt in the summer.

Oed' und leer das Meer

Tristanisolde_1* Notes *
The fourth performance of Tristan und Isolde was last night, and it was consistent with the previous performance I saw last week. Thomas Moser (Tristan) started off pretty well in Act I, and he sang beautifully in Act II, but by Act III he was rather quiet.

* Tattling *
The audience was at its worst, quite unlike October 10th, I suspect it is because there are no other performances during the work week, and there were four in the prior one. One individual who arrived late was made to sit in standing room, and he talked in a normal speaking voice, dragged the chair about, and refused to be quiet after repeated hushings. For Act III someone gave me his ticket for Z 118, the last row of the orchestra, and at one point all the people immediately around me were asleep. A woman fanning herself with a program spoke during the "Verklärung," to tell her companion (who had been asleep most of the act), "Look he's getting up!" in reference to the silly choreographic choice of having the dead Tristan rise to stand behind Isolde.

* Overheard *
During the first intermission I heard a hilarious exchange between two men, one of which was a graduate student who had lived in Berlin until recently. The graduate student said something about how the San Francisco crowd for Wagner was much gayer than in Berlin, where the people are the type to wear black turtlenecks. I had no idea black turtlenecks and gaiety were mutually exclusive. Also, the other man mentioned that Ms. Brewer would not enjoy Covent Garden, in reference to her weight and the
Voigt incident. The graduate student exclaimed that he had never seen a skinny Isolde. I wanted to mention Waltraud Meier in Bayerische Staatsoper's DVD, but decided it was best not to comment.

Before Act II started, a young man was excoriating the King Arthur performance recently in Berkeley as he walked to his orchestra seat with a friend. Apparently he was dragged to Zellerbach without his consent. He said he despised Mark Morris and that there was nothing exquisite in his choreography, that it was tawdry.

Frisch weht der Wind

Hockneytristan* Notes *
Los Angeles Opera's 1987 production of Tristan und Isolde was revived last week in San Francisco. The production was designed by David Hockney, best known for his swimming pool paintings from the sixties. The set looked much like a large-scale colorful pop-up book, filled with strange details, such as curtains attached to nothing on board Act I's ship and Celtic knots as leaves in Act II's forest. Similarly, the medieval costumes were rather bright, at least until Act III, and uniformly made of velvet. It reminded me of the Land of Make-Believe in the esteemed children's television show Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

The choreography was bizarre, often the singers would simply stand as if they were in an oratorio and not a staged production, or worse hold some unnaturally static position. The sailor who begins the opera with "Westwärts schweift der Blick" had his back to the audience, which doesn't make for particularly good theater.

Jane Irwin (Brangäne) held her own, even singing with Christine Brewer (Isolde), who has a powerful and dramatic voice. Thomas Moser sang better as Tristan than as Florestan last season, some of his higher notes are quiet. Both Brewer and Moser had good diction, though there is an advantage in that Wagner wrote so that the words could be discerned. Runnicles kept it together in the orchestra pit.

* Tattling *
Though I arrived late for Evan Baker's preview lecture, it seemed to go well. Baker can actually pronounce words in German. He used the the Nilsson-Windgassen-Böhm recording from the 1966 Bayreuth Festival for his musical examples.

The audience was possibly the best-behaved I have ever encountered. Part of this is because the hall was not full, and even though I got my standing room ticket less than an hour before curtain, I was the twentieth standee. I imagine most people are intimidated by a performance that is more than four and a half hours long. People left at each of the two intermissions, and I had the standing area nearly to myself by the end. I did not hear a single mobile phone, and better yet, not a single beep marking the hour from an electronic watch.

Namelose Freude

FidelioSan Francisco Opera's revival of Fidelio opened last night. The production is directed by Michael Hampe and designed by John Gunter. The set is clever, with floors that lift up, and walls that can be moved aside. This facilitates scene changes, which went seamlessly throughout. The contrast of the openness in the final scene and the rest of the opera was rather deft. The set and costumes were both kept in 19th century style, no fedoras, no trench coats. The only noticeable flaw in the staging was the timing of the curtain, which came down before the music ended in both acts, causing the audience to clap before the music was finished.

The singing was solid with the exception of tenor Thomas Moser as Florestan. Moser's voice is a bit thin and reedy, especially in his upper range. At the end of his sole aria in the beginning of Act II he was simply shrieking. Soprano Christine Brewer was not visually convincing as Leonora, but when she sang, her lovely warm voice fit the role very well. The other roles were cast appropriately: Mathias Zachariassen (Jacquino), Greta Feeney (Marzelline), and Arthur Woodley (Rocco) all sang and acted well.

John Pearson played the Trompetenfanfare in Act II beautifully, it was the very sound of salvation.