So far, the reviews of San Francisco Opera's Così fan tutte (Act I pictured left with Philippe Sly as Guglielmo, Christel Lötzsch as Dorabella, Ellie Dehn as Fiordiligi, and Francesco Demuro as Ferrando, photograph by Cory Weaver) are mixed.
Così fan tutte
* Notes *
A revival of Così fan tutte (Act II Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened yesterday at San Francisco Opera. The orchestra sounded fairly loud and fast under the baton of Nicola Luisotti, and often ran ahead of the singers. There were times when the musical lines became muddled, as the singers were not audible, especially during ensembles. In contrast, the chorus was solid and together. The recitative accompaniment was energetic and humorous. Maestro Luisotti (fortepiano), Giuseppe Finzi (harpsichord), Thalia Moore (cello), and Michael Leopold (theorbo) seem to have a nice rapport.
The production, directed by José Maria Condemi, is consistent with how it was staged in 2005. The set looks to be a hotel in Monte Carlo during the Belle Époque. The costumes are therefore striking and elegant, as are the Art Nouveau architectural elements.
The cast is youthful and convincing. Susannah Biller is cute and sprightly, her Despina got a lot of laughs. Bass Marco Vinco is such a good actor. His voice is not overly loud or pretty, but he is a fine Don Alfonso.
Francesco Demuro sounds creaky to me, at least when he is singing at full-volume, but is an appealing Ferrando. His "Un'aura amorosa" is endearing. Philippe Sly is fantastic as Guglielmo. His beautiful voice is rich and warm. Christel Lötzsch was so behind in her Act I aria, "Smanie implacabili," it was hard to gauge how good her voice is, since it just sounded like noise at that point. She does blend smoothly with the other singers, but seems a bit fluttery. Her volume and brightness is good, however. Just a few of Ellie Dehn's high notes were shrill Her Fiordiligi sounded robust yet still elegant.
* Tattling *
I was fortunate enough to be standing behind L 112 of the Balcony, which happened to be empty. The air conditioning did hum quite a bit during the second half of the performance.
* Notes *
San Francisco Conservatory of Music's spring opera this year is Così fan tutte (Sergio González, Kate Allen, Julie Adams, and Efraín Solís pictured left in Act I, photograph by Betsy Kershner), which opened at Cowell Theater last night. The orchestra was lead by the resident conductor of San Francisco Opera, Giuseppe Finzi, who kept the students together despite the challenges of the space. The tempi were rapid, perhaps even somewhat rushed, but the playing approached a certain crispness not usually heard in Cowell, as the pit is not ideal.
The singers were all quite game, acting and singing with exuberance. Randall Bunnell (Don Alfonso) sounded light and fresh. Sergio González may have sung the role of Ferrando rather gingerly at times, but made it all the way through the piece without a problem. Efraín Solís sang Guglielmo with richness and volume. Julie Adams (Fiordiligi) has lovely high notes, though her low ones lack the same pleasant resonances. Kate Allen (Dorabella) has a strong, pretty voice. Soprano Maya Kherani was a charming, engaging Despina, and really hammed it up as the Doctor and the Notary.
The production, directed by Heather Mathews, is frothy and silly. Perhaps this is most appropriate for students, but it did not leave much room for the characters to develop. The set involves various arches, pillars, and such that could be turned around or pulled here and there to change the scenes. There were a lot of whimsical details, such as apparent trios of winged jelly donuts atop each of the two arches. The choreography was similarly cute. The chorus did have some trouble marching on beat for "Bella vita militar," but otherwise the movements and gestures all read well.
* Tattling *
There was some sort of frilly painted piece of wood at the beginning of Act II, Scene 1 that I was not able to make sense of, at first it seemed like a bed, but then Despina walked behind it. Perhaps it was a bathtub? In any case, I didn't understand why Fiordiligi and Dorabella would be wearing shoes in either a bed or a bathtub.
* Notes *
Nicholas Hytner's 2006 Glyndebourne production of Così fan tutte (Act II pictured left with the Los Angeles Opera chorus, Aleksandra Kurzak as Fiordiligi, Saimir Pirgu as Ferrando, Ruxandra Donose as Dorabella, and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Guglielmo; photograph by Robert Millard) opened at Los Angeles Opera last Sunday. The scenic design from Vicki Mortimer involved a muted Rococo interior and a smooth modern patio complete with water feature. Mortimer also was responsible for the costumes, which had the standard traditional look and featured some gowns that looked inspired by cotton candy and peppermints. Ashley Dean directed straightforwardly enough, though the movement of furniture and the drawing of shutters was not always clearly motivated.
The orchestra played fleetly under the direction of Maestro James Conlon. The brass was uneven, and someone had particular trouble in Act II, Scene 4. One can only imagine that the horn must be one of the most stressful instruments to play. The chorus, however, sounded lucid and together for much of the opera.
The singing was all pleasant. The singers sounded best when they sang together, and it seemed they were listening to one another. The acting was also strong, perhaps because most of the cast looked youthful and as if they could really be these characters. Roxana Constantinescu made for a cute Despina, she swallowed a few of the notes, but was winsome. Lorenzo Regazzo (Don Alfonso) did not have much heft to his voice, yet his comic timing was precise. Regazzo got laughs at the correct spots, even if most of the audience presumably does not understand Italian.
Ildebrando D'Arcangelo sang Guglielmo emphatically. There was half a phrase in the duet "Il core vi dono" where his voice disappeared, but the rest of his performance was quite nice. Saimir Pirgu's Act I aria as Ferrando ("Un'aura amoros") was especially pretty, and sounded almost like a lullaby. Pirgu does not have a huge voice, and can sound a bit pinched when singing at full volume. Ruxandra Donose sounded cold and bright as Dorabella, her breathing were noticeable in "Smanie implacabili." Aleksandra Kurzak (Fiordiligi) was perhaps the strongest. Her low notes may have not projected well in "Come scoglio," but her high notes were not shrill or effortful.
* Tattling *
The center of Balcony B was much more full for this matinée than for opening night. Oddly, the audience was quieter, only the people in Row M Seats 43 and 44 were unacceptably noisy. This couple tried sitting elsewhere during the overture, only to return, causing a lot of discussion. They spoke during much of Act I, but did find seats with a better view for Act II.
* Notes *
The Merola Opera Program's production of Così fan tutte opened at the Cowell Theater last Friday. The singing was fine, though mezzo-soprano Caitlin Mathes stood out as Despina, her voice was almost too sweet for that comic role. She was very funny when pretending to be a notary, affecting an outrageous accent. For the most part her timing was good, though she missed a beat cuing a drum roll. Lara Ciekiewicz did well as Fiordiligi, though her voice has metallic edge to it. Her Act I aria, "Come scoglio" was robust, albeit somewhat brassy. Ellie Jarrett was a perfectly silly Dorabella, with a bit of strain in her upper range, but a delicate, pretty sound. Alex Mansoori likewise labored for some of the higher notes, but has a lovely, tasteful restraint. For the most part, John Chest sounded more secure as Guglielmo. Benjamin LeClair seemed very exposed as Don Alfonso, somehow he was not quite on, especially in the beginning, though his voice is gorgeous. The trezetto "E la fede delle femmine" with LeClair, Mansoori, and Chest was poor. The singing did improve, and the ensemble at the end was delightful. The off-stage chorus was not exactly with the orchestra, but did sing with a great deal of spirit.
As for Robin Guarino's production, it was stuffed to the gills with ideas at first and seemed to peter out during Act II, which was essentially quite traditional. The trajectory here was not entirely clear. It was almost as if since Così is rather ungallant, we were to be distracted as much as possible with utter silliness. For instance, Guglielmo did a bunch of push-ups, Ferrando broke pencils, and there were a lot of women's shoes thrown around at one point. I was amused, but also confounded, particularly by the conceit that the main characters were actors in a play, with Don Alfonso as the director, and Despina as a stage manager.
Under Ari Pelto, the orchestra was often not together, and one can only conclude that the shape and placement of the "pit" is not condusive to synchronization. There were some brass problems, and the violins were ahead at times. The playing was better for this than last year's Don Giovanni, there were no solos that were embarrassing, for instance. Keun-a Lee did play the harpsichord very confidently and well.
* Tattling *
Again, the seagulls were audible during the less noisy parts of the music. The audience was more or less quiet and attentive.
October 2 2008- July 24 2009: Macbeth
October 4-11 2008: Das Gehege / Salome
October 5 2008- July 13 2009: Norma
October 19-25 2008: Die Bassariden
October 23- November 2 2008: Eugene Onegin
November 1-6 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
November 8 2008- May 21 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
November 10 2008- January 31 2009: Wozzeck
November 22 2008- March 27 2009: Tamerlano
November 24 2008- July 26 2009: Luisa Miller
November 28 2008- July 7 2009: Werther
December 9-14 2008: Doktor Faustus
December 13-18 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- May 31 2009: La Bohème
December 21-28 2008: Die Zauberflöte
December 23 2008- June 15 2009: La Traviata
December 31 2008- February 24 2009: Die Fledermaus
January 4-10 2009: Carmen
January 19- July 14 2009: Palestrina
February 2-18 2009: Elektra
February 7- July 22 2009: Nabucco
February 20-26 2009: La Calisto
February 23- July 6 2009: Lucrezia Borgia
March 1- July 31 2009: Falstaff
March 14- July 30 2009: Otello
April 8- July 9 2009: Jenůfa
April 9-12 2009: Parsifal
April 26- May 2 2009: Così fan tutte
May 13-15 2009: Madama Butterfly
May 16-23 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 8-30 2009: Aida
July 5-19 2009: Lohengrin
July 13-20 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
June 14- July 30 2009: Idomeneo
Nicola Luisotti is conducting a new production of Macbeth next season at the Bavarian State Opera. Željko Lučić sings the title role, Nadja Michael sings Lady Macbeth, and Dimitri Pittas is Macduff. Anna Netrebko sings in the May performances of La Bohème, with Joseph Calleja as her Rodolfo. John Relyea sings Colline. Relyea is also singing the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro, with Lucas Meachem as the Count. Angela Gheorghiu is Violetta Valéry in the June performances of La Traviata, singing opposite Jonas Kaufmann. Simon Keenlyside is Germont. Paolo Gavanelli sings the title role of Nabucco during the Münchner Opernfestspiele 2009. Earlier in the year he also sings Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.
June 4- July 5 2008: L'incoronazione di Dario
June 7- July 4 2008: Così fan Tutte
June 19- July 6 2008: The Rake's Progress
Garsington Opera presents the British premiere of Vivaldi's L'incoronazione di Dario this summer, along with the works of Mozart and Stravinsky.
September 6-21 2008: Eugene Onegin
November 8-23 2008: L'Elisir d'Amore
February 7-22 2009: Così fan tutte
April 18- May 3 2009: Carmen
November 8-16 2008: Madama Butterfly
February 14-20 2008: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
April 25- May 3 2009: Così fan Tutte
Opera Colorado opens next season with San Francisco Opera's production of Madama Butterfly. Former Adler and Sri Lankan American Sean Panikkar sings Nadir in Les Pêcheurs de Perles. This production is the San Diego one that has been making the rounds.
November 14-22 2008: Le Nozze Di Figaro
December 5-13 2008: Die Fledermaus
January 23-21 2009: Roberto Devereux
February 13-21 2009: La Bohème
March 6-14 2009: L'Italiana in Algeri
James Valenti is having his Dallas Opera debut as Rodolfo. William Burden is singing Lindoro in L'Italiana in Algeri, in the production San Francisco Opera audiences saw in 2005, directed by Chris Alexander. The Fledermaus production from Seattle Opera, last performed there in 2006, was also produced by Alexander.
The 2009-2010 season was announced today:
October 2009: Otello
February 2010: Così fan tutte
February/March 2010: Don Pasquale
Late April 2010: Moby-Dick
May 2010: Madama Butterfly
The new Winspear Opera House will be open by then. Most interesting in this inaugural season is the world premiere of Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick, conducted by Patrick Summers and starring Ben Heppner. The work is a co-commission and co-production with San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera, and Calgary Opera.
Press Release [PDF]
When the advertisements on buses declare "This Ain't Your Daddy's Mozart" in reference to a run of Così fan tutte, one certainly should be prepared for something outlandish. Jonathan Miller's production opened late last month at Seattle Opera, and it is certainly both hilarious and bizarre in a way that many contemporary offerings are not. At least he is engaging the audience, quite opposite of Robert Wilson or Anna Viebrock. Sadly, the performance lost steam by Act II, the plot is less absurd and more disturbing, and the buoyancy was significantly reduced in the second half.
The super titles for this production were exceedingly loose in their translation, and made the audience laugh pretty much throughout the performance, simply because it was clear that the words on the screen were not the words coming out of their mouths. "Bella vita militar!" was rendered "Come join the army!" and "Io non so se son Valacchi o se Turchi son costor." was something like "Are they from California or Aberdeen?" (a far cry from Walachia or Turkey). It was unclear whether or not the libretto was changed in all cases, because the laughter often obscured the words and the diction of the singers was not particularly good. I suppose this was a novel shift, how perfectly post-modern to make the super titles a focal point of the opera!
The costumes and staging were brought into modern day. Instead of being a maid, Despina is a personal assistant. She brings Dorabella and Fiordiligi Starbucks lattes instead of hot chocolate. Ferrando and Guglielmo wear UN uniforms to battle, and later, instead of pretending to be indeterminate foreigners from east of Naples, they are from Federal Way, WA. Except for the very first scene, the action all takes place in a single room with white walls, with one doorway in the middle, a few white upholstered chairs, a coffee table, a pile of white cushions, and a pink upholstered couch with a white sheet over most of it. This means the chorus is never seen, and their singing is rather muffled. As for the choreography, it involved much dancing about and air guitar.
This production would have been much better if the singers were with the orchestra. Perhaps it was the lack of souffler, but at least three of the singers were off from the music at various times during the performance. There are only six parts, so that is definitely a poor showing. It seems that the director was more interested in being witty and not as concerned with something as basic as having one's singers sing in correct time with the orchestra. Taken as a whole, the singers seemed quiet, in the dress circle, where the acoustics should be at their best, there were times when I had to strain to hear. This was the alternate cast, so perhaps the regular cast was better. Frances Lucey sang a charming Despina, her part is not particularly difficult as far as singing. Jessica Jones did not quite have the low range for Fiordiligi, her voice cracked slightly when she jumped down in "Come scoglio immoto resta." Don Frazure was decent as Ferrando, it is nice to have a tenor that isn't awful. Maria Zifchak (Dorabella) and David Adam Moore (Guglielmo) acted well but did not have exceptional voices.
The last opera of the season was Così fan tutte, which also had opened it last Fall. The co-production, owned by Opera Monte Carlo and San Francisco Opera, was produced by John Cox and directed by Jose Maria Condemi. Robert Perdziola's charming set was updated to a WWI era resort, which worked splendidly. Fiordiligi does have one ugly costume of fushsia and aqua in Act II, but this is a minor quibble.
The cast was fairly strong. Soprano Alexandra Deshorties was a fine Fiordiligi, her voice is pretty and controlled. Frederica von Stade acted well as Despina, but her voice was breathy and slightly dull. Flicka is, of course, renowned and a favorite at San Francisco, but past her prime. The audience cheered her ecstatically anyway.
It was asserted to me that Hemingway's novel Across the River and Into the Trees was less bad than Da Ponte's libretto to Così fan Tutte. I find it a very bizarre comparison, but find myself unable to judge any opera libretti against actual literature. Voltaire put this best: Anything too stupid to be spoken is sung.
In the last week, I have seen the Bavarian State Opera's production of Così fan Tutte twice, on the 16th and the 19th. I'm terribly fond of Mozart's music, and Così is quite charming. Peter Schneider conducted admirably, as is expected of him, I've heard him conduct Mozart before at the SF Opera.
Dieter Dorn's set was again a bit given to clean lines, this time reminiscent of Bauhaus furniture. The set consisted of a raised platform covered with a white sheet downstage with six white walls, three on each side of the stage. Various other walls were added for other scenes, and the furnishings were of varnished light wood and not Bauhaus at all. Maybe the metal IKEA chairs from Don Carlo might have been a better match. Upstage was a lowered area with glass doors in the center and an olive tree stage left. There was a curtain towards the downstage area, painted with the same scene, so when they changed the sets they could simply draw the curtain. With eight scene changes but only two acts, this was an effective way of making the transitions smooth.
Jürgen Rose's staging was not as nice as his work in Don Carlo. It seemed too artificial at times, having people climb unseen ladders behind the side walls and sing from there or having Dorabella put a chair on a table and climb up on this as she is singing the aria Smanie implacabili che m'agitate. Most irksome was the choreography in Act I Scene 2, when the four principal singers do a pinwheel as Guglielmo and Ferrando take their leave of Fiordiligi and Dorabella and directly after this the Chorus walks on stage singing Bella vita militar falling down just after they sing "Io sparar di schioppi e bombe" (the firing of muskets and bombs). Interestingly, it wasn't the case that the choreography was too difficult for the singers, the six main characters were played by artists who were very good with movement.
Rose's costumes, however, were better. I was dubious about Fiordiligi and Dorabella being in midriff baring undershirts and petticoats until the last scene in Act I, since it seems highly unlikely they would receive Don Alfonso dressed this way. But for the most part, the costumes were fine. Guglielmo and Ferrando in their "Albanian" costumes were very funny, an orientalist nightmare of Middle Eastern and East Asian styles combined that was only acceptable because they are playing Italians playing at being Albanians. The "Albanian" chorus was dressed as if they had raided their linen closets, wearing tablecloths and sheets.
As for the singers themselves, the cast was quite consistent. The weakest, perhaps, was the tenor Jeremy Ovenden as Ferrando. His voice was just a touch quiet, but I could not detect this from the center of second tier, it was only when I was a bit on the left of the third tier that he seemed quiet. Or it could be that he was having a bad day on Wednesday, it is hard to tell.
Thomas Allen was better as Don Alfonso than Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, his bass is better than his baritone, as far as vocal projection is concerned. Baritone Martin Gantner was a charming Guglielmo, his voice was well suited to the part.
Of the three sopranos, Julie Kaufmann had the warmest and most powerful voice. Her part, Despina, was the easiest vocally though. Sophie Koch played the fickle Dorabella very well, her soprano is dark, and I'm not surprised that she also sings Cherubino in Le Nozze. Amanda Roocroft was an adequate Fiordiligi, her voice is cold but not shrill. Koch and Roocroft both had very pretty voices, and were also quite pretty to look at, perhaps the prettiest two sopranos I've seen in an opera for awhile.