Danielle de Niese

SF Opera's Partenope

 Sfopera-partenope-acti-2014* Notes * 
Christopher Alden's delightfully humorous production of Partenope opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The stylish set (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver), designed by Andrew Lieberman, was enhanced by Adam Silverman's lighting. Costume designer Jon Morrell did a wonderful job evoking 1920s Paris and Man Ray. The staging matches the absurdity of the plot rather well, embracing silliness with use of bananas, dancing, and hand shadow puppetry. It was refreshing to see something a little less sedate than the other offerings of the 2014-2015 season so far.

The reduced orchestra of only 39 musicians sounded fresh and vital under Maestro Julian Wachner. The horns had a rough start but in the end managed to sound sublime. The continuo was played beautifully by the conductor and Peter Grunberg on harpsichord, cellist David Kadarauch, and theorbist Michael Leopold.

The most of the singers employed much physicality in their performances. Philippe Sly danced foppishly and sang with warm effortlessness. His outrageous costume in Act III involved a puffy pink flowered gown, red evening gloves, and a Pickelhaube festooned with bananas. Anthony Roth Costanzo was an endearing Armindo who managed to sing his first aria ("Voglio dire al mio tesoro") while falling down or hanging on to stairs. He also tap danced during "Ma quai note di mesti lamenti" in Act III. The clarity of his voice came through despite all these antics.  Alek Shrader's tenor sounded robust, and as Emilio he put on a hand puppet show that was amusing and engaging.

* Tattling * 
Our neighbors in Box I introduced themselves and shared a chocolate strawberry with us. There was a confrontation between a man at the back of Box H with a woman who showed up in the middle of Act II. He suggested that she did not have a ticket for Seat 4 and mentioned she had not been there for the first third of the performance.

Don Pasquale at San Diego Opera


* Notes * 
At first glance, the revival of Don Pasquale (Act II, Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) at San Diego Opera simply looks like someone took a set and costumes for Fanciulla del West and used it for Donizetti's work. Thankfully, there is much more to director David Gately's elaborate production, which is quite funny. This Wild West version of Don Pasquale works because the essentials are still true to this opera buffa. The characters are all believable, and this rendering has a lot of charm. The gags just keep on coming, and perhaps at times this felt somewhat overwrought. The sets, from Tony Fanning, descriptive and painstakingly detailed, as are the costumes from Helen E. Rodgers.

Conductor Marco Guidarini made his San Diego debut with yesterday's performance. The orchestra played with the necessary fleetness, and were often rather loud. The trumpet made a brave effort at the beginning of Act II despite a few raw moments. The chorus moved well, and though not precisely together, sang nicely. The principal singers were cast evenly. Jeff Mattsey was an entertaining Dr. Malatesta, and his singing was fine aside from some of the patter in the duet "Cheti, cheti, immantinente." Charles Castronovo (Ernesto) had a pretty lightness and the right mournfulness for the role. His voice sounds slightly metallic when he pushes it too hard. Danielle de Niese's Norina was completely convincing, her gestures and expressions were faultless. Though her breathing is noticeable, her voice is deft and bright. John Del Carlo was hilarious in the title role. His sound is warm and his enunciation was excellent throughout, especially in the aforementioned Act III duet with Mattsey.

* Tattling * 
There was light talking throughout the opera, and a watch or phone alarm rang during Act III Scene 2.

Enchanted Island Live in HD Met Simulcast


 * Notes *
The Metropolatian Opera's new Baroque pastiche, The Enchanted Island, was shown as a simulcast yesterday. The English libretto, created by Jeremy Sams, uses characters from Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream and The Tempest. "Arise, ye subterranean winds" from The Tempest, or, The Enchanted Island, which has been attributed to Purcell, was the only piece from this work. The score starts off with the overture from Alcina, and employs 26 other pieces by Händel, the majority of these from his operas and oratorios. The rest of the music is mostly Vivaldi and Rameau. Arias from André Campra's Idoménée and Jean-Marie Leclair's Scylla et Glaucus were included, along with dance music from Jean-Féry Rebel's Les Éléments, and a cantata from Giovanni Battista Ferrandini. It was a rather entertaining spectacle, and the music held together fairly well. I was disoriented at times by pieces I knew, as they had such different texts, but it was not unpleasant as much as vaguely dizzying.

Phelim McDermott's production has a lot of charm, in no small part because of the detailed set by Julian Crouch. The proscenium reminded me of H. R. Giger or Steampunk, and some of the projections used were rather ornate. Though some of the trees and roots looked inelegantly bulbous, overall, the aesthetic sense was consistent and attractive.

The orchestra sounded clean and speedy under William Christie. There were times when the singers were slightly behind. The quartet "Days of pleasure, nights of love" in Act I sounded somewhat chaotic, though all the singers had lovely voices. Luca Pisaroni made for a light, reedy Caliban, his lightly accented English was perfectly comprehensible. Plácido Domingo made two stunning entrances as Neptune, but his diction was less than clear. Anthony Roth Costanzo's Ferdinand sounded bright and winsome. Lisette Oropesa's Miranda was likewise pretty and mincing. Danielle de Niese acted Ariel with utter conviction, sprightly and breathy. David Daniels was strong as Prospero, and seemed as robust as ever. Joyce DiDonato (pictured above, photograph by Ken Howard) was splendid as Sycorax, her voice nimble, but she seemed unafraid to create ugly sounds when necessary.

* Tattling *
The placement of one of the microphones picked up the sound of objects striking the stage all too clearly on at least three occasions.

A Second Look at SF Opera's Figaro

Figaro-actiii-bartolo-marcellina * Notes *
The fourth of nine performances in San Francisco Opera's Le Nozze di Figaro revival this season was last night. From the back of the balcony everyone sounded robust. Maestro Luisotti's conducting highlighted the subtitle of this opera, ossia la folle giornata, and his playing of the fortepiano was filled with vim. I was better able to appreciate all the interpolated bits and pieces whilst reading the score. Much deserved praise has been given to the new principal oboe and clarinet, but the bassoons also sound lovely. The chorus sounded clear and pretty, except for in the Act III contadinelle, which seemed slightly off from the orchestra.

I was surprised how much of the humor comes through the voices and playing without the visual aspect of the performance. Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) was particularly funny, and all the character roles were very strong. I still did not care for Michèle Losier's "Non so più" and noticed the horns were not perfectly in tune in her second aria. Danielle de Niese's breathing was evident at times, especially in Act II's "Venite, inginocchiatevi!" and Ellie Dehn occasionally gasped in Act III. All these quibbles aside, I throughly enjoyed learning more about this piece by listening to this performance.

* Tattling * 
As I was volunteering in the gift shop, I only made it up to the balcony just before curtain. Thankfully, SFMike was saving me a spot on the bench beneath the light. No one bothered me during the music, though I had to explain more than once that I was not a singer and was only looking at the score for fun.

The supertitles were timed well, and all the laughter happened just at the right time. I believe there was applause for the Act IV set, or else something delightful happened onstage before Barbarina's aria that I missed.

At intermission the Last Chinese Unicorn was kind enough to bring me a beverage and afterward she waited patiently for me with tiny strawberry cupcakes. By the time we left they had locked most of the doors, and it was commented that we might as well be locked in, since we are at the War Memorial all the time.

SF Opera's Figaro

Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) and Danielle de Niese (Susanna) with members of the chorus, photo by Cory Weaver * Notes *
The most recent revival of Le Nozze di Figaro opened last night at San Francisco Opera. Zack Brown's Goya-inspired set is nearly thirty years old, but is perfectly serviceable. Though the scene changes are awkward between acts, everything does look quite nice. The direction from John Copley is thoughtful, he handled the chorus especially deftly. The motivation for every movement was apparent.

Maestro Luisotti conducted the 42 musicians of the reduced orchestra, and played the fortepiano. The sound was verdant. The strings and woodwinds sparkled, and the brass was pleasant but hazy. The tempi were fast, and there was never a dull moment.

The cast was uniformly impressive, both in singing and acting. The chorus sounded particularly pure and clear in Acts I and IV. Adler Sara Gartland had a promising debut as Barbarina, her aria that starts Act IV went well. Robert MacNeil made the most of Don Curzio and was funny. Likewise, Bojan Kneževiċ sounded great as a rather wild-eyed Antonio. John Del Carlo (Doctor Bartolo), Greg Fedderly (Don Basilio), and Catherine Cook (Marcellina) were spirited and had perfect comic timing.

Michèle Losier (Cherubino) did not win me over in her first aria, her voice had a hysterical edge to it instead of sounding breathlessly youthful. Her "Voi che sapete" was pretty, and she does look convincingly boyish. In the title role, Luca Pisaroni started off slowly and lacked punch. By "Non più andrai" he did sound lovely, and looked comfortable on stage. Pisaroni's voice has taken more weight since we last heard him as Masetto in 2007. Danielle de Niese made for a sweet but sassy Susanna. Her "Deh, vieni, non tardar" seemed effortless. Lucas Meachem and Ellie Dehn were both strong as the Count and Countess. Meachem was warm and vibrant. Dehn can sound perfectly brilliant, and there was only the slightest roughness in "Dove sono i bei momenti."

* Tattling * 
Before the performance I had the pleasure introducing Axel Feldheim to Adler Leah Crocetto, the cover for the Countess, in the press room. We found we were seated in the same row as Adler David Lomelí, who got an introduction as well.

There was light talking during the music. Some audience members did not heed the request to remain seated during the brief pauses between acts. At least one person even made a telephone call during the first one. A watch alarm was heard during "L'ho perduta, me meschina."

John Copley was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal by David Gockley after the performance. Copley told an anecdote about Marilyn Horne being picked up at SFO. He also expressed his pleasure of being placed on the "diva list," as many renowned divas have received the aforementioned award.

Danielle de Niese Interview

Danielle de Niese, Decca / Chris Dunlop Soprano Danielle de Niese (pictured left, photograph courtesy of Decca / Chris Dunlop) will have her debut at San Francisco Opera today as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. Later this season she sings Despina in The Met's Così fan tutte, conducted by William Christie. In March de Niese will fulfill her dream of working with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, singing the title role of Rodelinda at Theater an der Wien. The Opera Tattler caught up with Danielle on Friday after a talk with students from the San Francisco School of the Arts and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music that followed the final dress rehearsal of Figaro.

Where did you grow up in LA?
Hancock Park.

Do you still consider it home even though you live in the UK and your parents live on the East Coast?
I do still think of LA as a big home for me, since I spent my adolescence there, in the 90s.

Is your family musical? How did you find opera?
My mother sang, not classical music, but she still always gets the final word on how I'm sounding. My dad's parents also sang. On the other hand, my brother is a pharmacist, and though I do have loads of cousins, 40 or so, but none of them are singers. My parents had me take tons of lessons, everything from dance to tennis to karate. I just took to singing like a duck to water. I remember when I was a kid I would look forward to taking my voice lessons on Saturday mornings; it was my favorite day of the week!

Does it help to be pretty in this industry? Perhaps you can't say, since you've been pretty all along!
[Laughs] That's so sweet of you to say, thank you! I wish I could give a yes or no answer to this one, but it is very grey. I think you have to have personality over looks, but you of course have to have a voice. Opera is about singing. I don't think it hurts to be beautiful, but it is more a plus than anything else. I know it sounds strange, but there are loads of pretty singers, so you have to have something more to give.

You've performed in a lot of Baroque operas, what do you find appealing about this music?
Baroque music is good for young voices, the orchestration is light. In Baroque music, you have the da capo aria, and as a singer you can compose your own ornamentation. It is only in Baroque music that you are allowed the freedom within the form this way. If you sing Mimì, Puccini's music is all written out, and though every performance is different, it is on the page in a way that something like Cleopatra is not.

In 1988 you won Young Talent Time, an Australian television contest, singing a Whitney Houston medley. Do you have a favorite song from Whitney?
The medley was of "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" and "Greatest Love of All," so I definitely love those two songs. "I Will Always Love You" is also one of my favorites, since I loved the movie The Bodyguard.

What sort of dance are you trained in?
Ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and folklorico. I concentrated most on modern, jazz, and tap though.

What is on your ipod that isn't opera?
I can't live without my ipod! Some of my favorite non-classical music includes Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, and Beyoncé.

What sort of cardio do you do?
I used to run, because if you are pressed for time, running is very efficient. Unfortunately, I can't run right now because one of my knees is filled with fluid. So I've been on the multi-stride elliptical, which bounces and is easier on the joints. I'm even getting one for my house in England. I also swim and do some weight training.

How many pairs of shoes did you bring to San Francisco?
Let's see, 22 pairs? That's actually not too bad for me, I'm really my mother's daughter, and love shoes and handbags. But the weight restrictions are strict now, so my books outweigh my shoes.

What makes Bob Ross so awesome?
I just saw a re-run of Bob Ross on PBS, with his big gorgeous hair, exuding an effortless calm. He was just so sweet and I can't believe he is gone! Drawing is the one artistic thing I really can't do, and Bob Ross made it look so easy.

Do you like cupcakes?
Though I don't go out of my way to have them, I do like cupcakes.

Which scene in Figaro would look best depicted with cupcakes as singers?
Definitely the night scene of Act IV. I can imagine all the cupcakes peeking around the pines. You know they are half pines, right?

Yes, we have to pretend they go all the way around, but they are flat in the back!