Željko Lučić

SF Opera's Opening Night Rigoletto

06-Rigoletto* Notes * 
The 90th season of San Francisco Opera got off to a fine start last night with Rigoletto, at least once opening night formalities were out of the way. Though not exactly precise, the orchestra bustled with enthusiasm, and Maestro Nicola Luisotti kept the music moving. The chorus sang with characteristic vigor.

This revival is the fourth outing of the de Chirico-inspired production in fifteen years. Michael Yeargan's set design is clean and quiet, other than the rather garish color palette. The scene changes are smooth, and the two pauses (between the first two scenes and the last two acts) did not take long.

The array of lovely voices in this opera is striking. The six current and former Adlers sang seven of the smaller roles and acquitted themselves well. It is especially pleasing that mezzo-sopranos Laura Krumm (Countess Ceprano and A Page), Renée Rapier (Giovanna), and Kendall Gladen (Maddalena) all sound so distinct from one another.

Likewise, bass Robert Pomakov made for a Monterone that could not be confused with the baritone of the title role. Andrea Silvestrelli is a threatening Sparafucile. His voice has beautiful resonances even in his lowest notes.

Francesco Demuro made a strong effort as the Duke of Mantua, but came up a bit short. His bright voice has an edge of hysteria to it, lending him an unmanly air. He gave a respectable rendition of "La donna è mobile" but somehow did not engage the audience.

Aleksandra Kurzak's Gilda is attractive, her intonation is exact, and she never grates on the ear. On the other hand, her dark sound seems too sensual for the naive daughter of Rigoletto. Željko Lučić (pictured above in Act I Scene 2, photograph by Cory Weaver) impressed in the title role. His sound has volume and richness. The tenderness of Act I Scene 2 contrasted nicely with the despair of the last scene.

* Tattling * 
The opera started even later normal for opening night. The General Director even made an announcement ten minutes after the hour that the proceedings would begin in another five minutes. John Gunn and George Hume welcomed the audience, made acknowledgements to various donors, let us know we were to be photographed from the stage in honor of the 90th season, and also informed us that there would be champagne for all after the performance. After several photographs were taken, Luisotti lead the orchestra and the audience in the National Anthem, so the performance itself began nearly thirty minutes late.

Rigoletto at the Met

  Rigoletto-met-04302011 * Notes * 
Saturday evening's Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera was a study in extremes. On one hand, Diana Damrau gave a revelatory performance, her Gilda ranged from giddily sweet to utterly devastating. She inhabited the character with complete conviction. Her "Caro nome" was incredible. On the other hand, our Duke, Giuseppe Filianoti, left much to be desired. He seemed to throw his voice upward, in the vain hope of hitting those high notes. One could not help but feel sorry for him. The strain in "La donna è mobile" was painful, but the quartet that followed was even worse. He was dreadfully flat and cracked two notes.

As Maddalena, Nancy Fabiola Herrera was difficult to hear during the quartet, but did sound appropriately dark and earthy when her voice was more exposed. The Sparafucile was instantly recognizable as the Ferrando in Il Trovatore earlier in the day, Stefan Kocán. Quinn Kelsey (Monterone) was responsible for some of the finest singing in the first scene, the heft and richness of his voice is notable. Our Rigoletto, Željko Lučić (pictured above, © Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera), also had a warm, rounded sound with beautiful resonances. His volume was strong without ever being unpleasant. As far as his acting, his movement did not project the pitifulness of a hunchbacked jester. The last duet was moving, and he did do his part.

The orchestra rushed under Fabio Luisi, there were times when one was sure the musicians were racing the singers. The chaos was occasionally overwhelming. The chorus was particularly off from the orchestra in Act I. Perhaps the configuration of the traditional, monolithic set contributed to this.

* Tattling * 
Standing room in the Family Circle was nearly empty, but the seats were nearly full. Ushers seated late patrons during the overture, and there was much talking. Someone even used his lighter to illuminate his ticket.

A cellular phone rang loudly during "Caro nome" and another electronic sound was briefly heard as Rigoletto sang near the beginning of Act II.

Bayerische Staatsoper's 2008-2009 Season

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.

New Productions for 2008-2009 | Official Site

Macbeth Live in HD Met Simulcast

Metmacbeth* Notes *
The Met's simulcast of Macbeth aired today. The production, by Adrian Noble, is new to the Met and opened October 22, 2007. Set after World War II, Mark Thompson's set and costumes are dark, lots of black, grey, olive, khaki. There were many leather jackets and machine guns, Banquo, for example, seemed to be dressed as Rambo for most of Act I. The witches were based on Diane Arbus, each witch wore some sort of hat and smeared lipstick. The purses of the witches were much too loud in Act I, it sounded like coins were dropping on the stage. There were a few supernumeraries used in this group, including three female children. A low point of the opera was the beginning of Act III, when a witches brew was created from little girl vomit, the three had to eat bread and spit it out in an over-sized chalice. I never imagined I would see simulated bulimia onstage at the Met. Sue Lefton's choreography was a little vulgar for the witches, a lot of hip thrusts and such, though when the witches set out chairs for Lady Macbeth to walk on just before she sings in her mad scene worked well.

The cast was impressive, everyone sang at a high level. Baritone Željko Lučić was a fine Macbeth, with much emotional range, going from mournful, to afraid, to defiantly angry with ease. Maria Guleghina was incredible as Lady Macbeth, her voice sounded almost angelic at times, but also could be crystalline and downright frightening. She had good control of her vibrato, for the most part, though she did have a tendency to have an occasional wobbling gasp, especially at the beginning of the brindisi in Act II. Dimitri Pittas (Macduff) sounded a little reedy to me at first, but he was incredible in his Act IV aria, singing well and even shedding tears. He was somewhat difficult to hear over the movements of the chorus and the playing of the orchestra toward the end of the opera. Bass-baritone John Relyea also had a few inaudible moments after the discovery of Duncan's body, but sang his Act II aria "Come dal ciel precipita" quite beautifully. I was most moved by the choral parts at the end of Act II and IV, everyone sounded together and James Levine had the orchestra well in hand.

I do find the May performances of Macbeth tempting, for René Pape will be singing Banquo, and Joseph Calleja sings Macduff. As for the lead roles, I have never heard baritone Carlos Alvarez, but I do avoid Andrea Gruber, whom I find grating. It might be fine, given that Lady Macbeth is supposed to be unpleasant to the ear. 

* Tattling *
The line to enter the Century San Francisco Centre 9 formed before 9:30 am, and Theater 4 was pretty full. Lado Ataneli was listed online as Macbeth today, and his name also appeared on the program I was given at the theater. Apparently he took ill, and Lucic replaced him. The picture at this theater was clearer than at Bay Street, though I did get a headache by the second half. The image did go fuzzy or slowed down at least four times, once in the first chorus, another during "Mi si affaccia un pugnal," once again in "Ah, la paterna mano," and a last time at the last scene. These were minor, more unfortunate were the disturbances in sound, one lasted half a second near the end of Banquo's last aria, the other was during Macbeth's "Pietà, rispetto, amore," in which we were treated to three brief but loud sounds. A shame, considering these are two great moments of the opera. They also did not cut the sound from backstage fast enough for the beginning of Act IV, and we could hear stage directions with the orchestra.

The host today was Peter Gelb himself, the General Director of the Met. He gave a brief interview of James Levine just before the conductor went out to the orchestra pit. The cameras moved around quite a bit, and I was better able to appreciate this by sitting a bit further back this time. It gave me a headache, but for the most part it wasn't too bad. The worst was when Banquo's ghost appeared, it was difficult to make sense of how he appeared or what exactly was going on, because there were so many close-ups. Again, I would have preferred not to see the young supernumeraries regurgitate bread up close or see John Relyea's fillings. I did enjoy Mary Jo Heath's interviewing the two leads at the beginning of intermission. Lučić told us he is a Verdi fan, and Guleghina stated "I am becoming crazy" of her character, not herself.

Don Alvaro o La Fuerza del Sino

LaforzaSan Francisco Opera's new production of Verdi's La Forza del Destino, directed by Ron Daniels, opened last Wednesday. They used the revised 1869 version and not the 1862 version that premiered in St. Petersburg. In this revised version Don Alvaro does not throw himself off a cliff, and there is something of a sense of hope despite the demise of the other two main characters.

The premiere of this new production was rather fraught with problems. Since there are so many scenes and so many set changes, curtains were often employed to hide the various changes. After Act I Scene i, Catherine Cook (Curra) and a fancy chair got caught on the wrong side of the curtain. Cook handled this well, hiding up against the curtain, and since her costume was the same color as the curtain, she was fairly discreet until she ducked under it. Other lapses in the professionalism behind the scenes were striking. The people backstage were far too loud. At the end of Act I Scene iii of La Forza there is a beautiful organ solo, and this was marred by a woman's voice backstage who clearly said "Standby." Moreover, during the last few moments of the sublimely quiet final scene, talking from backstage was audible.

The synopsis printed in the program was rife with oversights, both in terms of numerous typographical errors and simple plot inaccuracies. For instance, Act II was incorrectly marked as Act I, which anyone could see at first glance. They did manage to correct this by the second performance on Saturday. But worse was the plain misinformation. Don Alvaro does not appear in Act I Scene ii at all, yet the synopsis read "The young villagers welcome the travelers (Alvaro and Leonora in disguise)..." Also, for Act I Scene iii, the synopsis read "Frightened and alone, Leonora prays that the Virgin will not abandon her. Because she is not a woman, she's not permitted to enter the monastery." This editorial sloppiness seems to betray an overdependence on spell check and a general dearth of competence.

Both Roland Aeschlimann's set and Andrea Schmidt-Futterer's costumes were vulgar. First there was this odd progression from black and more traditional in the first act, to more modern grey and camouflage in the second act, then to dirty white at the end. As for the actual set, the toppled-over triumphal arch in the first two scenes, the mess of oversized jacks in Act II, and the enormous white sculpture of 3 beams meant to be Leonara's cave were all a bit silly. The costumes were fine until we got to the vivandières in Act II, who were recast as prostitutes and had punky hairstyles and dramatic white makeup on their faces and exposed breasts. The nipples on Preziosilla's red leather vinyl corset were slightly gratuitous as well.

The whole production was overwrought and ponderous. The recorded sounds of bombs, bullets, and machine gun fire during the battle in Act II was unnecessary, there is plenty of noise being generated by the orchestra. Also, why have the chorus try to dance around in the dark during the patrol chorus of in the same act? They failed to be together with each other or the orchestra during the working rehearsal, the opening performance, and last Saturday's matinee.

Soprano Andrea Gruber was perhaps not the best choice for Leonora. Her vibrato lacks control, and her gasping is audible from the very back of the opera house. She lacked acting skills as well, during Saturdays' performance her robes got tucked up in her belt, showing an uncomely amount of thigh and calf. With her back toward the audience, she tried to fix her costume, instead of simply letting it go. Tenor Vladimir Kuzmenko was, however, great as Don Alvaro. His voice is huge, but he shows a lot more control than Gruber. Željko Lučić was also very good as Don Carlo di Vargas, and his duets with Kuzmenko were some of the best moments of the opera.

Nicola Luisotti conducted with great energy, and the orchestra played very well. This opera has a beautiful overture, a good deal of lovely music, and the ending has a certain remarkable stillness.

La Traviata

The alternate cast for San Francisco Opera's La Traviata was stunningly good. The perennial favorite, soprano Ruth Ann Swenson, was replaced by Mary Dunleavy in the last two performances. Swenson is very precise, her tone is extremely sweet and bell-like. Dunleavy is perhaps more vital, her voice is very strong. Baritone Željko Lučić sang beautifully as Germont, his aria in Act II, "Di Provenza il mar," was excellent.

Otherwise, tenor Rolando Villazón was impressive as Alfredo, his voice is also quite sweet and rich. The flamenco dancers in Act III were disappointing, those ballet dancers have nothing like duende. John Conklin's set and David Walker's costumes were just as one would expect, Verdi would not be surprised, at any rate.