Eugene Brancoveanu

Rigoletto at Opera San José

OSJ_Rigoletto_PhotoBy_DavidAllen_1114-scaled* Notes *
Rigoletto opened at Opera San José last weekend, but I attended the fourth performance, today's matinée. The opera was very moving.

Dan Wallace Miller's production has the title character with a large scar on the right side of his face, rather than a spinal deformity, while the Duke has pox on his left arm from syphilis. There are also a lot of books, the opening scene has Gilda sitting in the middle of the stage reading, books litter the space of Rigoletto's home, and the chorus is pretty gross and lascivious with one of Gilda's books in Act II. All of this is coherent and fits the narrative.

Jorge Parodi presided over an enthusiastic orchestra that occasionally was out of tune (the beginning of "Caro nome" definitely had an issue) but pleasantly buoyant. There were also a few times when the orchestra got ahead of the singers, but mostly in Act I.

The cast is rather large, the chorus sounded cohesive, and there were notable contributions from bass-baritone Philip Skinner as Count Monterone and soprano Abigail Bush as Countess Ceprano. The former had a palpable pathos and the latter an imperious dignity. I also very much appreciated the siblings Sparafucile and Maddalena,  bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam and mezzo-soprano Melisa Bonetti Luna, both were very convincing and their low, textured tones were a good contrast to the principal singers with higher voices.

Tenor Edward Graves was a dashing Duke, his bright voice has a lovely lightness. He was a little quiet with the chorus and the orchestra in Act I, but his "È il sol dell'anima" in Act II and "La donna è mobile" in Act III were both strong and pretty. Soprano Melissa Sondhi was sweet as Gilda, her sound can be very pure, though some of her high notes do seem somewhat strained. Her Act II "Caro nome" was beautiful. Best of all was baritone Eugene Brancoveanu (pictured in Act I, photograph by David Allen) as Rigoletto. His warm, round voice is utterly sympathetic, even when he's being cruelly funny as in Act I or unreasonably bent on revenge in the last scene. I was in tears as he discovers his dying daughter, Sondhi does very well here as well, and Brancoveanu's poignancy is undeniable.

*Tattling *
The couple in Row A Seats 2 and 4 did not like sitting next to the service dog with the people in Row A Seats 6 and 8, so they moved to Row B. They talked quite a bit at times, but I found was able to block them out by concentrating really hard on the music.

Worse though was the mobile phone that rang in the quiet part in the last scene right before Rigoletto sings Gilda's name.

I was sad to have to leave before the final ovation, but had to rush off right at 4:48pm right when the music ended, as my spouse needed to get to his own rehearsal by 6:30pm and our household only has one automobile.

Opera San José's Falstaff

Opera-San-Jose_Falstaff-2023_Credit-David-Allen_2184_Resized-scaled* Notes *
A 2013 production of Falstaff (Act II pictured, photograph by David Allen) set in a wine cask returned to Opera San José last weekend. There was much lovely singing and comedic physicality.

Based on Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes that Falstaff appears in from Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, this work has a lot of fat jokes, which I found alienating.

Obviously this is because of the source material and what Arrigo Boito chose for the libretto, but the director, José Maria Condemi, seems to simply go with this without question. Falstaff is vain, gluttonous, and lustful, and not self-aware, every reference to his big belly and fatness garnered laughter in the audience, even if it was not yet sung and just in the supertitles. For me this was unsettling, are we really still in a place in the culture where it's acceptable to laugh at the shape of people's bodies? It highlighted for me how deeply entrenched anti-fatness is in our society and how old it is, even in opera, which famously features many people in larger bodies.

Opera-San-Jose_Falstaff-2023_Credit-David-Allen_2644_Resized-scaledThe production does have a lot of entertaining physical comedy, which the singers are very adept at, especially our title character, baritone Darren Drone (pictured with Chanáe Curtis as Alice Ford, photograph by David Allen). All his movements were clear and he was, indeed, very funny. He was pompous yet remained lovable. His voice has warmth and depth. Tenor Marc Molomot as Bardolfo and bass-baritone Andrew Allan Hiers as Pistola expertly played off of Drone, and all were able to nicely blend their voices together.

Contralto Megan Esther Grey was a sprightly Dame Quickly, and my curiosity was again piqued, I would love to hear her in a meatier role.  Mezzo-soprano Shanley Horvitz (Meg Page) and tenor Zhengyi Bai (Dr. Caius) supported the other voices well.

Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu was a delight as the jealous, conniving Ford, his sound rich and robust. He definitely found his match in soprano Chanáe Curtis (Alice Ford), her voice is hefty, she can reach some effortless soaring notes but sounds grounded at the same time. They were a pleasing contrast to the young lovers, tenor Jonghyun Park as Fenton and soprano Natalia Santaliz as Nannetta, whose light, bright voices are sweet and pleasant.

The set, designed by Steven C. Kemp, is charming, the round arches make it obvious that we are inside a barrel. The shorter scene changes with the curtain up between Act I Scene 1 and 2 and Act III Scenes 1 and 2 were more successful than the two longer changes with the curtain down before and in the middle of Act II. People lose interest quickly and start talking when they have nothing to watch, and often that conversation doesn't end when the music starts again.

The orchestra, lead by Maestro Joseph Marcheso, had some lucid soli in the brass and woodwind sections. The music was rollicking and fun, and seemed on the verge of spilling over into utter chaos without actually doing so.

*Tattling *
The scene change in Act II had a title that updated us on the Super Bowl, stating that the game had not yet started.

There was light talking from the audience but most egregious was a cell phone that rang in Act III, Scene 1 when Falstaff was singing. The phone rang a full three times and someone loudly protested, asking the person with the offending phone turn it off.

Opera San José's Il trovatore

Il-trovatore_David-Allen_8-scaled* Notes *
Opera San José is in the midst of an appealing run of Il trovatore. The traditional production cleanly moves through the scenes and has a hint of humor plus lots of robust singing and playing.

Though the synchrony of the brass-heavy orchestra and the singers was not always focused, the performance yesterday had much charm. The plot of Il trovatore is famously absurd, and there were definitely moments in which director Brad Dalton leaned into this, as seen when the Count di Luna and Manrico fight over Leonora (pictured, photograph by David Allen). Leonora grabs a sword herself and the effect is pretty amusing. The set is simple, stone stairs represent everything from a garden to a dungeon, but it works with the help of super-titles.

There is much powerful singing. Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu gave a nuanced performance as the Count di Luna, his rich warmth can sound both angry and plaintive. Likewise mezzo-soprano Daryl Freedman impressed as Azucena. Her mad recounting of what happened to her mother and her baby son were chilling, while she had a tender sweetness in her duet with Manrico "Ai nostri monti ritorneremo" in the last act.

Il-trovatore_David-Allen_3-scaledTenor Mackenzie Gotcher cuts a fine figure as Manrico, and his singing is strong, especially in volume. Soprano Kerriann Otaño also has a big voice, with a wide vibrato and drama to spare. Her Leonora is very spirited and her low notes are especially beautiful.

* Tattling *
The audience was very much engaged with the performance, though someone's phone did ring during a quiet moment when the Count di Luna sang near the end of the first half. I had to giggle when the ladies behind us speculated on what would happen next, prognosticating that "someone must die."

SF Choral's Verdi Requiem

Sfcs-verdi-requiem-2016* Notes *
My review of San Francisco Choral Society's Requiem by Verdi is up on San Francisco Classical Voice.

* Tattling *
The adolescent girl (who was there with her little brother and their mother) in front of me in Row H of the Orchestra level, had a seat for her purse that was full of cellular phones and a big bouquet. She took many selfies as we waited for the performance to begin.

The children behind me ate candy doled out in plastic bags during the entire performance. This was evidently to bribe them to stay occupied and silent as their mother sang. It was effective except that the bags rustled at times but I must be getting more tolerant or nicer or something, because it didn't really bother me that much, if at all.

Opera Parallèle's Trouble in Tahiti

Trouble1772* Notes *
This weekend, Opera Parallèle is performing Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti (Lisa Chavez and Eugene Brancoveanu pictured right; photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) at Z Space in San Francisco. The performances open with Samuel Barber's ten-minute Hand of Bridge and simply flow into the Bernstein. Director Brian Staufenbiel's production makes the most of limited space by employing a quartered turn-table set and three screens for video projection. The scenes included a kitchen, an office, a theater, and a gym; each furnished beautifully. The images made a suitable backdrop, amusing rather than overwhelming.

For Friday's opening performance, Maestra Nicole Paiement held the small orchestra together, and the sound was clean. The singing was fine, the intimate venue made it easy to hear everyone. Krista Wigle, Andres Ramirez, and Randall Bunnell sang as The Trio with much energy. Lisa Chavez (Dinah) has a distinctive mezzo-soprano, a bit steely and very strong. As Sam, Eugene Brancoveanu sang with his usual warmth and vim. The acting went smoothly, and taken together the performance certainly did delight.

* Tattling * 
The audience was ideal. No one spoke, there were no electronic devices heard, and there did not seem to be any latecomers.

In the lobby, after the performance, we were treated to a reprise of Hand of Bridge, the singers precariously perched above the patrons.

The Little Match Girl Passion at SF Lyric Opera

Little-match-girl-passion-sf-lyric-opera* Notes *
San Francisco Lyric Opera returned after a hiatus of more than two years with a performance of David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion at ODC Theater last night. The new incarnation of this ensemble is sleek and fresh. Lang's piece is scored for four voices and half a dozen percussive instruments, but it is the singers that are meant to play the drums or bells. A conductor is necessary in this case, and Barnaby Palmer kept the music mostly together. The singers were lightly amplified and sounded ethereal. They did well with the simple percussion, but it did not seem like second nature to them to be playing and singing.

It is always a pleasure to hear Eugene Brancoveanu, though his part was not extensive in this piece. Tenor Eric Maggay Tuan's voice was pretty and clear. Celeste Winant (alto) had the most prominent vocal role, and sang with beauty. Soprano Ann Moss sang gracefully and blended nicely with Winant.

The production, designed by Frédéric Boulay (of Ensemble Parallèle) and directed by E.E. "Chip" Grant IV (of Urban Opera), is unflinching and effective. It was striking how unlike this was from SF Lyric Opera's cute, slightly musty fare in years past. The black and white video projections interspersed with purple lighting were tasteful. Anastazia Louise's choreography was eerie, enhanced by her white painted face and limbs, and her white, ragged costume. Her complete commitment to every movement was evident.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet, only a few whispers were heard near the beginning of the piece. Despite being threatened to be "hunted down like a bird dog" if one's cellular phone rang, one electronic tone was heard as the singers sang "God have mercy."

Shostakovich's Prologue to Orango

Shostakovich-orango* Notes *
Over the weekend Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Los Angeles Philharmonic in the world premiere of Shostakovich's Prologue to Orango. The piece was orchestrated by Gerard McBurney, based on surviving piano sketches. There was relatively little singing in the 40 minutes of music, as the 11 parts included an overture and three dances. Some of the singers were difficult to hear. The Entertainer, bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, blended into the sound of the large orchestra. Timur Bekbosunov (Paul Mâche) sang to Salonen, instead of to us. While humorous, this did not serve the music well. Yulia Van Doren was convincing as Susanna, and her vibrato seemed appropriate and controlled. Michael Fabiano sounded sweet and sufficiently loud as the Zoologist. Eugene Brancoveanu gave a committed performance in the title role. Though he sang rather little, it was obvious how beautiful his voice is.

The concepts behind Peter Sellars' staging looked like they had been pulled together in less than five minutes. We were shown images of Occupy Wall Street, a Rhesus monkey with pins in its skull, fighter planes, citrus fruits, and so on and so forth. Members of the chorus (the Los Angeles Master Chorale) were dressed in orange, disregarding the fact that the words orange and orangutan are not related. The fruit (and color) are from Sanskrit via Arabic and the first half of the animal name comes from Malay for "man." There were moments of the production that were interesting, especially when Orango jumps from his pedestal and attacks Susanna, who was seated in the first row of the Orchestra Level. Overall the proceedings were not cohesive, and a concert version of the work would have been less insulting to the intelligence of even this audience.

The second half of the evening was devoted to Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4. Salonen made sharp distinctions between the parts of the piece, but kept the music moving. The differences in tempi and volume were all clear. The orchestra did sound a bit muddy, but there were no egregious errors. The symphony ended gorgeously, melting into silence.

* Tattling * 
The audience in the terrace was appallingly ill-behaved. Of 10 people in our immediate vicinity, 9 spoke during the music. More than one person fell asleep during the second piece. My companion tapped the knee of someone snoring in Row P to wake him up, and the offending person was irate, asking the person with him repeatedly if he had been making noise. After the performance there was rather ridiculous confrontation between awakener and woken.

Ensemble Parallèle's 4 Saints in 3 Acts

Four Saints-Maya Srinivasan+Eugene Brancoveanu+Brook Munoz * Notes *
Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts (Maya Srinivasan, Eugene Brancoveanu, and Brooke Muñoz pictured right, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) opened in a new production from Ensemble Parallèle last night in San Francisco. The performances are a collaboration between Ensemble Parallèle and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in association with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Maestra Nicole Paiement had her small orchestra, which included an accordion, under control. It seemed like it would be easy to lose one's place in the music, and the musicians held together well. Director Brian Staufenbiel put his own narrative atop Gertrude Stein's charming libretto. Staufenbiel certainly does not lack ambition or ideas, and in the end the structure probably helped keep some audience members awake and engaged. The scene changes were seamless, all the props were either on wires or wheels. Because the furniture could be spun around, this was done several times. This worked best when the saints enter for Act III on their chairs, a veritable chair ballet. The colors used for the costumes gave the production cohesion, lots of white, with pops of red, yellow, and to a lesser extent, blue. The choreography, from Michael Mohammed, was pleasing and often quite funny.

There was much beautiful singing. Commère Wendy Hillhouse and Compère John Bischoff had a good dynamic with each other. Hillhouse has exceptional diction, and Bischoff has a wonderful timbre. The saints all sang prettily. The duet between Maya Kherani (Saint Settlement) and J. Raymond Meyers (Saint Stephen) was oddly poignant. The parts with Saint Teresa I and Saint Teresa II were lovely, soprano Heidi Moss has a brilliant clarity and mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi a smooth warmth. Eugene Brancoveanu sang St. Ignatius with a full richness.

The evening began with a new piece by Luciano Chessa entitled A Heavenly Act. The piece uses words from Stein's libretto for Four Saints in Three Acts, as the version we were to hear later was cut significantly by Thomson. Chessa's work has interesting textures and the dance segment was jaunty. Some of the shrill pitches were challenging. The production featured Kalup Linzy, who sang with a microphone and created video projections involving angels and clouds.

* Tattling * 
The person in Row A Seat 104, only a few feet from the conductor, spoke freely during the first piece, and occasionally in the second. She spent a lot of time pointing and talked without regard to either playing or singing.

For some reason, ushers often assume I am in the wrong seat or the wrong section. Just before the performance one of the YBCA ushers tried to confront me about where I was, despite the fact that there was no one behind me, and that where the person she was seating was supposed to be.

Ensemble Parallèle's Orphée

Orphee5966 * Notes *
Philip Glass' Orphée was performed impressively by Ensemble Parallèle last night in San Francisco. The 14 musicians sounded lush but clean under Maestra Nicole Paiement. Brian Staufenbiel's production involved rather stunning circus art, including Roue Cyr, aerialism, and juggling. However, the video art, especially in the beginning, did not quite work, and people even laughed at the repetition in the introduction. It was used sparingly, and the pleasing retro circus feel was certainly attractive. The vision was carried through all the way from start to finish and the acting was convincing from all sides.

The singing was all very strong. Aglaonice, sung by Brooke Muñoz, sounded sweet. Austin Kness sounded robust in his two roles as a policeman and commissaire. Thomas Glenn was haunting particularly as Cégeste, also singing the role of the Reporter. Philip Skinner (Poet/Judge) was threatening, as was appropriate. Susannah Biller was a characteristically brilliant Euridice. John Duykers (Heurtebise) sang with tenderness, and Marnie Breckenridge (the Princess) was alluring. Breckenridge sounded icy and pure. In the title role, Eugene Brancoveanu was most awe-inspiring, his voice is hearty and sympathetic.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly well-behaved, but for some reason, the circus artists brought out the worst in them. The women in G 111 and 112 of the orchestra level could not stop talking during Act II, and one of them insisted on clapping and screaming for the aerealist despite the music.

Brancoveanu sings Sviridov

Brancoveanu* Notes *
Yesterday afternoon San Francisco Performances presented baritone Eugene Brancoveanu in a recital of Georgy Sviridov, Maurice Ravel, Henri Duparc, Franz Schubert, and Carl Loewe. The performance began with Sviridov's Russia cast adrift (1987), songs set to 12 episodic poems by Sergey Yesenin. Brancoveanu conveyed the range of emotions in the music and text with warmth. He communicated tenderness, despair, and triumph with great clarity. His accompanist, John Parr, played the piano fluidly, and with an understated grace. There were only a few moments where they might not have been exactly together, but the 34 minutes of Sviridov were arresting. This was followed by Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, which Brancoveanu also sang at his Salon at the Rex two years ago. He dedicated the "Chanson romanesque" to his wife, who was in attendance. The "Chanson épique" was grave and measured, and the "Chanson à boire" was humorous.

After the intermission we heard four songs from Duparc, and Phidylé was particularly beautiful. Then came three songs from Schubert and three from Loewe. Brancoveanu's diction is extraordinarily clear, imparting the sensation that one can actually understand German. In most of these songs Brancoveanu sang as more than one character, using his falsetto more than once, to mostly good effect. Of especial interest here were the two settings of Goethe's Der Erlkönig, sung one after another. The encore was Strauss' Zueignung ("Ja, du weißt es, teure Seele").

* Tattling *
San Francisco Performances was kind enough to provide me a press ticket to this event, and as a result I sat behind the Chronicle reviewer, who pointed out an error in program notes, which lists Sir Edward Elgar as being the composer of Russia Cast Adrift. The late seating just after this work was performed, and a woman in leopard print climbed over said reviewer before deciding she ought to sit with her friends in the center of Row H instead, and duly climbed over him again. It may have been her mobile phone that rang twice in the middle of Schubert's "Die Stadt."

Don Giovanni at Berkeley Opera

Berkeleyoperagiovanni * Notes *
Berkeley Opera's inaugural production at El Cerrito Performing Arts Theatre, Don Giovanni, is a great success. The new venue features an actual orchestra pit, a balcony, and 450 seats compared to the 328-seat Julia Morgan, where Berkeley Opera performed for the last 12 years. The second performance last night looked quite full, and it is possible the whole run sold out. The opera company needs a new name, as El Cerrito is not even in the same county as Berkeley. In fact, there is a contest on to submit suggestions, and the winner will receive a subscription for next season.

Alexander Katsman did not quite have the orchestra in hand, the musicians and singers were not entirely together, and there were intonation errors from the violins. The woodwinds were a bit squeaky, and the brass also made a few mistakes. The overture did go fairly well, and the brass did especially nicely. In any case, there were many pretty voices in the cast. William O'Neill was convincing as Masetto, his voice suits the role, but his accent in Italian could use some work. Elyse Nakajima (Zerlina) sounded vulnerable, light, and young. Aimée Puentes was hilarious as Donna Elvira, her comic timing was perfect, and she did not push her voice too hard.

Michael Desnoyers was warm and bright as Don Ottavio, and he sang "Il mio tesoro" with beauty. "Dalla sua pace" was not used in this version. Kaileen Miller (Donna Anna) started off somewhat quietly, but warmed up over time. Her voice is icy and has perhaps too much vibrato at the top, but still is appealing. Igor Vieira was amusing as Leporello and has a lovely voice, though he did get a little ahead of the music more than once. Eugene Brancoveanu was a cartoon of a Don Giovanni, completely excessive in his portrayal. It was funny, and certainly Brancoveanu has a gorgeous voice, rich and hefty.

The light-hearted production, directed by the new artistic director of Berkeley Opera, Mark Streshinsky, had its moments, but missed the mark at crucial points. There were many original and diverting aspects, certainly. Having a yoga class for "Ah, chi mi dice mai" was exceedingly entertaining, and Puentes did a fantastic job of pulling this off. Having racks of costumes descend during "Fin ch'han dal vino" set us up nicely for the following scenes. The rubber chicken at the end of one of the racks was a fine touch.

Projections were used to good effect for the "Madamina, il catalogo è questo," but the falling rose petals for the marriage procession certainly must be a screensaver on some ancient desktop somewhere, and the way the statue of the Commendatore was handled simply looked like a video game. Projection is quite tricky, especially because they tend to be behind the singers, rendering the interaction between the two rather artificial. Technology aside, the real problems were in the stage direction. How exactly is Don Giovanni keeping his attackers at bay at the end of Act I, when he has no weapons and is simply dancing around? What prompts Don Giovanni to get on the upstage platform in the finale, besides the fact that he has to descend?

* Tattling * 
The audience was enthused, and talked very little during the music. The patrons on the right side of Orchestra Level Row P were indulgent, and put up with my crawling over them to get to my seat, which of course was nearly in the middle of the row. Next time one should be sure to arrive earlier, as the line for will call was extensive. Both Aaron Copland's The Tender Land and the adaptation of Wagner's Ring by David Seaman sound worthy of attendance.

Festival Opera's Faust

 * Notes * 
Festival Opera's production of Faust opened last Saturday at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. The orchestra, under Michael Morgan, sounded jaunty all evening long, though there were some issues with the horns. The chorus did not fare quite as well, at times they lacked confidence, particularly the men's chorus in "Déposons les armes."

The cast in the smaller roles were pretty good: Zachary Gordin (Wagner), Erin Neff (Siébel), and Patrice Houston (Marthe) were all perfectly appropriate vocally. Eugene Brancoveanu was incredible as Valentin, his presence commanded the stage and his voice is beautiful.

As for the main characters, Kirk Eichelberger was an interestingly vain Méphistophélès, his acting is perhaps stronger than his singing. Kristin Clayton did well as Marguerite, though her voice is not overly sweet, she does have a good heft and volume. On the other hand, Brian Thorsett (Faust) sounded very pretty and clear in the middle of his tessitura. He did have a terrible cracking cough on one of the notes just before the chorus is heard in Act I, and showed some signs of strain throughout the evening.

The production, designed by Matthew Antaky, was not a distraction. There were two screens suspended from the ceiling which seemed to have rather static photographs on them. They resembled the images that come with one's computer as choices for desktop background. However, there was a scene with a giant beach ball being tossed around upstage that was worth the price of admission.

* Tattling * 
There was some scattered talking, and one watch alarm was heard at 11pm.

Festival Opera 2009

Festival Opera's 2009 season opens July 11th with Turandot, and ends August 16th with Faust.

Turandot: Othalie Graham
Calaf: Christopher Jackson
Liù: Rebecca Sjöwall
Timur: Kirk Eichelberger
Ping: Igor Vieira
Pang: Adam Flowers
Pong: Michael Mendelsohn
Mandarin: Ted Weis
Emperor Altoum: Jonathan Nadel

Faust: Brian Thorsett
Marguerite: Kristin Clayton
Méphistophélès: Kirk Eichelberger
Valentin: Eugene Brancoveanu
Wagner: Zachary Gordin
Siébel: Erin Neff
Marthe: Patrice Houston

West Coast Premiere of The Little Prince

Sfolittleprince * Notes *
The West Coast premiere of Rachel Portman's The Little Prince was last night in Berkeley. Portman's music is benign enough, quite light and pretty.
The strongest point was the end of Act I, the lamplighter ensemble. It is not surprising the composer won an Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1996 for the film Emma. The libretto, by Nicholas Wright, included much text not from the book, which was disorienting at first. The novella sits a bit awkwardly as an opera, though the latter is both whimsical and cute, it is also somewhat trite. Directed by Francesca Zambello, the staging was well done, Maria Bjørnson's artful set and costumes worked nicely. The baobabs were hilarious, and the costumes were no small part of this.

The cast was a veritable showcase of the Adler Fellowship Program, nearly all were former or current Adler Fellows. Two of the latter, Kenneth Kellogg and Andrew Bidlack, both sounded great as the King and the Lamplighter, respectively. Tamara Wapinsky sang prettily as the Water, though in some of the ensembles she was easy to pick out, because of her volume and vibrato. Ji Young Yang's diction has improved, her liquids are clearly distinguished, but her vowels could use more work. Her voice remains exceedingly bright and lovely. Marie Lenormand was charming as the Fox, her movement was good, her voice nice, and her diction nearly perfect. Thomas Glenn was fantastic as the Vain Man, his volume was good and he was very funny. As the Snake he had a few moments of being overwhelmed by the orchestra. Tovi Wayne was an adorable Little Prince, his voice certainly has an otherworldly beauty. At times Wayne's intonation was not pitch perfect, and he was very loud, so I suspect he was amplified. The Pilot, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu, was wonderful. At worst, some of his vowels were slightly off, but his voice is warm and resonant and his acting was fine.

Sara Jobin conducted well, the musicians were together, and for the most part, also with the singers. There was a weak moment with the Hunters, but it was brief and will likely be sorted out in the coming performances. The San Francisco Girls Chorus and the San Francisco Boys Chorus both did a fine job. There were a few distractions with props not working exactly as they should, but the children's voices were splendid.

* Tattling *
The part of the Little Prince is shared between two boys, but I don't know if I can muster up the enthusiasm to see this opera again. It will be the first time in five years that I haven't seen a San Francisco Opera production more than once. The audience did not include as many children as one would expect, but perhaps it was because it was opening night. One girl behind me pressed her legs quite vigorously against the back of my seat. Certainly this is one way of not falling asleep. The woman next to me on the orchestra level, in Row O Seat 107, keeps her opera glasses in a plastic bag. Of course, she arrived too late to take them out of her purse before the music. She spent at least one minute fumbling around, trying to extract the plastic bag from her tiny beaded purse, and the glasses from the plastic bag. Later on, her purse emitted a loud beep, which prompted her to drink some water, but not to turn off whatever electronic device made this sound. Perhaps it was a reminder to take medication. In any case, she and her date did not return after intermission.

Operas based on Le Petit Prince

LepetitprinceHouston Grand Opera's 2003 production of The Little Prince opens tomorrow at Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. The opera, by Rachel Portman, is in English, and the production is the work of Francesca Zambello. There are also two other operas based on Antoine de Saint Exupéry's Le Petit Prince, Nikolaus Schapfl's Der Kleine Prinz (2003) and a 1964 Russian version from Lev Knipper.

Initially I felt quite skeptical about an operatic version of Le Petit Prince. I first read the book as an 8th grader, because it was assigned to my best friend in French class, and was attracted to the charming pictures and to the word baobab. Since then I've re-read the novella a dozen times, and as for so many people, it is one of my favorites.

The opera in Berkeley looks much like the book, and also features a very fine baritone, Eugene Brancoveanu, as the pilot. Two children share the role of the Prince, Tovi Wayne and Tyler Polen. Tenor Thomas Glenn sings the Snake and the Vain Man and Marie Lenormand is the Fox. The other two parts are taken by current Adler Fellows Ji Young Yang (the Rose) and Tamara Wapinsky (the Water).

San Francisco Opera | Cal Performances | Press Release