Eugene Brancoveanu

Opening of Il Barbiere

Barbiereopening2006* Notes *
A revival of Johannes Schaaf's Il Barbiere di Siviglia production from 2003 opened last night on Halloween. Hans Dieter Schaal's set looked as white and stark as ever, the centerpiece being a German fantasy of the Barbie Malibu Dream House, which Thomas May describes as "Bauhaus inflected." The scene changes do go quite smoothly as the set turns. The construction site complete with manhole and barrier with blinking light in Act I was a bit gratuitous, at least it was off to the right from the orchestra.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but Nathan Gunn's voice is not spectacular. The baritone does cut a nice figure as Figaro, but his voice is a bit light and languid. Mezzo Allyson McHardy (Rosina) has a dark tone, strong, but some of her arpeggios were muddy. I liked her very much as Olga in Eugene Onegin, and it was interesting to hear her as the lead this time around. John Osborn (Count Almaviva) is possibly the loudest tenor we've had all season, he has a good deal of vibrato, which perhaps makes his intonation less than perfect. Baritone Bruno de Simone (Dr. Bartolo) enunciated well, his parlando parts were all clear. Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu sang well as Fiorello, and he also was the Sargeant, but there isn't much singing for the latter. His voice has a notable resonance that Gunn's lacks.

* Tattling *
A young man was whispering into his cellular phone in standing room during the overture. After he was done with his call, he tried to go to his seat in the orchestra, but the usher would not allow him in. He argued with her for a bit, then tried the usher at the center aisle, who also did not allow him to take his seat.

There weren't that many costumes this year, sadly. The house was not full either.

* Overheard *
The third and fourth people in the standing room line told the house manager that his absence at the final performance of Rigoletto was sorely missed, as there were many people in line and much chaos. They also expressed their disapproval of latecomers who talked in standing room, and the house manager assured them that they were working on having the opera on screens in the lobby.

Closing of Die Fledermaus

Fledermausactiii* Notes *
Die Fledermaus ended its seven performance run at San Francisco Opera yesterday. It was as charming as ever, almost everyone had it together for the final go-around. Wolfgang Brendel had the correct footing for his Rockettesque duet with Eugene Brancoveanu at the end of Act II. Likewise, Brancoveanu managed to keep the beat correctly as he hit a teapot during Jennifer Welch-Babidge's aria in Act III. The ballet duet in Act II was still dull, even with different soloists, the pair were still not exactly together and there was one point where Cynthia Dreyer looked like she would teeter over. The funny thing is that they are playing dancers from St. Petersburg.

This time around I was more impressed with Christine Goerke (Rosalinde), she could use a bit more control, perhaps, but I'd like to hear her sing again in another role.

* Tattling *
Brian Leerhaber (Dr. Falke) lost one of the cuffs to his dashing red-trimmed frock coat, but was non-plussed by this wardrobe malfunction.

A woman and child arrived late to Box Y, and because the latter has not attained his full height, he had difficulty seeing the stage from Seat 5. Much talking ensued on the part of the woman, she was concerned that the boy was bored and confused about the plot. Apparently his cell phone was on for all of Act I, and he did not deign it important to turn it off for Act II after the reminder, so the woman had to do it for him. She continued to speak during the music, and it wasn't until Prince Orlovsky's "Chacun à son Goût" when she asked the boy if he would like to go. One imagines he must have replied in the affirmative, for they left.

O Gott, wie rührt mich dies!

Fledermausactii* Notes *
Former General Director Lotfi Mansouri's production of Die Fledermaus was revived this season at San Francisco Opera and ends its run this Friday. Wolfram Skalicki's trompe-l'œil sets are reminiscent of Edward Gorey drawings. Thierry Bosquet's costumes are 19th century and suit the operetta. Peggy Hickey's choreography was a bit on the dull side, though it was funny when the quartet of dancers came out on stage in Hungarian dress as Rosalinde sang as the masked countess. To be fair, it was the ballet duet in the middle of Act II that was dull, the rest was passable and even quite cute.

The lead singers were consistent with each other, none stood out terribly as wonderful or terrible. There were times when soprano Christine Goerke strained her high notes as Rosalinde, and when countertenor Gerald Thompson shrieked his as Prince Orlofsky. The acting was convincing and of course, the actor who played Frosch amused everyone. It should be noted that current Adler fellow Eugene Brancoveanu (Frank) did an impressive somersault in Act III as he drunkenly stumbled around the jail.

* Tattling *
Joseph Sargent's preview lecture was worth going to, he was not one of these poor musicology graduate students that are forced to give these talks and who always seem to be spouting off nonsense in an embarrassingly halting manner. He used the Karajan recording for his musical examples. His pronouncation of "Sie" was rather inventive.

A patron complained to the house staff about a particularly aggressive volunteer usher. Apparently she often takes desirable seats in the orchestra, and the patron did not find this fair.

The interactive display for Tristan und Isolde in the lobby was quite loud. I noticed that Sharon, the volunteer usher who seems to be at the opera even more than the author of this blog, was in charge of getting the thing running during intermissions.

Last weekend was part of Fleet Week, and the Blue Angels were audible in the War Memorial during Die Fledermaus.

Ve'se di notte qui con la sposa

Verdiballo1* Notes *
A Washington National Opera production of Un Ballo in Maschera opened the new season in San Francisco under the direction of Gina Lapinski. Entirely traditional in set and costume design, it was a spectacle quite pleasing to the eye with much Louis XIV splendor. There are six scenes but only one intermission, so it was no mean feat having nearly each one rather different than the next. The least fleshed-out scene is Act III Scene 2, when Gustavus is musing in his quarters before the ball. A black screen simply hides the upstage, and a desk and chair are downstage. The last scene emerges when Commedia dell'arte characters dance out and pretend to lift the screen, revealing the splendid hall with a balcony on the upper floor and large chandeliers.

Marco Armiliato did not seem to have complete control of the orchestra, they seemed just slightly off from the singers, particularly in the first act. The singers were all reasonably good, though of course, Deborah Voigt stands out, as her voice has a good deal of volume and command. Her voice is not flashy, but elegant and solid. It may not be worth mentioning, but Ms. Voigt had gastric bypass surgery and went from a size 28 to a size 14. A few years ago her contract with the Royal Opera, London was canceled because their production of Ariadne auf Naxos involved a little black dress that they felt would not work on Ms. Voigt. Her surgery, thankfully, has not ruined her voice.

Other fine singing came from soprano Anna Christy, who made a trim and dashing Oscar. Her bird-like voice has a charming effervescence. Former Adler Fellow Joshua Bloom sang well as the Count Ribbing. Bloom has had six roles at San Francisco Opera in the last two years, and I look forward to hearing him in a larger role soon. Current Adler Fellow Eugene Brancoveanu also shows promise as the sailor Christian.

None of the four singers who made their San Francisco Opera debuts with Un Ballo were terribly striking. Tenor Marcus Haddock (Gustavus III) was slightly quiet and reedy; baritone Ambrogio Maestri (Anckarström) was lackluster at times. Mezzo-soprano Tichina Vaughn may have produced fireballs on stage as Madame Arvidson, and though her voice does not lack fire, her singing was a bit rough and gasping. The other Adler Fellow, Jeremy Galyon, was adequate as Count Horn, but did not make a strong impression.

This is the first production of Un Ballo I have managed to see. In 2003, I had a ticket to this opera in Munich, but instead went to Venice for a few weeks. Verdi's 21st opera is based on an incident in 1792. For the premiere in Rome, Verdi was obliged to change the names of the characters and set the opera in colonial Boston instead of 18th century Stockholm. The music often has simultaneous elements of tragedy and comedy, to great effect, as seen in the finale of Act II, "Ve'se di notte qui con la sposa." The conspirators Ribbing and Horn think they've discovered Anckarström's assignation with his own wife, while Anckarström mistakenly believes that his wife and Gustavus have had a tryst. The jesting of Ribbing and Horn as Anckarström vows revenge and Amelia grieves makes for a distressing irony.

* Tattling *
The side supertitles have been removed this season and are replaced by four small screens under the boxes so the titles are nearly unavoidable. The new general director is has also concerned himself with the length of the performances, he favors early curtain times during the week, and fewer intermissions. The sentiment is a fine one, however, many people were arrived late and naturally they chattered in standing room during the first scene. During the September 13th performance I heard no less than three cell phones, one of these was from a latecomer right next to me. The audience this day was quite absurd in other ways, they applauded when Deborah Voigt made her entrance midway in Act I Scene 2, before she had sung a note. Perhaps they did not notice she is billed last in the program, as the cast is listed by vocal appearance. They also clapped for the scenery of the last scene, the ball room. In addition, they giggled at the supertitles for Madame Arvidson's line "Perchè possa rispondere a voi è d'uopo che innanzi m'abbocchi a Satàno." Apparently reading the word "Satan" is simply hilarious, for this happened at the September 20th performance as well.