Joélle Harvey

Carlos Kalmar & Joélle Harvey at SFS

Joelle-harvey-headshot2010 * Notes * 
Carlos Kalmar is currently conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Schnittke's Moz-Art à la Haydn, Haydn's Symphony No. 97, and Orff's Carmina burana. Last night's performance commenced with the amusing piece by Schnittke, scored for 13 strings and conductor, the ensemble was clear and incisive. The two violin soloists, Alexander Barantschik and Dan Nobuhiko Smiley, were especially good. Likewise, the Haydn was played with a pleasing lightness, with fine contrasts of dynamics and tempi. The rather silly Carmina burana was also played and sung beautifully. The brass was, however, not very pretty during "Veris leta facies." The San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the Pacific Boychoir, and the Crowden School Allegro Chorus all sounded lovely. Both the tenor and the baritone soloists, Nicholas Phan and Keith Phares, sang with animation. Joélle Harvey (pictured, photograph by Arielle Doneson) glistened as the soprano soloist. Her bright, flexible sound was the highlight of Orff's piece.

* Tattling * 
The Carmina burana Laser Lightshow Appreciation Society attended this event, and were seated in the very last row of Davies Hall. There was talking from the elderly people in Row J Seats 2-10, and a watch alarm sounded from this area during "Dies, nox et omnia." An exceedingly bored child was sitting in Row H Seat 10, he checked his mobile phone many times, talked, left for the Haydn, and became annoyed when he was told he could not leave during the Orff by the person who brought him.
I too had the most terrible time taking Carmina burana seriously, the music simply made me laugh, and it was difficult to not disturb some around me.

Merola Grand Finale 2008

Merola3  * Notes *
This year's Merola Opera Program ended twelve weeks of training with a Grand Finale last night at the War Memorial Opera House. The performance was staged simply, using a set that included a couple of steps to a rickety parquet floor and a pair of stage right doors. The costumes were standard recital fare, tuxedos for the men and evening gowns for the women. Joel Revzen conducted the San Francisco Opera Orchestra to good effect, everyone sounded in tune and there were only a few moments when the singers were overwhelmed. There were also some synchronization issues during the trio "Una bella serenata" from Così fan tutte and "Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm" from Die Zauberflöte. The singers and orchestra were just slightly off in these cases, in the former it was probably just nerves as it was the first number, and in the latter perhaps it was because of the stage directions were somewhat complicated. Mozart provoked the strangest staging of the evening, for Così, Barbie dolls were abused and for Die Zauberflöte, a pistol was produced as the flute, and a bag of cocaine stood for the bells. The most laughter, however, erupted from tenor David Lomelí's disrobing during "Un dì se ben rammentomi."

The young singers have improved noticeably since the Auditions for the General Director in June. There were only a handful of problems. Adam Cioffari was slightly quiet as Guglielmo, but was audible. Ellen Wieser was shrill as Inés, though as Gilda, her voice blended very nicely with YoungJoo An's in "Un dì se ben rammentomi." Rena Harms, who was so incredible as Donna Elvira in the Merola production of Don Giovanni, did not sing the First Lady as gorgeously. She cracked, perhaps because of the fake (I imagine, anyway) cigarette she was smoking. Ben Wager was a bit difficult to hear at one point during Luisa Miller's "Tu puniscimi, O Signore," though he was extremely menacing as Wurm. Wager was overwhelmed by the orchestra, and Leah Crocetto's voice was, at times, a good deal louder than his. However, Wager sang Golaud well during "Mes longs cheveux descendent" from Pelléas et Mélisande. Both Joélle Harvey (Mélisande) and Eugene Chan (Pelléas) sounded wonderful during this piece as well, Harvey's flexible voice is clear and light, Chan's high baritone is sweet.

In the first half, standouts included the duets "Ah, mon courage m'abandonne" from Werther and "Nedda! Silvio! A quest' ora" from Pagliacci. Renée Tatum and Nathaniel Peake were well-matched as Charlotte and Werther in the former. Amanda Majeski was had a lovely pure tone as Nedda, and Austin Kness was heartbreaking as Silvio. In the second half, Majeski was haunting as Vanessa in "At last I've found you," and James Benjamin Rodgers was a very fine Anatol. David Lomelí was an outstanding Duke of Mantua in the aforementioned "Un dì se ben rammentomi" from Rigoletto. Though, as mentioned before, quite loud, I was most impressed by the versatile voice of Leah Crocetto, hers is one that is already a force of nature. Her Luisa was strong and resonant, and her performance earned her the longest ovation of the evening.

* Tattling *
The audience was ill-behaved in the Grand Tier, everyone around me spoke during the music, assuring each other about the quality of the singers. Watch alarms and various electronic noises were noted. After the intermission I made my way to the top of the balcony and listened to the rest of the performance in peace, as there was absolutely no one near me.

My foray into the world of the press involved some antics. I appeared at the appointed Grove Street entrance and waited a good long time only to be told my tickets were at the box office. Then I waited in that enormous line for several minutes and was told I should go to the Grove Street entrance as my name was not with the box office. I had to make a fuss, something I do not enjoy, especially since I know all the people at the box office by sight and would rather be on good terms with them. But I did get in without having to wait in any more lines and milled around the press room. Not knowing exactly what to do with myself there, I was advised to eat cheese, and it certainly was pleasant enough.

Merola's Don Giovanni

 * Notes *
The Merola Opera Program's Don Giovanni opened with the first of two performances last night. Director Catherine Malfitano's production is a bit busy, bursting at the seams with movement. For example, from the very beginning, the overture had an elaborate pantomime, showing us many of the principal characters and detracting from the music. At other times the choreography was effective, as in the first fight scene between the Don and the Commendatore or the hilarious interaction between lovers during "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto." The sets, by Wilson Chin, consisted of four walls meant to look like arcades, and could be arranged in different ways for the various scenes. Mark Gilmore's lighting went well with this set, as did Ulises Alcala's period costumes.

Conductor Gary Thor Wedow's tempi seemed a little erratic, at times uncomfortably slow and at other times somewhat fast, so the contrasts of speed were strong, but possibly arbitrary. There were many timing issues when the orchestra was not with the singers, or not exactly with each other, though one imagines tomorrow's performance will be better. It may be that the space for the orchestra is not ideal, the musicians did look awkwardly crowded in the shallow, narrow pit. There were some pitch problems as well, from the violins and horn especially. Nonetheless, there were absolutely gorgeous moments, and the finale was splendid.

The young singers were entirely impressive. Joélle Harvey (Zerlina) and Adam Cioffari (Masetto) did start off a bit quietly at first, perhaps because they were upstage, but sang nicely. Both of Joélle's arias were lovely, as she has a sweet, flexible voice, though she did have a few rather audible breaths. Carlos Monzón hammed it up as Leporello, and sang  "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" to great effect, not overly loud and with a fair amount of ease. The audience loved him, and even clapped in the middle of the aforementioned aria. Ben Wager was cast well as the Commendatore, though his voice is a bit light, he was convincing. The Donna Elvira, Rena Harms, was outstanding. She did start off with much rasping, and was able to seem completely mad, but was able to turn it all around during the quartet "Non ti fidar, o misera." Rena's Act II aria "Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata" was moving. David Lomelí was a most sympathetic Don Ottavio, his Act I aria was a little rushed at times, but he was wonderful in Act II. The radiant Amanda Majeski sang Donna Anna beautifully, though she had an awful lot of vibrato at the beginning and was at times too loud for the small theater. Austin Kness was lovable enough in the title role, he did seem slightly nervous. His timing for "Fin ch'han dal vino" was good, and his voice is certainly pleasant.

* Tattling *
The audience was well-behaved, only one watch alarm was heard, and only scattered whispers near the beginning. Of course Don Giovanni has many funny parts, but the woman next to me laughed a lot by herself during the first act, and I did wonder if she was trying to signal to her date that she was having a marvelous time. This was only a minor distraction, what really got me off track was listening too hard to the violins, as I was only a few feet from them. This is the trade off for sitting closer to the front at Cowell, the audience is better, but the orchestra is just more prominent than it should be, as it is on the same level as the seating. Also, seagulls were very clearly heard at least on three occasions during Act I, after the quartet and before the party scene.

I was delighted to note bloggers in the audience, on stage, and in the orchestra.

Auditions for the General Director 2008

* Notes *
Merola Opera Program's Auditions for the General Director were yesterday evening, and this was a first opportunity to hear all the 2008 Merolini in a single go. Before the auditions began I found my opera mentors, the Ryans, and B. Ryan told us we should put ourselves in David Gockley's shoes and that we must have an eye (or ear, really) to casting Die Walküre. T. Ryan said she found the idea of putting herself in Gockley's shoes rather difficult. In any case the auditions were educational, it made me realize I really should study up on Massenet and Berlioz. There was a lot of fine singing, actually, everyone was clearly talented. The most hilarious performance was from Carlos Monzón, who acted out the Catalogue aria in a somewhat lewd manner as he sang. Tyler Nelson also impressed me with "Konstanze, Konstanze...O wie ängstlich."

At intermission I was, for fun of course, required to pick which singers I would like to hear again. I chose Joélle Harvey, Amanda Majeski, Nicole Birkland, James Benjamin Rodgers, and Benjamin LeClair. Joélle sang "Du gai soleil" from Werther and her bright voice has such effortlessness. Amanda's rendition of "Song of the Moon" from Rusalka was passionate without being too harsh. Nicole chose "The Empty Handed Traveler" from The Consul, which I'd never heard before. James sang Lensky's aria from Eugene Onegin with an appealing brightness and good volume. Benjamin had clear diction in "Tutto è disposto...Aprite un po'quegli occhi" and his warm round tones reminded me of John Relyea.

I believe Gockley called back my five picks, in addition to Ellen Wieser, Leah Crocetto, Renée Tatum, Nathaniel Peake, and David W. Pershall. David sang Papageno's "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja" well, and I very much enjoyed Eileen Downey's accompaniment here. My favorite performance of the evening came from Joélle Harvey, who sang "Piangerò la sorte mia" from Giulio Cesare with Dennis Doubin playing the piano.

* Tattling *
We looked for David Gockley, as one must keep up, one year his predecessor did not appear at this event. He was in the orchestra section and he either thanked or complimented each person by name after they sang. The audience was extremely well behaved, they did not clap between pieces, just as they were asked. There were a few whispers, especially from Box C. The person in question was threatened but we were told we were too small to actually manage to throw him over the railing.

Oren Gradus and Zheng Cao were both spotted at intermission. I was introduced to the former, and I mentioned he must have made a big impression on me as Leporello last season, as I still thought of him during the Berlin performances of Don Giovanni that I recently attended. We also spoke about the Lucia di Lammermoor he is in at the moment, and it is clear that he has an immense respect for Natalie Dessay.

I may be wrong about some of the notes above, if you happen to have a correction for me, please speak up, I am grateful for any help.