La Traviata

SF Opera's La Traviata

_DSC2206* Notes * 
A brand new production of Verdi's La Traviata (Act II Scene 2 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera yesterday evening, kicking off a series of operas by this composer conducted by our new Music Director Eun Sun Kim. The orchestra sounded lovely, but definitely more restrained than in previous outings of this piece in recent memory.

The overture was handled quite well by Maestra Kim, everyone sounded very beautiful, the tempi were not excessively fast. There were moments with the chorus in particular where there were issues with synchrony. The offstage bandas in both Act I and Act III sounded nice and together. The strings were exquisite in Act III, as Violetta dies.

There were six former Merolini in this opera, so a lot of familiar faces and voices. Most notable of these were mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven (2016) as a sympathetic Flora Bervoix and bass-baritone Philip Skinner (1985) as a rather terrifying Baron Dauphol.

_DSC2038For the three most important principals we had three San Francisco Opera debuts. Baritone Simone Piazzola had a lush warmth as Giorgio Germont, the right mixture of sternness and fatherly care. He sang both "Pura siccome un angelo, Iddio mi diè una figlia" and "Di Provenza il mar, il suol chi dal cor ti cancellò?" very well, the latter stuck with me as a highlight of the evening. Tenor Jonathan Tetelman (Alfredo) had a very pretty moment in the Act I duet "Un dì, felice, eterea," but had a tendency to yell his high notes otherwise, he doesn't seem to have perfect control of his volume. Most interesting was the Violetta, soprano Pretty Yende. Her singing in Act I seemed a bit delicate and icily metallic, but she brought incredible pathos to Acts II and III, and the resonances of her voice worked very well for her duets with Germont and Alfredo. I found her "Gran Dio!...morir sì giovane" at the very end particularly arresting.

This new staging from director Shawna Lacey looks very much like her Tosca from 2018, and it isn't a surprise that the set designer, Robert Innes Hopkins, is the same. I do wish that they had taken this opportunity to make the scene change in Act II smoother, it really took a lot of time to change the set from Violetta's country house to Flora's party, and the audience did not settle down quickly enough when the music started again. The contrasts between the saturated, almost lurid colors of the party scenes with the others were stark.

The realism of sex, violence, and illness throughout were unsettling. The courtesans do some 19th century version of twerking at Flora's party, the Baron does seem dangerous and scary, and having Violetta cough all throughout the piece was effective. There was some colorful cross dressing in Act II Scene 2 from the Marquis, who wears a pink tutu with his tuxedo tails and from the dancers who had bisected costumes portraying masculine and feminine evening wear on each side. Violetta does look genuinely sick in the last act (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) and this only added to how distressing the end is.

* Tattling * 
The audience was enthusiastic and the fact that this performance was simulcast to the nearby baseball stadium certianly heightened the excitement. I did hear a cellular phone ring house left on the Orchestra Level as Pretty Yende sang "È strano! ... Ah, fors' è lui" in Act I. Also, the person in Row Q Seat 3 kept crinkling a plastic bottle at the beginning of Act II Scene 2. Though I felt annoyed by these disturbances, it is sort of nice that things are so much back to normal.

SF Opera's La Traviata Review

_B5A8025* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's recent La Traviata is very pretty both in the orchestra pit and on stage.

This is Maestro Luisotti's last series of performances as music director, and the orchestra sounded spirited during the Sunday matinée last weekend. I felt like I could hear every individual instrument from the back of the balcony. Though not always with the singers, the effect was still strong.

The production, from John Copley (lovingly known by many as "Uncle John"), is traditional, though has been livened up by Shawna Lucey and includes quite a spanking by Flora of the Marquis d’Obigny in Act II Scene 2 that I don't remember from before.

The singing had much to recommend it, and certainly was not dull. The Adlers all did well, from Amina Edris' sympathetic Annina to Anthony Reed's despairing Doctor Grenvil. Amitai Pati was particularly tantalizing as Gastone, one would love to hear him in a major role, his voice is just so beautiful.

It was fascinating to hear each of the three major principals, all of whom are new to the War Memorial stage. Artur Ruciński may have lacked a certain gravity for Giorgio Germont, he really seemed no older than his son, but his reedy, plaintive sound was lovely. Atalla Ayan (Alfredo Germont) had a wonderful rich warmth, though there were times when his voice did seem to disappear into the orchestra, as at the end of Act II, Scene 1.

Aurelia Florian has a bright, though bordering on shrill voice, but her Violetta is convincing, and she has an appealing, delicate quality that works nicely for a consumptive. She does express a lot of emotion through her sound, and could channel a wounded animal or a sweet angel depending on what was required.

* Tattling * 
One definitely missed the seriousness of the Elektra audience during this performance. Many people were late as it was Fleet Week and the last day of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and traffic getting into San Francisco must have been bad.

Then again, standing room upstairs was nearly empty and I could place myself away from those who needed to chatter during the music.

SF Opera's La Traviata Media Round-Up

Sf-opera-traviata-act-iiiProduction Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviewers are not particularly impressed by the first cast of San Francisco Opera's La Traviata (Act II Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver), but find the second one better.

First Cast: San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Jose Mercury News

Second Cast: San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice

SF Opera's La Traviata (Pérez, Costello, Kelsey)

Sfopera-traviata-2014-perez* Notes * 
The second cast of La Traviata (Ailyn Pérez as Violetta and Stephen Costello as Alfredo in Act I pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) at San Francisco Opera this season performed last night.

This performance was presented as a live simulcast. Production Director Greg Weber narrated the set changeover during the first intermission, and took questions via social media with the help of Joey Castaneda. Weber's reminder to turn off cellular devices after the presentation was much appreciated.

The change of personnel seemed to be for the better, though one is certain that it did not hurt that this was the seventh performance for most of the musicians. Maestro Giuseppe Finzi kept the orchestra together, but the tempi were still fairly rapid. The woodwinds were especially lovely. The chorus sounded more spirited.

Quinn Kelsey has a gorgeous voice, and was moving as Germont. Stephen Costello has a strong, open sound as Alfredo. Ailyn Pérez seemed well-suited to the role of Violetta, she was able to sound brilliant yet delicate.

* Tattling * 
There were again a large number of latecomers in the balcony. A few young women felt it was fine to look at their mobile telephones in the standing room area.

SF Opera's La Traviata (Cabell, Pirgu, Stoyanov)

Sf-opera-traviata-cabelle-2014* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's 1987 production of La Traviata (Saimir Pirgu as Alfredo and Nicole Cabell as Violetta in Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) was revived again last night. Originally conceived by John Copley, Laurie Feldman is the director this time. The set, designed by John Conklin, is splendid, as are David Walker's costumes. Somehow the staging does not cohere, and the high point certainly is the focused flamenco dancing in Act II Scene 2.

The orchestra sounded sumptuous, though the tempi that Maestro Nicola Luisotti kept were consistently ahead of the singers. The chorus was slightly tepid in the Brindisi. The principal cast features very pretty voices with a lot of volume, yet the effect was curiously flat. Vladimir Stoyanov has a rather strident manner as Germont. Saimir Pirgu has a pleasant, bright warmth as Alfredo, but his singing has an effortful quality. Nicole Cabell (Violetta) sounded gorgeously icy, her voice is beautiful and strong, but somehow she fell short of embodying her character.

* Tattling * 
There were many latecomers in the balcony. Some mobile telephones and watch alarms were noted. The sound system made a strange squeak in the second third of the opera.

Festival Opera's La Traviata

FO11-traviata * Notes *
Festival Opera's 2011 season opened with La Traviata last night in Walnut Creek. Conducted by Maestro Michael Morgan, the orchestra sounded enthusiastic and full, but there were some glaring intonation problems. The chorus was likewise sounded eager, though not perfectly together.

The cast boasted many familiar faces, and the singing and acting was fine all around. Nicolai Janitzky's Germont was fatherly, his sound has volume and a certain buzziness. Andrew Whitfield sounded downright scared in his vocal entrance as Alfredo, which was odd as his voice is quite pretty and warm. He did have difficulties with the high notes, and occasionally his voice would nearly disappear. In contrast, Rebecca Davis (Violetta) sang with much more ease. Her voice is flexible and well-supported. Some of the notes in her lower range are not perfectly clear, but Davis did sing beautifully, and with fragile delicacy in the last act.

The production, directed by Mark Foehringer, was entirely reasonable. The set suggests richness without being clunky or monolithic. The costumes were exactly as one would expect, reminding one of attire seen in Ingres portraits.

* Tattling *
A fire alarm sounded before the performance, and everyone in the building filed out onto the sidewalk outside. No one appeared hurt, and we were allowed inside again before the 8pm curtain time.

There was much talking in the audience, which was otherwise very supportive and excited to be there.

La Traviata at the Met

Mettraviata German Regietheater made another inroad (after Luc Bondy's poorly-received Tosca) into the repertory of the Metropolitan Opera's with its new production of La Traviata. Here is the Unbiased Opinionator's account.

* Notes * 
Few Met opera-goers will mourn the passing of Franco Zeffirelli's visually overloaded production of Traviata, in which it was almost impossible to discern the principal singers on a stage riotously overpopulated with supernumeraries and overburdened with layers of flamboyant set design. German director Willy Decker's mounting of one of Verdi's most popular operas is the polar opposite of Zeffirelli's visual pandemonium. All three acts of the opera take place within a glaring white semi-circle, replacing Zeffirelli's over the top realism with abstract, "concept"-laden sterility. As is common with this sort of thing, the Director writes pages of explanatory program notes (filled with tautological, tortured sentences such as: "La Traviata is a piece about death – and paradoxically, or maybe inevitably, it is equally a piece about the almost overwhelming force of life, which drives every living thing toward death...") in an attempt to win over the otherwise bored or baffled audience member.

Well before curtain time, a hoary "Father Time" figure, a sort of Dr. Death, is seated before a giant clock, which dominates the stage throughout the evening. As the Overture begins, Violetta makes her entrance in a scarlet strapless party dress and drifts about the stage, occasionally moving pleadingly toward "Dr. Death" as she attempts to grasp and stop the motion of the hands of the clock. An ungenerous critic might ask: Was a metaphor ever more belabored or more obvious?

The courtesans and haute-bourgeois party-goers were dressed, both men and women, in black tuxedos, menacing Violetta and Alfredo.  The hospital white, semi-circular set created odd acoustic distortions of the singing and the largely purposeless stage direction left the principals to wander about the stage or required them to perform writhing physical contortions on the floor or on one of the couches which appeared like an obstacle course. In fairness, it must be mentioned that the confrontation between Alfredo and his father, culminating in Germont striking his son and then holding him, weeping, in his arms, was effective and moving. As Violetta surges toward death in her final scene, a floral patterned sky turns blood red – giving the impression of tubercular microbes seen under a microscope – creating a chilling, spine-tingling effect.

Marina Poplavskaya's Violetta was uneven, ranging from an explosive "Sempre Libera," with muddy coloratura and a strident top, to a meltingly beautiful rendition of the third Act "Addio del Passato." It does not matter at all if Violetta does not interpolate a high E-flat at the end of "Sempre Libera," but it does matter if what comes before is so disappointing. A visually striking woman, she was forced to writhe, crawl, meander and ghost-walk through the show; which was choreographically impressive, but surely not vocally helpful. Possessed of an impressively beautiful voice, one has the sense that the soprano consistently overloads her middle range, which might account for her difficulties in important, climactic moments such as her outburst "Ah, M'ami Alfredo!" in Act II.

As Alfredo, Matthew Polenzani sang with consistent beauty and sensitivity. In particular, his "Parigi, O Cara" was sung with an exquisite gradient of vocal color and emotional expression.  His second act rendition of the cabaletta to "De Miei Bollenti Spiriti" was powerful without being forced. Polish baritone Andrzej Dobber cut an impressive figure as Germont, and sang "Di Provenza al Mar" with a fine sense of line despite the aria's cruel tessitura and a slight crack on the high G-flat in the aria's concluding phrase.

There were many instances of poor coordination between the pit and the stage. The second act Gypsy Chorus fell apart completely as a result of an impossibly fast tempo. On the plus side, the orchestra played with marvelous balance and uniformity of sound, especially in the Act One and Third Act preludes.

All in all, an interesting evening for a short run in a B-level German opera house. An enduring production for the Metropolitan Opera? The question is open and surely will provoke lively debate.

Last Performance of Runnicles as SF Opera's Music Director

Photo by Kristen Loken Anstey  * Notes *
Thursday's B cast performance of La Traviata at
San Francisco Opera marked the end of Donald Runnicles' tenure as Music Director. Elizabeth Futral still sounded shrill in Act I, but improved as the night wore on. David Lomelí seemed restrained, but sang beautifully, especially at the beginning of Act II. Stephen Powell's Germont, was consistent, his voice is warm and pleasant.

Futral definitely looked best in the Jazz Age costumes. In this performance she did not kick her shoes off for "Sempre Libera," and Lomelí carried her to the bed at the end of that act. She also had an actual letter in Act III, which wasn't the case with Netrebko or Perez, if memory serves. Powell's choreography was different than Croft's, Powell did not embrace Futral at all, and he did not enter with open arms at the end of Act II Scene 1.

* Tattling * 
The people in Box V talked during the quiet parts of the music. Otherwise, there were some watch alarms, but nothing else terribly noisy. There was less laughter than usual, though there was some giggling when Annina says "Quest'oggi, è vero? Vi sentite meglio?" in Act III.

Many bouquets were laid on the conductor's music stand and many more thrown on the stage during the ovation. Maestro Runnicles threw a couple bouquets up to his daughters in Box A.

Ailyn Pérez in SF Opera's Traviata

Ailyn Pérez in La Traviata, photo by Chris Hardy * Notes *
Ailyn Pérez's turn at Violetta in San Francisco Opera's La Traviata yesterday night was impressive. She was a better match for Charles Castronovo (Alfredo) and did not overwhelm him, he did not seem nearly as quiet. Pérez had an appealing vulnerability, her performance was nuanced, and her high notes were never shrill. She had a few gasps here and there, but her breathing was generally under control. Castronovo sang with great sensitivity, he was a bit underpowered at the top of the Brindisi, but was otherwise fine. Dwayne Croft (Germont) still rushed a little, but sounded less strained than during opening night.
The supporting cast sounded lovely as well, particularly Andrew Bidlack as Gastone and Renée Tatum as Annina. The chorus might have been the slightest bit off from the orchestra a few times, but continued to sound very pretty.

It was interesting to note the differences in staging. Pérez did not hang her legs out of the fancy car for her entrance, nor did she pull Castronovo into her bed at the end of Act I. Her costume for the first half of Act II was not a dressing gown, but a velvet dress with lace trim. She did not provoke inappropriate laughter as Netrebko and Futral did, despite the inane super-titles, perhaps because her performance was more engaging somehow.

* Tattling * 
There was almost no electronic noise in balcony standing room, a few hearing aid noises or stray microphones for OperaVision were heard. There was a little whispering.

The Orpheus Group was given a pre-performance tour of the Media Suite. There are eight robotic cameras in the house that are controlled backstage, as well as two fixed ones. Video editing is even done during the performance. We were taken to the stage just before curtain and were greeted by Castronovo himself.

B Cast of SF Opera's Traviata

Photo by Kristen Loken Anstey * Notes *
The B cast of San Francisco Opera's La Traviata performed last night. Elizabeth Futral and David Lomelí were a good match vocally as the leads, neither overwhelmed the other as far as volume was concerned. Futral's pianissimo was exquisite, the coldness of her voice could come off as crystalline. However, she did have some shaky shrillness too, she shrieked her last note in Act I and her vibrato was out of control at the end of "Addio, del passato." Lomelí fared better, his voice always sounded clean and lovely. Stephen Powell was fine as Germont, though his shifts in dynamics were not terribly distinct in "Di Provenza il mar." Leann Sandel-Pantaleo was a very brash but charming Flora, she gasped a few times, but she and the rest of the supporting cast were singing back-to-back performances. The chorus sounded together, and did particularly well in Act II. The orchestra also did well, there was only a brief moment where the horns sounded strange at the beginning of "Ah, fors' è lui."

* Tattling * 
There was so much electronic noise in the balcony that I had to move down to orchestra standing room to read the score in peace. Someone's watch alarm rang at least thirty times, at different intervals, and made noise for practically every number. Downstairs, someone in standing room also had a watch alarm, but it only rang at each hour.

Many Merolini and Adlers were in attendance. I must have been quite exhausted, for I inadvertently greeted Heidi Melton as we walked in opposite directions through the box level lobby.

SF Opera's La Traviata Media Round-Up

Production Web Site | Press Photographs

Final Dress Rehearsal: Civic Center

Reviews of the First Cast: The Opera Tattler | Not For Fun Only | Out West Arts | | San Jose Mercury | San Francisco Examiner | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Francisco Chronicle | Associated Press

Reviews of the Second Cast: The Opera Tattler | San Francisco Chronicle

Reviews of Ailyn Pérez: The Opera Tattler | Not For Fun Only

Netrebko in SF Opera's La Traviata

Netrebko-castronovo * Notes * 
Marta Domingo's "Jazz Age" production of La Traviata opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The performance marked the long-awaited return of Anna Netrebko to the War Memorial stage, as she was last here four years ago, singing Musetta in La Bohème. Netrebko did not disappoint as Violetta, her sound is rich and bright, and she has retained her good looks. Her voice has become quite full, and her volume was sometimes overwhelming. She and Charles Castronovo (Alfredo) made for an attractive pair, even though he did sound muted in comparison. Castronovo's tenor is warm and pretty, with very little strain. As Germont, Dwayne Croft did well considering he was recovering from a sinus infection. He rushed during his big aria in Act II, but the fineness of his voice did come through. The supporting cast was perfectly respectable, though perhaps less than arresting. The chorus produced a lovely sound, but were not exactly on beat with the orchestra near the end of Act I. There seemed to be a great deal of asynchrony in general, even for the opening of a new production. There were pleasing individual moments from the orchestra, however, it was not a particularly inspired performance overall.

The staging was artificial and incoherent. The sets for the first and last acts were elegant, very simple, but the Act II sets were overwrought. None of them made a good deal of sense taken together, and I was especially displeased by the return of the blinding disco ball from La Rondine. The costumes were lost, because of the colors used, they just did not read well. None of Netrebko's costumes were flattering, though the gowns were sumptuous with clean lines. Her outfit in Act II was strangely elvin, she looked like an extra from Lord of the Rings. The choreography was sloppy, the dancers were not together, and it was bizarre that they had an Arabic theme for both the Egyptian and the Spanish pieces. Worse yet were the movements of the singers, they looked stiff, like marionettes. There was no dramatic tension in the choreography whatsoever, as evidenced by the falls that Netrebko took both at the end of Acts II and III. Unfortunately, one cannot use a gag like that twice without being trite.

* Tattling * 
There was very little talking, and no electronic noise besides some hearing aid squeals. The audience was very taken with Netrebko and seemed highly engaged and attentive.

La Traviata at Det Kongelige Teater

Some months ago I learned that Andreas Scholl was to sing Partenope at the Royal Danish Theatre, and pestered my friend whom we'll call the Opernphrenologe into going, as she is rather closer to Copenhagen than I am. The Opernphrenologe also went to a performance of La Traviata, and what follows are her (edited) observations. The Partenope review is forthcoming.

   * Notes *
"Sehmbreh leebherha deggaoo
Follehggyar dee geeoiha in geeoiha..."

La Traviata at the Copenhagen Opera House was decent. I liked how all of the opera singers were at around the same level, nobody stood out to make the rest sound horrible. Both Violetta (Anne Margrethe Dahl) and Alfredo (Niels Jorgen Riis) started out too quietly, but they gained in strength halfway through the first act. Giorgio Germont (Jorn Pedersen) reminded me more of an automaton rather than an opera singer. He couldn't act and there was almost no emotion in his voice. I kept on seeing a wind-up key in his back every time he sang. On the other hand, everyone was on pitch most of the time, which shocked me!

Violetta, sung by Anne Margrethe Dahl, had extremely poor enunciation. At first, I thought about how much I enjoyed her warm round tone. Considering that I normally hate sopranos, this was surprising! Then I noticed that she was slurring. She couldn't act and her pitch went slightly off somewhere in the middle of the second act, but on the plus side she was hot and she had nice legs.

The staging was absurd. During Act II, they put piles of dirt in the bedroom to show how poor they were. One pile of dirt had some pretty green weeds growing on it, which I thought was a charming touch. During Act III, they made a hole in the floor. That was profound.

Act III was by far my favorite. Shortly after curtain rise, a woman pretending to be drunk threw off her cape and collapsed to the ground. Naked. Her quivering pallid flesh lay on the stage floor until some other extras carried the mound off. Then some man took his shirt off! I don't know why he did that, but he did! Then the de-shirted man pretended to have anal sex with another man who was previously dressed up as a woman. Finally, when Alfredo denounced Violetta, he ripped her dress off so she had to lay on the stage in her underwear. But they weren't any normal underwear. They were so exceedingly cootish that I was jealous.

The Danish people do not seem to cherish their opera singers very much. The program does not contain artist biographies, but instead has a page of all of the opera singers' names with tiny little pictures. It was more like a police line-up than an opera cast list.

* Tattling * 
The audience talked quite a bit. When Violetta had consumption, someone else in the audience joined her. There was lots of rustling. The people in front of me talked to me during the break and seemed surprised when I told them that I always stand at the opera if I have a choice.

There was some high-pitched feedback during the first act on the left side of the opera house. Fortunately, it disappeared by the second act.

The opera house supplied little cups in the bathrooms so that it was easy to get water. I appreciated that very much!

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