* Tattling *
There were a ton of cellular phone rings and watch alarms at the Sunday matinée performance on September 18.
Lucia di Lammermoor
* Tattling *
* Notes *
Opera San José's latest season started with a solid production of Lucia di Lammermoor last weekend. The cast, especially Lucia (Sylvia Lee as Lucia pictured left; photograph by Pat Kirk), was very strong and the orchestra sounded fine.
Ms. Lee has just started in Opera San José's resident company, and based on her performance Sunday afternoon, she is a welcome addition. Her voice isn't huge, but is bright enough to cut through the orchestra, and is consistent throughout her range. Her mad scene was completely convincing and it was remarkable how frightening she was, even though she is a tiny woman.
Resident tenor Kirk Dougherty sounded perfectly nice as Edgardo, though it does always look like he is putting in a lot of effort. His final aria was good, and it really was terrible that someone's cellular phone rang during a quiet part of the piece. Baritone Matthew Hanscom likewise performed well, and is suited to the big brother role of Enrico, it seemed more natural to him than some of the others he's had in recent memory.
In the smaller parts, tenor Michael Mendelsohn (Arturo) stood out as a scene stealer in Act II Scene 2. He was very funny, which isn't the usual way the character is handled but it worked anyway. Bass Colin Ramsey was a reedy Raimondo, while Anna Yelizarova (Alisa) and Yungbae Yang (Normanno) rounded out the cast with sympathetic ease.
Ming Luke kept the orchestra together, his tempi were appropriate and the woodwinds sounded especially pretty. The chorus also was fairly synchronized and cohesive.
There was very little surprising about Benjamin Spierman's production besides the comic Arturo and the fact that it was difficult to keep sharp objects away from Lucia. She kept grabbing knives and swords, menacing men much larger than herself.
There was a hearing aid that was quite noisy during the whole performance.
* Notes *
Lucia di Lammermoor closed last Wednesday at San Francisco Opera with Albina Shagimuratova as the title character, substituting for Nadine Sierra, who was ill. Shagimuratova herself has been sick and had not yet performed her role as the Queen of the Night in the current run of The Magic Flute that ends November 20.
The performance of Lucia was tantalizing, Shagimuratova has a powerful voice that is a good match for the other great singers sharing the War Memorial stage with her. On the down side, she was obviously still ill, and no amount of wonderful singing could save the terrible production, which looks even worse in close quarters, I discovered.
Shagimuratova's voice is exceedingly dark but she has brilliant high notes. Her Lucia was less safe than Nadine Sierra's, and more emotional. Shagimuratova did lack the sweetness and innocence that Sierra brought to the role. That said, it was exciting to hear Shagimuratova, and we are lucky to be able to get such talent at the last minute.
Michael Cavanagh's staging is pretty darn silly. Ghosts appear nearly every time the word "ghost" is mentioned, and it made my date laugh almost every time, which is hardly an appropriate reaction. It interesting to see that the production team did not try to put Shagimuratova into Sierra's costumes, or even ones that approximated them. Since neither set of outfits really fit in with anything else on stage, it was perfectly fine.
* Tattling *
There were giggles heard not only from my opera companion, but in adjacent boxes and even from the Grand Tier, particularly when Arturo's body was revealed in the mad scene.
* Notes *
A new production of Lucia di Lammermoor opened last night at San Francisco Opera with local favorite and Adler alum Nadine Sierra in the title role. There was much beautiful singing and playing, but while there were many strong elements in the staging, it didn't add up to a cohesive performance.
Sierra cut short a run as Zerlina in Paris Opéra's Don Giovanni to replace Diana Damrau, who is on vocal rest. The young soprano started off the evening sounding slightly pinched, but recovered and has a gorgeous voice with excellent consistency. She looks fabulous as Lucia and her face is expressive, those doe eyes convey a lot. She lacks a certain raw intensity in her madness, which came off as very pretty but somewhat impassive, at least vocally.
One also missed the eerie glass harmonica that we heard in San Francisco Opera's 2008 production, though the flute player was strong, and even joined the cast and crew for a well-deserved ovation. Maestro Nicola Luisotti had the orchestra going rather fast, and got ahead of the singers, but only overwhelmed in volume once or twice.
Piotr Beczala sang Edgardo with warmth and brightness, and Brian Mulligan was completely convincing as the conflicted Enrico, his sound rich and emotional. Their Wolf Crag scene (Act III, Scene 1 pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) was arresting, and this was one of the more interestingly staged, on a black and white checkered floor that seems to be floating in clouds.
The production, directed by Michael Cavanagh, is efficient and has stylish sets and costumes, and some silly video projections (lots of water and huge statue heads). The mad scene takes place in the bridal chamber, and the set opens up to bring the chorus into the action. This works well, and the contrast of colors is striking. The green, blue, and purple of the chorus women's gowns with the grey set is attractive, and they wear enormous flower-shaped hats which is always a plus.
* Tattling *
Was happy to run into an opera devotee who recently moved to San Francisco from New York. He was accompanying a young lady to her first opera.
Overall the singing was very good. "Chi mi frena in tal momento," featuring Angela Cadelago (Lucia), Thomas Glenn (Arturo), Brian Leerhuber (Enrico), Kirk Eichelberger (Raimondo), Michael Foreman (Arturo), and Patrice Houston (Alisa), was beautiful and moving. Cadelago blended nicely with the other singers here, she could be heard, but did not sound shrill. At other times she did not impress me as much, her voice is very piercing. Thomas Glenn's voice has taken on more heft, he sounded quite lovely.
The production, directed by Mark Foehringer, was inoffensive. The aesthetics of the set design did remind one of Design Toscano. The contrast of this with the costumes, which looked straight out of a Van Dyck painting, was slightly jarring. The acting throughout made sense, and everyone looked appropriate for their roles.
* Tattling *
Due to rather poor planning on my part, I was about 10 minutes late to Friday's performance. It was the second time I was unintentionally late for an opera this season (out of 65 opera performances).
There was some whispering from the audience, but nothing that could not be easily ignored.
* Notes *
The Sunday matinée performance of Lucia di Lammermoor at San Francisco Opera was quite crowded, despite the Pride events happening nearby. Giuseppe Filianoti (Edgardo) sounded less raveled and also more in tune. Gabriele Viviani (Enrico) was also sounding better. Cybele-Teresa Gouverneur was still inaudible in the sextet as Alisa, though I was able to hear her from Box X for the third performance. Natalie Dessay certainly remained the strongest element in this production, her mad scene in particular is luminous yet vulnerable.
I'm sad to admit it, but so far I just find Donizetti boring, even though I enjoy Bellini and Rossini. This was the 7th time I've attended one of Donizetti's operas, and I was more interested in reading the score than really listening to the music. Naturally, I only know three of his 75 operas, so of course it is absurd of me to dismiss his work at this point. However, I do not look forward to hearing L'elisir d'amore next season, even if the voice behind the blue space alien of Fifth Element fame is singing.
* Tattling *
This time I decided it would be best to try to read the score in the orchestra, as it was a full house and the balcony had been so tiresome the night before. It was more or less fine, there were the latecomers and such, but they did try to keep it down, as far as volume is concerned. A woman did bring her grade schooler to standing room. It doesn't make sense that the box office would even sell standing room tickets for children, as they cannot see over the railing. It just seems a little mean, though to be fair, the ticket seller probably did not know that someone would be silly enough to take her child to standing room.
One of the ushers had the child sit near me, far away from his mother who was leaning on the railing. The child simply played with his Nintendo DS. This was fine for the first act, as the music was loud, and he was not as bored initially. But by the time Act II rolled around, the child was scribbling furiously with his stylus and this combination of movement, noise, and light was distracting. I looked at him sternly and mouthed "Stop it!" three times before I moved to the other side of the house. After that I was able to concentrate without any trouble, so sometimes it is just best to walk away.
San Francisco Opera is presenting a free simulcast of Lucia di Lammermoor at AT&T Park tonight, as one may know because of the billboard in Emeryville or the various banners in San Francisco. Kip Cranna will be receiving his San Francisco Opera Medal before the performance, which features Natalie Dessay in the title role. One may register in advance and print out tickets. Ticket holders are allowed in at 6:30pm at Lefty O'Doul Gate, and others may enter at 7pm at the Willie Mays Plaza Entrance. It should be amusing, when else are hot dogs, the outdoors, and opera combined? Unfortunately, I will miss this event, as Beethoven's 7th beats bel canto opera hands down in the world of the Opera Tattler.
Reviews of San Francisco Opera's 2008 Performances: The Opera Tattler | The World of William | Intermezzo | SFist | Joshua Kosman's San Francisco Chronicle Review | John Carroll in the San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Examiner | San Jose Mercury News | Not for Fun Only | AP | Out West Arts | echovar | The Reporter | Chloe Veltman | FT.com | Lynn Ruth Miller | Kinderkuchen for the FBI | Prima la musica, poi le parole | Opera Warhorses | The Reverberate Hills
* Notes *
Natalie Dessay had her long awaited debut at San Francisco Opera last night in the opening of Lucia di Lammermoor. Her voice has a marvelous incandescent quality, but also has a hard edge that borders on vulgar. Her movements are light and her acting is strong. She was completely convincing in her mad scene, and the use of glass harmonica rather than flute here certainly was effective.
Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti's debut was less impressive, though at least he looked fine paired with Dessay, as she is rather petite. His portrayal of Edgardo started off fairly well, his voice bright and reedy, though with a certain whining quality. The famous Act II sextet was his strongest moment, sounding particularly good with Gabriele Viviani (Enrico). However, he was nearly shrieking in Act III, "Fra poco a me ricovero" was not good. Viviani made for a threatening villain, his voice is not especially beautiful but is serviceable enough. Though his diction was precise, his intonation was not, which was clear in the duet "Se tradirmi tu potrai." Oren Gradus faired better as Raimondo, his light but warm tones were lovely.
As for the smaller roles, Cybele-Teresa Gouverneur (Alisa) did not distinguish herself. Her little shaky voice was hysterical at first, and inaudible in the sextet. Matthew O'Neill (Normanno) sounded fine, though he was a hair off from the orchestra at one point. Andrew Bidlack was a restrained and suitably stiff Arturo, and sang well in the sextet.
The chorus was excellent, though they were a bit fast near the end, or else the orchestra was somewhat slow. They were not, in any case, exactly together. The orchestra did sound crisp and in tune under debuting conductor Jean-Yves Ossonce.
Other production teams could really learn a thing or two from director Graham Vick and designer Paul Brown. The set was gloriously quiet, and only made one cracking noise between the second and third scenes of the last act, and this was when there was no music to interrupt. Despite the silence of the set, the visual impact was utterly stunning. The gloomy elegance of the moving walls, the storm scene, and Lucia's entrance in the mad scene using a platform covered with heather (Calluna vulgaris) painted red were all gorgeous. Some of the effects with shadows were too much like caricature, they reminded me a bit of Kara Walker's work sans the incisive political commentary.
* Tattling *
The War Memorial looked quite full, and no rush tickets were available. Standing room was crowded, and is bound to become even more so. I'm sure this is the production that brings in so many people that there will be fainting in standing room, hopefully it will distract them so I can hear Ariodante in peace.
I only heard one mobile phone ring, and it sounded like it was coming from outside the hall, in the lobby. There were no watch alarms heard in the orchestra, and I didn't notice anyone talking.
Dr. Marcia Green's amusing pre-opera talk focused on the music of Lucia in film, of course bringing up The Fifth Element and the blue alien diva.
September 22 2008: Gala
September 23- October 16 2008: Salome
September 24- October 9 2008: La Gioconda
September 27-December 19 2008: Don Giovanni
October 3-25 2008: Lucia di Lammermoor
October 13- November 13 2008: Doctor Atomic
October 20- November 20 2008: La Traviata
October 24- November 22 2008: Madama Butterfly
November 7- December 4 2008: La Damnation de Faust
November 21- December 13 2008: The Queen of Spades
November 28- December 20 2008: Tristan und Isolde
December 8 2008- January 8 2009: Thaïs
December 15 2008- January 10 2009: La Bohème
December 22 2008- January 1 2009: Die Zauberflöte
December 31 2008- February 26 2009: La Rondine
January 9-31 2009: Orfeo ed Euridice
January 24- February 12 2009: Rigoletto
January 26- February 7 2009: Lucia di Lammermoor
January 30- February 21 2009: Eugene Onegin
February 6-28 2009: Adriana Lecouvreur
February 16- May 8 2009: Il Trovatore
February 27- March 7 2009: Madama Butterfly
March 2- April 3 2009: La Sonnambula
March 9-21 2009: Rusalka
March 19- April 10 2009: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
March 25- May 4 2009: Das Rheingold
March 31- April 22 2009: L'Elisir d'Amore
April 1-17 2009: Rigoletto
April 6- May 5 2009: Die Walküre
April 13-24 2009: Don Giovanni
April 18- May 7 2009: Siegfried
April 25- May 9 2009: Götterdämmerung
May 1-9 2009: La Cenerentola
The Met's 125th season includes 6 new productions and 22 revivals. Susan Graham is singing Marguerite and Don Elvira. Karita Mattila sings Tatiana and Salomé. Juha Uusitalo has his Met debut as Jokanaan in Salomé. Deborah Voigt stars in the title role of La Gioconda with Ewa Podleś as La Cieca, and Olga Borodina as Laura Badoero. Thomas Hampson is Athanaël in Thaïs, opposite of Renée Fleming, and Onegin, opposite of Mattila as aforementioned. Fleming also sings the title role in Rusalka. Anna Netrebko will sing Mimi and share the role of Lucia with Diana Damrau. Netrebko's Edgardo is, of course, Rolando Villazón. Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna (Giuseppe Filianoti in February performances) sing in La Rondine, the production is the same one that was seen in San Francisco last Fall and which will be broadcast this weekend. Gheorghiu stars in L'Elisir opposite of Rolando Villazón. Alagna also appears in Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. John Relyea is in two productions, La Damnation de Faust and La Cenerentola. René Pape sings Hunding and Fasolt in the Ring and King Marke in Tristan und Isolde. Daniel Barenboim is making his Met debut conducting Tristan.
McVicar's Il Trovatore is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera. The Met performances feature Salvatore Licitra, along with Sondra Radvanovsky, Dolora Zajick, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky for the first performances, and then Marco Berti, Hasmik Papian, Luciana D'Intino, and Željko Lučić.
I am most likely to see Orfeo ed Euridice, the Mark Morris production was my very first opera when it was performed in Berkeley several years ago. I am disappointed to not see Ruth Ann Swenson or Andreas Scholl in this lineup for the next season.
Tickets to yesterday evening's performance of Lucia di Lammermoor completely sold-out, presumably because Edita Gruberova was singing the title role. She is in her 25th year of singing Lucia, and she is quite remarkable. Her voice can be the very embodiment of icy perfection. The audience screamed and clapped after "Quando rapito in estasi" for more than thirty seconds, and after the mad scene for at least a minute.
Marcello Viotti was adequate, the pacing seemed right. Robert Carsen's staging was dull, it involved walls with recessed square panels, like the ceiling of the Pantheon. These walls were arranged at angles to suggest a vanishing point of a painting and perhaps confinement. Richard Hudson's costumes all involved plaid except in the case of Lucia. This heightened the absurdity of an opera whose setting is Scotland, but whose language is Italian.
Paolo Gavanelli, as Enrico, was most impressive besides Gruberova, his baritone is very pleasant. Tenor Marcelo Alvarez was also quite good, one of the better tenors I have heard at the Bayerische Staatoper. The sextet in Act II Scene II was incredible. The only weak voice was Helena Jungwirth as Alisa, though it is a very small part with no aria. I could not hear her over the music from where I was.