Michelle DeYoung

Bluebeard at SFS

Mtt-bay-taper* Notes * 
This week Michael Tilson Thomas conducts San Francisco Symphony (pictured left) in a program of Liszt and Bartók. The opening performance began with Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1. Jeremy Denk played fluidly, but with clear articulation. Both Denk and the orchestra could sound blustery or playful as the music required.

The staged version of Duke Bluebeard's Castle was directed by Nick Hillel with help from co-director Nick Corrigan, who also did the video and visual design. A speaker, Ken Ruta, gives a theatrical introduction to the piece, unfortunately, he talks over the music, though just a little. Adam Wiltshire's set consists of five tall scrims placed in layers, the ones left and right being more downstage. There is also a large sculpture, made up of different pyramidal shapes, hanging high above the orchestra. Light and images are projected on all the aforementioned surfaces. The most successful of the projections are the more abstract ones. The use of motion can be occasionally overwhelming.

The music, both singing and playing, was most impressive on Thursday night. The role of Judith suits Michelle DeYoung's voice, which has a pentrating quality without being too acid. Alan Held is an effective Bluebeard, and sang with strength. The orchestra shimmered, MTT kept the volume under control, and the music flowed rather beautifully.

* Tattling * 
A cellular phone rang on the orchestra level as Ruta spoke at the beginning of Bluebeard.

Nott conducts CSO


* Notes * 
Last weekend Jonathan Nott (pictured left, photograph by Thomas Müller) conducted Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program of Schoenberg's Piano Concerto and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. The concert started with the former, the soloist being Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who played with clarity. The orchestra sounded neat and together. Schoenberg's music tends to put pressure on my sinuses, perhaps it is simply tension, and after the piano concerto was over, I sneezed three times in quick succession. Das Lied von der Erde was more engaging, even if we happened to be sitting on the wrong side of the singers. It felt a bit as if we were part of the brass section. Stuart Skelton's voice was not quite expansive enough to be heard that distinctly from the Center Terrace, but his sound is pretty and his diction comprehensible. Michelle DeYoung was perfectly audible, her voice has an interesting metallic quality, and she sang the last part rather well.

* Tattling * 
The audience completely quiet for the Schoenberg, but some talking was heard during the Mahler. A few people on the Orchestra Level were clearly asleep, but one young man near the front was rapt by DeYoung's performance.

El Niño at SF Symphony

Adams_john_175x175 * Notes *
John Adams is conducting his nativity oratorio El Niño at San Francisco Symphony this week as part of Project San Francisco. The work was modestly staged, with direction from Kevin Newbury, set from Daniel Hubp, costumes from Paul Carey, and lighting from Kirk Bookman. The most charming bit might have been the Charlie Brown Christmas tree downstage for the second half. Adams kept time impressively, but for the most part had an introverted conducting style. Much amplification was used and the overall effect was richly textural and rather loud.

The chorus sounded pretty, but did not always seem together. It was especially difficult to discern what they were singing in the beginning. The soloists were amplified, so did not have to contend with being lost under the rest of the music. The trio of countertenors did sound angelic, as did the San Francisco Girls Chorus that came in at the end. Bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu seemed to have a good heft to his voice. His sibilants were somewhat whistled. Mezzo Michelle DeYoung created a pleasant, pewter-like sound. Soprano Dawn Upshaw was bright and also very lovely. Everyone sounded so comfortable singing in English that when they occasionally switched to Spanish, it was noticeably stilted. There were small errors in Spanish pronunciation, initial voiceless stops were aspirated and some vowels were not clear.

* Tattling * 
There was light talking in the first half, but the most of the offenders left at intermission so that the audience was unusually quiet for the second part.

Götterdämmerung at LA Opera

LA Opera's Götterdämmerung, Photo by: Monika Rittershaus/LA Opera * Notes * 
The first cycle of LA Opera's Ring Festival concluded with Götterdämmerung last night. James Conlon kept the orchestra at a controlled pace, and the volume was never overwhelming. The brass was not terribly secure, even sounding chaotic at times. The horn calls were respectable, albeit very careful and slow. The chorus sounded lovely and together, even whilst fluttering their hands and doing choreographed stretches. The Norns were ominous, with Jill Grove sounding slightly strained, Michelle DeYoung sweet, and Melissa Citro a tad shrill. The Rheintöchter were enticing: Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), and Ronnita Nicole Miller (Floßhilde) did well. Jennifer Wilson sang Gutrune with silvery ease, while Michelle DeYoung was a jarring Waltraute.

Richard Paul Fink was sinister as Alberich, ruthless but in the end helpless. Eric Halfvarson (Hagen) sounded merciless, his full, rich voice was still very beautiful. Alan Held was quite loud as Gunther, he sang without strain. Linda Watson remained dignified as Brünnhilde, her upper register can be harsh, but she conveys the emotional content of her text clearly. John Treleaven had a rough, quiet start, improved, but then had some trouble with the end of Act II. He pulled through for his last scene.

Achim Freyer's production was a continual delight, his vision carried through to the very end. Though not focused on the human aspects of the narrative, his ideas are clearly reasoned and fully committed to throughout. I was particularly amused by the enormous red bendy straw shaped into a triangle that was the thread of fate, and by the red balloons that were lowered on wires, then lifted, then popped at the end of Act II. Hagen's very special garage door opener that blinked and flashed in different colors was also highly entertaining. On a more serious note, the staging for when Siegfried takes on Gunther's shape was very effective, and more convincing than any of the others I have seen.

* Tattling * 
The orchestra level was more crowded than during Siegfried or Die Walküre, and the talking was not as loud. The usual watch alarms sounded at each hour. Someone was crinkling a plastic bag during the last two acts. The man in Row M Seat 12 booed loudly at James Conlon, and screamed "Go back to school, read the score." There were also boos for the production team, but these too where mostly drowned out by cheers.

LA Opera's marketing department sponsored a Tweetup Meetup with Jon Caves, Philip Horváth, Cody Melcher, Katherine M. Talley, and various others. We went to the press reception and got to go back stage to meet Maestro Conlon. We also ran into Achim Freyer, and I managed to speak with him a little, even getting out a few words of German. To my great delight, I found some of my favorite opera fans hanging around back stage as well, including Dr. Tamara Sanikidze, currently an Adler Fellow.

Das Rheingold at LA Opera

Rheingold-la-opera * Notes * 
Los Angeles Opera's first Ring cycle began with Das Rheingold last night. James Conlon had the orchestra sounding cohesive and supportive, though the musicians and singers were not always perfectly together. There were a few sour notes from the brass, but for the most part the playing was not bad. The voices of Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), and Ronnita Nicole Miller (Floßhilde) were pretty set against each other. Tappan was particularly fluttery in Scene 1, one could immediately imagine her as the Waldvogel in Siegfried. The three Rheintöchter sounded mournful and beautiful at the end of the opera. Jill Grove has improved as Erda, the role still does not seem easy for her, but she did hit her notes. Ellie Dehn was especially brilliant as Freia, and I am curious to hear her as the Countess in San Francisco Opera's Le Nozze di Figaro later the year. Michelle DeYoung's Fricka was appropriately shrewish and almost biting at first, but her pleasantly metallic voice is beautiful. Morris Robinson had the volume for Fasolt, but lacked the full resonance of Eric Halfvarson (Fafner). Beau Gibson and Wayne Tigges spent much of their time far upstage as Froh and Donner, respectively. It was difficult to gage the weight and heft of their voices. Richard Paul Fink continues to be a convincing Alberich, he snarls and acts even through his mask. Arnold Bezuyen (Loge) was caustic at times, but also could sound sycophantic or even unctuously caressing. As Wotan, Vitalij Kowaljow, sounded authoritative and displayed his great command of his low range.

Achim Freyer's production has an entertaining circus element to it, as far as costumes and effects. It also is a strange cross of Star Wars, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels. There really were light sabers in the production, for instance. The steep rake was a challenge, Richard Paul Fink fell after Scene 1, and the other singers had similar problems. All of the scenes were quite arresting, much was going on, but for the most part it all made some sort of internal sense. However, the very last part, when the Gods are to go to Valhalla, a nondescript object suspended from wires swept across the stage. The audience in Balcony B clearly could not discern what this was meant to represent and many people started talking at this point.

* Tattling * 
There was no applause during the music, but there was a lot of talking during the overture and the transitions. At least two watch alarms were heard at 8pm and 9pm. My seat in Balcony B was ideally situated on the aisle, but in the middle section and in the front, so I was glad that the Wagner Society of Northern California pulled through for me in this case. The person next to me either took a nap during parts of Scenes 2 and 3, or was meditating on the music with great concentration. His regular breathing was quiet but noticeable.

Michelle DeYoung and MTT at SFS

Michelle-DeYoung_Christian-Steiner * Notes *
San Francisco Symphony's Schubert/Berg Festival, entitled Dawn to Twilight, began yesterday evening with a performance of the Schubert's Rosamunde Overture. The playing was sloppy, and the entrance of the winds was rather poor. The brass sounded brash, as usual. Things picked up with Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder, as the soloist, mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, has a gorgeous voice. Her silvery, smooth sound has a good heft and is not overly ethereal. She also displayed fine control of her upper range and clear German enunciation.

The second Schubert piece, Symphony in B minor, D. 759, Unvollendete, was somewhat rough but at least more engaging. The winds sounded much better, the oboe and clarinet were particularly good. The horns and trombones lacked clarity. Michael Tilson Thomas gave an extensive explanation of Drei Orchesterstücke from Berg before these were played. He spoke about the "profound belief in notes" both Schubert and Berg had. The pieces seemed a bit disheveled, though they certainly got the demented clownish music of the "Reigen" down well. The "Marsch" made my insides hurt acutely.

* Tattling * 
Attendence was a bit sparse, and thus one was not particularly bothered by other audience members. There were at least 5 watch alarms that sounded 8pm during the first movement in Unfinished. Someone in Row Z of the orchestra level had a glowing ball, which he waved around during the last ovation.

Cincinnati Opera's 2009 Season

June 11-13 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 25- 27 2009: Don Carlo
July 9-11 2009: Ainadamar
July 23-31 2009: Carmen

Cincinnati Opera's 2009 season includes Michelle DeYoung singing Princess Eboli in Don Carlo, Dawn Upshaw as Margarita Xirgu in Ainadamar, and William Burden as Don José in Carmen.

Cincinnati Opera Official Site | 2009 Season