Natalie Dessay

SF Opera's Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Sf-opera-hoffmann-2013* Notes * 
A new production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann (Hye Jung Lee as Olympia and Thomas Glenn as Spalanzani with the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera last night. Maestro Patrick Fournillier lead a lively orchestra. The brass sounded particularly good in the first third of the performance. The violin solo in Act III was beautiful. There were moments when orchestra and singers were not precisely together, but the players never overwhelmed the voices.

This elaborate co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu and L'Opera Nacional de Lyon is directed by Laurent Pelly, who also designed the costumes. Chantal Thomas' set is sedate in color but moves swiftly, facilitating scene changes. Projections are used sparingly, never detracting from the lighting or the set. The most charming part of the staging is certainly Act II, the Olympia part of the opera. The devices employed to move the life-sized mechanical doll Olympia are effective and hilarious.

The chorus was strong, as usual, and were rarely off from the orchestra. Thomas Glenn makes for a perfect Spalanzani, his voice is pretty and he can act. Steven Cole did well with the four character tenor roles, and was particularly winsome as Cochenille and Frantz.

Each of the three principal women has a distinctive sound. Irene Roberts (Giulietta) seemed cold and haughty, even in her voice. Hye Jung Lee was brilliant as Olympia, her "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" was the most amusing moment in the performance. Her voice is flexible and clear. Natalie Dessay fared less nicely as Antonia. Her volume was fine, but some of her notes seem frayed. On the other hand, could not help but sympathize with her character.

Christian Van Horn was delightfully evil as all four villains. At first, I was thrown off by the texture of Angela Brower's voice, but very much liked how her transformation from The Muse to Nicklausse is achieved. Her "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" with Irene Roberts was absolutely lovely. As Hoffmann, Matthew Polenzani sounded light and lustrous. His voice was easily heard from under the overhang on the orchestra level.

* Tattling * 
Since there were very few people in the last row of the orchestra level, there was little bad behavior to note. There did not seem to be any late seating, despite the early start time of 7:30pm.

ROH's 2009-2010 Season

September 7-14 2009: Linda di Chamounix
September 15- October 1 2009: Don Carlo
September 19- October 18 2009: Tristan und Isolde
October 3 2009- June 26 2010: Carmen
October 17-28 2009: L'Heure Espagnole /Gianni Schicchi
October 30- November 14 2009: Artaxerxes
November 20- December 8 2009: The Tsarina's Slippers
December 7-22 2009: Der Rosenkavalier
December 19 2009- January 11 2010: La Bohème
January 22- February 3 2010: The Rake's Progress
January 29- February 17 2010: Così fan tutte
February 11-27 2010: The Gambler
March 5-20 2010: Tamerlano
March 19- April 1 2010: The Cunning Little Vixen
April 3-19 2010: Il Turco in Italia
April 26- May 12 2010: Powder Her Face
April 27- May 16 2010: Aida
May 11- July 17 2010: La Traviata
May 17- June 4 2010: La Fille du Régiment
May 31- June 30 2010: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 22- July 10 2010: Manon
June 29- July 15 2010: Simon Boccanegra
July 3-16 2010: Salome

Covent Garden just announced their season this week. Eglise Gutiérrez stars in Linda di Chamounix. Stephanie Blythe sings Baba the Turk in the revival of The Rake's Progress. Kurt Streit shares the role of Bajazet in Tamerlano with Plácido Domingo. Streit also sings in The Gambler, and Domingo sings the title role in Boccanegra. Dmitri Hvorostovsky returns as Germont for the May performances of La Traviata. Natalie Dessay stars opposite of Juan Diego Flórez in La Fille. Erwin Schrott sings the title role in Le Nozze, with Mariusz Kwiecien and Jacques Imbrailo sharing the role of the Count.

Press Release [PDF]| Official Site

SF Opera's Lucia Media Round-Up

Production Web Site | Press Release with Photographs | Interview with Dessay

Singers: Natalie Dessay | Giuseppe Filianoti | Gabriele Viviani | Oren Gradus | Cybele-Teresa Gouverneur | Matthew O'Neill | Andrew Bidlack

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 | | Lynn Ruth Miller | Kinderkuchen for the FBI | Prima la musica, poi le parole | Opera Warhorses | The Reverberate Hills

Dessay's Debut at SF Opera

Photo * 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.