Nicola Luisotti

SF Opera's Manon Lescaut

_T8A0032* Notes *
A very loud revival of Manon Lescaut opened at San Francisco Opera last night. All the singing was strong, and the orchestra sounded exuberant under the baton of former San Francisco Music Director Nicola Luisotti.

My main memory of this production way back in 2006 is of Karita Mattila in the title role doing the splits in a very blue room. Soprano Lianna Haroutounian (pictured in Act II, photograph by Cory Weaver) is a more convincing Manon, her lack of splits notwithstanding. Her voice is passionate, she has a tendency to be sharp, but it isn't much of an issue unless she's singing a duet.

_37A3078Tenor Brian Jagde (pictured in Act III, photograph by Cory Weaver) is a dashing Chevalier des Grieux, his powerful voice can always be heard over the very bold and propulsive sound of the orchestra. Baritone Anthony Clark Evans as Lescaut was a touch quiet in Act I, overwhelmed by both orchestra and chorus, but was certainly audible in the rest of the opera, while bass-baritone Philip Skinner is a vivid villain as Geronte de Revoir. The latter's sturdy voice and fine acting won him boos during the final ovation.

The production, designed by Frank Philipp Schlössmann and directed by Olivier Tambosi is attractive. This team also created recent productions of The Makropulos Case, Falstaff, and Jenůfa, which is abundantly clear in the lighting, colors (lots of blue and grey), and especially the rocky wasteland scene at the end. This last scene requires a long pause to set up, and the super-title admonition demanded we stay in our seats for the scene change. Much of the audience pulled out mobile phones, unable to wait the few minutes between acts. I did appreciate that the curtain was down for the intermezzo before Act III, it was lovely to be able to really concentrate on the orchestra without any distractions.

* Tattling *
After hearing this opera three times now, I must admit I still do not like it. I think it might have to do with the source material, I just do not like Manon, her frivolousness and faltering nature doesn't appeal to me somehow. Perhaps I will try again with the score and focus on the music. Tellingly, I woke up this morning with Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel still in my head, as I had watched a DVD of it with my son yesterday afternoon in preparation for the performance we are attending at San Francisco Opera next weekend.

The audience was sparse, I arrived a little bit before 7pm and got the thirteenth standing room ticket, and could have easily sat in a seat in the balcony. Because of this, there was very little to note as far as bad behavior.

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 Andrea Chénier

_B5A4679* Notes * 
The 94th season of San Francisco Opera opened last night with Andrea Chénier, Umberto Giordano's concise verismo piece about the poet killed in the French Revolution. The opera has a number of gorgeous arias, and the cast assembled (pictured in Act I, photograph by Cory Weaver) was certainly up to the task.

Especially impressive were the titular character and his beloved, both debuts at San Francisco Opera. Tenor Yonghoon Lee is a dapper Chenier and has an expansive, bright sound. His "Un dì all'azzurro spazio" in Act I was showed much promise, and he really did soar with his Act IV aria " Come un bel dì di maggio." Vocally, soprano Anna Pirozzi (Maddalena) matched Lee, her voice is clear and flexible. Her high notes do not have the slightest hint of strain. Pirozzi's "La mamma morta" in Act III was a show stopper, incredibly wrenching and lovely.

Top to bottom, the cast was strong. Other notable debuts on the War Memorial stage included baritone George Gagnidze as Carlo Gérard, a former servant and revolutionary leader, who of course loves Maddalena, and mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges as Bersi, Maddalena's mulatto servant girl. Gagnidze gave a nuanced turn as the conflicted Gérard while Bridges sang with much power.

The lucid orchestra, conducted by Maestro Nicola Luisotti, was supportive of the singing, and only rarely got ahead. The volume of the musicians never overwhelmed the singers. The chorus was together and sturdy.

David McVicar's production is straightforward. The sets, from Robert Jones, are attractive but sadly take quite a long time to change. Jenny Tiramani's costumes are very pretty.

* Tattling * 
There was no one in the standing room line besides myself until after 9am.

We heard from San Francisco Opera's new General Director for his first opening night in the role. The Chairman of Board of Directors seemed to have momentarily forgotten the Music Director's name. Again, the audience was restrained this year, and cheered Nancy Pelosi when she was acknowledged.

SF Opera's Don Carlo

_B5A5263* Notes *
The latest Don Carlo (Valentina Simi as Countess of Aremberg, Ana María Martínez as Elisabetta, Nadia Krasteva as Princess Eboli, René Pape as King Philip II, and Mariusz Kwiecień as Rodrigo in Act II Scene 2; photograph by Cory Weaver) that opened at San Francisco Opera this afternoon is impeccably cast from top to bottom. Michael Fabiano is a brilliant Don Carlo, with powerful high notes. Ana María Martínez sings Elisabetta with icy purity and strength. Her formidable vibrato is controlled.

René Pape is completely believable as King Philip II, his rich tones sounded mature if not slightly weathered. Mariusz Kwiecień made for a warm, sympathetic Rodrigo, his famous duet with Fabiano in Act II Scene 1 ("Dio, che nell'alma infondere") was beautiful, as was his death scene aria "Io morrò, ma lieto in core." Nadia Krasteva (Princess Eboli) has a darkness and a hard edge that works well for the role. Her "O don fatale" in Act IV Scene 1 was surprisingly lovely.

Even the smallest roles had fine singing, including Andrea Silvestrelli as the Grand Inquistor, Pene Pati as Count Lerma, and Toni Marie Palmertree as a Heavenly Voice.

The orchestra members also acquitted themselves well under the direction of Maestro Nicola Luisotti. There were moments that were fuzzy, but for the most part the music flowed nicely and was phrased skillfully.

The sets are spare and costumes lavish. Everything was very pretty to look at but a bit dull. The scene changes require a lot of pauses and this dampens the dramatic import of the proceedings.

* Tattling *
I arrived 30 minutes late as I did not realize the curtain time was 1pm rather than the normal 2pm because of the length of this opera, so I missed the first scene. Terrible!

Sadly there was much misbehavior other than my own in balcony standing room. Lots of talking and fidgeting, and at least one cellular phone. Someone exclaimed very loudly to himself during Act IV when the Grand Inquisitor tells the King that God sacrificed His own son for mankind, so he can surely kill Don Carlo without a bad conscience.

SF Opera's Luisa Miller

Luisa-miller-lc-mf-2015* Notes * 
The 93rd season of San Francisco Opera opened Friday with Luisa Miller, a Verdi rarity only seen on the War Memorial stage a dozen times before. The opera has a quintessentially Verdian plot: a protective father, an innocent daughter, a secret identity, and a love triangle that ends in a protracted death scene. Part of Verdi's middle period, Luisa Miller does not have the lively tunes of Rigoletto, La Traviata, or Il Trovatore that followed soon after. But there was some beautiful singing in last night's performance.

The two leads (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) were clearly strongest. Local favorite Leah Crocetto sang the title role without a hint of strain. Her pianissimi were gorgeous. Tenor Michael Fabiano is a dashing Rodolfo, and his voice is similarly attractive, very bright and pretty.

As Luisa's father, baritone Vitaliy Bilyy had a fine San Francisco Opera debut. Bilyy's voice has a pleasant weight, the right mixture of heft and lightness. Mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk (Federica) also had a good first performance on the War Memorial stage, her dark tones contrasting nicely with Crocetto.

Daniel Sumegi wobbled as Count Walter, while Andrea Silvestrelli was a powerfully evil Wurm.

Maestro Nicola Luisotti conducted the orchestra with grace and as usual the woodwinds sounded great. The members of the chorus pulled together well.

Francesca Zambello's production, directed here by Laurie Feldman, involves background panels that make up a dreamy forest scene. The panels can move vertically and help change scenes. There is also a very weird beam crosswise above the stage that holds a large panel depicting various images, including a cottage and a hunting tapestry. This was less successful than the background panels, often it seemed awkward and in the way.

Ungainliness might have been inevitable for this opera, the plot is truly absurd and the final death scene was not convincing, despite the lovely singing.

* Tattling * 
I was shocked to be the first person in the standing room line when I arrived after 8am with my 1.5 year old in tow.

The remarks by San Francisco Opera's General Director, President, and Chairman of the Board were uncharacteristically brief and articulate. The audience was mild this year, and most of the extraneous noise heard during the performance came from the lobby after intermission.

SF Opera's Un Ballo in Maschera (Hampson)

Sf-opera-ballo-actiii-scene1-2014* Notes * 
A fourth performance of San Francisco Opera's A Masked Ball this season was held yesterday. The orchestra and singers were more synchronized, but there were times when the former was slightly ahead of the latter. At times this was excitingly chaotic. There were lovely soli from the cello, English horn, and clarinet. The harp was particularly beautiful throughout Act III as well.

The principal singers were consistent. Heidi Stober sang Oscar with an effortless grace. Dolora Zajick has a rich sound as Madame Arvidson. Ramón Vargas sounded sweet as Gustavus III. His high notes were somewhat tepid in the duet with Julianna Di Giacomo (Amelia) in Act II Scene 1. Di Giacomo was triumphant again in her role and garnered much applause and cheering.

Thomas Hampson (pictured above with Julianna Di Giacomo in Act III Scene 1, photograph by Cory Weaver) makes for a grave, measured Anckarström. His "Alla vita che t'arride" was more reserved than Brian Mulligan's and his Act III "Eri tu che macchiavi quell'anima" was more threatening.

* Tattling * 
Standing room was again not crowded, perhaps because San Francisco Opera hardly ever has Monday night performances. A mobile phone rang in Act I at the back of the north side of the balcony, and a woman chose to take the call but at least she hurried out of the hall to do so.

SF Opera's Un Ballo in Maschera (Mulligan)

Sf-opera-ballo-2014-actiii* Notes * 
Last night San Francisco Opera performed A Masked Ball a second time this season. The traditional production is the same as the one seen here in 2006, Jose Maria Condemi's direction is similarly straightforward, if not slightly bland. The ball scene (Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver), however, is quite festive. This performance had Brian Mulligan singing Count Anckarström instead of Thomas Hampson, and Mulligan sings again on October 22nd. Nicola Luisotti conducted a rich and lush sounding orchestra. The volume was not overwhelming to the voices, at least from the back of the balcony. The orchestra was often ahead of the singers, this was particularly noticeable in Act II, when Anckarström appears to warn Gustavus.

Dolora Zajick is utterly convincing as Madame Arvidson, her deep, full sound is well-suited to the role. Brian Mulligan sounded strong as Count Anckarström, and his first aria, "Alla vita che t'arride," was gorgeous. Ramón Vargas (Gustavus III) has a pretty, reed-like voice, but was perhaps the weakest of the principals. Heidi Stober made for a dazzling and boyish Oscar. Julianna Di Giacomo (Amelia) sounded clear and sonorous. Her debut on the War Memorial stage certainly seems a success.

* Tattling * 
Axel Feldheim kindly saved me a spot at the railing, though it was not crowded in standing room, perhaps because the San Francisco Giants were playing the Washington Nationals in game four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park. The opera displayed the scores before the opera and during intermissions. The audience cheered when the results were favorable.

SF Opera's Norma (Thomas)

Norma-acti-2014-sfopera* Notes * 
The fifth performance of San Francisco Opera's new production of Norma was held yesterday. This was the third go with tenor Russell Thomas replacing Marco Berti. I also heard that as of the Friday, September 19th performance, Sondra Radvanovsky (pictured as Norma with the chorus in Act I, photograph by Cory Weaver) and Jamie Barton (Adalgisa) were singing in the original, higher key. Again, the orchestra sounded wonderful under the direction of Maestro Nicola Luisotti. The woodwinds played well, and the horns were particularly good at the end of Act II, Scene 9. The chorus also was lovely and sounded unified.

As Pollione, Russell Thomas has a bright, pretty sound. He certainly is a better vocal match for the talented female leads and sings with much more ease than his predecessor. His voice contrasts well with tenor A.J. Glueckert's brassy Flavio. Thomas sounds more reed-like, Glueckert more metallic.

Jamie Barton sang a potent Adalgisa, the higher notes did not seem to be an issue for her at all. Sondra Radvanovsky sounded brilliant in the title role, her approach is nuanced and simply gorgeous. Her "Casta Diva" was lustrous and the Act I finale was sublime.

* Tattling * 
The railings in standing room on the balcony level were all taken. A family of four was late, and one of the daughters spoke at full-volume, garnishing her a hushing from a standee.

Note that I was reading the score for this performance, so only heard the music. Looking forward to seeing it again, as there are two more shows.

SF Opera's Norma (Berti)

Sf-opera-norma-set-2014* Notes * 
The 92nd season of San Francisco Opera opened last night with a musically luminous Norma. Maestro Nicola Luisotti conducted with vigor, and the orchestra never overwhelmed the singers, only briefly getting ahead of them once or twice. The woodwinds were particularly beautiful. The chorus sang well, the chorus members sounded unified and together.

Jacqueline Piccolino was a fine Clotilda and Christian Van Horn sang Oroveso with power. Though lacking perfect control, Marco Berti was always audible and made for a respectable Pollione.

Jamie Barton's debut at San Francisco Opera was nothing less than impressive. Her voice simply glows. Her performance as Adalgisa was radiant, and she seemed at ease vocally. Sondra Radvanovsky did an admirable job with the difficult title role and was dramatically convincing. She had some harsh notes but sparkled as Norma nonetheless.

The co-production with Canadian Opera Company, Gran Teatre del Liceu and Lyric Opera of Chicago is inert and bloodless, despite being attractive enough. The set (pictured as a model above) is not dynamic but in the end it does feature real fire.

* Tattling * 
The audience was rather tame. There was only a little bit of noise from a latecomer who wanted to sit in ZZ 1 of the orchestra level.

SF Opera's Madama Butterfly

Sf-opera-butterfly-acti-2014* Notes * 
Jun Kaneko's production of Madama Butterfly (Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio-San, Brian Jagde as Pinkerton, and Brian Mulligan as Sharpless in Act I pictured left; photograph by Cory Weaver) had a fifth performance at San Francisco Opera last night. The set and costumes have an elegant guilelessness. The staging, directed by Leslie Swackhamer, is likewise straightforward and makes charming use of four kurogo (stagehands dressed in black).

Maestro Nicola Luisotti had the orchestra sounding lush and sweeping. The chorus was robust. The casting is rather luxurious. Morris Robinson is a plush-toned Bonze. Brian Mulligan makes for a rich-sounding Sharpless. Elizabeth DeShong (Suzuki) has a startlingly lovely voice. The trio with Sharpless, Suzuki, and Pinkerton in Act II was exceedingly beautiful.

Brian Jagde is a convincing Pinkerton and he sang well. He has a lot of volume. Sadly, the opera hinges on having a great Butterfly, and Patricia Racette fell short. Her acting is certainly strong, and her voice has a lot of power and emotion. However, her wide vibrato marred the piece's best-loved arias.

* Tattling * 
Many people were late and stood in the standing room area on the orchestra level. Someone was upset about not being seated and complained loudly, hurling invectives at the ushers.

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.

Luisotti Conducts Verdi's Requiem

Luisotti-baton* Notes * 
Last night Nicola Luisotti conducted Verdi's Messa da Requiem at the War Memorial Opera House with the combined orchestras and choruses of Real Teatro di San Carlo and San Francisco Opera. The volume was occasionally deafening, especially the repeated part when the chorus sings "Dies irae" and the trumpets play. The piece felt a bit chaotic, but there were lovely moments, as with the bassoons.

The soloists had to sing with a lot of power to be heard. Vitalij Kowaljow sounded grave and authoritative. Michael Fabiano was strong and bright. Margaret Mezzacappa's voice could have been richer, she sounds rather soprano-like in this work. Leah Crocetto sounded celestial and well-supported, and sang beautifully with the chorus in the "Libera me."

* Tattling * 
The War Memorial was completely full; the stage, seats, and standing room areas seemed at capacity. The mayor of San Francisco, Edwin Lee, gave a halting speech before the performance, while Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris gave a more fluid one, translated by the Consul General of Italy, San Francisco, Mauro Battocchi. Someone in one of the choruses took a flash photograph of the scene.

The audience on the orchestra level was rather silent and still. The ushers, who had no place to sit, felt it was appropriate to talk to each other during the music.

SF Opera's Falstaff

Falstaff-terfel-arteta * Notes * 
Lyric Opera of Chicago's current production of Falstaff (Act II, Scene 2 pictured left with Ainhoa Arteta as Alice Ford and Bryn Terfel as Sir John Falstaff, photograph by Cory Weaver) had an opening performance at San Francisco Opera yesterday. The set, from Frank Philipp Schlössmann, is a bit like a pop-up book made of wood. The pauses between scenes are fairly minimal. Maestro Nicola Luisotti had the orchestra sounding robust and lush. There were times when the singing was lost, this was especially evident at the end of Act I, when the male and female ensembles share the stage.

There was much fine singing all around. Joel Sorensen is a hysterical, mincing Dr. Caius. Greg Fedderly (Bardolfo) and Andrea Silvestrelli (Pistola) sounded great and are wonderful actors. Fabio Capitanucci had some nice moments as Ford, though his voice occasionally was overwhelmed by the orchestra. Francesco Demuro sounded reedy and youthful as Fenton, and only had a bit of strain in some of his higher notes.

Renée Rapier is a charming Meg Page, and Meredith Arwady a very funny and rich-voiced Dame Quickly. Heidi Stober is perfectly adorable as Nanetta and sings with a warm brightness. Ainhoa Arteta sparkled as Alice Ford, her icy, brilliant voice is never harsh.

Despite the rather even cast, Bryn Terfel is the clear star of the show. Not only did he embody the title character in all his movements, but his voice is simply a marvel. He sang with velvety warmth but also buoyant lightness when appropriate.

* Tattling * 
Standing room attendance was sparse. I arrived at 7:15pm and had Standing Room Ticket 19.

There was much use of mobile phones during the pauses between scenes. It seems that young people do not take the announcement to turn off electronic devices seriously. That said, I did not hear any rings or alerts at the back of the balcony.

SF Opera's Mefistofele

Sfopera-mefistofele-2013* Notes * 
Robert Carsen's 1989 production of Mefistofele (Act II pictured left with Ildar Abdrazakov as Mefistofele and the San Francisco Opera Chorus, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened the 91st season of San Francisco Opera last night. The opera is rather droll, and Carsen's treatment is bursting with color and activity. The scenes do not flow nicely into each other, and the curtain is brought down for several uncomfortable pauses as the set is rearranged. This encourages restlessness, and Music Director Nicola Luisotti was visibly and vocally annoyed at one point, as the audience was not quiet enough to begin Act III.

Luisotti conducted a bright and vibrant orchestra. The brass was clear save for perhaps one stray note in Act I Scene 1. The two harps were played beautifully. In the beginning the chorus was occasionally off from the orchestra, but sounded more cohesive as the performance progressed.

Patricia Racette sounded as robust as ever as Margherita and Elena. At times her wobbling is pronounced, but this is effective in Act III, when the imprisoned Margherita dies. Her duet as Elena with Pantalis (Renée Rapier) was lovely. In contrast, Ramón Vargas (Faust) was sounding particularly thin and reedy. This was especially noticeable in his first scene with Chuanyue Wang as Wagner, as Wang has a fresh, rich sound. Ildar Abdrazakov is a convincing Mefistofele, his physicality is appropriate for the role. His singing is perfectly fine with some warmth and good volume, but his voice is not exceptionally impressive.

* Tattling * 
As is customary for Opening Night, the proceedings started a bit late and began with a slightly less awkward than usual welcome from the General Director, President, and Chairman of the Board. Photographs were taken during the performance, and there were the usual talking and electronic disturbances.

SF Opera's Così Fan Tutte

Sfopera-cosi-act2-boat* Notes * 
A revival of Così fan tutte (Act II Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened yesterday at San Francisco Opera. The orchestra sounded fairly loud and fast under the baton of Nicola Luisotti, and often ran ahead of the singers. There were times when the musical lines became muddled, as the singers were not audible, especially during ensembles. In contrast, the chorus was solid and together. The recitative accompaniment was energetic and humorous. Maestro Luisotti (fortepiano), Giuseppe Finzi (harpsichord), Thalia Moore (cello), and Michael Leopold (theorbo) seem to have a nice rapport.

The production, directed by José Maria Condemi, is consistent with how it was staged in 2005. The set looks to be a hotel in Monte Carlo during the Belle Époque. The costumes are therefore striking and elegant, as are the Art Nouveau architectural elements.

The cast is youthful and convincing. Susannah Biller is cute and sprightly, her Despina got a lot of laughs. Bass Marco Vinco is such a good actor. His voice is not overly loud or pretty, but he is a fine Don Alfonso.

Francesco Demuro sounds creaky to me, at least when he is singing at full-volume, but is an appealing Ferrando. His "Un'aura amorosa" is endearing. Philippe Sly is fantastic as Guglielmo. His beautiful voice is rich and warm. Christel Lötzsch was so behind in her Act I aria, "Smanie implacabili," it was hard to gauge how good her voice is, since it just sounded like noise at that point. She does blend smoothly with the other singers, but seems a bit fluttery. Her volume and brightness is good, however. Just a few of Ellie Dehn's high notes were shrill Her Fiordiligi sounded robust yet still elegant.

* Tattling * 
I was fortunate enough to be standing behind L 112 of the Balcony, which happened to be empty. The air conditioning did hum quite a bit during the second half of the performance.