Nicola Luisotti

Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca at SF Opera

Tosca-sfopera-gheorghiu-2012* Notes * 
Angela Gheorghiu (pictured left in Act II, photograph by Cory Weaver) sang her fourth complete performance of Tosca at San Francisco Opera last night. Gheorghiu's voice seems a bit thin for the role, though her sound does have a lovely, silvery quality. Gheorghiu looks stunning in the various costumes, but perhaps her acting relies too heavily on her personal beauty. Her jump at the end was particularly lackluster. The audience seemed to adore her regardless.

Massimo Giordano's Cavaradossi was more solid than before, his voice is pretty and reedy. Somehow he did not inspire ovation for "E lucevan le stelle," though he did not sing badly. The duet in Act III between Giordano and Gheorghiu went rather awry. Roberto Frontali continued to impress as Scarpia. Maestro Luisotti had the orchestra were more synchronized with the singers, and overwhelmed them less than before.

* Tattling * 
The house looked quite full, at least on the Orchestra, Box, and Grand Tier levels.


Melody Moore as Tosca at SF Opera

Tosca-sfopera-moore-2012* Notes * 
Last night's opening of Tosca at San Francisco Opera was rather more exciting than expected, given that the 1997 production has been revived three times before. As Tosca, Angela Gheorghiu sang Act I a bit quietly, and was often not with the orchestra. Before Act II, General Director David Gockley announced that Gheorghiu had a bout of intestinal distress and nausea at intermission and was going to the hospital. The cover, Melody Moore (pictured above in Act II, photograph by Kristen Loken), was getting into costume, and Gockley begged our indulgence. All things considered, Moore did an excellent job. Her voice sounds icier in this role than others, which is not inappropriate. Her lower register has a lovely vibrancy, in stark contrast to Gheorghiu.

As for the rest of the cast, Massimo Giordano (Cavaradossi) has warm plaintiveness, but did not always sound secure. His portrayal did not have much nuance, but he certainly did project well. Roberto Frontali sang a threatening Scarpia with grit and power. Christian van Horn sounded robust as Angelotti and Dale Travis delivered a comic Sacristan. Joel Sorensen was completely committed to his role of Spoletta, and the spill he took trying to catch up with Moore at the end looked very realistic.

Maestro Luisotti had the orchestra sounding strong, and there was never a lax moment. The clarinet solo that introduces "E lucevan le stelle" was particularly beautiful. The strings also sounded lovely.

* Tattling * 
Cellular phone alarm went off twice during Act I, once toward the end of the duet between Tosca and Cavaradossi and once near the end of the act. A latecomer brusquely yelled "excuse me" into my ear and pushed herself between me and another standee, right at the end of Act I, just before the alarm went off. Her arm was touching mine, so I gently rested against her. I figured she wanted so very much to be near someone else, I might as well oblige her.

According to a statement issued by San Francisco Opera today, Gheorghiu was feeling ill during Act I. Tests at the hospital revealed that she was severely dehydrated. Gheorghiu is now resting up and feeling better. She expects to perform on Sunday, November 18, as scheduled.


SF Opera's Lohengrin

Sfopera-lohengrin-act-1-2012* Notes *
Lohengrin opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The production is new to the house, and has been seen in Geneva and Houston. Inspired by the Hungary of 1956, the action takes place within what looks to be a library. Designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, the set (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) makes for clear transformation of scenes, especially with the lighting from Simon Mills. The costumes, also by Hopkins, are sharp. Director Daniel Slater fills in the narrative nicely, and Act II is especially thoughtful.

In contrast, Maestro Luisottti had a more painterly style with the music. The orchestra had a vivid sound, but could have had slightly more focus. The tempi of the musicians in the pit did not always match those on stage. The chorus sang with full-blooded vigor, making up for the moments of asynchronicity.

It seems that San Francisco Opera is on a roll with casting this season. Brian Mulligan made for a rich-toned King's Herald. Kristinn Sigmundsson sang Heinrich der Volger with strength, and the quality of his vibrato works better for Wagner than the Mozart we heard on the War Memorial stage last summer. Gerd Grochowski convinced as the conflicted Friedrich von Telramund, though his voice has no small beauty to it.

Petra Lang seemed pitchy, but this did not detract from her Ortrud. Her voice has a certain voluptuousness to it, her carriage and movements are impeccable. Camilla Nylund sounded rather sweet and ethereal as Elsa. Her highest notes did not sound as pretty as the rest of her voice, reminding me of something in-between tinsel and glass. However, this made her fall all the more believable. Brandon Jovanovich had a triumphant role debut as Lohengrin. His voice is vibrant with a good deal of volume. He did sound the most sublime when singing softly.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet and attentive, at least on the orchestra level. There was surprisingly little audience attrition between acts. There were also very few people in standing room.


SF Opera's Rigoletto (Vratogna/Shagimuratova/Chacon)

18-Rigoletto* Notes * 
A second performance of San Francisco Opera's Rigoletto was held on Saturday. The cast had three different members: Marco Vratogna (Rigoletto), Albina Shagimuratova (Gilda), and Arturo Chacón-Cruz (The Duke of Mantua).

Chacón-Cruz was not consistent, he was rather hard to hear with the chorus in the first scene, but improved in the second two acts. His duet with Shagimuratova in Act I Scene 3 was vexing, it seemed that the singers were not listening to one another, and it hardly seemed they were in love. Shagimuratova's voice often did not blend nicely when singing with others, earlier in the same scene it seemed that she was having a shouting match with Vratogna. They did sound better together in Act II (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) and in the very last part of Act III. Shagimuratova does have a twittering sparkle to her sound. Vratogna's voice is much less pretty, as is appropriate. He did well portraying scorn, anger, and desperation. He had a harder time being doting or sad.

Though fairly simple, the production did not always help these singers. Shagimuratova's heavy-footedness in bounding up the stairs for "Caro Nome" hardly projected youthful exuberance. Though most of the singers moved with ease, one felt the direction was wan, and the movements on stage did not always have a strong sense of intention.

The orchestra sounded fiery and crisper last night, Nicola Luisotti continued to drive the music forward. The chorus had an even better evening than for the opening, and seemed together and uniform. All the other principals sounded secure. Robert Pomakov gave a nuanced, imposing performance as Monterone. Andrea Silvestrelli continued to impress with his distinctive deep bass.

* Tattling * 
The audience was far more attentive for this second performance. The house was not full, and standing room was particularly empty.


SF Opera's Opening Night Rigoletto

06-Rigoletto* Notes * 
The 90th season of San Francisco Opera got off to a fine start last night with Rigoletto, at least once opening night formalities were out of the way. Though not exactly precise, the orchestra bustled with enthusiasm, and Maestro Nicola Luisotti kept the music moving. The chorus sang with characteristic vigor.

This revival is the fourth outing of the de Chirico-inspired production in fifteen years. Michael Yeargan's set design is clean and quiet, other than the rather garish color palette. The scene changes are smooth, and the two pauses (between the first two scenes and the last two acts) did not take long.

The array of lovely voices in this opera is striking. The six current and former Adlers sang seven of the smaller roles and acquitted themselves well. It is especially pleasing that mezzo-sopranos Laura Krumm (Countess Ceprano and A Page), Renée Rapier (Giovanna), and Kendall Gladen (Maddalena) all sound so distinct from one another.

Likewise, bass Robert Pomakov made for a Monterone that could not be confused with the baritone of the title role. Andrea Silvestrelli is a threatening Sparafucile. His voice has beautiful resonances even in his lowest notes.

Francesco Demuro made a strong effort as the Duke of Mantua, but came up a bit short. His bright voice has an edge of hysteria to it, lending him an unmanly air. He gave a respectable rendition of "La donna è mobile" but somehow did not engage the audience.

Aleksandra Kurzak's Gilda is attractive, her intonation is exact, and she never grates on the ear. On the other hand, her dark sound seems too sensual for the naive daughter of Rigoletto. Željko Lučić (pictured above in Act I Scene 2, photograph by Cory Weaver) impressed in the title role. His sound has volume and richness. The tenderness of Act I Scene 2 contrasted nicely with the despair of the last scene.

* Tattling * 
The opera started even later normal for opening night. The General Director even made an announcement ten minutes after the hour that the proceedings would begin in another five minutes. John Gunn and George Hume welcomed the audience, made acknowledgements to various donors, let us know we were to be photographed from the stage in honor of the 90th season, and also informed us that there would be champagne for all after the performance. After several photographs were taken, Luisotti lead the orchestra and the audience in the National Anthem, so the performance itself began nearly thirty minutes late.


Attila Opening at SF Opera

Sf-opera-attila-actii-scene2-2012* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's co-production of Attila (Act II Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened last night. The orchestra sounded cheerful and lively under Maestro Nicola Luisotti. The woodwinds, harp, and cello made notable contributions. The off-stage brass sounded clear. There were a few synchronization problems with the orchestra, chorus, and principals. This was obvious because Verdi's music, at least in this opera, keeps such predictable tempi.

Samuel Ramey sounded shaky in the small role of Pope Leo I, but looked dignified. Diego Torre's voice is bright, audible over the orchestra, but has a compressed quality to it. His Foresto was a bit wooden. Similarly, Lucrecia Garcia's Odabella was stiff. Her soprano has lovely resonances to it, but her control is imperfect, most noticeably in her upper register.

In contrast, Quinn Kelsey (Ezio) has a strong, warm-toned sound. His aria in Act II, "E' gettata la mia sorte," was the high point of the evening. In the title role, Ferruccio Furlanetto was commanding. He has some grit to his beautiful voice, and as ruler of the Huns, it is hardly inappropriate.

The action on stage, directed by Gabriele Lavia, was disappointing. No one looked particularly comfortable, and having child supernumeraries stand in the middle of the stage, as at the end of Act I, was ill-advised at best. Alessandro Camera's enormous set did not help. The carefully-wrought details made the staging inflexible. Scenes were meant to be transformed by the addition of a ship or a tree bough, but we are clearly in the same set, despite whatever projections happened to show up in the background.

The most convincing of these changes occurred in the last scene, which is set in a decrepit movie theater, complete with screen and strewn plush seats. While it was entertaining that Douglas Sirk's 1954 film about Attila the Hun, Sign of the Pagan, was played, it could be distracting. Despite my best efforts, I found myself staring more at Jack Palance and Ludmilla Tchérina than the singers.

* Tattling * 
The length of Furlanetto's coat knocked over a chair in Act I, and nearly tripped the singer.

The woman in Row R Seat 7 on the orchestra level talked at full-volume several times during the performance to her companion in Seat 5. My glares at her had almost no effect.

Chorus Director Ian Robertson marks his twenty-fifth year with the San Francisco Opera this year. He received the San Francisco Opera Medal after last night's performance.


Luisotti & Peled with the SF Opera Orchestra

A--San-Francisco-Opera-Orchestra* Notes * 
Cal Performances hosted Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) on Sunday afternoon, their second this season in Berkeley. The concert began with Prokofiev's First Symphony, and the orchestra sounded best in the graceful, dancing third movement. The woodwinds were clear, as was the brass. The piece that followed, Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 1, featured soloist Amit Peled. Peled played with a beautiful, legato line. After intermission we heard Symphony in D Major by Cherubini. The playing was charming and joyous. It was lovely to see and hear this opera orchestra on stage, the camaraderie of the players and their love of music is apparent.

* Tattling *
There was very little noise from the audience. A man in Row A Seat 120 of the mezzanine looked at his phone at 3:30pm and left just a little afterward. Someone else on this level screamed an obscenity after the Moderato of the Haydn. It was unclear why.


Luisotti appointed Music Director of Teatro di San Carlo

Nicola_Luisotti_by_John_Martin_2According to the press release reproduced below, Nicola Luisotti (pictured left, photograph by John Martin) is the new Music Director of Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy, effective immediately. Luisotti is already Music Director of San Francisco Opera and Principal Guest Conductor of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra.

***

 February 6, 2012 -- Nicola Luisotti has been appointed Music Director of Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy,  effective immediately.  The news was announced over the weekend by General Director Rosanna Purchia and the Board of Directors of the Teatro di San Carlo Foundation following a meeting where the unanimous decision was taken.  Maestro Luisotti succeeds former Principal Conductor Maurizio Benini and Music Director Jeffrey Tate.  Born and raised in Tuscany, the 50-year old Luisotti is currently Music Director of San Francisco Opera and Principal Guest Conductor of the Tokyo Philharmonic. 

      The oldest theater in Europe and one of Italy’s most prestigious opera houses, Teatro di San Carlo is renowned not only for its beauty but for its legendary acoustics.  Founded in 1737, many of opera’s most famous composers spent significant time at the theatre, including Rossini, Donizetti and Verdi.  In 2010, the theater was reopened after an important period of restoration where the magnificent five-level horseshoe of boxes which are upholstered in red and decorated in gold leaf,  frescoed ceiling and beautifully painted stage curtain were renewed to their original glory. 

      Full details of the appointment will be announced at an official ceremony and press conference on March 7th when Maestro Luisotti will be at San Carlo to begin rehearsals for Verdi’s I Masnadieri, in a production directed by Gabriele Lavia.
 
      “I have spent a good deal of time abroad in the last ten years of my career.  My heart fills with joy at the thought of spending so much more time in my home country with such a prestigious appointment,” said Maestro Luisotti speaking from Philadelphia where he is leading concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra.  “And the joy is even greater when I think of how deeply this Theatre was influenced, in recent years, by the presence of a man such as Riccardo Muti, with whom I had the honor of working at La Scala.”

      General Director Rosanna Purchia commented, “Nicola is young and enthusiastic and has had a bright career that took him to the most important theatres in the world, from Covent Garden to the Met, from La Scala to our San Carlo.  In the United States he is recognized as one of the best interpreters of Italian opera. With his appointment, we want the San Carlo to aim higher and higher.”
 
       Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris, the foundation president, expressed his satisfaction: “We chose Luisotti because he is a high profile conductor, young, Italian…and this is a source of great pride for us.  We are sure he will contribute to the success of this great theatre both in Italy and the rest of the world.”

      "We at San Francisco Opera are thrilled that Nicola Luisotti has been appointed music director of the San Carlo, one of the world's great lyric theaters," said San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley.  "This announcement is a tribute to his musical talent and leadership."  Nicola Luisotti’s position as San Francisco Opera's  music director began in September 2009 and continues through the 2015-16 season.

      Maestro Luisotti has been called “both an original thinker and a great respecter of tradition” by Opera News, which featured him on the cover of the July special issue on conductors.  Since his international debut in 2002, Luisotti has garnered enthusiastic praise from both audiences and critics at venues throughout the world.  His leadership of Puccini’s rarely performed La fanciulla del West at The Metropolitan Opera, following critical successes conducting Tosca and La bohème, was hailed by the New York Times as a “distinguished performance.”  In conjunction with these 100th Anniversary performances Luisotti was awarded the Premio Puccini Award. 

      Luisotti’s third season at San Francisco Opera’s Music Director of San Francisco Opera continues in June with a new Gabriele Lavia production of Attila, co-produced with Teatro alla Scala.  In addition to I Masnadieri and concerts with the Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo in late March, Maestro Luisotti’s operatic engagements this season include a return visit to La Scala for Turandot in April.  Critically acclaimed for his orchestral conducting, Luisotti will also make appearances with six great orchestras this season including his own San Francisco Opera Orchestra presented by Cal Performances, the Berliner Philharmoniker, Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Madrid’s Orquesta Nacional de España and the orchestras of Cleveland and Philadelphia. 

      The Italian conductor made his critically acclaimed international debut leading a new production of Il trovatore at the Stuttgart State Opera and he has subsequently performed with nearly every major opera company across the globe, including the Metropolitan Opera, London’s Royal Opera at Covent Garden, Paris Opera, Milan’s La Scala, Vienna State Opera, Genoa’s Teatro Carlo Felice, Venice’s Teatro La Fenice, Munich’s Bavarian State Opera,  Dresden State Opera, Frankfurt Opera,  Madrid’s Teatro Real, Los Angeles Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Seattle Opera, Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, and Teatro di San Carlo in Naples.  He made his debut in Japan, where he serves as Principal Conductor of the Tokyo Symphony, with a semi-staged production of Tosca at Suntory Hall and has since returned for Turandot, La bohème, and the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy of Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro, and Così fan tutte.

      Maestro Luisotti has also led many of the world’s most acclaimed orchestral ensembles including the Berlin Philharmonic, London Philharmonia, San Francisco Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Tokyo Symphony, NHK Symphony, Dresden’s Staatskapelle, Munich’s Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the orchestra of Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Torino’s Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI and the orchestras of Hamburg, Budapest, and Zagreb. In conjunction with the 2008 Olympic Games, Luisotti led special concerts in Beijing featuring artists Renée Fleming, Sumi Jo, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Ramón Vargas.

      The conductor’s discography includes a complete recording of Stiffelio (Dynamic) with the orchestra of Trieste’s Teatro Verdi and the critically acclaimed Duets (Deutsche Grammophon), featuring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón.  He is also on the podium of a DVD recording of the Met’s La bohème, starring Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas (EMI).


Anita Rachvelishvili as Carmen at SF Opera

Sfopera-carmen-acti-anita-rachvelishvili* Notes *
Anita Rachvelishvili (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) is singing five performances as the leading lady in Carmen at San Francisco Opera this month. Rachvelishvili has an arresting voice, resonant and earthy. Her pronunciation of French may have been imperfect, but she seemed fully committed to her role. Rachvelishvili never looked like she was doing something simply because the director asked her to. Though not a graceful dancer, she moved with confidence.

The orchestra, conducted by Nicola Luisotti, was a bit more restrained on last Tuesday's performance than the opening matinée. The chorus sounded fine and together. Paulo Szot was still difficult to hear as Escamillo in Act II, perhaps because of his location upstage. Szot did sound rather pretty later in Act III. Susannah Biller's bell-like tone as Frasquita was pleasing. Thiago Arancam's Don José was a bit wooden, but his voice is not without appeal.

* Tattling * 
The audience was relatively quiet, no one around me talked, and I heard no watch alarms from my favorite standing room spot at the back of the balcony.


Kendall Gladen as Carmen at SF Opera

Carmen-acti-sf-opera-kendall-gladen* Notes *
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's beloved production of Carmen (Thiago Arancam as Don José and Kendall Gladen as Carmen in Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) was revived at San Francisco Opera yesterday afternoon. Nicola Luisotti used his lush, hazy style to good effect on the orchestra. The volume was occasionally overwhelming, mostly in Acts II and III. The string soli were strong. The bassoon and harp also made fine contributions.

The children's chorus was quite adorable, but seemed to rush a little at first. The San Francisco Opera chorus was robust as usual. The principal singers all very much looked their roles. Wayne Tigges was a convincing enough Zuniga. Cybele Gouverneur did not dance confidently as Mercédès, but sang adequately. Frasquita did not seem like Susannah Biller's best role either, but she does have a lovely sweetness, and moved nicely.

Paulo Szot may have looked dashing as Escamillo, but he was all but inaudible in Act II, even from the back of the balcony, where the sound is best in the War Memorial. In contrast, Sara Gartland's Micaëla could always be heard. Gartland never sounded vulnerable or näive, perhaps because her voice is so hearty and piercing. Her facial expressions read clearly in her close-ups for OperaVision, and she seems prepared for high-definition film. Thiago Arancam also cut a fine figure as Don José, and his volume was impressive, especially in Act I. Overall, he was a bit bland, but the pain in his voice in the last scene came through. Kendall Gladen made for a languid, dangerous Carmen. Her dancing lacked fire, but her voice is attractive. There were some snags here and there in her singing, but for the most part she acquitted herself well. Her low notes are beautiful.

* Tattling * 
There were the requisite watch alarms and light talking from the audience. A woman left her child during the 5 minute pause between Acts III and IV, but did not make it back in time to take her seat. She whispered over me as the orchestra played the beginning of "À deux cuartos!" to inform the child of her location.


Luisotti conducts the SF Opera Orchestra in Beethoven

A--San-Francisco-Opera-Orchestra* Notes * 
Cal Performances presented Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) in a performance of Beethoven on Friday evening. The musicians began with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. The oboe was especially fine in the Allegro con brio, and the brass were lovely in the Andante con molto. The strings were particularly restrained in the piano and pianissimo portions of the third movement. The second half of the program was devoted to Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. Again, the woodwinds played with characteristic beauty. The violas were rather unostentatious in the second movement. Though the playing overall was not perfectly clean, it was wonderful to see how much all the musicians loved the music and to witness how much joy Luisotti brought to both the pieces. One is dumbfounded when considering this orchestra is in the midst of Don Giovanni performances and will open Xerxes on Sunday, not to mention the Carmen that is also in rehearsal.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking, but it was limited to only a few minutes. My companion's water bottle managed to roll down an aisle of the orchestra level during Beethoven 7.


SF Opera's Don Giovanni

Don-giovanni-sfopera-masks* Notes * 
The latest run of Don Giovanni opened last night at San Francisco Opera. The new production, directed by Gabriele Lavia, is fairly simple. Much of the singing takes place under the proscenium, which is great for hearing the arias, but not particularly dynamic. Half of the characters were able to find an impressive physicality in their roles, and others were rather static. Alessandro Camera's set was straightforward, consisting of 22 mirrors on wires, dozens of Rococo side chairs, and what looked to be an artificial lawn. Andrea Viotti's costumes had period silhouettes in a palette of burgundy, grey, and black. The masks for Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, and Don Ottavio (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) were rather funny. As a whole, the stage direction was similarly absurd, Lavia did not pack in that many ideas, but he held onto them for the entire show.

The orchestra sounded charming and exuberant under Nicola Luisotti. The musicians were not, however, always together. The violins might have gotten just a bit ahead in the overture, and there were definitely times when the orchestra was ahead of the singers. On the other hand, the playing was restrained enough to only rarely overwhelm the singing. The chorus sounded strong and together.

Much of the singing was very nice indeed. Morris Robinson (The Commendatore) stayed truly as still as a statue for the graveyard scene, and his vocal entrance in Scene 18 of Act II was authoritative and terrifying. Ryan Kuster was a clownish Masetto, and his voice has a sweet, youthful warmth. Kate Lindsey moved beautifully as Zerlina, and her high mezzo had a brilliant clarity. Serena Farnocchia was strong as Donna Elvira, and acted rather well vocally, though she was less convincing in her movements. It was odd that the director had her plop down on her knees so often. Marco Vinco (Leperello) was sympathetic, he moves with ease and agility. His voice, though not beautiful, is serviceable enough for this role.

In contrast, Shawn Mathey looked visibly uncomfortable as Don Ottavio, though understandably, given that he took over the role so recently. Mathey sounded on the verge of a panic attack in his first scene with Ellie Dehn (Donna Anna), but improved over the course of the performance. Dehn struggled in "Or sai chi l'onore." This was not helped by the production, which belied the words of the aria by having the first scene be a tryst rather than an attempted rape. Dehn's "Non mi dir" was less effortful and had more grace. Lucas Meachem's Don Giovanni was a menacing sociopath. His sunglasses hid his gaze and this did not benefit his performance. It seems this is a role that Meachem still has to grow into, even though his voice is smooth and pretty, he did seem stiff. Perhaps he was just constrained by the stage direction. He did race through "Fin ch'han dal vino" at an incredible speed. However, his "Deh vieni alla finestra" was tender and lovely.

The epilogue has been cut from these performances, a choice of the Maestro and director. While dramatically, it makes sense end with the Don descending into Hell, musically, I for one missed "Questo è il fin."

* Tattling * 
There was some whispering during the music in Orchestra Standing Room, mostly from latecomers who were not seated until the intermission. People were confused by a roped off section of the railing, apparently not knowing this means this location is not an appropriate place to stand. At intermission some very nice subscribers who were leaving early gave us their tickets on the Center Aisle.


Puccini and Lucca in San Francisco

Nicola_Luisotti_by_John_Martin_2 * Notes * 
The Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco has collaborated with the Giacomo Puccini Foundation, the City of Lucca, Associazione Lucchesi nel Mondo, San Francisco Opera, and San Francisco Opera's BRAVO! Club to host an exhibition entitled "Puccini and Lucca in San Francisco," which opened on September 15 and will close October 13. The exhibition includes several panels that feature images related to Puccini and his native city. Several costumes from San Francisco Opera's Tosca, Suor Angelica, Turandot, and La Bohème are also being displayed.

At the opening last night, San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti (pictured above, photograph by John Martin), spoke briefly in Italian about Puccini. Thankfully, the Event Coordinator of Italian Cultural Institute was game enough to give an impromptu translation of his remarks. Luisotti is from the same province as Puccini, and has been performing his music in one capacity for decades. It turns out that an uncle of Maestro Luisotti, one Don Guido Luisotti, was friend with Puccini himself. Apparently a hunting invitation to Don Guido from Puccini even survives. The evening also included San Francisco Conservatory of Music's Ian Scarfe playing Puccini on piano as guests viewed the exhibit or chatted to each other.

* Tattling * 
I had been invited to this reception by Luisotti's publicist, as I have generally gone out of my way to avoid Bravo! events. I must have made some flippant remark about my distaste for the Bravo! Club, because evidently a certain other publicist conveyed my aversion to one of their board members. In any case, everyone I met at this event was quite pleasant, and it was an amusing opportunity to practice Italian.


SF Opera's Turandot (Opening Night 2011-2012)

Turandot-sf-opera-actiii* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's 89th season opened last night with a revival of Turandot (Iréne Theorin, Marco Berti, and Joseph Frank in Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver). David Hockney's production is as garish as ever, but quite functional, as the sets only move minimally for the scene changes. This keeps the backstage noise negligible, and lighting made for smooth transitions. The choreography was not synchronized, and oddly, the dancers as acrobats made the most glaring errors of this type.

Musically, this performance of Turandot was rather robust, especially in volume. Even still, the orchestra, conducted by Music Director Nicola Luisotti, only occasionally overwhelmed the singers. The playing was florid, but shimmered when necessary. The chorus sounded strong and even.

Our Ping, Pang, and Pong (Hyung Yun, Greg Fedderly, and Daniel Montenegro) were winsome. Yun's baritone is warm, and for the most part, Fedderly and Montenegro have sufficient brightness to be heard over the orchestration. Raymond Aceto seemed an ideal Timur. Though the staging for his exit with Liù's corpse in Act III was awkward, Aceto sang with beauty and feeling.

Leah Crocetto (Liù) gave perhaps the finest performance of the evening. Her pianissmi were breathtaking in "Signore, ascolta!" and she sang "Tu che di gel sei cinta" exquisitely. Marco Berti sang Calaf loudly, yet without strain. He sang "Nessun dorma" cleanly, but did not sustain his last note for its full value. In the title role, Iréne Theorin was not particularly sympathetic. Her powerful voice is unsettling, which is appropriate for portraying the cruel princess.

* Tattling * 
Opening night's audience is invariably ill-behaved. The family in front of me in the last row of the balcony, Seats 112-118 passed a pair of binoculars back and forth the entire opera. At least they seemed engaged in the experience. The apparent mother of this family unwrapped a candy for nearly all of Crocetto's first aria, and spoke during "Nessun dorma" because she was so excited about recognizing the music. Afterward, she said she loved the "theme song" of the opera.