Opera San José

Opera San José's Don Giovanni

Don-giovanni-sj-opera-2014* Notes *
Don Giovanni opened with two different casts at Opera San José over the weekend. The piece seemed a bit beyond the abilities of all those involved. Though Mozart sounds wonderfully effortless, the Sunday afternoon performance on Easter was both sincere and labored. It was probably a wise decision to cut "Dalla sua pace," for example. Anthony Quartuccio conducted an orchestra that sounded angular and moderate. The unsubtle singing was promising but not quite together, the singers often lagged behind the orchestra.

Mozart does not leave a lot of margin for error, and the mistakes were painfully exposed. All of the singing was rather loud, and we never had a problem hearing the singing over the rest of the music. Jennifer Forni was a slightly shrill Donna Anna. Lisa Chavez made for a sultry and vehement Donna Elvira. Krassen Karagiozov was an amusing and bright Leporello. In the title-role Evan Brummel lacked charisma. His voice is nice enough, but the most memorable moment of his performance was when he accidentally threw the mandolin into the door frame after "Deh vieni alla finestra."

For the most part, the fairly standard production kept to the text. The ending did not involve a supernatural descent but was resolved by having Masetto punish the rake instead.

* Tattling * 
There was much noisy candy-eating in Rows D and F on the right side of the orchestra level.

Opera San José's Suor Angelica & Gianni Schicchi

James-callon-birkland-cast-rinuccio-zita-cast-2a* Notes *
A double-bill of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi (pictured left, photograph by P. Kirk) closes the 2012-2013 season at Opera San José. Charlie Smith's cunning set is used for both operas, but somehow the space seems completely transformed for each. The costumes, from Elizabeth Poindexter, look completely appropriate. Lorna Haywood's production is straightforward and of the period for each pieces. It says a lot that this was a little jarring for this reviewer.

Maestro Joseph Marcheso kept the orchestra together, but was slightly ahead of the singers at times. The young cast seemed eager and were all rather loud. Cecilia Violetta López embodied Suor Angelica, her emotions seemed intensely genuine. As Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi, her "O mio babbino caro" was quite nice. Nicole Birkland has a deep, rich voice, she sang La Zia Principessa with much care, and seemed somewhat more comfortable as Zita in Gianni Schicchi.

Jo Vincent Parks seemed to have fun with Betto di Signa. James Callon sang Rinuccio with sweetness. Evan Brummel gave a spirited performance as Gianni Schicchi, but perhaps could have been a bit more searing or sly at certain points.

* Tattling * 
There was much whispering from the audience, but also much enthusiasm.

Opera San José's Les pêcheurs de perles

Opera-san-jose-pearl-fishers-callon-altman* Notes *
The Pearl Fishers (Act I with James Callon and Zachary Altman, photograph by P. Kirk) opened the 2012-2013 season at Opera San José over the weekend. Sunday's performance gave a compelling case for this opera, which is so much less popular than Bizet's Carmen. Maestro Anthony Quartuccio had the orchestra going at a neat, steady pace. The oboe solo in Act II was especially beautiful.

The chorus sounded spirited and robust, and were rather threatening in Acts II and III. Silas Elash is convincing as Nourabad. Melody King's Leïla has vigor, though not all her notes were perfectly in tune. James Callon (Nadir) also may have drifted slightly in his intonation, but sang well both with King and with Zachary Altman as Zurga. The duet between Callon and Altman, "Au fond du temple saint," was certainly a highlight of the afternoon.

The exotic-looking set, designed by Charlie Smith, seemed solid. Richard Harrell's direction involved much dancing from seven young people, who were quite amusing to watch.

* Tattling * 
The audience clapped after nearly all the arias and were generally pleased to be back at the California Theatre for a new season.

Opera San José's Faust

Pk0418faustmargueritea* Notes *
Faust (
Act II with Michael Dailey and Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste, photograph by P. Kirk) opened at Opera San José last night. The ambitious performance had some lovely points, but was, on the whole, rather scattershot. The orchestra, lead by David Rohrbaugh, sounded slightly lax. The overture was drawn out so that we could hear all the tunes we would be hearing later in the evening. The tempi were not too slow as much as simply lacking tension. The woodwinds did sound clear and sweet. The organ was also excellent.

The chorus was a little patchy, perhaps the music simply demands a few more people. Evan Brummel sang Valentin well, his voice is dry but pleasant. Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste (Marguerite) has a rich, powerful sound. Her big aria, the Jewel Song, could have been more smoothly sung, and her top is a bit on the raw side. Silas Elash looked like a pirate version of Méphistophéles. His voice is strong, a little gravelly, with a great openness his higher notes. Michael Dailey's Faust was distinctive. His nasal, somewhat petulant tone did not make the character sympathetic, but was perhaps appropriate for the role.

The production, directed by Brad Dalton, evoked the Flemish Primitives. The backdrops recreated various paintings by Bosch, Bruegel, and the like. There was no strong sense of interior or exterior parts of the set. The cast seemed drawn to standing on whatever was highest: chairs, tables, or rickety staircases. Dalton referred to Marguerite's dead sister throughout the opera, and used a young supernumerary to this end. The effect was eerie, but not exactly in line with the music. Four dancers were also employed as minions of Méphistophéles, pushing the action along.

* Tattling * 
The couple in Row M Seats 108 and 109 talked the entire evening. Otherwise the audience was supportive and engaged.

Opera San José's La voix humaine & Pagliacci

Voix-coffand-opera-san-jose* Notes *
Last night a double bill of La voix humaine (pictured left, photograph by P. Kirk) and Pagliacci opened at Opera San José. It is something of an odd juxtaposition, one imagines it is based on the duration of these two operas and the fact that it would be difficult to present the Poulenc on its own.

La voix humaine is an unsettling piece, a one-act opera featuring one rather unhinged, needy woman on a telephone with a bad connection. The music is spare and the singing is speech-like. Mezzo-soprano Betany Coffland gave a nuanced, controlled vocal performance. The orchestra, conducted by Bryan Nies, supported her well. Coffland was only slightly overwhelmed at a few points when she did not face out to the audience because of her blocking. Her acting is strong, she looked completely distraught and devastated. J.B. Wilson's set is descriptive without being entirely literal. The silver nightgown designed by Alyssa Oania is elegant, but satin can be unforgiving.

Pagliacci was performed with an appealing immediacy. The playing was not always together but clean. The singing was straightforward, the acting again here was formidable. Evan Brummel (Tonio) has a hearty, warm voice. Jasmina Halimic made for an attractive Nedda, she has a fine command of her facial expressions. Her voice was not particularly pretty in this role, it has some grit to it at the bottom, but she was convincing regardless. Alexander Boyer (Canio) was slightly tentative, and could have sung his big aria with more anguish. Boyer has a lovely sound, his performance seemed neat and correct. The set for this opera, also by J.B. Wilson, is simple. The Commedia dell'arte costumes looked like perfect historical replicas as seen in paintings.

* Tattling * 
The person in Row G Seat 106 helpfully pointed out that the intermezzo of Pagliacci was "very dark."

Opera San José's Idomeneo

Idomeneocoro * Notes *
Last weekend the 28th season of Opera San José opened with Idomeneo. The production (Act I pictured left, photo by P. Kirk) directed by Brad Dalton, is gorgeous. Steven C. Kemp's set looks meticulously researched, and Johann Stegmeir's costumes were quite pretty. The choreography, from Dennis Nahat, did not always go with the text, but worked well on the singers. The dancing was rather festive, but not executed perfectly.

The orchestra sounded smooth and energetic under Maestro George Cleve. At times the musicians in the pit were slightly ahead of the principal singers. The chorus kept together for the most part, and were not overly loud. Overall the singing of "Cast 1" that performed on Sunday was nice, if not occasionally timid. Mozart leaves the voice exposed, and small errors are noticeable.

Sandra Bengochea was a flirtatious Ilia, had good volume, but her enunciation of the Italian was not always clear. Jasmina Halimic was very funny as Elettra, without sounding harsh. She does have a bit of a gasp at the bottom of her voice. Her last aria was outstanding, however. Betany Coffland (Idamante) is convincingly tall and slim enough to play a young man, her metallic voice is sounds strong and high, and perhaps a bit tinny at the top. In the title role, Alexander Boyer made valiant attempt. His voice has a pleasant warmth. Boyer did seem afraid of the coloratura, and his "Torna la pace al core," while pretty, was not completely decisive. Nonetheless, his performance was part of an enjoyable and satisfying afternoon.

* Tattling * 
The audience seemed utterly delighted to be at this matinée, and clapped with enthusiasm for singing and sets alike. There was hardly any whispering or electronic noise.

Opera San José's Anna Karenina

Anna (Jasmina Halimic) and her estranged husband, Alexei Karenin (Kirk Eichelberger). Photo by Pat Kirk. * Notes *
The 27th season of Opera San José opened with the West Coast premiere of David Carlson's Anna Karenina yesterday evening. The libretto, written by Colin Graham, packed a lot of narrative into less than three hours. It felt a bit like hearing the Cliff Notes to Tolstoy's novel set to music as we moved through key plot points at breakneck speed. Perhaps the librettist and composer wanted to stay so true to Tolstoy's story they may have lost sight of the dramatic aspects of the operatic form. The music itself was pretty, constantly in motion, evoking waves or other watery imagery and textures. There was much repetition, and the music was consistent regardless of the text, with the exception of Anna's death. The orchestra, under the baton of Stewart Robertson, played with clarity and never overwhelmed the singers.

The singing was uniformly fine. Kindra Scharich stood out in the small role of Countess Lydia Ivanova, her voice is warm and lovely. Christopher Bengochea (Stiva Oblonsky) and Michael Dailey (Konstantin Levin) also offered strong performances. Krassen Karagiozov was not quite dashing enough as Vronsky, but he did sing nicely. Jasmina Halimic made a pretty Anna, and she did sound very sweet. There were a few times when she gasped or cracked slightly. Karenin seemed the most fleshed out character, his motivations were clear, and Kirk Eichelberger portrayed him beautifully.

Brad Dalton's production is impressive. Everything came together perfectly, and without looking overworked or effortful. The choreography, from Lise La Cour, was smooth and looked natural on all the singers, dancers, and supernumeraries. Steven C. Kemp's sets are sleek, simple, but still descriptive, and were lit elegantly by Kent Dorsey. Some of the painted backdrops were particularly gorgeous. Elizabeth Pointdexter's costumes looked in keeping with the novel, as did the wigs and makeup from Jeanna Parham.

* Tattling * 
On the whole, the patrons of Opera San José were excited and supportive. There was some light talking, and some quiet snoring. Both were easy to overlook. The opera received a standing ovation.

Manon at Opera San José

Manon-san-jose * Notes * 
Opera San José's new season opened with Manon last night. The orchestra sounded clean under the baton of Joseph Marcheso. On the whole, the intonation was spotless and the soli from the woodwinds and strings were particularly nice. The organ did have a rough entrance at the beginning of Act II. Dianna Shuster's production was uncomplicated, though the part where Manon gets Des Grieux attention by hopping up on a bench and walking back and forth for entirely too long was somewhat silly. The costumes and set all looked perfectly reasonable given this opera.

The singing was even, and the singers well-matched. Silas Elash had a lot of power as the elder Des Grieux. Krassen Karagiozov was a slippery, evasive Lescaut. Alexander Boyer (Des Grieux) had some pleasant warmth, though his voice did sound a bit compressed at the top. Khori Dastoor looked lovely in the title role, her voice is icy and metallic without being too abrasive. She sang "Adieu, notre petite table" prettily. Her accent in French was somewhat noticeable, though this was true of most of the cast overall.

* Tattling * 
There were some murmurs during the music, but no electronic noise. The ovation at the end was quite effusive, despite some audience attrition at the two intermissions.

Manon is not nice.

We went to see Manon at Opera San Jose. It was very small and pretty as a production, with clever and simple sets. The opera had speaking parts in French, which I did not anticipate. It was especially strange when the audience clapped after these parts, as if it had been some wonderful aria. This only really happened in Act III, which had me very confused as it was, since they took out the first scene of it. Act III is supposed to start off in a park at the Cours-la-Reine, where Manon learns that Des Grieux has become an abb, and only later does the scene change to the sacristy at St. Sulpice. At any rate, French spoken by American opera singers is considerably worse than French sung by said singers. Or at least, the accent is more obvious.

Manon was played by Sandra Rubalcava, who had a nice voice that was occasionally shrill, but mostly just in Act I. She was wonderful in her aria "Adieu, notre petite table" in Act II and at L'Htel de Transylvanie in Act IV. The music was pretty, but not very memorable, though there were very pleasant overtures for all the acts. The word "Manon" was used an incredible amount. The character of Manon says her own name many times, and her dying words are "Et c'est l l'histoire...de Manon Lescaut!"

I enjoyed that the San Jose Opera asks its patrons to please unwrap their candies before the performance begins. This was not terribly effective, however. Apparently, I have very sensitive hearing, because a lady sitting next to my pesky friend was unwrapping and eating candies for the first ten minutes of the opera, and I could hear not only the cellophane wrapper noise, but the clicking of the candies against her teeth. She had eaten about five candies before I asked her as politely as I could to desist. I also received a scathing look in the ladies' room from a middle-aged lady putting on her makeup. Her friend was gushing about how gorgeous the lady in question was, and I merely glanced up at her in the mirror, and was met by the most caustic of looks. It was very entertaining. I must remember to be so pleasant when I get older.