PBO's Radamisto

Pbo-2022* Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and new Music Director Richard Egarr (pictured) ended the 2021-2022 season with Händel's Radamisto last weekend at the Bing Concert Hall on the Stanford campus. The intimate venue proved unflattering, though there certainly was some lovely singing and playing.

I attended the last performance of the run yesterday afternoon, and was able to hear Egarr conduct. He had a foot infection and was at the hospital, and the assistant conductor had lead the first two performances. The overture sounded warm and focused, though there were moments in the 2 hour and 45 minute piece that were off-kilter and chaotic. The trumpets and the flute had some strong soli.

Christophe Gayral's production is staid and serious. The insignia of the Armenians looked much like the logo of a certain German athletic brand, but it was unclear if this was intentionally humorous. There was much use of the different configurations of the Bing's stage to change the set, which could have been interesting, but seemed to change the acoustic for the singers and did not serve the music well. There were a lot of guns and flags. There was much fussing with a navy blue coat in a scene with Radamisto and his wife Zenobia that didn't do much dramatically. A later scene in which Radamisto's sister Polissena is stripped of her queenly gown works better, but effective staging elements were far and few between. The lighting design seemed off at times, at one point in Act I Polissena stepped forward into darkness, and the light only caught up later. If this was done on purpose, it did not seem so.

It was hard to get a good read on some of the voices in the cast, as they sounded different in the various locations of the hall and in its different configurations. Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta seemed warm and clear in her first vocal appearance as Prince Tigrane, but later on in the act. Likewise bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock's voice had a light, floaty quality to it in the space, he wasn't very threatening as the villain Tiridate. Soprano Ellie Laugharne stayed on the right side of shrill as unloved Polinessa, her icy sound a nice contrast to the warm, bright tones of soprano Liv Redpath (Zenobia).

Only Redpath and countertenor Iestyn Davies in the title role had a consistent beauty to their voices, it was unclear to me if this was because I happened to be seated in the right place to hear their voices or because the staging was more forgiving to them somehow. Redpath could clearly convey emotion in her voice, sounding especially plaintive and bell-like in her Act II aria "Che farà quest'alma mia." Davies too has a brilliant sound, his "Ombra cara" of Act II was great, as were his duets in Act III with Redpath.

* Tattling * 
Though the hall seemed to amplify the audience members as well as the performers, and I heard some wrappers, zippers, and coughs, there were few if any electronic sounds or talking. Most everyone wore masks, despite the fact that they are no longer required.


Opera San José's West Side Story

West-side-story-opera-san-jose-2022-1* Notes *
West Side Story (Act I pictured, photograph by David Allen) opened at Opera San José last night in a sleek and effective production from director Crystal Manich. It was wonderful to hear Leonard Bernstein's music live with a fresh, youthful cast.

Conductor Christopher James Ray kept the orchestra and singers together, though it could have been bolder and crisper. The drama certainly exuded from the stage, and there was much beauty in the singing and dancing.

Scenic designer Steven C. Kemp's dynamic set worked very well, the scenes seamlessly changed and I liked seeing the different rooms from different angles. It was all quite clever and impressively quiet.

The talented cast is a mix of opera singers, musical theater performers, and dancers. At times I felt a bit disoriented from the difference in singing style and where the sound was coming from, as microphones are used, since it is a musical, after all. Rival baritones Antony Sanchez (Bernardo) and Trevor Martin (Riff) clearly come from the musical theater world, they both moved so effortlessly. Sanchez is a particularly fine dancer and Martin has a lovely, light sound. On the opera singer side we had tenor Jared V. Esguerra as Chino and baritone Philip Skinner as Doc. We didn't get to hear that much of their strong voices, but they ably and sensitively acted their roles.

I very much liked soprano Natalia Santaliz as the soloist in "Somewhere." Her delicate voice singing above the lovers was ethereal and otherworldly.

The ensembles had a lot of spirit. Mezzo-soprano Natalie Rose Havens is a cheeky Anita, she lead the Shark girls in "America" and played off soprano Christine Capsuto-Shulman as Rosalia. Havens was able to show the nuances of her character very clearly, she was completely convincing. She has a splendid, rich voice as well.

The Jets were entertaining in "Gee, Officer Krupke," Jawan Jenkins is endearing as Action. It was all the more disturbing when these same performers harass Anita at Doc's just a little later. The central problems of the piece feel so intractable and realistic.

West-side-story-opera-san-jose-2022-2The leads (pictured, photograph by David Allen) are both powerful singers. Soprano Teresa Castillo is sweet as Maria, she sings with clarity and her duet with Anita in Act II, "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love" was moving. The appeal of tenor Noah Stewart as Tony was undeniable, his resonant tones and tender boyishness were perfect for "Maria" and "Tonight."

* Tattling *
The audience was enthusiastic. Most people did keep their masks on as asked. I did see someone in Row G using her iPhone at the beginning of Act II. I also noted some electronic noise, but nothing too close to me.

As I was turning the pages of the program, I was surprised to see that one of the semi-finalists of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition this year is from Ürümqi. I rarely see Chinese ethnic minorities like myself in an opera program, so this was notable for me. It makes me very curious to hear soprano Nina Mutalifu when she competes on Wednesday, May 18.


Merola's 2022 Participants

Merola-2022Sopranos
Amanda Batista, Manchester, New Jersey
Adia Evans, Baltimore, Maryland
Maggie Kinabrew, West Hartford, Connecticut
Chelsea Lehnea, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Celeste Morales, San Antonio, Texas
Olivia Prendergast, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Ashley Marie Robillard, Norton, Massachusetts
Arianna Rodriguez, Fairfax, Virginia
Olivia Smith, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada

Mezzo-Sopranos
Veena Akama-Makia, Little Rock, Arkansas
Nikola Adele Printz, Oakland, California
Maggie Reneé, Los Angeles, California
Erin Wagner, El Paso, Texas

Tenors
Daniel Luis Espinal, Sarasota, Florida
Chance Jonas-O'Toole, Dallas, Texas
Jonghyun Park, Seoul, South Korea
Sahel Salam, Houston, Texas
Moisés Salazar, Santa Ana, California

Countertenor
Cody Bowers, Newnan, Georgia

Baritones
Andres Cascante, San José, Costa Rica
Scott Lee, Statesville, North Carolina

Bass-Baritones
Le Bu, Yancheng, China
SeungYun Kim, Cheongju, South Korea
William Socolof, White Plains, New York

Bass
Edwin Jhamaal Davis, Utica, Mississippi

Apprentice Coaches
Shawn Chang, Taipei, Taiwan
Juan José Lázaro, New York, New York
Yang Lin, Shanghai, China
Artyom Pak, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Deborah Robertson, Springfield, Missouri

Apprentice Stage Director
Matthew J. Schulz, Waverly, Iowa

The Merola Opera Program announced participants for 2022 today. The group looks to be very diverse, and even includes a pianist from Central Asia.

The 2022 season includes six performances including a recital entitled "A Celebration of American Song" on July 9, the Schwabacher Summer Concert on July 14 and 16, Mozart's Die Zauberflöte on August 4 and 6, and the Merola Grand Finale on August 20.

Official Site | Press Release


PBO's 2022-23 Season

A99J1404October 20-23 2022: Händel's Theodora
November 16-20 2022: Vaudeville Baroque with Nicholas McGegan
December 14-18 2022: Händel's Messiah
February 9-12 2023: Saint-Saëns' Concerto for Violoncello No. 1 and 2 with Steven Isserlis, Brahm's Symphony No. 2
March 25-31 2023: Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor and Symphony No. 33 in B-flat major with Kristian Bezuidenhout
April 20-22 2023: Händel's Amadigi di Gaula

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's 2022-2023 season was announced today. The soloists for the Theodora are Julie Roset, Helen Charlston, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Thomas Cooley, and Dashon Burton. The soloists for Amadigi di Gaula are Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nicole Heaston, and Kangmin Justin Kim.

Press Release | Official Site


Opera Parallèle's Sophia's Forest

Sophias-forest-2022 * Notes *
I was so pleased to be able to hear Opera Parallèle's latest offering, Sophia's Forest by Lembit Beecher, yesterday evening at Grace Cathedral. This 2017 chamber opera deals with the trauma of a nine-year-old immigrant child and features some very beautiful singing and creepy sound sculptures made from wine glasses and bicycle wheels.

Conductor Nicole Paiement had the Del Sol Quartet, plus percussionist Divesh Karamchandani and composer Beecher electronically controlling his nine sound sculptures all well in hand. The playing was taut and impeccable.

The set was on the ground level of the cathedral along with all of the musicians, with the audience seated on three sides. This gave the performance an intense immediacy. The background of menacing trees along with the incredible venue, lighting, and a few props were enough to create the right atmosphere for this harrowing story.

The narrative is revealed retrospectively by an adult Sophia, played by soprano Maggie Finnegan. Her voice is crystalline and ethereal, without a hint of harshness. Her child counterpart, Charlotte Fanvu, does not sing but is clearly a talented actor and is convincing. I was relieved to read that she is twelve and not nine in real life.

Girl soprano Samantha Fung-Lee sounded bright and clean as Sophia's sister Emma and likewise baritone Bradley Kynard (Wes) had a pleasant, light sound. Kynard was sympathetic as Sophia's mom's boyfriend in the States, he didn't have many lines but seemed kindly. Mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich (Emma, Sophia's mother) gave us some contrast with her very warm and deep voice. It was moving when Scharich sings "She's always been the same" about her daughter, and we got to see many different sides of this character, even in the spare 60 minutes of this piece.

Tattling *
Opera Parallèle was sent detailed instructions on what to expect as far as Covid-19 protocols and parking, so I was careful to get to the performance an hour ahead of curtain. I knew I had to show my proof of vaccination and identification, and waited until the line had dissipated before heading inside. This gave me time to wander on the outdoor labyrinth for about ten minutes, which was very soothing.

I really like that I don't have to print out my ticket and can simply bring it up on my phone, but the problem is I have to switch from my digital vaccine record to the ticket and this takes a bit of time. A man at the door mistook my pause doing this and noting that the restrooms are downstairs as a sign of confusion, when truly I was trying to avoid having an awkward time of going into the venue, having to come back out to go to use the restrooms, and not having all my ticket ready to be scanned again. Anyway, he let me know the cathedral was not simply open to the public and that I would have to leave if I wasn't attending the opera, but was apologetic once I explained that I did have a ticket and was trying to make sure it was ready.

The audience was pretty quiet and there weren't any noticeable electronic interruptions. The man next to me did take off his mask several times throughout the performance to blow his nose. He wasn't loud, at least. I have seasonal allergies and still feel shame about being scolded by at least two different women at the gym for working out in public when having symptoms, and that was pre-pandemic. I find it unnerving how much more comfortable other people can be out in the world, seemingly unself-conscious and unafraid of being reprimanded by strangers.


The Met's 2022-2023 Season

MetoperaSeptember 27- October 28 2022: Medea
September 28- October 20 2022: Idomeneo
September 29- October 21 2022: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
October 4 2022- April 15 2023: Tosca
October 16- November 12 2022: Peter Grimes
October 25 2022- March 18 2023: La Traviata
November 3- December 3 2022: Don Carlo
November 10- December 29 2022: Rigoletto
November 22- December 15 2022: The Hours
December 31 2022- January 28 2023: Fedora
December 16 2022- January 6 2023: The Magic Flute
December 2 2022- May 18 2023: Aida
January 15-28 2023: Dialogues des Carmélites
January 10- April 29 2023: L'Elisir d'Amore
February 26- April 1 2023: Lohengrin
February 28- March 25 2023: Norma
March 12- April 1 2023: Falstaff
March 27- April 10 2023: Der Rosenkavalier
April 10- May 13 2023: Champion
April 21- June 9 2023: La bohème
May 5- June 2 2023: Don Giovanni
May 19- June 10 2023: Die Zauberflöte
May 30- June 10 2023: Der fliegende Holländer

The Met announced the 2022-2023 season, which includes a world premiere of Kevin Puts' The Hours and new productions of Champion, Don Giovanni, Fedora, Lohengrin, Medea, and Die Zauberflöte.

Press Releases | Official Site


Opera San José's Carmen

CarmenOperaSJ0764_Resized-scaled* Notes *
A colorful production of Carmen opened at Opera San José last weekend with a sharp cast. Director Lillian Groag's staging is lively with supernumeraries and flamenco dancers.

Music Director Joseph Marcheso kept the orchestra fairly neat, only a few moments here and there were off-kilter. The brass were clear and the woodwinds lovely.

The set is clean, stairs and a series of arches for the most part. There were nice details, like the water pump that Carmen washes her feet in during Act I. The heavy lifting for the staging was certainly in the physicality of the performers, whether it was the adorable, dimpled Amalinaltzin De La Cruz (pictured in Act II with Eugene Brancoveanu as Escamillo) as Little Carmen or Carmen herself punching Morales in the face.

The most novel part of the production was the use of supernumerary Jim Ballard as Amor Brujo ("Bewitched Love"). We first see him during the overture cutting Carmen's braid, and he pops up throughout, ghost-like and looking more like a personification of death than love. He is quite a presence and he did many floreos (hand articulations from flamenco) as he moved across the stage.

The inclusion of four real flamenco dancers from The Flamenco Society of San José in Act II was truly exciting, they were great.

OSJ_Carmen_Richard-Trey-Smagur-as-Don-Jose_Nikola-Printz-as-Carmen_Photo-credit_Rapt-Productions_6-scaledThe Sunday matinée performance featured tenor Richard Trey Smagur (pictured with Nikola Printz as Carmen) as Don José, he shares the role with Noah Stewart. Smagur has an open, plaintive sound. Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz embodied Carmen, their voice is clear and acting very strong. My only quibble was with their castanet playing, it was tentative compared to the flamenco dancers. Otherwise, it was an enchanting and convincing performance, it was obvious why Carmen is so arresting and seductive.

I loved hearing soprano Anne-Marie MacIntosh as Michaëla, her sound is so bright and pretty. Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu is appealing as Escamillo, there is some texture to his lower range, but he has warm resonances as well.

Bass-baritone Leo Radosavljevic was a touch quiet as Zuniga, the character was treated with a startling brutality by the smugglers, all of whom sounded quite nice, however. Soprano Teresa Castillo is a saucy, youthful Frasquita and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Sanchez as Mercédès has a distinct sound from Carmen. The quintet "Quand il s’agit de tromperie" was pleasantly rounded off by tenor Jared V. Esguerra (El Remendado) and bass-baritone Rafael W. Porto (El Dancaïro). Bass-baritone Peter Morgan (Moralès) has a grainy voice that cut through the chorus.

* Tattling *
I was glad to note that the California Theatre requires proof of a booster to attend performances. It was perfectly easy to get through the line within a few minutes.

There was some plastic rustling in Row E at the beginning of the performance, but this did subside pretty quickly. More annoying was a woman who arrived late after the first intermission and had the usher get five people in Row C to stand up during the flamenco dancing to let her to her seat, only to realize this was very disruptive and had her sit in a more accessible seat in Row B.

But the most obnoxious thing was certainly at the end of the tenor's Act II aria "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" when someone's Apple Watch pinged their iPhone.


SF Opera's 2022-2023 Season

WMOH9_JoelPuliattiSeptember 9 2022: Opera Ball: The Centennial Celebration with Nadine Sierra, Michael Fabiano, Pene Pati, Lucas Meachem, and Eun Sun Kim
September 10–October 5 2022: John Adams' Antony and Cleopatra
September 25–October 14 2022: Eugene Onegin
October 15–30 2022: Dialogues of the Carmelites
November 11–December 3 2022: La Traviata
November 15–December 1 2022: Orfeo ed Euridice
June 3–July 1, 2023: Madama Butterfly
June 4–28 2023: Die Frau ohne Schatten
June 13–30 2023: Gabriela Lena Frank's El último sueño de Frida y Diego
June 16 2023: 100th Anniversary Concert

General Director Matthew Shilvock announced San Francisco Opera's Centennial Season today. The season includes two new operas, one of which is a world premiere by John Adams, and many new productions.

Press Release | Official Site


Merola's Home for the Holidays

8C76A9BA-E3DA-470C-B8B7-3E3C6B4A60E1 * Notes *
San Francisco Opera's training program, Merola, held another virtual recital for the holidays via Vimeo with pianist James Harp, soprano Amber R. Monroe, tenor Edward Graves, and bass Kevin Thompson. I watched right when it was released last Sunday with my small children and it proved to be the perfect bit of Christmas cheer.

The recital was held at National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., and it was nice that this year the performers, at least, were together. The evening began with Graves singing "Comfort Ye / Ev'ry Valley" from Händel's Messiah. His voice is clear and warm, and has a certain lovely yearning to it. Graves is a new Adler for next year, and it will be exciting to hear him more soon. Later in the performance he sang "Una furtiva lagrima" from L'Elisir d'Amore, and this seemed to be exactly in his wheelhouse, as was the plaintive "Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz" from Das Land des Lächelns by Lehár.

Monroe sang "Quando me’n vo" from La bohème and it is obvious that she'd be a charming Musetta with her soaring, icy notes. She also sang a dramatic "Meine Lippen sie küssen so heiß" from Giuditta by Lehár.

My children liked Thompson most, I think they are overly fond of Kern's Showboat, and were pleased to hear him sing "Ol' Man River." My 4-year-old daughter also thought his rendition of  "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" was very funny. Personally I preferred "Ecco il mondo" from Boito's Mefistofele, it showed off the range of his voice.

The performance ended with a very pretty version of "O Holy Night" that featured all the singers accompanied by the pianist.

*Tattling * 
Virtual recitals have come far in the last year, and there was little to tattle about.


SF Opera Chorus Celebrates Ian Robertson


Ian Robertson_photo Matthew Washburn_4S2A0655* Notes * 

The San Francisco Opera Chorus is sending off its Chorus Director Ian Robertson (pictured with the chorus, photograph by Matthew Washburn) with two sold-out concerts at the Atrium Theater this weekend. Robertson is ending his distinguished 35-season tenure with these performances, which he is conducting.

Saturday evening's performance began with Associate Chorus Master Fabrizio Corona playing a processional on the piano as the chorus members filed in and took their places. The first half of the concert included much from the standard choral repertoire beginning with selections from Charpentier's Te Deum.

It was downright impressive and even somewhat alarming being in such an intimate space with this accomplished chorus. The amount of sound the singers produce has such a visceral effect, and having them front and center is a joy. Robertson introduced pieces as we went along, he's personable and his reflections on the works was most welcome.

I loved hearing Bach's "Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe," the chorale from Cantata BWV 147 sung so harmoniously, a far cry from what the piece sounded like when I played it in my high school orchestra. This was followed by "Endless Pleasure" from Händel's Semele, Mozart's "Placido è il mar" from Idomeneo, and Mozart's "Heil sie euch Geweihten" from Die Zauberflöte. All of this was truly gorgeous, some of my favorites, and the soloists from the chorus are incredible. Lots of nice clean singing.

Next we heard choruses from operas by Donizetti, Puccini, and of course Verdi. The agility of the singers is striking, so fleet and light for Donizetti, meditative for Puccini's Humming Chorus, and pure and resonant for Verdi's "Va, pensiero."

Fabrizio Corona and Ian Robertson_photo Matthew Washburn_4S2A0711The second half of the night showcased more unusual pieces, starting with some funny selections from Offenbach's La belle Hélène. "Marche de l'oie" ("March of the goose") was particularly delightful. Low voices were highlighted in Jennifer Higdon's Act II Chorus for the Dead Soldiers from Cold Mountain, while higher voices were in the foreground for Two Mountain Songs by Gabriela Lena Frank. I'm quite curious to hear Higdon's complete opera someday, this chorus is really lovely and Frank's layered, evocative work is also intriguing. "Envuelto por el Viento" has a section of singers humming, another doing whispery echoes, and the last third actually singing.

There was even a world premiere commissioned by San Francisco Opera in honor of Robertson, entitled Invitation to Love by Oakland-based artist Cava Menzies. The text is a poem from Paul Laurence Dunbar, and the piece showed off how cohesive the ensemble is.

The performance ended (ovation pictured, photograph by Matthew Washburn) with the optimistic "Make our garden grow" from Bernstein's Candide, a very cheerful and pleasant finale indeed.

* Tattling * 
The first rows of the Atrium Theater were blocked off, presumably as part of Covid safety protocols. The venue only holds 320 people at most, so this definitely made tickets hard to come by.

There was some quiet commentary behind me, but mostly reactions to the singing, so it didn't bother me much. A person in this same row reacted very badly (and somewhat more loudly) however to the woman next to him trying to take a picture of Ian Robertson during the performance, and he was able to switch seats after intermission.


Adler Fellows 2022

Adlers2020_c_2400x1800The incoming 2022 Adler Fellows are soprano Mikayla Sager, mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Beteag, tenors Victor Cardamone and Edward Graves; and apprentice coach Marika Yasuda. They join current Adlers sopranos Anne-Marie MacIntosh, Elisa Sunshine, and Esther Tonea; mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh, baritone Timothy Murray, bass Stefan Egerstrom, and pianist Andrew King. The outgoing 2021 Adler Fellows (pictured, photograph by Cheshire Issacs) are mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh, tenors Christopher Colmenero, Christopher Oglesby and Zhengyi Bai; and pianist Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad.

Press Release | Official Site


SF Opera's Così fan Tutte

24.Cosi_Act I scene* Notes * 
Così fan tutte (Act I pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver), the second installment of the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy directed by Michael Cavanagh, opened at San Francisco Opera last weekend. The second performance was Tuesday night, there was lots of pretty singing, Maestro Henrik Nánási kept the orchestra going at a brisk pace, and the production gave us lots to think about.

The set, an 18th century manor house in Le nozze di Figaro, looks largely the same, though it is now a country club in the 1930s. There are a few projections on the scrim during the overture and at the beginning of Act II, but they are minimal, mostly silhouettes of the various characters or details about the world we are about to enter. Later we see water and trees on three panels of the graph paper facade of the building as the scenes are changed.

Don Alfonso is the general manager of the Wolfbridge Country Club and Despina is a maid there, the rest of the characters are apparently guests for a week of fencing and drawing classes, dancing, badminton, and swimming in late spring. All this lends itself to opulent scenes, the one by the pool garnered applause. There are a lot of sight gags throughout, as when we find ourselves in a prettily appointed space with posters depicting lithe, active women declaring this is "how to keep youth and beauty" while the female guests do calisthenics, and promptly help themselves to cocktails and cigarettes.

The production is certainly more interesting than the Le nozze di Figaro from October 2019, though it is clearly in the same world. Part of this is perhaps because Così fan tutte is a more problematic piece, misogyny is in the very title itself. Each of the lovers is shown to be rather childish, there is much melodrama and silliness. One twist in this portrayal is that Despina discovers that the "Albanians" are Ferrando and Guglielmo in disguise in right before the Act II duet "Fra gli amplessi." The cunning maid shares her discovery with the sisters as the men sing "Così fan tutte," and it means that Dorabella and Fiordiligi are well aware they are having a sham wedding in the last scene, giving it a very different tone than in a more straightforward rendering of this piece. It is all a lot more ambiguous and heartbreaking.

The orchestra was crisp, the woodwinds and brass sounded particularly fine. Nánási occasionally had the musicians ahead of the singers, he definitely kept things moving. The chorus was powerful and together.

The principals are all very nicely cast. Soprano Nicole Cabell (Fiordiligi) and mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts (Dorabella) sounded like sisters, their voices have similar qualities. Cabell's voice has very lovely and dark low notes, while Roberts has a metallic incisiveness. Cabell navigated the vocal leaps of the Act I aria "Come scoglio" with brilliant ease, and sang an emotional "Fra gli amplessi," her Act II duet with Ferrando. Speaking of which, tenor Ben Bliss had a dazzling San Francisco Opera debut as Ferrando, his voice is sweet and open, sounding wonderful in this same duet and throughout the evening. His Act II aria "Tradito, schernito" was simply beautiful. Baritone John Brancy held his own as Guglielmo, sounding sturdy and warm.

13.Cosi_Ferruccio Furlanetto_Nicole CabellIt is always a joy to hear bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, the role of Don Alfonso seems tailor-made for him. His resonances are striking and he moves well, I loved his little victory dance in Act II Scene 2, after Guglielmo reveals that Dorabella has betrayed Ferrando. Best of all though was soprano Nicole Heaston as Despina. Not only is her voice completely smooth and clear, she is genuinely hilarious. She disguises herself as a golfing doctor (pictured with Furlanetto, photograph by Cory Weaver) and putting on a very funny accent that was completely obvious even if you don't know a word of Italian.

* Tattling * 
There was some occasional light talking around me in Row P of the Orchestra Level and one "ding" from the center section in the first scene of Act II as Fiordiligi sang. Before this someone just behind me loudly remarked that something onstage was "so stupid," I guess it was Guglielmo's feigning illness. It wasn't obvious to me why this needed to be stated, given that the whole plot is pretty darned absurd.

I watched the livestream of the opening Sunday matinée performance of Così with my 4-year old and 7-year old children, it was pretty good and only had a couple technical problems. I had hoped my older child would have been fully-vaccinated so he could attend in person, but sadly that won't happen until next month, so it was excellent to have this option. He was very excited about the doctor scene described above, especially the magnets, and about "È amore un ladroncello," Dorabella's Act II aria, which he's heard about a thousand times because he was obsessed with Cecilia Bartoli's Mozart Arias recording when he was a toddler.


Ars Minerva's Messalina

Ars-minerva-messalina-2021* Notes * 
The inimitable Ars Minerva is presenting the North American premiere of Carlo Pallavicino's Messalina this weekend at ODC Theater in San Francisco. The Saturday performance was a raucous romp through the Roman imperial court around 47 CE focused on Messalina, the third wife of Emperor Claudius. There are many love triangles and mistaken identities, as is so often the case with Baroque opera, and this production wholeheartedly embraces the humor and absurdity of these situations.

As is the case with all of Ars Minerva's operas, this piece by Carlo Pallavicino hasn't been seen in modern times. The opera premiered in 1679 at the Teatro San Salvatore in Venice and features a libretto by Francesco Maria Piccioli that deals with martial infidelity, jilted lovers, and moral turpitude. Pallavicino's music is very beautiful and the singing and playing certainly seemed to do it justice.

This opera does feel a bit more serious than some of the others we've seen at Ars Minerva, there is an undercurrent of violence that is more real than some of the sillier plots of many a Baroque drama. Perhaps because the historical figure of Empress Messalina was indeed executed for her sexual licentiousness along with her lover Caius. There are also abductions and rape attempts of Floralba, the wife of Claudio's advisor Tullio.

Executive Artistic Director of Ars Minerva Céline Ricci staged the piece as a boisterous caper. The scenes are changed using projections of paintings and props brought in and out by stagehands. It keeps the momentum going without much disruption. I very much enjoyed Marina Polakoff's costumes, a mash-up of contemporary and classical styles. Male characters (or in one case those disguised as males) wore brightly-colored suits whose jackets might have some toga-like draping on one side and oxford shoes in matching hues. Messalina's gowns were so much fun, lots of pink roses and elaborate headdresses. She had a fantastical collar shaped like a lotus at one point and a fabulous balloon-filled skirt for the final scene.

The music sounded lovely, the orchestra is only six people, basically a string quartet with therorbo and harpsichord. Conductor/harpsichordist Jory Vinikour keeps everyone together, the playing has a bracing, brisk quality that is very pleasing.

The cast boasts a lot of fine singers. The lowest voice featured is Zachary Gordin, whose light baritone has a certain smoky darkness. His Tergisto contrasted nicely with mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich, his betrayed erstwhile fiancée Erginda (disguised most of the opera as Alindo). Scharich's sound is warm and solid. She also had the funniest sight-gag of the evening, as she reveals her identity by baring her obviously-fake breasts near the end of Act III. Gordin did have a very amusing scene in Act II when he puts on a bunny tail and ears and hops off stage too. Our other secondary couple Tullio, played by tenor Kevin Gino, and Floralba, portrayed by soprano Shawnette Sulker, were likewise strong. Gino's voice is well-supported and Sulker has a pretty flutey sound. Tenor Marcus Paige as Lismeno is the only character in this story who isn't directly involved in romantic intrigues. His resonant voice stood out, and his sly commentary on the action through his physicality was memorable.

Tenor Patrick Hagen's Caio, the much younger lover of Messalina, was consistent, his voice has a reediness to it that is pleasantly plaintive. As Emperor Claudio mezzo-soprano Deborah Rosengaus sounds icily pristine, an unsettlingly foil to the jealous, violent nature of the character. Soprano Aura Veruni seemed to perfectly embody Messalina, her voice has such a spark to it, so alive and clear. Her movements are also very decisive and conveyed humor well.

* Tattling * 
It really seems that the pandemic has confused some audience members about how to behave. There was so much talking behind me in Row C around Seats 8 and 10 that I didn't know how to react either, I simply froze. Thankfully my 615 days of being in close quarters with chattering children have honed my ability to focus.

I did see many friends at this event, and it was a joy to experience live opera with them again.


Opera San José's Dido and Aeneas

DAP9164-scaled

* Notes *
Opera San José has returned to the California Theatre last night with a beautifully cast Dido and Aeneas. Director Elkhanah Pulitzer's new production is likewise attractive.

Music Director Joseph Marcheso conducted a reduced version of the orchestra suited to this Baroque opera that clocks in at only 55 minutes. The continuo -- played here by harpsichord, two guitars, and cello -- packed a punch. A few times I did find myself focusing more on the continuo than what was happening on stage, though both the choreography by Michael Pappalardo and costumes from Ulises Alcala were pretty.

This staging features a nice, minimal set, essentially a curved white wall with arched double doors in the middle that are plain white on one side and turquoise and ornately decorated when open (pictured, photograph by David Allen). Scenes were switched by the use of elements coming in from above the stage and with artful lighting. I really loved how upside down flowering trees appeared in the middle of Act II.

The small chorus has a lot of spirit, and were great to see and hear. The rest of the youthful cast is comprised of the resident company and boasts many familiar faces. Bass-baritone Nathan Stark makes for a creepy Sorcerer, his commanding voice and strong presence were downright threatening and gave credence to the drama at hand. Soprano Maya Kherani sounded lovely as Belinda, her Act II "Thanks To These Lonesome Vales" had a delicate sweetness.

Baritone Efraín Solís makes for a fine Aeneas, his warm voice has an appealing texture and when he is rejected by Dido it felt very real. Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz is imposing as Dido, having depth, warmth, and nice clean lines to their voice. The sublime "When I am laid in Earth" gave me chills and the falling rose petals as Dido laments her fate are very effective.

* Tattling *
To my surprise the evening began with the National Anthem. We were seated quite near General Director Khori Dastoor, and I could easily hear her clear soprano voice.

The process of checking vaccine status and identification was quick and simple. Once inside the building we saw a number of opera friends, which was heartening. People were very good about keeping their masks on throughout, though I did hear some light talking at the beginning and someone definitely had trouble with a lozenge wrapper just before the two witches sing "But ere we this perform."