Music critics loved Patricia Racette in the title role of San Francisco Opera's Susannah (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver).
* Notes *
Carlisle Floyd's Susannah (Patricia Racette as Susannah Polk and Brandon Jovanovich as Sam Polk in Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) had a San Francisco Opera debut yesterday evening. The score is sweepingly lyrical, and Maestra Karen Kamenseki conducted a powerful orchestra. The chorus sounded quite fine.
Much of the singing was beautiful. A.J. Glueckert was easy to pick out as Elder Gleaton, as was Suzanne Hendrix as Mrs. Ott. James Kryshak did well as Little Bat McLean and Catherine Cook was sang Mrs. McLean with the suitable vileness.
Raymond Aceto gave a committed performance as the flawed Rev. Olin Blitch. Aceto's voice did have a tendency to blend in with the orchestra. Brandon Jovanovich sang Sam Polk with verve. His voice is lovely. Patricia Racette is an engaging Susannah. Her voice sounded frayed at the top, her loudest high notes have a wide vibrato. Her "Ain't it a pretty night?" was haunting, however.
The production, directed by Michael Cavanagh, is straightforward. Erhard Rom's set design is clean, the scene changes are simple and elegant. The lighting, from Gary Marder, is likewise. The use of projections on a scrim facilitated the proceedings without being overwhelming or cliched.
* Tattling *
The audience in the balcony was sparse. Even so, there was chatter and cellular phone noise, despite the short run time of this opera.
* 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.
* Notes *
Tobias Picker's Dolores Claiborne (Act I Scene 3 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) had a world premiere at San Francisco Opera on Wednesday night. The opera is compelling. The narrative, based on Stephen King's novel, is rather dark. Picker's music is ornate, there are many twists and turns in the musical line, and many duets, trios, and ensembles. Though the music is lyrical, it eschews sentimentality. J.D. McClatchy's libretto is neither cloying nor awkward, and has a refreshing directness. The tiered set is cinematic, the many scenes flow easily, and though there are projections, they do not dominate the production.
George Manahan kept the orchestra together. The singers were all able to float above the sound of the orchestra. The chorus sounded characteristically good.
The opera features many female voices. Patricia Racette was fairly strong, though much of the singing seemed a bit lower in her tessitura than we are accustomed to hearing. Susannah Biller sounded clear and bright as Selena St. George. Elizabeth Futral sounded harsh and shrill as Vera Donovan, which was extremely effective for this role.
Wayne Tigges was an utterly alarming Joe St. George, his voice is pretty but his music is disquieting. Jacqueline Piccolino, Nikki Einfeld, Marina Harris, Laura Krumm, and Renée Rapier did a fine job as Vera Donovan's other maids. Robert Watson, Hadleigh Adams, and A.J. Glueckert were amusing as Cox, Fox, and Knox.
There were some opening night difficulties, which are sure to be ironed out in the coming weeks. Some of the singing did not seem precisely together. At one point in the ferry scene (Act I Scene 5) Selena angrily asks her mother to let her go, but Racette had not yet grabbed on to Biller's arm.
* Tattling *
There was lot of clapping between scenes, even if music was clearly still being played.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was Mr. Picker's guest. Her security detail sat at the very back of the orchestra level and the railing behind them was cordoned off from standees.
* 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.
Mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick has withdrawn from the world premiere Dolores Claiborne, which opens on September 18, 2013 at San Francisco Opera. Zajick found the title-role of this new opera too challenging given her ongoing knee problems. Patricia Racette is to sing the first four performances of the opera instead, and Catherine Cook will sing the final two performances.
* Notes *
The second performance of Tosca at San Francisco Opera featured three different principals (Patricia Racette as Tosca and Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) to fairly fine effect. Patricia Racette's portrayal of Tosca is dramatically convincing. Though the timbre of her vibrato always makes this listener uncomfortable, she sings with a lot of fire. Racette's quieter passages can be quite pretty. She is a great actress, and despite being less than willowy, all her movements are easily read even from the back of the house. Her "Vissi d'Arte" was moving.
Brian Jagde has a bright, occasionally brassy, sound as Cavaradossi. His voice shows a good deal of emotion: cheeriness at the beginning, subsequent anger at Scarpia, and then tenderness with Tosca. He got carried away with the second "Vittoria" in Act II, but sang a poignant "E lucevan le stelle." Mark Delavan's performance of Scarpia was less ardent, and there were moments in Act I when he was completely drowned out by the orchestra. One longs for a bit more heft and weight for this role. Delavan improved in Act II, he was more audible and the attractiveness of his voice became more apparent.
* Tattling *
There were significantly fewer latecomers to this performance compared to the first one on Thursday. There was some whispering, but no serious ill-mannered behavior was noted in the back of the balcony.
A revival of Metropolitan Opera's Il Trovatore, seen in San Francisco last year, opened this evening. Here is the Unbiased Opinionator's account of final dress rehearsal that occurred on October 21st. The Opera Tattler was quite surprised to hear that Patricia Racette was indisposed, as she is known for having vocal cords of steel. At the same time, one finds it difficult to imagine Racette in this role, especially since she is double cast with the incredible Sondra Radvanovsky.
* Notes *
The bare-knuckled, long-time film critic for the New Yorker, Pauline Kael, once wrote of the Marx Brothers' "A Night at the Opera" that The Marx Brothers did to Il Trovatore what Il Trovatore deserved to have done to it. The plot line of the opera certainly requires of the listener not just a willing suspension of disbelief, but at times requires the listener unplug disbelief entirely, and to suppress outright laughter. My favorite howler is Manrico's singing his mother to sleep just before she is to be burned at the stake.
In addition to its lemon of a plot, the opera contains long stretches of rather pedestrian music. Thus, the success or failure of the piece rest entirely on the quality of the performance. Thursday's dress rehearsal was beset by many gremlins. Both Manrico and Azucena canceled due to illness, and the Leonora (Patricia Racette) was announced to be indisposed but, begging the audience's indulgence, would perform as scheduled. So an entirely fair review of this show must await an actual performance after flu, allergy, and the unwillingness of certain singers to "waste their time" on the dress rehearsal of an opera season has passed. That said, enough of the performance remained intact for UO to make a few comments.
It is difficult to comment fairly on Patricia Racette's Leonora in light of her announced indisposition. She marked many passages, but managed a full-voice account of her first act aria "Tacea la Notte," which confirmed my doubt that the versatile, dramatically satisfying Racette could ever make a true Verdian. Her voice is simply too light to ride out the huge Verdi arches and to prevail in the large ensembles. Luckier opera-goers will have a chance to experience Sondra Radvanovsky's portrayal later in the season. Again, an entirely fair review is simply not possible, given the circumstances.
The cover Azucena, Russian mezzo Elena Manistina, delivered a truly great performance, with a thrilling top, great sense of drama and a vocal combination of metal and warmth which are the hallmarks of a really fine singer. For this listener, the vocal and dramatic highlight of the afternoon was Azucena's "Stride la Vampa," which was sung so convincingly and with such dramatic menace that its inherent musical silliness was forgotten. On the other hand, Phillip Webb, the stand-in Manrico, showed potential, but is very green, and was probably very nervous. His "necktie tenor" delivery, numerous cracked notes, and ungainly and awkward acting revealed a promising singer much in need for further technical and dramatic training. Nonetheless, he delivered a sensitive "Ah si ben mio," followed by a good High C at the end of the cabaletta "Di Quella Pira." The Count di Luna, Serbian Zelkjo Luĉić, was dramatically strong, but his large voice had an unfortunate hootiness, which diminished his effectiveness throughout the afternoon, especially in his aria "Íl Balen del sul Sorriso."
Conductor Marco Armiliato, a veteran in this repertory, found just the right pacing to avoid dissipating musical energy. The chorus was precise and powerful. Smaller roles, some taken from the chorus, were strong and confident. It is very instructive to hear an orchestra play when a singer is marking. One hears how light the orchestrations are in Verdi's vocal accompaniments, and how unnecessary it is for a singer to yell to get over them.
As for the other aspects of the production, upon entering the house, one was confronted with a large painted panel (once called a fire curtain) in the style of Goya's Disasters of War. The horrified faces depicted on the panel brought to mind my first reaction upon entering the Met's tacky Belmont Room (or, as insiders call it, the "Boom Boom Room").
Charles Edwards' set design was stamped from the Met's usual set of all-purpose templates. A large rotating wall alternately represented the royal residence of the Count di Luna, and then Manrico's fortress. The ash grey, dreary background effectively set the tone for the darkness of the plot. David McVicar was the traffic cop, leaving the soloists to make stock gestures and the chorus piled up in the corner of the stage.
* Tattling *
One of the entertaining aspects of attending a Met dress rehearsal is the intermissions, where people sit on the floor in the red-carpeted foyers and instead of spending $4.50 for a lousy cappuccino, unpack thermoses of coffee and unwrap sandwiches brought from outside. Among Thursday's audience was an entire class of grade school kids, who from up in the Family Circle listened in absolute silence, and who cheered loudly at the end of the show. Sitting out on the Balcony overlooking the Plaza during the intermission, I heard several of them talk excitedly about the performance and how cool the redesigned Lincoln Center fountain is. I felt that there is hope for opera's future after all.
* Notes *
Gounod's Faust opened at San Francisco Opera last weekend. I had briefly entertained the idea of driving back from Southern California where I was seeing LA Opera's Ring for this, but decided it would be too disruptive to both my schedule and state of mind. Even at Tuesday night's performance, it was a bit odd to have left the world of Wagner for this frilly, pretty piece. Robert Perdziola's production, directed here by Jose Maria Condemi, is straightforward, with attractive sets and amusing surprises as far as staging. The chorus was not handled with particular deftness. The chorus did not sound precisely together, and the way the entrances and exits were choreographed in Act I Scene 2 did not help. However, the off stage choral singing "Sauvée! Christ est ressuscité" was lovely, and the playing was especially fine here too. Maurizio Benini had the orchestra sounding appropriately frothy and nice, and perhaps a bit hazy.
As usual, Catherine Cook acted the comic role of Marthe convincingly. Current Adler Fellow Austin Kness sounded boyish, and Daniela Mack even more so as Siébel. Although Mack's vibrato could be a bit much, her "Faites-lui mes aveux" came off well. Baritone Brian Mulligan sounded absolutely wonderful as Valentin, his "O Sainte Medaille" was the highlight of Act I, and his music at the end of Act IV was poignant. John Relyea sleekly embodied Méphistophélès, his voice remains very rich, and his acting is strong. On the other hand, Patricia Racette was less persuasive as Marguerite, somehow all her wobbling did not project youth or naïveté. Her Jewel Song bordered on the grotesque, though her rendition of "Il était un roi de Thulé" was less unsightly. Racette seems more believable as a fallen women, so by the end her Marguerite, crazed and in despair, was moving. Stefano Secco was a pleasant enough Faust, his voice has volume without roughness. Something about the way he hits the high notes gave me the sensation of watching someone hoisting a sail with great effort.
* Tattling *
Standing room was not crowded, and there was not much to say about the audience in Act I. After the first intermission I was given a ticket for the first row of the Grand Tier, on the aisle but near the center. Talking aloud was heard from a certain person in A 101, but in my immediate vicinity, the audience was quiet.
September 23- October 16 2010: Il Postino
September 26- October 17 2010: Le Nozze di Figaro
November 27- December 18 2010: Lohengrin
February 19- March 13 2011: Il Turco in Italia
March 12-27 2011: The Turn of the Screw
LA Opera's new season opens with a world premiere, with Plácido Domingo singing the part of Pablo Neruda. Domingo conducts Le Nozze, with Bo Skovhus singing Almaviva in his LA Opera debut. Ben Heppner sings the title role of Lohengrin, Soile Isokoski is Elsa, and Ortrud Dolora Zajick. Paolo Gavanelli sings Don Geronio in Il Turco. Patricia Racette and William Burden star in The Turn of the Screw.
September 11-25 2010: Un Ballo in Maschera
October 7-23 2010: Salome
February 26- March 19 2011: Madama Butterfly
February 27 2011: Juan Diego Flórez Concert
March 12 2011: Bryn Terfel Concert
May 6-29 2011: Iphigénie en Tauride
May 13-27 2011: Don Pasquale
Today WNO announced the new season, which is reduced to 5 operas, but does include two "Celebrity Concerts." Deborah Voigt sings Salome. Patricia Racette makes a role debut as Iphigénie opposite of Domingo.
* Notes *
The latest run of Il Trittico at the Met opened last night. Stefano Ranzani made a fine debut, his tempi were elastic, and for the most part the orchestra did not overwhelm the singers. Patricia Racette sang the three soprano roles, as she did recently in San Francisco. Her voice showed some strain, and the quality of her vibrato could be unpleasant. Her costume as Giorgetta was not the most becoming. Aleksandrs Antonenko was quiet as Luigi, and though menacing as Michele, Željko Lucic did not cut through the brass at the end of Il Tabarro. Stephanie Blythe was almost endearing as Frugola, her voice is strong, warm, and hefty. Her duet with Paul Plishka (Talpa) was not exactly together, and she was much louder than he.
Suor Angelica featured some lovely choral singing. Racette's acting came across as histrionic (from the back of the Family Circle, in any case), collapsing in a melodramatic pile of skirts not once but twice. Her singing could be moving, especially in the last scene. Blythe again was impressive as La Principessa, haughty and controlled.
Gianni Schicchi was perfectly amusing. Racette's "O mio babbino caro" had some shrillness, and Saimir Pirgu (Rinuccio) strained at the top of his voice. Stephanie Blythe was actually very funny as Zita, as was the rest of Buoso's family. There were only a few issues with timing. Alessandro Corbelli was hilarious as Gianni Schicchi, he is a fine actor, and his voice, though lacking weight, is perfectly suitable for this role.
The production, directed by Jack O'Brien, with sets from Douglas W. Schmidt, is the quintessence of the Metropolitan Opera style. Everything was simply a literal recreation of historical scenes, Il Tabarro was Paris in 1927, Suor Angelica Tuscany in 1938, and Gianni Schicchi 1959's Florence. Of course, this is breathtaking in its lavishness. The Seine looked like it had been brought to New York, there was a donkey that was lead across the convent courtyard, and when the set sank to reveal Lauretta and Rinuccio on the roof, it was difficult not to applaud.
* Tattling *
The usual watch alarms rang at the hour, most distractingly in Suor Angelica. The audience clapped for every set. There was some talking, and vehement hushing as well.
* Notes *
Il Trittico opened at San Francisco Opera last night with Patricia Racette singing all three of the major soprano roles. The production, directed by James Robinson, is clean and simple. Allen Moyer's sets are unostentatious, the three are not tied together in an obvious way, yet still look like they match each other. Patrick Summers had the orchestra sounding both tasteful and even. The Alders were out in full force and did very well. Tamara Wapinsky, David Lomelí, Daveda Karanas, Leah Crocetto, Heidi Melton, Daniela Mack, Austin Kness, and Kenneth Kellogg all sang at one point or another.
Brandon Jovanovich sang beautifully in Il Tabarro as Luigi. He was overwhelmed by the orchestra at one point, but perhaps because he was simply too far upstage. In her San Francisco Opera debut, Ewa Podleś was arresting as the Princess in Suor Angelica. Her voice has an incredible richness and resonance. Paolo Gavanelli was menacing in Il Tabarro and darkly hilarious in the title role of Gianni Schicchi. He too sounded wonderful, embodying the parts perfectly. Patricia Racette managed her roles of Giorgetta, Suor Angelica, and Lauretta competently. She definitely looked different as each. Racette's vibrato can be unpleasant and her singing a bit labored. However, she does convey various emotions through her voice with an intense clarity.
* Tattling *
We were very kindly given premium orchestra seats from the chorus director. The audience around us was well-behaved, very little talking and only a few electronic noises were heard.
One could not help but notice that some of the program notes were written by a certain degenerate blogger.
* Notes *
A revival of Madama Butterfly closes San Diego Opera's 2009 season. Musically, the opening last night was very strong. Edoardo Müller roused a vigorous performance from the orchestra, the tempi were never sluggish, but never overly taxing either. The chorus was together and created a straightforwardly lucid sound.
The principals were also quite even. Tenor Joseph Hu had just the right amount of simpering and unctuousness to suit the role of Goro. Suzanna Guzmán rushed in her vocal entrance as Suzuki, but was impressively ferocious later on. Malcolm MacKenzie had warmth and heft in his sympathetic portrayal of Sharpless, but did not overwhelm Carlo Ventre as Pinkerton. Ventre is not exactly the brash embodiment of an American naval officer circa 1904, but he sang well. There was some constriction in his higher register, but his appealingly reedy voice did cut through the orchestration and even sparkled at times. His duet, with Patricia Racette in the title role, at the end of Act I was particularly lovely. Racette's performance was consistent, though she started off with much vibrato, is occasionally shrill. Her pianissimo can be sublime and her "Un bel dì" was magnificent.
On the other hand, Francesca Zambello's production, directed here by Garnett Bruce, was fairly incoherent. Often scenes were set in the American consulate, rather than the "casetta" of the libretto. Even with my poor Italian, it was surreal to hear text so at odds with the scenery. This was especially strange for the first scene of Act II, when Sharpless is dismissed by Butterfly, but it is she that has come to the consulate. However, there was never a dull moment and Michael Yeargan's airy set was attractive. Anita Yavich's costumes suited the production, the turquoise haori worn by Butterfly over her Western dress in Act II was rather eye-catching. In the end, Alan Burrett's lighting did unify the production, and the last scene is striking.
* Tattling *
At least 3 watch alarms were heard at 9pm, though no cellular phones rang. There was very little talking, and this was restricted to the instrumental segments.
The hall looked quite full, and there seemed to be a few issues at the box office, as far as tickets purchased online not showing up at will call.