Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

PBO's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (Again)

Pbo-aci-galatea-polifemo-31-1-2020* Notes * 
The production of Aci, Galatea e Polifemo that has a final performance tonight at ODC Theater in San Francisco is well worth a second viewing. National Sawdust and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra have successfully pulled off a disquieting and dark vision of Händel's serenata.

This time around I was in the eighth row rather than the first, and it made it easier to appreciate Mark Grey's video art, which starts off with Delft blue tiles depicting sea life and ships and switches to various eye irises, water, earthworms, and blood. While a step up from jewelry advertisements or screensavers, these images could be a bit on the nose, as when the letters of Polifemo's name show up garishly and slowly in gold on the screen as he makes his entrance or when a seagull flaps as Aci sings about birds.

I was, however, able to make more sense of the action on stage from further back, and it was easier to see the internal logic of this world of violence that surrounds a bathtub. I also was better able to see the interplay of shadows, which was very striking at times.

Bass-baritone Davóne Tines (Polifemo) clearly has the hardest role, the range dramatically and vocally required is definitely greatest of the three. He seemed in better voice yesterday than a week ago, he never cracked even in the highest notes and his low ones were less growled. As Aci, soprano Lauren Snouffer gets thrown to the wall rather a lot, but she always sounds perfectly clean and lucid. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo's Galatea is strong, his voice is very smooth from top to bottom. All the parts are physically demanding and all gave committed performances.

I loved hearing Maestro Nicholas McGegan and the orchestra again. There were some lovely soli from the guitar, the violin, and the oboe. It was fun seeing how the dolphin and whale sounds were made, col legno battuto on the cello for the former and a sliding note from the bass for the latter.

* Tattling * 
The young woman next to me in Row H Seat 18, probably a voice student attending with her classmates, laughed quite a bit during the opera and got an intense fit of giggles as the countertenor thrashed against the tub toward the end of the piece. She shook as she suppressed her laughter, but made very little noise.

PBO's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo

BySuzanneKarp_8in.wide* Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Maestro Nicholas McGegan (pictured, photograph by Suzanne Karp) opened a run of Händel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo last night at the ODC Theater in San Francisco. The fully-staged co-production with the Brooklyn-based National Sawdust is absolutely menacing but beautifully acted, sung, and played.

The short piece is not a proper opera, it only runs 90 minutes, but features the love triangle of nymph Galatea, her beloved shepherd Acis, and the cyclops Polyphemus. These performances use the overture from Agrippina, which was punctuated by combination sweeper-mops.

Our Galatea and Acis are dressed alike in forest green scrubs, white hair caps, yellow gloves, and black clogs. The set is essentially two walls and a claw-footed bath tub. Much cleaning ensues. Characters get in and out of the tub, threaten each other or themselves with a straight razor, and throw objects around. The effect is disquieting and alienating, especially in the intimate space. It's very difficult to tell what is going on, since the action often has nothing to do with the plot and the characters sometimes simply play dead for long periods of time.

BathThankfully, the music is gorgeous and the three voices very lovely. Bass-baritone Davóne Tines has the most challenging role of Polifemo, some of the low notes seemed utterly ridiculous and impossible, particularly in the aria "Fra l'ombre e gl'orrori." His rival, soprano Lauren Snouffer as Aci, has a clean, otherworldly tone. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo sang Galatea with smooth verve.

Best of all is the orchestra, an ensemble of thirteen musicians including Maestro McGegan playing harpsichord. The jaunty tempi were never sluggish but never too rapid either.

* Tattling * 
There were cetacean sounds when "e l'orche, e le balene" are mentioned and this made me and my companion laugh out loud.

A few people left this performance before the end, and because of how this theater is set up, their exits were in full view of the whole audience and performers.

Temple of Glory at Cal Performances

PBOTempleGloire3711_4x6_FrankWing* Notes *
It is a shame that Rameau's Le Temple de la Gloire at Cal Performances (Prologue pictured left with Aaron Sheehan as Apollo and his muses from New York Baroque Dance Company, photograph by Frank Wing) only has three performances this weekend. The music is delightful, and I could have happily gone again today after hearing the first two on Friday and Saturday nights.

The pretty production is historically informed, lead by Artistic Director of the New York Baroque Dance Company, Catherine Turocy. It is a nice contrast between the usual contemporary versions of Baroque operas I've seen from Mark Morris or Pina Bausch, but it becomes very clear very quickly why traditional stagings aren't the norm. It is a lot of ballet music, and Turocy's dancers are tame compared to the acrobatics and antics we've grown accustomed to.

The movements are understated, lots of swaying and swishing, and what I'm guessing is the precursor to petit battement. For myself, I liked that the dancing didn't compete with the playing, I would rather listen to PBO play Rameau's beautiful music without any elaborate distractions.

Nonetheless, there was a lot to look at, the costumes are eye-poppingly bright and feature lots of feathers. A dancer dressed as an ostrich in Act III was a hit. The set uses tasteful projections of painted scenes within a painted proscenium. I enjoyed very much that the UC Berkeley mascot, Ursus arctos californicus, was painted on the shield at the top.

Nicholas McGegan conducted with his characteristic bouncy cheer, the orchestra sounded clean but lively. Even the horns were mostly in tune. The flutes had some gorgeous, exposed moments. The chorus was off to the side, stage left, but sounded robust. There were a few brief moment of asynchrony, but mostly on the first night rather than the second.

The soloists, mostly from the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles, have lovely voices, very light and flexible. Of the two haute-contres, I preferred Aaron Sheehan (Apollon, Trajan) to Artavazd Sargsyan (Un Berger, Bacchus, Premier Roi) though both were nice, the latter did sound more fragile. The standout was definitely soprano Chantal Santon Jeffery who sang Lydie, Une Bacchante, and La Glorie herself. Her sound is absolutely clarion.

* Tattling * 
On Friday night, my date had me sit on the aisle of Row S so that I didn't have to hear the two chatty Germans in Row T Seats 104 and 105. He did giggle a lot at the dancing though. Also, someone near us wore a watch that was 10 minutes fast and chimed on the hour.

For the second performance, the first half was fine but during the second, a woman in Row J Seat 4 could not stop fidgeting (she also briefly talked to her companion on the aisle). She tapped her fingers to parts that did not have percussion and repeatedly rustled the paper in her Altoid box. Many pointed glances were shot her way but she seemed mostly oblivious to this. At least she did keep quiet for the last five minutes of the show. I felt badly for the man directly in front of her, he was obviously bothered and trying hard to focus on the performance instead.

Either she or her neighbor pressed and kicked my seat more than once as well, but it was easy to ignore since I'm being pressed and kicked internally by a 37 week old fetus. I expected the woman behind me to be infirm or elderly, but she was simply a slim middle-aged person with a blond bob and fringe.

Temple of Glory Preview

001 Original (2)* Notes *
My preview of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's The Temple of Glory up on KQED Arts. The opera, with music by Rameau and libretto by Voltaire, has a modern premiere of original 1745 version this Friday.

* Tattling *
I got to interview Maestro Nic McGegan for this piece, which was both exciting, because I love PBO, and embarrassing, because I'm particularly awkward on the phone. McGegan talked for nearly an hour and was as charming and jaunty as he seems on stage. It was adorable when he cheekily explained that The Temple of Glory is "A wonderful opera, but not in the sense of sopranos dying in garrets."

PBO and SF Opera Adlers

Adler_Fellows_Opera_Steps* Notes * 
A number of San Francisco Opera Center's Adler Fellows (pictured left) performed with conductor Nicholas McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra last night at the SFJazz Center. The evening was a delight from beginning to end. The first half of the program featured four instrumental pieces interspersed with four vocal pieces, all by Mozart. The Overture in D major, K. 106 was played with grace, while Contredanse No. 1 in D major, K. 106 sounded rather cheery. I enjoyed the emphatic playing of the repeated notes in Contredanse No. 3 in B-flat major, K. 106.

Soprano Julie Adams sang "Nehmt meinen Dank" with clarity. Her voice has much strength and not a trace of strain. Baritone Edward Nelson was terribly charming in "Con un vezzo all'italiana" from La finta giardiniera. The quartet "Dite almeno, in che mancai" with Adams, Nelson, tenor Brian Thorsett, and bass Anthony Reed was brilliant as well.

The second half of the show was devoted to Rossini's first produced opera, La cambiale di matrimonio (The Marriage Contract). The piece is concise and quite amusing. The orchestra played with verve and McGegan looked pleased throughout as he conducted. Some of the Baroque instruments seemed less well-suited to Rossini than others, but the enthusiasm of all those involved never waned.

The singing was wonderful. Mezzo-soprano Nian Wang sang Clarina's aria ("An'chio son giovine") with conviction. Bass Matthew Stump makes for a wonderful, blustering Tobia Mill. Baritone Efraín Solís is hilarious as Slook. Tenor Brian Thorsett sings Edoardo Milfort with effortlessness. Soprano Jacqueline Piccolino is a dulcet-toned Fannì. Her sings with a certain subtlety that is appealing for this role.

* Tattling * 
The first five rows were removed to provide the orchestra with a pit.

Rachel Podger at PBO

Rachel_Podger_violin_credit_Jared_Sacks* Notes * 
Violinist Rachel Podger (pictured left, photograph by Jared Sacks) lead Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in Vivaldi concerti from La cetra, La stravaganza, and L'estro armonico recently. The performance at the SFJazz Center last Friday in San Francisco was fiery. Podger had the eleven violinists and three violists standing, and lead with warmth and intelligence. As one would expect, the cellists and theorbo player sat, the bassist stood, and Hanneke van Proosdij stood at her organ but sat at her harpsichord.

The soli were all quite clear, and it was also wonderful when the orchestra or the soloists played in unison. Podger had particularly nice rapport with Elizabeth Blumenstock in Concerto for 2 Violins Op. 3, No. 8 in A minor, RV 522 and with Carla Moore in Concerto for 2 Violins Op. 9, No. 9 in B-flat major, RV 580. David Tayler had a lovely solo in the first half of the program, and it was nice to hear the theorbo by itself for a change. Cellist Phoebe Carrai gave a ferocious performance, and was particularly strong in Concerto for 2 Violins and Violoncello Op. 3, No. 11 in D minor, RV 565. Ellie Nishi's viola playing in Concerto for 4 Violins and Violincello Op. 3, No. 10 in B minor was also quite strong.

The violinists deftly switched places between pieces, with minimal fuss or disruption. The encore was the Largo from La Stravaganza, Op.4, Concerto No. 12 in G major, RV 298.

* Tattling * 
A man across the aisle from me in Row G occasionally spoke loudly to his companion in the first half but settled down in the second.

PBO's 2015-2016 Season

PBO_byRandiBeachOctober 4-10 2015: Scarlatti's La gloria di primavera
November 12-15 2015: Bach's Brandenburgs with Richard Egarr
December 2-6 2015: Händel's Ode for St. Cecilia's Day and "Tra amplessi innocenti" and Purcell's Te Deum and Jubilate in D and Suite from Distressed Innocence
December 19 2015: Händel's Messiah
February 3-7 2016: Mozart's Concerto for Fortepiano No. 23 with Kristian Bezuidenhout, Symphonies No. 27 and 39
February 11 2016: Arias from Ariodante and Xerxes with Susan Graham
March 2-6 2016: Vivaldi's Concerto in D major and Rameau's Suite from Les Fêtes de L'Hymen et de L'Amour
April 27- May 1 2016: Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3, Elegiac Song, and Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 2, Hymn of Praise

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's 2015-2016 season was announced today. The soloists for the Scarlatti are Suzana Ograjensek, Diana Moore, Clint van der Linde, Nicholas Phan, and Douglas Williams. The soloists for Messiah are Amanda Forsythe, Meg Bragle, Isaiah Bell, and Tyler Duncan. PBO will also tour major North American concert halls in Spring 2016 with guest artists Anne-Sofie von Otter and Andreas Scholl.

Official Site

Steven Isserlis at PBO

Steven_Isserlis_credit_Satoshi_Aoyagi1* Notes * 
Cellist Steven Isserlis (pictured left, photograph by Satoshi Aoyagi) is playing with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in the Bay Area starting with a performance at the SFJazz Center last night in San Francisco. The program is bookended with symphonies by Haydn, the first one being No. 57 in D major, and the second No. 67 in F major. The hall is designed for amplified music, so period instruments can sound rather crackly. However, the sound system can compensate for this, and the second Haydn piece seemed warmer and more resonant than the first.

Nicholas McGegan conducted a jovial and sprightly performance. Symphony No. 57 was a happy way to open. The tuning of the violin duet in Symphony No. 67 sounded a bit strange to me. But the trio that follows of concertmaster Katherine Kyme, principal second violinist Anthony Martin, and principal cellist Tanya Tomkins was beautiful.

Isserlis joined the orchestra for what was listed in the program as Luigi Boccherini's Concerto for Violoncello No. 7 in G major, but was actually Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Concerto for Violoncello in A major. Isserlis gave a sparkling performance, his playing has long lines and a beautiful legato. After intermission, Isserlis informed us we had been subject to a "ghastly hoax" and explained that the Boccherini was to come, as they had already played the Bach. The Adagio was especially lovely. Isserlis played an encore that involved much switching from pizzicato to arco.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet and little electronic noise was noted.

Vivaldi's Juditha triumphans at PBO

Van de Sant Portrait new* Notes * 
The 2013-2014 season of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra ended with Vivaldi's only surviving oratorio Juditha triumphans devicta Holofernis barbarie. The work features a few of the more unusual Baroque instruments. Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock played viola d'amore in "Quanto magis generosa" and clarinetist Eric Hoeprich played a chalumeau in "Veni, veni, me sequere fida." Both of these arias are for Juditha, and were sung beautifully by mezzo-soprano Cécile van de Sant (pictured left) at Sunday's concert in Berkeley. Her voice is rich and smoky, with great resonance. The orchestra was in fine form, as was the chorus. One was especially impressed at how the chorus was able to nuance the different roles it played.

The rest of the singing was more than competent. Soprano Dominique Labelle sang the role of Juditha's handmaid Abra. Mezzo-soprano Diana Moore sang Holofernes with authority, she did a particularly nice rendition of "Seda, o cara, dilecta speciosa." Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux sounded bright as Vagaus, the squire of Holofernes. Her parts with the chorus were wonderful and her coloratura in "Quamvis ferro, et ense gravis" was incredible.

* Tattling * 
I was sandwiched between subscribers that talked over me before the performance, but were kindly apologetic about doing so. They did keep fairly quiet during the music. Someone's mobile telephone in Row F quacked while Holofernes sang recitative.

I was under the impression this performance would be two hours or perhaps two and a half hours long, but with a run time of three, I sadly had to leave at intermission.

Boyce's Solomon at PBO

Van_doren* Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra continued its 2013-2014 season with a set of performances entitled "Solomon in London." The San Francisco performance was again held at the SFJAZZ Center as Herbst Theatre undergoes a retrofit. The new venue lends the orchestra a more incisive sound, but Nicholas McGegan still gets his musicians to play with cheer and bounciness.

The concert started with William Croft's Burial Service, and McGegan dedicated this piece to Nelson Mandela, rather than Stanley's Concerto for Strings in B Minor, Op. 2, No. 2, which came later in the evening.

The main attraction of the concert was William Boyce's Solomon. The piece certainly has some amusing lines, and PBO played with vim. Soprano Yulia Van Doren (pictured above) and tenor Thomas Cooley seemed to have fun singing together. They clearly listened to each other. Van Doren sounded strong but had a bird-like quality as well. Cooley's high notes ring out but his lower ones do get a bit lost.

* Tattling * 
I was scolded for refused to take a disposable plastic bag for my umbrella and had to explain that the umbrella was going into my backpack straightaway, as I am, at the moment, the last person who wants to slip and fall.

Pergolesi's Stabat Mater at PBO

Carolyn_Sampson_cr_Marco_Borggreve* Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's 2013-2014 season opened with a set of performances entitled "Pergolesi in Naples." The San Francisco performance was held at the SFJAZZ Center, which has an intimate feel and a dry, crackly acoustic. Maestro Nicholas McGegan described Pergolesi's Sinfonia from L'Olimpiade as having "vim and spritz," the Händel duets and arias as being "jolly and miserable" in turn, Durante's Concerto for Strings No. 2 in G minor as "chromatic and slithery," and explained that Pergolesi wrote his Stabat Mater just before he died at the age of 26. The playing sounded a bit harsher and less resonant in this venue compared to the Herbst Theatre or First Congregational, but is a far more comfortable than the former as far as seating and air flow. McGegan has his own very distinctive cheerful style and the orchestra still sounded jaunty and lilting.

I enjoyed hearing the Händel played by this orchestra, as there was never a dull moment. Though I know the pieces quite well, having heard Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare live on multiple occasions, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra brought a certain freshness to them. Soprano Carolyn Sampson (pictured above, photograph by Marco Borggreve) and countertenor David Daniels blended nicely in "Io t'abbraccio." They clearly listened to each other. Daniels sounded fairly hearty in this space, and did not have to employ much vibrato. Sampson was delightful in "Da tempeste," and it would be great to hear her sing the entire role of Cleopatra. Her voice has a sultry warmth but sparkling high notes.

The Stabat Mater was exuberant, the light music is mostly happy with a few moments of seriousness, and then rather triumphant. The orchestra never overwhelmed the singers. The singing went smoothly.

* Tattling * 
One of the ushers behind us in Row M seemed to speak at full-volume even when musicians were playing quietly. There was also some sort of incident with a microphone during the Presto of Durante's Concerto.

Händel's Teseo at PBO

Amanda-forsythe* Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is currently performing Händel's Teseo in the Bay Area. The opera certainly has some very silly moments, and this semi-staged version simply embraced the absurdity. The orchestra is set up around the two harpsichords, with Maestro Nicholas McGegan at one and Hanneke van Proosdij at the other. As a result, a number of the musicians are facing the stage, making it easier for them to engage with the singers. This keeps the orchestra and singers together, and the vocalists have a clear rapport with the instrumental soloists. Because the pit in Herbst Theater for Thursday's performance is so small, theorbo player David Taylor played from the stage. For Clizia's aria "Risplendete, amiche stelle," both Clizia and Arcane interact with Taylor, to amusing effect.

The cast featured many high voices. The two countertenors had opposing problems, Robin Blaze (Arcane) with his upper range, and Drew Minter (Egeo) with his lower notes. They did both act well. Blaze has some sweetness to his voice, but the quality of his high notes has a strained, whooping quality. Minter has a pleasant resonance in the middle of his voice, but the transitions between his head and chest sounds were jarring.

The four sopranos also have sounds distinct from one another, but fared better. Céline Ricci (Clizia) was committed to her acting. As Agilea, Valerie Vinzant started off a bit squeaky, but smoothed out over the course of the performance. Her "M'adora l'idol mio" with the oboe soloist conveyed the conviviality of the evening's proceedings. In the title role, Amanda Forsythe (pictured above) sounded secure and well-supported. Dominique Labelle relished playing the villainess Medea. Labelle's voice is sturdy and rich. She was able to explore an array of emotions, and express these through her sound.

* Tattling * 
There were many loud whispers and outright talking in the first half. Quite a few people left at the interval, so the second half was much quieter.

PBO's 2013-2014 Season

PBO_byRandiBeachOctober 2-6 2013: Pergolesi's Stabat Mater
November 15-19 2013: Berezovsky, Facius, Fomin, Glinka
December 6-10 2013: Stanley, Croft, Boyce
December 14-15 2013: Händel's Messiah
February 5-9 2014: C.P.E. Bach, Haydn
March 5-9 2013: Muffat, Schmelzer, Schein, Biber, Benda, Bach, Telemann
April 10-14 2013: Vivaldi's Juditha Triumphans

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's 2013-2014 season was announced on today. Carolyn Sampson and David Daniels are the soloists in Stabat Mater. Cécile van de Sant, Vivica Genaux, Diana Moore, Dominique Labelle, and Virginia Warnken are featured in Juditha Triumphans.

Official Site

Dominique Labelle Interview

Dominique-labelle-lino-alvarezSoprano Dominique Labelle (pictured left, photograph by Lino Alvarez) is currently singing with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. She spoke with The Opera Tattler on April 17, 2012 after rehearsal in Berkeley.

How did you start singing?
I started singing when I was very young. When I was about 13 I played flute, piano, and guitar. At the time I was writing poems and set them to music, and just started singing that way. I didn't even know I had a voice, it just turned out that way. I always loved music, and wanted to be inside of it. Singing happens to be how I am able to do that.

Was your family musical?
My mother always sang in choruses, as did her mother. My father played accordion. I do have a singer in my genealogy, Emma Albani. Her grandmother was a Labelle. Albani was born in the 1840s. She studied in Italy and even sang at Covent Garden. It took a long time for her to get married, because in those days a woman had to be a mother and stay at home. She would not have been able to continue her career if she had married. She was very brave. She sang all over, in Australia and Russia. I have heard recordings of her, but of course, it was very late in her career so it is hard to tell what her voice was really like. It is remarkable, because where she was from, people were mostly farmers.

You are from Laval, Quebec. Why is it that Canada produces so many great singers?
I think it might be a mixture of discipline and freedom. We don't have the constraints of tradition that perhaps effects the Europeans. We might not have the same pressures of making money as Americans do. But there are many great singers from different places.

How did you find yourself living in Central Massachusetts?
I went to Tanglewood Music Center in 1986 and met Phyllis Curtin. I wanted to really study with her, and was able to get a scholarship to attend Boston University. I moved to Massachusetts in 1988. I met my husband at school, he is a tenor. We did those love scenes over and over and it got us in trouble!

You sing a lot of Baroque music. What do you think of contemporary works?
I love all music, but new music can sometimes be hard on the voice. Especially with young composers, you really have to look at the score. There might be five pages of B flats, who knows! In any case, I love to be part of the music.

The ABA form that characterizes many Baroque arias can seem static. How do you avoid being dull?
Remember that this music was written before radio or recordings. The ABA form is quite nice if it is the first time you are hearing a piece. It helps familiarize the listener, and when the A part comes back, it is always a little bit transformed. You have to find that difference within yourself as an artist, and it is one of the challenges of singing Baroque music.

How is working with Philharmonia Baroque?
Everyone is involved in putting the music together. It is a collaborative environment, like a family.

Tell me about the piece you are singing with PBO, Alexander's Feast.
The text adapted from a Dryden poem written for Saint Cecilia. It is beautiful music. It is not dramatic, and there is no real narrative. We are at party, and there is lots of energy, ideas, and creativity.

You must love Handel, you sing a lot of his work.
Handel demands your whole life! I've thought a lot about the fascinating characters in his pieces. I am always trying to figure out what shaped the story at hand, because can be so much range of emotion in the arias of a given character.

What is next for you?
I am off to a concert in Monterrey, Mexico. I have been traveling since the middle of December!

What was the last movie you saw?
I saw Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about Jiro Ono, the famous sushi chef who is 85 years old. It really stuck with me, how obsessed with he is with getting everything exactly right.

PBO's 2012-2013 Season

October 5-7 2012: Purcell's Come Ye Sons of Art & Dioclesian
November 7-11 2012: Emanuel Ax plays Beethoven
December 8-9 2012: Masaaki Suzuki conducts Händel's Messiah
December 13-16 2012: Masaaki Suzuki conducts Bach
January 12-16 2013: Four Seasons Tour
February 13-17 2013: Haydn, J.C. Bach, Mozart
March 15-20 2013: Rachel Podger, violin and leader
April 10-14 2013: Händel's Teseo

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's 2012-2013 season was announced on 13 March 2012. PBO will tour Carmel, La Jolla, and Palo Alto with a program that includes Vivaldi's Le quattro stagioni.

Official Site