Ramón Vargas

SF Opera's Mefistofele

Sfopera-mefistofele-2013* 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.

Another Look at SF Opera's Werther

SF Opera's Werther Act II, photo by Cory Weaver * Notes *
The San Francisco Opera's penultimate performance of Werther this season was held yesterday evening. From balcony standing room, the balances between the singers and the orchestra were better. Emmanuel Villaume did keep the orchestra together, the sound was gleaming and rich. The chorus of children was also lovely.

It was apparent that all the singers have such beautiful voices, from Susannah Biller in the tiny role of Kätchen, to the title role sung by Ramón Vargas. Perhaps both Vargas and Alice Coote (Charlotte) are more compelling in other repertoire, however they nonetheless were very pleasant to hear.

The set does look rather different from the balcony, many of the projections are lost, but one can see the shadows of the tree branches on the ground in the last scene. The many staircases are also more evident from above. The production is definitely weird and does not follow Goethe's text in a literal sense. This said, I did find the whole thing strangely attractive. Perhaps because I do not care for this novella in the first place, the departures from it did not bother me.

* Tattling * 
The balcony looked fairly full, but I was offered a seat more than once. Unfortunately, since there were empty seats, the audience felt comfortable getting up and moving over during the Act III overture. There was some talking and watch alarms. The most disruptive moments were when people unwrapped their candies during key points in the music. No matter how quiet one tries to be, cellophane always seems to be very loud, and doing this slowly just drags out the noise over a longer period of time. I was especially annoyed when this happened during the Letter Aria.

SF Opera's Werther

Vargas-sf-opera-werther * Notes *
Werther, in a brand new production, opened yesterday evening at San Francisco Opera. The set, designed by Louis Désiré, involves a rather large platform with a grove of telephone poles meant to be trees, lots of stairs, a mountain of luggage, and a creepy basement downstage where Werther lives. Periodically one of two large rectangles would come down, suspended from the ceiling, to indicate the seasons. They seemed to be covered in cheap leaf-motive wallpaper or some chintzy seasonal cotton print. However, the lighting design, from Duane Schuler, pulled all these elements together. The overall effect was both curiously elegant and nightmarish. Francisco Negrin's direction seemed to concentrate on the psychology of Werther himself. The use of live video capture was restrained, and the doubles for Werther were intriguing. One appreciated that there were no projections or other distractions during the overtures.

Emmanuel Villaume conducted the orchestra, which sounded shimmery and full. The strings and harp glimmered, and the brass was warm. It was startling to hear the alto saxophone, but probably only because one is not accustomed to hearing it in opera. The design of the set may have caused the balance to be off on the ground level, and instead of being supported by the instruments, the singers were often overwhelmed. Perhaps it sounded better in the balcony.

Adlers Susannah Biller (Kätchen) and Austin Kness (Brühlmann) looked and sounded lovely in their small roles. Robert MacNeil and Bojan Kneževiċ were charming as Schmidt and Johann. Christian Van Horn, as Charlotte's father, the bailiff, sounded clear. Brian Mulligan was robust as Albert. Heidi Stober (Sophie) chirped and fluttered nicely. Alice Coote made for a vaguely boyish Charlotte, perhaps because of the way she carries her shoulders and neck. Coote has a pleasant, warm tone. Ramón Vargas likewise has a pretty sound, though I did find him more sympathetic in a role like Nemorino than the melodramatic Werther.

* Tattling * 
I had the pleasure of greeting the San Francisco Opera Music Director at intermission, and also managed to find many friends in the press room. The audience was fairly subdued. There was at least one watch alarm at 9pm, and some squeaking from either microphones or hearing aids. Several people commented about how weird the production was, mostly in a negative way. The production team was booed.

Opera in the Park 2010

Operainthepark2010 * Notes *
San Francisco Opera's 37th Opera in the Park event was Nicola Luisotti's second as music director. The performance is entertaining every year, and this was no exception. The afternoon began with the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, and gave us a preview of how this will sound when the latest revival opens on Tuesday September 21st. In keeping with this, Michèle Losier sang Cherubino's "Non so più," followed by Luca Pisaroni in "Non più andrai," and Danielle de Niese in "Giunse alfin il momento...Deh, vieni, non tardar." Dolora Zajick sang "La luce langue" from Macbeth stridently and Brian Mulligan sang "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Faust sweetly. Marco Vratogna sang the Act III aria "Nemico della Patria" from Andrea Chénier, which David Gockley says we will hear soon enough at the War Memorial. "Pourquoi me réveiller" from Werther was sung by Ramón Vargas, and this opera opens for the first time in perhaps 25 years at SF Opera on Wednesday. The first half closed with David Lomelí, Leah Crocetto, Heidi Stober, and Brian Mulligan singing the famous quartet from Rigoletto, "Un di se ben rammentomi...Bella figlia dell'amore."

I had to leave at intermission, but I did hear the rehearsal of this performance earlier in the day. The second half started with the overture to Il barbiere di Siviglia, followed by Lucas Meachem in the famous "Largo al factotum." One does look forward to his Count in Le Nozze di Figaro and his fellow cast members Luca Pisaroni and Danielle de Niese, who sang "Là ci darem la mano." David Lomelí performed "La donna è mobile." Then there was much Puccini with Micaela Carosi singing "Vissi d'Arte," Leah Crocetto and Brian Jadge "Bimba, dagli occhi pieni," and Marcello Giordani in "Nessun Dorma." The performance ended with the usual "Libiamo ne'lieti calici" from La Traviata. I believe the encore must have been "O Sole Mio," sung by David Lomelí, Brian Jadge, Ramón Vargas, and Marcello Giordani.

* Tattling * 
The day started off rather foggy and cold, and the Maestro wore his white sweater instead of having it draped in his normal fashion. The Maestro sang a respectable "Non più andrai," whilst rehearsing the orchestra. The sun did come out, and I was able to convince Axel Feldheim to come to the park and sing the National Anthem with me for the second time in 24 hours.

General Director David Gockley was in his usual spot on stage much of the time and introduced groups of pieces. He inadvertently skipped over the two Mozart pieces after Cherubino's aria, and Luisotti teasingly said that Gockley "didn't know the season."

Opening of L'elisir d'amore

Vargas-mula * Notes * 
The new production of L'elisir d'amore at San Francisco Opera is quite winning. Adapted from a co-production with Opera Colorado, Boston Lyric Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre and Fort Worth Opera, here
the setting was moved to a small town in the Napa Valley during World War I. James Robinson's direction was strong, and all of the acting was convincing and even funny. The set, from Allen Moyer, is simple without being stark, and has no large moving parts. Perhaps a change of scenery between acts would have been nice, but nonetheless, the gazebo used is versitile enough for all the scenes. Martin Pakledinaz used a pastel palette for the costumes, for the most part they were lovely, though the print of Adina's second costume did not read well from afar. Paul Palazzo's lighting was unobstrusive, there might have been one mishap as far as the lights, just as Giannetta and the female chorus come onstage for Act II Scene 4, the transition from a full lights to something more dim was not smooth.

Bruno Campanella took the overture a bit sluggishly, and though orchestra sounded in tune and together with each other, they were somewhat slow. The chorus did a splendid job, as usual. As for the soloists, they fit their roles well. Ji Young Yang (Giannetta) sang effortlessly, and was especially good in Act II. Alessandro Corbelli was a hilarious Dulcamara, his parlando is crisp, though he was a bit faster than the orchestra a few times. Giorgio Caoduro was likewise very good at the physical humor required for this opera, his Belcore was suitably full of himself. Caoduro's voice is pleasant and somewhat husky. Inva Mula's debut was impressive, her voice has good volume and can be quite beautiful. She does have moments of shrillness, at times her control is not completely perfect. Her Adina played off of Ramón Vargas' Nemorino very well, both moved well. Vargas sounded absolutely lovely, his "Una furtiva lagrima" was gorgeous.

* Tattling * 
The audience was somewhat sparse and there were very few late-comers. Some whispering was noted in Act I, but the beginning of Act II was worse, at least for me, as a rather uncouth couple sat near where I was standing in Row ZZ. Not only did they talk during the music, the female half of the couple opened her phone and read a text message. At least they were silent when hushed.

Eugene Onegin at the Met

Onegin* Notes *
Last Saturday's matinee of Eugene Onegin at the Metropolitan Opera was sold out, but was broadcast in movie theatres in seven countries. The production was done by Robert Carsen, with sets and costumes by Michael Levine. The sets were rather minimal, the first half has a bunch of autumnal leaves on the ground and these are swept around to suggest rooms. The scene changes were swift, expect in the case of the two last scenes in Act III. This one took more time than the others, perhaps because the chairs that had been brought on stage in the transition between Acts II and III had to be cleared. It was a contrast from the switch between acts that was done without the curtain falling. Valery Gergiev conducted well, it was interesting how slowly he took Monsieur Triquet's aria. The chorus did seem somewhat unwieldy, but the orchestra never did.

Renée Fleming sang Tatiana well enough, but didn't seem engaged with the character. She also nearly tripped in the second scene, but not while she was running around throwing leaves around. Elena Zarembra (Olga) had a bit too much vibrato, even for Tchaikovsky. Dmitri Hvorostovsky was fine in the title role, he was both dashing and sullen. His voice is nice, but not as spectacular as Ramón Vargas'. Vargas had beautiful tone and he acted well. On the whole, the acting and singing was at a high level.

* Tattling *
The standing room line was about 100 people deep by 9:00 am. We arrived at 6:40 am and were fifth and sixth. Josephine was there with a bright blue furry headband on and her green coat.

The audience wasn't great, there was some chatter and the girl next to me kept laughing at poor Eugene.