Rigoletto at Opera San José

OSJ_Rigoletto_PhotoBy_DavidAllen_1114-scaled* Notes *
Rigoletto opened at Opera San José last weekend, but I attended the fourth performance, today's matinée. The opera was very moving.

Dan Wallace Miller's production has the title character with a large scar on the right side of his face, rather than a spinal deformity, while the Duke has pox on his left arm from syphilis. There are also a lot of books, the opening scene has Gilda sitting in the middle of the stage reading, books litter the space of Rigoletto's home, and the chorus is pretty gross and lascivious with one of Gilda's books in Act II. All of this is coherent and fits the narrative.

Jorge Parodi presided over an enthusiastic orchestra that occasionally was out of tune (the beginning of "Caro nome" definitely had an issue) but pleasantly buoyant. There were also a few times when the orchestra got ahead of the singers, but mostly in Act I.

The cast is rather large, the chorus sounded cohesive, and there were notable contributions from bass-baritone Philip Skinner as Count Monterone and soprano Abigail Bush as Countess Ceprano. The former had a palpable pathos and the latter an imperious dignity. I also very much appreciated the siblings Sparafucile and Maddalena,  bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam and mezzo-soprano Melisa Bonetti Luna, both were very convincing and their low, textured tones were a good contrast to the principal singers with higher voices.

Tenor Edward Graves was a dashing Duke, his bright voice has a lovely lightness. He was a little quiet with the chorus and the orchestra in Act I, but his "È il sol dell'anima" in Act II and "La donna è mobile" in Act III were both strong and pretty. Soprano Melissa Sondhi was sweet as Gilda, her sound can be very pure, though some of her high notes do seem somewhat strained. Her Act II "Caro nome" was beautiful. Best of all was baritone Eugene Brancoveanu (pictured in Act I, photograph by David Allen) as Rigoletto. His warm, round voice is utterly sympathetic, even when he's being cruelly funny as in Act I or unreasonably bent on revenge in the last scene. I was in tears as he discovers his dying daughter, Sondhi does very well here as well, and Brancoveanu's poignancy is undeniable.

*Tattling *
The couple in Row A Seats 2 and 4 did not like sitting next to the service dog with the people in Row A Seats 6 and 8, so they moved to Row B. They talked quite a bit at times, but I found was able to block them out by concentrating really hard on the music.

Worse though was the mobile phone that rang in the quiet part in the last scene right before Rigoletto sings Gilda's name.

I was sad to have to leave before the final ovation, but had to rush off right at 4:48pm right when the music ended, as my spouse needed to get to his own rehearsal by 6:30pm and our household only has one automobile.

SF Opera's Rigoletto (Vratogna/Shagimuratova/Chacon)

18-Rigoletto* Notes * 
A second performance of San Francisco Opera's Rigoletto was held on Saturday. The cast had three different members: Marco Vratogna (Rigoletto), Albina Shagimuratova (Gilda), and Arturo Chacón-Cruz (The Duke of Mantua).

Chacón-Cruz was not consistent, he was rather hard to hear with the chorus in the first scene, but improved in the second two acts. His duet with Shagimuratova in Act I Scene 3 was vexing, it seemed that the singers were not listening to one another, and it hardly seemed they were in love. Shagimuratova's voice often did not blend nicely when singing with others, earlier in the same scene it seemed that she was having a shouting match with Vratogna. They did sound better together in Act II (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) and in the very last part of Act III. Shagimuratova does have a twittering sparkle to her sound. Vratogna's voice is much less pretty, as is appropriate. He did well portraying scorn, anger, and desperation. He had a harder time being doting or sad.

Though fairly simple, the production did not always help these singers. Shagimuratova's heavy-footedness in bounding up the stairs for "Caro Nome" hardly projected youthful exuberance. Though most of the singers moved with ease, one felt the direction was wan, and the movements on stage did not always have a strong sense of intention.

The orchestra sounded fiery and crisper last night, Nicola Luisotti continued to drive the music forward. The chorus had an even better evening than for the opening, and seemed together and uniform. All the other principals sounded secure. Robert Pomakov gave a nuanced, imposing performance as Monterone. Andrea Silvestrelli continued to impress with his distinctive deep bass.

* Tattling * 
The audience was far more attentive for this second performance. The house was not full, and standing room was particularly empty.

SF Opera's Opening Night Rigoletto

06-Rigoletto* Notes * 
The 90th season of San Francisco Opera got off to a fine start last night with Rigoletto, at least once opening night formalities were out of the way. Though not exactly precise, the orchestra bustled with enthusiasm, and Maestro Nicola Luisotti kept the music moving. The chorus sang with characteristic vigor.

This revival is the fourth outing of the de Chirico-inspired production in fifteen years. Michael Yeargan's set design is clean and quiet, other than the rather garish color palette. The scene changes are smooth, and the two pauses (between the first two scenes and the last two acts) did not take long.

The array of lovely voices in this opera is striking. The six current and former Adlers sang seven of the smaller roles and acquitted themselves well. It is especially pleasing that mezzo-sopranos Laura Krumm (Countess Ceprano and A Page), Renée Rapier (Giovanna), and Kendall Gladen (Maddalena) all sound so distinct from one another.

Likewise, bass Robert Pomakov made for a Monterone that could not be confused with the baritone of the title role. Andrea Silvestrelli is a threatening Sparafucile. His voice has beautiful resonances even in his lowest notes.

Francesco Demuro made a strong effort as the Duke of Mantua, but came up a bit short. His bright voice has an edge of hysteria to it, lending him an unmanly air. He gave a respectable rendition of "La donna è mobile" but somehow did not engage the audience.

Aleksandra Kurzak's Gilda is attractive, her intonation is exact, and she never grates on the ear. On the other hand, her dark sound seems too sensual for the naive daughter of Rigoletto. Željko Lučić (pictured above in Act I Scene 2, photograph by Cory Weaver) impressed in the title role. His sound has volume and richness. The tenderness of Act I Scene 2 contrasted nicely with the despair of the last scene.

* Tattling * 
The opera started even later normal for opening night. The General Director even made an announcement ten minutes after the hour that the proceedings would begin in another five minutes. John Gunn and George Hume welcomed the audience, made acknowledgements to various donors, let us know we were to be photographed from the stage in honor of the 90th season, and also informed us that there would be champagne for all after the performance. After several photographs were taken, Luisotti lead the orchestra and the audience in the National Anthem, so the performance itself began nearly thirty minutes late.

Rigoletto at the Met

  Rigoletto-met-04302011 * Notes * 
Saturday evening's Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera was a study in extremes. On one hand, Diana Damrau gave a revelatory performance, her Gilda ranged from giddily sweet to utterly devastating. She inhabited the character with complete conviction. Her "Caro nome" was incredible. On the other hand, our Duke, Giuseppe Filianoti, left much to be desired. He seemed to throw his voice upward, in the vain hope of hitting those high notes. One could not help but feel sorry for him. The strain in "La donna è mobile" was painful, but the quartet that followed was even worse. He was dreadfully flat and cracked two notes.

As Maddalena, Nancy Fabiola Herrera was difficult to hear during the quartet, but did sound appropriately dark and earthy when her voice was more exposed. The Sparafucile was instantly recognizable as the Ferrando in Il Trovatore earlier in the day, Stefan Kocán. Quinn Kelsey (Monterone) was responsible for some of the finest singing in the first scene, the heft and richness of his voice is notable. Our Rigoletto, Željko Lučić (pictured above, © Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera), also had a warm, rounded sound with beautiful resonances. His volume was strong without ever being unpleasant. As far as his acting, his movement did not project the pitifulness of a hunchbacked jester. The last duet was moving, and he did do his part.

The orchestra rushed under Fabio Luisi, there were times when one was sure the musicians were racing the singers. The chaos was occasionally overwhelming. The chorus was particularly off from the orchestra in Act I. Perhaps the configuration of the traditional, monolithic set contributed to this.

* Tattling * 
Standing room in the Family Circle was nearly empty, but the seats were nearly full. Ushers seated late patrons during the overture, and there was much talking. Someone even used his lighter to illuminate his ticket.

A cellular phone rang loudly during "Caro nome" and another electronic sound was briefly heard as Rigoletto sang near the beginning of Act II.

LA Opera's Rigoletto

La-opera-rigoletto * Notes *
Rigoletto opened at Los Angeles Opera last night. San Francisco Opera's production, designed by Michael Yeargan and directed by Mark Lamos, takes inspiration from the painter Giorgio de Chirico. The stage looked clean, and Mark McCullough's lighting was effective in defining the various spaces, but garish at times. Constance Hoffman's attractive costumes did not seem to take as much from the scuola metafisica art movement founded by De Chirico, except for the color palette, perhaps.

Music Director James Conlon kept the orchestra together, and the brass sounded more focused than usual. The flute may have had some harsh moments, particularly in "Caro nome," but the oboe was sweet and clear, especially in "Tutte le feste al tempio." The cello solo in "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata" was also strong. The chorus sounded clear, but was not always with the orchestra.

Many of the smaller roles were filled by Domingo-Thornton Young Artists, including Matthew Anchel (Count Ceprano), Janai Brugger-Orman (A Page), Valentina Fleer (Countess Ceprano), Carin Gilfry (Giovanna), and Museop Kim (Marullo). All aquitted themselves well, but Carin Gilfry's lustrous voice stood out, even against Sarah Coburn's brilliant Gilda.

As Maddalena, Kendall Gladen acted convincingly, but was somewhat difficult to hear in the quartet of Act III, her voice blended too well with the orchestra. Andrea Silvestrelli was threatening as Sparafucile, his voice has such an endless richness to it. Daniel Sumegi sounded in character for the elderly Count Monterone, gravelly and shaky. Sarah Coburn had a burnished warmth as Gilda, but also a pleasing bird-like quality. She hit a sour note in "Caro Nome," but was otherwise great. Gianluca Terranova was dashing as the Duke of Mantua, he did started off barking a bit too much, but sang more legato as the night wore on. His voice is not meaty, but he sparkled above the orchestra effectively without screaming. George Gagnidze was fairly subtle in the title role. He was behind the orchestra in the "la ra, la ra" part of Act II. He was moving in the final scene, the duet ("V'ho ingannato!") with Coburn was beautiful.

* Tattling * 
One was amused to see that the dancers in the opening scene had their bosoms revealed again, as they had been covered up in San Francisco's last revival. There was not a huge amount of talking from the audience in Balcony B. I had a coughing fit during Act I Scene 2, and someone was kind enough to give me a cough drop. The woman next to me in J36 had her leather jacket draped over the arm rest. I should have said something but it was difficult to get her attention, she was ill and engaged in conversation with her companion. After the performance ended, she swung her jacket against me as she put it on, and I could only laugh at how ridiculous this was.

San Diego Opera's 2009 Season

January 24- February 4 2009: Tosca
February 14-22 2009: Don Quixote
March 28- April 8 2009: Rigoletto
April 18-26 2009: Peter Grimes
May 9-20 2009: Madama Butterfly

Perhaps I should take my mother to the Madama Butterfly in San Diego next year, instead of the Los Angeles production this Fall, as the stage direction will undoubtedly be more conservative. Patricia Racette is singing Butterfly in San Diego. Anthony Dean Griffey is singing the title role of Peter Grimes, as he did at the Met. Marina Domashenko, who was great as Carmen at San Francisco Opera, was to Dulcinea in Don Quixote. She has decided not to add the role to her repertoire, and will be replaced by Denyce Graves.

Official Site | LA Times Article

Arizona Opera's 2008-2009 Season

October 11-19 2008: Rigoletto
November 15-23 2008:
The Mikado
January 17-25 2009: L'Elisir d'Amore
February 21- March 1 2009: Don Giovanni
March 26- April 5 2009: Tosca

Stephanie Blythe sings in The Mikado and Twyla Robinson sings Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni.

2008-2009 Season Site | Official Site

Houston Grand Opera's 2008-2009 Season

October 17- November 1 2008: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
October 30- November 14 2008:
Beatrice and Benedict
January 23- February 6 2009: A Midsummer Night's Dream
January 30- February 6 2009: Chorus!
April 17- May 2 2009: Rigoletto
May 1-9 2009: Brief Encounter

Next season, Elizabeth Futral and Nathan Gunn sing in the world premiere of André Previn's Brief Encounter. Dolora Zajick sings Santuzza in Cavalleria and Brandon Jovanovich has his HGO debut as Turiddu. The lineup is oddly devoid of Puccini, and is quite complementary to Dallas Opera's season.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site

Portland Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 26- October 4 2008: La Traviata
November 7-15 2008: Fidelio
February 6-14 2009: The Turn of the Screw
March 13-21 2009:
La Calisto
May 8-16 2009: Rigoletto

Francesco Cavalli's La Calisto looks like one of the only Baroque options for opera on the West Coast next season.

2008-2009 Portland Opera Site

Mistero e Malinconia


Giorgio de Chirico
Mistero e Malinconia di una Strada, 1914
Oil on canvas, 88 x 72 cm
Private collection

* Notes *
Apparently Michael Yeargan's set for Rigoletto is based on Giorgio de Chirico's architectural paintings. De Chirico (1888- 1978) started on this particular style in 1910 when he was living in Florence and moved on from metaphysical in 1919 to paint more realistically.

Mary Dunleavy did hit her high notes in "Caro Nome" for last Monday's performance. Unsurprisingly, Giuseppe Gipali and Greer Grimsley were easier to hear from the boxes than in the orchestra. The former still was so stiff as an actor, he was neither dashing nor rakish as the Duke should be. Paolo Gavanelli, on the other hand, acted well as Rigoletto, his sneering at court, his love for his daughter, his fear of the curse all came out well in his voice and movement.

* Tattling *
Some occupants of Box T chattered intermittently, and the latecomers of Box U were seated after the music started in Act I.

Sii maledetto!

Rigolettoscene13* Notes *
A revival of Rigeletto opened September 30th at San Francisco Opera. Mark Lamos' production from 1997 inaugurated the last General Director's tenure back in 2001. There were a few changes from the last time around, the dancers with exposed bosoms in the first scene were gone, and the lighting was less lurid. At least a prelapsarian Eve appeared, fully nude, holding an unbitten apple. Michael Yeargan's sets are simple but Constance Hoffman's costumes are elaborate. The last act seems to be by a canal rather than a river, but the water and reflections work nicely.

Paolo Gavanelli returned to sing the title role, which he last sang here in 1997. In her preview lecture, Alexandra Amati-Camperi mentioned that Verdi himself wanted the best baritone to sing Count Monterone, not Rigoletto, but this was not the case here. Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley sounded subdued and thin next to Gavanelli. Likewise, tenor Giuseppe Gipali did not sing the Duke's part with any verve. His voice, at least what could be heard of it, seemed pretty enough. Mary Dunleavy made a lovely Gilda, her tone is clear and bright, too bad she hit one note flat in her only aria. Perhaps she'll hit it tonight.

* Tattling *
They had a simulcast of the October 6th performance in front of city hall and at Stanford University, so General Director David Gockley addressed the audience. There were quite a lot of video cameras involved.

Nancy Pelosi was spotted in the orchestra section.

I noticed that the supertitle screens are being used to announce opera talks, opera donations, Gockley's contact information, and the electronic mailing list during intermission. How tiresome!

Also, a particular individual called her father during "La donna è mobile," so that he too could hear it. Too bad the tenor was not good.

Rigoletto in Prague

K. Jernek's production of Rigoletto at Státní opera Praha is fairly traditional, the costumes looked to be from Renaissance and the set was simple, but not stark. There was a large gold ring hanging above the stage with curtains coming down from it that never seemed to leave the stage, though the curtains would be pulled up and so forth. This blocked some of the background. The staged turned and this facilitated some of the changes of scene. I couldn't quite figure out why the beginning of the first scene features a dancer wearing a brown-hued unitard and scant jewelry, her face painted dark and wearing a short curly black wig. She danced on the table. This was even worse than the last Rigoletto I saw at San Francisco, which had a few dancing ladies in it wearing under-bust corsets without chemises.

As for the singing, only the soprano, Marina Vyskvokina, was better than mediocre. Her voice is cold, bright, and flexible, which is perfectly in vogue at the moment, but also suitable for the part of Gilda. The tenor, Valentin Prolat, had bad timing and was ahead of the orchestra at the very beginning. His voice is overly bright, nasal, and reedy. He was especially bad in the quartet in Act III, his intonation was even off at that point. Too bad his was the most famous aria of the opera. The bass, Lukáš Hynek-Krämer, sounded artificial and also had poor intonation. Thankfully, at least Richard Haan was pretty good in the title role. His voice lacks a bit in fullness, but he acted well.

The audience was possibly the worst-behaved I have witnessed to date. They could not stop taking photographs of the inside of the opera house, although it was stated, in several languages both in spoken and written forms, that such photographs were not allowed. A French girl behind me actually sang along with the Act II overture.


Last Friday we went to the opening night of the San Francisco Opera. They played Verdi's Rigoletto. The soprano Désirée Rancatore was very good, her voice is sweet and light. Maybe just slightly cold, slightly frail. The tenor Frank Lopardo was acceptable, a bit inconsistent. His voice was not as strong as the title baritone Stephan Pyatnychko, who was amazing. Pyatnychko's voice was rich and warm, and just beautiful.

The set was clever, but certain details made it odd. They did a good job with the river scene, and the way they moved the set around was done well. However, the stripped down nature of much of the set was not aesthetically appropriate, the arches without any ornamentation looked like concrete and the stairs used in an interior space was made hideous with a metal railing at the top which looked like one you would find in a modern office building. The lighting was also strange. One of the interior areas was always lit red, and the adjacent outdoor area was lit yellow.