Ruth Ann Swenson

Ariodante Log

13. June 2008: Final Dress Rehearsal
Opera Tattler Review

15. June 2008: Opening
Opera Tattler Review

18. June 2008: From Box Q
* People clapped for Ruth Ann Swenson when she entered, interrupting the music.
* The floor is squeaky, especially when the dancers are doing pas jetés.
* Susan Graham missed a line in the duet at the end of Act I and looked visibly confused.
* Some audience members whispered during the opera, then at the end whilst clapping, stated it was a once in a lifetime performance.
* There was some talking coming from back stage in Act III, it felt like a slap in the face.
* Ruth Ann had a better performance this time than the opening.

21. June 2008: Cuts in this Production (Besides the 3 Ballets)
* Recitative in Act I Scene VII between Il Re and Odoardo
* Recitative in Act II Scene IV between Polinesso and Dalinda
* Dalinda's Arioso in Act II Scene IV "Se tanto piace al cor"
* Il Re's Aria in Act III Scene IV "Al sen ti stringo, e parto"
* Part of Lurcanio and Dalinda's Duetto in Act III Scene IX

24. June 2008: In the Heavens without a Score
* A late watch alarm sounded during the overture.
* Ruth Ann Swenson's held low note (an F?) in the first aria was strange.
* Verónica Cangemi had a rough start, both shaky and gasping.
* The horn trill in "Voli colla sua tromba la fama" near the beginning of the dal segno was not clear. 
* "Scherza infida" was wonderful, but there were high pitched noises coming from the microphones above the orchestra pit at the end.
* A cellular phone rang during the recicative between Lurcanio and Il Re in Act II Scene VIII.
* I was introduced to bassoonist Rufus Oliver.

27. June 2008: Checking the Cuts
* Confirmed all the cuts listed above.
* The B section and dal segno are omitted from an aria sung by Ginvera in Act III Scene IV.
* Ruth Ann Swenson's held low note in the first aria is at the end of her cadenza. She hit it exactly the same way, an indeterminate pitch that seems slightly too low for her.
* I had a bout of coughing during "Prendi da questa mano," so left for a minute to get some water.
* Cangemi was better in "Il Primo Ardor" this time, though her high notes were harsh in her Act III aria.  
* There was a distinct high-pitched sound coming from above the orchestra in "Scherza Infida" again.
* The horns sounded great, "Voli colla sua tromba la fama" was done very well. There was one hilarious intonation error just before Act II Scene VI.
* During Lurcanio's Act II aria, a man walked from the left side of the balcony to the right to get to the restroom, jangling his keys the whole way. He was asked to be quiet by an usher.
* I met sfmike of Civic Center in standing room, and was introduced to Patrick Vaz of The Reverberate Hills.

1. July 2008: Standing Room in the Orchestra Again
* It is the first half of the recitative in Act I Scene VII that is cut, from the words "Vanne pronto, Odoardo."
* The whole of the recitative "Lo stral ferì nel segno" in Act II Scene IV is cut.
* An exchange between Lurcanio and Dalinda in their Duetto in Act III Scene IX is cut, omitting from "Dunque amasti? O Dio, che sento."
* The choreography for this production is artificial, something I hadn't noticed before as I haven't really been watching the opera lately, only listening.
* Ruth Ann's held low note in the first aria at the end of her cadenza was on and sounded correct.
* The horns were fine, only slightly fuzzy at a few points at the more difficult parts.
* Cangemi was good. Her last aria was hysterical, but not inappropriate.
* Susan Graham fell before her second to last entrance, but she wasn't entirely on stage yet. She maintained her composure.  
* There was a distinct high-pitched sound coming from above the orchestra in the middle of Eric Owens' second aria, "Invida sorte avara."
* Heavy breathing was noted in standing room, but people were rather well behaved this evening. Someone did speak to himself, but not during the singing.
* Some walkie talkie noise was noted during Act II, but there were no other electronic sounds from the audience, at least, not around me.
* A reader of this blog spoke to me in the standing room line, it was nice to hear that I entertain people.
* I met M. C- of The Standing Room in standing room line, but did not get to speak to him as much as I would have liked.

6. July 2008: Final Performance
* Before the performance started Franklin "Pitch" Johnson, Jr. handed off a baton to John Gunn as the new chairman of the SF Opera Board.
* Someone in Box T answered her cellular phone during Ruth Ann's first aria, though she did exit the box before doing so.
* The singing was very strong as was the playing, as one would expect for the last performance of a run.
* Walkie talkie noise was noted in Act III just before "Da dubbia infausta sorte," at least no was music interrupted.
* A few high pitched noises were noted, though not at crucial moments.
* Ruth Ann Swenson received the San Francisco Opera medal, she gave a short speech and she sounded distinctly like a New Yorker.
* After the opera I waited at the stage door and introduced myself to Ruth Ann Swenson and Susan Graham. I felt highly absurd.

Opening of Ariodante at San Francisco Opera

Ariodante, Photo by Terrence McCarthy * Notes *
Today's matinée performance of Ariodante was the San Francisco Opera premiere of Händel's 33rd opera, which was first performed at Covent Garden in 1735. John Copley's production is slightly busy, there is a lot of movement to offset the supposed statis of the libretto. For the most part this was not distracting, though certain singers were noticeably quieter when they were made to move upstage during their arias. The sets, by John Conklin, are elegant and feature a large upstage frame, which alternately has different backdrops and props in it. The effect is often like a gigantic diorama. Some of the classical sculptures or architecture of the set were at odds with the Michael Stennett's sumptuous costumes, which had a more Baroque Venetian look, as they were based on the paintings of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. There were also several walls painted to look like marble that moved around to change the scenes, and this was visually excellent, though occasionally noisy. The choreography of Kenneth von Heidecke was innocuous enough, and was well-executed. Duane Schuler's lighting was complementary to the backdrops, the one of clouds and blue sky almost looked as if was pulsating, so vivid were the colors. The production made no overt reference to Scotland, though this is where the libretto is set.

Patrick Summers could never be accused of conducting in a sluggish manner, some of his tempi were brutally fast. There was a sour note in the brass section during "Voli colla sua tromba la fama," and a horn was off during the sinfonia at the end of Act I. However, the most beautiful moment of the opera was Ariodante's aria "Scherza infida" in Act II, and this was in no small part due to the orchestra. Susan Graham was incredible in the title role, her tone pure and bright. Graham was able to sing the same words over and over without being boring in the least, coloring the notes in an array of shades. She also looked dashing, her statuesque height is to her advantage in this role. Ruth Ann Swenson was lovely as Ginevra, her creamy voice showed little strain, though she was off from the orchestra for a few seconds in Act I. Sonia Prina had a promising debut as the villain Polinesso, her voice has a good heft and a richness, though she did have moments of difficulty. Her second aria in Act I ("Spero per voi") was particularly fine. She looked exceedingly boyish, though she is not tall. Verónica Cangemi (Dalinda) certainly had her work cut out for her, given how great the other female singers were. At her best Cangemi has a nice voice, clear and cold, with sufficient volume. At her worst she sounded ragged and a bit shrill, but this was rare.

Richard Croft was strong as Lurcanio, very sweet, though not terribly nuanced. Andrew Bidlack (Odoardo) acted well and was not overly loud, as some young singers can be. Eric Owens looked regal as the King of Scotland, his voice is not opulent and is slightly quiet. He was completely convincing in his heartbreaking Act II aria, "Invida Sorte Avara." It was passionate without being sentimental. As far as I could tell, Anders Froehlich did not sing in the role of Polinesso's squire, but he was menacing in his movement. The chorus was superb as usual, and ended the opera just wonderfully.

* Tattling *
In the last 5 minutes of Peter Susskind's opera talk, an elderly fellow with a cane insisted that he sit in the third row of the orchestra, despite the fact that the only free seat was not on the aisle, and the three people had to stand up to let him through. 30 seconds after the talk ended, this man turned to me and stated that I was in his seat. I told him I was getting up, though did not mention I was only waiting for the pair next to me to leave, as I hardly wanted to step over them. One of the ladies explained that orchestra seating was open for the lecture, to which he retorted "Well, it's not the lecture now." After a trip to the powder room, I returned to the third row to check just which seat it was, and the man was not in C 105 where I had been sitting. I am unsure why he took the trouble to bully me out of his seat, but I suppose he must be a subscriber to the M, N series and it probably took him years to get to that particular spot.

David Gockley has recorded a new message played before the performances. It does not mention turning off electronic devices, and I noticed there was a cellular phone ring during the da capo of Dalinda's first aria. There were no watch alarms on the hour, at least. Stage directions were audible before Polinesso's aria in Act II. The supertitles were apparently arch, for the audience laughed at them more than once.

To my disappointment the most absurd visual element was removed from the production. At the dress rehearsal there was an over-sized sculpture of a horse's head resting on the right side of the upstage frame during Ginevra's Act II mad scene. It did not read well, as the ear and mane were not visible, and at first I thought it was a frog or perhaps a hippopotamus. Then as Ginevra grew more frenzied, a second horse head was lowered from the ceiling. I did not find this much sillier than the colossal Venus head that has a strange forehead that appears in Act III or the extremely large Corinthian capital that also shows up in that space.

Final Dress Rehearsal of Ariodante

Copleysinging * Notes *
If the final dress rehearsal of Ariodante last night was any indication, I will likely go to as many performances of it as possible. The cast is strong, of course Susan Graham and Ruth Ann Swenson are wonderful, but debuting Sonia Prina, Veronica Cangemi, and Richard Croft are not disappointing either.

The orchestra sounded pretty good, the brass section was slightly rough at times, but not as much as in the premiere of Das Rheingold. Patrick Summers took the tempi quite fast. The style of playing was appropriate for the type of music at hand.

The production certainly looks like it is from the 80s, which can be pleasantly absurd, but more discussion on that after the opening, which is, incidentally, Sunday, June 15th.

* Tattling *
Before the rehearsal a person behind me insisted that if "the terrorists" decided to bomb the War Memorial Opera House, it would be no great loss, as it is, in his opinion, the worst opera house in the United States as far as acoustics and comfort are concerned. He was also adamant that the duets in Ariodante are very unusual for Baroque opera and he repeated this statement in between acts. It made me think of the duets in Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare, which was just confusing because those earlier works than Ariodante, since Senesino was singing those and Giovanni Carestini sang in the latter.

Yesterday was director John Copley's 75th birthday, and after the bows we sang "Happy Birthday." I've now sung with Ruth Ann Swenson and Susan Graham, which is probably not going to happen again.

Deutsche Oper Berlin's 2008-2009 Season

September 13 2008- July 2 2009: Turandot
September 14 2008- March 22 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
September 15-27 2008: Rigoletto
September 20 2008: L'Amico Fritz
September 21 2008- May 2 2009: Die Zauberflöte
September 30- October 8 2008: Pique Dame
October 1-5 2008: The Nose
October 2-7 2008: Chowanschtschina
October 3 2008 - February 15 2009: Der Rosenkavalier
October 22-31 2008: Manon Lescaut
October 30- November 6 2008: Lohengrin
November 20 2008- May 8 2009: La Traviata
November 28 2008- April 12 2009: Aida
November 30 2008- May 31 2009: Tannhäuser
December 8 2008- February 12 2009: Daphne
December 13 2008- March 11 2009: Lucia di Lammermoor
December 14-28 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- January 9 2009: Cunning Little Vixen
December 18 2008- January 4 2009: La Bohème
January 7- June 24 2009: Tosca
January 18- February 14 2009: Die Ägyptische Helena
January 25- February 10 2009: Salome
January 28- February 13 2009: Cassandra / Elektra
February 8-27 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
March 8- July 3 2009: Carmen
March 13- April 25 2009: Un Ballo in Maschera
March 26- April 4 2009:
Andrea Chenier
April 9-24 2009: Marie Victoire
April 30- May 9 2009: Eugene Onegin
May 20- June 2 2009: La Cenerentola
May 26- June 18 2009: Der Freischütz
May 27- June 6 2009: Madama Butterfly
June 10-21 2009: Tristan und Isolde
June 17-25 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 26- July 4 2009: Tiefland

Valery Gergiev conducts Pique Dame, The Nose, Chowanschtschina. Bo Skovhus sings the title role of Eugene Onegin. Roberto Alagna sings Fritz in L'Amico Fritz, with Angela Gheorghiu as Suzel. Gheorghiu returns in May for La Traviata, and in June for Tosca. Angelika Kirchschlager sings the title role of Carmen and Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. Nancy Gustafson sings the Feldmarschallin in the latter, but only in December. Mariusz Kwiecien sings in the March performances of Lucia, opposite of Burcu Uyar and Elena Mosuc, who share the title role with Ruth Ann Swenson.

2008-2009 Schedule | Official Site

Ruth Ann Swenson News

Ruthann_1Coloratura soprano Ruth Ann Swenson has breast cancer. Ms. Swenson is a favorite in San Francisco, where she had her 1983 debut as Despina in Così Fan Tutte as a second year Adler Fellow. She was last seen here as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro in June of this year. In the picture featured to the left, she is singing the role of Cleopatra with countertenor David Daniels (not pictured) in the Met's production of Giulio Cesare, which she is to sing again in April 2007.

AP Article

Se vuol ballere, signor Contino

FigaroactiA revival of Le Nozze di Figaro opened last Saturday, directed by John Copley. The production is of the standard traditional type, the setting is a Spanish villa, curiously there is no set designer credited. There are four sets, one for each act, none painfully elaborate, no moving parts, everything is quiet and simple. This is not to say the sets were not beautiful nor to suggest they were modernist in any way. The costumes were also 18th century, they were not striking but also not gaudy.

The cast is rather impressive, both vocally and dramatically. The only errors I noticed were minor. Camilla Tilling (Susanna) had her debut at San Francisco Opera with this performance. Her voice is pretty, though she has a bit of a raw edge. She cracked just slightly during Venite, inginocchiatevi in Act II, and she and Relyea seemed slightly off from the music in Act I, but just for a few seconds.

Peter Mattei sings Count Almaviva well, I have never heard him in another role, but I did hear him in Le Nozze at Bayerische Staatsoper. His voice is pleasing and sweet. He acts well even though he is terribly tall and gangly, he manages to look elegant. I first saw this production in 1997 with Bo Skovhus as the Count, so I'm a bit spoilt. Skovhus is amazing.

John Relyea is slightly more awkward as Figaro, though he is not as tall, I believe it is something about how he holds his hands. His voice is rich, he can hit all the notes in the lower range with enough ease to be quite pleasing. He is not terribly subtle in his shading, but it is Figaro, so this is fine. It is straightforward music.

Ruth Ann Swenson was a marvelous Countess Almaviva. Her voice is cold, sweet, and bright, never shrill, with great control. Her carriage is also good, clear even from the back of the balcony.

The audience was appalling. Apparently it is too difficult for certain people to arrive on time, and in the balcony, the ushers cordon off the seating and then watch the operas themselves. This leaves tardy and disgruntled patrons to wait in the standing room area. They are often disoriented, out of breath, and not particularly polite. They speak and one man decided that he was going to wedge himself between me and my companion. He apologized as he put his elbow between us, this was during Figaro's cavatina in Act I. I suggested that next time, he might wait until the music was over before he inserted himself between people. I do not enjoy talking during the opera, and what's worse this didn't make him leave. There wasn't enough room for him there, so my companion and I spread out just a little more so that he had to remove his elbow from the railing. He was pretty close to me, we were touching, but he was pressed up against my companion, and she had to kick him away. He wanted to intimidate us into making room for him, and possibly he did not know we were together. It was unpleasant but also humorous. He finally left after Act I, when he was seated.

During Act III, a young blonde wearing noisy high-heeled mules was late after intermission. She was uncomfortable and walked around a lot and also spoke to her friend, once loudly exclaiming "Totally!"

San Francisco Opera needs to keep late people in their own special section. Los Angeles Opera has a telecast in the lobby, and they simply don't let you in at Bayerische Staatsoper if you are late.

La Traviata

The alternate cast for San Francisco Opera's La Traviata was stunningly good. The perennial favorite, soprano Ruth Ann Swenson, was replaced by Mary Dunleavy in the last two performances. Swenson is very precise, her tone is extremely sweet and bell-like. Dunleavy is perhaps more vital, her voice is very strong. Baritone Željko Lučić sang beautifully as Germont, his aria in Act II, "Di Provenza il mar," was excellent.

Otherwise, tenor Rolando Villazón was impressive as Alfredo, his voice is also quite sweet and rich. The flamenco dancers in Act III were disappointing, those ballet dancers have nothing like duende. John Conklin's set and David Walker's costumes were just as one would expect, Verdi would not be surprised, at any rate.


On Friday, May 3, 1996 I saw half of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, with dance choreographed by Mark Morris, at Zellerbach Hall. This was my first operatic foray. I liked Euridice's blazing orange colored shift.

On Friday, September 27, 1996 I went to San Francisco Opera's production of Thomas' Hamlet at the Orpheum Theatre. Ruth Ann Swenson's voice was stunning.

On Tuesday, October 22, 1996 I heard Carmen at the Civic Auditorium. I enjoyed the sets.

Da tempeste il legno infranto (Act III, Scene 7)

Da tempeste il legno infranto,
se poi salvo giunge in porto,
non sa più che desiar.
Così il cor tra pene e pianto,
or che trova il suo conforto,
torna l'anima a bear.

* * *

I managed to get a standing room ticket for last night's performance of Giulio Cesare, though I was somewhat intimidated by figuring out the process for such things. Apparently there are 200 standing room tickets for each performance, and they go on sale at 10 am the day of the performance. They let standees in a particular door 70 minutes before the curtain time, by number, and there is a numbered line painted on the ground outside of the entrance.

Kip Cranna, the Musical Administrator of the San Francisco Opera, gave a talk about Giulio Cesare before the opera. He gave a general history of the composition itself, the historicity of the libretto, and a bit about the musical form. I learned that this opera was originally written for three castrati, and the part of Sesto was actually en travesti, a role meant for a woman to play a young man. I also learned that Cleopatra was the first Ptolemy to actually learn Egyptian, and she spoke six other languages besides.

The production presented is owned by the Metropolitan Opera, and six arias are cut out of it, as are some of the repeats. Otherwise it would be much longer.

The performance was sublime. It was easier to see the facial expressions of the singers from the orchestra, naturally, and David Daniels is a better actor than I thought. Bejun Mehta was wonderful too, after seeing him twice my opinion has solidified, and I will get a hold of one of his recordings soon.

Giulio Cesare

The San Francisco Opera performance that I had been waiting for all season finally arrived, and I was not disappointed. Händel's Giulio Cesare has quite a lot of beautiful and compelling music in it. It is an opera seria that premiered in 1724 at London's Royal Academy of Music, and the title role was created for a particular famous castrato, Francesco Bernardi (known as Senesino) of Siena. The female lead of Cleopatra was written for the soprano Francesca Cuzzoni.

The opera was a bit odd for modern ears, since so many of the main parts are high. One mezzo-soprano, two sopranos, three altos, and only two basses, no baritones or tenors at all. It took me some time to adjust, to figure out which voice went with which part. However the differences between the singers, especially countertenor David Daniels (Giulio Cesare) and the mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose (Sesto), were marked. Even though they can sing in the same range, and Daniels even sings a couple of the Sestos arias that on his Händel operatic arias recording. Daniels is simply a much larger person than Donose. The arias in question are "Cara Speme", in Act I, Scene 8 and "L'angue offeso", in Act II, Scene 6.

David Daniels and Ruth Ann Swenson (Cleopatra) both have gorgeous voices. Swenson's voice carries better though, and she has a lot of sass. Daniels was more stiff, and his arms sometimes appeared locked in space when he was singing something particularly difficult. Neither of them moved especially well, but Swenson was a better actor. The last time I saw Swenson was in Thomas' Hamlet as Ophelia, which was a much less demanding part.

Bejun Mehta (Tolomeo) and Ruxandra Donose (Sesto) both moved like water, they were very graceful. Mehta has a nice voice, but it is hard to tell since his part was on the small side. Donose was a little breathy and airy, but she sang her main arias well.

Felicity Palmer (Cornelia) was adequate, sometimes her voice sounded quite grand, and other times not so much. She moved stiffly, something about the way she carried her shoulders made her look uncomfortable or old.

Denis Sedov (Achilla) did not carry well in his low range, and it made him seem comical.

The set was not horrible except for a screen made of metal fashioned into a map of the Mediterranean. They also had problems with platforms that rumbled far too loudly when moved, even with the orchestra playing and singing, they were quite audible. One of the screens did not come down properly in the third act, it was a landscape of desert, but Swenson played it off rather charmingly.

The choreography was pretty poor, as usual. The movement in general looked unconvincing and unclear. The ballet dancer who played Terpsichore was rather delightful in her lightness though.

The costumes were amusing because they were Renaissance mixed with Orientalism, however, they were very pretty.