San Francisco Opera

Adler Fellows 2022

Adlers2020_c_2400x1800The incoming 2022 Adler Fellows are soprano Mikayla Sager, mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Beteag, tenors Victor Cardamone and Edward Graves; and apprentice coach Marika Yasuda. They join current Adlers sopranos Anne-Marie MacIntosh, Elisa Sunshine, and Esther Tonea; mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh, baritone Timothy Murray, bass Stefan Egerstrom, and pianist Andrew King. The outgoing 2021 Adler Fellows (pictured, photograph by Cheshire Issacs) are mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh, tenors Christopher Colmenero, Christopher Oglesby and Zhengyi Bai; and pianist Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad.

Press Release | Official Site


SF Opera's Così fan Tutte

24.Cosi_Act I scene* Notes * 
Così fan tutte (Act I pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver), the second installment of the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy directed by Michael Cavanagh, opened at San Francisco Opera last weekend. The second performance was Tuesday night, there was lots of pretty singing, Maestro Henrik Nánási kept the orchestra going at a brisk pace, and the production gave us lots to think about.

The set, an 18th century manor house in Le nozze di Figaro, looks largely the same, though it is now a country club in the 1930s. There are a few projections on the scrim during the overture and at the beginning of Act II, but they are minimal, mostly silhouettes of the various characters or details about the world we are about to enter. Later we see water and trees on three panels of the graph paper facade of the building as the scenes are changed.

Don Alfonso is the general manager of the Wolfbridge Country Club and Despina is a maid there, the rest of the characters are apparently guests for a week of fencing and drawing classes, dancing, badminton, and swimming in late spring. All this lends itself to opulent scenes, the one by the pool garnered applause. There are a lot of sight gags throughout, as when we find ourselves in a prettily appointed space with posters depicting lithe, active women declaring this is "how to keep youth and beauty" while the female guests do calisthenics, and promptly help themselves to cocktails and cigarettes.

The production is certainly more interesting than the Le nozze di Figaro from October 2019, though it is clearly in the same world. Part of this is perhaps because Così fan tutte is a more problematic piece, misogyny is in the very title itself. Each of the lovers is shown to be rather childish, there is much melodrama and silliness. One twist in this portrayal is that Despina discovers that the "Albanians" are Ferrando and Guglielmo in disguise in right before the Act II duet "Fra gli amplessi." The cunning maid shares her discovery with the sisters as the men sing "Così fan tutte," and it means that Dorabella and Fiordiligi are well aware they are having a sham wedding in the last scene, giving it a very different tone than in a more straightforward rendering of this piece. It is all a lot more ambiguous and heartbreaking.

The orchestra was crisp, the woodwinds and brass sounded particularly fine. Nánási occasionally had the musicians ahead of the singers, he definitely kept things moving. The chorus was powerful and together.

The principals are all very nicely cast. Soprano Nicole Cabell (Fiordiligi) and mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts (Dorabella) sounded like sisters, their voices have similar qualities. Cabell's voice has very lovely and dark low notes, while Roberts has a metallic incisiveness. Cabell navigated the vocal leaps of the Act I aria "Come scoglio" with brilliant ease, and sang an emotional "Fra gli amplessi," her Act II duet with Ferrando. Speaking of which, tenor Ben Bliss had a dazzling San Francisco Opera debut as Ferrando, his voice is sweet and open, sounding wonderful in this same duet and throughout the evening. His Act II aria "Tradito, schernito" was simply beautiful. Baritone John Brancy held his own as Guglielmo, sounding sturdy and warm.

13.Cosi_Ferruccio Furlanetto_Nicole CabellIt is always a joy to hear bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, the role of Don Alfonso seems tailor-made for him. His resonances are striking and he moves well, I loved his little victory dance in Act II Scene 2, after Guglielmo reveals that Dorabella has betrayed Ferrando. Best of all though was soprano Nicole Heaston as Despina. Not only is her voice completely smooth and clear, she is genuinely hilarious. She disguises herself as a golfing doctor (pictured with Furlanetto, photograph by Cory Weaver) and putting on a very funny accent that was completely obvious even if you don't know a word of Italian.

* Tattling * 
There was some occasional light talking around me in Row P of the Orchestra Level and one "ding" from the center section in the first scene of Act II as Fiordiligi sang. Before this someone just behind me loudly remarked that something onstage was "so stupid," I guess it was Guglielmo's feigning illness. It wasn't obvious to me why this needed to be stated, given that the whole plot is pretty darned absurd.

I watched the livestream of the opening Sunday matinée performance of Così with my 4-year old and 7-year old children, it was pretty good and only had a couple technical problems. I had hoped my older child would have been fully-vaccinated so he could attend in person, but sadly that won't happen until next month, so it was excellent to have this option. He was very excited about the doctor scene described above, especially the magnets, and about "È amore un ladroncello," Dorabella's Act II aria, which he's heard about a thousand times because he was obsessed with Cecilia Bartoli's Mozart Arias recording when he was a toddler.


SF Opera's Fidelio


_DSC0704* Notes * 

A brand-new production of Fidelio (Act II pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera last night, a year late and with a splendid cast. Maestra Eun Sun Kim kept the orchestra lively and balanced.

Matthew Ozawa's contemporary production features a startlingly spare set that spins to reveal cages full of people or solitary dungeons as the opera requires. I found the brutality of the layered bars weirdly compelling, especially since the set was also used for the drive-in Barber of Seville up in Marin earlier in the year. It was so different, completely transformed in the space of the War Memorial stage. The set used some creepy projections, mostly of Elza van den Heever's face (though the back of her head is projected before the opera begins), but did not simply rely on video to set the scene.

The orchestra was not always perfectly together, the first note from the brass section was sour, but Maestra Kim draws interesting textures out of the musicians and there were exquisite moments to be sure. John Pearson did a fine job playing the offstage trumpet in Act II. The ensembles were also particularly lovely, and the principal singers are beautifully cast. The chorus sounded strong and cohesive.

Soprano Anne-Marie MacIntosh is a sweet and chirpy Marzelline, her pretty tones very distinct from our lead soprano in the title role. Likewise bass James Creswell (Rocco) sounded so different from bass-baritone Greer Grimsley (Don Pizarro). Creswell is endearing, his voice warm and so human. Grimsley in contrast has less prettiness, which suits his role as villian.

_DSC3680Tenor Russell Thomas seemed ideal as Florestan, his voice is so expressive. No less riveting is soprano Elza van den Heever, and her duet with Thomas (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver), "O namenlose Freude!" was moving. Van den Heever has a lot of power and an icy clarity that somehow is not harsh. Her Act I aria "Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern" got a huge response from the audience, and for good reason.

* Tattling * 
I brought my good friend Axel Feldheim to this performance, apparently I haven't seen him in person for 586 days. He noted it was very odd to be seated next to me in this house, since we usually are in standing room.

The new seats are more obvious on the Orchestra Level, they have staggered the seats better, though there was no one seated in front of us in Row T.

Audience members around us were very good about keeping their masks on as requested. I did hear a phone alert of some kind as Rocco was singing in Act I.


SF Opera's Homecoming Concert

_DSC9681* Notes * 
The 99th season of San Francisco Opera opened with a spirited concert last night featuring conductor Eun Sun Kim and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra with soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton.

The evening started with the very jaunty overture from Leichte Kavallerie by Franz von Suppé. The brass was clear and the woodwinds lovely. This was followed by Willis-Sørensen singing "È strano … Sempre libera" from La Traviata. Her voice is incredible and well-supported, without any strain or hint of shrillness. Then came Barton with "O mon Fernand" from Donizetti's La Favorite, sounding very rich and full. She has a huge sound, so it was odd when she seemed to push it a bit in "O don fatale" from Don Carlo, the textures evoked by her voice were disquieting. We got to hear both singers just before intermission in a duet from Anna Bolena, Barton was quite plaintive as Giovanna Seymour.

The second half revisited Rusalka, which introduced us to Maestra Kim and Willis-Sørensen back in 2019. It was moving to hear the Polonaise from Act II again, the orchestra sounded sweeping and lush. Willis-Sørensen's "Song to the Moon" is no less stunning, her bright, icy high notes and opulent lower register are impressive.

2320-opera-210910Barton was a passionate Dalila in "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix," as the orchestra shimmered beneath her. I'd like to hear her sing the full opera, and likewise, when she and Willis-Sørensen sang "Mira, o Norma," it made me very much want to hear Norma with both these singers as well and with Kim (all pictured, Drew Altizer Photography) conducting.

I believe the encore was Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Climb Every Mountain" sandwiched in their "You'll Never Walk Alone." It reminded me of being a little kid, watching Sound of Music and Carousel on television.

* Tattling * 
There was much of the normal opening night trappings to the performance: a huge vase of roses, the flower garlands on the boxes, speeches from the stage, and even the National Anthem. I saw nearly half a dozen regular patrons of the back balcony and it was so nice to catch up with everyone after so long.

They printed some programs this time, but most people used their phones instead. Unfortunately this makes some use their devices during the performance, so I did see the person in J 3 repeatedly look at his screen throughout. The women in front of him in H 1 and 3 were not great at keeping their masks on, they came in late, and just before the intermission ended, dashed to the drinking fountain to grab glasses of water, which they drank during the second half. Cell phone man and his companion decided to move after about 30 seconds of this, so it was easier for me to ignore his bright screen.

At least everyone was quiet, I didn't hear any beeps during the music, and no one was really around me. This was very unusual for an opening night, presumably there were more people at the free simulcast at Oracle Park. I was still anxious about being inside with so many people, and kept my two masks on the whole time. There was champagne in the lobby for everyone, but I ran away as swiftly as I could and kept well away from the crowd.


SF Opera's Tosca

_DSC8720* Notes * 
Live performance returned to the War Memorial stage with San Francisco Opera's Tosca (Act I with Ailyn Pérez as Tosca and Michael Fabiano as Cavaradossi pictured left; photograph by Cory Weaver) last weekend, and I managed to get to the second outing yesterday night. The cast is vivid and strong, as is the orchestra, and our new Music Director Eun Sun Kim brought out a lot of dramatic colors from everyone.

This revival of Shawna Lucey's production from 2018 felt even more immediate than the last time. The violence felt very real, from Soloman Howard (Angelotti) limping in Act I to the firing squad in Act III. Again, Scarpia's cruelty and maliciousness against Tosca in Act II turned my stomach, though Alfred Walker has an absolutely lovely voice, so very smooth and flexible. The pretty, detailed sets and costumes are also an interesting contrast to the ugliness of this brutality.

The singing was great all around. Tenor Michael Fabiano is a dashing Cavaradossi with a big, bright voice. His "Vittoria! Vittoria!" in Act II was moving, and his "E lucevan le stelle" had deservedly the longest ovation of the evening. Soprano Ailyn Pérez is quite the coquette in the title role, her voice is warm and full. Her "Vissi d'arte" of Act II was simply beautiful.

Maestra Kim conducted a buoyant and brilliant orchestra. The chaotic scene before Scarpia's entrance was really very much so, and the music did seem to roil along nicely.

* Tattling * 
Everyone 12 and over had to have proof of vaccination, and the process of checking vaccine records and identification was simple.

There was barely any wait at the front entrance. Mask compliance was high where I was in the back of the balcony, I only saw one person slip their mask off for a moment to sip wine, and I was many feet away from everyone in the back row on the aisle. I was pretty uncomfortable being inside with so many people for so long, even masked, vaccinated people. I wore my two masks for the entire time.

During the second intermission someone loudly scolded a young man about his feet being on the back of the chair in front of him. The seats are new, and I guess they are more plush than the ones before, but I'd still rather stand.


SF Opera Barber Drive-In Review

Barber_stefancohen_328* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera presented a delightful drive-in version of The Barber of Seville (pictured, photograph by Stefan Cohen) at Marin Center starting last Friday. The new production from director Matthew Ozawa is bold and fun.

Maestro Roderick Cox made a fine debut conducting the 18 members of a mostly masked and socially-distanced orchestra from a tent behind the stage. Despite these challenges, the proceedings were lively and bright, only the horn sounded hesitant at the April 24 performance I attended. It made me really look forward to hearing all the musicians again back at the War Memorial, and hopefully Cox gets a chance in a proper orchestra pit with them.

The opera is presented as a rehearsal at our beloved opera house, and we hear Managing Director of Production Jennifer Good as the Stage Manager, threading together the arias and ensembles as they unfold in dressing rooms, rehearsal spaces, and on the opera stage. The set was meant for the Fidelio production that was to have been performed last September, and is repurposed here with lots and lots of video projections of the San Francisco opera house. It is definitely busy, there are four screens that can be moved about, but it works. The images read well from afar and make the drive-in aspect of the production feasible.

It was so pleasing to see and hear so many beloved and familiar opera singers in this Barber, nearly the whole cast has been in the Merola Opera Program. I've heard mezzo Catherine Cook as Berta dozens of times, but she always brings verve to the role. Her sound is incisive and completely distinct from any of the Rosinas she's been cast with. Bass Kenneth Kellogg made the most of Don Basilio's "La calunnia," his deep, rich tones are impressive. Bass-baritone Philip Skinner is a very amusing Dr. Bartolo, his voice is reliable.

Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack (Rosina) and tenor Alek Shrader (Almaviva) are adorable little lovebirds on and off stage, and their voices are both well-suited to Rossini. Mack is visibly pregnant, and I felt exhausted for her, but she sang with vivid lightness and warmth throughout. Baritone Lucas Meachem is also completely perfect in the title role, his personable Figaro has a lot of appeal. The diction throughout the performance was clear from everyone, and I did not have to read the supertitles at all.

* Tattling * 
It was 524 days since the last live performance I attended at San Francisco Opera and 419 since the last live performance I've heard, so I was very excited to be there, even if it was in my silly little Prius with a substandard sound system. There was static at times but this was much preferable to the filmed versions of operas I've watched in my car.

I do wish there were a couple of matinee performances of the production, though only 90 minutes long and performed without an intermission, the 8pm start time is too late for my small children, who would have loved the performance with all the sight-gags and color. But perhaps the projections would not have shown up well during daylight.

The Covid protocols were strict: no being outside unless going to the restroom, masks need to be on, and vehicles were physically distanced. There were a few cars whose lights turned on at times unexpectedly, but for the most part there were fewer distractions than from a normal opera audience. I really liked that they asked right away that people not honk their horns after numbers and gave everyone glow sticks to show their appreciation for the music.


SF Opera Returns to Live Performance

Lucas Meachem (Figaro)_photo Simon Pauly  San Francisco Opera returns to live performance this April with Il barbiere di Siviglia in an outdoor drive-in production at the Marin Center in San Rafael. The performances star Lucas Meachem (pictured, photograph by Simon Pauly) as Figaro, Daniela Mack and Laura Krumm sharing the role of Rosina, and Alek Shrader as Almaviva. There will also be three Adler concerts in a similar format. Tickets go on sale on March 9 for donors and subscribers and March 23 for everyone else.

There are also a number of digital offerings in the spring, including free streams of the Ring Cycle in March.

Press Release | On StageOpera Is On


SF Opera Tosca Drive-In Review

Picture041 * Notes * 
San Francisco Opera presented Tosca (Adrianne Pieczonka in the title role and Lado Ataneli as Scarpia, photograph by Cory Weaver) at Fort Mason Flix last weekend. The 2009 performance is not the latest production, but the previous one from 1997 for the War Memorial's reopening.

The orchestra, conducted by Marco Armiliato, sounded vivid. Lado Ataneli is quite an evil Scarpia, his voice has a nice heft to it. Tenor Carlo Ventre is an appealing Cavaradossi, he seems less delicate in the filmed version of this performance but the reedy quality of his voice is apparent. His "E lucevan le stelle" was lovely. Adrianne Pieczonka is a creamy-voiced and powerful Tosca. Her "Vissi d'arte" had me in tears.

This recording includes a lot of shots of the audience in the War Memorial Opera House. It was a little difficult to watch, not only because it is hard to imagine being that close to people inside without masks after all these months, but also because live performance seems so remote at this point and I, for one, sure do miss it.

* Tattling * 
I was lightly teased by a staff member of Fort Mason Flix about seeing this opera by myself, which made me laugh, since I've basically been around my children and husband constantly for 335 days. I considered bringing my almost seven-year old to the screening but decided I wasn't ready to have to explain Scarpia to him just yet.

We were not supposed to leave our vehicles except to use the restrooms, and there were no concessions on the premises. I brought blueberries, apples, cashews, and cheese to snack on. Some cars had trouble keeping their headlights off, I was glad to see the staff had signs to indicate this to the offending patrons.

There is still a lot of daylight at 5pm when the screening I saw started, so it was a little difficult to see what was happening in some of the early scenes of the opera. It was very funny to see seagulls fly past the screen, after hearing them so much in the nearby Cowell Theater for years.


SF Opera Drive In Tosca Rescheduled

Picture011San Francisco Opera has rescheduled Puccini's Tosca on February 12 and 13 at the Fort Mason Flix Drive-In. The 2009 production starring Adrianne Pieczonka (pictured with Carlo Ventri as Cavaradossi and Joel Sorensen as Spoletta, photograph by Cory Weaver) in the title role was orignally set for December 11 and 12 but was cancelled because of the Stay at Home order that ended on Monday.

Press Release | Official Site


SF Opera Streaming January February 2021

001 TraviataSan Francisco Opera continues its streaming program Opera Is On with Verdi's La Traviata (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) from 2014 this weekend on January 30 to 31. From this production tenor Stephen Costello, soprano Nicole Cabell, and assistant stage director Shawna Lucey will be interviewed live on Friday, January 29 at 1pm. One can register for this Zoom event here.

In February, the weekends will bring Wagner's Lohengrin, Mozart's Così fan tutte, Puccini's La Rondine, and Verdi's Falstaff.

Press Release | Opera Is On


SF Opera Drive-In Lucia Review


Lucia-drive-in-2020* Notes *

San Francisco Opera held a drive-in event (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) at Fort Mason Flix yesterday evening. The opera screened was Lucia di Lammermoor from 2008 with soprano Natalie Dessay  in the title role. She is an incredible Lucia, and the filmed version captures this well. It was also flattering to the rest of the production.

The drive-in was orderly, the staff let each car in, first scanning tickets, then explaining which FM station to tune into to get the sound, and lastly leading each car to a space to allow for good sight lines. I was very pleased to see much of the house staff from the War Memorial, and glad to be in the third row near the middle in my compact hybrid.

There was strong enforcement of no lights from cars, drivers were admonished before the show began. Unfortunately, there were times when headlights and brake lights would turn on (including my own at least once) as cars would automatically shut off to conserve battery power.

Otherwise, the format is engaging, I preferred this to watching streams at home, it felt more like a real opera. It was nice to be in my own enclosed space without the normal distractions of small children or other ill-behaved audience members. It was noticeable how many coughs were carefully recorded in the audio when the orchestra was playing quietly.

Graham Vick's direction and Paul Brown's sets are suitably dramatic on the big screen. Dessay is both vulnerable and viscerally disturbing in her mad scene, it's clear how she's giving her all the the performance. Everyone sounded fine, better than I remembered live. Mezzo-soprano Cybele-Teresa Gouverneur didn't seem underpowered as Alisa, tenor Giuseppe Filianoti was only strained at times, and was always audible. The sextet was beautiful. It was lovely to hear the chorus and orchestra, they were consistent and powerful.

* Tattling * 
It was very strange for me to be somewhat "out and about" doing something at least adjacent to what I would normally do before shelter-in-place. I felt extremely uncomfortable and could not bring myself to leave my car for concessions or the restrooms. It was good to see how many people wore masks outside of their cars but compliance was not perfect.