Today San Francisco Opera announced the July offerings for free streaming. The Opera Is On program includes Janáček's Jenůfa (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) from 2016, Berlioz's Les Troyens from 2015, Strauss' Elektra from 2017, and Verdi's Luisa Miller from 2015.
San Francisco Opera
* 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.
Today San Francisco Opera announced the April offerings for free streaming. The Opera Is On program includes Donizetti's Don Pasquale (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) from 2016, the Getty and Debussy double bill of The Fall of the House of Usher from 2015, and Verdi's Don Carlo from 2016.
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.
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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.
San 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.
San 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.
San Francisco Opera presents Puccini's La Bohème on November 20 and 22 at the Fort Mason Flix Drive-In, followed by Tosca on December 11 and 12. The 2008 production of Bohème stars Piotr Beczala and Angela Gheorghiu as Rodolfo and Mimì, the Tosca is from 2009 and stars Adrianne Pieczonka.
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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.
San Francisco Opera continues its streaming program Opera Is On with Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor on October 31 to November 1. The production is the one to be shown as a drive-in movie next Sunday.
Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) from 2014 will be presented on November 7-8, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov from 2008 on November 14–15, Verdi's Rigoletto from 2012 on November 21–22, and Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore from 2008 on November 28–29.
San Francisco Opera presents Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (pictured left, photograph by Terrence McCarthy) on October 25 at 6pm at Fort Mason Flix Drive-In. The production is from 2008 and stars Natalie Dessay.
98 cars with pre-purchased tickets will be admitted starting at 5pm and social distancing enforced. Guests must remain in their cars during the opera and wear a mask when leaving to visit concessions or restrooms.
San Francisco Opera continues its streaming program Opera Is On with Puccini's Tosca (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) on October 10–11. The production is the revival from 2014 that stars Lianna Haroutounian.
Verdi's Attila from the summer of 2012 will be presented on October 17-18 and Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro from the 2014-2015 season on October 24-25.
* Notes *
Merola, San Francisco Opera's training program, kicked off a virtual recital series last Sunday via Zoom with baritone Lucas Meachem (pictured left, photograph by Natasha Sadakin) and his piano accompanist and wife Irina Meachem. They were very charming and it was a stark reminder of just how strange these pandemic times are.
Lucas Meachem was in Merola in 2003 and went on to be an Adler, he's performed most recently in San Francisco as Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette last season. He pretty much sang from operas he has performed in at San Francisco Opera, so there was “Mab, la reine des mensonges” from the aforementioned Gounod, “Bella siccome un angelo” from Don Pasquale, and such.
Irina Meachem introduced the pieces, and we got to hear about how it is to be in the same industry as your romantic partner and a little bit about the challenges of having a one-year-old.
I loved hearing him sing “Hai già vinta la causa” from Le Nozze di Figaro and “Deh, vieni alla finestra” from Don Giovanni. Meachem channels rakishness well and the richness of his voice came through even in Zoom. Best of all was "Mein Sehnen, Mein Wähnen" (Pierrot’s Tanzlied) from Die Tote Stadt. It brought back to mind San Francisco Opera's dazzling production of this opera back in 2008.
I definitely felt a pang of loss as I heard this recital from our camper van as we drove from Vernal, Utah to Reno, Nevada, the penultimate leg of a cross country trip from Nantucket, where we've been sheltering in place for the summer. 2020 has been a tough year, as much as I feel my privilege acutely, I do miss live performing arts so much. And I feel for all the artists who have had so many gigs canceled and whose livelihoods are on the line.
Lucas and Irina Meachem took the opportunity of this recital to present a piece by a black female composer, namely, Undine Smith Moore. The art song “Love Let the Wind Cry” is as beautiful as anything in the standard repertoire, and was a welcome addition to the program.
* Tattling *
There were some technical difficulties, though I'm not entirely sure if they were all on my end, since cellular coverage can be spotty in rural areas of our country. I got kicked off Zoom during an aria from Eugene Onegin, but was able to rejoin within a few minutes.
San Francisco Ballet and San Francisco Opera, along with the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, announced today that the previously planned seat replacement project originally scheduled for summer 2021 will now take place over a 14-week period between September 2020 to January 2021 during the continuing COVID-19 venue closure this year.
General Director Matthew Shilvock announced the cancelation of the 2020-2021 season opening at San Francisco Opera today because of COVID-19. The performances were to begin on September 11 and to continue until December 6. The company expects return in April 2021 with Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg, and concerts starring Lianna Haroutounian and Iréne Theorin with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.
San Francisco Opera has been streaming operas under the name "Opera Is On," most recently Il Trittico and continuing with Salome next weekend.