San Francisco Opera

SF Opera's Orfeo ed Euridice with Anne-Marie MacIntosh

MRW_5984* Notes * 
The last performance of Orfeo ed Euridice (Act III pictured, photograph by Matthew Washburn) this season at San Francisco Opera had soprano Anne-Marie MacIntosh filling in as Euridice, as Meigui Zhang was indisposed. The December 1st performance was full and standing room in the balcony was rife with latecomers who were unable to be seated for this opera held without an intermission.

I was only able to watch Ms. MacIntosh's aria, "Che fiero momento," as I could tell I would be very much annoyed by the unwitting standees and chose instead to read the score in the back for the rest of the performance. Her voice was rather distinct from Ms. Zhang's and I could absolutely tell the voices apart from the first note of the recitative at the beginning of Act III. MacIntosh's sound is sweet and warm, she definitely seemed more distressed than Zhang when asking why Orfeo won't even look at her.

Though I missed most of MacIntosh's choreography, what I did see looked fine. She seemed comfortable with the movements in her aria and it wasn't noticeable that she had stepped in at the last minute. It was not obvious to me whether or not the choreography was simplified in this case, as the more complicated dancing does not happen during her biggest moment vocally.

I heard that some of the members of the chorus also took ill, but the choral parts of the opera sounded full and together anyway. Act II was impressive, I had the music of the furies and Elysium in my ears for several days afterward. I still very much enjoyed how much soprano Nicole Heaston (Amore) conveyed in her voice, even if I couldn't see her. Jakub Józef Orliński sounded as strong as ever, if anything he is even easier to hear at the back of the house. The orchestra was also clear and the horns were especially lucid.

* Tattling * 
General Director Matthew Shilvock announced the substitution from the stage before the evening began. We started late, but even still there were dozens of latecomers who were not seated in the balcony, as there were very few free seats, unlike the Sunday, November 26th performance. I felt particularly bad for a person that had arrived early for standing room but had a young woman wedge herself between this person and her companion. I could tell that if he gave her the space she wanted, he would probably be unable to see the stage, as the views in the balcony are easily obstructed by audience members that lean forward.

The woman that took my spot at the railing occasionally would sit down next to me on the bench as I read the score. She had quite a time looking for something in her purse and spent nearly 5 whole minutes zipping and unzipping the various compartments of her bag. I had to (silently) laugh, thinking to myself that I had not seen "Zipper" in the score.


SF Opera's Orfeo ed Euridice

_DSC1707* Notes * 
Matthew Ozawa's beautiful new production of Orfeo ed Euridice (Act III pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera last week. I attended the second performance last night, and the debuts of Maestro Peter Whelan and countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński as Orfeo were both impressive.

The musicians were laid out in quite an interesting way, with the horns next to the bassoons in the last row close to the prompter's box. The flutes and oboes were just ahead of them, and the clarinet was off to the side, where the basses usually are. Whelan's conducting was crisp but not metronomic. The woodwinds and harp were especially lovely.

The unfussy set, designed by Alexander V. Nichols, was essentially a turntable with projections, which are apparently of brain images. There are swings, making good use of the vertical space without having to take any pauses to switch the scenes. There are also 3 pairs of dancers, meant to represent the title couple in different stages of their life together. Rena Butler's choreography felt comfortingly familiar to me, it was sculptural without being static, and there was athleticism and acrobatics but also elegance. Jessica Jahn's costumes in warm shades for Orfeo and cool tones for Euridice were likewise tasteful, in keeping with the classical plot.

_DSC3225The chorus sounded powerful and together throughout the piece, they supported the principals without overwhelming them and negotiated the spinning set with ease. The principals are all clearly talented. I very much enjoyed the humor-infused performance of soprano Nicole Heaston (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) as Amore. Heaston sang with rich warmth and was charming.

The icier sound of soprano Meigui Zhang was suitable for Euridice. Her voice is clean and graceful, though perhaps not very distinctive, it did contrast with both of the others. Zhang did well with the dancing and did not look out of place among the dancers.

The same could be said of Orliński, the piece opens with him doing handstands and leaps during the overture. I was a little shocked to hear his voice, I had thought he was one of the dancers. His sound is strong and clear, very smooth throughout his range. His "Che farò senza Euridice?" was filled with pathos and very moving.

* Tattling * 
This was part of my subscription, and I loved peering at the orchestra from Box X. I was a bit concerned about the trio of chatty young men in Box Y, but they were very much into the opera and didn't say a word during the 90 minute performance.

In fact, I had such a nice experience, without talking, coughing, mobile phones, or watch alarms, that I'm a bit hesitant to attend this opera again, I'd like to hold on to this pleasant memory. But I will be there at least twice more, as this opera is rare and San Francisco Opera has only performed it in one other season.


SF Opera's La Traviata

_DSC2206* Notes * 
A brand new production of Verdi's La Traviata (Act II Scene 2 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera yesterday evening, kicking off a series of operas by this composer conducted by our new Music Director Eun Sun Kim. The orchestra sounded lovely, but definitely more restrained than in previous outings of this piece in recent memory.

The overture was handled quite well by Maestra Kim, everyone sounded very beautiful, the tempi were not excessively fast. There were moments with the chorus in particular where there were issues with synchrony. The offstage bandas in both Act I and Act III sounded nice and together. The strings were exquisite in Act III, as Violetta dies.

There were six former Merolini in this opera, so a lot of familiar faces and voices. Most notable of these were mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven (2016) as a sympathetic Flora Bervoix and bass-baritone Philip Skinner (1985) as a rather terrifying Baron Dauphol.

_DSC2038For the three most important principals we had three San Francisco Opera debuts. Baritone Simone Piazzola had a lush warmth as Giorgio Germont, the right mixture of sternness and fatherly care. He sang both "Pura siccome un angelo, Iddio mi diè una figlia" and "Di Provenza il mar, il suol chi dal cor ti cancellò?" very well, the latter stuck with me as a highlight of the evening. Tenor Jonathan Tetelman (Alfredo) had a very pretty moment in the Act I duet "Un dì, felice, eterea," but had a tendency to yell his high notes otherwise, he doesn't seem to have perfect control of his volume. Most interesting was the Violetta, soprano Pretty Yende. Her singing in Act I seemed a bit delicate and icily metallic, but she brought incredible pathos to Acts II and III, and the resonances of her voice worked very well for her duets with Germont and Alfredo. I found her "Gran Dio!...morir sì giovane" at the very end particularly arresting.

This new staging from director Shawna Lacey looks very much like her Tosca from 2018, and it isn't a surprise that the set designer, Robert Innes Hopkins, is the same. I do wish that they had taken this opportunity to make the scene change in Act II smoother, it really took a lot of time to change the set from Violetta's country house to Flora's party, and the audience did not settle down quickly enough when the music started again. The contrasts between the saturated, almost lurid colors of the party scenes with the others were stark.

The realism of sex, violence, and illness throughout were unsettling. The courtesans do some 19th century version of twerking at Flora's party, the Baron does seem dangerous and scary, and having Violetta cough all throughout the piece was effective. There was some colorful cross dressing in Act II Scene 2 from the Marquis, who wears a pink tutu with his tuxedo tails and from the dancers who had bisected costumes portraying masculine and feminine evening wear on each side. Violetta does look genuinely sick in the last act (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) and this only added to how distressing the end is.

* Tattling * 
The audience was enthusiastic and the fact that this performance was simulcast to the nearby baseball stadium certianly heightened the excitement. I did hear a cellular phone ring house left on the Orchestra Level as Pretty Yende sang "È strano! ... Ah, fors' è lui" in Act I. Also, the person in Row Q Seat 3 kept crinkling a plastic bottle at the beginning of Act II Scene 2. Though I felt annoyed by these disturbances, it is sort of nice that things are so much back to normal.


SF Opera's Dialogues of the Carmelites

Carmelites* Notes * 
Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites (Act II pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera last weekend after an absence of forty years on the War Memorial stage. The stark production from Olivier Py that features a lot of flat cut outs, shadows, and chalk was moving. The music and singing were all very strong.

During last night's performance, the playing from the orchestra was lush and beautiful. Maestra Eun Sun Kim seemed in full control of the musicians, and I enjoyed watching and hearing them all. The woodwinds were particularly great, especially the English horn player Alix DiThomas, who had a solo in Act I. I've only heard this opera one time before, and the thing about it that I remember best is the guillotine sound effect at the end, which was achieved here using a saber box and played by the percussionist Victor Avdienko backstage.

There are a lot of voices in this opera, 24 principals and 38 offstage choristers. They sang well together, and that last scene was viscerally effective. The main singers are sopranos, and they all were quite distinct, which is a feat in casting. Soprano Deanna Breiwick was impressive as Sister Constance, her twittery but incisive sound was convincing. I liked hearing former Adler soprano Melody Moore as Sister Marie, her voice is creamy but powerful. Soprano Michaela Schuster has some dark tones as the old prioress Madame de Croissy and was pretty terrifying in her death scene. Soprano Michelle Bradley as the new prioress Madame Lidoine was likewise strong, very warm and poignant when she sings in Act III as she joins her sisters in a vow of martyrdom. Finally, soprano Heidi Stober seemed to embody Blanche de la Force quite perfectly, her textured, tinselly sound channeled the character's anxiety which made her transformation at the end all the more striking.

_DSC5637The staging, first seen at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in 2013 and then at La Monnaie / De Munt in 2017, was directed here by Daniel Izzo. It has a stripped down quality to it, lots of grey and white. The play of light and shadow was pleasing. I liked the four tableaux the nuns depicted with flat cut out props: The Annunciation, The Nativity, The Last Supper, and The Crucifixion. The death scene of Madame de Croissy (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) was depicted on the wall, as if one was looking down into the room, and this was disturbing and very much in keeping with the events that unfold.

* Tattling * 
There were quite a lot of people at the performance, which was heartening. The orchestra level looked almost full. I was surprised that the two other people in Box X abandoned the performance at intermission, and was chagrined that the pair in Box Y returned late. For some reason the latter couple found the end of Act II hilarious and laughed loudly when poor Blanche drops and breaks Baby Jesus. I myself was raised in a very different religion than Catholicism, but can still empathize with this frightened young nun. But perhaps they were just nervous for her and the emotion came out as laughter. They did applaud a great deal for the performance at the ovation.


SF Opera's Eugene Onegin

_DSC2203* Notes * 
Robert Carsen's 1997 production of Eugene Onegin (Act II Scene 1 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera this afternoon with a youthful cast of newcomers and the vibrant debut of conductor Vassilis Christopoulos.

The overture sounded stately under Maestro Christopoulos, who had his U.S. debut with this performance. Not everything was completely together, the women's chorus at the begining of Act I Scene 3 seemed off-kilter at first, and there were other moments of small moments of chaos, but nothing terribly egregious. The dance music in Acts II and III were all charming, particularly the Polonaise in the last act. The woodwinds and harp were all very lovely.

There were familiar voices, starting with the first two mezzo-sopranos on stage, Deborah Nansteel as Madame Larina and Ronnita Miller as Filipyevna. I distinctly remember Nansteel from Merola, her nice clear tones and Miller as being an incredible Erda in the Ring Cycle here in San Francisco. Veteran bass Ferruccio Furlanetto was moving as Prince Gremin in his Act III aria.

As for debuts on the War Memorial stage, most were quite strong. Mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina (Olga) has a beautiful dark sound but also a fine lucidity and resonance to her voice. Tenor Evan LeRoy Johnson was likewise winsome as Lensky, his voice is light and bright but has a pleasant heft to it, his Act I aria was filled with joy and his Act II aria absolutely plaintive.

Soprano Evgenia Muraveva has a delicacy that seems appropriate for Tatyana, shy and bookish, both in stature and in her sound. She was never shrill but the bottom of her voice is underpowered. Bass-baritone Gordon Bintner embodied Eugene Onegin rather well, he seemed so weird and awkward in his first scene, at first it was a bit difficult to see what Tatyana was charmed by, but it was a credible performance. The duel scene of Act II Scene 2 was convincing, as were the shifting feelings of Onegin in Act III. Bintner's last aria as he realizes he loves Tatyana was rich and warm (and maybe somewhat manical).

This production from Robert Carsen has been seen all over the world in its 25 years. The set is clean and open with PVC walls on three sides, and Act I features thousands of polyester birch leaves in many colors. For the most part, the space is defined by arrangements leaves or chairs, and it works well enough and isn't distracting. The revival here was done by director Peter McClintock, and everything went smoothly as far as I could tell.

* Tattling * 
My 8-year-old insisted on attending this opera, as he had learned about Tchaikovsky in music class last school year. To prepare we watched the version on the Met on Demand app, as it is the same production. Oddly enough, I was in the audience for that performance.

At the matinée today he was able to sit mostly still for the 2.5 hour performance, and was quite attentive. He was pleased to be in Row T of the orchestra, as he has two initials that start with this letter. He patiently met all my opera friends and answered their questions despite his shyness. At the end he declared that it was "amazing" and "magnificent."


Antony and Cleopatra (Again)

_DSC0371* Notes * 
I started going to San Francisco Opera in 1996, and over the years I've gained many opera going friends, with whom I've traveled to see operas all over the place, from Seattle to Berlin. It has been sad to not be able to attend performances for the last few years, so when my opera buddy based in Brooklyn said he would like to go to John Adams' Antony and Cleopatra (Amina Edris as Cleopatra and Gerald Finley as Antony in Act I Scene 5 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) on September 18, I did my best to rouse up some of our friends to go as well. As I did not know standing room would be back or if I'd be able to get press tickets for this date, I purchased four tickets for the last row of the house. I was fortunate enough to be able to get press tickets, and thus asked two more friends to join us. Much merriment was had, though sadly no one else seemed to like this opera as much as I did.

It was agreed that all the voices were beautiful and that the music in between scenes in Act I was strong. From the orchestra level, I felt I could hear tenor Paul Appleby as Caesar more clearly, his voice is nice and light, perfect for Mozart, but also lovely here. His music in Act II Scene 2 made my hair stand on end. Bass-baritone Alfred Walker sounded more powerful from the balcony. I still liked his aria in Act I Scene 2, but it was even more noticeable to me this time how declamatory the vocal lines were throughout the opera. Soprano Amina Edris (Cleopatra) gave me chills though, especially in her death scene at the end of the opera.

I really loved hearing Maestra Eun Sun Kim and the orchestra. I confirmed for myself that it was between Act I Scenes 4 and 5 that sounded particularly Wagnerian, like the end of Das Rheingold, something very Valhalla-esque to the music here. Again, I enjoyed the textures of cimalom and celesta, and am looking forward to seeing the orchestra when I attend this opera again on Friday as part of my subscription.

* Tattling * 
I made a reservation for the North Box Restaurant, but somehow bungled it by only having a table for 2 rather than 6. Thankfully we got there early enough that it seemed to get sorted out quickly, the people that work there are very kind and professional. I noted that most of the group present had been at the French Laundry back in 2010, the very evening our local baseball team won the World Series, and we had done The Wave at the table and three of our party sang part of Nixon in China. We did The Wave at our table, convincing our one compatriot that was not there last time to take a video of us.

Our press tickets were in Row S and there was a "famous opera dog" next to us who was very quiet and well-behaved. I noted a loud cell phone with an 80s arcade sound near the beginning of the opera and a few watch beeps at each hour. I also heard a few people being hushed. My opera companion fell asleep during Act I Scene 2.

My friends were not very happy with me at the end of the opera, as they felt the second act dragged on too long. At 3 hours and 17 minutes, perhaps some cuts would be helpful. Anyway, one of our party threatened to strangle me, and another mentioned they might want to stand outside the opera next time with signs protesting my lack of taste and possible spousal abuse in bringing my partner to such a boring performance. I apologized to them all, giggled heartily, and invited them to do standing room for Eugene Onegin next Sunday.


SF Opera's Don Giovanni

_DSC4033* Notes * 
Don Giovanni, the last installment of the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy directed by Michael Cavanagh, opened yesterday evening at San Francisco Opera. It was a joy to hear Maestro Bertrand de Billy conduct this beautiful music and there was much lovely singing.

Post-apocalyptic future felt much like something out of Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower, though that work is set in the a few years from now rather than the late 2080s for this production. It felt like violence could happen at any moment in the decrepit version of the 18th century manor house that was once so charming for Così fan tutte from the fall.

There were references to the previous two operas, especially in the costuming. One of the funny red gnome hats worn by Dorabella and Fiordiligi show up on a chorus member who is one of the survivors of this dystopian world. The startling physicality of the singers was evident right a way in the death of the Commendatore, who took a disturbingly long time to die. The extensive projections during the overture which included fire and shadows of people were distracting and a bit on the nose.

It is always interesting to see how directors deal with various elements of the plot in a new way. Instead of threatening his guests with a gun in the Act I finale, Don Giovanni puts on sunglasses and has Leperello blind them with the light of his portable projector. This device is used during "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" to show the list of names of Don Giovanni's conquests, and appears throughout the piece.

I really enjoyed "Don Giovanni! A cenar teco m'invitasti," when the Commendatore comes for dinner as a monumental statue (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver). Usually this is my favorite bit of the opera anyway, because of those wild diminished sevenths and stentorian tones from the bass. Here the giant head that appeared was extremely absurd and surreal and I could not stop laughing, which was probably not the intended response, but certainly was one of the most memorable stagings of Don Giovanni I have ever seen. The descent to hell was particularly great, as the statue broke in half and both real fire and projections overtook our rakish anti-hero.

Instead of the usual mishmash of the two versions of the score, this time San Francisco Opera stuck to Vienna (1788) version. So it had "Dalla sua pace" but not "Il mio Tesoro" for Don Ottavio and "Restati qua... Per queste tue manine" in Act II, a duet for vengeful Zerlina and a rather hapless Leporello. The orchestra was neat and clear, the onstage and offstage musicians for the various bandas all played well. There were a few times when the music was a bit off-kilter, like for "Batti, batti o bel Masetto," as Mozart's music is unforgiving and exposes every flaw. However, conductor de Billy was more sedate than some others in recent memory, and it was nice to feel like the orchestra was secure and not in danger of flying off the rails. This is the first outing for our new chorus director John Keene, and it seemed fine, the chorus was cohesive and especially strong as unseen demons for the aforementioned inferno scene.

The cast is solid, lots of pretty singing and fine acting. As the Commendatore bass Soloman Howard might not have had the gravity of an older man, but his volume was good and his onstage death throes were convincing. Former Merolino bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum was slightly wooden as Masetto, but perhaps that works for the role. I do remember him being charming in Walton's The Bear in 2017, but obviously it is very different music. Soprano Christina Gansch sang Zerlina with warmth, particularly lovely in her duet "Là ci darem la mano" and showed a more sadistic side in the duet "Per queste tue manine." I still remember Luca Pisaroni as Masetto back in 2007 because I saw 6 or 7 of the performances, but he is an amiable Leporello and sounded robust. He was excellent at physical humor, and was very funny when he attempted to impersonate his master at the beginning of Act II.

_DSC8346Tenor Amitai Pati cuts a dashing figure as Don Ottavio, though he is a touch underpowered. His "Dalla sua pace" had a longing in it that was lovely. I liked soprano Nicole Car's Donna Elvira, her penetrating, taut sound is just shy of shrill and was perfect contrast to soprano Adela Zaharia's Donna Anna (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver). These three singers blended well together, and I loved their trio of Act I ("Protegga il giusto cielo"). Zaharia definitely was the standout of the evening. Her voice is incandescent, the low notes have richness and the high notes very shiny and secure. Her Act II aria "Non mi dir" was revelatory, one of the most beautiful moments of the whole opera. Baritone Etienne Dupuis was no slouch either as Don Giovanni, he is an excellent actor and has a nice, sweet voice that is bright enough to cut through the orchestra. I was impressed by his ability to channel the lankiness of Pisaroni's Leporello though their frames are rather different. He was also brutal with Donna Elvira (who in fact is played by his real life spouse), especially when he threw a dish of fish at her in Act II. Dupuis did well with "Fin ch'han dal vino calda la testa," light and sparkly and his "Deh, vieni alla finestra" was also very pretty.

Tattling * 
The couple in front of us in Row S Seats 2 and 4 were chatty, but the maskless person next to them in Seat 6 was even louder, he had the sniffles and his breathing was so distinct and in my ear I thought it might be my date that was snarfling so much. The woman in Seat 4 couldn't take it and switched to Row R Seat 2 before Donna Elvira's entrance.

This was good in that her date (whose mask was carefully tucked under his chin) had to lean forward to talk to her, and thus the sound of their voices was further away from me. When I gigglingly suggested to my companion that it was she that had caused all that racket, she was offended and incensed. She rolled up her opera program and hit me as she proclaimed "Batti! Batti!"

None of the three returned to their seats after intermission. I did not notice any electronic noise during the performance but a lot of audience members dropped things.


SF Opera's 2022-2023 Season

WMOH9_JoelPuliattiSeptember 9 2022: Opera Ball: The Centennial Celebration with Nadine Sierra, Michael Fabiano, Pene Pati, Lucas Meachem, and Eun Sun Kim
September 10–October 5 2022: John Adams' Antony and Cleopatra
September 25–October 14 2022: Eugene Onegin
October 15–30 2022: Dialogues of the Carmelites
November 11–December 3 2022: La Traviata
November 15–December 1 2022: Orfeo ed Euridice
June 3–July 1, 2023: Madama Butterfly
June 4–28 2023: Die Frau ohne Schatten
June 13–30 2023: Gabriela Lena Frank's El último sueño de Frida y Diego
June 16 2023: 100th Anniversary Concert

General Director Matthew Shilvock announced San Francisco Opera's Centennial Season today. The season includes two new operas, one of which is a world premiere by John Adams, and many new productions.

Press Release | Official Site


SF Opera Chorus Celebrates Ian Robertson


Ian Robertson_photo Matthew Washburn_4S2A0655* Notes * 

The San Francisco Opera Chorus is sending off its Chorus Director Ian Robertson (pictured with the chorus, photograph by Matthew Washburn) with two sold-out concerts at the Atrium Theater this weekend. Robertson is ending his distinguished 35-season tenure with these performances, which he is conducting.

Saturday evening's performance began with Associate Chorus Master Fabrizio Corona playing a processional on the piano as the chorus members filed in and took their places. The first half of the concert included much from the standard choral repertoire beginning with selections from Charpentier's Te Deum.

It was downright impressive and even somewhat alarming being in such an intimate space with this accomplished chorus. The amount of sound the singers produce has such a visceral effect, and having them front and center is a joy. Robertson introduced pieces as we went along, he's personable and his reflections on the works was most welcome.

I loved hearing Bach's "Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe," the chorale from Cantata BWV 147 sung so harmoniously, a far cry from what the piece sounded like when I played it in my high school orchestra. This was followed by "Endless Pleasure" from Händel's Semele, Mozart's "Placido è il mar" from Idomeneo, and Mozart's "Heil sie euch Geweihten" from Die Zauberflöte. All of this was truly gorgeous, some of my favorites, and the soloists from the chorus are incredible. Lots of nice clean singing.

Next we heard choruses from operas by Donizetti, Puccini, and of course Verdi. The agility of the singers is striking, so fleet and light for Donizetti, meditative for Puccini's Humming Chorus, and pure and resonant for Verdi's "Va, pensiero."

Fabrizio Corona and Ian Robertson_photo Matthew Washburn_4S2A0711The second half of the night showcased more unusual pieces, starting with some funny selections from Offenbach's La belle Hélène. "Marche de l'oie" ("March of the goose") was particularly delightful. Low voices were highlighted in Jennifer Higdon's Act II Chorus for the Dead Soldiers from Cold Mountain, while higher voices were in the foreground for Two Mountain Songs by Gabriela Lena Frank. I'm quite curious to hear Higdon's complete opera someday, this chorus is really lovely and Frank's layered, evocative work is also intriguing. "Envuelto por el Viento" has a section of singers humming, another doing whispery echoes, and the last third actually singing.

There was even a world premiere commissioned by San Francisco Opera in honor of Robertson, entitled Invitation to Love by Oakland-based artist Cava Menzies. The text is a poem from Paul Laurence Dunbar, and the piece showed off how cohesive the ensemble is.

The performance ended (ovation pictured, photograph by Matthew Washburn) with the optimistic "Make our garden grow" from Bernstein's Candide, a very cheerful and pleasant finale indeed.

* Tattling * 
The first rows of the Atrium Theater were blocked off, presumably as part of Covid safety protocols. The venue only holds 320 people at most, so this definitely made tickets hard to come by.

There was some quiet commentary behind me, but mostly reactions to the singing, so it didn't bother me much. A person in this same row reacted very badly (and somewhat more loudly) however to the woman next to him trying to take a picture of Ian Robertson during the performance, and he was able to switch seats after intermission.


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.