Seattle Opera

Il Barbiere at Seattle Opera

Barbiere-seattle-reception * Notes *
Il Barbiere di Siviglia returned to Seattle Opera this weekend. The set, from the Canadian Opera Company and designed by John Stoddart, is traditional, and turns for the various scenes. Particularly amusing were the projections used for the storm scene, we saw all manner of objects fly by. Peter Kazaras' stage direction was pleasingly campy, involving many dance moves. This all came together for a satisfying show and much laughter was heard.

Maestro Dean Williamson kept the orchestra going at a good clip, the brass had some ragged moments but the playing was lively. The chorus was not exactly together in the first scene, perhaps the choreography threw things off slightly.

Sunday's alternate cast was strong. David Adam Moore was an entertaining and spry Figaro. His voice is pleasant, but there were times when not all the words he sang could be discerned. He was also a bit slow during "Numero quindici a mano manca." Nicholas Phan made a fine Seattle Opera debut as Almaviva. His voice has a lot of volume and sweetness, though there was some strain at times. Kate Lindsey was a slightly tomboyish and very pert Rosina. She sounded rich and hale, yet shimmered when necessary.

As for the smaller roles, Sally Wolf sang Berta's aria convincingly. Burak Bilgili was a hilarious Don Basilio and Patrick Carfizzi likewise was comic. Carfizzi had wonderfully clear enunciation for "A un dottor della mia sorte."

* Tattling *
The audience clapped for the set twice, once for when they turned it about in Act I, and once for the interior at the beginning of Act II. The person in front of me in U 1 of Section 1 of the Orchestra Level twitched her head to pretty much every note of the music. Had I not been so engaged with this performance, I might have been more bothered by this. The woman in either V or W Seat 2 Section 2 sang along to the first notes of "Buona Sera, Mio Signore."


Seattle Opera's 2011-2012 Season

July 30- August 20 2011: Porgy and Bess
October 15-29 2011: Carmen
January 14-28 2012: Attila
February 25- March 10 2012: Orpheus and Eurydice

May 5-19 2012: Madama Butterfly

There are five operas scheduled for next season at Seattle Opera and again we have 3 conductors returning and 2 debuts. John DeMain conducts Gershwin, Carlo Montanaro conducts Verdi, and Gary Thor Wedow conducts Gluck. Pier Giorgio Morandi and Julian Kovatchev have their first performances in Seattle, conducting Carmen and Butterfly respectively. As for singers, Joseph Calleja is Don José, William Burden Orpheus, John Relyea Attila, and Patricia Racette is Butterfly. I am especially curious about José Maria Condemi's production of the Gluck opera.

2011-2012 Official Site | Subscription Information


Amelia at Seattle Opera

Kate Lindsey (Amelia) and William Burden (Dodge). © Rozarii Lynch photo * Notes *
The world premiere of Daron Aric Hagen's Amelia had a promising opening at Seattle Opera last night. The production, directed by Stephen Wadsworth and designed by Thomas Lynch, is both smart and tasteful. Some of the scene changes were rather noisy, and this was particularly unfortunate as it interrupted the music.

Wadsworth's story came together in the libretto, written by poet Gardner McFall. The text did not display the awkwardness that marks many contemporary operas. The words fit the music, and the deft overlapping of narratives condensed the plot without being confusing or tedious. Layering of the Icarus myth and the life of Amelia Earhart with the main story line worked surprisingly well. There were a few moments that were ungainly, and it might have been better to be shown rather than to be told, given that this was an opera.

The orchestra, conducted by Gerard Schwarz, sounded lively. The brass sounded clear in Act I, but perhaps had more trouble with the second half. The cello sounded brilliant, especially at the beginning of Act I Scene 2. Hagen's orchestration could be overgrown, and at times it was somewhat difficult to hear certain arias. However, the use of silence was effective and compelling. There was quite a lot of singing as an ensemble, and the voices were handled astutely. The a cappella section at the end was striking.

The singing was all quite lovely. Museop Kim, David Won, and Karen Vuong were convincing in their duel roles as North Vietnamese villagers and American hospital staff. The voices of Nicholas Coppolo (Icarus/Young Boy) and Jordan Bisch (Daedalus/Young Boy's Father) were evocative and blended nicely together. As the young Amelia, Ashley Emerson was eerily child-like. Her voice was very pretty, flexible, and youthful.

Jane Eaglen fit the role of Amelia's Aunt Helen perfectly, and produced a full sound without overwhelming the others. Jennifer Zetlan cut a cunning figure as the Flier, the way she sat on the hospital bed with utter aplomb as Amelia is whisked off was strangely delightful. Zetlan's voice was piercing, a good foil for Eaglen. Nathan Gunn was fine as Paul, the husband of Amelia, as was Luretta Bybee as Amanda, her mother. William Burden (Dodge) sounded warm and sweet, and could be heart-rending. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey impressed in the title role with her clear, bright voice.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking during the music. A cellular phone rang during Act II as William Burden sang.

This was the first time in many years that I was not in standing room for Seattle Opera, and my press contact for Amelia made sure I was sent to the box office for a seat upgrade. I was right in front of the composer himself on the orchestra level.


Seattle Opera's 2010-2011 Season

July 31- August 21 2010: Tristan und Isolde
October 16-30 2010: Lucia di Lammermoor
January 15-21 2011: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
February 26- March 12 2011: Don Quichotte

May 7-21 2011: Die Zauberflöte

There are five operas scheduled for next season at Seattle Opera, none of which are particularly adventurous. Many familiar conductors return: Asher Fisch conducts Wagner, Dean Williamson conducts Rossini, and Gary Thor Wedow conducts Mozart. Bruno Cinquegrani and Carlo Montanaro have debuts on the Seattle podium, in Lucia and Quichotte respectively. As for singers, Greer Grimsley is Kurwenal, William Burden Edgardo, John Relyea Quichotte, and Christine Brandes Queen of the Night.

2010-2011 Official Site | Subscription Information


Seattle Opera 2009-10 Young Artists

The 2009-2010 participants of the Young Artists Program at Seattle Opera are sopranos Megan Hart, Vira Slywotzky, Marcy Stonikas; mezzo-sopranos Jenni Blank and Maya Layhani; tenors Alex Mansoori and Bray Wilkins; baritones Michael Krzankowski and Eric Neuville; and bass Erik Anstine. Layhani and Mansoori were both recently in San Francisco Opera's Merola Program.

Young Artists Program | Official Site


Tristan und Isolde at Seattle Opera

Seattle Opera is presenting Tristan und Isolde next summer from July 31 through August 21, 2010. Asher Fisch will conduct, Peter Kazaras will stage direct, Robert Israel will design both sets and costumes, and Duane Schuler will be on lighting. Swedish soprano Annalena Persson will make her United States debut as Isolde, with tenor Clifton Forbis singing Tristan.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site


Bluebeard and Erwartung at Seattle Opera

Bluebeard * Notes *
A double-bill of Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung opened at Seattle Opera this evening. The two works were originally directed by Robert Lepage for the Canadian Opera Company, but were directed by François Racine in Seattle. The Bartók was stunning, though the orchestra was not always perfect under Evan Rogister, the music is compelling and the production does not get in the way. Michael Levine's set and costumes were understated, the clean lines were pleasing but offered surprises. Only the interaction at the end between the three other wives and Judith seemed a bit too obvious. The media effects, designed by Laurie-Shawn Borzovoy, were striking without being overwhelming.

As for singing, Malgorzata Walewska (Judith) had incredible moments, her voice has warmth, but it is also somewhat wobbly. There were points in which she was simply shrieking. John Relyea seemed a bit blunt at first as Bluebeard, though his voice is lovely. He was impressively mournful after the opening of the sixth door, as he sings about tears.

Erwartung involved more acrobatics. The piece seemed interminable, though it was a mere 30 minutes long, even with all of the visual effects and overt illustrations of narrative. Susan Marie Pierson sang well, she had good control and was never shrill.

* Tattling *
The hall was not full, and though there was a little talking during the music, it was very minimal. Afterward, a person asked us if these were the worst operas we had seen, and we responded in the negative. Apparently he had not enjoyed himself at all, and has attended at least a hundred opera performances.


Seattle Opera's 2009-2010 Season

October 17-31 2009: La Traviata
January 16-30 2010: Il Trovatore
February 27- March 13 2010: Falstaff
May 8-22 2010: Amelia

Only four operas next season for Seattle Opera, as the Ring Cycle also to be presented this summer. The La Traviata is from San Francisco Opera, and will star Nuccia Focile and Eglise Gutiérrez sharing the role of Violetta. Gordon Hawkins will be Count di Luna in Il Trovatore. Stephanie Blythe sings Dame Quickly in Falstaff. The world premiere of Daron Aric Hagen's Amelia will include William Burden, Nathan Gunn, and Jane Eaglen.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site


Aida at Seattle Opera

 Aida-seattle * Notes *
Seattle Opera's Aida closed yesterday at McCaw Hall. The production, directed by Robin Guarino, was suitably grand. Michael Yeargan's set was attractive, the background of the pyramids was especially lovely. The scene changes were, however, not seamless. The curtain was brought down for a few minutes at a time, and the audience lost interest as we waited, lowering the intensity of the performance. Even so, the costumes from Peter J. Hall were striking, in keeping with the style of the set, and displayed a command of palette. For instance, Aida's first costume in teal and rose contrasted well with Amneris' costume of coral and turquoise, yet the effect struck a perfect balance, and did not look tired or ugly in any way. Robert Wierzel's lighting enhanced the production, and made the set seem to glow. The Donald Byrd's choreography was a bit transparent at times. Having servants walk around as if they were Ancient Egyptian paintings simply made me think of The Bangles. Nonetheless, some of the dancing was quite good, especially the solo in Act I Scene 2.

The orchestra was in fine form under debuting conductor Riccardo Frizza. They did have some problems being exactly with the chorus in Act I. The horns and trumpets were very close to being in tune during the Triumphal March, and played better than usual. Vocally, the performance was good but not great. Mezzo-soprano Priti Gandhi sounded tentative as the High Priestess, though her voice does have a pleasing lucidity. Karl Marx Reyes sang the small role of the messenger nicely. Luiz-Ottavio Faria (Ramfis) was  a bit thin, and occasionally difficult to hear over the orchestra. He did sing well in the Act I finale. As Amonasro, Charles Taylor was not commanding, and one wonders why he is in the A cast rather than Richard Paul Fink. Taylor's voice is pretty, but was, at times rather gravelly for a baritone, and does not compare favorably to Fink's rich, full tone. I am unsure why former Merolino Joseph Rawley (King of Egypt) made almost no impression on me at all, just as before as Curio in Giulio Cesare a few seasons ago. Though not imposing, he sang well, though not exceptionally. Antonello Palombi was a bit uneven as Radames, he could be quite loud, but if he happened to be upstage he could sound muffled. His voice paired nicely with Aida's, having a reedy and vulnerable quality.

Lisa Daltirus started off shrill and screeching in the title role, and I was worried I would dislike her as much as Norah Amsellem (the tone-deaf soprano in Seattle Opera's Il Puritani earlier this year) or Andrea Gruber (who was to share this role with Daltirus, but mysteriously was replaced). Daltirus was always in tune, but her breathing was very audible and she showed some strain in her voice, especially at the top. Her lower range is pretty and she sang Act I's "Ritorna vincitor!" beautifully. The star of the evening, however, was Stephanie Blythe (Amneris). Blythe has good control and a warm but piercing quality that is impressive. She does have moments where her voice is less than creamy, a certain coarseness, but she did overshadow all the other singers.

* Tattling *
The audience was better than the typical Seattle Opera audience. There was no late seating, and the house looked completely full. Even standing room looked sold out. Someone was speaking during the first overture, but was quickly hushed, and after that only whispering was noted. There were no cellular phone rings, but there was a watch alarm near me at each hour, and at 10pm, I heard no less than 4 different watches sounding at different times.


Seattle Opera's 2nd International Wagner Competition

Soprano Elza van den Heever and tenor Michael Weinius won Seattle Opera's second International Wagner Competition, held on August 16, 2008. Elza is an alumna of the Merola Program and a former Adler Fellow. The judges included Hans-Joachim Frey, Ben Heppner, Peter Kazaras, Pamela Rosenberg, Stephen Wadsworth, and Eva Wagner-Pasquier.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site


Seattle Opera's Aida and Elektra Pre-Sale

Aidapresale_3Perhaps if one still has some good-will toward Seattle Opera because of their latest offering, and would like to purchase tickets to Aida and Elektra, their online pre-sale starts today at 9am. The title role of Aida is being shared by Lisa Daltirus and Ana Lucrecia García (instead of Andrea Gruber), though I imagine the main draw is still Stephanie Blythe as Amneris. The production, from San Diego Opera, opens August 2nd and runs until the 23rd. Elektra brings the debuts of Janice Baird and Jayne Casselman. Baird is to sing Brünnhilde in Seattle's 2009 Ring, and just made her debut at the Met as Isolde. Elektra runs from October 18th to November 1st. I'm sure I will not attend, as the San Francisco Opera season will be in full swing. I am torn about the Aida though, it all depends on how busy August ends up being.


Alternate Cast of I Puritani at Seattle Opera

Eglisegutierrez_3  * Notes *
The alternate cast of
Seattle Opera's I Puritani was almost infuriating. It was as if the intensity had been sapped out of the whole cast, and then, for some sadistic reason, poured into the soprano. It is a pity that newcomer Eglise Gutierrez was not in the A cast as Elvira, if she had been, the Brownlee/Kwiecien/Relyea performances would have been unbelievable. Her voice is more on the metallic side than Amsellem's, colder, and at first, not as penetrating. The lovely pianissimo of her high notes in Act I gave her somewhere to build from as far as the drama was concerned. Gutierrez also was fiercer in the mad scenes, though tiny, she pushed the rather tall Morgan Smith (Riccardo) with conviction, and ferociously tore at her veil.

The horns were more in tune during the overture this time, and the horn solo of Act II was better. The orchestra drowned out Denis Sedov during his last lines, but other than that sounded good. Sedov was better than I remembered, he was only slightly gravelly and was less awkward than John Relyea. His voice is not as velvety as Relyea's, and certainly quieter. Morgan Smith acted well as Riccardo, he was committed to the movement in the Act I sword fight, though one did feel slightly nervous for little Bradley Williams (Arturo). Smith's legato is not as gorgeous as Kwiecien's, but his voice is pretty. Williams was less vital than Brownlee, he was reedy and a little quiet, though always audible. He sang "Son salvo...La mia canzon d'amore...Ad altro lato" well in Act III.

* Tattling *
I had forgotten that concessions at the Seattle Opera card those who look under a certain age. I had purposefully dressed childishly and worn pigtails, because I find it quite frightening when strangers wish me a "Happy Mother's Day." Thus, I was carded for my glass of merlot, and the young lady at the counter inadvertently gasped when she saw my birth-date. It was very flattering.

The matinée was considerably less full than the evening before, perhaps because of the casting difference. There were many more watch alarms marking the hour, during Arturo's first aria in Act III, I heard no less than four watches, and as Elvira sang "A una fonte afflitto e solo,"  two more sounded.  I was in the same spot behind Section 2, at CC 2, but all alone. I would have stayed there, but for one thing, the young woman in BB Seat 5 was giving a running commentary during the arias.

An elderly woman with a walker was unable to make it down to her seat in the orchestra level. She arrived after 2pm, ostensibly the start time of the opera, and her caretaker and an usher were not able to get her to her seat. Instead, she sat on her walker (it was the sort that folds into a chair) behind Section 1, and spoke loudly in a Slavic language to her companion during the overture. After this she unwrapped candies and sucked on them in a most disgusting and loud manner. I did feel bad for the people in front of her, as no one was supposed to be in that area. I also felt bad for her, the usher simply seemed to abandon her until Act I Scene 1 was over. However, she did not want to move, so I took a seat in Row AA to get away from the noise. I could still hear her from several meters away, but it was less vile from a distance. She disappeared after Act II, perhaps finding her seat or maybe leaving altogether.


Seattle Opera's I Puritani

Ipuritanicast1_4  * Notes *
Bellini's last opera, I Puritani, had its Seattle Opera premiere at the beginning of the month, and Linda Brovsky's production is magnificent. The sets, the work of Robert A. Dahlstrom, look inspired by the Getty Center, as there are many steel staircases and landings. This kept the action in the vertical plane rather than the horizontal, so though the set was static, it was not dull. This also kept the staging simple and made the singers visible from different parts of the house. Peter Hall's sumptuous costumes were from the Met, though he modified them to work with the staging. The lighting designer, Thomas C. Hase, was tasteful in his approach, never harsh or overwhelming.

The horns were flat at first in the overture, and one note in the horn solo of Act II was sour, but they all managed to be in tune by the end. Otherwise the playing was good, the orchestra was usually with the singers and was not too loud. Also out of tune was Norah Amsellem (Elvira), from the very beginning I cringed at her voice during the off stage quartet (La luna, il sol, le stelle) in Act I. The arpeggios in first duet were poor, and the last note was quite unpleasant. Amsellem's voice is lucid and beautiful when she isn't flat, even resplendent, but she was often a half or quarter tone off. This was especially evident in Act III, when she sang "A una fonte afflitto e solo" and the tenor repeats these lines in "La mia canzon d'amore." She was most in tune for Act II, perhaps madness, at least at first, becomes her. Amsellem did look beautiful as Elvira and her acting was not bad.

On the other hand, Mariusz Kwiecien was wonderful in "Ah!, per sempre," his legato was gorgeous, and his singing as Riccardo was clearly distinct from his Don Giovanni of last season. In fact, I barely recognized him, his manner was so different and someone has finally figured out what to do with his hair. Kwiecien did rush during "Bel sogno beato" and was not with the orchestra, but sang beautifully in the rest of the opera. His singing in Act II with John Relyea was the highlight of the evening. Relyea was instantly recognizable from his gait and posture. His characterization of Giorgio wasn't terribly dissimilar from his Banquo or Garibaldo, as far as coloring, but he did sing well. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee did not have a convincing wig, but he was not disappointing as Arturo. His voice is bright and flexible, with a bit of strain at the top, but still lovely.

* Tattling *
The orchestra level was nearly all full, but before the performance began an usher kindly offered the standees seats as he explained that the opera was very long. Seattle Opera put two intermissions into this opera, which made for one 75 minute block, followed by 45 minutes and 35 minutes blocks that could have easily been combined.

There were no mobile phone rings, but there was one watch alarm with many beeps in succession during the Act II overture. Someone was making vocalizations on the orchestra level, I could not tell if they were singing along or just snoring. Plenty of talking, whispering, and coughing was observed, and a woman in Section 2 of the orchestra level, in Row BB Seat 6 both spoke and coughed a fair amount. I tried to look at her disdainfully when she stared at me during the Act III overture. I'm not sure why she was staring, given that she had to turn her head around to do this, and the light reflecting off her glasses made it very obvious that she was doing so.