Simon Boccanegra

Simon Boccanegra at LA Opera


* Notes *
The third performance of Simon Boccanegra (Act I Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Robert Millard) at Los Angeles Opera on Sunday was quite good. The production originates from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and is directed here by Elijah Moshinsky. Michael Yeargan's set is sleek, and Duane Schuler's lighting did help frame the many scenes. The late Peter J. Hall's costumes are lavish and are a fine counterpoint for the relative simplicity of set.

The tempi taken by Maestro James Conlon were brisk, and occasionally the orchestra seemed somewhat rushed. The brass was fairly clean, there were no obvious sour notes. The chorus was not always right on top of the beat, but sang with passion.

The singing was solid. Stefano Secco (Gabriele) was uncharacteristically fervent, perhaps being broadcast live and sharing the stage with Plácido Domingo (Simon Boccanegra) brought out the best in the former. Domingo sounded rather like a tenor in the title role, his voice is, of course, just so resonant and beautiful. Some of his lower notes were not particularly rich. Ana María Martínez made for an ethereal yet girlish Amelia. Paolo Gavanelli made for a convincing Paolo, his voice is sumptuous. Vitalij Kowaljow (Fiesco) also has a weighty sound, and seems bottomless.

* Tattling * 
Watch alarms were heard at 3pm and 5 pm. A mobile phone rang in the middle of Act II from the Loge. The audience talked during the scene changes. A woman in Row E Seat 53 was especially loud, commenting that Domingo sounded "the same" as he always does as he was singing, and making other accurate but unhelpful comments to her husband in 54 and friend in 55.

During a pause, this friend mentioned that "in San Francisco we would have had five intermissions already" and that concessions must generate much income for that opera. An odd statement, given that this production has been performed in San Francisco twice (in 2001 and 2008), both times in two acts with one intermission. One will also note that Patina provides food and beverage for LA Opera and SF Opera.

Cupcake Boccanegra


As threatened, I've finally gotten around to combining opera and cupcakes. This is a depiction of Act II Scene 2 of the Simon Boccanegra that opened the San Francisco Opera season. I'll have you know that it took longer to write out those few bars of music than to paint the rest of the scene here.

Details of Painting | Performance Review of Simon Boccanegra

Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo!

Hvorostovsky  * Notes *
The season opener, Simon Boccanegra, closed at San Francisco Opera last night. The first half still remained somewhat unfocused, but the second half did come together nicely. The chorus and the orchestra were synchronized. Vitalij Kowaljow (Jacopo Fiesco) and Patrick Carfizzi (Paolo Albiani) were consistently strong. Marcus Haddock was less stiff as Gabriele, and he sang "Sento avvampar nell'anima" beautifully. Barbara Frittoli did better with "Come in quest'ora bruna" but her wide vibrato compromised her pitch a few times. Her voice is quite pretty and in the end I preferred her to Ana María Martínez. Dmitri Hvorostovsky's breaths were not as noisy this time around, I only really noticed his loud breathing during "Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo!"

The staging seemed gutted to me, perhaps just knowing that there had been elements that were taken out and not replaced was a factor in this. However, much of the movement on stage was not well motivated, some of the entrances and exits simply seemed random. I was particularly bothered by near end of the prologue, some supers walk across the stage perfectly with the music but for no real dramatic effect. Fiesco also leaves the scene at one point for no particular reason.

* Tattling * 
Often I forget we live in such permissive and self-indulgent times, my friends! I really need to remember not to go to the closing performances, although more than 99% of the audience is able to behave properly, there is that pesky less than 1% that can ruin an evening. I was very happy to not be in the boxes, as a middle-aged woman in Box B kept standing up right in the middle of the box. One of the problems with a box is if one is not in the first row, it can be difficult to see the whole stage. If one were to stand in one's box, perhaps it would be more socially acceptable to stand at the back of the box. Maybe it would be nice if one were to remain standing the entire time, rather than getting up and down again and again. I would imagine it would be distracting to have someone hovering over you, but the person in question seemed to have no qualms about this.

Despite my love of tattling, there are times that even I become exhausted enforcing other people's behavior. There was much whispering during the opera, and the Italian couple next to me in standing room were even talking during much of the singing. I did not hush them, though I should have, and simply tried to ignore their speech. Finally during Act II I turned to the man who was speaking and merely raised my left eyebrow at him. The pair were silent for the rest of the performance.

Ana María Martínez in Simon Boccanegra

Boccanegra-acti * Notes *
The second performance of Simon Boccanegra featured a different soprano as Amelia, one Ana María Martínez. She last appeared at San Francisco Opera when she shared the role of Micaëla in the 2006 performances of Carmen. Martínez gave a more even performance than Barbara Frittoli, the former's voice is bird-like and metallic, she reminded me of the mechanical nightingale from Andersen's fairy tale. Though more accurate, perhaps Martínez's voice lacks the beauty of Frittoli's.

* Tattling * 
The audience was well-behaved, though there were scattered watch alarms as usual. However, some aspect of the set was rattling quite a lot just before the recognition scene, it almost sounded like percussion and this was rather strange. Also, electric drills were heard during the set change for Act I Scene 2, so perhaps this is one of the reasons why the curtain needed to come down between scenes.

Simon Boccanegra Opening at San Francisco Opera

Simon-boccanegra * Notes *
Though lovely, San Francisco Opera's opening night performance of Simon Boccanegra did not quite catch on fire, despite the heat and an apparent earthquake. The production, directed by David Edwards, is pleasantly simple and Michael Yeargan's serviceable set is both attractive and quiet. Peter J. Hall's period costumes are gorgeous, but best of all is the lighting design from Christopher Maravich. Light is very much a unifying aspect of the production, pulling together the set, the music, and the text.

The orchestra sounded lucid under the direction of Donald Runnicles, and for the most part they were synchronized with the singers. There was a moment when the chorus was not quite on beat in the prologue, but the finale of Act I "Sia maledetto!" was perfect. The brass and woodwind solos were all strong and in tune.

For the most part the singing was very good. Patrick Carfizzi (Paolo) was a fine villian, his acting was convincing and his voice is appealing, but still conveys a certain unctuousness necessary for this role. Vitalij Kowaljow was likewise solid as Fiesco, his voice unflinching but also beautiful. Marcus Haddock (Gabriele) has a strong voice though a bit stiff. He did sing "Sento avvampar nell'anima" well. Barbara Frittoli's San Francisco Opera debut was shaky during the cavatina "Come in quest'ora bruna." Her voice has a nice timbre, a pretty warmth, but her vibrato can be overwhelming. She did sound splendidly lyrical during the recognition duet between Amelia and Boccanegra. Dmitri Hvorostovsky was impressive in the title role, displaying the range of his acting ability and singing well throughout. His breaths were somewhat loud, but this is, of course, a minor quibble.

* Tattling * 
The audience whispered too much during the scene changes, but not a phone nor watch alarm was heard. A woman in Row Z Seat 4 of the orchestra was fiddling with her mobile phone during Boccanegra's Act III "M'ardon le tempia." The light from the device was distracting, and she was asked to put it away.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was in attendance, and I walked right by her during intermission on the box level. As for other brushes with fame, I met opera lecturer Evan Baker, who was signing autographs after his pre-opera talk. I also finally had the pleasure of meeting Lisa Hirsch of Iron Tongue of Midnight.

Simon Boccanegra Final Dress Rehearsal

* Notes *
The final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Simon Boccanegra was impressive. Elijah Moshinsky's Covent Garden production is the one that premiered at San Francisco in 2001 during the Verdi Festival. The sillier parts of the production were removed, Verdi does not appear, and no one is wrapped in blue fabric. The transitions between scenes are smooth and quiet. The set, from Michael Yeargan, does look a bit worse for wear, some of the walls are warped in places.

The orchestra sounded fairly clear, particularly the trumpet and bassoon. There were times when the orchestra was overly loud or not with the singers, but by Friday they should have it together. All of the singing is very fine.

* Tattling *
There was a strange altercation between two women in the Grand Tier. I was looking for a place and was told by one woman that the empty seats in the second row were all saved. The woman behind her told me that I should sit there anyway, and they argued back and forth. In any case, I sat where I was not directly in front of anyone, and this way I did not have to remove my rather fancy topper. After everyone was seated, I noted that I was acquainted with a few of the people whose seats were being saved.

SF Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 5-27 2008: Simon Boccanegra
September 6 2008: Angela Gheorghiu in Concert
September 13- October 3 2008: The Bonesetter's Daughter
September 23- October 12 2008: Die Tote Stadt
October 15-31 2008: Idomeneo
October 15-November 15 2008: Boris Godunov
October 29- November 26 2008: L'Elisir d'Amore
November 16- December 7 2008: La Bohème
December 11-14 2008: Three Decembers
January 10, 2009: Salvatore Licitra in Concert
May 29 2009: Verdi's Requiem
June 2-26 2009: Tosca
June 9-27 2009: Porgy and Bess
June 13- July 5 2009: La Traviata

San Francisco Opera's "Grand and Glorious" 86th season was revealed today, there are 78 performances of 11 operas, running from September 5, 2008 to July 5, 2009. Many big names this year, as promised. Angela Gheorghiu returns in La Bohème, Anna Netrebko in La Traviata, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Simon Boccanegra for the first time since he sang Germont in 2004. Samuel Ramey will sing in the title role of Boris Godunov and Frederica von Stade stars in the West Coast premiere of Three Decembers.

Another world premiere this year, no Baroque opera, three operas in English, none in French, but finally an opera in Russian. Inva Mula, the voice of the blue space alien singing Lucia di Lammermoor in The Fifth Element, will have her SF Opera debut as Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore. She sings opposite of Ramón Vargas.

I am most looking forward to Kurt Streit and Alice Coote in Idomeneo. I am glad to see that Joseph Calleja is having his San Francisco Opera debut as Rodolfo in La Bohème.

Summer of 2009 will be the first time in three years that I won't feel compelled to spend every spare moment at the War Memorial Opera House. I have seen the Mansouri/Bosquet Tosca several times, though I do find this opera to be one of my favorites by Puccini. Porgy and Bess is intriguing, but I doubt I'll become obsessed. Though La Traviata will be great, and I'm glad it is a new production (from Los Angeles Opera), I am not holding my breath either. Puccini, Gershwin, and Verdi will get people into the opera house, but I'd rather hear Mozart, Gluck, or Händel.

However, perhaps I should go to Bayreuth in 2009, since I will have the time. It is interesting that there will be such a large gap between the San Francisco Opera this production of Das Rheingold and whole Ring Cycle, which is slated for 2011. I had complained about too many Rings, given that LA and Seattle both have them on the schedule for next year. It was reported that Donald Runnicles would end his tenure as music director here with the Ring, just has he began his career here.

Press Release [PDF] | Season Brochure [PDF] | 2008-2009 Official Site | Examiner Article

Speculation on SF Opera's 2008-2009 Season

I've noticed a fair amount of people coming to this blog in search of San Francisco Opera's next season, which will be announced this week. Certainly we have some insight into the programming, Stewart Wallace's The Bonesetter's Daughter will have its world premiere, Qian Yi will be in the lead role with her San Francisco Opera debut. We also know that music director designate Nicola Luisotti is returning to San Francisco Opera this Fall to conduct La Bohème. David Gockley himself said that Angela Gheorghiu is to sing here next in Bohème, perhaps the Met simulcast in April, which has both Luisotti and Gheorghiu, will be a good preview. I wouldn't be surprised if Gheorghiu also gave a concert at some point, when she is over on this coast, as she has in Los Angeles. Inva Mula's official site says she is engaged to sing Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore. The Ring cycle will conclude the 2008-2009 season, conducted by Donald Runnicles. Janos Gereben also reported last month in SFCV that Dmitri Hvorostovsky will sing Simon Boccanegra on opening night and Korngold's Die Tote Stadt has its SF Opera premiere some time between August 26 and October 12, 2008. Torsten Kerl sings Paul and Emily Magee sings Marietta.

Simon Boccanegra at the Met

Simon Boccanegra* Notes *
Giancarlo del Monaco's current production of Simon Boccanegra at the Met is traditional, the set and costumes, by Michael Scott, are lavish and exceedingly beautiful. The one weakness was the scene changes, some took a long time and people would start chattering and momentum was lost. Even still, Fabio Luisi had a fine handle on the music, the tempi were good. Angela Gheorghiu cut a fine figure as Amelia, her voice is precise, her tones silvery. Tenor Marcello Giordani strained somewhat as Gabriele, but was not bad. Thomas Hampson was convincing in the title role, his voice is warm and pleasing, but most impressive was bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Fiesco. The acting was all splendid, everyone fit their parts and nothing was out of place.

* Tattling *
There was some chatter but it subsided by the second half, except during the aforementioned scene changes. There were some cellular phone rings and watch alarms that went off as well.

Simon Boccanegra

Simon Boccanegra at San Francisco Opera was excellent. Samuel Ramey (Jacopo Fiesco) and Paolo Gavanelli (Simon Boccanegra) were especially amazing. We got to see Carol Vaness again, who was in Don Giovanni as Donna Elvira and Tosca (as Tosca). She was the sole soprano in the production, and she was, predictably, awful. However, the opera is more focused on the lower voices, the main parts are baritone and bass. All and all it was a wonderful opera, the kind that gives you shivers.