Thomas Hampson

SF Opera's Un Ballo in Maschera (Hampson)

Sf-opera-ballo-actiii-scene1-2014* Notes * 
A fourth performance of San Francisco Opera's A Masked Ball this season was held yesterday. The orchestra and singers were more synchronized, but there were times when the former was slightly ahead of the latter. At times this was excitingly chaotic. There were lovely soli from the cello, English horn, and clarinet. The harp was particularly beautiful throughout Act III as well.

The principal singers were consistent. Heidi Stober sang Oscar with an effortless grace. Dolora Zajick has a rich sound as Madame Arvidson. Ramón Vargas sounded sweet as Gustavus III. His high notes were somewhat tepid in the duet with Julianna Di Giacomo (Amelia) in Act II Scene 1. Di Giacomo was triumphant again in her role and garnered much applause and cheering.

Thomas Hampson (pictured above with Julianna Di Giacomo in Act III Scene 1, photograph by Cory Weaver) makes for a grave, measured Anckarström. His "Alla vita che t'arride" was more reserved than Brian Mulligan's and his Act III "Eri tu che macchiavi quell'anima" was more threatening.

* Tattling * 
Standing room was again not crowded, perhaps because San Francisco Opera hardly ever has Monday night performances. A mobile phone rang in Act I at the back of the north side of the balcony, and a woman chose to take the call but at least she hurried out of the hall to do so.

Heart of a Soldier World Premiere

Heart-of-a-soldier-act-ii * Notes * 
The world premiere of Heart of a Soldier (Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) given by San Francisco Opera last night. The opera is about the life of Rick Rescorla, the director of security of Morgan Stanley who lost his life as the in the September 11th attacks after evacuating 2,700 people from the World Trade Center. The first half of this ambitious work covers 28 years of Rescorla's story, with five different scene changes spanning four continents. The act is only an hour long, so it is great deal of narrative jammed into a tiny space. Basically, this means a lot of recitative and the need for quick scene changes. Librettist Donna Di Novelli's words seem to take precedence over composer Christopher Theofanidis' music. The second half deals with Rescorla's last three years in New Jersey and New York. Here the ensembles, duets, and arias are less burdened by having to tell the story. The ending was particularly strong.

Director Francesca Zambello's style suits this opera, as the characters are of course very human, being based on real events of recent memory. The set, designed by Peter J. Davison, has some movement, but is transformed by Mark McCullough's lighting and S. Katy Tucker's projections. The result was mostly a success, though sometimes the layering seemed overwrought. Also, having the towers so far upstage was a challenge for some of the singers. The choreography seemed natural, everyone moved nicely and with ease.

Maestro Patrick Summers had the orchestra sounding clear and flowing. The chorus sounded together and robust. The rest of the cast boasted many fine singers. Michael Sumuel (Ted, Tom) sang with warmth and nuance. Nadine Sierra was plaintive as Juliet. Melody Moore was convincing as Susan Rescorla, her voice clear-toned and arresting. William Burden too was persuasive as Rescorla's best friend, his duets with Thomas Hampson (Rick Rescorla) were quite beautiful. Hampson sang enthusiastically, and his charismatic presence is commanding.

* Tattling * 
The evening began with "The Star-Spangled Banner," and a fluttering American flag was projected on the scrim. The audience was impressively quiet, there was no late seating on the orchestra level, and almost no whispering.

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen at SFS


* Notes * 
On Friday Michael Tilson-Thomas lead San Francisco Symphony in a program about the origins of the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony. MTT talked quite a bit and gave musical examples, as he was being filmed for the public television show Keeping Score. He even had Thomas Hampson come out to sing bits from three of the Rückert Lieder. The concert proper began with the Adagietto itself, followed by Donizetti's Funeral March from Dom Sébastien. Hampson returned to the stage to sing the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, which he sang with warmth and sensitivity. The songs themselves were a bit silly, particularly the melodramatic "Ich hab' ein glühend Messer."

After the intermission, Mahler's Symphony No. 1 was played yet again. The playing for the first three movements were not as loud as last week's opening. This was particularly nice for the third movement, the folk-tune themes sounded lovely. The musicians seemed more focused, perhaps because of the dozen cameras in the hall, and the soli sounded beautifully clear. The lower strings remained muffled by the violins because the latter were all downstage. There was not enough back and forth between first and second violins to justify the arrangement. The evening ended with the bluster of the last movement, which certainly was Stürmisch bewegt.

* Tattling * 
The audience was exceedingly well-behaved, there were barely any whispers and no electronic noise. Apparently filming a performance inspires silence.

San Francisco Symphony's 2009-2010 Season

September 9 2009: Gala with Lang Lang (Liszt, Ravel, Rodgers, Prokofiev)
September 10-12 2009: Liszt, Ravel, Rodgers, Prokofiev
September 16-20 2009: Susan Graham sings Rückert-Lieder, Mahler's 1st
September 23-26 2009: Thomas Hampson sings Mahler
September 30- October 3 2009: Scelsi's Hymnos, Mahler's 5th
October 7-10 2009: Brett Dean, Haydn's 94th, Brahms
October 11 2009: Murray Perahia, piano
October 14-18 2009: Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2, Elgar, Tchaikovsky's 6th
October 22-24 2009: John Adams' Slonimsky's Earbox, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák
October 28-31 2009: Beethoven's 8th
October 31 2009: Nosferatu (1922 film)
November 6-8 2009: Rachmaninoff's The Bells, Rachmaninoff's 2nd
November 12-14 2009: Detlev Glanert, Schumann, Sibelius' 5th
November 18-20 2009: Bach's Brandenburg Concertos 3-5  
November 20-21 2009: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
December 3-5 2009: Holiday Concert
December 9-12 2009: Beethoven's 5th
January 7-10 2010: George Benjamin, Debussy, Mendelssohn's 3rd
January 14-16 2010: Ravel, George Benjamin, Messiaen
January 20-23 2010: Yo-Yo Ma plays Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 2  
January 26 2010: Yo-Yo Ma, cello and Emanuel Ax, piano  
January 27-30 2010: Stravinsky's Pulcinella
February 3-6 2010: Schubert's Mass No. 2, Ives' A Concord Symphony
February 10-13 2010: Walton's Violin Concerto, Holst's The Planets
February 18-20 2010: Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 1, Beethoven's 3rd 
February 21-22 2010: Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig
February 24-26 2010: Mozart's 36th, Bruckner's 6th
March 4-7 2010: Christian Tetzlaff, violin
March 7 2010: Ravel
March 11-14 2010: Mahler's 2nd
March 20 2010: Dawn Upshaw, soprano and Emanuel Ax, piano
March 21-22 2010: Mariinsky Orchestra
April 1-3 2010: Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, Shostakovich's 8th
April 7-10 2010: Rufus Wainwright's Five Shakespeare Sonnets
April 15-17 2010: The Gold Rush (1925 film)
April 17-18 2010: Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
April 21-24 2010: Mozart's 35th, 41st, Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1  
April 25 2010: Emanuel Ax, piano
April 29- May 1 2010: Schumann's 4th, Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony 
May 5-8 2010: Thomas Larcher, Beethoven, Brahms
May 10-11 2010: Los Angeles Philharmonic
May 13-15 2010: Litolff, Chopin, Adam, Bizet
May 19-23 2010: Stravinsky, Ravel
May 27-29 2010: Robin Holloway, Mozart, Schumann
June 10-13 2010: Mozart, Berg, Beethoven
June 17-19 2010: Yuja Wang, piano
June 23-26 2010: Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette  

The San Francisco Symphony announced the 2009-2010 season today. Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson both sing Mahler this September. Guest conductors include Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, and Valery Gergiev.

Season Highlights | Official Site

ROH's 2008-2009 Season

September 8- October 4 2008: Don Giovanni
September 16-29 2008: La fanciulla del West
September 23- October 10 2008: La Calisto
October 11-18 2008: La Bohème
October 23- November 11 2008: Matilde di Shabran
November 9-24 2008: Elektra
November 25- December 13 2008: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
December 9 2008- January 1 2009: Hänsel und Gretel
December 22- January 23 2008: Turandot
January 20-31 2009: The Beggar's Opera
January 27- February 17 2009: Die Tote Stadt
February 10 -25 2009: Rigoletto
February 23- March 10 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
March 2- April 11 2009: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
March 31- April 20 2009: Dido and Aeneas/Acis and Galatea
April 13- May 7 2009: Il trovatore
April 27- May 16 2009: Lohengrin
May 12-25 2009: L'elisir d'Amore
June 4-20 2009: Lulu
June 19- July 6 2009: La Traviata
June 26- July 18 2009: Un Ballo en Maschera
July 7-18 2009: Il barbiere di Siviglia
July 9-18 2009: Tosca

Simon Keenlyside and Mariusz Kwiecien share the role of Don Giovanni, and Keenlyside also sings Figaro in Il barbiere. David Alden has his ROH debut directing a production of La Calisto from Bayerische Staatsoper. Bryn Terfel is singing in Holländer and Tosca, while Deborah Voigt sings the title role of the latter. Renée Fleming is singing opposite Joseph Calleja in La Traviata and Thomas Hampson sings Germont. Die Tote Stadt has its UK premiere, Ingo Metzmacher will conduct. The production is from Salzburg and is the one that will be at San Francisco Opera this September. Lucas Meachem will be singing Aeneas in his ROH debut.

Bloomberg Article | Press Release [PDF] |Official Site

La Traviata at Lyric Opera

Chicagolatraviata* Notes *
Every performance of La Traviata has been sold-out at Lyric Opera of Chicago this January. I was unconvinced I could finagle a ticket for yesterday's matinée, as
craigslist only had people who wanted tickets and Lyric Opera does not have standing room. Yesterday the Lyric Opera site still had the warning "Individual tickets will not be available for the January performances of La traviata due to subscriber purchases and exchanges," but did say to call about tickets for the day's performance. It turned out I could not buy a ticket on the telephone, as I am not a subscriber, so I did go down to the box office in person and did not have a problem getting a ticket.

Renée Fleming seemed to be the reason for the sold-out performances, as she has not sung in an opera at Lyric for 5 years. Personally, I had found Ms. Fleming rather overrated, her intonation was poor as Rodelinda and she seemed distant as Tatiana. Also, I thought it a bit ambitious for someone to take on such a vast array of roles, it seems unlikely for anyone to be able to sing both Baroque and Romantic music really well, at least, in the same part of her career. In Act I of La Traviata, Fleming had a few wobbles, but sang "Ah, fors' è lui" beautifully until she inverted herself on the couch. I did not like her rendition of "Sempre libera," her arrpegios were unclear.

The second half, however, was nearly perfect. Matthew Polenzani (Alfredo) sang "De' miei bollenti spiriti" with great tenderness. There were a few times the orchestra overwhelmed him, but on the whole he gave a good performance. Thomas Hampson acted and sang the role of Giorgio Germont quite convincingly, the body-language in his refusal to embrace Violetta was particularly good. His aria "Di Provenza il mar" was one of the best of the performance.

Back to Ms. Fleming, she seemed much more engaged in this role than the others I had heard her in, her voice was laden with emotion, but still was perfectly in tune. Her acting was also fine, going from flirty minx to dying martyr in three acts without missing a beat.

The chorus was good save for a few seconds when the men were just slightly off from the orchestra in Act II Scene 2. The tambourine playing by some female choral members, in the same scene, was not confident. I am not sure why singers are made to do percussion, one would never make percussionists sing.

Desmond Heeley's set and costumes were traditional through and through. Fleming looked prettier in the light green dress of Act II Scene 2 than in the red velvet in Act I. The scene change in Act II took people by surprise, and an usher had to yell into the crowd that it was not an intermission. Also, I believe something went awry in the lighting of Act II Scene 1, when Germont is singing about how Violetta is still young and beautiful. A light in the garden background turned off and on a few times.

* Tattling *
The first balcony is preferable to the ground floor, the sound is better and the way the seats are arranged is such that one's view remains unobstructed by others. I noticed the dress of the audience was as relaxed as in San Francisco, I saw evening gowns and heels, but jeans and sneakers too. A woman in front of me clipped and filed one of her nails before the performance, which I have never seen before.

Audience members were noiser toward the beginning, a woman behind me pointed out the dancers to someone else rather loudly. For the most part, people only whispered, though some female adolescents did make a good deal of noise getting out their gum during the music. Apparently one of these girls knew the couple of older Russian ladies next to her, and was offered some chocolates during the second intermission. In order to eat the chocolates, she took out her gum, placed it on her finger to save it, ate the chocolate, and then put the gum back into her mouth. It was strangely endearing and horrifying at the same time.

5th Performance of Macbeth

Thomas Hampson, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Last night I was invited at the last minute to hear Macbeth again, from box seats, so I gave the opera another try. Of course there was no booing this time, so I did laugh a good deal less. From Box O, I was able to see the green slime on Duncan after his murder. Also, I could see an entire shoe trying-on scene with Lady Macbeth and some witches that I missed the other times, in Act II Scene 2. One of the problems with the production is that Lady Macbeth is just so crazy from the get-go, chained at the top of the box. By the time she has her mad scene, Lady Macbeth is fairly subdued, she doesn't seem much crazier at this point than at the beginning.

The set still had problems with its loudness. Again I heard some stage directions just before the upstage curtain started moving, this is after Macbeth's "Mi si affaccia un pugnal?" in Act I Scene 2.

The singing was consistent, Thomas Hampson sounded especially great in "Pietà, rispetto, amore." The only person who was notably better was Alfredo Portilla as Macduff. This could be because of acoustics, some voices are dampened in the rear of the orchestra, or it could be that Portilla has been working hard. He did withdrawal from the role of Pinkerton he was supposed to sing next week. Portilla did have one note near the end of his big aria that wasn't quite right.   

* Tattling *
Most of the patrons of Box O were very quiet, none of them had mobile phones that rang nor watch alarms during the hour. However, the women in seats 1 and 2 whispered and giggled a great deal in the first half. The staging is so loud, I didn't feel right about hushing them. Plus, I was someone else's guest, and I wanted to be at least somewhat gracious. Unfortunately, by the second half, which this pair of women were slightly late for, they were speaking aloud during the music. Thankfully they did become more and more silent as the night wore on, I believe one of them might have fallen asleep.

Additionally, my companion noted that I was wearing blue jeans to the opera, and she had never seen me wear such apparel, even when we were at university. I promised I would tattle on myself, and now I have. I have no real excuse, it was just what I was wearing that day.

Opening of Macbeth

Thomas Hampson and Georgina Lukács, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
It was as expected, the audience at the Macbeth opening was, on the whole, discontent with the production and even booed the members of production team that dared to take bows. That is quite a feat, the last time I heard Americans boo at a production was five years ago at Alcina. Personally I found Alcina to be more offensive than this Macbeth, since the former is more inaccessible to a general audience and an alienating staging just makes matters worse. Additionally, David Pountney's Macbeth production has a lot of intentionally absurd elements, and somehow the earnestness of the Alcina was particularly grating. Incidentally, both of these productions are on DVD (
Alcina and Macbeth), should you want to view them.

Despite the silliness of Marie Jeanne Lecca's fashion don'ts (pink and red witch costumes, Lady Macbeth's S & M dress, the Star Trek outfits on the murderers), the hula hooping, paper mummies, and drag queens, it was all a little boring. The person in front of me fell asleep at one point. The set, designed by Stefanos Lazaridis, was not terribly fascinating, just one round room with huge gash in the ceiling and a box with doors that got shoved about. It was too noisy, of course moving the box around wasn't at all quiet, but particularly in the parts in which curtains were drawn over the back wall. The first time this happened, during a scene change in Act II, I was able to hear some stage directions.

The choreography was likewise loud, Vivienne Newport has a witch hula hooping, paper mummies tearing themselves, Birnam Wood banging on the box, and the chorus inexplicably taping up the side of box at the end. The hula hooping and the Wood were, at best, cute, but the mummies and tape were obnoxious. The choreography for the witches was overly busy, but the chorus did well. As did Georgina Lukács as Lady Macbeth, her movements were terrifying, very predatory and slightly revolting.

The Adlers in this production were all great: Noah Stewart (Malcolm), Jeremy Galyon (A Doctor), and Elza van den Heever (A Lady in Waiting) had small roles but sang well. Raymond Aceto sang Banquo with good volume, but his voice is somewhat thin. Tenor Alfredo Portilla was a mournful and suitable Macduff, his aria in the beginning of Act IV was fine though a few of his high notes toward the end were strained. The Lady Macbeth, Georgina Lukács, had impressive acting, but lacked control of her voice. She sounded lovely in her lower range, but her higher notes wobbled a great deal. Thomas Hampson has suitable gravity and pathos for the role of Macbeth, and sang well. His fine volume and rich tone were pleasing. 

* Tattling *
The turnout was poor for an opening night, but perhaps it was because of the
Obama rally that took place nearby or possibly fatigue from last week's opening of La Rondine. Many people were late because streets were closed for the rally, but they were seated during the short pause between Acts I and II. Standing room only had a few dozen people, I was all alone at the box office until 9:10 am, when a small line started forming for the rush tickets. Too bad there weren't any available, and no sign indicating so. It was odd given that I saw many open seats, most standees found seats without a problem.

The audience was subdued during the performance, as the aforementioned sleeping will attest to. A pair of men in Y 18 and 20 of the orchestra were very upset by the production, and I kept laughing at this, because it was so darling. I laughed so much at the booing I could not manage to boo myself.

Macbeth Final Dress Rehearsal

Macbeth* Notes *
Verdi's Macbeth opens tonight at San Francisco Opera, with
Thomas Hampson in the title role. I was fortunate enough to attend the final dress rehearsal last Sunday, and was at least impressed with Hampson. David Pountney's production, directed by Nicola Raab, is the consummate Regieoper that San Francisco seems to dislike so. I overheard it called "alienating" and "weird." It reminded me a bit of that misquote of Tolstoy in Nabokov's Ada, except substitute "opera production" for "family." I felt I had seen many of the same devices before, and I'll try to keep just how rather general so it won't be spoilt for you, gentle reader. The camouflage fatigues, unexplained props, odd projections, sets that look worse for wear, meandering child supernumeraries, noisy choreography, fake breasts, paper, and drunken staggering all gave me a sense of déjà vu. I was just waiting for my friend Chattering Teeth Head and a few couches suspended from the ceiling to show up. It is not surprising at all that the production is from Oper Zürich.

* Tattling *
There were a gaggle of high school students at the dress rehearsal, but they were well-behaved. I sat next to a pair of rather loud women speaking Russian, but I did not silence them as it seemed futile, given that the production team obviously spoke during the performance. Somehow I managed to dress in a manner not unlike the witches and overheard someone comment on that as I left the opera house.

Final Dress Rehearsal of Appomattox

* Notes *
The final dress rehearsal of Appomattox was last night. On the whole, I found the music, libretto, and production rather dark and a bit heavy-handed. The music, unsurprisingly, is reiterative and the singing style more declamatory than lyrical. There are no soaring high notes, but this does keep the text clear, at least when the balance between orchestra and singers was right. The two male leads are both baritones, but their voices are distinct enough from each other. The soprano role of Julia Dent Grant is significant, she begins the piece a cappella, there is no overture at all, and she ends the opera along with a women's chorus.

The choral parts are lovely, especially the Civil War era "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground" at the end of Act I Scene 1, the black Union soldiers singing in Act I Scene 4, and the song concerning Jimmie Lee Jackson in Act II.   

The set has a modern sensibility, lots of metal and such, but with period furniture and costumes. There were disturbing visual elements such as the cart full of amputated body parts in the Prologue and dead horses hanging from the ceiling in Act I Scene 4 and the Epilogue.

Though Act I is completely set in April 1865, Act II is interspersed with scenes in the from Reconstruction, the Selma to Montgomery marches, and a present day first-person account of the Mississippi civil rights worker murders. Though it is true that the ramifications of the American Civil War exist even now, these jarring direct links provided by the libretto are somewhat preachy and disconcerting.

I have not a few impressions on the singing thus far, but will wait until after the opening to solidify my opinions.

* Tattling *
There were several groups of students at this performance and they were somewhat loud and had to be hushed several times. For the most part they were quiet after that except during Edgar Ray Killen's aria at the end of Act II. The opera has ten instances of American English's most troublesome racial slur, more than half of which are in the aforementioned aria.

Baritone Thomas Hampson, who just sang in "Das Lied von der Erde" last week at San Francisco Symphony, was in attendance, as was Amy Tan, whose book The Bonesetter's Daughter is to be premiered as an opera next year.   

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.

Le précaution inutile

On 13. January 2004, I attended my third performance of Il barbiere di Siviglia at San Francisco Opera. This new production is owned by San Francisco Opera, but the stage director, set designer, and dramaturge have all worked at the Stuttgart Opera, and it showed. The set looked very much like a German fantasy of the Barbie Malibu Dream House, the clean white lines, sparse bare rooms. The set was very effective use of space, but, in my (naive) native Southern Californian opinion, was not particularly beautiful. The staging was tiresome at times, it was a little childish, having Rosina play around with her stuffed kangaroo, the Vespa with acrobat, the umbrella that flies away during the storm (the audience cheered every time, naturally), and so forth.

The singing was very solid. Joyce DiDonato (Rosina), her debut to San Francisco in this production last November, was strong. She is a strapping sassy lass, and has a very rich voice. Matthew Polenzani (Count Almaviva) was not bad, his voice is sweet, and his volume is pretty good. Thomas Hampson (Figaro) has a much louder voice than Troy Cook, who sang in the role last Fall. Hampson's movements were not as fluid, nor as dashing, but he had a certain charm. Francesco Corti's conducting was especially shaky in the first overture. All in all though, the whole performance came off rather well.