William Burden

Closing of The Rake's Progress

Rakecar* Notes *
The Rake's Progress closed today with a Sunday matinée, and to my surprise, I attended, as I was offered a seat from a friend. This season I have avoided Sunday performances, as they are extraordinarily popular. Also, the last performances at the end of the year are crowded, after my experience with the
closing of Carmen last year, I was not too keen on experiencing something like that again. The staging went well today, I did not hear any stage managers and the only thing that was really loud was when they were placing the trailer. The set is clever, and this production is a testament to how one can have both novelty and invention without distracting from the drama and music. The only truly weak part may have been the Bedlam scene, though I appreciate that the persistence of certain stage elements must have been important to the set designer and director. The sunken area of the lunatic asylum is clearly the same space delineated in the earlier swimming pool scene. Unfortunately, having the singers in that small space, the chorus and the principals, was strange. Worse, it cut them off from the audience, and lowered the dramatic tension. Perhaps the scene read better in the balcony.

The orchestra sounded better than opening night, but not quite up to their very best. I consistently found both James Morris (Nick Shadow) and Trulove (Kevin Langan) more difficult to hear than the other lead singers. Morris has had perfect comic timing throughout. Langan's acting was good, suitably skeptical of Tom in the beginning, sympathetic at the madhouse. Denyce Graves had a huge presence and I especially adored her in "You Love Him, Seek To Set Him Right." At times her voice was somewhat harsh, but it was fine for this role. Laura Aikin's high notes were lovely, her Anne Trulove never had too much vibrato. William Burden was marvelous in the title role, his voice lucid and his acting brilliant.

* Tattling *
A young woman in Box W arrived late, and she took off one of her shoes and put her foot on an empty chair. She was unable to do this during the second half of the opera, as people were seated in the second row (she was in the third). After the opera, I noticed she was limping, so it was probably a sprain.

The costume for Nick Shadow in his last scene is a red unitard covered with strips of material. I believe it is meant to make him look as if he is being consumed in flames, but to me it just looks like a chicken suit.

For my own amusement, I tried to dress like a 1940s Hollywood starlet, wearing my hair in the manner of Veronica Lake. Baritone Frederick Matthews complimented my shoes.


Opening of The Rake's Progress

Laura Aikin and William Burden, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress opened yesterday in a co-production with
Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Opéra de Lyon, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and Teatro Real Madrid. The opera was taken from the 16th century into the 1950s, so taken from when Hogarth's paintings are set to when the opera was premiered. The effect makes Stravinsky's self-consciously Baroque/Classical style, complete with harpsichord, somewhat nonsensical. The English countryside is reimagined as Texas, Nick Shadow takes Tom Rakewell to London to become a movie star. Carl Fillion's sets are exceedingly charming, it seems that every scene had something terribly clever in it as far as staging. Especially amusing were the bed that Tom and Mother Goose dally in, the inflatable movie trailer, the dollhouse meant to represent the Trulove home, Anne's flyaway scarf as she makes her way to London, and the swimming pool of the Rakewell home. Boris Firquet's video design was excellently incorporated, the scene changes that used this were seamless, and the only time the rather horizontal screen really bothered me was the movie marquee scene (Act II Scene 2), because naturally the eyes go up to see the rest of the building, and it is just blank black space. The lighting design, by Etienne Boucher, was blinding as Nick Shadow filmed Tom in Act I Scene 2, but was otherwise good.

Runnicles and the orchestra were not in their best form, they overwhelmed the singers, they were not always together, and the horns sounded rough. Both William Burden (Tom Rakewell) and Laura Aikin (Anne Trulove) sounded clear and bright. Burden sang quite plaintively, and Aikin sounded perfectly angelic and bell-like. James Morris was a placid Nick Shadow, his lower notes were slightly gravelly, though his higher range was pretty. Denyce Graves played Baba the Turk to a tee, her powerful voice has a wonderful warmth and was appropriately gruff in this role. In the smaller roles, tenor Steven Cole stood out as Sellem, his acting in the auction scene was hilarious, and though he was slightly quiet when he moved upstage, his voice is pleasing. Besides Ms. Graves and Mr. Cole, the acting of the principals was rather subdued. It was difficult to see how Tom's actions were motivated, Morris was particularly ambiguous, in playing the Devil himself, though unctuous, he did seem rather cold and bored.

* Tattling *
Because this opera opened the day after Thanksgiving and my family is not in the Bay Area, I had to convince a friend to get a ticket for me in the morning. Someone managed to sneak past her into the building and I got the following text message at 10:22 am: I had to beat a queue-cutting coot to get your #1 ticket. I hope you're happy!

Standing room was only moderately full, and the rest of audience was somewhat sparse. Everyone was pretty quiet, I heard no watch alarms on the hour. Someone tore paper at one point in Act I, but this was only for a few seconds. The sign asking people exit from the side doors during the performance was knocked over twice. There was much applause for the set, and this obscured the music more than once.

I was given a lovely crocheted cupcake in standing room, for my efforts in depicting pastry. Certainly it was one of the nicest presents I have received at the opera.

Santa Fe Opera's 2008 Season

June 27- August 23 2008: Falstaff
June 28- August 22 2008: Le Nozze di Figaro
July 12- August 21 2008: Billy Budd
July 19- August 20 2008: Radamisto
July 26- August 12 2008: Adriana Mater

The next season at Santa Fe Opera includes the US premiere of Kaija Saariaho's newest opera. Naturally the production of Händel is from David Alden, whose work I am all too familiar with from Munich. David Daniels will be singing the title role of Radamisto. William Burden is singing Starry Vere in Billy Budd. Mariusz Kwiecien will be singing Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro.

Press Release | Season Overview

Iphigénie en Tauride at Seattle Opera

Focilepolegato* Notes *
Tonight was the last of eight performance of Iphigénie en Tauride at Seattle Opera.This co-production with the
Met is yet another Wadsworth/Lynch collaboration, this one tending more toward the elaborately overwrought (Rodelinda) rather than the staid clean lines (Lohengrin). The stage was had a claustrophobic feel, as it was divided into three parts: the main temple, an antechamber, and a sliver of the outdoors. At times one felt that there were characters in different areas for no particular reason. At some point in Act IV a Greek woman prays to a figure of Diana in the antechamber and gasps, though the singing is all happening in the other part of the stage. Later she dances about outside, and it is as if Wadsworth needs to fill every moment with motion.

The set was not contemporary, as so many of the attempts at Gluck's operas are. I did not quite understand the use of Artemis of Ephesus, there was a huge statue of her, but carrying a bow. It was an odd combination of the Greek Artemis, the virgin huntress, and the Ephesian Artemis, the many-breasted fertility goddess. The costumes suggested the draped figures one thinks of as classical, with the exceptions of Iphigénie, who looked more like a French revolutionary in her long black coat and Diana, who looked like a Goth Xena the Warrior Princess.

The opera opens with a depiction of Iphigénie's sacrifice in Aulis, and with Diana coming down from the sky to save her. The image was arresting, but possibly confusing and also ruins the surprise of how Diana enters in the Dea ex Machina at the end, of course, it is almost exactly the same. This sets the tone for the staging, we are shown what happens in the past, Clytemnestra and Agamemnon appear and we witness the latter's murder as Orest sings in Act II.

The staging involved a lot of dancing that was not quite synchronized, some of this was intentional, but sometimes it was unclear if the dancers were supposed to be together or not. Daniel Peizig's choreography for the ladies included much spinning around, and for the men something strangely akin to Morris dancing.

As for singing, I found Nuccia Focile detestable in the title role, her voice may be beautiful in Puccini, but was at times nearly unbearable in Gluck. She has far too much vibrato, and unsurprisingly she is quoted in the program as saying "You sometimes hear the music of Gluck sung in a very detached manner, almost no vibrato, but I believe this repertoire must be sung on the full tone of the voice." It was clear that she has fine control of her voice, and she chose to sing Gluck this way. Thankfully, the other lead, baritone Brett Polegato, was able to sing Orest with passion, yet not with constant wobbling. Tenor William Burden turned out a fine performance as Pylad, his voice sweet, yet with good volume and little strain. Phillip Joll sounded breathy and gasping as Thoas, though he was audible, his voice still seemed underpowered.

* Tattling *
Standing room was full just before the performance, but nearly everyone was able to find a seat. The performance began late, but there was no late seating once the music began. There was very little whispering, though people did discuss the appearance of Clytemnestra in the wall between Orest and Iphigénie. I particularly noted a pair of women in Section 3 Row AA Seats 7 and 8, who also whispered during the beginning of Act III. Someone sitting in Row BB had a plastic bottle, or something of that sort that made 3 or 4 clicking sounds during the music. But, to be honest, all this was minor, the whispering was quiet and not continual and the water bottle sounds were infrequent. The worst disturbance was at the end of the opera, around 10pm no less than 4 watch alarms went off to mark the hour. If the performance had started on time, this could have been avoided.

Sundry Performance Notes

Yesterday someone pulled the fire alarm at just ten minutes before curtain time for the last performance of L'Italiana. Everyone filed out in an orderly fashion, but it took quite a long time to get back inside and settled in again. During the performance I wanted to note that in Act II, Vivica Genaux does a pivot with floreos where Olga Borodina did a cute head slide gesture that went with the music better. Also I would like to remember how nicely William Burden and Ricardo Herrera danced throughout, but especially when they are explaining to Mustafà about the Papatacci, their dance that involved pesk horns at the end was charming.

The latter part of Act II bears a striking resemblance to parts of Così fan tutte. The scene in which Isabella sings "Pensa alla patria" has a choral part like "Bella vita militar!" When Taddeo gives Mustafà the oath of the Papatacci, "Di veder e non veder," it is somewhat like the scene Così where Despina pretends to be the notary.

Additionally, Patrick Stewart was at the symphony the night before last. I believe he had a box. He probably couldn't hear Leon Fleisher's vocalizing from so far away. Though the acoustics at Davies are rather special.

Cra cra cra

The alternate in the title role for San Francisco opera's production of L'Italiana in Algeri is excellent. I was not impressed by mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux in Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, but I think her voice is better suited to something airy and light like L'Italiana. Her voice was incredible in the role of Isabella, her ornamentation was good and her bird-like voice is prettier than Borodina's. Genaux does seem more awkward than Borodina, almost boyish, she doesn't have that swagger and sass. Also to be noted, the other alternate, bass Dean Peterson, was pretty good as Mustafà, but still not perfect.

I was glad to see that some of the choreography was changed to suit Genaux and Peterson, it makes more sense than forcing them to do movement that worked perfectly on Borodina and Abdrazakov. For example, at the end of Act I when Isabella is first presented to Mustafà, Borodina slyly steals Mustafà's turban and pushes him off his velvet throne. On the other hand, tiny Genaux could not carry this off, so instead she climbs on the throne and and steals the turban from there. Genaux does not quite have the same confidence in movement as Borodina, but she did rather well, considering she is an opera singer, and Borodina certainly is an exception.

The performance solidified my admiration for tenor William Burden, his voice is certainly worth hearing again.

L'Italiana in Algeri

The production of Rossini's The Italian Girl in Algiers currently at San Francisco Opera belongs to Santa Fe Opera, where it was premiered in 2002. The style of director Christopher Alexander is possibly more suited to this comic opera. The last opera he directed at San Francisco was Turandot in 2002, which looked like something from the circus, but this can be squarely blamed on David Hockney's lurid set and costumes. The set of L'Italiana was designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, and consisted mainly of a huge pop-up book with one scene of arcades. Also included was a crashing plane and hot air balloons. The costumes, designed by David C. Woolard, were from 1920. The choreography throughout was done quite well, and all of the singers were proficient at movement, they performed splendidly.

As for singing, mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina, as Isabella, was in good form. Her voice is strong, dark, and piercing. At times it is slightly breathy. Tenor William Burden was impressive as Lindoro, his first aria "Languir per una bella" was excellent, his tone exceedingly sweet and sufficiently loud. Bass lldar Abdrazakov sang adequately as Mustafà, the part is demanding, and Abdrazakov's voice is not exceptional. He is , however, a fine actor. Bass Ricardo Herrera sang the buffo part of Taddeo well, his duet with Borodina in Act I, Scene 2 was good. Soprano Jane Archibald was fine as Elvira, nothing flashy, but she was the anchor of the finale in Act I.

The first half of the opera is stronger than the second musically, Act II just doesn't come through on the promise of Act I. The end of Act II is simply not strong, neither musically nor dramatically. Though the libretto has much in common with Die Entführung aus dem Serail, L'Italiana is mere farce.

The matinee audience was fairly well-behaved, with a notable exception. Some person had an altercation with Sharon, one of the people who heads the ushers. She apparently asked him not to lean against the wall during the overture of Act I and he had a fit which involved him speaking at full volume and calling her a "pain in the ass."