Serse Log

San Francisco Opera's Serse (Michael Sumuel and Heidi Stober pictured in the first image below, Susan Graham and Lisette Oropesa pictured in the second; photographs by Cory Weaver) just finished a run of six performances last Saturday.

31. October 2011: Opening
Media Round-Up

4. November 2011: From Orchestra Standing Room
Opera Tattler Review


8. November 2011: From Balcony Standing Room
* The audience clapped during the overture as the characters were presented in turn.
* The playing was clear.
* Lisette Oropesa got slightly behind during her aria at the end of Act I. Her breath control is incredible and she did not push her high notes.
* The bridge did not collapse before Elviro's Act II arietta, "Del mio caro baco amabile."

11. November 2011: Reading the Score
* The ornamentation is simple and elegant.
* All the repeats, da capos, and dal segnos are taken.
* There were a few times where the orchestra was a bit ahead of the singing.
* A few of Susan Graham's low notes did not float as beautifully as the others, but overall she is just an amazing singer.


16. November 2011: From Box V
* Noted that the President of the San Francisco Opera Association was present.
* There were a couple transitions in Act I that went so quickly that Maestro Summers held his baton in his mouth as he played harpsichord.
* Both Heidi Stober and the flautist sounded especially lovely in "Un cenno leggiadretto."
* The leap that Michael Sumuel before his clicking his heels ("Del mio caro baco amabile") was impressive.
* The box subscribers in U talked at times during the music. Four women (clearly not subscribers) in Box X were even worse, talking, using cellular phones, and moving to Box Z in the middle of Act II. They did not return for Act III.

19. November 2011: Orchestra Level Row P Seat 4
* There was clapping during the overture again, and my companion even joined in out of spite.
* The person in P 124 was ill-behaved. Not only did his cellular phone ring between the recitative and "Ombra ma fui," he very loudly opened a cough drop during Act I. He did not return for Act III.
* Another phone rang during Ariodate's Act I aria, from the north side of the Orchestra Level.
* The couple in R 116 and 118 must have been late, because there was no talking from that area in Act I. They talked for much of the rest of the opera, especially when David Daniels was singing.
* Though the audience was incredibly obnoxious this evening, the singing and playing was a delight. There was a wonderful ease to the proceedings, and it seemed that everyone was having a great time.

Serse at San Francisco Opera

Xerxes-graham-oropesa* Notes *
Händel's Serse (Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) had an impressive second performance last night at San Francisco Opera. The English National Opera production at hand premiered in 1985, yet is still as fresh and comedic as ever. This was helped by the deft, transparent playing from the orchestra. The brass was particularly lucid. Maestro Patrick Summers kept the music moving fluidly, sometimes just a bit faster than the singers. The statue chorus was also charming.

The singing was lovely all around. Michael Sumuel was exceedingly amusing as Elviro, and his warm voice was a welcome contrast with all the high voices in this opera. Wayne Tigges was a pompous, silly Ariodate, but never unsympathetic. Heidi Stober was delightful as the unloved, conniving Atalante. Her voice is bright and rich. Sonia Prina too has pretty resonances in her voice, but could have perhaps sung more smoothly. She did play Amastre with the right amount of bluster. Lisette Oropesa was a restrained and elegant Romilda, her voice is cold and pretty, and she only pushed it too hard during the last note of one aria in Act II. David Daniels (Arsamenes) cut a fine figure, and sang well, with good volume. Susan Graham was most impressive in the title role, sounding clear toned and moving with a beautiful ease.

* Tattling * 
For the most part the audience was silent. There was some talking amidst latecomers and ushers at the beginnings of Acts I and II. At least one watch alarm sounded at 8pm. Someone stood behind me during "Più che penso alle fiamme del core" and jingled the change in his pocket with the music.

SF Opera's Serse Media Round-Up

Xerxes-Act-I-Scene-1Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Serse (Act I pictured left with David Daniels as Arsamene, Lisette Oropesa as Romilda, Susan Graham as Serse, members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus, and supernumeraries; photograph by Cory Weaver) look quite positive.

Performance Reviews: Not For Fun Only | Out West Arts | San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Francisco Examiner | San José Mercury News

A Preview of SF Opera's Serse

Sfopera-xerxes-acti* Notes * 
Händel's Serse (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opens this afternoon at San Francisco Opera, and I for one am quite sad not to attend. Instead I offer you a preview, based on attendance of rehearsals. Nicholas Hytner's production, directed here by Michael Walling, originates from English National Opera and was last seen at Houston Grand Opera. The palette employed for the set is pleasingly spring-like, with much white and green. The supernumeraries are white and are wearing bald caps. The chorus is painted grey, and seem to look quite like statues.

Patrick Summers, last seen on the San Francisco Opera podium for Heart of a Soldier, conducts these performances. The cast includes many fine singers, including David Daniels (Arsamene), Lisette Oropesa (Romilda), and most of all, Susan Graham in the title role. The supporting cast is also promising. Heidi Stober was very funny as Atalanta in Houston, as was Sonia Prina (Amastre), and they reprise these roles in San Francisco. Both Wayne Tigges (Ariodate) and Michael Sumuel (Elviro) made their San Francisco Opera debuts in Heart of a Soldier earlier this season. One may have heard Tigges as Donner in Los Angeles Opera's recent Ring cycle. Sumuel sure to be winsome in his comic role.

Serse at Berkeley West Edge Opera

Serse-el-cerrito * Notes *
The production of Serse that recently completed a run at Berkeley West Edge Opera turned Händel's opera seria on its head, to amusing effect. Though I was reluctant to go to this, as I had just heard and seen a fantastic Serse in Houston only 7 months ago, the experience in El Cerrito was not without rewards.

Mark Streshinsky did a fine job with the production, the stage looked clean, the branches woven into the shape of a plane tree were attractive, and the opera managed to be rather funny without being stupid. Though the orchestra was together under conductor Alan Curtis, there were consistent intonation problems, especially in the strings. The chorus had trouble staying with the orchestra, perhaps because they were so far upstage.

The cast acted well. Donald Sherrill was hilarious as Elviro, especially when pretending to peddle flowers. Anna Slate was also very entertaining as the ridiculous Atalanta. Ryan Belongie sounded wonderfully warm and clear as Arsamene. Angela Cadelago made for a winsome Romilda, though her singing was not perfectly clean and her vibrato was somewhat distracting. Cadelago was lovely in the finale, as was the chorus. Paula Rasmussen sounded lucid and strong throughout in the title role.

* Tattling * 
The audience was engaged by the performance, though somewhat confused by the convoluted plot. There was much talking during the first half of the opera from the people in Row U Seats 24-26 in the balcony. Thankfully, I had the good fortune to not be seated next to anyone, and was able to move away from them.

Serse at Houston Grand Opera

Photo by Felix Sanchez, courtesy of Houston Grand Opera * Notes *
Händel's Serse had a strong opening yesterday evening at Houston Grand Opera. The production, from the English National Opera, is entertaining, and features astroturf as a main stage element. The chorus seemed to all be painted grey, and the supernumeraries white. During the overture, the principals are introduced in turn, with the names of the characters projected on a scrim. Though a diversion from the music, one imagines this is quite helpful to the audience, given how convoluted the plot of Serse is.

The orchestra, conducted by William Lacey, played nimbly, the overtures of Act I and III were spirited. "Ombra mai fù" was taken rather slowly. There were some moments when things seemed a bit awry, as in the Sinfonia of Act I, or at the the end of Act II. The chorus, on the other hand, sounded vivid and together.

Before the performance began, it was announced that Susan Graham, who is singing the title role, was feeling unwell, and begged our indulgence. She still sounded pure and clear, and she sang very beautifully. There were a few times her voice was rather quiet, or her low notes were off, but these were minor distractions. Her Act II Scene 10 aria, "Il core spera e teme" was especially fine. Laura Claycomb was convincing as Romilda, her voice is icily lovely, and though she has a lot of vibrato in her high tessitura, it is not unpleasant to the ear. She sang wonderfully with David Daniels (Arsamenes), their duet in Act III was amusing. Daniels also sang his Act II aria superbly. Sonia Prina's rich, warm voice was appropriate for Amastre, and was a nice respite from all the high voices. Heidi Stober was exceedingly funny as Atalante, and she too had a good warmth. Philip Cutlip and Adam Cioffari, in the bass roles of Ariodate and Elviro, respectively, both were hilarious.

* Tattling * 
There was talking and whispering, but it was mostly reserved for when no one was singing. It was more unfortunate that the applause made some of the music inaudible. One cellular phone rang just before Act I, another just before Act II, and yet another at the beginning of the last aria of Act II.

An Opera Outing


I'm being kept quite busy with non-opera activities, so I present to you an opera painting from 2003. This acrylic on paper work was painted after I had gone to a performance of Händel's Serse at the Bavarian State Opera. It was one of the few times in Munich that I wasn't in standing room. The Königsloge is quite nice, the painting does not capture how shiny it is. This is one of the first paintings I had ever sold.

Details of Painting | Performance Review of Serse

Love for a plane tree

Duncanserse2Yesterday evening I attempted to see the entirety of the Bavarian State Opera's production of Serse. The last time I only made it through the the first two acts before I was too disgusted to watch the rest. This time I decided to sit in the best section of the Nationaltheater, the Königsloge. The acoustics are excellent there, I could hear the orchestra turning their pages.

Händel's music is always a delight, but I felt the music was not nearly as powerful as Saul. Serse is, of course, Händel's best known comedic opera, one of four. The arias of Serse are all rather short compared to his other opera arias. The finale was a bit of a let down, it is brief and light.

Ivor Bolton conducted fairly well. The singers seemed to be with the music nearly the whole time. Ann Murray, as Serse (Xerxes), was better than I remembered. Her voice is not beautiful, a bit shrill, but it is powerful. She's a little waif of a thing too, it is incredible the amount of volume she has. Countertenor Christopher Robson was impressive as Arsamene, at points his voice was simply unreal. He is a bit shrill as well in the higher register. As Amastris, mezzo Nathalie Stutzmann's voice was prettier than I remembered, but she does not project well. She sounded good when only accompanied by the harpsichord, otherwise she was too quiet. Susan Gritton was, again as Romilda, the strongest singer, her voice is beautiful.

Martin Duncan's production was as hideous as I remembered, without any regard for the noise levels. The huge conveyor belt used in Act III rumbled and grumbled, especially terrible during the overture. Duncan seemed quite set on always having something going on at every moment to keep the audience engaged. I suppose this is what the audience wants, the audience at the Bavarian State Opera does not strike me as serious or refined in the least. Even in the best seats in the house, only among twelve people, there was chatter.

Ultz's costumes and stage were childish. The lurid bright pinks, purples, and blues were hard on the eyes. Jonathan Lunn's choreography was likewise puerile. The audience loved Atalanta's shimmies and saucy movements, they applauded her during the overture. Unbelievable. One gets the feeling that no one is there for the music.

But, I suppose, it was fun and cute. The penultimate scene in Act II had Romilda surrounded by supernumeraries menacing her with pink ball gowns and fancy shoes meant to tempt her, as Serse tries his best to seduce. This was fairly effective. Perhaps Martin Duncan and Ultz can work on staging non-Baroque works instead.

Serse at Bayerische Staatsoper

Duncanserse1The production of Serse at the Bavarian State Opera was hideous. When one is staging an opera, which does, in fact, involve music, and thus, sound, perhaps one should think about how the sounds that various parts of the production may distract from the music at hand. All sorts of supernumeraries stomped here and there on stage, and there was also Atalanta and her dancers wearing dresses that had extremely noisy plastic beads. The choreography was poor, especially in the case of Atalanta and her dancers who were dressed with a nod toward cabaret styled belly dance costumes. No one quite owned the movements, as it were.

Speaking of which, the costumes were garish in general, lots of sequins, it looked like some sort of cheap 80s prom dress nightmare. Though the supernumeraries were dressed in white t-shirts and gray trousers as they moved various parts of the stage to and fro. There was also a part of Act II in which a gaggle of supernumeraries, both male and female, wearing black gowns with a cut outs for prosthetic breasts to jut out of. Thankfully, they also had modest head scarves in place as well.

Among the various atrocities in the set were huge frames that were hoisted by supernumeraries on stage, complete with obnoxious comments in German on them; various flashing lights onstage; Arsamene undressing onstage, always a crowd-pleaser, even if he wore a body stocking; persons being hoisted on swings while discussing diplomacy; and persons being carried about in boats with bubbles encased in plastic in the background. Mind you, this is what I could see from my standing area that had an obscured view. I cannot detail for you a complete list, unfortunately. But I'm rather glad I did not pay the 97 Euros for a seat with a view of the stage, which was all that was left.

Mezzo-soprano Ann Murray as the Persian prince Serse was a bit uneven. Her voice was nice in her middle range, but her intonation was off in her higher register. Her voice in the lower range did not always carry, even though the acoustics in the Nationaltheater are quite good. In her mid-range I preferred her voice to Christopher Robson's countertenor (Arsamene), although his is like a muffled bell, very pretty. The best of the lot was Susan Gritton, the soprano who sang the part of Romilda. Her voice was damp and sweet, if a bit thin. Veronica Cangemi as Atalanta had a raw edge, a little lack of control, but not bad. Nathalie Stutzmann as scorned Amastris also lacked a bit of control of her upper range, her intonation was flat.