Friday, September 13, 2019

Billy Budd in San Francisco

Conductor Lawrence Renes
Production Michael Grandage *

Captain Vere, tenor: William Burden
Billy Budd, baritone: John Chest *
John Claggart, bass: Christian Van Horn
Mr. Redburn, baritone: Philip Horst
Mr. Flint, bass-baritone: Wayne Tigges
Mr. Ratcliffe, baritone: Christian Pursell
Red Whiskers, tenor: Robert Brubaker
Novice, tenor: Brenton Ryan
Maintop, tenor: Christopher Colmenero *
Squeak, tenor: Matthew O'Neill
Dansker, bass: Philip Skinner

There are now two operas based on the novels of Hermann Melville:  Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten and Moby Dick by Jake Heggie.  The San Francisco Opera last night performed the 1960 condensed version of Billy Budd.

In the program notes a date is assigned to the plot of this opera:  1797, within the decade after the French revolution.  These are members of the British navy aboard the HMS Indomitable. The officers are from more traditional sources, but it is their habit to stop merchant ships and take men from their crews to conscript them into the lower classes of the navy.   This is why they are so concerned about mutiny.  Billy Budd is conscripted in this way.  They ask him how old he is and he says he doesn't know.

Claggart becomes emotionally concerned with Billy, saying "Beauty, handsomeness, goodness."  He takes this personally and accuses Billy to the Captain of mutiny.  Billy becomes tongue tied and cannot defend himself, hitting Claggart instead.  Claggart dies, and Billy is hanged and thrown into the ocean.

The staging was marvelous.  The set is very functional for all the scenes.  I had only one trouble with it.  In operas with large casts, such as this one, the director must find a way to make the main characters stand out from the others.  The Captain is easy to find on the stage because he stands above the others.  Claggart is the very physically distinctive Christian Van Horn with his long face.  But Billy quickly disappears into the crowd in many scenes.  He could have more brilliantly blond hair, maybe.  Just saying.

There is a lot going on in this very busy opera.  I was reminded that I once had a rule:  never go to an opera with 3 baritones.  This would definitely be in that category. Britten's orchestration is brilliant and colorful, but he doesn't compose the voices so much as orchestrate them.  The chorus is very rumbly. The voices each seem to stay in a relatively small range, not at all what an opera singer generally desires.  I want vocal beauty and not merely visual beauty.  Extending the range would also help to create the impression of melody.

I am the only one complaining about this.  I felt that it was a significant production, but I wanted more.  Different singers might produce a different effect.

I came down fairly heavy on Britten.  Additional thought has led me to conclude that fault may lie more with the specific performance.  Training might eliminate the rumbly sound.  I should also mention that I abandoned my 3 baritones rule after hearing a really good performance of Simon Boccanegra.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

New Operas I liked

I keep a list of operas that are new to me, label ONew2Me.  Since I started the blog, I have seen 193 operas that were new to me.  Only 49 of these are operas that were themselves new within 5 years of my first viewing. That means their first performances were in 2000 or later.  Everything else was new to me before the blog.  Since my total list of operas seen ever as of 9/12/19 is 370, I could be doing a lot better.

Out of these 49 operas only 9 made my favorites for that year list. These are:

L'Amour de Loin Saariaho Finnish National Opera 10/28/2005 Peter Sellars Esa-Pekka Salonen
Tea: A Mirror of Soul Dun Santa Fe Opera 7/27/2007 Amon Miyamoto Lawrence Renes
Bonesetter's Daughter Wallace San Francisco Opera 9/26/2008 Chen Shi-Zheng Steven Sloane
Il Postino Catán LA Opera 11/26/2011 Ron Daniels Grant Gershon
Moby-Dick Heggie San Francisco Opera 10/22/2012 Leonard Foglia Patrick Summers
Ainadamar Golijov Opera Parallèle 2/17/2013 Brian Staufenbiel Nicole Paiement
27 Gordon Saint Louis 6/18/2014 James Robinson Michael Christie
Lessons in Love and Violence Benjamin ROH 5/26/2018 Katie Mitchell Benjamin
Marnie Muhly Metropolitan Opera 11/10/2018 Michael Mayer Robert Spano

It doesn't seem like much of a list. The dates are for the blog entries.  I haven't done a list for 2019 yet, but here are some candidates:

Bon Appétit! Hoiby Des Moines 7/18/2019

If I Were You Heggie San Francisco Opera 8/5/2019 Keturah Stickann Nicole Paiement
Breaking The Waves Mazzoli West Edge 8/11/2019 Mark Streshinsky Jonathan Khuner

I would welcome opinions on these.  Something might be omitted because it came before I began blogging.  Feel free to suggest others.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Cecilia Bartoli Announces New Album -- Farinelli

This new album will appear on November 8.  She is still singing very well.  Here is a full list of tracks for Farinelli:

1. ‘Nell’Attendere Mio Bene’ from Polifemo by Porpora
2. ‘Vaghi Amori, Grazie Amate’ from La Festa d’Imeneo by Porpora
3. ‘Morte Col Fiero Aspetto’ from Marc’Antonio E Cleopatra by Hasse
4. ‘Lontan… Lusingato Dalla Speme’ from Polifemo by Porpora*
5. ‘Chi Non Sente Al Mio Dolore’ from La Merope by Broschi
6. ‘Come Nave In Ria Tempesta’ from Semiramide Regina Dell’Assiria by Porpora
7. ‘Mancare O Dio Mi Sento’ from Adriano In Siria by Giacomelli
8. ‘Si, Traditor Tu Sei’ from La Merope by Broschi*
9. ‘Questi Al Cor Finora Ignoti’ from La Morte d’Abel by Caldara
10. ‘Signor La Tua Speranza… A Dio Trono, Impero A Dio’ from Marc’Antonio E Cleopatra by Hasse
11. ‘Alto Giove’ from Polifemo by Porpora
*Denotes a world premiere recording

The beard first appeared in her Salzburg performance of Handel's Ariodante.  The castrato Farinelli probably couldn't grow a beard, but never mind.  She is someone I love, and she looks great in her beard.  There's even a short film.  She begins with the Ariodante makeup and then switches to her own hair.

Farinelli was very popular in London during Handel's opera period.

Saturday, August 31, 2019


Music Jaakko Kuusisto
Text Juhani Koivisto
Conductor Jaakko Kuusisto
Director Anna Kelo

Petter Kummel, priest: Ville Rusanen
Mona Kummel, his wife: Marjukka Tepponen
Sanna Kummel, his child: Sointu Wessmann
Anton, postal boatman:  Markus Groth
Sacristan: Jussi Merikanto
Irina Gyllen: Jenny Carlstedt
Adele Bergman Jenni Lättilä
Elis Bergman Pekka Kuivalainen
Artur Manström Hannu Niemelä
Lydia Manström Tiina Penttinen

Kuusisto's Ice is testing the theory that anything might be an opera.   It is by a Finnish composer, presented by the Finnish National Opera, is based on a Finnish book and is sung and also spoken in Finnish.  Nothing in Finnish sounds even remotely familiar to me.

We follow the ice through the seasons.  In winter it connects the two islands in the story.   The ice shapes their lives.  The mail boatman tells us of mystical beings that guide you over unsafe patches where the ice is thin.  The boatman is a speaking role, and the mystical beings that surround him are the ballet.

The story concerns a new priest, Petter Kummel, who arrives with his wife and child.  They exclaim over how beautiful it is.  Everyone warns them to beware of the danger in the ice.  He wants to cross the ice, the spirit creatures warn against it, but he pays no heed and dies.  He joins the other spirit creatures.

The music is filled up with homophonic chorus who sing "Shall we gather at the river?" in Finnish.  It all sounds just a bit like the other Finnish composer Saariaho with the mixture of orchestral and electronic sounds.

It is the production that makes this work.  It's a masterpiece.  I'm glad I watched this.  It's going away very soon.

Friday, August 30, 2019

American Bach Soloists 2019-20

27-Jan-20 D 7:00 Orphean Enchantments ABS Davis Community Church
30-Mar-20 D 7:00 Schuetz, Bach, etc. ABS Davis Community Church
11-May-20 D 7:00 Sweet Harmony ABS Davis Community Church

These are the American Bach Soloists concerts in Davis.  I'm happy to see Schuetz.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Florencia en el Amazonas

Conductor: Christopher Allen
Stage Director: Nicholas Muni

Singers: Jennifer Schuler, Andrew René, Zoe Johnson, Matt Arnold, Jacob Wright, Karl Buttermann, Kathleen Felty. Lindsay Mecher, Cameron Jackson, Eric Powell

At last I have found a film of  Daniel Catán's opera Florencia en el Amazonas from Stevens Center, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  The strength of Daniel Catán's work is that he writes beautifully for the voice. This opera plays everywhere except somewhere near me.

She is going up river to visit the opera house at Manaus, the same house that Pavarotti visits in the film of the same name.  This part of the story is real.

Our Amazon is full of magical beings, people that disappear and things that go wrong.  And lots of big singing.  Florencia is a famous opera singer, and the boat she is traveling in is filled with fans who do not recognize her.  This includes Rosalba who hopes to interview her.  At the end of Act I there is a storm which eliminates some of the characters.

I would describe this opera as neo-verismo.  To make the best effect it requires first class singers.  These people are working too hard.  The set is dark throughout, and there were no subtitles. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Yeomen of the Guard

Conductor:  Anne-Marie Endres
Director:  Debbie Baad
Our Cast
Sir Richard Cholmondely (Lieutenant of the Tower): Timothy Power
Colonel Fairfax (under sentence of death): Anthony Tavianini
Sergeant Meryll (of the Yeomen of the Guard): Mike Baad
Leonard Meryll (his Son): Samuel Palmer
Phoebe Meryll (his daughter): Paige Kelly
Jack Point (a Strolling Jester): Charlie Baad
Elsie Maynard (a Strolling Singer): Jadi Galloway
Wilfred Shadbolt (Head Jailer and Assistant Tormenter): Eric Piotrowski
Dame Carruthers (Housekeeper to the Tower): Lenore Sebastian
Kate (her Niece): Rebecca Cox

Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard played last night by the Sacramento Light Opera Theater.   If I stay in Sacramentlo long enough, Perhaps I will see them all.  This work is alternately called The Merryman and His Maid, which refers to the two strolling players. The action takes place inside the Tower of London during the reign of Henry VIII.  The yeomen guard the tower, as they do today.  They managed some excellent uniforms for them.

There is much to be explained here.  Some questions:
  • Why is Colonel Fairfax under sentence of death?  Wikipedia says sorcery.
  • What are Strolling players doing inside the Tower (not tourist attraction then)?
  • Why does Colonel Fairfax want to get married before he dies?  Wikipedia says doesn't like heir.
  • etc.

Plot:  Wilfred loves Phoebe, Phoebe loves Colonel Fairfax who is scheduled to die the next day.  Leonard wants Fairfax released because he saved his life in battle.  Leonard, his father and his sister hatch a plot where Leonard will hide and Fairfax will pretend to be him.  Phoebe steals the key from Wilfred and off we go.

Side story:  Fairfax wants to die married so his evil relation will not inherit his estate and offers a bribe to any woman who will marry him.  Elsie marries Fairfax in secret, Leonard hides and Fairfax appears in disguise as Leonard.

We end up with three happy couples and one very sad Jack Point.

The diction could have been better.  The songs were titled but the dialog was not.  I should have returned to the old days and read the plot before.  The music was excellent and well done.  My favorite singers were Anthony Tavianini and Jadi Galloway, the main couple.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Opera Parallèle 2019-2020 Season

  • September 19, 2019, 8pm 

  • Wednesday, October 2, 2019, 5:30 pm

OP’s annual Gala & 10th anniversary celebration

One night only

The Green Room, San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center

Tickets $300/$500/$1,000

Tables (of 10): $5,000 / $10,000 / $15,000


  • Sunday, February 16, 2020 at 5 pm
  • Monday, February 17, 2020 at 6pm

OP 2019 Productions WebBanner R1 Julia Child

Tickets $300
Proceeds to benefit Opera Parallele

  • May 15-17, 2020

OP 2019 Productions WebBanner R3 Harvey Milk

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Breaking The Waves at West Edge

Conductor: Jonathan Khuner
Director:   Mark Streshinsky

Sara LeMesh: Bess McNeill (soprano)
Robert Wesley Mason: Jan Nyman (baritone)
Kindra Scharich: Dodo McNeill (mezzo-soprano)
Alex Boyer: Dr. Richardson (tenor)
Kristin Clayton: Mrs. McNeill, Sara's mother  (soprano)
Brandon Bell: Terry (bass-baritone) 

Breaking The Waves (2016), music by Missy Mazzoli, libretto by Royce Vavrek, was presented by West Edge Opera at The Bridge Yard in Oakland on Saturday night.  We are in rural Calvinist Scotland in the 1970s.  I think we may assume this was around the time that oil was discovered in the North Sea.  They keep referring to "the rig" which we may assume is an oil rig off the shore.

The community, or the ones in charge at least, do not like outsiders.  Sara, a child of the community, has fallen in love with Jan, a worker on the rig who is from Norway.  Dodo is another outsider who was married to Sara's brother who died.  Dodo and Sara are close.  Jan and Sara marry and are happy at first.  Soon Jan must return to working on the rig.  People don't think these things through.

The atmosphere was well captured by the production, and atmosphere is almost all there is.  Church fathers hover over everything.  Sara is very religious and prays constantly.  Unexpectedly, God answers through her.  This is a really tough part.  Jan is injured and asks Sara to go out and have sexual experiences and report back to him.  Her personality gradually disintegrates.  This is a true tragedy.  Her casket is sent out to sea, the only reference to waves. 

The music is pleasing and was well performed.  The orchestration included a synthesizer and an electric guitar.  My favorite of the singers was Kindra Scharich, but I usually go for the mezzos.

The Bridge Yard is very hard to find and very close to the freeway.  Most of the time the sound from the freeway was not disturbing.  The acoustics were not favorable to light voices.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

SFO Emerging Stars 2019

Here are the nominees for this year's emerging stars at the San Francisco Opera:

  • Golda Schultz (soprano) Clara in It's a Wonderful Life (didn't see this cast)Met 2017, Salzburg.
  • J'Nai Bridges (mezzo-soprano) Carmen in Carmen. Last year Girls of the Golden West
  • Daniel Johansson (tenor)  Matteo in Arabella (debut).
  • Rachel Willis-Sørensen (soprano) Rusalka in Rusalka.  I missed this.
  • Christina Gansch (soprano) Dorinda in Orlando (debut).
  • WINNER!  Andriana Chuchman (soprano) Mary Hatch in It's a Wonderful Life. Met 2014
  • Hye Jung Lee  (soprano) The Fiakermilli in Arabella.
  • Sasha Cooke (mezzo-soprano) Orlando in Orlando.  Met 2007.

I was most impressed by our mezzos J'Nai and Sasha, but everyone loved Christina.   Vote here.