Friday, October 15, 2021

Fidelio in San Francisco


Conductor Eun Sun Kim 
Director Matthew Ozawa

Leonore Elza van den Heever 
Florestan Russell Thomas 
Don Pizarro Greer Grimsley 
Rocco James Creswell 
Don Fernando Soloman Howard 
Marzelline, Rocco's daughter, Anne-Marie MacIntosh * 
Jaquino Christopher Oglesby

Last night I attended the premier of a new production of Beethoven's Fidelio at the San Francisco Opera.  I'm going to work my way slowly through the production before going on to the music.

The single set is shown above.  It can be rotated, and the other side shows different spaces.  In Act II it looks different from Act I.  In Act I the back of the side presenting to us is covered with mirrors.  The director always sits in the middle of the orchestra to view his creation, but from my seat in the balcony circle the lights from the pit reflect in the mirrors to create a tremendous distraction.  The screens which drop down in the balcony are back, and they are shot from a lower angle which doesn't show the reflection.  I watched the screens.  [More about the screens later.]  No director ever seems to think of walking around the house to see what it looks like from other places.

Much of the drama of this production is created through costumes.  It's regie of course.  The last person in the upper left above might be Leonora dressed as a prison guard.

This will give you a better idea.  Left is Leonora, then Marzelline, then Rocco and last Jaquino.  It's probably the canon quartet.  Each of these people has a different role to play.  Leonora is in her guard's uniform.  Jaquino is wearing a business suit and Marzelline is wearing upscale office attire.  They seem to work in an office section of the prison.  Rocco who is supposed to be the boss is dressed no better than the prisoners without a uniform.  Jaquino is someone I have always seen as a flunky, so why is he in a business suit?  And why does Rocco look like a janitor?  I'm very confused.  This production does not give any clues about why Marzelline would prefer Fidelio.  The yellow outfits above are prisoners.

The one thing that makes Fidelio hard to stage is that in Act II while appearing to be still in the dungeon where Florestan has been hidden, there suddenly appears a fair sized mixed chorus to celebrate Leonora's rescue of Florestan [which she here accomplishes with a gun].  Until that point Leonora and Marzelline are the only women in the opera.  In this production the women are in the prison with their men and appear at the end when their men are released.  This sort of makes sense.

Enough about the production.  This was my first experience of our new conductor Eun Sun Kim.  She kept good tempos and maintained a suitable balance between the singers and the orchestra, things that make or break a performance.  The chorus was its usual spectacular self.

Russell Thomas sang a magnificent Florestan.  Greer Grimsley makes a good villain.  The make or break character is, of course, Leonora/Fidelio, here sung by Elza van den Heever.  She cried in the applause which was warm.  Everyone is so emotional about being back.  Elza, I hope you enjoyed your performance.

Which brings us back to the screens.  The San Francisco Opera is now offering live streams of its performances.  Streams require cameras, undoubtedly the same cameras that brought us the pictures on the screens that hang down in the balcony.  In addition streams bring money.  This makes me happy.  If you are unfamiliar with the San Francisco Opera, it provides a quality product.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Cecilia Unreleased


This is for Cecilia Bartoli's new album Unreleased.  I've never seen a picture of Cecilia with a dog before.  I received this in my email as a Friend, something I did not know I was.  Smile😍

This CD includes Beethoven's Ah Perfido, also seen on Lise's recent album.  There are also a number of Mozart arias.


Saturday, October 09, 2021

Boris Godunov in HD


Conductor...............Sebastian Weigle
Production..............Stephen Wadsworth 

Boris Godunov...........René Pape 
Prince Shuisky..........Maxim Paster 
Pimen .......................Ain Anger 
Grigory, Dmitry pretender......David Butt Philip 
Varlaam....................Ryan Speedo Green 
Simpleton*..............Miles Mykkanen

We saw in the movie theater the original 1869 version of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov performed in the critical edition by Michael Rot.  This is a different version of the opera than the one we saw in 2010, but the production is the same and the lead singer, René Pape, is also the same.  In this version the character Marina does not appear.  Here is a calendar for reference.

1547 Ivan the Terrible tsar
1552 Boris born
1557 Feodar I born
1582 Dmitry of Uglich born
1584 Ivan died
1585 Feodar tsar, Boris regent
1591 Dmitry died
1598 Feodor died
1598 Boris became tsar
1605 Boris died

We may assume the time line for the opera begins when Feodar dies and Boris becomes tsar, and it ends when Boris dies.  In real life people pretended to be Dmitry, and that is the basis for the plot.  Boris is very reluctant to be tsar, but eventually agrees. Grigory pretends to be Dmitry and a story about how Dmitry didn't appear dead is added to support this.

But that is the problem with this opera.  For those of us who are ignorant of Russian history we have no idea what actually happened.  Did Dmitry go off to Lithuania as a child only to reappear after Boris is tsar?  Sometimes it seems he did and sometimes it seems he didn't.  Boris seems not to have made up his mind whether or not he killed him.  It's all rather confused.

In this version, focused entirely on politics, there is a sameness to it all.  I can see why people complained.

The production and performances were all excellent, especially our star
René Pape.  I may have seen this enough.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Der fliegende Holländer from Bayreuth


Mary, Erik, Senta

Conductor Oksana Lyniv
Director Dmitri Tcherniakov
Daland Georg Zeppenfeld
Senta Asmik Grigorian
Erik Eric Cutler
Mary Marina Prudenskaya
Der Steuermann Attilio Glaser
Der Holländer John Lundgren

Richard Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer streamed from Bayreuth this summer on July 25.  It's regie, of course.  That means that the staging is modernized.  During the overture a mother hangs herself.  It's rather wildly realistic looking.  This doesn't seem to be the traditional plot about a sailor.  I'm here for Asmik Geigorian.

The sailors sit around drinking in a bar and never go to sea.  The girls don't spin, but instead practice the spinning chorus.  Senta smokes.  Erik comes in and chases the other girls away.  He warns Senta that her father wants to find her a husband.  Erik and Senta are exes and fight like it.  

Asmik is 40 but here passes for younger.  She is good looking, her voice is strong and her acting good.  The sound of her voice does not particularly appeal to me.  For me it is the feeling in the music.

Daland brings the Dutchman home and introduces him to his daughter as her bridegroom.  She swears to be faithful until death.  This takes place around the dining room table.  She gets excited over him for no apparent reason.  The ho hum everydayness of the staging takes all the fizz out of it.  Asmik tries to make up for it, but it's too much to ask.

In Act III everyone is outside eating and drinking except the sailors who sit glumly.  The townspeople ridicule them until the Dutchman takes out his gun and shoots a few.  Ugh.  Everyone but Senta runs off.  Erik complains to Senta who sits staring.  They sing about eternity on the sea, but there is no sea.  The Dutchman throws Senta on the floor.  Mom comes in and shoots him.  Senta laughs and tries to comfort her.  That's it.  I'll probably never watch this again.  The chorus is excellent.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Keith Bohm in Recital



Faculty Recital: Keith Bohm, saxophone

Capistrano Hall - Room 151
Accompanied on the piano by John Cozza.
The earliest piece in this recital was written in 1959:  Printemps by Pierre Gabaye, with piano accompaniment.

Arabesque on a theme by Debussy (2018) by Jenni Watson was accompanied by an electronic sound track.  This was fun.

Suite en duo (1971) Aria, Allegro, by Guy Lacour came in 2 movements and was played on two saxophones with no accompaniment:  Keith on tenor sax and Russell Veirs on alto sax.  There was much talking about the fact that originally the slow movement Aria followed the fast movement Allegro, but Keith likes it better this way.

Soar (2016) by Alastair Penman brings us back to piano accompaniment.

Ray (2017) brings us back to Jenni Watson.

All of these pieces have at least a hint of jazz.  Keith seems not to care for ugly modernity.

Fuzzette, the Tarangula (1962) by Robert Muczynski is in 9 movements and has a narrator and a flute player.

The program ended with Tango Suave (2012) by Jean Matitia.  

A whole program of saxophone is not unpleasant.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony in Sacramento

Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera opened their 2021-2022 season last night in the Memorial Auditorium.  This venue was chosen because it is one of the few places with a built in pipe organ, and they wanted to feature the Organ Symphony by Camille Saint-Saëns.  The rest of the program also included organ. 

The conductor for the performance was Robert Moody,

and the organist was James Jones. 

Originally the program was set to include Barber's Adagio for Strings in an arrangement for organ, but the organ itself is being repaired and would not play the piece.  Short pieces for organ were substituted.

Next was Edward Elgar's (1857-1934) Enigma Variations (1899). One source says there are 14 variations.  This information would have made sense to include in the program.  Some but not all of the variations included organ for a different sound.

To end the program we enjoyed the Organ Symphony by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921).  I liked the sound of this piece much better than the previous one.  Memorial Auditorium is not an ideal space for classical concerts due to the acoustics.  Towards the end of this piece the organ began to boom in.  I was disappointed that we had to wait so long for this loud booming sound.  All in all it was enjoyable.  Welcome back.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges Premier

The project I mentioned here will have its first showing on August 27.

I attended this first showing, and my friend Omari Tau turned out to be the star.  The life of the Chevalier was dramatized with all the other characters portrayed in silhouette.  This film was created for educational purposes and should not be confused with the movie Chevalier de Saint-Georges starring Kelvin Harrison Jr. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Pagliacci from Chicago

Conductor: Enrique Mazzola 
Director: Peter McClintock 
Canio: Russell Thomas 
Nedda: Ailyn Pérez 
Silvio: Lucas Meachem 
Tonio: Quinn Kelsey 
Beppe: Eric Ferring

You can see this cast of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci from the Lyric Opera of Chicago is impressive.  This copy has no subtitles in any language, so I have to rely on memory.

My memory, such as it is, tells me that this is the opera where they say "a venti-tre ore." Venti-tre is 23, so that means all are invited to a circus performance that begins at 11 pm. In Italy they might actually do this. They have dinner at 8 or 9 pm and go on from there. The American translations usually pretend it's earlier.

However, this is regie and the things going on have little to do with the original plot.  Here our theatrical troop is the cast of the TV show The Honeymooners.  It might very well be playing at 11 pm. They give out Pagliacci t-shirts to the chorus/audience.

Nedda, wife of Canio in both show and life, is tired of her husband and has become interested in Silvio, apparently a stagehand. She sings about this. The beautifull sung prologue is outside the Lyric Opera, and subsequent scenes are inside. Nedda sings in the wings next to the cables to draw the scenery. It's show business. Tonio wants her too. He goes after her and she hits him with her purse.

The second act is the comedy.  This is the Kramdens from the Honeymooners, apparently.  Forties/fifties furniture and clothing.  It's also in black and white like the TV show.  Adorable.  I believe Ralph was also a bus driver.  I have to say this concept completely works.  When the camera shows the stage and the wings, the color comes back.

These are all wonderful singing actors who bring this all to life.  I'm a Quinn fan and enjoy his work here, but his part is not large.  There is an argument on the internet over who gets to say the final line.  Apparently, in the score it is Canio who has just stabbed two people.  But here it is Tonio who plays Ed Norton.  "La comedia e finita.?  

If you can find it, watch it.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Tristan und Isolde from Munich 👍🏻


Conductor -  Kirill Petrenko 
Production - Krzysztof Warlikowski 

Tristan - Jonas Kaufmann 
Isolde - Anja Harteros 
King Mark - Mika Kares 
Kurwenal - Wolfgang Koch 
Brangäne - Okka von der Damerau

This is Wagner's Tristan und Isolde from the Bayerische Staatsoper.  It's a regie production, naturally.  Almost everything from there is.  I'm not sure it provides a context.  They all wear modern clothing, and we don't seem to be on a ship.

Act I.

Tristan has traveled to Ireland to bring back the future bride of King Mark of Cornwall.  He is there in his official capacity as representative of Cornwall.  Actually Tristan and Princess Isolde have an already existing relationship.  In a war between the two kingdoms, Tristan has killed Isolde's fiance and been seriously wounded in the process.  Isolde with the help of Brangäne nursed him back to health.  

On the journey she tries to order him around.  He remains distant and sends his assistant, Kurwenal.  This bit is not precisely clear.  Brangäne prepares a potion that Tristan and Isolde are to share.  Tristan drinks half, and then Isolde drinks the rest.  They seem to think it will kill them, but instead they fall hopelessly in love.  I thought the sudden falling in love was well handled.  We appear to be doing social distancing in this production.  No one touches in this part.

Act II

Isolde keeps turning the lights on and off.  I'm not sure what that's about.  I've never seen this character portrayed as perverse.  A feature of this production is that we see the characters live on the stage and projected on the wall in the form of a film at the same time.  Brangäne blames herself for administering the potion, but Isolde blames the Love Spirit who spreads love all around.  Isolde sees herself without love as destined for death.

I am an hour and a half in and did not ever before realize what a bear of a part Isolde is.  Other characters make brief appearances.  Finally Tristan enters and they talk about their time traveling to Cornwall.  She feels that she loved him then, but he was there in the role of foe.  Now they cannot simply forget that they love one another.  There is much discussion of which is better:  day or night?  Night is chosen.  Tristan wants to die.  The picture above comes from this section.

In the real world they sit in chairs and sing, but in the film behind they meet in the bedroom.  I don't know why I like this, but I do.

They sing for a long time about death, then suddenly they take needles from a bowl on the table and give themselves shots.  Death?  The bed in the background is suddenly surrounded by water.  Then people begin to enter.  They are discovered.  King Mark tells his story, that it was Tristan who thought he should marry.  Isolde is hearing this story for the first time.

This hardly seems like the same opera.  We want these two singers together in this opera because they are together emotionally.

Isolde says that she will follow Tristan to his home.  Melot, the betrayer, complains and the two men draw swords.  The bald person reappears.  Melot stabs Tristan.


Bald people in uniforms drinking coffee?  This part of the production I don't get.  Tristan sits with them and drinks coffee.  Next to him they look like children.  All but one appear to be puppets. A return to childhood?  An English horn plays on the stage.  

Kurvenal sings to the puppet Tristan while Jonas sings.  Then they exchange places. The puppet in the yellow blouse is Isolde herself.  I don't think I realized before how little time Tristan and Isolde spend on stage together.  I feel like I have never seen this opera before.  Opera's greatest singing actors have brought it to life as never before.  Absolutely stunning.

Old age advice.  Do not mourn that your love cannot be fulfilled.  Rejoice that passion can come to you.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Katya Kabanova at West Edge


Jonathan Khuner - Conductor / Music Director 
Indre Viskontas - Production Director 

Carrie Hennessey - Katya
Kristin Clayton - Kabanicha, mother in law
Christopher Oglesby - Boris, boy friend
Alex Boyer - Tichon, Katya's husband
Chad Somers - Kudrjaš
Sarah Coit - Varvara, Tichon's sister
Philip Skinner - Dikój, Boris's uncle 

Leoš Janáček's Káťa Kabanová (1921) played at the Bruns Amphitheater in the East Bay hills as part of the season for West Edge Opera.  It's sunny and hot when the sun is shining on you, and cold when it isn't.  You may rent yourself a blanket.  Luckily I brought a hat and a jacket.  This is normally the venue for what is lovingly called Cal Shakes, meaning UC Shakespeare, I assume.  Adjustments were made to accommodate the orchestra who played from under the stage.  In the current era where performing before an audience is difficult, I suppose they were lucky to get it.  I felt that the heat/cold situation was extreme and the acoustics, particularly for the singers, were bad.

I have seen this opera before at the San Francisco Opera before I began blogging.  I remember only the part where Katya throws herself into the Volga.  I felt that this staging introduced the characters and their relationships more successfully.  The stage didn't become cluttered with irrelevant people, because the tiny chorus seemed always to be offstage.  Everyone dresses in modern clothing.  The singers for Tichon and Boris look similar, but were clearly distinguished through their costumes.

This opera would probably best be described as verismo, concerned with the hum drum problems of ordinary people.  Katya and Tichon love one another, but then there is the boss/mother in law who expects to be always the center of attention.  She runs a business and Tichon works for her.  Katya seems to want to be a good girl, and when it transpires that she cannot manage this, she wants to be punished.  She goes around asking everyone to accommodate this desire, and when they don't, she kills herself.

I am a fan of Carrie Hennessey whose character pretty much carries this opera.  (Pun?)  I enjoy her work, and felt that the cast did a fine job.  This is not in line to become a favorite opera.