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.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Tannhäuser Again

I watched the film again of Tannhäuser from Bayreuth because it is now playing again in Bayreuth and I cannot go. Ekaterina Gubanova is Venus in the current version, and this may be an improvement.  I had already seen all the shocking parts, and was content to watch the whole opera.

I noticed the part where it is indeed Katarina Wagner who calls the cops, as a joke, I assume.  I saw that Wolfram puts on Heinrich's clown outfit, but isn't actually trying to fool Elisabeth.  She laughs and draws him into the van.  That puts a completely different spin on it.  It's too bad she doesn't love Wolfram who is quite charming.

The more I see and hear of Lise Davidsen, the more I admire, enjoy, respect and indeed love her.  She is very well suited to this role.  I am a long distance from having too much of her.  Es lebe die Lise.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Saariaho's Innocence

Conductor: Susanna Mälkki 
Production:  Simon Stone

Waitress:  Magdalena Kožená, 
Mother-in-law: Sandrine Piau,  \   Groom's parents
Father-in-law: Tuomas Pursio,  /
Bride: Lilian Farahani, 
Groom:  Markus Nykänen, 
Priest:  Jukka Rasilainen, 
Teacher:  Lucy Shelton

Kaaija Saariaho's new opera in 5 acts without intermission is called Innocence.  There is a film available from Aix en Provence which runs under 2 hours.  

Something terrible has happened before the start of the opera.  Research tells me that there are two groups:  The wedding party, and the teacher and her students who were present at a shooting that took place at their school 10 years before.  [It is strange to me that I am watching this on the 10th anniversary of a shooting in Oslo--irrelevant, or perhaps not.]  I found this in a review, and without it I would have had a hard time figuring out what was going on.

The father talks about another son he had and how he taught him how to shoot. This is dense and very complicated.  I think that they are reliving the tragedy.  This would be more possible with English subtitles. 

Attempt at a plot summary:  ten years ago at the International School in Helsinki one of the students stole his father's gun and shot a number of his fellow students.  Quite by accident the Waitress is serving a wedding in modern times.  Her daughter was one of the victims, and she recognizes the family.  The Groom is the brother of the boy who killed the others, including her daughter.  We learn that the murderer is out of jail and has been given another identity because he was a child at the time of the incident.  The Groom has not told his bride, whom he met in Bucharest.

The subtitles are in French, but I am hearing English occasionally.  One character speaks German. Some speak French.  Some characters change languages.  I hear other languages which I do not speak.

Some are wearing microphones:  the ones who only speak and the teacher.  The wedding party have no microphones.  I guess and suggest that this distinguishes people from the present from people from the past.

This is a story of modern times, a story where people think of shooting others around them.  Perhaps it is a suitable subject for an opera.  The thing I have seen recently which most resembles this is the recent production of Die Tote Stadt.  We seem to change from one reality to another with no transitions.  At the end everyone goes off on their own.

It's deeply gripping and very relevant.  I was drawn to it, but I would need more explanation and English subtitles.

Read more here.


It turns out it is more than a coincidence that I was reminded of the recent Korngold Die tote Stadt. The same guy directed both. Since I assign to the director the task of explaining the story, he is not focusing on that. 


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

New Fidelio Recording

Marek Janowski, conductor

Lise Davidsen, Leonore
Christian Elsner, Florestan
Georg Zeppenfeld, Rocco
Günther Groissböck, Don Fernando
Cornel Frey, Jaquino
Christina Landshamer, Marzelline
Johannes-Martin Kränzle, Don Pizarro

My copy of Beethoven's Fidelio with Lise Davidsen came in the mail today.  I loved her in the Royal Opera production, but there were a number of things that didn't quite succeed.  The men's chorus here is perfection.  O Welche Lust is a beautiful piece, beautifully done here. It wasn't very attractive at the Royal Opera.  On the first disc the voices are well balanced.

And then we come to Florestan and his big aria.  I'm used to Jonas Kaufmann, whom I once described as "a Florestan to die for," and Ben Heppner.  This one is too light, particularly when paired with Lise Davidsen.  She lightens her performance a bit.  I love Lise too much to turn it down, and she is incredible here.  Later in the act she lets it rip, and the Florestan can't really balance with her.  He's not that bad.  He just doesn't come up to Lise's standard.  This opera is hard to cast.  Who has come along to follow Jonas?  

In general I find this enjoyable.


Saturday, July 17, 2021

Lise in Die Walküre at BSO


Lise Davidsen sang Act I of Die Walküre at the Bayerische Staatsoper today with Jonas Kaufmann, Georg Zeppenfeld, and Asher Fisch .  I broke down crying it was so wonderful.  How can I pretend to review this?  

We were stomping our feet at home along with the distanced live audience.  Orchestra, conductor and soloists were all outstanding.  Lise is the fiercest Sieglinde I've ever seen.


I originally posted this on May 13 this year.  I have just finished listening to it for the third time.  It's absolutely wonderful, with two of my great operatic loves singing.  There is a Die Walküre series at Bayreuth this summer with Lise but not Jonas.  It's not being streamed.  But how could I possibly love it as much as this?  Wagner has never gone so deep into my heart.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Porgy and Bess HD Rerun

Conductor...............David Robertson

Porgy...................Eric Owens
Bess....................Angel Blue

I saw Wednesday's rerun of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess from the Metropolitan opera at my local theater.  I didn't enjoy it as much as the last time.  I think the sound in my theater was not adequate to the task of reproducing the voices. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

San Francisco Opera 2021-2022

The season has been announced for 2021-2022 at the San Francisco.  To reduce the number of people in the house at any given time, they are switching to the kind of season where only one opera plays at a time.  This change will result in only 5 operas.  We can only hope for a return to normal in the following season.


August 21, 27, 29; September 3, 5  Puccini's Tosca with the new music director Eun Sun Kim and starring Ailyn Pérez, Michael Fabiano, and Alfred Walker.  This is an excellent group.  


October 14, 17, 20, 22, 26, 30  Beethoven's Fidelio in a new production by Matthew Ozawa, starring Elza van den Heever and Russell Thomas. Music Director Eun Sun Kim conducts.  These are also excellent singers.  Fidelio is one of my favorites.

November 21, 23, 27; December 1, 3  Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.  Henrik Nánási conducts an  ensemble featuring Nicole Cabell, Irene Roberts, Benjamin Bliss, John Brancy, Ferruccio Furlanetto, and Nicole Heaston.  This is part 2 of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy production by director Michael Cavanagh.  I saw part 1 in 2019 here.  It seemed to work well.


June 4, 10, 12, 15, 18, 21, 26; July 2, 2022  Mozart's Don Giovanni conducted by Bertrand de Billy and starring Étienne Dupuis, Luca Pisaroni, Adela Zaharia, and Carmen Giannattasio.  This is part 3 of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy production by director Michael Cavanagh. 

June 14, 17, 19, 23, 25; July 1, 3, 2022   Sheng's Dream of the Red Chamber I saw this opera in 2016 at the world premier.  They have not provided much additional information.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Donald Pippin has Died (1925-2021)

The one and only Donald Pippin has died.  When I was a young person living in the Bay Area I went to see him perform Handel operas at the Spaghetti Factory in North Beach.  His gimmick was to perform the interesting parts with a small orchestra and talk between the numbers to explain what was going on.  His explanations were much funnier than the actual stories.

I even performed in one.  I was in Julius Caesar where I played Tolomeo while Caesar was sung by the magnificent Stephanie Friedman.  Standing on my left, towering over me, was John del Carlo who later sang at the Met.

Donald was much loved.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

West Edge Postponed

2021 has arrived and here is the West Edge Opera summer postponed from last year.  The text is the same, but the pictures are new and dates and location are added.

This is the publicity for the 2020 season of West Edge opera:
 Leoš Janáček’s  Katya Kabanova
 Elizabeth Cree, by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell
 Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabolo

August 6, 2019

West Edge Opera’s Mark Streshinsky | Credit: Mark Mayfield

While West Edge Opera has your attention, as their season rolls out, the company has announced next year’s season. No surprise, it’s just as ambitious as this year’s season. The festival opens a week earlier, July 25, 2020, instead of the first week in August and, just as with the current productions, you will have to wait for Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky to do location scouting to discover where the shows will be held, so stay tuned.

As usual, there is no sign of a top 50 opera anywhere, which is why some of us regard WEO so highly. However, there is a lot of great music in the works: the 2020 festival opens with Leoš Janáček’s brilliant, realistic drama Katya Kabanova with soprano Carrie Hennessy in the title role. This is a show that will challenge the company on a number of levels, but WEO has waded into these waters before, producing Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 2016. If they succeed, it will be one of the highlights of the Bay Area’s musical year.   July 24, Aug 1 & 5

The contemporary opera that the company always offers will be Elizabeth Cree, by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell, based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd and premiered by Opera Philadelphia in 2017. The opera is the third collaboration by Puts and Campbell, following Silent Night (2012) and The Manchurian Candidate (2015). Despite the fact that the opera is about a grisly murder, it is, the authors insist, darkly comic, and Puts believed it was his best theater work up to that time. His tonal idiom and command of period style should work well in this tale of a music hall singer of the 1890s who is accused of murdering her surgeon husband. July 25, 30 & Aug 7

Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabolo (1667), from the anything-goes Venetian opera houses of the 17th century is the third show of the season. The tale of a perverse and depraved Roman emperor, it almost feels like a modern show (an operatic Caligula, maybe) and in fact it never got its Venetian premiere, but not because it was too risqué. (It was replaced by an opera on the same subject by a different composer.) Maybe it was that Cavalli was too old-fashioned at the time, but in the 21st century, audiences have come around to Cavalli. The show has major productions at Theatre de la Monnaie (Belgium, 2004), the Aspen Festival (2007), Gotham Chamber Opera (NY, 2013), and Paris Opera (2016/17). Not bad for a modern opera. The West Edge production will star countertenor Randall Scotting in the title role, a part he can only hope leaves him clothed most of the time.   July 31, Aug 6 & 8

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.

BB.  This will all take place in The Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda in 2021.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Yannick Movie


I went to my local theater to see the movie from the Metropolitan Opera called Yannick: An Artist’s Journey, a new documentary from filmmaker Susan Froemke about Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Met's new music director.  It shows his life in music throughout his whole life.  His childhood piano teacher is shown.  She's very proud.

I liked it very much.  They never forgot to show his love for music.  They showed a lot of rehearsal scenes, which for me is a joy.  They showed him rehearsing Diana Damrau in La Traviata and the whole cast in The Dialogues of the Carmelites.  This last was particularly enjoyable.  Try to see it.

Addendum.  It went by on the screen very quickly, but Yannick conducted as his Met debut the Carmen I loved so much.