Thursday, June 30, 2016

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Production: Zack Brown

Don Carlo: Michael Fabiano
Elizabeth (Elisabetta) of Valois: Ana María Martínez
Philip II, Carlo's father: Ferruccio Furlanetto
Princess Eboli: Nadia Krasteva *
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa: Mariusz Kwiecień
The Grand Inquisitor: Andrea Silvestrelli

This is such a complex opera that it's hard to cover everything.  I am speaking of Verdi's Don Carlo at the San Francisco Opera.   It has two plots which is part of the reason it is so long.  One plot is about the fact that Elisabetta and Carlo meet in France, think they will marry, fall in love and immediately find out she will marry Carlo's father.  She immediately follows her fate while Carlo obsesses over her all the way to the end.

The second plot concerns the fact that Spain in the time of the inquisition has conquered Flanders, a protestant country.  The Roman Church at this time imagines that if it kills all the protestants, it will be left with a catholic world.  Power in Spain is held as much by the inquisition as by the king.  Many were also being killed in Spain.  Rodrigo and Carlo side with Flanders which is their downfall.

There are a few oddities in this production.  In the so-called "Auto-da-fé" scene no one burns.  Instead men in tall coned hats are raised into the air.   When Philip sings that his wife doesn't love him, he is alone in bed.  Eboli is seen going into the prison and rescuing Carlo, a first for me.  At the end Carlo is taken away by guards and not saved.  I found the production acceptable. 

Ours was the only performance with Furlanetto instead of Pape.  Furlanetto's voice is starting to show its age, but he still brings a powerful emotional performance.

I felt that Ana María Martínez was a bit light for Elizabetta, but her Act V aria was magnificent.

We were also pleased with the Eboli of Nadia Krasteva.  I saw her previously as Preziosilla in La Forza del Destino.

I was surprised to hear that both Michael Fabiano and Mariusz Kwiecień have big voices to bring to the table when required.  For this opera they would need to coordinate their expression more fully with one another for complete success.

I get to carp if I want but it would be nonsense to overdo it.  It was a successful evening with a large audience.  What do opera audiences really want?  Great Verdi and Wagner.

Monday, June 27, 2016


Conductor: Carlo Montanaro
Production: Calixto Bieito

Lillas Pastia (speaking): Yusef Lambert
Moralès: Edward Nelson †
Micaëla: Ellie Dehn
Zuniga: Brad Walker † *
Manuelita: Jamielyn Duggan
Carmen: Irene Roberts
Don José: Brian Jagde
Escamillo: Zachary Nelson *
Frasquita: Amina Edris † *
Mercédès: Renée Rapier
† Adler

The bare bones production of Carmen currently playing at the San Francisco Opera seems to be placed in the present.  When Micaela and Don Jose meet in the first act they take a selfie together.  Now a selfie requires a digital camera where the display screen points in the same direction as the camera lens.  You can only do that with a phone, I think.

At the very beginning of the opera a man dressed in a white suit, Lillas Pastia we decided, comes out and says "Love is like Death."  This means we are doing the original version of the opera with spoken dialog.  There is a lot of silly business in this production.  Micaela says Don Jose's mother tells her to deliver a kiss from her.  She then plants a serious one on him.  He follows this kiss with staring into the distance and reminiscing about his mother.  Micaela knows that she is toast.

When the other girls come out together from the cigarette factory smoking cigarettes (no smell of tobacco), no one can find Carmen.  She is in the phone booth making a call.  So why doesn't she have a mobile phone like every other modern girl?  The phone booth is the only scenery besides a flag pole and flag.

A half naked, and possibly also completely naked, man (sorry, forgot binoculars) appears for no discernible reason.  I thought as a message to gay pride celebrators outside, "hey, I bet we have more naked men in here than you do out there."

Cars.  Five of them in one scene.   A line marking machine appeared and drew a circle. 

The music was very lively, fast paced and fun.   I enjoyed this for no reason that I could explain.  Brian Jagde is far sexier than our Escamillo, so we are confused about why Carmen doesn't prefer him.  Ellie Dehn was a lovely Micaela, and I enjoyed Irene Roberts as Carmen.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


This is Anna Netrebko at the Wiener Staatsoper singing Manon Lescaut.  I saw this production in 2007 and wrote about it here.  I even mentioned Anna.  This set is the first and last acts.

Jonas Kaufmann performed both parts in Das Lied von der Erde on Thursday, but I haven't been able to find a film of it.  I've never heard of anyone doing this.

We're most of the way through June and the Salzburg Festival has not announced that anything will stream.  I'll keep wishing.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Gramophone Hall of Fame 2016

We have moved into a new phase of the Hall of Fame--half of the new inductees are people I have never heard of.

*** New in 2016
● Eugene ORMANDY conductor (2016-d)  ***
● Yevgeny MRAVINSKY conductor (2016-d)  ***
● Friedrich GULDA pianist (2016-d)  ***
● Gustav LEONHARDT harpsicordist and conductor (2016-d) ***
● Jon VICKERS tenor (2016-d) *** 
Trevor PINNOCK harpsicordist and conductor (2016-a)  ***
Gundula Janowitz soprano (2016-r) ***
● Dame Emma KIRBY soprano (2016-a) ***
● Anne Sophie von OTTER mezzo-soprano (2016-a) *** 
● Grigory SOKOLOV pianist (2016-a)  ***

Jenůfa in SF 👍🏻

Laca, Kostelnička, Jenůfa
Conductor: Jiří Bělohlávek
Director: Olivier Tambosi
Production: Frank Philipp Schlössmann

Jenůfa, Kostelnička's stepdaughter:  Malin Byström*, soprano
Kostelnička Buryjovka:  Karita Mattila, soprano
Laca Klemeň, cousin of Jenůfa:  William Burden, tenor
Steva Buryja, cousin of Jenůfa: Scott Quinn*, tenor
Grandmother Buryjovka, Kostelnička's mother: Jill Grove, contralto

Jenůfa (yeh-NEW-fuh) by Leoš Janáček currently running at the San Francisco Opera will never be the same for me.  There are like rocks in this production.  We decided this must be symbolism, but I don't really do symbolism.

Jenůfa is about the lives of women as seen from the perspective of those who love them.  Because Kostelnička married a leader in the church, when he died she retained her position of leadership in the community.  After Jenůfa's baby is born, Kostelnička mentions that she has christened him.  That means she has that authority.  Grandmother Buryjovka had two sons, both of whom were married twice, and  Kostelnička is the only one from the second generation who remains alive and the only one without a child of her own.  Though she is only her stepmother, Kostelnička loves Jenůfa and wishes her to have a good life, one as good as hers has been.  All that happens arises out of this motive.

Jenůfa is a cheerful, beautiful young woman who is loved by both Laca and Steva.  Steva is a drunk and a layabout who has gotten Jenůfa pregnant, but who also inherits the mill from grandmother when she dies.  Laca is lonely and rejected.  Crucial to the plot is the fact that Laca accidentally cuts Jenůfa in the face.  In our production this was made to look particularly ugly.

When Kostelnička finds out that Jenůfa is pregnant, she knows that she must act to save this situation.  She tells Steva that he must marry Jenůfa, and he responds that he is engaged to the mayor's daughter.  He won't marry Jenůfa because she is now disfigured.  Steva knows that he is the father of Jenůfa's baby and still rejects her.

Kostelnička in the dead of winter takes the baby out and shoves it down through a hole in the ice.  She feels that without a baby Jenůfa has a better chance in life.  Instead Jenůfa is saved by the almost miraculous transformation of Laca who truly loves her.

I enjoyed the voices, including the two wonderful tenors.  These two men, Laca and Steva, look and sound close enough alike to actually be brothers.

But it is the women that give this particular performance its great power.  Important is the contrast in power between the characters of the sweet but weak Jenůfa and the strong and controlling Kostelnička.   Malin Byström acts and sings beautifully, but it is the astounding strength of Karita Mattila that carries the opera to its great heights.  She has always been one of the great singing actresses of opera, but here she has topped herself.  It is these moments when the art form of opera shows itself to us to be the greatest of all, that it towers over the emotional heights and depths of everything else without presenting the material in a sordid way.

The tension built all the way to the end due to the masterful conducting of Jiří Bělohlávek.  There was some unusual orchestration.

In my heart David Gockley retires with this wonderful performance.  I don't know what the rocks mean, and I don't care, but my heart has been penetrated.  Thank you.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Netrebko's Elsa

From a Facebook comment on an Anna Netrebko post from the Sächsische Zeitung:

"Mr. Thielemann, probably on only three occasions was the Semperoper interesting for the international media: at the reopening in 1985, during the flood in 2002 and now, when Anna Netrebko sang her first Wagnerian role - are you satisfied?

- Yes, very. Anna Netrebko wanted to make her first Wagner with me, and I have proposed Dresden as a suitable location. Where else to hear "Lohengrin" because it indeed originated here. The orchestra has played so beautifully, the choir sang so beautifully, the soloists were top class. This "Lohengrin" with Anna Netrebko as Elsa was a stroke of luck - for us, for the house, for the audience. Guests came from around the world, the final applause after the fourth night lasted for half an hour. When do we have that?

The Russian has sung in German outstandingly well - are you surprised?

- I was generally surprised by how she threw herself at the role. I would not have thought it possible that the singer between the performances comes to me of her own volition to rehearse again, study further and iron out things. Such meticulousness made me very happy. And since we made four recordings, there is a version worthy of release. Whether it will be released, depends on our tests.

Are there any other plans to have the superstar soprano again in Dresden?

- Yes, there are some productions that I would like to study with her. Because of that, I now also have her phone number, it's preferable to discuss some things directly. But that will not be easy. She is much in demand and is committed for years in advance. To Dresden Elsa she dedicated one whole month and did not sing anything else. This unconditional will has also delighted me."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Scene from Manon

This is probably the best opera film that ever existed. Spoken by one who loves theater best. It was performed at the Gockley Gala and was almost this good. Almost.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Gockley Gala 2016

This is the set for last night's David Gockley Gala celebrating the retirement of the current San Francisco Opera Intendant at the end of the current season.  Most of Gockley's opera management career took place in Houston, and the Gala was specifically designed to celebrate his entire career.  Gockley was general director of the Houston Grand Opera from 1972 to 2006, and then became the general director of the San Francisco Opera up to the end of the current season.

Overture from Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin, conducted by John DeMain.  1/4

Many people were introduced at this point in the program.  The masters of ceremony were Frederica von Stade and Thomas Hampson.  We were reminded that Gockley had commissioned Heart of a Soldier for him.  Gockley commissioned about 45 new operas. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Late Late Show

Ailyn Perez and Luca Pisaroni with James Corden.  In case you missed it.  I think we've decided this is from Elixir of Love.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Goodbye to David Gockley

These are some of my favorite productions during David Gockley's tenure at the San Francisco Opera.

Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans with Dolora Zajick SFO was playing in San Francisco in 2006 when I happened to be there, and was simply magnificent.  I don't know why it isn't done more often.  Perhaps you need Dolora Zajick.  She's waving her banner just as I read about.


This is a Shakespeare year.  400 years ago William Shakespeare died.  To help in celebrating this event I bought a copy of BBC History with Shakespeare's face on the cover.  The above is the only picture of Shakespeare that we know comes from the period, so I substituted it for the one in the article which is similar.

In it was a fascinating four-way interview where the magazine interviewed Michael Dobson, Paul Edmondson, Laurie Maguire and Rene Weis under the title Shakespeare:  The Historians View.  This is cool stuff.  When I was young, it was constantly argued that William Shakespeare cannot possibly have written what he is supposed to have written.  Where did he learn all that history?  Answer--he read Plutarch the same as I did.  Duh.  That never seemed to satisfy anyone then.

What I used to ask myself that they never seemed to ask was where did all those upper class guys learn so much about the theater?  I don't think they would have been allowed to hang out there.  Yes, the language is wonderful, but the miracle of Shakespeare is how well it plays.  So imagine how pleased I was to find these historians absolutely reject the "who was Shakespeare really?" arguments.  Shakespeare was really Shakespeare.  He was even famous while he was alive.

Something I wouldn't have thought of came up.  The sixteenth century into the early seventeenth is the era when it became interesting to translate the Bible into English and that this influenced the language of Shakespeare.  Fascinating.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Prize Song

Always one of my favorites from Jonas Kaufmann, here is the Prize Song from the current run of Die Meistersinger in Munich.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

It's Yannick

According to the New York Times, Yannick Nézet-Séguin will succeed James Levine as musical director of the Metropolitan Opera.  Important sentence in this article:  "Beginning in the 2017-18 season, when he takes on the title of music director designate, he will conduct two operas a season; in 2020-21, when he officially becomes music director, he will conduct five."  I am assuming he will begin the administrative parts of his job asap. 

He conducted the amazing Carmen at the Met starring Elina Garanča and Roberto Alagna.  His most recent appearance in HD was last fall in Otello.  The artists all love him.  Congratulations.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Happy Birthday June 4

This is a selection of some of my favorite photographs of my favorite mezzo on a significant birthday.

The real Cecilia can't keep a straight face.

This is Cecilia the mogul. 

This is the "I'm too beautiful for you" picture.

There's no one like you. 

They should have filmed the London Il Turco in Italia and released it.  And I would still like to see Figaro from the Met on DVD.  It's still my favorite.  It doesn't hurt to nag.  Have a very happy birthday.

Schubert from Wigmore

Mary Bevan soprano
Tara Erraught mezzo-soprano
Allan Clayton tenor
Henk Neven baritone
James Baillieu piano

I apologize for leaving out the pianist and string quartet.  You can go on to and view them for yourself.  The Wigmore Hall series seems to be free.

I sang a bit of Schubert and don't think I was so sedate as these singers.  Let's just say I overdid everything.  Schubert is the most likely to make me miss the life of music.

I don't think I've heard "Die junge Nonne" since I sang it at 19.  Tara does a lovely job.  It helps if you understand the words.