Arturo Chacón-Cruz is this year's winner of the Emerging Stars competition at the San Francisco Opera. I first saw him in San Francisco as the Duke in Rigoletto in 2012. He starred this past season as Rodolfo in Puccini's La Boheme. He is another Mexican tenor. We seem to have a lot of them these days. Perhaps Placido finds them. Yes, I see he won Operalia.
Who doesn't love a good Rodolfo? To quote myself I said, "...my favorite was Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Rodolfo who has a gorgeous, bright sound." Here he is as Rodolfo.
Philip Glass had his 80th birthday earlier this year. I had no idea he had written so many operas. Here is a list.
1975–1976--Einstein on the Beach for the Philip Glass Ensemble (with Robert Wilson). I saw this at Zellerbach in Berkeley when it toured in 2012.
1978–1979--Satyagraha (premiered in 1980, libretto by Constance DeJong). I first saw this in 1989 at the San Francisco Opera. This was my first experience of a Glass opera. I saw it again live at the Metropolitan Opera in 2008 and again in HD in 2011.
Teodor Currentzis | Conductor
Peter Sellars | Stage director
Russell Thomas | Tito Vespasiano (b) USA
Golda Schultz | Vitellia (b) South Africa
Christina Gansch | Servilia (w) Austria
Marianne Crebassa | Sesto (w) France
Jeanine De Bique | Annio (b) Trinidad
Willard White | Publio (b) Jamaica
This is Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito from the Salzburg Festival in a staging by the American Peter Sellars. I put letters next to the cast to show that most of the cast is black. They are from everywhere. I know what this would mean to Americans but am not sure how a European audience would react. It would be difficult to persuade me that the timing of this was a coincidence. All appear to be fine singers. This is on medici.tv until November, and I see no titles.
When the opera opens the crowd of mostly white people are herded into a corner by army. Some of the women wear head scarves. Tito picks Sesto and Servilia out of the crowd. This is such wonderful music. How have I not known this?
There are Roman arches across the stage as the only reminder of the Roman Empire, but the costumes are all modern. I read elsewhere that Tito is compared to Nelson Mandella. This is rather more profound than I normally expect from Peter Sellars. This is clearly a concept production, much more so than the Claus Guth from Glyndebourne. Mandella, the great reconciler is evoked. Clearly Sellars has changed it into a story of racial conflict and broadened the impact by placing it in modern South Africa and using black singers.
Sesto and Annio
Sesto shoots Tito who does not die. This is intensely serious. A miracle could happen -- I could become a fan. This is so brilliant I am truly amazed. The timing couldn't be more right. It goes to the top of my list of great regietheater.
Annio sings a Kyrie for those who have died in the raid on the Campidoglio. Jeanine De Bique's Annio was for me the best singing. The use of chorus is spectacular and may truly be his area of expertise. Russell Thomas raises Tito to new heights and then dies in the hospital. Tutto perdono. Are we ourselves so large? This version has a sad ending.
Aida: Anna Netrebko
Radamès: Francesco Meli
Amneris: Ekaterina Semenchuk
Amonasro: Luca Salsi
Ramfis: Dmitry Belosselskiy
The King: Roberto Tagliavini
A Messenger: Bror Magnus Tødenes
The High Priestess: Benedetta Torre
Verdi's Aida is this year's hit at the Salzburg Festival I am behind schedule but have managed to find a view of this great occasion: Aida, Netrebko and Muti collide.
The production by Iranian Sharin Neshat seems to ask the question "What if Ancient Egypt were a modern middle-eastern country?" I am loving the simple look after too many years of over-detailed productions. Aida's look for the first half, seen above, doesn't remind me of anything.
I am finding simplicity in the story, too. Radames is in love with Aida. Then he goes to the King to offer to lead an army against the Ethopians who are invading. Aida says wait, that's my father. This group dress in uniforms with head gear that looks like a fez, more popular in the past. The king in a gold fez approves, and then Radames goes to the priests for their blessings. King Farouk of Egypt wore something similar:
The priests all look the way priests look in Iran. They're called Imams, I know. Amneris tells Radames to return victorious. Aida sings yes, "return victorious over my father."
Then we go to the chamber of Amneris. Time has passed, and Radames has gone off to war. At this point guys come out in what look like bull skulls and do the dance normally done by Amneris' attendants. What is that about? They are on stage for only a couple of minutes. Amneris and her women return and they split. Curious.
There follows a scene between Amneris and Aida when Amneris tricks Aida into revealing she loves Radames. Amneris reminds Aida that she is only a slave. Aida prays for the gods to take pity.
So far I like very much the simple clarity of the scenes. The main characters are clearly delineated and never disappear into the crowd. I like the way Netrebko is dressed. Radames has returned and is enjoying a triumphal entrance such as he might have expected in Rome. I am enjoying the division of everyone into the priestly and military/ civilian classes. One does enjoy clarity.
Now if one only knew what the guys in bull skulls were for. They're back. The stage rotates and we see the African prisoners made up with white lines down their faces. Radames returns and is given the wreath of triumph, still very much like a Roman triumph, but then why not? Aida doesn't crack a smile until she sees her father and runs to him. He is the Ethiopian king but pretends that the king has died.
In the second half Aida has changed her appearance to look more like the other Ethiopians, even including the white line. On the banks of the Nile she sings of the loss of her country. Wonderful aria, wonderful rendition. Father comes in, then Radames. Aida and Radames plan how they will escape the powerful Amneris. Radames tells a military secret, Aida's father hears and declares that he is king Amonasro. Radames realizes he is now a traitor, they start to escape until Amneris enters with her priests. The plot is all here in these few minutes. This is a single set production that functions well for the various scenes. In this opera everyone messes up.
I like very much that the costumes clearly identify the status of each character. Priests look like priests. Soldiers look like soldiers. I have a vague idea of ancient Egyptian clothing, but would not know which people are which. Ethiopians all have white lines on their foreheads.
Radames says he will not be with Amneris if he can't have Aida. They are doomed. I am enjoying this opera a lot more than I usually do. Ekaterina Semenchuk is excellent. I sometimes think Amneris is the main character. She messes up everyone's lives, including her own. Meli does the best I've heard him.
But the fuss is for Netrebko. The best music is at the end. O terra addio. Love to all.
Conductor: Robert Mollicone
Director: Mark Streshinsky
Diana, goddess of chastity (soprano): Nikki Einfeld
Clizia, nymph (mezzo-soprano): Molly Mahoney
Britomarte, nymph (soprano): Maya Kherani
Chloe, nymph (contralto): Kathleen Moss
Doristo, keeper of the tree (bass): Malte Roesner
Cupid (soprano): Christine Brandes
Endimione, shepherd (tenor): Kyle Stegall
Silvio, shepherd (tenor): Jacob Thompson
The Chastity Tree, originally called L'Arbore di Diana (1787) by Vicente Martín y Soler, is contemporary with Mozart's Don Giovanni and has the same librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. It was performed with the original Italian da Ponte libretto. It is important to notice that L'Arbore premiered in Vienna, while Don Giovanni was first presented in Prague. Martin was Mozart's competition. This opera faded from awareness during the 19th century, until it was suddenly revived in the 21st century. I will never again think of Mozart as a slut.
My seat for this performance was an improvement over Saturday night. I could see fine. The metal object shown above is intended to represent the tree. Diana, goddess of the hunt, and her three nymphs make up a community sworn to chastity. Diana has used her magic to create a tree that sings when the chaste nymphs walk beneath it. However, if one of them is found not to be chaste, the tree pummels them with apples until they die. At the start of the opera a group of women dressed in green with a large red circle climb up into the tree where they remained for most of the rest of the opera. I decided that these were the apples. They occasionally sing, do simple gymnastics and perform choreography. In the overture the tree lights up and the pom poms wave when pleasant music plays, representing the tree when it is happy.
In her status as goddess of the hunt, Diana in mythology carries a bow and arrows. Her arch rival and perhaps enemy Cupid is similarly equipped but uses his arrows to strike love into the hearts of humans. This places them at complete cross-purposes. As you might expect from a libretto by da Ponte, love or at least promiscuity wins in the end. Cupid brings shepherds into the community of nymphs, making this a traditional nymphs and shepherds plot. Only the unfortunate Silvio seems to miss out on the love making.
Hanky panky is everywhere, but Diana herself falls seriously for the shepherd Endimione, a beautiful young man. The best music is for Diana. Cupid is a boy, sung by a woman, but disguised as a woman throughout the opera, except he/she keeps the goatee and mustache. Various characters suggest that Cupid might be a man, but he/she remains in her pink dress until the end. At the end a storm destroys the tree before it can throw down any apples. Boy Cupid declares victory.
This is an entertaining opera which will henceforth inform my sense of the da Ponte comedies by Mozart. The music is good but not great. It's fun. Enjoy.
Hamlet: Edward Nelson
Gertrude, Hamlet's mother: Susanne Mentzer
Ghost of Hamlet's father: Kenneth Kellogg
King Claudius, Hamlet's Uncle: Phil Skinner
Ophélie, Hamlet's fiance: Emma McNairy
Polonius, Ophélie's father: Paul Cheak
Hamlet (1868) by Ambroise Thomas was presented by West Edge to open their festival at the Pacific Pipe warehouse in Oakland. The abandoned train station which was the venue for last season was recently condemned by the city of Oakland due to a recent fire that resulted in casualties. This resulted in a scramble to find a new space. I for one was not particularly happy with this.
In a nearby building were people preparing for Burning Man. Somehow you knew that this was a Bay Area phenomenon. They played very loudly amplified low pitched thumpy music throughout this performance. It was like your stereo was malfunctioning and all you could get were the lowest notes. I thought it was very annoying. There were three large doors in our space which were kept open. One faced the other space where the noise originated. It seemed to me that closing this door would have gone a long way toward reducing the thump thump roar not composed by Thomas.
I could go into a rant here. Not the right repertoire, etc. I liked the singing but couldn't see very well. What if the stage were in the center of the space? I don't know if this would work. I very much regret having to give this a pan.
Tito: Richard Croft
Vitellia: Alice Coote
Sesto: Anna Stéphany
Servilia: Joélle Harvey
Claus Guth is one of the masters of Regietheater. Looking at the above picture from his production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito we are reminded of a production of Lohengrin from La Scala a few years ago where the action takes place on a river bank with similar looking grass. Yes. That too was Claus Guth. More recent experiences are the PTSD Fidelio and Salome in a men's wear store. So an opera about an emperor of Rome takes place in a grassy field. I may see some water behind. It seems to be a cabin in the woods. The original tenor quit over "artistic differences."
I like all these singers. Alice Coote is outstanding, in spite of the fact that she lights cigarettes all the time. They're talking about places in Rome, burning down the Campidoglio, but we see only grass. They explain in the interval that this is to remove all hints of cultural context. A swamp could be anywhere any time.
This particular swamp is where these same people played together as children. Films play in the background showing children playing. This production focuses entirely on the emotional relationships between the characters.
I hadn't until recently realized that this is such a wonderful opera. Beautiful arias, beautiful sentiments. And best of all it's Mozart. In such an opera it is possible to sing with complete sincerity. The soul is open. My own experience of this opera is informed by Cecilia Bartoli's performances on her early Mozart recording of the arias: "Non più di fiori," "Deh per questo istante solo" and "Parto, ma tu ben mio."
No flowers for me. Non piu di fiori. She repents and thinks she will not marry. It is opera seria so they all live happily ever after. Glorious. Sesto is the star. Anna Stéphany was a replacement for a pregnant Kate Lindsey. She looked and sang beautifully and received the most applause.
Oberon, or The Elf King's Oath (1826)by Carl Maria von Weber is originally in English with spoken dialog. Characters appear from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Today it live streamed from the Bayerische Staatsoper where it presents in German with English subtitles.
The original dialog is rewritten to suit the regietheater production. We saw this rewriting of the dialog recently in the Carmen from Aix-en-Provence, and it is strangely curious that it appears to be for the same reason--to make the opera about psychiatry.
I'm getting the impression a lot of people are angry about psychiatrists. They pick two seemingly random people from the audience and conduct experiments on them to see if they will experience passionate, long-lasting love. As things go along we pick up on the idea that this is personal between the head psychiatrists and that one or both of them are betting on no. Here no papers are signed and the fantasy is assisted with drugs and electric treatments.
The producer Nikolaus Habjan is a puppeteer. His puppets are larger than ventriloquist dummies but are handled similarly except the ventriloquist tries to be invisible. I've seen this sort of thing before but I don't think in an opera. The characters that exist entirely in the fantasy of Oberon assisting an imagined mortal in finding his love and recovering his good name. The real people are the two men from the audience and Rezia. We aren't sure if Fatime is real or imaginary. The psychiatrists and lab technicians are all real, of course. I don't know if it's necessary to explain this any further. The action results from sick cruelties inflicted on the test subjects.
Weber was a great composer, but this opera is supposed to have killed him. It was a pleasure to hear this music, though technical difficulties interfered with some of the arias. The greatest aria from this opera is "Ozean du Ungeheuer." If you've never heard it, here is a sample.
Our soprano Annette Dasch was excellent, and at least one audience member shouted bis at the end of the aria. We also liked the tenor Brenden Gunnell.
Don Giovanni: Philippe Sly
Leporello: Nahuel di Pierro
Donna Anna: Eleonora Buratto
Don Ottavio: Pavol Breslik
Donna Elvira: Isabel Leonard
Zerlina: Julie Fuchs
Masetto: Krzysztof Baczyk
Il Commendatore: David Leigh
Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer
Mise en scène:
What if Don Giovanni is a silly person and is just larking about? And what if Leporello is the one who stabs the Commendatore, accidentally, of course? Is this the Don Giovanni I've been searching for? This is the great Mozart opera from Aix-en-Provence.
There are period costumes, sort of, and props and makeup, but no sets to speak of. Leporello seems to be in on everything more than is usually the case. Zerlina is sufficiently sexy. Donna Elvira is a complete bitch. DG jumps around a lot more than anyone would think possible for an opera singer. Don Ottavio, a serious young man, comes to the party with a gun. Viva la liberta. This is like an orgy, but the girls look dubious. Donna Elvira makes off with the gun.
Donna Anna, Don Giovanni, Donna Elvira
Toward the end of the intermission the Don comes out in more or less modern clothing and offers flowers to a woman in the front row. He's scanning the audience for more candidates. He waves. The orchestra is back so he's looking them over. He claps for the conductor. Leporello is in modern clothing, too.
Elvira enters with a shorter skirt, followed by her servant carrying the gun. The Don and Leporello exchange silly wigs. They don't look much alike. Leporello has tattoos, Don Giovanni doesn't. This is completely satisfying my desire for a Don Giovanni in a comedy staging. The best singing is from the women.
Masetto shows up in the audience with a gun which he waves around. I see now that this is as close to a comedy as it can get. Some of the characters, Ottavio, Anna, Elvira, are serious to the core. We have here corrupt young men going wild. Giovanni strips down to his underwear at the end. There is some nudity.
I completely bought it. Don Giovanni may now return to being a serious opera.
Artaserse Prince and then King of Persia; friend of Arbace, in love with Semira--Philippe Jeroussky Mandane Sister of Artaserse; in love with Arbace (en travesti) -- Max Emanuel Cencic Artabano Prefect of the Royal Guard; father of Arbace and Semira-- Juan Sancho Arbace Brother of Semira; Friend of Artaserse; in love with Mandane-- Franco Fagioli Semira Sister of Arbace; in love with Artaserse
(en travesti)--Valer Barna Sabadus Megabise General of the Persian Army, confidant of Artabano; in love with Semira --Yuriy Mynenko
This is a film of the opera Artaserse by Leonardo Vinci on a libretto by Metastasio which was first performed in Rome in 1730. It was the last opera for Vinci who died that year, and the first for Metastasio. Vinci is one of the great Baroque Italian composers whose operas are only now being revived. Women were not allowed on the stage in Rome, so all the characters were originally sung by castrati except Artabano who is a tenor and
the villain. This performance exists to remind us that opera is an Italian art form.
All the castrati are here countertenors and some of the
most famous countertenors of our time. These guys are amazing. The opening pair are Cencic and Fagioli, both incredible, and the music is gorgeous. The range of colors in our 5 countertenors is pretty fascinating. It remains to be seen if the fascination will wear off before the opera ends. So far 6 Rossini tenors pales in comparison. They have been assembled in Nancy in the west of France.
At the start there is some breaking of the fourth wall in case you missed that these are all guys. Some start out in their modern clothing, for instance. Stagehands appear, and all of them are girls. Hmmm. These are theatrical stagehands--when the real stagehands appear, they are all men.
There is an attempt here to present Baroque costumes, though they seem to suddenly appear and disappear. Now that Artaserse is king he appears in an incredible white wig with horns and a white outfit. Then Artabano appears in the same outfit. Jeroussky has the most beautiful voice, but there is much to admire here. The most spectacular is probably Fagioli, but they're all pretty amazing.
Plot. There is an offstage murder of the present king, Artaserse's brother. This makes Artaserse king and causes a lot of accusations. Artabano is probably to blame. He and Megabise plot to marry Semira to Megabise instead of Artaserse. Since the male characters all wear the same white outfit, it's very hard to keep track of who is who. Some visual help would have been good. Artabano tries to poison Artaserse, but when it appears that Arbace will drink the poison, Artabano confesses. It has a happy ending, as do almost all opera seria.
What it is actually about is singing, of course. If you are at all curious to know what Baroque opera was really like, this is probably your best opportunity. This is the Italian Baroque opera and not the French version which had no castrati. These guys belt it out in a way that is surprising. It is a unique experience, unlike anything I have seen in all my years of going to the opera.
Jaroussky removes his hats and wigs as soon as possible, giving the impression that he doesn't much care for dressing up. The tenor is banished. All six characters return for a song at the end. One of the "girls" brings out the conductor. The music is spectacular, not just the singing. Find a way to add this to your experience of opera.
Production: Keith Warner
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Otello: Jonas Kaufmann
Desdemona: Maria Agresta
Iago: Marco Vratogna
Cassio: Frédéric Antoun
We had a larger than usual crowd at our local theater to see Verdi's Otello from London's Royal Opera House. The fame of Jonas Kaufmann has spread even to Sacramento.
Verdi's Otello is very close to Shakespeare's Othello. Verdi omits the opening scene in Venice and adds a charming love scene in Cyprus. For me the plot is very much enhanced by showing Otello and Desdemona together before the influence of Iago. British direction has resulted in a traditional production which does not interfere with the clarity of the plot. Our focus is on the singing actors. Though Otello's appearance is described in the libretto, there was no dark makeup except as observed above.
This was Jonas Kaufmann's debut in this role. A cast has been assembled to suit our hero's not terribly heavy voice. Elsewhere I criticized Vratogna as too light for Iago, but here he seems ideal. His creepy, insinuating style is the perfect foil and partner for Kaufmann's dramatic vocal variety. I also liked Maria Agresta for her tenderness. In our theater the Ave Maria was too soft. It most resembled a theatrical Otello rather than an operatic one.
Our Jonas is an extraordinarily beautiful man with a gorgeous, dark voice. I have loved his work as a spinto tenor and do not think of him as a baritone. In addition to these qualities, he is a great actor of wide ranging emotion. I have loved him most in Werther, Lohengrin, Carmen, Die Walküre, Parsifal, Don Carlo, Il Trovatore, Forza and The Girl of the Golden West. In all of these he brings added depth to his characters. I often listen to him speak in both English and German and find him to be wonderfully intelligent, a fact which also contributes to his characterizations. I mention only two languages because they are the ones I speak, but he speaks others. He is adored as few in his profession are.
In Otello he is a villain whose villainy is exceeded only by that of Iago. I'm sorry if you missed it. Perhaps there will be a DVD.
Part of Saturday night's concert was the announcement of next season's concerts.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Andrew Grams, our conductor on Saturday, conducts:
Prokofiev Violin Concerto #1 with Rachel Barton Pine on the violin
Brahms Symphony #1.
November 18, 2017
Sameer Patel conducts selections by
Rossini, including excerpts from Barber of Seville, followed by some
Mozart, including highlights from Don Giovanni and Marriage of Figaro.
The concert ends with the Mozart Symphony #38.
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Case Scaglione conducts Russian Festival:
Mussorgsky – Night on Bald Mountain
Tchaikovsky– Piano Concerto No. 1 with Andrew von Oeyen, piano
Rachmaninoff – Symphonic Dances
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Mei-Ann Chen conducts the second part of the Russian Festival:
Glinka – Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture
Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 3 also with Andrew von Oeyen, piano
Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Dmitry Sitkovetsky conducts
Tchaikovsky – Suite No. 4, “Mozartiana”
Mozart – Violin Concerto No. 5 with our conductor on the violin
PÄRT – Fratres
Beethoven – Symphony No. 8
I've never attended a concert with a piece by PÄRT. It should be interesting.
Saturday, May 5, 2018
Christoph Campestrini will conduct
Cast to be announced
Saturday, November 25, 2017 (Thanksgiving Weekend)
“Music of Prince”
The Sacramento Philharmonic, backed by a full rock band,
presents a symphonic tribute to Prince.
Brent Havens, conductor
Saturday, February 24, 2018
“The Music of Abba”
Direct from Sweden, “Arrival” – the world’s
foremost Abba tribute band performs live
in concert with the Sacramento Philharmonic
Saturday, April 28, 2018 “HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD!”
Movie melodies from Hollywood’s biggest
blockbusters: The Godfather, James
Bond, Rocky, 2001, Jaws, E.T., Gone with
the Wind, Star Wars, and more!
Stuart Chafetz, conductor
Charles Roubaud - stage director
Mikko Franck - music director
Nadine Sierra - Gilda
Leo Nucci - Rigoletto
Celso Albelo - Il Ducca di Mantova
Stefan Kocán - Sparafucile
Marie-Ange Todorovitch - Maddalena
Host - Natalie Dessay who calls Nadine "formidable."
By modern opera standards this production of Rigoletto from Orange is very traditional, as long as you are happy with generic modern clothing which I no longer find that I mind. The set is simple to make it blend in with the natural setting provided by this extremely well preserved Roman theater which is complete with stage. Rigoletto wears a gold jacket while all the other guys wear black.
Those of us who saw him in Onegin love Stefan Kocán. His Sparafucile works as a waiter at the Duke's party. In his first scene he holds his low note while he walks across the wide stage.
Leo Nucci is Placido's age and performs more like a character actor. I prefer a sung Rigoletto like Quinn Kelsey, but Leo is theatrically quite viable and moving.
I'm here for Nadine Sierra who comes in around 24 minutes into the opera. She is really quite glorious and also gorgeous. She does her cadenza lying on the stage. Later when the action returns to the Duke's palace, they take a bis.
I love Rigoletto, and enjoyed this one very much. Opera is everywhere now. This is now available on medici.tv.
Here is a quote from Le Monde:
Sa voix au timbre pur, incisif et délicat, irradie de tendresse dans le médium et se couvre d’or dans les aigus qu’elle laisse flotter aux limites de l’audible. Le fameux « Caro nome » à la fin de l’acte I, cette rêverie amoureuse qui parle de sensualité, démultiplie la ligne ornementale en une envolée de notes parfaitement justes et calibrées, une ligne d’une musicalité raffinée. Dans l’abandon aux pulsions amoureuses, Nadine Sierra dévoile l’infinie tendresse d’une nature angélique, dans le temps suspendu d’un cœur qui tutoie les étoiles.
[Her voice with a
pure, incisive and delicate tone radiates tenderness in the medium and
is covered with gold in the treble that it lets float to the limits of
the audible.The famous "Caro nome" at the end of
Act I, this amorous reverie which speaks of sensuality, multiplies the
ornamental line in a flight of perfectly accurate and calibrated notes, a
line of refined musicality.In the abandonment to
the love impulses, Nadine Sierra reveals the infinite tenderness of an
angelic nature, in the suspended time of a heart that knows the stars.--Google Translate]
Hermann, Landgraf von Thüringen:
Klaus Florian Vogt
Wolfram von Eschenbach:
Walther von der Vogelweide:
Heinrich der Schreiber:
Reinmar von Zweter:
Elisabeth, Nichte des Landgrafen:
There appears to be some nudity in this production of Wagner's Tannhäuser from the Bayerische Staatsoper. Or maybe we are seeing body stockings. Or some of each. I'm imagining the casting call for the set of archers shown who are clearly topless. Their boobs are too uniform to be ballet. [Research indicates that the archers are members of the ballet. I'm still not sure I believe it.] Later in the opera are people lying on the floor who are wearing body stockings.
The archers are very carefully blocked so that when they are actually shooting, they are always facing up stage. The cocked arrows are never pointed anywhere else. It is interesting to notice that none of the arrows fell to the floor. Later in the opera one of the characters pulled back an arrow and pointed it in the general direction of Elisabeth. I did not like this at all.
I did not hallucinate that the Dresden Amen appears in Act III. I'll have to learn to sublimate my reaction to this showing up in Wagner.
The most reaction in my group was to these feet. Feet! I won't bother to try to explain this production and have probably already shown the most interesting parts.
The orchestra, chorus, conductor and soloists were glorious. I especially liked Anja Harteros, but then I generally do. It was entirely beyond ones very high expectations.
Anja looks down on her dead self. Please note: the tombstones are named after the singers and not the characters they portray. The talking heads said that this was to show that an opera staging is just pretend. No attempt is made to explain her death, except we are told that an hour has elapsed.
The production is a cross between Star Wars and The Hunger Games, and instead of Venusberg we have Venusfleischberg [mountain of flesh].
Again the greatest applause is for Petrenko whose contract has been extended to 2021.
Over undisclosed pathways I found my way to Bizet's Carmen from Aix-en-Provence. I will try to explain it, but it may take a while. My source shows only French subtitles. Above is the end tableau. Carmen was originally an opera comique with spoken French dialogue, and this is what we have here. This allows our producers to change the dialogue to whatever pleases them, including adding characters not in the original libretto. Last summer our Carmen included Lillas Pastia, the owner of Carmen's nighttime hangout, in a speaking role.
We appear to be in the lobby of a business in a room filled with large brown leather chairs. An official appears periodically throughout the performance who does not sing and seems to be the head therapist in a radical experimental therapy group. At first Fabiano (in a light blue suit and sun glasses) and Dreisig (in a pink coat) are an engaged couple who are here to seek help before marrying. Legal disclaimers are signed. Watch, wallet and phone are given to staff. Fabiano puts on a name tag "José" and Dreisig leaves. Clearly this is what I would call a concept staging. I thought it worked. If the characters are modern people, then it is easier to understand what is going on emotionally.
This is closer to the basis for Carmen than the stagings usually are. Carmen needs a policeman to assist with certain aspects of her smuggling operation, and Don José is chosen. So it's all a con. Our staging is more theater than con, but the effect on José is similar.
Men enter bearing name tags that say "Soldat" and sit in the brown chairs. The lady in the pink coat returns but everyone ignores her. The soldiers first sing in their normal voices and then later they open their mouths and children's voices come out. Hmmm. They hold up smiley faces and José laughs.
Then suddenly the men bring out wine and girls enter smoking cigarettes. Everyone drinks. The atmosphere is very casual and relaxed, and I enjoyed this.
The entrance of Carmen is something to experience. She bursts on the scene wearing pants and warning everyone not to fall in love with her. She flirts with everyone but gives the flower to Don José. I loved her madly and understood why José would fall for her. She looks and sounds gorgeous and sings with great intensity and joy. After choosing him, she leaves.
The woman with the pink coat returns, calls herself fiance, and puts on her "Micaëla" name tag. This is the duet where she brings a kiss from mama. Carmen returns and there is an extended scene where José tries to tie her up with his necktie. The Seguidilla is sung from a chair. The lights come back up, everyone leaves except José, and we have the end of Act I.
In Act II the plot thickens. We are attempting to understand what about all this is its therapeutic purpose. Projection? Perhaps girlfriend is dissatisfied with his level of passion.
The girls with Carmen return. The toreador comes out smoking a cigar and sings his big aria. Carmen really likes him and goes off with him. The men point guns at José long enough to upset him, and then smiley faces come out the barrels, making him laugh.
Carmen returns with castanets, argues with José and tells him to go back to his barracks. Escamillo is her real interest while José is only pretend. He responds by singing The Flower Song. Beautifully. This staging emphasizes the importance of Don José. Michael Fabiano basically carries the opera. Carmen responds by praising only liberty. They fight and everyone else on the stage applauds. For them this indicates success. Shall we continue or not? End of Act II.
In Act III José is still on the stage while the music plays. Then the lights come up and the psychiatrist comes out along with the others. The decision has been made to continue. Carmen, Frasquita and Mercédès play the card game. The two girls discuss their fortunes, but Carmen draws the death card. José stares at them. We're trying to decide if the therapy has gone wrong. He has clearly lost his sense of what is real and what is not. Something resembling a staff orgy ensues. This would be a hell of a job. José watches from above.
José fights with Escamillo. Micaëla returns. This whole act is very chaotic.
In Act IV something odd happens. José is still there looking on, but a new client has arrived. The music of Act IV plays while the scene is staged to resemble Act I. The new guy's name tag even says José. Except all the fizz has gone out of Carmen. Our José stabs Carmen multiple times, but this is all fake since the knives are not real. The opera ends with the staff on stage getting out the wine, the new José receives flowers which ours never did. Carmen isn't dead and tries to comfort our José along with the returned woman in the pink coat. This is sort of a WTF ending.
We are certain of only a few things: that we love Stéphanie d'Oustrac and think Michael Fabiano is absolutely fabulous, especially for being able to establish so many different moods. The music was not destroyed by this regie production. I like trying to figure out what is going on, but the ending didn't clarify anything. It seems the therapy has backfired.
I generally seek out new operas for the joy of hearing something new. There are a lot of modern operas I have seen and enjoyed. A favorite experience is Messiaen's Saint-François d'Assise. And I really love Lulu.
But my last two assignments have been failures.
Die Gezeichneten by Franz Schreker violates the rule of three baritones: "Do not go to an opera with three or more baritones." I want girl's singing. I liked Moby Dick a lot in spite of the all male plot. But Schreker's opera has only one female and doesn't really work for me.
Hamlet by Brett Dean is sort of Shakespeare and sort of not. A lot of familiar text shows up, usually in the wrong place. Tomlinson is wonderful. The music is a lot like background for a horror movie and much too talky. I have a while to get through it so I'll try more later.
I keep thinking modernism should be dead by now.
So I'm trying to mentally prepare myself for Tannhäuser on Sunday, which will be a cross between The Hunger Games and Star Wars. Instead of Venusberg we have Venusfleischberg (mountain of flesh). Wish me luck.
La Bohème by Puccini is ever green. The enthusiasm of youth always burns in our hearts. No opera by Puccini or any other composer is so beautifully romantic from beginning to end. We were blessed with an Italian conductor who only occasionally let the orchestra play too loud.
I enjoyed Ellie Dehn and Erika Grimaldi, but my favorite was Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Rodolfo who has a gorgeous, bright sound. The acting was excellent across the board. This is an opera that works on every level.
Željko Lučić (baritone)
René Pape (bass)
Anna Netrebko (soprano)
Duncan, King of Scotland:
Malcolm, Duncan's son:
Noah Baetge (tenor)
Macduff, Thane of Fife:
Joseph Calleja (tenor)
The witches with their purses is fun. This time I liked Željko Lučić more. I went with a friend who had never seen this opera before. We both had a wonderful time and are looking forward to Carmen and Otello next month.
The San Francisco Opera is conducting an emerging stars competition with 14 candidates from this season. I am arbitrarily dividing them into two categories:
Those who have made their Met debuts
Lawrence BrownleeDon Pasquale W-yes 1972 Met-158
Leah CrocettoAida W-no Met-7
Brian JagdeAida W-yes Met-6
David PershallAndrea Chanier W-no Met-7
Irene RobertsDream of the Red Chamber W-no Met-36
Heidi StoberDon Pasquale W-no Met-23
Ellie DehnLa Boheme W-no Met-21
Anthony Clark Evans Madama Butterfly W-no Met-14
Those who have not made their Met debuts
J’Nai BridgesAndrea Chenier W-no Met-no
Arturo Chacón CruzLa Boheme W-yes 1977 Met-no
Vincenzo Costanzo Madama Butterfly W-no Met-no
Erika GrimaldiLa Boheme W-no Met-no
Sarah ShaferDon Giovanni W-no Met-no
Michael SumuelDon Giovanni W-no Met-no
I have bolded those I am sure I have seen. The list now includes La Boheme.
The number after the Met- refers to the number of entries for that person in the Met archives. I might think they are all fine singers, but I think any winner of an emerging star contest should have appeared at the Metropolitan Opera already.
I want to object to the inclusion of Lawrence Brownlee on the basis that he is already an established star of very high quality.
Leah Crocetto is a gifted singer and so is Brian Jagde. Either one would make an excellent winner.
From the list of those who have not yet sung at the Met my favorite is J'Nai Bridges with her gorgeous mezzo voice.
I bought Diana Damrau's new recording Meyerbeer Grand Opera because I am virtually unfamiliar with his work. In 1988 I saw L'Africaine at the San Francisco Opera with Shirley Verrett and Placido Domingo. I think this is the only Meyerbeer opera I have seen.
Diana is the perfect soprano for this album with her big voice and spectacular coloratura. Meyerbeer was the principle composer of French Grand Opera, the dominant form of opera in the middle of the 19th century. He focused on giant subjects suited for huge spectle. She is the grandest diva we have today.
We have arias from 10 different operas in three languages. There is pleasing variety. For the lover of coloratura it is very highly recommended.
Leporello, Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, Don Ottavio, Don Giovanni
Stanislas de Barbeyrac
Ana María Martínez
At the San Francisco Opera we have gone suddenly from a performance with 5 Adler Fellows to one with 5 debuts (*) and no Adler Fellows. The debuts include the great conductor Marc Minkowski, Erwin Schrott and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo. You can see this is something of a big event.
The production and Minkowski's conducting went well together. Both moved briskly and smoothly from scene to scene with no hesitation. With these wonderful singers our conductor brought us a masterful performance. The only problem with the production from our viewpoint in the balcony was that it was filled with shiny screens that reflected the lights from the pit rather than the projected images. Perhaps something could be done to reduce their shininess.
Schrott and D'Arcangelo are a magnificent pair. Never was Giovanni such an arrogant asshole, and never was Leporello such a genius of comic timing. We laughed.
The ladies were also beautiful though very serious. Erin Wall whom I know from performances at Santa Fe was an elegant Donna Anna. Ana Maria Martinez who recently sang here in Don Carlo was magnificent and intense as Donna Elvira. Sarah Shafer made a youthful Zerlina.
It seemed to me that this Don Giovanni was longer than usual, that I was hearing things I didn't usually hear. The talk seemed longer and more detailed. So I called the opera, and yes, there were a number of restored recitatives that are usually cut. Perhaps Minkowski wanted this. I like that I noticed this.
There's a film currently on YT of Tosca from the Wiener Staatsoper with Anja Harteros & Jorge de León. It doesn't tell who the Scarpia is. I wasn't particularly wild about the tenor but very much enjoyed Anja's idea of Tosca. She is the first Tosca I've seen that made you feel you were watching a famous opera singer. It's as though she herself murdered Scarpia. She behaves as though she expected people to be constantly watching her. She is ever self-consciously melodramatic. She moves like an actress. And in act III when she instructs Mario how to die, she demonstrates like a director with a very theatrical fall to the floor. This is the Tosca of imagination.
Quinn Kelsey (Hawaii)
The Duke of
Pene Pati † (New Zealand)
Nino Machaidze * (Tiblisi, Georgia)
* † (New Zealand)
Amina Edris † (New Zealand)
Anthony Reed † (Minnesota)
Andrew G. Manea
* † (Michigan)
Reginald Smith, Jr.
Andrea Silvestrelli (Italy)
Erin Neff (California)
Jere Torkelsen (Nebraska)
Zanda Švēde (Latvia)
*San Francisco Opera debut †Current Adler Fellow
I included the entire cast from Verdi's Rigoletto so you could see how many of the cast members were Adler fellows. In addition Zanda Švēde was Adler 2016, Quinn Kelsey is Merola 2002. This is just bragging. Two Georgias are represented, one in eastern Europe, the other in southern US. And Quinn is native Hawaiian. This is the present day world of international opera.
I enjoyed this very much. The production seemed prettier, livelier. Pene Pati started off a bit slow, but improved as he went along. His high notes have a spectacular ring. Nino Machaidze seems to have skipped hers, but was otherwise OK.
One is always searching for the wonderful, glorious portrayal of Rigoletto himself, and we found it today in Quinn Kelsey. The second act aria was especially beautiful and received a suitable ovation. This is the role that makes this opera, and Quinn covered the emotional gamut of this complex character.
I keep thinking how much we will miss the maestro.
This is a live stream on medici.tv of Christoph Eschenbach's final concert as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra.
Concerto for Orchestra, "Zodiac Tales"
Ludwig van Beethoven,
Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Leah Crocetto Soprano
J'Nai Bridges Mezzo-soprano
Joseph Kaiser Tenor
Soloman Howard Bass
We need Beethoven more than ever. He was a great soul who told us to walk our paths with joy. We send a kiss to the whole world. It always gives me great joy. Eschenbach is an excellent conductor. I don't know if a replacement is announced.
I bought Philip Gossett's book Divas and Scholars in 2006 when it was published and immediately started blogging about it in my usual disorganized way. I liked that he as a musicologist took Cecilia Bartoli's side in the scandal about her aria changes in Le Nozze di Figaro.
He was a musicologist who specialized in Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi, and he supervised the printing of new editions of their complete works. In Divas and Scholars he writes about musicology in a way that it might be understood by people who are not musicologists.
In October 2006 while he was still in Chicago, I sent him an email about the things I had blogged. This started a long exchange of email that seems to have ended in 2012. He sent me some nice things to quote. He was very kind to me.
I especially enjoyed detecting his influence in Santa Fe at the performance of Maometto II. The entire performance was wonderful. And now he has died. We were similar in age. For his four composers he has altered the landscape of music.
When I was a student, the library was full of large books of the complete works of various composers. Telemann's was perhaps the largest. The only Italian works in any of these volumes were those that had been performed in German cities. It appeared that musicology was German. Today that has all changed, perhaps because of Dr. Gossett. Italian repertoire is the musicology of today. Newly discovered Italian opera scores appear regularly.
I probably have more recordings of these than anything else. Elisabeth, Jessye, Renee, maybe others. They are the peak of song repertoire. The rearrangement was probably done to place two songs with the unique soaring phrases found only here at the beginning and end. Carrie has her own personal style which adds an extra layer of intensity.
Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915 (1947)
The text is by James Agee whose father died in a car accident in 1916. It seemed to me that this was a perfect choice for the approach to Fathers Day. I wasn't sure the operatic style exactly suited this, but it was still very moving.
"I want Magic" from Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire (1998)
"Don't turn on that light." Carrie has played this role and loves this music.
There was an encore:
Rachmaninoff's Vocalise (1915)
After such a difficult concert, one would choose this for an encore. After the concert was over, we were told that Carrie was sick with a cold. It is allergy season in Sacramento. There were tiny indications, but all in all this was very successful. I put in the dates for the pieces so it would be clear that everything was from the twentieth century. Wonderful music, terrific singing. Who says the recital is dead?
This is a personal ranking of the Live from the Metropolitan Opera in HD season. Please remember I missed La Traviata so it is not ranked. This was truly an excellent season, so things appear toward the bottom of the ranking that were still quite good.
9. I liked leastIdomeneowhich suffered severely from draggy tempos and a general lack of excitement. When I saw this in Paris, I don't remember thinking it was so long. Of Mozart's 2 famous opera seria I generally prefer La Clemenza di Tito.
8. There was nothing exactly wrong with Rusalka, especially since it included the towering performance of Jamie Barton as Jezibaba. Maybe this opera just isn't my cup of tea.
7. There were here and there some pleasing details in Don Giovanni but nothing fabulous.
6. This was an excellent Nabucco which has the disadvantage of being not the best Verdi.
5. L'Amour de Loinwas a welcome modern opera performed well. I love the music and thought this an excellent production, but the DVD with Dawn Upshaw and Gerald Finley was far better.
4. Roméo et Juliette starred Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo and was very very sexy.
3. Anna Netrebko's performance in Eugene Onegin continues to grow as the years pass. I was sorry not to see Dmitri but found this version excellent.
2. I was deeply moved by Tristan und Isolde, a first for me.
1. This was the Der Rosenkavalier of a lifetime. I'm going to need to see this again. There were some spectacular characterizations in this cast.
The topic of pointillism came up in a conversation in Facebook, so I thought I would do a blog post.
Pointillism started out as an art term and refers to what Georges Seurat was doing with little dots. Each dot seems to have nothing to do with those around it. When you stand back from the painting, there is a picture.
Music adopted this word to mean that in twentieth century music each individual note seems to have nothing to do with those around it. Emphasis is on the word "seems." In the Schoenberg school Klangfarbenmelodie [tone color melody] is said to represent this. It looks very strange on an orchestral score, but when played, sounds like a tune with a lot of different instrumental colors.
I'm only familiar with the term applied to melodic lines designed for opera singers. Traditionally a melody is constructed from notes similar in pitch. A pointillistic melody jumps around to different far apart pitches, sometimes in different octaves and was a significant feature of modernist opera.
This aria from Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre is the best example I could find.
John Adams jettisoned most of modernism for Nixon in China, but he kept the jumping around in pitch. This example is minimalism.
Do these examples still have melodies? Decide for yourself. As you were.
Saxophonist Keith Bohm played a recital at Crocker Art Museum today with pianist John Cozza. I found the selected repertoire extremely entertaining. A few comments.
Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1959) by Lawson Lunde (b.1935)
This American composer has written for children's shows. This piece is in three movements and is very tonal.
Night Bird (1996) by Karen Tanaka (b. 1961)
This Japanese composer has brought us a piece in one movement for recorded synthesizer and live saxophone. The synthesized part sounds very dark and forbidding. It didn't say "bird" to me, but I still enjoyed it.
Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (1965-70) by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
This Argentine composer was the only one that I had heard of. To summarize this is the four seasons of Buenos Aires in the form of a tango for saxophone and piano. Fun and exciting. It will not make you think of Vivaldi.
Improvisation 1 pour Saxophone Alto seul (1972) by Ryo Noda (b. 1948)
This is also a Japanese composer who has written an improvisation for solo saxophone. They put up the lid on the piano for this. Keith explained this at some length. It involves various kinds of technical tricks such as different types of tonguing. At the end Keith turns and plays into the piano, and we notice that John is holding down the sustain pedal. I know improvisation was popular for a while, but I don't know if it still is.
Rumba (1949) by Maurice C Whitney (1909-1985)
We are informed that rumba is one of the mainstays of saxophone literature. The piano is back for this piece of South American rhythm by an American composer.
The variety of styles on display was attention grabbing. My favorite was probably the tango four seasons. The recital isn't dead.
This is the moment in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera, at the end of Act I when Renée Fleming looks out into the auditorium and thinks this is perhaps the last time.
The time has been moved to 1912 when the opera was first performed, just before WWII. All the men are soldiers. There were many special moments in this Rosenkavalier, but I especially liked when the Marschallin sings "Wenn ich auch an ein Maedel errinnern, die frisch aus dem Kloster bis in die heiligen..." and she goes over to the chest containing the rose, takes it out and remembers that once the rose arrived for her. I have never seen this business before. I saw my first Renée Fleming Marschallin in 2000 in San Francisco and find her characterization was deeper and more serious than before. I also loved that at the end she takes the arm of the police sergeant, moving on to her next lover it would seem. I can only describe her as magnificent.
I didn't agree with every detail, but the richness of texture of this production filled my heart to overflowing. Der Rosenkavalier holds a special place in my heart, and this one has risen to the top.
Our Ochs, Günther Groissböck, was Ochs in Salzburg in 2014. He adds many layers of depth to this character.
And our Italian singer was none other than Enrico Caruso.
This moment in the second act was also perfection, though of the more traditional sort. Octavian leans over to smell the Persian attar of roses, looks up at Sophie and instantly falls in love. I first heard Erin Morley in King Roger in Santa Fe where she was wonderful. Her Sophie is much more than a mere soubrette and adds soaring lines. Her acting is also more complex than usual.
When I saw her in duets with Anna Netrebko, I did not imagine that our Latvian mezzo Elīna Garanča would turn out to be such a wonderful actress. She was simply spectacular. I'm having a hard time finding the words for something that exceeded my wildest imaginings. She threw herself so gleefully into Mariandel.
We finished with a spectacularly glorious trio. Thank you, Peter Gelb, Metropolitan Opera, Günther Groissböck, Erin Morley, Renée Fleming, and most of all Elīna Garanča for a wonderful memory.
Orgon: Justin Ramm-Damron, bass
Madame Pernelle, his mother: Paige Kelly, mezzo-soprano
Elmire, his wife: Nicole James, soprano
Damis, his son: Jordan Krack, baritone
Mariane, his daughter: Tatiana Grabciuc, soprano
Valere, Mariane's fiance: Robert Vann, tenor
Dorine, maid: Gia Battista, soprano
Flipote, maid: Juanita Iniguez
Tartuffe: Walter Aldrich, baritone
CSUS opera workshop presented Kirke Mechem's Tartuffe. Wikipedia says this opera premiered on May 27, 1980, at the San Francisco Opera, though there is no mention of it in the archive and I was a season ticket holder at the time. My memory consultant says this would have been Spring Opera, a second tier company that existed at the time. It is a number opera with arias and ensembles, and makes an excellent
opera for an opera workshop because many of the roles have musical
substance. Our performance was accompanied by a full orchestra from VITA Academy conducted by Brian O'Donnell. The theater department provided the production, as was always the case in my day.
The picture above looks a lot like our Tartuffe except ours had much thinner legs. This was fully staged and not semi-staged as advertised. Dorine is a distinctively Despina-like character who gives advice and noses in on pretty much everything.
The opera is after the play by Molière which is subtitled "The hypocrite." He pretends virtue while conning people out of their wives and goods. It was censored by Louis XIV to please his archbishop.
Orgon is fascinated by the very virtuous Tartuffe whom he sees at mass. Then he invites him to live in his house. Everyone in Orgon's family hates Tartuffe. Orgon announces that Mariane will marry Tartuffe which brings the action to a head. It has a happy ending.
It would have benefited from some improved diction but was fun. The composer was clearly interested in writing music for operatic singers, something that is not all that common in the post-Puccini world.