Thursday, August 31, 2017

Singers for next season in San Francisco

Here are some samples of the singers for the coming season at the San Francisco Opera.

First is Martina Serafin as Turandot.

Or your performance might have Nina Stemme.

Toni Marie Palmertree is one of our Lius.  If you have never heard her, here is a sample of her voice.

And here is our Elektra.  Christine Goerke is the woman in the foreground.

Aurelia Florian * will be our Violetta.

And here is her Alfredo, Atalla Ayan *

Manon will be sung by Ellie Dehn.

Chevalier des Grieux will be sung by Michael Fabiano, here in a recent performance of Carmen.

Dame Shirley in Girls of the Golden West is Julia Bullock * I couldn't find any standard repertoire for her.

Josefa Segovia in Girls of the Golden West is sung by J'Nai Bridges.

Joe Cannon in Girls of the Golden West is Paul Appleby.

This is enough for now.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

La Traviata on PBS

Conductor.............Nicola Luisotti
Production............Willy Decker
Violetta.................Sonya Yoncheva
Alfredo..................Michael Fabiano
Germont................Thomas Hampson
Flora.......................Rebecca Jo Loeb
Gastone..................Scott Scully
Baron Douphol.......Dwayne Croft
Dr. Grenvil.............James Courtney
Annina....................Jane Bunnell

Verdi's La Traviata in the Willy Decker production from the Metropolitan Opera appeared on my television. This is undoubtedly the greatest of all the operas.  I think it is the most passionate about the two great themes of love and death.  It falls at the end of bel canto and includes one of the greatest of all bel canto arias, "Sempre libera."

This is the final appearance at the Met of this production originally from the Salzburg Festival. I begin to think I will miss it.  There were a few cuts.  This time around it bothered me that Flora was a man.  Why would all those men go to parties where there was only one woman?   But rooms full of Victorian dresses hold little charm for me.

This is a perfect role for Michael Fabiano.  I like Sonya Yoncheva but do not love her as overwhelmingly as I did Netrebko.  The sound of her voice is less to my taste.  She carried the final scene to its heart-wrenching conclusion.

I reviewed this same production here with Dessay, here, and here for Netrebko.

Wozzeck from Salzburg

Vladimir Jurowski | Conductor 
William Kentridge | Stage director

Matthias Goerne | Wozzeck
John Daszak | Drum Major
Mauro Peter | Andres
Gerhard Siegel | Captain
Jens Larsen | Doctor
Tobias Schabel | First Apprentice
Huw Montague Rendall | Second Apprentice
Heinz Göhrig | Madman
Asmik Grigorian | Marie
Frances Pappas | Margret

This is the live stream of Berg's Wozzeck from the Salzburg Festival.  There are puppets. There is Matthias Goerne.  This is a great role for him.  Dark and weird is probably just the right production for this opera.  I still don't like Wozzeck.  The production overwhelms the action.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Theodora from Glyndebourne

Conductor:  William Christie
Director:  Peter Sellars

Theodora, a Christian of noble birth, soprano: Dawn Upshaw
Didymus, a Roman Officer, converted by and in love with Theodora, originally alto castrato, here countertenor:  David Daniels
Septimius, Roman soldier and friend to Didymus, tenor:  Richard Croft
Valens, President of Antioch, bass:  Frode Olsen
Irene, a Christian and friend of Theodora, mezzo-soprano:  Lorraine Hunt
Messenger, tenor:  Michael Hart-Davis

Someone said that Peter Sellars' production of Handel's Theodora was even better than his La Clemenza di Tito, so I thought I would give it a try.  He seems best in things that have religious themes.  This is one of Handel's oratorios and is in English.  This film is from 1996.

Hmmm.  There are soldiers and they wear American flags on their sleeves.  It's politics and religion rolled into one.  Christians are ordered to bow to idols to show loyalty to Caesar.  This is a  joy.  And then there is Lorraine Hunt.  It would be hard to ask for more.  He stages the first Christian scene like a prayer meeting, except women speak.  Lorraine sings of prosperity and people put money on the floor.  Many are in white and kneel on the floor to pray.  The chorus always present in any Handel oratorio represents the congregation.

Soldiers enter and warn the Christians that they are tempting fate.  "Dread the fruits of Christian folly."  This is not the usual oratorio libretto.   I understand it was not popular at its premier.  Oratorios usually draw their plots from either scripture or mythology.  Theodora is an historical Christian martyr.

I begin to grasp Peter Sellars' world view.  He sometimes strays too far from it.  He is THE outstanding American leader in the world of Regietheater, and this is one of his greatest works.  Among his productions, this one makes no alterations to the original text.

Apparently, honoring the Emperor consists of getting falling down drunk. So far I don't find this staging to be at all a distortion of the original.  People just look like people today instead of ancient Romans.  If this bothers you, you should get over it.

Christians are serious people while pagans are drunks seems to be the general idea.  One remembers this primarily for the work of Lorraine Hunt, but I am enjoying also Dawn Upshaw and David Daniels.  Theodora is in prison and Didymus visits her.  She asks him to kill her, but instead they exchange clothing and she escapes.

This is an extraordinary piece, deeply emotional.  One needs exposure to a wider range of Handel's works.  Here we still hear the Italian coloratura along side the more English lyricism and Handel's great choral music.

The picture above depicts the application of the death penalty.  The ending is sad and strange.  Christians wave their arms rather more than is strictly tolerable.   My experience of the Baroque does not include anything like this.  I came for Peter Sellars and Lorraine Hunt but ended with the joy of some of the most beautiful music of Handel I have ever heard.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Why were singers better in my youth?

Modern singers treat their careers as though they were a recreational activity.  They think to themselves that in the brief time they have in the spotlight they must work their way through the entire repertoire for their Fach.

In the old days a singer searched for those few roles where their gifts shone brightest and repeated them in opera houses around the world.  They seemed greater than modern singers because in their selected repertoire they were.  Think about it. 

Of modern day singers the one who follows closest the old path is Renée Fleming.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Bechdel test

I am going to attempt to apply The Bechdel test to opera.  The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man.

  • Carmen and her named girlfriends try to predict their futures in a card game.  Men are discussed in the abstract, but the conversation inadvertently turns to death when Carmen draws the death card.
  • In La Boheme Mimi tells Musetta that her hands are cold so Musetta goes out and buys a muff.
  • In Marriage of Figaro the countess and Susanna plot their revenge on the count.  This probably doesn't count.  However, Marcellina and Susanna have an extended exchange of insults that definitely qualifies.
  • Despina in Cosi fan tutte advises the sisters to take new lovers while their current boy friends are away.  Generic advice so it should count.
  • In Die Fledermaus Adele pretends to her boss Rosalinde that her aunt is sick so she can accept an invitation to a party.
  • In Fidelio Leonore, a woman  pretending to be a man, successfully becomes engaged to a young woman, Marzelline.  I'm not sure if this counts or not.  For me it has layers of hidden meaning.
  • In La Traviata Violetta and Flora are friends and invite each other to parties, but we see them only briefly talking. 
  • In Magic Flute Queen and Pamina plot to kill Saroastro.  This probably doesn't count.
  • The witch in Hansel and Gretel orders Gretel around while Hansel is frozen.
  • In Elektra Elektra and Chrysothemis plot to murder Klytämnestra.
  • In the opera Jenůfa Kostelnička tells her step-daughter Jenůfa that her baby has died, when in reality Kostelnička has killed him.
  • In Otello Desdemona asks Emilia to put out her bridal gown and then asks to be buried in it.  They discuss the Willow Song.
  • In La Cenerentola the step-sisters get into some competitive bragging while constantly putting down Angiolina.
  • Most of Dialogues of the Carmelites.
  • In The Medium Madame Flora and her daughter Monica arrange seances.  They talk mostly about the business.

This seems an entertaining game for opera plots.  Try some of your own.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Emerging Stars Winner: Arturo Chacón-Cruz

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, " favorite was Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Rodolfo who has a gorgeous, bright sound."  Here he is as Rodolfo.


Philip Glass

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.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

La Clemenza di Tito from Salzburg

Vitellia and Tito
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 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.  I liked Golda Schultz but thought she struggled with the low parts of her arias.  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 which is achieved in part through the presence in this performance of music not originally in the score for this opera, music undoubtedly added by Peter Sellars.  One may feel free to complain.  The first clue came with the Kyrie sung by Annio.  He liked the singer and wanted her to have more to sing.  In part the tragic ending is created through the addition of serious music from Mozart's Great Mass in C minor.

I felt the brilliance of this interpretation long before the ending and therefore did not require this musical interpolation.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Aida from Salzburg

Conductor: Riccardo Muti
Director:  Shirin Neshat

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.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Chastity Tree at West Edge

Diana, Cupid as female

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 at West Edge

Conductor:  Jonathan Khuner
Director:  Aria Umezawa

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.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Jonas and Anja together

This is Andrea Chenier from the Bayerische Staatsoper.  For love, for poetry, for art. 

And this is Don Carlo.

The love duet from Otello.

Lohengrin from the Bayerische Staatsoper. 

La Forza del Destino.  They sing together quite a lot, but not enough for me.  How about Tristan und Isolde?

Thursday, August 03, 2017

La Clemenza di Tito Glyndebourne

Conductor:  Robin Ticciati
Director:  Claus Guth

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.