Saturday, September 29, 2018

Le Prophete from France


Conductor:  Claus Peter Flor
Director:  Alfonso Caiani

Jean de Leyde, tenor, John Osborn
Fidès, Jean's mother, mezzo-soprano, Kate Aldrich
Berthe, Jean's bride, soprano, Sofia Fomina
Jonas, an Anabaptist, tenor, Mikeldi Atxalandabase
Mathisen, an Anabaptist, bass or baritone, Thomas Dear
Zacharie, an Anabaptist, bass, Dimitry Ivashchenko
Oberthal, a feudal count, bass, Leonardo Estevez

Meyerbeer's Le Prophete (1849) came to me from Toulouse by way of Culture Box.  My only live experience of Meyerbeer was L'Africaine at the San Francisco Opera.  I begin to think Meyerbeer is neglected, perhaps not in France but certainly here.  Perhaps Yannick will change this.

Giocomo Mayerbeer was a truly international composer as very few are.  He was born in Berlin of rich Jewish parents, studied and composed extensively in Italy in the time of Rossini, and then established himself in Paris and Berlin. We know him primarily for his French operas.  However, Robert le Diable was written for Berlin.  It is hard to grasp that such a prominent composer is virtually unknown to me.  As would be expected, his works are orchestrated in the German style, emphasize chorus like a French opera and don't particularly follow the Italian ideal of bel canto.  I think I should delve further before making any decisions about him.  He is the main proponent of Grand Opera, a style that includes:

(a) obligatory spectacular scenes,
(b) death, not happy endings, in librettos by Scribe, (including this one),
(c) potpourri overture,
(d) extended ornate arias, though less ornate than bel canto,
(e) chorus and ballet, and
(f) a new heavier type of dramatic tenor as the featured hero.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Albert Herring

Conductor Michael Rosewell
Director Liam Steel

Albert Herring Nick Pritchard
Superintendent Budd Matt Buswell
Sid Nicholas Morton
Nancy Angela Simkin
Emmie Catriona Hewitson
Lady Billows: Janis Kelly
Miss Wordsworth Natasha Day
Florence Pike Polly Leech
Mrs Herring Amy Lyddon
Cis Rowan Pierce
The Outsider Michael Taylor Moran
Mr Gedge Julien Van Mellaerts
Mr Upfold Joel Williams
Harry Max Todes

I have watched Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring presented by the Royal College of Music by way of Operavision.  This is Benjamin Britten's idea of comedy.  I think you have to be British.  It's very much an ensemble opera which makes it a good choice for a music school.

It is time to choose the Queen of May for the May Day celebration, and none of the current crop of young women are found suitable.  When widening the field of celebration, the council chooses Albert to be King of May because he just sells vegetables all day in his mother's shop.  As King he even wears a white dress as if he were a bride.  Albert's drink is spiked and he gets the hiccups.

A couple called Sid and Nancy enliven the scenes.  Are we amused that a young man is dressed up like a girl and declared to be saintly?  There's a lovely quartet toward the end when they all think he's dead.  The goings on in an English village seem mysterious to us I think.  They may have to abandon their dream of sinless youth.

I enjoyed the singing, but there are no arias.  Only Janis Kelly is a professional singer.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci in San Francisco

Priest places a statue of Jesus in a niche. 

Conductor Daniele Callegari *
Production José Cura *

Turiddu, tenor: Roberto Aronica
Santuzza, mezzo:  Ekaterina Semenchuk
Alfio and Tonio, baritone: Dimitri Platanias *
Lola, mezzo: Laura Krumm
Mamma Lucia, contralto:  Jill Grove
Canio, tenor: Marco Berti
Nedda, soprano: Lianna Haroutounian
Silvio, baritone: David Pershall
Beppe, tenor: Amitai Pati

Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci are now in rotation at the San Francisco Opera.  I have listed the casts of the two operas together because the two operas have here become one. 

The story of this production is reasonably interesting.  In Buenos Aires, Argentina, exists a mural by Omar Gasparini called Escenografico.  Here is a photo of the original.


From my seat in the balcony circle I saw the stage in a manner very much like the photo at the top,  The mural was shown on the wall at stage left which I saw only fleetingly when the conductor entered.  I know about it only from pictures in the program.  The famous Intermezzo was staged as a ballet.

The church is at the back, and near it is a store that sells vegetables.  Mamma Lucia owns the cafe at the front, and when Turiddu sings "O Lola," Lola peeks out one of the windows above and Santuzza peeks out from another.  Silvio from Pagliacci is one of Mamma Lucia's waiters. At the end of Cavalleria Turiddo is killed, and his casket is carried by at the beginning of Pagliacci.  Mamma Lucia and a very pregnant Santuzza also appear in the cafe in Pagliacci. This unified production made the pairing of these two operas make a lot more sense than is generally the case, but everything was much cheerier than others I have seen.

A number of conductors are making their San Francisco Opera debuts this season because we are without a maestro.  Callegari brought us a very beautiful, very Italian verismo experience.  The singing was excellent if a bit on the heavy side.  I even rather liked Berti who was very heavy indeed.  The only thing that seemed missing was acting.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

American Bach Soloists 2018-19


22-Oct-18 D 7:00 Bach Brandenburgs ABS Davis Community Church
18-Feb-19 D 7:00 Favorite Bach Camtatas ABS Davis Community Church
25-Mar-19 D 7:00 Matthew Passion ABS Davis Community Church
6-May-19 D 7:00 Bach Brandenburgs ABS Davis Community Church

These are the American Bach Soloists concerts in Davis.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco


We were discussing the current queen of opera Sondra Radvanovsky, and I suggested we sing "God Save the Queen" when she came out for her bow, forgetting entirely that the opera starts with that same tune.  I am speaking of the current production of Roberto Devereux from the San Francisco Opera, a wonderful performance of a less than entirely wonderful opera. 

Conductor: Riccardo Frizza
Director: Stephen Lawless

Elisabetta (Elizabeth I): Sondra Radvanovsky
Roberto Devereux, Earl of Essex: Russell Thomas
Sara: Jamie Barton
Duke of Nottingham: Andrew Manea [Adler]
Lord Cecil: Amitai Pati [Adler]
Walter Raleigh: Christian Pursell [Adler]

This opera is questionable from a plot perspective.  The above listed characters are all members of the British upper class.  It is fairly easy to describe the relationship aspects of the story.

Elizabeth and Roberto have a secret relationship.  Since Nottingham knows nothing about it, we may assume that this is truly secret.  Then before leaving England to lead a war in Ireland, Robert starts a love relationship with Sara, a young woman in the court.  Robert goes off to war, and while he is away, Sara's father dies.  An upper class woman cannot be left free in the world, so Elizabeth arranges a marriage for her with the Duke of Nottingham.  No one is aware that she is in love with Essex.

Essex returns from war where he has been unsuccessful to find that Sara is married.  Meanwhile Elizabeth hopes that he still loves her.  An emotional mess ensues, the kind of emotional mess that can only happen in an Italian opera.  Long ago Elizabeth gave Robert a ring which he was to send to her if he was ever in danger.

Robert goes to see Sara.  So why isn't he locked up in the Tower of London?  She gives him a love token which her husband recognizes.  

The part of the plot that makes no sense is the political part.  In real life Essex is supposed to have tried to overthrow the queen, which would make nonsense of her part in the emotional, operatic plot.  So the charges are trivial and relate to him being overly merciful toward the Irish.  So he is executed for no apparent reason.  The ring doesn't arrive in time. It's even more complicated than what I have described.

This is Queen Elizabeth's most vulnerable moment, and it happens in her old age.  She died in her 69th year.  It is mysteriously wonderful how Sondra Radvanovsky fits this role.  She is tall and regal, and has a large, commanding voice.  You believe that she is the absolute monarch who has fallen in love in her old age.  It is difficult to imagine any other soprano bringing this role to such spectacular heights.  She should sing it in your city, too.

The production which comes from Canada made the complex plot very clear, clearer than the recent Met production.  Sondra's supporting singers, primarily Russell Thomas, Jamie Barton and Andrew Manea, rose almost to her magnificence.  I don't think this is a great opera, though it is leading the path to Verdi, but it is a great opera for Sondra Radvanovsky.  Brava.