Friday, September 13, 2019

Billy Budd in San Francisco

Conductor Lawrence Renes
Production Michael Grandage *

Captain Vere, tenor: William Burden
Billy Budd, baritone: John Chest *
John Claggart, bass: Christian Van Horn
Mr. Redburn, baritone: Philip Horst
Mr. Flint, bass-baritone: Wayne Tigges
Mr. Ratcliffe, baritone: Christian Pursell
Red Whiskers, tenor: Robert Brubaker
Novice, tenor: Brenton Ryan
Maintop, tenor: Christopher Colmenero *
Squeak, tenor: Matthew O'Neill
Dansker, bass: Philip Skinner

There are now two operas based on the novels of Hermann Melville:  Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten and Moby Dick by Jake Heggie.  The San Francisco Opera last night performed the 1960 condensed version of Billy Budd.

In the program notes a date is assigned to the plot of this opera:  1797, within the decade after the French revolution.  These are members of the British navy aboard the HMS Indomitable. The officers are from more traditional sources, but it is their habit to stop merchant ships and take men from their crews to conscript them into the lower classes of the navy.   This is why they are so concerned about mutiny.  Billy Budd is conscripted in this way.  They ask him how old he is and he says he doesn't know.

Claggart becomes emotionally concerned with Billy, saying "Beauty, handsomeness, goodness."  He takes this personally and accuses Billy to the Captain of mutiny.  Billy becomes tongue tied and cannot defend himself, hitting Claggart instead.  Claggart dies, and Billy is hanged and thrown into the ocean.

The staging was marvelous.  The set is very functional for all the scenes.  I had only one trouble with it.  In operas with large casts, such as this one, the director must find a way to make the main characters stand out from the others.  The Captain is easy to find on the stage because he stands above the others.  Claggart is the very physically distinctive Christian Van Horn with his long face.  But Billy quickly disappears into the crowd in many scenes.  He could have more brilliantly blond hair, maybe.  Just saying.

There is a lot going on in this very busy opera.  I was reminded that I once had a rule:  never go to an opera with 3 baritones.  This would definitely be in that category. Britten's orchestration is brilliant and colorful, but he doesn't compose the voices so much as orchestrate them.  The chorus is very rumbly. The voices each seem to stay in a relatively small range, not at all what an opera singer generally desires.  I want vocal beauty and not merely visual beauty.  Extending the range would also help to create the impression of melody.

I am the only one complaining about this.  I felt that it was a significant production, but I wanted more.  Different singers might produce a different effect.

I came down fairly heavy on Britten.  Additional thought has led me to conclude that fault may lie more with the specific performance.  Training might eliminate the rumbly sound.  I should also mention that I abandoned my 3 baritones rule after hearing a really good performance of Simon Boccanegra.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

New Operas I liked

I keep a list of operas that are new to me, label ONew2Me.  Since I started the blog, I have seen 193 operas that were new to me.  Only 49 of these are operas that were themselves new within 5 years of my first viewing. That means their first performances were in 2000 or later.  Everything else was new to me before the blog.  Since my total list of operas seen ever as of 9/12/19 is 370, I could be doing a lot better.

Out of these 49 operas only 9 made my favorites for that year list. These are:

L'Amour de Loin Saariaho Finnish National Opera 10/28/2005 Peter Sellars Esa-Pekka Salonen
Tea: A Mirror of Soul Dun Santa Fe Opera 7/27/2007 Amon Miyamoto Lawrence Renes
Bonesetter's Daughter Wallace San Francisco Opera 9/26/2008 Chen Shi-Zheng Steven Sloane
Il Postino Catán LA Opera 11/26/2011 Ron Daniels Grant Gershon
Moby-Dick Heggie San Francisco Opera 10/22/2012 Leonard Foglia Patrick Summers
Ainadamar Golijov Opera Parallèle 2/17/2013 Brian Staufenbiel Nicole Paiement
27 Gordon Saint Louis 6/18/2014 James Robinson Michael Christie
Lessons in Love and Violence Benjamin ROH 5/26/2018 Katie Mitchell Benjamin
Marnie Muhly Metropolitan Opera 11/10/2018 Michael Mayer Robert Spano

It doesn't seem like much of a list. The dates are for the blog entries.  I haven't done a list for 2019 yet, but here are some candidates:

Bon Appétit! Hoiby Des Moines 7/18/2019

If I Were You Heggie San Francisco Opera 8/5/2019 Keturah Stickann Nicole Paiement
Breaking The Waves Mazzoli West Edge 8/11/2019 Mark Streshinsky Jonathan Khuner

I would welcome opinions on these.  Something might be omitted because it came before I began blogging.  Feel free to suggest others.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Cecilia Bartoli Announces New Album -- Farinelli

This new album will appear on November 8.  She is still singing very well.  Here is a full list of tracks for Farinelli:

1. ‘Nell’Attendere Mio Bene’ from Polifemo by Porpora
2. ‘Vaghi Amori, Grazie Amate’ from La Festa d’Imeneo by Porpora
3. ‘Morte Col Fiero Aspetto’ from Marc’Antonio E Cleopatra by Hasse
4. ‘Lontan… Lusingato Dalla Speme’ from Polifemo by Porpora*
5. ‘Chi Non Sente Al Mio Dolore’ from La Merope by Broschi
6. ‘Come Nave In Ria Tempesta’ from Semiramide Regina Dell’Assiria by Porpora
7. ‘Mancare O Dio Mi Sento’ from Adriano In Siria by Giacomelli
8. ‘Si, Traditor Tu Sei’ from La Merope by Broschi*
9. ‘Questi Al Cor Finora Ignoti’ from La Morte d’Abel by Caldara
10. ‘Signor La Tua Speranza… A Dio Trono, Impero A Dio’ from Marc’Antonio E Cleopatra by Hasse
11. ‘Alto Giove’ from Polifemo by Porpora
*Denotes a world premiere recording

The beard first appeared in her Salzburg performance of Handel's Ariodante.  The castrato Farinelli probably couldn't grow a beard, but never mind.  She is someone I love, and she looks great in her beard.  There's even a short film.  She begins with the Ariodante makeup and then switches to her own hair.

Farinelli was very popular in London during Handel's opera period.