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Geneva Anderson digs into art

San Francisco Opera’s “Luisa Miller” closes with a stand-out performance from tenor Michael Fabiano

American tenor Michael Fabiano, recipient of the 2014 Richard Tucker Award and the 2014 Beverly Sills Artist Award, is Rodolfo in San Francisco Opera’s “Luisa Miller.” Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

American tenor Michael Fabiano, recipient of the 2014 Richard Tucker Award and the 2014 Beverly Sills Artist Award, is Rodolfo in San Francisco Opera’s “Luisa Miller.” Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

At San Francisco Opera’s (SFO) Sunday matinee performance of Verdi’s Luisa Miller, all eyes and ears were on tenor Michael Fabiano and rightly so─his Rodolfo was inspired, powerful.  The tall, dashing 30 year-old embodied the aristocrat loved by two women, the son who defies his father and the unwitting pawn in a political intrigue that leads to murder.  How trilling to behold a young singer nail a performance and to find yourself rising to your feet, whopping and whistling for him out of pure joy, knowing in your bones that you have just witnessed one of the great tenors in opera. Fabiano, 30, is the recipient of the 2014 Richard Tucker Award and the 2014 Beverly Sills Award, the first person in history to win both awards in one year.

Sharing the glory was young soprano Leah Crocetto, in the title role, alum of the Adler and Merola programs, who sang beautifully as well.  Actually it’s a match that’s been in the works for some time─ Crocetto and Fabiano sang Mimi and Rodolfo in SFO’s La Bohème in 2014 but never sang together as they were in separate casts.  Each garnered great reviews.  Fabiano went on to sing Rodolfo at the Metropolitan Opera House in December, garnering global attention there as well as at La Scala and the Glyndebourne Festival.  It was thus no surprise to see a few people in the audience on Sunday who had attended the gala season-opening performance and were back for a final dose of this rare, luscious singing.

Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” opened San Francisco Opera’s 2015-16 season. The opera pairs soprano Leah Crocetto and tenor Michael Fabiano as doomed lovers Luisa, a miller’s daughter, and Rodolfo, the son of the local count. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” opened San Francisco Opera’s 2015-16 season. The opera pairs soprano Leah Crocetto and tenor Michael Fabiano as doomed lovers Luisa, a miller’s daughter, and Rodolfo, the son of the local count. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

The 1849 opera, Verdi’s 15th, is based on Schiller’s play “Kabale and Liebe.”  The plot is insanely unrealistic─Luisa Miller, a commoner, is in love with Carlo, who is really Rodolfo, the son of the local Count, Walter.  Luisa’s protective father distrusts Carlo and schemes behind her back to have her marry Wurm, who works for the Count.  When Wurm (whose name translates appropriately as “Worm”) tells the count that his son is in love with a commoner, the Count orders Rodolfo to marry the recently widowed duchess, Federica who is in the good graces of the Imperial Court.  The rest of the opera revolves around political intrigue, deception and heartbreak and culminates in multiple deaths─Wurm by gunshot and Rodolfo and Luisa by poisoning, just after the truth of their abiding love is revealed, but too late as the poison has been drunk.

Soprano Leah Crocetto sang beautifully, consistently hitting the notes this demanding role calls for while evoking the emotional roller coaster that innocent young Luisa is subject to.  She soared in her Act II, aria “Te puniscimi, O Signore” which was pulsing with feeling as she expressed being torn between her love for Rodolfo and her father.  And right after Fabiano brought down the house with his exquisite Act II aria, “Quando le Sere al Placido,” it was as if she too got a boost from the fumes and came out singing with renewed fire.

Soprano Leah Crocetto is Luisa in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” at San Francisco Opera through September 27, 2015. Crocetto is a former Adler fellow and Merola alum. As the opera opens, it is Luisa's birthday and the villagers (San Francisco Opera chorus) have gathered to serenade her. The Francesca Zambello production, from 2000, features sets by Michael Yeargan with gorgeous huge paintings. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Soprano Leah Crocetto is Luisa in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” at San Francisco Opera through September 27, 2015. Crocetto is a former Adler fellow and Merola alum. As the opera opens, it is Luisa’s birthday and the villagers (San Francisco Opera chorus) have gathered to serenade her. The Francesca Zambello production, from 2000, features sets by Michael Yeargan with gorgeous huge paintings. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Russian mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk has an intrinsically lush, full voice and her SF Opera debut as the widowed duchess, Federica, was enchanting.  It was particularly amusing when she made her entrance drawn in on an enormous horse statue replete with its clunky pedestal, as if it had been dragged there from a European park.  To dismount she had to be lifted down by another cast member. Her singing was nimble and spot-on, from her Act I aria, “Duchessa Duchessa tu m’appelli,” and duet, “Dall aule raggianti di vano,” with Rodolfo to her Act II recitatives.

Russian mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk makes her San Francisco Opera debut as Federica in Verdi's

Russian mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk makes her San Francisco Opera debut as Federica in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller.” Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Baritone Vitaliy Bilyy as Miller, who has also sung the role at Milan’s La Scala, made his SFO debut and was impressive.  Bass baritone Daniel Sumegi sang Count Walter and imbued him with an appropriately dark character.  The great irony of the opera is that the Count, who conspires to entrap Luisa and her father, ultimately ensnares his own beloved son.

Bass Andrea Silvestrelli sang wonderfully but could have imbued his bland Wurm with even more despicability.  Second year Adler Fellow, soprano Jacqueline Piccolino was impressive as the village girl Laura, whose Act I “Tidesta, Luisa” (sung with the chorus) immediately caught our attention. Her Act III “O Dolce Amica, E Ristorar Non Vuoi,” sung with Lusia and the chorus, again made an impression.

When SFO Music Director, Nicola Luisotti, comes to the podium, and it’s Verdi, one always has the sense that great things are in the pipeline.  It’s amazing how time flies too.  He made his SFO debut in 2005, conducting “La Forza del Destino,” and has been director since 2009.

He started the overture at a healthy clip, as he is prone to do, but, throughout the afternoon, brought the delicacy out in the scoring as well the drama, passion, and color that Verdi infused this score with. The clarinet solo in the overture and horns calls further enlivened the music.  The SFO chorus sang masterfully throughout, starting out as a chorus of simple country folk singing repeating melodies that were expressive and catchy.

The production, a 2000 revival by Francesca Zambello, which I had not seen before, intrigued me, particularly Michael Yeargan’s gorgeous sets.  They included a painted surround backdrop of a dense forest which changed colors, and several very large paintings─ a rustic farmhouse for Miller’s house, an elegant tapestry featuring a hunting scene with leaping hounds for Walter’s castle and, for Act II, a gray honeycomb pattern evoking metal mesh─all suspended from a distracting metal arm that hung over the stage for the duration of the opera.

Dunya Ramicova’s costumes were predictable─the villagers wore peasant costumes; the nobles were elegant in fitted red velvet coats and dresses for the hunt; Rodolfo and Wurm were fitted in green and the count wore an elegant black coat with a white ruffled shirt.  The fitted waists and abundance of fabric in the skirts of Crocetto’s and Semenchuk’s period gowns did nothing to flatter their rounder figures.

Details:  There are no remaining performances of Luisa Miller. For information about the SFO’s 2015-16 season, for which you can still catch all but Luisa Miller, click here. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.

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September 29, 2015 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bravo! Rigoletto’s “B team” delivered a fabulous Saturday night performance at San Francisco Opera’s big weekend

In Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” Gilda (Uzbeki coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova) is tragically in love with the Duke of Mantua (Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz). Cory Weaver Photo (cropped).

There’s always something magical about opening of San Francisco Opera’s fall season.  I wasn’t there for Friday’s festive gala celebration but I was there Saturday evening for Verdi’s  Rigoletto sung by the alternate cast—Italian baritone Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto; Uzbeki soprano Albina Shagimuratova as Gilda and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz as the Duke of Mantua—with SF Opera’s Verdi demon, Nicola Luisotti, conducting.  The performance, sans the partying, was wonderful, opening what promises to be a very interesting and musically diverse fall season for SF Opera.  Given that 2013 is the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth and opera companies the world over are mounting Verdi productions, the popular opera, under Harry Silverstein’s direction, is the perfect season opener for SF Opera.

Rigoletto will be performed 12 times, with two distinct casts of world-class lead singers to accommodate its compressed scheduling.  SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti will conduct all but the September 25th and 30th performances which will be handled by Giuseppe Finzi.  (Serbian baritone Željko Lucic (Rigoletto), Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak (Gilda) and Italian tenor Francesco Demuro (Duke of Mantua) led off on Friday evening to favorable reviews.)  I’ll be reviewing both casts.

Saturday evening’s singing got better and better as evening progressed, especially from coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova who is back after her mesmerizing bravura debut this at SF Opera as the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute.  In June, the house loved her and got so excited after her lively Act 2, Scene 3 aria (“Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”) they gave her a roaring and prolonged standing ovation.  Saturday was no different; her Act I, Scene 2 duet “Addio Addio” (“Farewell, farewell”) was a little tight.  When she got to the beloved recitativo and aria, “Gaultier Maldé!…Caro nome, ” she sung on her back, confidently flaunting her powerful voice.  By Act 2, when it came time for her “Tutte le feste al tempio” (“On All the Blessed Days”) I floated.  By Act 3’s famous quartet, “Bella figlia dell’amore” (“Beautiful daughter of love”), she was unstoppable, lyrically melding with the other singers in a stunningly beautiful display of everything that opera should be.  While Russians don’t have a monopoly on suffering, they do it so well.  Throughout, her acting was superb.

The rich, deep, and immediately recognizable voice of bass Andrea Silvestrelli as Sparafucile—the cunning assassin who Rigoletto pays to murder the Duke of Mantua—was also a standout among Saturday’s strong cast.  He’s performed the role in L.A., Chicago and Houston and seems a perfect fit.  Silvestrelli was Hagen in SF Opera’s epic 2011 Ring Cycle Götterdämmerung and Fasolt, the overall-clad giant, in Das Rheingold.

Italian baritone Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, a former Merola fellow, as the Duke of Mantua and mezzo soprano Kendall Gladen as Maddalena.  rounded out the cast.

Vratogna last sang as Amonasro in SF Opera’s 2010 Aida.  His bold Act I, Scene 2 aria, “Pari siamo!” (“We Are Alike”), where he admits that his tongue is just as much as weapon as the Sparafucile’s dagger, was sung passionately.  His fine acting skills drove home the character’s sorrow and torment in his dramatic Act II aria, Cortigiani vil razza dannata” (“Accursed race of courtiers”)

The handsome Mexican lyrical tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz embodied the Duke of Mantua better than any tenor I’ve seen, playing the boastful and cavorting cad to the hilt.  It helped that he’s a young 35, relatively buff, and exuded chemistry with both Gilda and Maddalena.  His character sings some of opera’s best-known melodies too, so he’s tremendously important.  His voice was particularly well-suited to the famous quartet, “Bella figlia dell’amore” (“Beautiful daughter of love”).  Chacón-Cruz actually started out as a baritone (and bass) but became a toner after Plácido Domingo told him that he, too, started out as baritone and then switched to tenor.

Rigoletto, 2012. San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Nicola Luisotti. 1) Arturo Chacón-Cruz as The Duke of Mantua; 2) Albina Shagimuratova as Gilda and Arturo Chacón-Cruz; 3) Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto; 4) Marco Vratogna and Albina Shagimuratova; 5) Albina Shagimuratova; and 6) Arturo Chacón-Cruz.

Luisotti’s passionate conducting is a show in itself and Saturday was no exception.  At the end of the opera, just as after Rigoletto and Gilda’s heartbreaking duet, as Rigoletto wails that the curse has come to pass, Luisotti dramatically raised his arms and boldly summoned the curse to descend.

Italian baritone Marco Vratogna is Rigoletto and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz is The Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” which opens San Francisco Opera’s fall season. Photo by Cory Weaver.

People seem to have a love-hate relationship with Tony Award winning designer Michael Yeargan’s sets which  evoke Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico in their boldly colored, deliberately skewed and disquieting scenes of 16th century Mantua’s streets, the Duke’s palace, Rigoletto’s house and Sparafucile’s inn.  In fact, this is the fourth time that Yeargan’s sets have been used by SF Opera since 1997 for this production.  It was my first time to see them but I found they made a profoundly metaphysical contribution to the opera.  Chris Maravich’s beautiful lighting was certainly a factor. By contrast, Constance Hoffman’s predictable period costumes seemed to weigh it down.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Approximate running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, including one intermission.

Casting by Date:

Rigoletto: Željko Lučić (9/7), (9/11), (9/15) (9/18), (9/21)

Marco Vratogna (9/8), (9/12), (9/16), (9/19), (9/23), (9/25),(9/30)

Gilda: Aleksandra Kurzak (9/7), (9/11), (9/15), (9/18), (9/21), (9/25)

Albina Shagimuratova (9/8), (9/12), (9/16), (9/19), (9/23), (9/30)

 The Duke of Mantua: Francesco Demuro (9/7), (9/11), (9/15), (9/18), (9/21), (9/23),(9/25), (9/30)

Arturo Chacón-Cruz (9/8), (9/12), (9/16), (9/19)

ConductorNicola Luisotti , Giuseppe Finzi (9/25), (9/30)

Director Harry Silverstein

Set DesignerMichael Yeargan

Costume Designer Constance Hoffman

Lighting Designer Chris Maravich

Chorus Director Ian Robertson

Choreographer Lawrence Pech

Details:  War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places.  Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.  Remaining Performances: Sept.11 (8 p.m.), Sept. 12 (7:30 p.m.), Sept. 15 (8 p.m.), Sept.16 (2 p.m.), Sept. 18 (8 p.m.), Sept. 19 (7:30 p.m.), Sept.21 (8 p.m.), Sept. 23 (2 p.m.), Sept. 25 (7:30 p.m.) and Sept. 30 (2 p.m.). Tickets: :  $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330, or online at www.sfopera.com.   Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.

The Sept. 15 performance will be simulcast in a free event at AT&T Park; go to www.sfopera.com/simulcast  to register.

Driving to San Francisco and Parking:  Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Sausalito onwards due to congestion around the toll-plaza.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends.   Recommended garages near the opera house are the Performing Arts Garage and Civic Center Garage (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

September 11, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment