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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Lovely for the ears and the eyes—Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” is charming in all regards, at San Francisco Opera through July 1, 2013

Don Alfonso (bass Marco Vinco, left) conspires with the maid Despina (former Adler Fellow, soprano Susannah Biller) to prove to Ferrando and Guglielmo that their two young fiancées are completely fickle and incapable of fidelity, as all women are.  Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

Don Alfonso (bass Marco Vinco, left) conspires with the maid Despina (former Adler Fellow, soprano Susannah Biller) to prove to Ferrando and Guglielmo that their two young fiancées are completely fickle and incapable of fidelity, as all women are. Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

It’s often said that Così fan tutte is Mozart’s opera score that comes closest to perfection and is Da Ponte’s most challenging libretto.  In José Maria Condemi’s production, directed by John Cox and beautifully-designed by Robert Perdziola, San Francisco Opera has found a delightful winner in its summer line-up.  The music and singing at last Tuesday’s performance were  glorious and the entire cast is youthful and composed of singers just forging their careers….how exciting to experience this opera acted out by young people, as they and their fickle follies were the focus of Mozart’s story.  Set in Belle Époque Monte Carlo in a luxury seaside hotel, with gorgeous sets, this co-production with Opéra Monte-Carlo premiered at SF Opera in 2005 and runs at War Memorial Opera House through July 1, 2013.  This is the final opera in the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy led by Nicola Luisotti following Le Nozzze di Figaro in 2010 and Don Giovanni in 2011.

This 1790 comedy of innocence and deception is a classic.  Don Alfonso (bass Marco Vinco), the cynical and worldly friend of two strapping young military officers, Ferrando (tenor Francesco Demuro) and Guglielmo (bass-baritone Philippe Sly), talks them into betting on the virtue of their sweethearts.  He contends that no woman is capable of fidelity and that if the two young men will do all he asks of them in 24 hours, he will prove it.  The men agree and a fantastic chain of deceit, disguise and desire is set in motion.  Their girlfriends, Fiordiligi (soprano  Ellie Dehn ) and Dorabella (mezzo soprano, Christel Lötzsch), two sisters, are loyal beyond reproach…until their men leave.   With Despina, the meddling chambermaid, stirring the pot, the women succumb to seduction..but… in the end, it all works itself out.

At last Tuesday’s performance, the clear stand-outs were Merola and Adler alumna, soprano Susannah Biller, as the maid Despina; Italian  bass Marco Vinco as Don Alfonso and Canadian bass-baritone Philippe Sly as the idealistic Guglielmo.  Not only was their singing exceptional, they had the necessary verve and charisma to carry off their satirical roles.

Susannah Biller’s bright-eyed Despina, the chambermaid who sees life and love for what they really are, was particularly comical as she consoled her mistresses and then coaxed them into betraying their fiancées.  Her Act I aria, “In uomini, in soldati,” was pointed and humorous and followed by a dazzling “Una donna a quindici anni,” in Act II.  Biller literally glows on stage and managed to grab the limelight through the entire performance.  In fall 2013, Biller will create the role of Selena St. George in the Company’s world-premiere presentation of Tobias Picker’s Delores Clairborne.

Cosi 4

After heroic suffering, the two sisters, Dorabella (Mezzo soprano Christel Lötzsch) and Fiordiligi (Soprano Ellie Dehn), share a laugh over the notion of cheating on their two fiancées. Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

Marco Vinco, as Don Alfonso, the driving character in the opera, was most delightful when singing with Biller (Despina), especially when he initially enlisted her in his scheme and slipped her a bribe and explained that his two rich friends needed consoling.  The two were in perfect sync, and while he doesn’t have any major arias, Vinco’s natural charisma and gestures made his every move noteworthy.  Vinco made his SF Opera and U.S. debut as the wild;y entertaining Leoporello in 2011’s Don Giovanni.

First year Adler Fellow, the French-Canadian lyric baritone, Philippe Sly, proved on Tuesday that he has it all—he’s a tall hunk with curly blond hair who happens to be a natural at acting.  His voice is as sweet and distinct as it is powerful.  I was sitting in Orchestra Row H and even at this close distance, I noticed that as soon as he sang, the ladies round me raised their opera glasses to inspect the goods.

Soprano Ellie Dehn, as Fiordiligi, and German mezzo soprano, Christel Lötzsch, in her U.S. operatic debut as Dorabella, were a bit stiff in their acting but warmed as the evening progressed.  Since a lot of the joy in this opera involves watching the transformations the various characters undergo, the ability to act is as essential as the singing. Ellie Dehn’s lyrical Act II “Per Pietá” (“Have Pity”) had a wonderful resonance in the low notes.  Lötzsch’s Act II aria, “È amore un ladroncello” (“Love is a little thief”) was her best of the evening.  Tenor Francesco Demuro was delightful as Ferrando but couldn’t hold a candle next to the more polished Philippe Sly.

As the two men left, and the ladies and Don Alfonso bid them farewell (Act I); their trio, “Soave sia il vento,” one of most moving songs in all of music, did not disappoint.  Suffused with the beauty of the orchestra, their voices melded in rapture. “On your voyage, may the winds be gentle; may the waves be calm; may all the elements respond to your desires…”  If he’d done little else in his career than write this three-minute song, Mozart would have been famous…but, for him, it represented just one song in his 600+ works that are accounted for.

From L to R—Philippe Sly (Guglielmo), Christel Lötzsch (Dorabella), Ellie Dehn (Fiordiligi), Francesco Demuro (Ferrando)and Susannah Biller (Despina) in a scene where Despina disguised as a doctor uses an invention to draw out poison and urges the sisters to nurse their two patients (their fiancées who are disguised as Albanian sailors) back to health.  Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

From L to R—Philippe Sly (Guglielmo), Christel Lötzsch (Dorabella), Ellie Dehn (Fiordiligi), Francesco Demuro (Ferrando)and Susannah Biller (Despina) in a scene where Despina disguised as a doctor uses an invention to draw out poison and urges the sisters to nurse their two patients (their fiancées who are disguised as Albanian sailors) back to health. Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

The special recitative accompaniment— Luisotti on fortepiano, Giuseppe Finzi on harpsichord, Thalia Moore on cello, and baroque specialist Michael Leopold on theorbo—with a custom sound for each set of characters, courtesy of Luisotti, was quite creative and energetic.  From Row H, I was actually able to see a lot of the finger work entailed in playing these instruments which made it all the more exciting.

Perdziola’s costumes for Fiordiligi and Dorabella were inspired by the costumes of the Ballets Russes as well as by designer Paul Poiret and other WWI-era illustrators.  Executed in pastel shades, some with loads of non-flattering pleats and bold vertical stripes, we can be thankful that era is over.

The gorgeous sets, superbly lit by Christopher Maravich, were more effective.  From the opening scene in the casino of the luxury hotel, to the panoramic seaside with its candy-cane colored striped umbrellas and coastal town in the background,  to the sister’s lavish hotel suite with its lovely Klimt-like paintings adorning the walls, the colors and details (a vase of giant red oriental poppies in the girl’s suite) were magical.  In one scene, when the two men, disguised as Albanians, rowed up the center of the stage on a boat and right into the hotel, the crowd gasped with delight.

Act II: in one of “Cosi’s” most beautiful scenes, Ferrando (tenor Francesco Demuro) and Guglielmo (bass-baritone Philippe Sly), disguised as two Albanian soldiers, arrive by boat on a moonlit night, to be married to the two sisters.  Cropped image.  Original Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

Act II: in one of “Cosi’s” most beautiful scenes, Ferrando (tenor Francesco Demuro) and Guglielmo (bass-baritone Philippe Sly), disguised as two Albanian soldiers, arrive by boat on a moonlit night, to be married to the two sisters. Cropped image. Original Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

Details:  Così Fan Tutte  runs through July 1, 2013 at War Memorial Opera House. 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: The 4 remaining performances of Così Fan Tutte are June 21 (8 p.m.); June 26 (7:30 p.m.); July 1 (7:30 p.m.) Nicola Luisotti conducts all performances.  Tickets: $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330 or purchase online.  Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.

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:  Two garages are very close to War Memorial Opera House— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

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June 21, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gala Time: San Francisco Opera opens its 90th season this evening with Verdi’s grand “Rigoletto”


San Francisco Opera opens its 90th season Friday with Verdi’s “Rigoletto” conducted by Nicola Luisotti. Željko Lučić (Rigoletto) and Francesco Demuro (The Duke of Mantua). Photo by Cory Weaver.

San Francisco Opera opens its 90th season this evening with a gala celebration, an elegant ball and Verdi’s romantic opera Rigoletto, from 1851, which recounts the tale of the cursed and crippled jester, Rigoletto, who serves his master, the Duke of Matua, in seducing young women and unwittingly murders his own daughter Gilda, whom he has gone to great means to protect.  San Francisco Opera’s charismatic Music Director Nicola Luisotti, a Verdi aficionado, will lead the orchestra while opera and theater director Harry Silverstein returns to direct this San Francisco Opera production with sets designed by Michael Yeargan.

Rigoletto:  An audience favorite for its captivating and heart-wrenching story and catchy music, Rigoletto will have 12 performances, alternating between two world-class casts and two conductors, Nicola Luisotti and Giuseppe Finzi.  Serbian baritone Željko Lucic and Italian baritone Marco Vratogna alternate in role of Rigoletto; Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak and Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova alternate as Gilda.  Italian tenor Francesco Demuro and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz alternate as the Duke of Mantua.  Lucic, Kurzak, and Demuro will lead off on Friday evening with Luisotti at the helm. Both casts also feature alumni of the prestigious Merola and Adler training programs.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles.

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

Opera Ball 2012, Notte di Splendore: A highlight of the City’s cultural and philanthropic season, Opera Ball is the Company’s celebrated signature fundraising event co-produced with San Francisco Opera Guild to benefit San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Guild’s education and community programs. Honorary chairwomen are Cynthia Fry Gunn, Jeannik Méquet Littlefield, and Diane B. Wilsey.

Notte di Splendore begins with an elegant pre-performance cocktail reception at 5 p.m. in the historic War Memorial House.  A sumptuous dinner by acclaimed chef Lucas Schoemaker of McCall Associates follows in the tented Opera Ball Pavilion, transformed by renowned event architect Robert Fountain into an Italian palace fit for the Duke of Mantua.

At 8 p.m., the curtain rises on the gala opening night performance of Rigoletto. Following the conclusion of the opera, Opera Ball patrons will return to the Opera Ball Pavilion for cocktails, desserts and dancing the night away to the Richard Olsen Orchestra. The event is entirely sold out.

There’s nothing like opening night at San Francisco Opera.

The Gala:  The 21st annual BRAVO! CLUB Opening Night Gala starts at 6 p.m. this evening (Friday) with an elegant cocktail reception  in the Grand Foyer of the Veterans Building followed by the 8 p.m. opening night performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto. The celebration includes a post-Performance Party, from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., in the elegant Green Room of the Veterans Building where the festivities continue with dessert and dancing.  More information here.

Sunday’s Grand Slam! Opera in Golden Gate Park:  A beloved San Francisco tradition, the annual San Francisco Chronicle  Presents Opera in the Park concert will take place on Sunday, September 9, 2012 at 1:30 p.m. The celebratory event features artists from the Company’s Fall
2012 Season and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Nicola Luisotti. The concert draws thousands of music lovers each year, many of whom enjoy the occasion with elaborate picnics on the lawn. In the event’s time-honored finale,  the audience joins with the singers in a rousing rendition of the drinking song (“Libiamo nei’lieti calici”) from Verdi’s La Traviata. This concert, held in Sharon Meadow at Golden Gate Park, is free and open to the public.

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.  Performances: Sept. 7 (8 p.m.), Sept. 8 (8 p.m.), 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.

Driving to San Francisco and Parking: 

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

September 7, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment