ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

review: Romeo and Juliet, the rush of new love with a short shelf life, at SF Opera

Charismatic tenor Pene Pati/Romeo is believably engulfed in the passion of true love in San Francisco Opera’s new production of Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet,”  last performed at SFO 32 years ago.  Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

No matter how familiar the plot, most of us are suckers for a passionate love story; there’s none more enthralling than Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  As a live performance, though, it only clicks when the onstage chemistry is so electric that you find yourself seduced and falling in love with love.   San Francisco Opera’s 97th season opener, “Romeo and Juliet,Charles Gounod’s musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic sucks you in hook, line, and sinker.  The intense longing, desire, and attraction of new love come alive again briefly for Romeo and Juliet, until it all tragically unravels.

The production clicks on so many levelsthe gorgeous singing of leads Nadine Sierra and Pene Pati, their supporting cast, and the SFO Chorus; guest conductor Yves Abel’s and SFO Orchestra’s fluid interpretation of Gounod’s lyrical score.  And a last minute twist that provided the thrilling suspense that makes opera, well, operatic.

Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra disappear into their characters and feed off of each other in four impassioned and lyrical duets that anchor Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

Just three days before the season’s opening gala performance on Sept 6, Romeo, tenor Bryan Hymel, withdrew from the entire production citing personal reasons.  New Zealand tenor Pene Pati, stepped up to sing the entire run.  Pati, a former Adler, who sang the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s “Rigloetto” in 2017, was already booked to sing Romeo in the last of the opera’s seven scheduled performances.  His debut under pressure was splendid.  In his second performance as Romeo, on Sept 13, Patis charisma was palpable, magical.  He sang with such lyricism, passion and seemingly effortless precision that, even in the most challenging arias, he came off like a Ferrari that had just given everyone in attendance the ride of their life.  The love-at-first-sight scene with Julia at the Capulet ball, was something to behold as soprano Nadine Sierra, in her role debut, first encountered her Romeo.  For anyone living the daily grind of a romantic relationship, the interaction between these two was food for the soul.

Pati may be new to the role at SFO but he’s had years to reflect on it.  In 2014, he beat out a remarkable 304 singers to win the Montserrat Caballé International Singing Competition in Zaragosa with his interpretation of the Romeo’s Act II taxing ariaAh, lève-toi, soleil.”  Last Friday, the tenor imbued the seven minute aria with such emotion, and then ended on what seemed like an impossibly-long extended note, that the audience was enraptured.

Soprano Nadine Sierra as Juliet. Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

As Juliet, Nadine Sierra gave a sublime performance that was at times joyfully playful and, by turns, tender, passionate and heart-wrenching, always convincing and never over the top.  Her Act I “Je veux vivre dans le rêve” (Juliet’s Waltz), where she expresses the desire to live inside her cozy dreamworld, where it is eternally spring, was radiant, light, and showcased her exceptional range.

Following in the steps of Ruth Ann Swenson, 32 years ago, Sierra is now the second artist in SFO history to sing Act IV’s notoriously daunting potion aria, “Amour ranime courage,” which contains two high C’s and and relentless vocal gymnastics.  Those of us lucky enough to have followed Sierra’s rise through the ranks of the Merola and Adler programs will never forget how she beamed after slaying this wicked aria in 2012 for the Adler “The Future is Now” concert.  Last Friday, she was in complete control of the aria from start to finish, delivering an astonishing array of glittering sound while enacting a roller-coaster of emotion that ends with her drinking the potion that will feign her death.

Mezzo soprano Stephanie Lauricella as in her SFO debut as Stéphano, Romeo’s male page. Photo: Cory Weaver

Among secondary roles, mezzo Stephanie Lauricella distinguished herself in her SFO debut as Stéphano, Romeo’s male page.  Following her magical Act III aria, “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?,” several in the audience rose to their feet.  Baritone Lucas Meachem, another former Adler, impressed as Mercutio, Romeo’s friend from his first solo aria in Act I, “Mab, la reine des mensonges”.

Canadian conductor Yves Abel’s sensitive command over the SFO orchestra grew more impressive as the evening progressed.  While hailed as Gounod’s most impressive opera, the score’s prelude and first act did not impress and the first 30 or so minutes were carried by the singing.

Dull staging is the thing that most often drags SFO operas down, contributing a stolid feel to productions that soar in other regards. Jean-Louis Grinda’s staging and Eric Chevalier’s Renaissance-era Verona set designs, a collaboration between Opéra de Monte-Carlo and Teatro Carlo Felice, were uninspired.  Much of the action took place on an unattractive round starburst patterned concave platform that was surrounded by architectural details varying over the course of the opera.  The audience was made to wait out several long scene changes which broke up the continuity of the drama and, when the curtain rose, nothing of high visual interest awaited.

Carola Volles’ costumes were hit and miss. Those of plush jewel-toned velvet added sumptuousness and vibrancy to the dull set, particularly in the masked ball, but gowns with more color and pizazz would have better showcased Juliet.

In the end, Pati and Sierra claimed the night…unstoppable in love and death.

Details: There are four remaining performances of Romeo and Juliet: Sat, 9/21 at 7:30 pm; Tues, 9/24 at 7:30 pm; Sun, 9/29 at 2 pm and Tues 10/1 at 7:30 pm. Run Time: 2 hours and 56 min, with one intermission. Tickets: Remaining performances are selling out; purchase online  https://sfopera.com/2019-20-season/romeo-juliet/

Traffic alert: If you are driving in from the North Bay, allow at least 45 min travel/parking time from the Golden Gate Bridge to War Memorial Opera House. For a list of parking garages closest to the opera house, visit https://sfopera.com/plan-your-visit/directions-and-parking/

 

Advertisements

September 21, 2019 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stars in the Making…San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows perform “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes,” at SRJC’s Newman Auditorium this Sunday, March 9

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lively, eloquent, and intensely determined, this year’s twelve Adler Fellows are literally the most talented young opera singers in the country and many will go on to become opera legends.  This Sunday, at 4PM, five Adlers will perform an intimate program of beloved opera arias, classical and cabaret songs at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Newman Auditorium as part of the college’s Chamber Series.  Performers are sopranos Maria Valdes and Erin Johnson; mezzo soprano Zanda Švēde, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu (former Adler 2005-6) and pianist Noah Lindquist. (Full program listed at end of article.) Normally, seeing the Adlers perform entails a lot more work—crossing the bridge and parking—but SRJC has brought these young singers right to our doorstep.

 

Former Adler, tenor Thomas Glenn (wrapped in blanket) and current Adler, soprano, Maria Valdes, prepare for their performance in Donizetti’s comedic opera, “Rita,” with the New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO).  Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg watches from behind the ironing board.  The Adler residency offers many performance opportunities. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Former Adler, tenor Thomas Glenn (wrapped in blanket) and current Adler, soprano, Maria Valdes, prepare for their performance in Donizetti’s comedic opera, “Rita,” with the New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO). Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg watches from behind the ironing board. The Adler residency offers many performance opportunities. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In February, I had the pleasure of seeing two Adlers who will perform Sunday— Maria Valdes and Eugene Brancoveanu.  They were involved in a rare performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s one act comedic opera, “Rita,” with dynamo Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and her New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO).  The venue was San Rafael’s intimate Oscher Marin Jewish Community Center where the audience sits at candlelit tables drinking wine and snacking while the performance unfolds just a few feet from them.  Soprano Maria Valdes was fabulous in the title role of Rita, a tyrannical and abusive wife who is tormented by two husbands.  She sang like an angel, juggling conversation, song, drama and comedy.  We had ample opportunity to experience her tremendous vocal reserve along with her ability to calibrate it to the setting, sustaining high notes without ever coming off as shrill or too forceful…a true star in the making.  The production was impressively staged and directed by former Adler, Eugene Brancoveanu, who also tweaked the script, adding spoken dialogue in English.  His modern set was minimal and included an ironing board and some clever space saving props.  Brancoveanu, born in Romania, has an unforgettable baritone and has sung at the Met, La Scala, San Francisco and Berkeley Operas as well for Opera Parallèle.  I heard him sing Sam last April in Opera Parallèle’s wonderful production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti, a role which tested his range and acting ability.  He was on top of every note, emotionally searing and impossible to take your eyes off…what stage presence  Oh, he’s also been mentioned several times in the blog Barihunks, enough said.  You’re in for a treat on Sunday.

It’s rewarding to see young artists perform early in their careers and to track them as they move on to the world’s leadings opera houses and concert halls.  Renowned sopranos and former Adlers, Deborah Voight (1986) Leah Crocetto (2009), are shining examples.  Both are coming soon to Green Music Center’s Weill Hall—Crocetto is in recital on March 9 and Voight on April 10 (Click here for details).

More About the Adler Fellow Program:  The Adler Fellows all go through a grueling national competition to enter the ranks of the Merola Opera Program, a prestigious summer resident artist training program in San Francisco sponsored by San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Center.  A select few perform so well that they are invited to continue their training in the elite two-year Adler Fellow residency program.  Named for the late great San Francisco Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler, the Adler Fellowship Program is the Princeton of performance-oriented residencies, offering exceptional young artists intensive individual training, coaching, professional seminars and a wide range of performance opportunities throughout their fellowship. Adler fellows frequently appear in SFO productions.

2014 Adler Fellows are sopranos Erin Johnson, (Washington, New Jersey), Jacqueline Piccolino (Chicago, Illinois), and Maria Valdes (Atlanta, Georgia); mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde (Valmiera, Latvia); tenors A.J. Glueckert (Portland, Oregon), Pene Pati (Mangere, Auckland, New Zealand), and Chuanyue Wang (Hei Long Jiang, China); baritones Hadleigh Adams (Palmerston, New Zealand), and Efraín Solís (Santa Ana, California); bass-baritone Philippe Sly (Ottawa, Ontario). Johnson, Piccolino, Glueckert, Wang, Adams, and Sly are returning as Adler Fellows. The two pianists selected for Apprentice coach Fellowships are Noah Lindquist (Brooklyn, New York) and returning Adler, Sun Ha Yoon (Seoul, South Korea).

Other Upcoming Adler Fellow Performances:  Select Adler Fellows will perform Schwabacher Debut Recitals on March 30 at 2:30 PM and April 27 at 5:30 PM. Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets online or call the SF Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330.  The season culminates with a special year-end concert featuring the singers in an evening of opera scenes and arias with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. This year’s concert, The Future Is Now: Adler Fellows Gala Concert, showcasing the acclaimed 2014 Adler Fellows, takes place in November, 2104, at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.

SRJC Chamber Concert Series Details:  An acclaimed annual series of six concerts featuring a musicians performing in an intimate environment, exactly how chamber music is intended to be heard.  After this Sunday’s Adler Fellows performance, there is one remaining concert in the 2013-14 series, Afiara String Quartet on Friday, April 25, at 7:30 PM at Newman Auditorium, Emeritus Hall, Santa Rosa Junior College.  Tickets are $25 adult/$15 youth. Parking is included for all performances.  Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets by Phone: (415) 392-4400. City Box Office Hours—M-F: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM or Sat: 12 noon to 4:00 PM. Order on the Web at www.cityboxoffice.com .   Parking is included in the price of the performance.

Details:  “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes” is Sunday, March 9, 4 PM, at Newman Auditorium, Emeritus Hall, Santa Rosa Junior College, 1501 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa.   Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets by Phone: (415) 392-4400. City Box Office Hours—M-F: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM or Sat: 12 noon to 4:00 PM. Order on the Web at www.cityboxoffice.com .   Parking is included in the price of the performance.

PROGRAM: “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes” SRJC Chamber Series

Songs of Travel – Vaughan Williams

The Vagabond                                                 Mr. Brancoveanu

The Roadside Fire Youth and Love

In Dreams

The Infinite Shining Heavens

Cinq mélodies “de Venise” – Fauré

Mandoline                                                       Miss Švēde

En sourdine Green

À Clymène C’est l’extase

from Floresta do Amazonas – Villa-Lobos

Canção de amor                                             Miss Valdes

Cair da tarde Melodia sentimental

from Cabaret Songs – Bolcom

Toothbrush time                                              Miss Johnson

Can’t sleep

At the last lousy moments of love Love in the 30’s

Waitin’ Amor

INTERMISSION

The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart

Crudel, perchè finora                                      Miss Valdes, Mr. Brancoveanu

 Rodelinda – Handel

Io t’abbraccio                                                  Miss Johnson, Miss Švēde

 Manon – Massenet

Je suis encore tout étourdie                             Miss Valdes

 Falstaff – Verdi

È sogno, o realtà?                                           Mr. Brancoveanu

 Le vespri siciliani – Verdi

Mercé dilette amiche                                       Miss Johnson

 Sapho – Gounod

O ma lyre immortelle                                      Miss Švēde

 The Merry Widow – Lehár

Vilja                                                                 Miss Valdes, tutti

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Chamber Music, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment