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Geneva Anderson digs into art

At San Francisco Opera, “The Magic Flute” gets a second run after its big 2012 debut and it’s still magical─through November 20, 2015

Mexican-American baritone and second year Adler Fellow, Efraín Solís, is Papageno, the cowardly but good-natured birdcatcher. Soprano Sarah Shafer is Pamina, the Queen of the Night’s daughter. Mozart’s "The Magic Flute" is at San Francisco Opera through November 20, 2015. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Mexican-American baritone and second year Adler Fellow, Efraín Solís, is Papageno, the cowardly but good-natured birdcatcher. Soprano Sarah Shafer is Pamina, the Queen of the Night’s daughter. Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” is designed by Jun Kaneko, directed by Harry Silverstein and features David Gockley’s English translations and is at San Francisco Opera through November 20, 2015. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Wildly colorful costumes, constantly shifting digital projections, huge puppets, adorable bird-like creatures and kids in contraptions in the sky are a huge part of the fairy tale magic in San Francisco Opera’s sparkling revival of its 2012 co-production, The Magic Flute.  And, of course, there’s the music and singing─at San Francisco Opera (SFO), Mozart’s whimsical masterpiece about the power of love and the forces of good and evil is presented in full splendor with sparkling arias, glorious ensembles, and breathtaking orchestral passages. Designed by Jun Kaneko, directed by Harry Silverstein, with David Gockley’s English translations of Schikaneder’s libretto, the beloved favorite opened on October 20 for a ten performance run.

A lot happens in three years though─the novelty of those groundbreaking digital projections, based upon 3,000 of Jun Kaneko’s tempura and chalk drawings, which so mesmerized me upon my first two viewings of the opera, has begun to fade. These projections, thankfully, are now commonplace in opera and have done more to revitalize staging than anything I can think of. (Read my review for the groundbreaking 2012 production here.)  Having witnessed that magical innovation firsthand, I can now better appreciate the opera’s total package─singing, music, staging.  This review pertains to Sunday, October 25, matinee performance.

Lyric tenor Paul Appleby (front center) makes his San Francsico Opera as Tamino and plays his magic flute for a host of colorful oversized animals of the forest which never fail to delight audiences. ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Lyric tenor Paul Appleby (front center) makes his San Francisco Opera as Tamino and plays his magic flute for a host of colorful oversized animals of the forest which never fail to delight audiences. ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

 

Animals, working drawing for “The Magic Flute,” 2011, colored pencil on hand-drawn digital template, 8.5” h x 11” w, courtesy Jun Kaneko.

Animals, working drawing for “The Magic Flute,” 2011, colored pencil on hand-drawn digital template, 8.5” h x 11” w, courtesy Jun Kaneko.

Under Lawrence Foster’s baton, Mozart’s opera with its lively arias, thrilling coloratura moments and intricate passages so well-suited to vocal harmonizing was in good hands.  He makes his SFO debut with this production and will go on to conduct The Fall of the House of Usher in December.  Foster, an LA native of Romanian descent, guest-conducts frequently stateside but has mainly worked in Europe.  His tie to War Memorial Opera House is special: when he was just 19, he made his debut conducting the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.  Since 2013, he has been music director of l’Opéra de Marseille and l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille.

On Sunday, as he guided the SFO orchestra in the lush overture, I found myself growing impatient with Kaneko’s hypnotic visuals which seemed to enforce the music’s slow pace making it seem almost static. The overture itself begins quite slowly and winds through various harmonies before it builds to its rousing conclusion. We were watching a series of straight and wavy colored lines, appearing one by one, slowly build an interwoven grid and then shift through blocks of color and various patterns.  It didn’t seem as fresh as it once had.  At other times, when singers were on stage, these projections were an enthralling accompaniment and enforced the mood of the music wonderfully, if only they could be better synced to the music, on a micro-level.

Soprano Sarah Shafer is Pamina (the Queen of the Night’s daughter), splitting the role with soprano Nadine Sierra. German bass-baritone Alfred Reiter is wise Sarastro (the thought-to-be evil sorcerer) in Mozart’s "The Magic Flute" at San Francisco Opera through November 20, 2015. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Soprano Sarah Shafer is Pamina (the Queen of the Night’s daughter), splitting the role with soprano Nadine Sierra. German bass-baritone Alfred Reiter is wise Sarastro (the thought-to-be evil sorcerer) in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at San Francisco Opera through November 20, 2015. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Nimble soprano Sarah Shafer as Pamina, sang her famous Act 2 aria of lament “Oh, I feel it” (“Ach ich fuehl’s”) lyrically and hauntingly.  She sang Rosetta in this summer’s world premiere of SFO’s La Ciociara (Two Women), and is capable of great empathy in her singing and acting.  Her wonderful chemistry with Papageno/Efraín Solís made their Act 1 duet “In men, who feel love,” (“Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen”) pure joy, aside from its very vernacular language. Shafer was applauded enthusiastically after each of her solos and given a standing ovation at the end of the opera.  Soprano Nadine Sierra will sing the role in November.

Mexican-American baritone and second year Adler Fellow Efraín Solís is Papageno, the cowardly but good-natured birdcatcher in "The Magic Flute." Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Mexican-American baritone and second year Adler Fellow Efraín Solís is Papageno, the cowardly but good-natured birdcatcher in “The Magic Flute.” Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Second year Adler Fellow, tenor Efraín Solís, as Papageno, has such a warm and engaging speaking voice and a natural flair for comedy that he immediately won the hearts of the audience. He imbued his wonderful singing with so much personality that he made his zany character the opera’s focal point.  And his endearing Papagena, second year Adler Fellow, soprano Maria Valdes, made the most of her brief time on stage as well.

Queen of the Night, Soprano Kathryn Bowden, subbing for Russian soprano, Albina Shagimuratova, grabbed my attention in Act 1 with her first recitative and demanding aria, “Oh, Tremble not, my dear son” (“O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn”). The former SFO Merola participant and winner of the 2014 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (Florida District sparkled in her high range as she aimed to persuade Prince Tamino to rescue her daughter Pamina from the grips of Sarastro.  In Act 2, when she is enraged that Tamino and Pamina are collaborating with Sarastro, she let loose full force with the Queen’s more famous aria, “Hell’s vengenace boils in my heart” (“Der Hölle Rache”), singing powerfully, scornfully to Pamina while thrusting a knife into her hands and ordering her to kill Satastro.  While she didn’t quite achieve the raging high drama that completely undoes an audience, she hit all the high notes and pulled off the exhausting passagework with great precision.

Lyric tenor Paul Appleby made his San Francisco Opera as the young Prince Tamino.  His expressive voice was wonderful in his Act 1 aria “Oh heavenly and rare image” (“Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön”) but his acting not as expressive.

German bass-baritone Alfred Reiter, as wise High Priest Sarastro, had a very imperial manner and put his rich deep voice to great use in the lower ranges called for by his role. On the other hand, Greg Fedderly’s Monostatos looked and acted like a character straight out of The Cat in the Hat.

The Three Ladies (from left) played by Zanda Švēde, Nian Wang and Jacqueline Piccolino, along with Tamino played by Paul Appleby in a scene from San Francisco Opera's production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute." Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The Three Ladies (from left) played by Zanda Švēde, Nian Wang and Jacqueline Piccolino, along with Tamino played by Paul Appleby in a scene from San Francisco Opera’s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

While all the singers were special in their own way, I was drawn to two sets of triplets: the delightful Three Ladies─Jacqueline Piccolino (First Lady), Wang (Second Lady) and Zanda Švēde (Third Lady) who sang so harmoniously together, each with a wonderful voice and the adorable three young boys/guiding spirits (Michael Sacco, Pietro Juvaram Rafael Larpa-Wilson) who are sent to guide Papageno and Tamino on their adventure. The boys sang angelically with their delicate high voices while hovering above the stage in brightly colored triangular containers.

(From left to right above stage) Michael Sacco, Pietro Juvaram, and Rafael Larpa-Wilson) are the three guiding sprits who are sent to guide Papageno and Tamino on their adventure. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

(From left to right above stage) Michael Sacco, Pietro Juvaram, and Rafael Larpa-Wilson) are the three guiding sprits who are sent to guide Papageno and Tamino on their adventure. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The English translations by David Gockley, SFO’s General Director, with additional material by Ruth and Thomas Martin, were contemporary and very well-rhymed (when called for) but went way too far into vernacular and slangy language for my tastes.  Papageno’s “ Oy vey,” in particular, got to me.

Details: There are 6 remaining performances of The Magic Flute─Wed, Nov 4, 7:30 PM; Sunday, Nov 8, 2 PM; Thurs, Nov 12, 7:30 PM; Sat, Nov 14, 7:30 PM; Tues, Nov 17, 7:30 PM; Fri, Nov 20, 7:30 PM. Tickets: $26 to $381.  For information about SFO’s 2015-16 season, click here. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.

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October 31, 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