Geneva Anderson digs into art

review: Puccini’s “Tosca” with Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu singing Tosca and Massimo Giordano as Cavaradossi at San Francisco Opera—3 remaining performances for Gheorghiu, 4 for Patricia Racette

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An intoxicating beauty, a lecherous villain, boldfaced treachery and murder, topped off by a spectacular suicide: Puccini’s Tosca delivers high drama with a supremely lyrical score that never fails to mesmerize.   San Francisco Opera (SFO) closes its fall season with a marvelous Tosca, conducted by SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti and featuring two renowned casts of principal singers, rotating between 12 performances.  The role of Tosca is split between Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu and American soprano and former Adler Fellow, Patricia Racette —two very strong but different voices.

When Gheorghiu fell ill last Thursday (opening night) with an intestinal disorder, stand-in soprano Melody Moore—who opened SFO’s 2011 fall season as Susan Rescorla in the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ Heart of a Solider—took over after the first intermission and reportedly did a splendid job.  Gheorghiu was back for the Sunday matinee performance and sang magnificently through Act I bringing a sense of playfulness and flirtation to Floria Tosca as well as vulnerability and bravado.  She had a natural chemistry with Italian tenor Massimo Giordano in his SFO debut as Mario Cavaradossi. (He splits the role with third-year Adler Fellow, American tenor Brian Jagde, paired with Racette.)  Her Vissi d’arte, normally a moment for showing off, which requires her to use the range of her voice in full voice, was strained.  She seemed tired, which is understandable after illness.  She still managed to pull off some particularly fine lines and, after the intermission, was back in the driver’s seat for the less demanding Act III.  She sang a particularly passionate duet with Giordano foretelling their future life far away from Rome.  Her death leap from the parapet was rushed with far too little dramatic build-up.  It seemed to parody what I imagined she must have been feeling: “I’m exhausted, let me get this over with.”   She has sung this role splendidly many times and there is no reason to assume that she won’t rise to the occasion in full vocal luster when fully recovered.

In all, the star on Sunday was Italian tenor Giordano and the performance soared from the moment he climbed the scaffold in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle and sang “Recondita armonia” while working on his portrait of Mary Magdalene.  As he compares the fair beauty of Angelotti’s sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, upon whom the portrait is based, to that of his darker lover, Floria Tosca, he captured the audience.  Giordano was well-matched with Gheorghiu as both are natural actors as well as consummate musicians and from their very first love duet, it was clear they had the chemistry that can ignite a performance.  His voice!  It’s powerful dramatic, impassioned and capable of great tenderness and he delivered them all in spades on Sunday.  His solemn Act III aria “E lucevan le stille” (“And the stars shown”) sung while Cavaradossi waits on the roof of Castel Sant’Angelo for his execution, was fraught with apprehension. The aria was ushered in by a lovely clarinet solo by José González Granero, principal clarinet for the SFO Orchestra who also distinguished himself with a lush solo in last month’s The Capulets and the Montagues.

Italian baritone Roberto Frontali as Baron Scarpia, the evil police chief who is hell bent on using Cavaradossi’s republican sympathies and Tosca’s jealous nature to snare her for himself, sang with a rich voice that was so full of color, that it was hard to see him die. At the end of Act I, he passionately sang of his love for Tosca and his intentions of possessing her while the chorus sang a moving Te Deum while Luisotti expertly guided his orchestra—it was a grand musical moment.  By the end of Act II, Scarpia fell dead, murdered by Tosca in one of the opera’s great dramatic moments. The success of Scarpia rests on being able to transform from being very genial one moment into an instrument of pure evil and depravity the next and Frontali’s singing, much stronger than his acting, certainly conveyed the requisite quixotic charm and hatred. (Frontali splits the role with Mark Delavan, who is paired with Racette).

Directed by former Adler fellow, Jose Maria Condemi, the production features a gorgeous series of tromp-l’oeil sets designed by Thierry Bosquet and inspired by a 1932 SFO production.   The lush period costumes are also by Bosquet.  His gorgeous gowns for Tosca feature exquisite embroidery and sensual bodices which fit the svelt Gheorghiu like a glove.  In her crimson dress for Act II, she is gorgeously aflame…of course, it takes a certain attitude to really wear a dress like that and Gheorghiu’s just the diva to pull it off.

Sunday’s singing was backed up by Luisotti’s passionate conducting of the SFO orchestra and chorus and he drew the mood, musical intensity and emotion requisite for a compelling Tosca from them, clearly delighting the audience every step of the way.  The final two performances will be conducted by Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi.

In 2009, Gheorghiu was invited to honor Grace Bumbry during the 32nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors, in Washington, DC. She performed “Vissi d’arte” in the presence of Barack and Michelle Obama and clearly had a great day—

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: The seven remaining performances of Tosca are November 24 (8 p.m.), November 25 (2 p.m.), November 27 (8 p.m.), November 28 (7:30 p.m.), November 29 (7:30 p.m.), December 1 (8 p.m.) and December 2, 2012 (2 p.m.).  Click here to see cast scheduling information.  Tickets: $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330 or purchase online here.  Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.

November 23, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows Perform Opera Favorites for last Sunday’s Marin Guild Gala

San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Daniel Montenegro, Nadine Sierra, Ao Li, Ryan Kuster and David Hanlon (not pictured) performed a delightful program of opera arias and ensembles at a Champagne Gala hosted by the Marin chapter of the SF Opera Guild. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Those attending the Marin Chapter of the San Francisco Opera Guild’s annual Champagne Gala this Sunday were serenaded by the voices of angels— San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows —in an intimate program of opera arias and ensembles.   The gala is the Chapter’s only fundraising event and takes place every August with a performance by the Adler Fellows at the San Domenico Music Conservatory in San Anselmo.  Ninety-two people attended Sunday’s concert, which raised over $4500 to fund the Guild’s two most popular programs—the Opera à la Carte music education program for Marin County schools and the Guild’s popular Opera Previews, featuring renowned musicologists and the occasional degree-less deadbeat offering an in-depth look at the season’s operas.    

Baker Peeples and Ellen Kerrigan spoke about their long-time involvement in SF Opera Guild’s Opera à la Carte music education program for Northern California schools. Kerrigan rose through the ranks at SF Opera, starting with its Merola Program and was then selected as an Adler Fellow and went on to a distinguished singing career. Baker Peeples was a finalist in the Metropolitan and SF Opera Auditions and is the Music Director of the Lamplighters Music Theatre.

The festivities began as the Guild’s chapter president, Camille Morishige, introduced special guests Ellen Kerrigan and Baker Peeples, who spoke passionately and humorously about their long-time involvement in the Opera à la Carte music education program for Northern California schools. This engaging Opera Guild program brings 45-minute adaptations of San Francisco Opera’s main stage operas to over 130 schools annually with a small travelling team—frequently including Kerrigan and Peeples—and works with students to actually produce an opera.  Students learn first-hand about performance, technique and scenery and are given speaking roles, which they must memorize.  The Marin Guild has been instrumental in funding the Opera à la Carte program for local schools that cannot afford the annual $300 participation fee. Since its inception 23 years ago, Kerrigan estimated that the program had introduced over 600,000 Northern California students to opera and launched a few careers in music.  Several of the program’s initial donors, including George F. Lucas, were in the audience. 

The crowd burst into laughter as Peeples quoted his favorite letter from a student: “Dear  Opera à la Carte, Before I saw Opera à la Carte’s Die Fledermaus, I thought opera was the worst thing to happen to civilization.  Since then, I have changed my mind.”  This fall’s program will feature a charming adaptation of Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love

At Sunday’s Champagne Gala, San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Ao Li and Daniel Montenegro sang the friendship duet, “Au fond du temple saint,” from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers). Photo: courtesy Susan Malott

Each year, long-time opera patron and past Marin Chapter president, Vivienne Miller, enthusiastically helps organize the Adler Fellows’ Marin performance.  The five Adler Fellows performing this year included Nadine Sierra, soprano; Daniel Montenegro, tenor; Ao Li, baritone; Ryan Kuster, bass-baritone;  and David Hanlon, coach and accompanist.  What a pleasure to see these rising opera stars perform in an intimate and informal setting and to have the chance to speak with them about their onstage roles in SF Opera performances this fall.   

The Adler Fellows represent the finest young operatic voices in the country.  Each year, only a few of the 20 San Francisco Opera Merola Opera Program participants—who themselves are selected from a pool of over 800 candidates—are invited to continue on as Adler Fellows.  Under the guidance of San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley and Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald, the Adler Program offers intensive individual training and roles of increasing importance in San Francisco Opera’s main-stage season.

At Sunday’s Champagne Gala, San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Ryan Kuster and Nadine Sierra sing the famous duet “La ci darem la mano,” in a scene from Mozart’s "Don Giovanni". Photo: courtesy Susan Malott

Sunday’s program included several popular and very demanding arias and ensembles that were especially selected by the Fellows.  Before each piece, the Fellows set the scene, explaining what they liked and imbuing the plots with a modern and often humorous spin.  The highlights included Daniel Montenegro and Ao Li singing the friendship duet, “Au fond du temple saint,” from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers); Ryan Kuster as Don Giovanni in the duet “La ci darem la mano” with Nadine  Sierra, as Zerlina, in a scene from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Ao Li performing Dandini’s  aria from Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella).  Ryan Kuster gave a moving Blitch’s aria, or “Blitch’s Prayer of Repentance,” from Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah and a special treat was Daniel Montenegro performing the rarely heard beautiful aria “E la solita storia,”  known as  “Lamento di Federico,” from Francesco Cilea’s L’Arlesiana (The Woman from Arles).  

Adler Fellow Ao Li performing "Dandini’s aria" from Rossini’s "La Cenerentola" ("Cinderella") Photo: courtesy Susan Malott

Nadine Sierra was resplendent singing the aria “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette and as Adina in the wonderful duet, “Una parola, Adina” (“One word, Adina”), with Daniel Montenegro as Nemorino, in Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore”  (The Elixir of Love)After the performance, she told me how excited and honored she was to be singing the role of Juliet Barbara, representing all women who suffered loss after 9.11, in the world premiere of Heart of a Solider, which opens Saturday, September 10, 2011 at SF Opera.  Ryan Kuster will sing the role of a Mandarin and Daniel Montenegro will sing the role of Pong in Puccini’s Turandot, which opens SF Opera’s season on September 9, 2011.   

Adler Fellows Nadine Sierra and Daniel Montenegro sing the famous duet, "Una parola, Adina” (“One word, Adina”) from Donizetti’s "Elixir of Love" as David Hanlon accompanies. Photo: courtesy Susan Malott

The afternoon program closed with Daniel Montenegro and Ao Li singing one of the greatest tenor-baritone duets of all time, the rousing: “Dio, che nell’alma infondere,” from Verdi’s Don Carlo, in which Don Carlo and Rodrigo pledge themselves to the cause of liberty and to eternal friendship, to the backdrop of a militaristic march.  Their duet was full of bravura and showcased these two young men, at their finest, clearly loving the chance to perform for such an enthusiastic audience.

After the performance, guests mingled with the artists and enjoyed champagne and savory hors d’oeuvres and desserts in the conservatory’s idyllic setting.   Several gift baskets were raffled off and won by guild members.  Verna Parino, 94, one of the Marin Chapter’s former presidents,

David Hanlon accompanies as Ryan Kuster performs Blitch’s aria, or “Blitch’s Prayer of Repentance,” from Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah.” Photo: courtesy Susan Malott

won one of the prizes and, gift bag in hand, was delighted to tell me all about her engrossing and in-depth research for Heart of a Soldier and her plans—already formalized– to attend the Ring cycle in Munich in 2012.  (Click here to read ARThound’s interview with Verna about SF Opera’s Ring Cycle.)  Susan Malott, Managing Director of the SF Opera Guild Board, was delighted with the turnout and enthusiasm and contributed several of her excellent photos to this article.  ARThound will be following the Adler Fellows in their various performances this fall, so stay tuned.

Opera Previews Sponsored by the Marin Chaper of the San Francisco Guild for the 2011-2012 Season:

Mon Aug 29, 2011, 8 p.m. Turandot:      Giacomo Puccini Dr. Timothy Flynn: Olivet College, Assistant Professor of Music, Music Program Director
Thurs Sept 8, 2011, 8 p.m. Heart of a Soldier:      Christopher Theofanidas   Donna DiNovelli Dr.  Mitchell Morris:  Professor of Musicology, UCLA
Mon Sept 19, 2011, 8 p.m. Lucrezia Borgia:   Gaetano Donizetti  Dr. Mary Ann Smart:  Professor of Musicology, U.C. Berkeley 
Mon Oct 10, 2011, 8 p.m. Don Giovanni:   Wolfgang Amadeus  Mozart  Dr. Simon Williams:  Professor & Chair, Theatre & Dance Dept., U.C. Santa Barbara
Mon Oct 24, 2011, 8 p.m. Serse (Xerxes):   George Frideric Handel Dr. Bruce Lamott:  Director, Philharmonia Chorale
Thurs May 31, 2012, 8 p.m. Nixon in China:   John Adams   Dr. Stephen Hinton:  Professor of Music, Stanford University
Mon June 4, 2012 8 p.m. Attila:    Guiseppe Verdi Dr. Alexandra Amati-Camperi Dept Chair, Professor of Music, University of San Francisco

All Opera Previews at held at Villa Marin, 100 Thorndale Drive, San Rafael.  Time: 8 PM lecture; 7:30 PM complimentary tea/coffee and refreshments.  Admission: $10 per lecture or $60 for series.  For information, contact Tenki Davis at 415. 457.1118 or

For more information about the Marin Chapter of the San Francisco Opera Guild, contact Camille Morishige at 415. 479.7743 or

August 9, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment