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A chance to hear the future of opera—delightful, affordable, favorite excerpts from well-known operas—the Merola Grand Finale concert is this Saturday, August 17, 2013

The 2013 Merola Opera Program Fellows on the steps of War Memorial Opera House.  The fellows conclude their intensive summer training program with the Grand Finale Concert on August 17, 2013.  Photo:  Kristen Loken

The 2013 Merola Opera Program Fellows on the steps of War Memorial Opera House. The fellows conclude their intensive summer training program with the Grand Finale Concert on August 17, 2013. Photo: Kristen Loken

Every summer, the Merola Opera Program concludes with its delightful Grand Finale concert, featuring the current year’s Merola fellows singing excerpts from major operas on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House, the home of the San Francisco Opera (SFO).   This summer’s concert is Saturday, August 17, at 7:30 PM.   All 23 of the 2013 Merolini will sing and the entire production will be staged by George Cederquist, the 2013 Merola Apprentice Stage Director.  John DeMain, Director of the Madison Symphony and Artistic Director of the Madison Opera, will conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Merolini in a program featuring beloved classics by Barber, Bernstein, Britten, Gounod, Handel, Korngold, Massenet, Monteverdi, Offenbach, Purcell, Rossini and Wagner sung in Italian, French, German, and English.  If you, or someone accompanying you, are somewhat new to opera, the 17 selections are a perfect introduction to opera—they are all classics, the excerpts are short and varied and feature gorgeous orchestral music and were chosen by the singers to showcase their unique vocal talents.   And, it goes without saying; the concert is both a launchpad and an opportunity to meet the next generation of opera luminaries, in the formative phases of their careers.  These young Merola singers will go to sing major roles in the world’s leading opera houses.

“The Merola Grand Finale is, for all of us Merolini, one of the highlights of the summer.  It’s our chance to show how much we’ve grown and how much potential we have,” said 2013 Merola Apprentice Stage Director George Cederquist. “My goal is to create a staged concert that is celebratory, beautiful and fluid. This is not the time for highly conceptual work. My aim is to help my singer-colleagues sound great, act great and look great, and I intend to do just that.”  Cederquist, was one of only 10 Americans to receive the 2011-2012 German Chancellor Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the first Stage Director ever to win this prestigious award. Next season, he will be Resident Artist Stage Director at Pittsburgh Opera under the mentorship of General Director Christopher Hahn.

The songs to be performed (but not in the order of performance) and the singers are as follows:

Lohengrin (Wagner)
“Mein lieber Schwann”
Lohengrin: Issachah Savage (tenor)

Lohengrin (Wagner)
“Ortrud! Wo bist du?”
Elsa: Aviva Fortunata (soprano)
Ortrud: Daryl Freedman (mezzo-soprano)

Billy Budd (Britten)
“Claggart, John Claggart, beware!”
Captain Vere: Robert Watson (tenor)
Billy Budd: Alex DeSocio (baritone)
John Claggart: Thomas Richards (bass-baritone)

Manon (Massenet)
“Restons ici … Voyons, Manon … J’ai marqueé l’heure de depart”
Manon: Maria Valdes (soprano)
Des Grieux: Pene Pati (tenor)

Vanessa (Barber)
“Is it still snowing? … Must the winter come so soon? … Do not utter a word”
Erika: Rihab Chaieb (mezzo-soprano)
Vanessa: Linda Barnett (soprano)

Il ritorno d’Ulisse (Monteverdi)
“Dormo ancora?”
Ulisse: Joseph Lattanzi (baritone)

La Cenerentola (Rossini)
“Ma dunque io sono un ex? … Un segreto d’importanza”
Dandini: Efraín Solis (baritone)
Magnifico: John Arnold (bass-baritone)

Ariodante (Handel)
“Vanne pronto, Odoardo … Voli colla sua tromba”
Il Ré: Rhys Lloyd Talbot (bass-baritone)

Luisa Miller (Verdi)
“Il padre tuo … Tu punisicmi, o signore … A brani, a brani, o perfido”
Luisa: Jacqueline Piccolino (soprano)
Wurm: David Weigel (bass-baritone)

Sapho (Gounod)
“Où suis-je? … O ma lyre immortelle”
Sapho: Zanda Švēde (mezzo-soprano)

Die Freischütz (Weber)
“Nein, länger trag’ ich nicht die Qualen … Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen”
Max: Casey Finnigan (tenor)

Ascanio in Alba (Mozart)
“Dal tuo gentil sembiante”
Fauno: Alisa Jordheim (soprano)

La belle Hélène (Offenbach)
“C’est le ciel qui m’envoie”
Hélène: Kate Allen (mezzo-soprano)
Paris: Matthew Newlin (tenor)

Die tote Stadt (Korngold)
“Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen”
Fritz: Chris Carr (baritone)

Dido and Aeneas (Purcell)
“Thy hand Belinda … When I am laid in earth”
Dido: Katie Hannigan (mezzo-soprano)

Candide (Bernstein)
“Make our garden grow”
Candide: Pene Pati (tenor)
Cunegonde: Maria Valdes (soprano)
Old Lady: Kate Allen (mezzo-soprano)
Governor: Casey Finnigan (tenor)
Maximillian: Rhys Talbot (bass-baritone)
Pangloss: David Weigel (bass-baritone)
Chorus: tutti Merolini

More about Merola:  Guided by Sheri Greenawald, San Francisco Opera Center Director and internationally acclaimed soprano, the Merola Opera Program is an independent nonprofit organization which operates in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera.  Founded in 1957 and named for San Francisco Opera’s urbane and forward-thinking founder, Gaetano Merola, the Program is recognized as one of the most prestigious operatic training programs in the world. The Merola Opera Program typically receives more than 800 applications for approximately 30 positions. Throughout the summer, the Merola artists participate in master classes and private coachings with opera luminaries and give several public performances.  Participants—who include singers, apprentice coaches and an apprentice stage director—also receive training in operatic repertory, foreign languages, diction, acting and stage movement.  The Merola Opera Program fully underwrites each participant’s travel, housing, coaching and educational expenses, as well as all production costs associated with the summer schedule and a weekly stipend for each participant. Program alumni include Joyce di Donato, Sylvia McNair, Patricia Racette, Ruth Ann Swenson, Carol Vaness, Deborah Voigt, Anna Netrebko,Susan Graham, Dolora Zajick, Brian Asawa, Jess Thomas, Thomas Hampson, Rolando Villazón, and Patrick Summers.

Details:  The Merola Grand Finale is Saturday, August 17, at 7:30 p.m. at War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco (across from City Hall).  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places. Tickets:  $25 to $45. Purchase online here (all Merola events are listed under “Other Productions”) or in person at the San Francisco Opera Box Office in the lobby of the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Tickets may also be ordered by calling 415-864-3330.   There is a special student ticket rate of $15, but these tickets can only be purchased in person at the Box Office with proper identification. There will also be a reception beginning at 10 p.m. downstairs in the Opera House Café. Each ticket for the reception is an additional $50.

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 20 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Petaluma through Novato due to wine country traffic and road work related to highway expansion. 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)

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: San Francisco Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” at San Francisco Opera through July 6, 2013

 

Mezzo-soprano Angela Brower sparkles as Nicklausse, Hoffmann’s friend, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”  Photo  ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Mezzo-soprano Angela Brower sparkles as Nicklausse, Hoffmann’s friend, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.” Photo ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

At last Wednesday’s opening performance of Offenbach’s classic, The Tales of Hoffmann (Les Contes d’Hoffmann), at San Francisco Opera, it was Olympia (soprano Hye Jung Lee), the mechanical doll,  who stole the hearts of the audience and mezzo-soprano Angela Brower who triumphed in her remarkable company debut as the Muse/Nicklausse.  Lee seemed to flutter magically across the stage, singing gleefully and hitting incredibly high notes with precision.  For Brower, who sings throughout the entire opera, it was an act of wooing the audience with the sheer beauty of her voice. 

This is French director, Laurent Pelly’s new co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, and L’Opéra National de Lyon which had its premiere in Barcelona earlier this year. The libretto is by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, based on the integral edition of the opera by Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck.  The story takes real life German poet E.T.A. Hoffmann and places him in three stories of failed love.  Singing the title role is tenor Matthew Polenzani, whom many will recognize from his lead role in Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, the delightful comic opera that opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2012 season and was transmitted to millions via “Live in HD.”   He was joined by the French soprano Natalie Dessay, as Antionia; Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee as Olympia; mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts as Giuletta in her company debut, and American mezzo-soprano Angela Brower as the Muse, disguised as Hoffmann’s dear friend Nicklausse. 

The opera’s staging, with set designs by Chantal Thomas, based on the moody work of the Belgian symbolist painter Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946) was exquisite in its simplicity.  Massive blue walls framed the action and then angularly closed in or moved out, just like the cropping tool in Photoshop, resulting in refreshing new orientations.  Low lighting bathed the set, evoking a dream-like space which lent itself to the dark tone of the story.  Since 1988, Thomas has collaborated with Pelly in roughly 40 productions and two seem to be in harmony.  Her ingenious Act II staging for Olympia the mechanical doll, which employed wonderfully zany machinery to spirit the doll across the stage, brought down the house.

Tenor Mathew Polenzani immediately caught my attention in the Prologue with his Il ètait une fois à la cour d’Eisenach, Hoffmann’s ballad about the dwarf Kleinzach, which sets the stage for his mind to wonder back to beautiful women and his love life.  Throughout the evening he was in top form with lively and powerful singing but less commendable acting—on many occasions, it was hard to actually feel the love whose loss he was lamenting.

The surprise stand-out of the evening was American mezzo-soprano Angela Brower in her company debut as the Muse, disguised as Hoffmann’s dear friend and constant companion Nicklausse.  In a move that is truly operatic, Bower stepped in rather later to replace Alice Coote in the production.  She nailed it from the moment she stepped on stage, showing a real command of the role’s vocal and dramatic requirements and trumping most of the other better-known singers with her powerful voice, capable of such sweet and tender emotion.    Her Act I aria Une poupèe aux yeux d’èmail was lush and energetic.  Sung in the eccentric scientist Spalanzani’s parlor room, it warns Hoffman of a mechanical doll that looked human but fell in love with a copper bird.  Brower comes to San Francisco fresh from her success in the role last season at the Bayerische Staastoper opposite Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazón— a performance that was broadcast on European television and captured for DVD.  She is an ensemble member of the Bayerische Staatsoper.   She was also quite lovely in her Act III duet with mezzo Irene Roberts, Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amou.

If you saw nothing but Act I, Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee’s Olympia, the mechanical doll, it would have been worth the price of admission.  Lee, a Merola Program alumna, dazzled SF Opera audiences last summer with her company debut performance as Madame Mao in John Adams’ Nixon in China.  As Olympia, she outdid herself.   Dressed in a silver gown, she fluttered around the stage, legless, leaving the audience to wonder how  it was happening.   She then took to the floor.  Wearing hidden inline skates, she glided all around the stage, literally running circles around Hoffmann, all while hitting notes in the stratospheric range of E and F with precision.  The audience gave her, and the ingenious device which served as her chariot, a well-deserved long ovation with several whoops and whistles.

Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee as the mechanical doll, Olympia, and tenor Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”  Photo  ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee as the mechanical doll, Olympia, and tenor Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.” Photo ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

It’s been six years since Natalie Dessay’s San Francisco Opera debut, and sole Bay Area appearance, in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor.  She was enchanting in Wednesday’s Act II as “Antonia,” and despite a noticeable decline in her upper register; she was lovely in her mid-range throughout the entire performance.  Offenbach intended that the four soprano roles be played by the same singer, for Olympia, Giulietta and Antonia are three facets of Stella, Hoffmann’s unattainable love.  Dessay was originally scheduled to sing all three, a feat that only a few—like Beverly Sills and Edita Gruberoa—had pulled off in the past.  Apparently, she pulled back after re-evaluating where her voice stands.  She was wonderful in C’est une chanson d’amour, her love duet with Hoffmann.  Its drama was heightened by the wizardry of the staging which transformed yet again, pulling them apart from each other into separate balconies where they sang longingly to each other.

There’s just one Dessay.  Anyone familiar with her performances can’t help but love the verve and mettle this petite French dynamo brings to any role, many of which have been made accessible through the Met’s “Live in HD” telecasts.  A special turn of her head, the flash of her eyes, a quick dash—I was living for identifiable “Dessay moves” and there were many.   Her trio with her mother’s ghost (Margaret Mezzacappa) and Dr. Miracle (Christian Van Horn) was also lovely vocally but the creepy projected image of the ghost cast such a dark pallor over the idea of a benevolent spirit, that it was hard to feel the love connection between Antonia and her late mother.  Copyright law prohibits a reproduction of the program cover which features Spilliaert’s intensely dark and oppressive self-portrait from 1907-8 where he seems to be transitioning into an angel of death.  The heavy milieu of this work seemed to fuel this very disturbing and macabre video projection.

Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann and Natalie Dessay as his frail love Antonia, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”  Photo  ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann and Natalie Dessay as his frail love Antonia, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.” Photo ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Tenor Steven Cole imbued his four servant roles (Frantz, Andres, Cohenille, Pittichinaccio) with distinct personality as did bass-baritone Christian Van Horne, who sang his villainous roles (Lindorf, Coppélius, Miracle, and Dapertutto) with aplomb, especially Dapertutto’s difficult Act III Scintille, diamant.  As Stella, Hoffmann’s Milanese love interest, Adler Fellow Jacqueline Piccolino ended the long evening with a burst of bright energy.

Patrick Fournillier’s conducting was impressive throughout.  He kept the orchestra under rein while evoking a beautiful and vibrant sound.

Details:  The Tales of Hoffmann runs through July 6, 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 eight remaining performances of The Tales of Hoffmann are June 11 (8 p.m.); June 14 (8 p.m.); June 20 (7:30 p.m.); June 23 (2 p.m.); June 27 (7:30 p.m.); June 30 (2 p.m.); July 3 (7:30 p.m.); and July 6 (8 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.  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)

Cast:

Hoffman—Matthew Polenzani

Antonia—Natalie Dessay

Olympia—Hye Jung Lee

Giuletta—Irene Roberts

Stella—Jacqueline Piccolino

Nicklausse, The Muse—Angela Bower

Coppélius, Dapertutto, Dr. Miracle, Lindorf—Christian Van Horn

Frantz, Andres, Cohenille, Pittichinaccio—Steven Cole

Antonia’s Mother—Margaret Mezzacappa

Spalanzani—Thomas Glenn

Crespel—James Creswell

Nathanael—Matthew Grills

Hermann—Joo Won Kang

Schemil, Luther—Hadleigh Adams

Creative Team:

Conductor—Patrick Fournillier

Director—Laurent Pelly

Set Designer—Chantal Thomas

Lighting Designer—Joël Adam

Associate Director—Christian Räth

New libretto version/ dramaturg—Agathe Mélinand

Chorus Director—Ian Robertson

 

June 11, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment