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Geneva Anderson digs into art

San Francisco Opera’s “Luisa Miller” closes with a stand-out performance from tenor Michael Fabiano

American tenor Michael Fabiano, recipient of the 2014 Richard Tucker Award and the 2014 Beverly Sills Artist Award, is Rodolfo in San Francisco Opera’s “Luisa Miller.” Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

American tenor Michael Fabiano, recipient of the 2014 Richard Tucker Award and the 2014 Beverly Sills Artist Award, is Rodolfo in San Francisco Opera’s “Luisa Miller.” Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

At San Francisco Opera’s (SFO) Sunday matinee performance of Verdi’s Luisa Miller, all eyes and ears were on tenor Michael Fabiano and rightly so─his Rodolfo was inspired, powerful.  The tall, dashing 30 year-old embodied the aristocrat loved by two women, the son who defies his father and the unwitting pawn in a political intrigue that leads to murder.  How trilling to behold a young singer nail a performance and to find yourself rising to your feet, whopping and whistling for him out of pure joy, knowing in your bones that you have just witnessed one of the great tenors in opera. Fabiano, 30, is the recipient of the 2014 Richard Tucker Award and the 2014 Beverly Sills Award, the first person in history to win both awards in one year.

Sharing the glory was young soprano Leah Crocetto, in the title role, alum of the Adler and Merola programs, who sang beautifully as well.  Actually it’s a match that’s been in the works for some time─ Crocetto and Fabiano sang Mimi and Rodolfo in SFO’s La Bohème in 2014 but never sang together as they were in separate casts.  Each garnered great reviews.  Fabiano went on to sing Rodolfo at the Metropolitan Opera House in December, garnering global attention there as well as at La Scala and the Glyndebourne Festival.  It was thus no surprise to see a few people in the audience on Sunday who had attended the gala season-opening performance and were back for a final dose of this rare, luscious singing.

Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” opened San Francisco Opera’s 2015-16 season. The opera pairs soprano Leah Crocetto and tenor Michael Fabiano as doomed lovers Luisa, a miller’s daughter, and Rodolfo, the son of the local count. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” opened San Francisco Opera’s 2015-16 season. The opera pairs soprano Leah Crocetto and tenor Michael Fabiano as doomed lovers Luisa, a miller’s daughter, and Rodolfo, the son of the local count. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

The 1849 opera, Verdi’s 15th, is based on Schiller’s play “Kabale and Liebe.”  The plot is insanely unrealistic─Luisa Miller, a commoner, is in love with Carlo, who is really Rodolfo, the son of the local Count, Walter.  Luisa’s protective father distrusts Carlo and schemes behind her back to have her marry Wurm, who works for the Count.  When Wurm (whose name translates appropriately as “Worm”) tells the count that his son is in love with a commoner, the Count orders Rodolfo to marry the recently widowed duchess, Federica who is in the good graces of the Imperial Court.  The rest of the opera revolves around political intrigue, deception and heartbreak and culminates in multiple deaths─Wurm by gunshot and Rodolfo and Luisa by poisoning, just after the truth of their abiding love is revealed, but too late as the poison has been drunk.

Soprano Leah Crocetto sang beautifully, consistently hitting the notes this demanding role calls for while evoking the emotional roller coaster that innocent young Luisa is subject to.  She soared in her Act II, aria “Te puniscimi, O Signore” which was pulsing with feeling as she expressed being torn between her love for Rodolfo and her father.  And right after Fabiano brought down the house with his exquisite Act II aria, “Quando le Sere al Placido,” it was as if she too got a boost from the fumes and came out singing with renewed fire.

Soprano Leah Crocetto is Luisa in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” at San Francisco Opera through September 27, 2015. Crocetto is a former Adler fellow and Merola alum. As the opera opens, it is Luisa's birthday and the villagers (San Francisco Opera chorus) have gathered to serenade her. The Francesca Zambello production, from 2000, features sets by Michael Yeargan with gorgeous huge paintings. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Soprano Leah Crocetto is Luisa in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” at San Francisco Opera through September 27, 2015. Crocetto is a former Adler fellow and Merola alum. As the opera opens, it is Luisa’s birthday and the villagers (San Francisco Opera chorus) have gathered to serenade her. The Francesca Zambello production, from 2000, features sets by Michael Yeargan with gorgeous huge paintings. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Russian mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk has an intrinsically lush, full voice and her SF Opera debut as the widowed duchess, Federica, was enchanting.  It was particularly amusing when she made her entrance drawn in on an enormous horse statue replete with its clunky pedestal, as if it had been dragged there from a European park.  To dismount she had to be lifted down by another cast member. Her singing was nimble and spot-on, from her Act I aria, “Duchessa Duchessa tu m’appelli,” and duet, “Dall aule raggianti di vano,” with Rodolfo to her Act II recitatives.

Russian mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk makes her San Francisco Opera debut as Federica in Verdi's

Russian mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk makes her San Francisco Opera debut as Federica in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller.” Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Baritone Vitaliy Bilyy as Miller, who has also sung the role at Milan’s La Scala, made his SFO debut and was impressive.  Bass baritone Daniel Sumegi sang Count Walter and imbued him with an appropriately dark character.  The great irony of the opera is that the Count, who conspires to entrap Luisa and her father, ultimately ensnares his own beloved son.

Bass Andrea Silvestrelli sang wonderfully but could have imbued his bland Wurm with even more despicability.  Second year Adler Fellow, soprano Jacqueline Piccolino was impressive as the village girl Laura, whose Act I “Tidesta, Luisa” (sung with the chorus) immediately caught our attention. Her Act III “O Dolce Amica, E Ristorar Non Vuoi,” sung with Lusia and the chorus, again made an impression.

When SFO Music Director, Nicola Luisotti, comes to the podium, and it’s Verdi, one always has the sense that great things are in the pipeline.  It’s amazing how time flies too.  He made his SFO debut in 2005, conducting “La Forza del Destino,” and has been director since 2009.

He started the overture at a healthy clip, as he is prone to do, but, throughout the afternoon, brought the delicacy out in the scoring as well the drama, passion, and color that Verdi infused this score with. The clarinet solo in the overture and horns calls further enlivened the music.  The SFO chorus sang masterfully throughout, starting out as a chorus of simple country folk singing repeating melodies that were expressive and catchy.

The production, a 2000 revival by Francesca Zambello, which I had not seen before, intrigued me, particularly Michael Yeargan’s gorgeous sets.  They included a painted surround backdrop of a dense forest which changed colors, and several very large paintings─ a rustic farmhouse for Miller’s house, an elegant tapestry featuring a hunting scene with leaping hounds for Walter’s castle and, for Act II, a gray honeycomb pattern evoking metal mesh─all suspended from a distracting metal arm that hung over the stage for the duration of the opera.

Dunya Ramicova’s costumes were predictable─the villagers wore peasant costumes; the nobles were elegant in fitted red velvet coats and dresses for the hunt; Rodolfo and Wurm were fitted in green and the count wore an elegant black coat with a white ruffled shirt.  The fitted waists and abundance of fabric in the skirts of Crocetto’s and Semenchuk’s period gowns did nothing to flatter their rounder figures.

Details:  There are no remaining performances of Luisa Miller. For information about the SFO’s 2015-16 season, for which you can still catch all but Luisa Miller, click here. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.

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September 29, 2015 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love “La Bohème”? Brush up by streaming operamission from NY, beginning this Tuesday

opermission offers a fabulous opportunity to learn all about Puccini’s “La Bohème” through a 4 part program that begins this Tuesday that West Coast audiences can videostream live.

I really enjoyed Santa Fe Opera’s production of Puccini’s La Bohème when I visited in July.  The age-old story of star-crossed lovers Mimi and Rodolfo falling in and out of love in 19th-century Paris, set to gorgeous music, is one of the most beloved operas of all times.  I’ve just learned of a fabulous opera “happening”:  A feisty little New York company called, “operamission,” will videostream a 4-session immersion, essentially unpacking La Bohème, act by act, from the Gershwin Hotel in New York, starting this Tuesday, August 16, 2011 and continuing Sunday, August 21; Tuesday, August 23; and Sunday, August 28, all at 7pm EDST (4pm PDST). Audiences on the West Coast can stream any or all of the four sessions live at 4 pm at Ustream.

Puccini’s La Bohème: Assembly Required,” is presented by operamission and Neke Carson, (art event curator of the Gershwin Hotel.)  This unique four part series will offer an insider’s view of “assembling” an opera.  For the first two hours of each session, conductor Jennifer Peterson, operamission’s director, will rehearse an ad-hoc orchestra and an international cast of soloists in one act of Puccini’s masterpiece, with opera dramaturg Cori Ellison and stage directors Eric Einhorn (8/16), Jonathon Field (8/21 and 8/23), and Marc Verzatt (8/28) offering commentary.  They will be joined by live and internet audience members and blogging and Tweeting journalists doing the same, in real time.  The result: a spontaneous nationwide opera “community” and a unique and fun learning experience.  The third hour of each session will offer an uninterrupted performance of the act just rehearsed.  The program will showcase a ‘tag‐team’ style cast of acclaimed international operatic artists too (listed below) from La Scala, the Met, the old New York City Opera, Teatro Colon, Glimmerglass, and all over. 

Act I – Tuesday, August 16, 4-7pm

CAST: Roseanne Ackerley, Glenn Seven Allen, David Adam Moore, Michael Weyandt, Cory Clines, Lawrence Long

HOSTS: Jennifer Peterson, Eric Einhorn, Cori Ellison

Act II – Sunday, August 21, 4-7pm

CAST: Roseanne Ackerley, Sharin Apostolou, Ryan MacPherson, Ryan MacPherson, Michael Weyandt, Cory Clines, Ryan Allen

HOSTS: Jennifer Peterson, Jonathon Field, Cori Ellison

 Act III – Tuesday, August 23, 4-7pm

CAST: Kerri Marcinko, Caroline Worra, Ryan MacPherson, James Bobick

HOSTS: Jennifer Peterson, Jonathon Field, Cori Ellison

Act IV – Sunday, August 28, 4-7pm

CAST: Kerri Marcinko, Caroline Worra, Ryan MacPherson, Gregory Gerbrandt, Michael Weyandt, Kevin Burdette

HOSTS: Jennifer Peterson, Marc Verzatt, Cori Ellison

About operamission:  operamission, bringing the art “from the composer to the audience,” has established its artistic presence in the New York classical music scene with twelve presentations since March 2009.  operamission’s productions have ranged from concerts of Handel opera with period instruments, to cabaret, to fully‐staged operatic world premieres. Last August’s groundbreaking presentation of “Così fan tutte: Some Assembly Required” put the troupe on the map with its dynamic format, enriching audience awareness of opera as an accessible and vivid genre.

Details: For complete details, click to view the press release or postcardFor free live videostreaming click Ustream. (Just click on the link and you will see a dedicated channel from which you can easily watch all or part of any program.)

Contact: Jennifer Peterson, director, operamission, operamission@gmail.com , or phone 917 520‐3163, or visit  www.operamission.org.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment