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San Francisco Opera honors Soprano Patricia Racette with the San Francisco Opera Medal, commemorating 25 years and 32 roles, SFO’s highest award

Patricia Racette and David Gockley San Francisco Opera General Director on Sunday, September 21, 2014 at War Memorial Opera House.  After the final performance of “Susannah,” Racette was presented with the San Francisco Opera Medal, the Company’s highest distinction, for her 25 years of amazing performances with the company. Photo: Scott Wall

Patricia Racette and David Gockley San Francisco Opera General Director on Sunday, September 21, 2014 at War Memorial Opera House. After the final performance of “Susannah,” Racette was presented with the San Francisco Opera Medal, the Company’s highest distinction, for her 25 years of amazing performances with the company. Photo: Scott Wall

Those of us who attended the final performance of San Francisco Opera’s new production of Carlise Floyd’s “Susannah” this afternoon were in for a treat.  Right after extended rounds of applause for soprano Patricia Racette, who delivered a profound Susannah, and cheers for her wonderful supporting cast, a special ceremony took place awarding Racette with the San Francisco Opera Medal.  The award was established in 1970 by former General Director Kurt Herbert Adler and is the highest honor the Company bestows in recognition of outstanding achievement by an artistic professional.

How fitting it is that Racette, who celebrates 25 years and 32 roles with SFO this year, was given this award now.  Her repertoire and success over the past year with the company has been so vast it is dizzying.  She just sang the title role of “Susannah” to rave reviews.  This summer, she sang Cio Cio San in the splendid “Madame Butterfly” and gave a stand-out performance as the cabaret singer, Julie La Verne, in Francesca Zambello’s opulent “Show Boat,” SFO’s other stand-out summer of 2014 hit.  There, her delightful renditions of Jerome Kern’s ballads “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill,”along with her wonderful acting, were central to the production.  Last season, at the very last minute, she stepped up to assume the title role in Tobias Picker’s “Dolores Claiborne” while simultaneously singing the dual roles of Marguerite and Elena in Arrigo Boito’s “Mephistopheles.” That’s just the past year!  Her career with the company is nothing short of remarkable.

The New Hampshire-born soprano first joined SFO’s Merola Program where she debuted her now acclaimed portrayal of Puccini’s Cio-Cio-San. Later, as an Alder Fellow with the company, she covered Pilar Lorengar in “Falstaff.” Over the years, she has sung roles with the company as varied musically and dramatically as Luisa Miller and Jenůfa, Marguerite, and Dolores Claiborne. The artistry and fervor Racette brings to the stage is limitless, whether in vocal mastery, stylistic range, or emotional interpretation. After “Susannah,” Racette is singing the title role in “Salome” at San Antonio Opera (Jan 2015); Marie Antionette in The Ghosts of Versailles at Los Angeles Opera (Feb-March 2015) and Nedda in “Pagliacci” (April-May 2015) at the Met.  Racette, who is married to mezzo Beth Clayton, is also proud to call San Francisco home, and when she isn’t on tour, she loves walking with her poodle, Sappho, on the beach.

Racette was given the award by SFO’s General Director David Gockley who said Racette was “family” and went on to list her numerous accomplishments over the years.   Present on stage were members of the cast of “Susannah.” In accepting the award Racette graciously thanked all those support persons associated with SFO who have contributed to the quality of her performances over the years and the special San Francisco audience members, many of whom have “been there since the very beginning.”

Patricia Racette (blue dress) as Susannah, square-dancing at a church social in backwoods Tennessee in a new San Francisco Opera production of Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah."  edited Corey Weaver photo.

Patricia Racette (blue dress) as Susannah, square-dancing at a church social in backwoods Tennessee in a new San Francisco Opera production of Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah.” edited Corey Weaver photo.

The first SFO Medal laureate was soprano Dorothy Kirsten. While many vocalists (such as Leontyne Price in 1977, Joan Sutherland in 1984, Plácido Domingo in 1994, and Samuel Ramey (2003) have been so honored, other laureates have included stage director John Copley (2010), conductor Donald Runnicles (2009), chorus director Ian Robertson 2012 and scenic artist Jay Kotcher in 2013.

San Francisco Opera Medal Recipients
1970 – Dorothy Kirsten
1972 – Jess Thomas
1973 – Paul Hager (house stage director)
1974 – Colin Harvey (chorister and chorus librarian)
1975 – Otto Guth
Alexander Fried (San Francisco Examiner music critic)
1976 – Leonie Rysanek
1977 – Leontyne Price
1978 – Kurt Herbert Adler
1980 – Geraint Evans
1981 – Matthew Farruggio (production supervisor and house stage director)
Birgit Nilsson
1982 – Regina Resnik
1984 – Joan Sutherland
1985 – Thomas Stewart
1987 – Régine Crespin
1988 – Philip Eisenberg (music staff)
1989 – Pilar Lorengar
Bidú Sayao
1990 – Janis Martin
Marilyn Horne
1991 – Licia Albanese
1993 – Walter Mahoney (costume shop manager)
1994 – Zaven Melikian (concertmaster)
Michael Kane (master carpenter)
Plácido Domingo
1995 – Charles Mackerras
1997 – Frederica von Stade
1998 – Irene Dalis
2001 – Lotfi Mansouri
James Morris
2003 – Samuel Ramey
2004 – Joe Harris (dresser)
2005 – Pamela Rosenberg
2008 – Clifford (Kip) Cranna (director of music administration)
Ruth Ann Swenson
2009 – Donald Runnicles
2010 – John Copley (stage director)
2012 – Ian Robertson (chorus director)

2013–Jay Kotcher (scenic artist)

Details: Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” opens Saturday, October 4, 2014 and there are 7 performances in the run. Seats are selling fast—purchase tickets here or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330. Handel’s “Partenope” opens Wednesday, October 15, 2014 with acclaimed Danielle de Niese in the title role and runs for 6 performances. Purchase tickets here. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.   Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.

For more information on San Francisco Opera and all upcoming performances, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx

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September 21, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Suddenly, so gorgeous, so relevant—San Francisco Opera’s new “Madame Butterfly”—not to be missed, through July 9

Giacomo Puccini described his “Madame Butterfly” as “the most felt and most expressive opera” he ever conceived.” Acclaimed soprano and San Francisco Opera celeb, Patricia Racette, is Cio-Cio-San/Butterfly and tenor Brian Jagde is Pinkerton in a production featuring vivid video projections by Jun Kaneko, who delighted audiences with his "Magic Flute" in 2012. This co-production with Omaha Opera premiered in 2006 and is at SFO through July 9, 2014. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Giacomo Puccini described his “Madame Butterfly” as “the most felt and most expressive opera” he ever conceived.” Acclaimed soprano and San Francisco Opera celeb, Patricia Racette, is Cio-Cio-San/Butterfly and tenor Brian Jagde is Pinkerton in a production featuring vivid video projections by Jun Kaneko, who delighted audiences with his “Magic Flute” in 2012. This co-production with Omaha Opera premiered in 2006 and is at SFO through July 9, 2014. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

For many opera lovers, the soaring music of Puccini is reason enough to go to a live performance.  San Francisco’s Opera’s (SFO’s ) new “Madame Butterfly,” with its abstract video projections by artist Jun Kaneko, outstanding Cio Cio San/Butterfly by soprano Patricia Racette, and passionate directing by Nicola Luisotti, kept me glued to my seat on Thursday evening.  I’d count it among the top live opera experiences I’ve had.  This was the sixth of eight performances, with the run concluding Wednesday, July 9.  This is Florida-based Leslie Swackhamer’s co-production with SFO and Opera Omaha, which required three years of collaboration with Kaneko and Opera Omaha to pull off.   Freed of its traditional staging, this is a Butterfly unlike anything you’ve seen before—it’s fresh and timeless and while it has Japanese sensibilities, it feels more global than Japanese.  Kaneko dresses the cast in spectacularly colorful kimonos and suits a la Mondrian.  His simple set is an angled walkway that extends from the stage right-rear to left-front with a raised central platform with a sliding screen.  A vivid array of constantly shifting projections accompanies the action and punctuates the exquisite music.  The stage is so expressive, so hypnotic, with these color and pattern changes that it too becomes an important character in the performance, interacting with the singers and audience in a way that really makes you pay attention to what’s going on.

The story is still set in Nagasaki, Japan where a naïve fifteen year-old local geisha, Cio-Cio-San (Racette), falls in love with a handsome and charismatic American naval officer, Lieutenant Pinkerton (tenor Brian Jagde).  Their marriage is arranged by the broker, Goro (Julius Ahn), and the contract is clear—the “Japanese marriage” is revocable with one month’s notice.  Butterfly understands it differently though—she unconditionally accepts her suitor’s love as real and eternal and goes so far as to forsake her family and her ancestral Buddhist faith to become a devoted wife and Christian.  He leaves to go back to the States with a promise to return to her.  She trusts him implicitly.  She grows impoverished as she waits with her faithful maid Suzuki (mezzo Elizabeth DeShong).  When he does come back, three years later, it’s with his American wife.

I was once told that co-dependency is a vicious addiction to the potential of things. Patricia Racette, who has performed Cio-Cio-San three times at SFO, has an electrifying command of Butterfly’s psyche.  Her instinct for baring this deluded young’s woman’s soul while singing rapturously all evening long, is a feat that won’t be repeated.  She delivers a Butterfly who is so sumptuous in her optimism and so stubborn in her head-in-the sand denial and passivity that we want to slap her back into reality and save her from the intense pain in the pipeline.

By now, Racette should be a household name amongst Bay Area opera lovers—the Merola/Adler alum started her career with SFO 24 years ago and has sung nearly 30 roles with the company.  This past season, she took on the herculean task of singing four roles in various SFO productions and drew praise across the board.  Just last week, she concluded a stand-out performance as the cabaret singer, Julie La Verne, in Francesca Zambello’s opulent “Show Boat,” SFO’s other stand-out summer of 2014 hit.  There, her delightful renditions of Jerome Kern’s ballads “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill,”along with her wonderful acting, were central to the production.   This Racette’s second SFO pairing with hunky Merola/Adler tenor Brian Jagde as Pinkerton and their natural ease with each other and on stage chemistry made their  Act 1duet, “Bimba, Bimba, non piangere” (“Sweetheart, sweetheart, do not weep”) intensely passionate.   Racette’s Act II, “Un bel dì” (“One beautiful day”), the opera’s most famous aria was interrupted by clapping and, once she finished, earned her a loving ovation.   The tension ran unbearably high when she sent her son out of the room so she could kill herself and that final gesture of sacrifice and insane fidelity was something to savor—a shame that it was interrupted by a *$#@ cell phone which rang 5 or 6 times before an usher had the good sense to take the offender by the arm and pull him out of the opera house.

Jun Kaneko’s boldly colorful and pattern changing video projections are so expressive that the stage too becomes an important character in the performance, interacting with the characters in a way that really makes you pay attention to what’s going on with them.  Patricia Racette (Cio-Cio-San) and Elizabeth DeShong (Suzuki) in a scene from Act II. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Jun Kaneko’s boldly colorful and pattern changing video projections are so expressive that the stage too becomes an important character in the performance, interacting with the characters in a way that really makes you pay attention to what’s going on with them. Patricia Racette (Cio-Cio-San) and Elizabeth DeShong (Suzuki) in a scene from Act II. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Butterfly’s inspiring score is imbued with a mix of east and West and the music flowed almost seamlessly from the SFO Orchestra and chorus under Luisotti’s impassioned conducting.  In an interview in the program, Luisotti estimates that he has conducted the opera over seventy times, including two productions in Japan.  The energetic prelude that leads right into the opening scene had his silver locks flying and the volume energetically revved to the point that Jagde’s first aria, “E soffitto e pareti” (“And ceiling and walls”), was momentarily overpowered.  He pulled in it and the rest went magically.

In critical supporting roles, mezzo Elizabeth DeShong as Suzuki and baritone Brian Mulligan as the compassionate American consul offier, Sharpless, were excellent.  DeShung, in her third SFO appearance, exhibited a tremendous vocal range and deep compassion in her role as Butterfly’s faithful servant and confidant.  Her flower duet “Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio…” was bittersweet in its foreshadowing the death about to occur. First year Adler, baritone Efraín Solís, who made his SFO debut as Prince Yamadori, a prospective proper husband for Butterfly, demonstrated he is headed for glory

The projections are game-changers—modernizing everything and encouraging very contemporary and personal associations.  Once Butterfly is abstracted from its own history and the Orientalist tableau from which we traditionally evaluate it, we’re much freer to look at its broad political issue—the plight of women today who are disowned in many cultures because they don’t play by the games established by the patriarchy.

Kaneko’s sets and costumes are influenced by the conventions of classical Japanese theater, such as the use of black-dressed Kuroko which function as running crew to assist with scene changes.  In this vividly colored “Butterfly,” they also played other minor roles not covered by fully costumed singers.  Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Kaneko’s sets and costumes are influenced by the conventions of classical Japanese theater, such as the use of black-dressed Kuroko which function as running crew to assist with scene changes. In this vividly colored “Butterfly,” they also played other minor roles not covered by fully costumed singers. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

“Gorgeous” at the Asian Art Museum:

Before the opera, I took in Gorgeous, the provocative and inventive collaboration between SFMOMA and the Asian Art Museum (AAM)—72 artworks in conversation (39 from SFMOMA and 43 from the Asian), spanning 2,000 years, that asks the viewer to decide for themselves what ‘gorgeous” means.  It primed me for the visual feast that awaiting me at SFO.  Gorgeous explores attraction, repulsion and desire and certainly engages us in thinking about the Orientalist tableau which is strong part of Butterfly.  One of the ideas behind Gorgeous is to use what we’ve learned from 20th century art about awareness of color and form and apply it to the historical objects from the Asian’s collection.  In the Asian’s Oscher Galley, quietly hanging across from Sally Mann’s provocatively posed portrait of her topless five-year-old daughter, are three silk scrolls by renowned Japanese artist Chobunsai Eishi, “Three Types of Beauties in Edo,” approximately dated 1798-1829.  These scrolls represent three types of women: a geisha, an elite courtesan and a maiden of a wealthy family.  The courtesan wears a magnificent costume that includes a brightly colored and patterned outer-kimono tied with a heavy ornate sash and has an elaborate hairdo.  In another, a demure geisha (erotically?) twists her hair pin with her delicate white hands, her forearm revealed when her sleeve is raised.  In Eishi’s time, too, there was a fascination with ranking types of beauties but the coding is fuzzy to our modern eye.  Over at SFO, Kaneko’s bold, colorful projections and costuming indicates once again that he’s digested and revisioned and moved on to his own gorgeous.  For me, gorgeous is an unexpected surprise that draws you in and keeps you rapt.  This is “Butterfly” to a T.   (The AAM is open Sunday, July 6, and admission is free.  Gorgeous closes September 14, 2014)

Details: There are two remaining performances of “Madame Butterfly”—Sunday, July 6 at 2 PM and Wednesday, July 9 at 7:30 PM.  Seats are selling fast—purchase tickets for either performance here or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330.  War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.   Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.

For more information on San Francisco Opera and their upcoming performances, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx

 Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there are frequent delay on Highway 101 South due to ongoing road expansion work and wine country tourism.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up, especially when the San Francisco Symphony is performing on the same day.  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 Larkin Streets) (Both have a flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights.)

July 5, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Show Boat” opens San Francisco Opera’s summer season—discounted tickets options

San Francisco Opera takes the dive into big musical theater with “Show Boat,” its summer season opener produced by Francesca Zambello.  Photo  ©Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

San Francisco Opera takes the dive into big musical theater with “Show Boat,” its summer season opener produced by Francesca Zambello. Photo ©Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

It’s going to be a memorable summer at San Francisco Opera (SFO) as the company opens its Summer Season with a dive into big musical theater with “Show Boat,” a performance that promises to be a uniquely American hybrid of opera and rousing Broadway musical. Both a poignant love story and a powerful reminder of the bitter legacy of racism, “Show Boat” was a theatre landmark that contributed such now standard songs as “Ol’ Man River,” “Make Believe,” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.”  “Show Boat” holds a special spot in the history of musical theater in that it was the one of first musicals with a believable story where the songs existed to move the tale forward.  Under the baton of music theatre-maestro John DeMain, these songs will come to life.   Based on the 1926 novel Show Boat by Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Ferber, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, the story focuses on a performing troupe aboard the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River showboat in the late 1880s, and follows their turbulent lives over 40 years.  Captain Andy Hawks (Bill Irwin, Tony Award winning actor, with fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, the NEA, Guggenheim and Fullbright,  and a Bay Area favorite at A.C.T. ) and his bossy wife, Parthy (Harriet Harris, Tony Award winning actress), steer this floating company through its ragtag existence. But they cannot protect their stage-struck daughter, Magnolia (the ebullient soprano Heidi Stober), from falling for a dashing stranger, Gaylord Ravenal (baritone Michael Todd Simson), a riverboat gambler.  And then there’s mixed-race Juli, the emotional core of the story (Patricia Racette, SFO’s go-to soprano who has dominated the past season with several impressive title roles).  Illegally married to a white man, she is posing as white and just bound for trouble.

Acclaimed stage director and production designer Francesca Zambello’s scale production opened at Chicago’s Lyric Opera in 2012 and the Chicago Classical Review declared it “a triumph—a stylish, fast-paced and colorful show that had the capacity audience on its feet, cheering loud and long.”  A co-production of four major American opera companies, “Show Boat” has already sailed to the Houston Grand Opera in January 2013 and the Washington National Opera in May 2013, gathering accolades long the way.

Dance is the fabric of life on the show boat and the production will feature a lot of high-energy, high kicking punchy dance routines by choreographer, Michelle Lynch, who also worked on “Hairspray” on Broadway.  “Show Boat” spans some 50 years and Lynch has integrated popular social dances from the period into the production, which ought to be dazzling with Paul Tazewell’s plush period costumes.

The first edition of Edna Ferber's Show Boat which established the popular author as a first rate story-teller.  The story chronicles the lives of three generations of performers on the Cotton Blossom, a floating theater that travels between small towns on the banks of the Mississippi, from the 1880s to the 1920s. The story moves from the Reconstruction-Era river boat to Gilded-Age Chicago to Roaring-Twenties New York, and finally returns to the Mississippi River.

The first edition of Edna Ferber’s Show Boat which catapulted the popular Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (for “So Big” (1924), short story writer and playwright to further fame. The story chronicles the lives of three generations of performers on the Cotton Blossom, a floating theater that travels between small towns on the banks of the Mississippi, from the 1880s to the 1920s. The story moves from the Reconstruction-Era river boat to Gilded-Age Chicago to Roaring-Twenties New York, and finally returns to the Mississippi River. The opera closely follows the book.

SFO General Director David Gockley is proudly awaiting “Show Boat’s” arrival:  “Show Boat” will be done in grand opera fashion in the way the creators conceived. The Opera House is—I believe—the appropriate venue for these great classic musicals that require full-voiced, ‘legit’ singing.”

Approximate running time is two hours and 45 minutes including one intermission.  Sung in English with English supertitles.

Ten performances are scheduled from June 1 to July 2, 2014.

What were Show Boats?   Show boats or showboats were floating theaters that traveled along the major rivers of the United States from the 1870s to the 1930s. The performers lived aboard the vessels. With song, dance, and dramatic productions, show boats provided song, dance, and dramatic productions for small riverside towns that were otherwise quite isolated. Edna Ferber, who had never heard of show boats, was immediately intrigued when she learned about them in 1924 from one of a producer of one of her earlier plays.

Here, I thought, was one of the most melodramatic and gorgeous bits of Americana that had ever come my way. It was not only the theater—it was the theater plus the glamour of the wandering drifting life, the drama of the river towns, the mystery and terror of the Mississippi itself… I spent a year hunting down every available scrap of show-boat material; reading, interviewing, taking notes and making outlines. (Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure, Doubleday, 1960, pp 297-304.)

NOT a steamboat: In order to move down the river, a show boat was pushed by a small tugboat, which was attached to it. It would have been impossible to put a steam engine on it, since it would have had to be placed right in the auditorium. Ever since the box-office success of MGM’s 1951 motion picture musical Showboat, in which the boat was inaccurately redesigned as a deluxe, self-propelled steamboat, the image of a showboat as a large twin-stacked vessel with a huge paddle wheel at the rear has taken hold in popular culture.

In the spring of 1925, Ferber traveled to Bath, North Carolina and spent four days aboard one of last show boats in the country, the James Addams Floating Theatre, which plied the Pamlico River and Great Dismal Swamp Canal. The material she gathered fueled her novel which she spent the next year writing in France and New York.

 

2 Awesome SFO Ticket Deals:

SPECIAL TWO-DAY SALE Enjoy 40% Off Summer Operas!

Whether you’re still working on your tax return or your refund is burning a hole in your pocket, now is the time to treat yourself and your friends to this world-class opera and others from SFO’s summer season!  For two days only, San Francisco Opera is offering its biggest sale of the summer—40% off select performances of Show Boat, La Traviata and Madame Butterfly.  This offer is only available online and valid until Wednesday, April 16, 2014.    BUY TICKETS   Enter Code: TAX40

Save up to 30% when you buy tickets to all three of SFO’s summer operas.

Can’t make a decision by April 16th?  Call the Box Office at 415 864-3330 to select your own dates for all three Summer 2014 operas and save 30% on tickets.  This discount offer is not available online.

 

 

 

April 14, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Last minute shuffle for SF Opera’s new Steven King opera, “Dolores Claiborne”—Dolora Zajick withdraws, Patricia Racette steps up

American mezzo Dolora Zajick was slated to sing the title role in Tobias Picker’s new opera “Dolores Claiborne” which has its world premiere at San Francisco Opera on September 18, 2013.  Photo: Cory Weaver

American mezzo Dolora Zajick was slated to sing the title role in Tobias Picker’s new opera “Dolores Claiborne” which has its world premiere at San Francisco Opera on September 18, 2013. Photo: Cory Weaver

Late night Monday, San Francisco Opera (SFO) announced that mezzo Dolora Zajick, cast in the title role of Tobias Picker’s new opera Dolores Claiborne, slated to have its world premiere on September 18, 2013 at War Memorial Opera House, had withdrawn from the production due to her ongoing knee problems and the vocal demands of the role.

“The opera proved to be more challenging physically and vocally than I had anticipated and, exacerbated by my knee problems, I feel it is best to withdraw at this point rather than try to push forward. I sincerely wish the cast, the incredible production team and Tobias good luck with the remaining rehearsals and the opening. I will miss being part of it.

American soprano Patricia Racette, who is currently in San Francisco preparing for her dual roles as Marguerite and Elena in Arrigo Boito’s Mephistopheles, will now assume the Dolores Claiborne assignment for the first four performances—September 18, 22, 25 and 28. Ms. Racette will continue to sing all eight of the regularly scheduled Mephistopheles performances.  Fresh from those SFO performances, the energetic soprano will then perform “Diva on Detour” a cabaret program of Gershwin, Sondheim and Porter at San Francisco’s JCCSF on October 4.

The final two Claiborne performances, on October 1 and 4, will be sung by Catherine Cook, who is role cover, in rehearsals since Aug. 9, and having sung the role in last year’s workshop performances.

The sixth commissioned work by SFO General Director David Gockley, Dolores Claiborne is the first Stephen King novel adapted for the lyric stage. The libretto is by J.D. McClatchy and the opera tells the story of a feisty Maine housewife who kills her husband after learning that he molested their daughter.  The role was memorably played by Katy Bates in the 1995 movie.

David Gockley commented, “We were aware earlier this summer that there was a problem when Dolora cancelled her engagement at the Orange Festival and had hoped her pain and mobility issues would be less problematic here. We’ve been working on how to adjust the Dolores Claiborne staging and production in order to find a middle ground, but it ultimately proved to be too physically demanding. This decision for Dolora to withdraw from the project was mutually agreed upon and she regrets having to bow out at this late date.”

Patricia Racette has just agreed to take over the title role in “Dolores Claiborne.”  She will now sing three roles in two operas this September at San Francisco Opera.  Photo: Cory Weaver

Patricia Racette has just agreed to take over the title role in “Dolores Claiborne.” She will now sing three roles in two operas this September at San Francisco Opera. Photo: Cory Weaver

Gockley also expressed his gratitude to Racette for stepping in at this late date in the rehearsal period and agreeing to take on this very demanding role, especially while she is also performing in Mephistopheles.  Racette is familiar with Tobias Picker’s works having performed in two of his earlier operas Emmeline and An American Tragedy.

The Dolores Claiborne cast includes soprano Elizabeth Futral as Vera Donovan, Susannah Biller as Selena St. George, Wayne Tigges as Joe St. George, Greg Fedderly as Detective Thibodeau and Joel Sorensen as Mr. Pease. In his Company debut, conductor George Manahan leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this two-act opera sung in English.

Details:  Tickets for Dolores Claiborne range from $23 to $385 and may be purchased at www.sfopera.com , at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, or by phone at (415) 864-3330. Performances—Sept. 18 (7:30 p.m.), Sept. 22 (2 p.m.), Sept. 25 (7:30 p.m.), Sept. 28 (8 p.m.), Oct. 1 (8 p.m.) and Oct. 4 (8 p.m.). Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance for $10 each, cash only. Casting, programs, schedules and ticket prices are subject to change. For further information about Dolores Claiborne and San Francisco Opera’s 2013-14 Season visit www.sfopera.com.

Free Pre-Opera Talks:  Music Educator John Churchill converses with Dolores Claiborne’s Composer Tobias Picker and Librettist J.D. McClatchy before the Sept. 18 performance, and one-on-one with Picker before the performances Sept. 22 through Oct. 4. These 25-minute overviews of the opera are free to ticketholders and take place in the Orchestra section 55 minutes prior to curtain.

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

San Francisco Opera honors its top scenic artist, Jay Kotcher, with the San Francisco Opera Medal, SFO’s highest award

Jay Kotcher (Left) gets an ovation along with the San Francisco Opera Medal, the Company’s highest distinction, for his work as a scenic designer at SFO for that past 35 years.  SFO’s David Gockley (Right) presented the award Sunday, at “Tosca’s” final performance.  Photo: SFO

Jay Kotcher (Left) gets an ovation along with the San Francisco Opera Medal, the Company’s highest distinction, for his work as a scenic designer at SFO for that past 35 years. SFO’s David Gockley (Right) presented the award Sunday, at “Tosca’s” final performance. Photo: Scott Wall

Those of us who attended the final performance of San Francisco Opera’s Tosca yesterday were in for a treat.  Right after extended rounds of applause for Patricia Racette, who delivered a scintillating Tosca, and for Brian Jagde, who played her lover, the artist Mario Cavaradossi, SFO’s fall season closed with a special ceremony awarding Jay Kotcher, SFO’s top scenic designer, the San Francisco Opera Medal.  The award was established in 1970 by former General Director Kurt Herbert Adler and is the highest honor the Company bestows in recognition of outstanding achievement by an artistic professional.  Kotcher is the first scenic designer to receive the prestigious award.

Kotcher was offered a position with SFO as a scenic artist in December 1977 and began work in early 1978.  He has since worked on nearly every SFO production in the past 35 years and has a hand in all the styles that have evolved in the past 4 decades.  Kotcher’s all-time favorite production to work on was SFO’s 1985 Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen).  This was SFO’s third Ring Cycle, and it was directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, designed by John Conklin and conducted by Edo de Waart.  This was the first time Bay area audiences experienced the Ring with Supertitles, then a new technology, and the experience of following the text in a language they understood was revolutionary.)

Kotcher was given the award by SFO’s General Director David Gockley and present on stage were members of the cast of Tosca.  Fittingly, the award was given against the dazzling backdrop of a set Kotcher had worked on—Thierry Bosquet’s recreation of the towering Castel Sant’Angelo in Pacrco Adriano, Rome, where Tosca takes her fatal leap in Act III.

In accepting the award Kotcher said that he was “here to serve the music, to enhance the music and never to overwhelm it.” The visual aspects of opera design have become increasingly important— and celebrated—and can make or break an opera.  I would like to hear more from Kotcher about his creative process.

The first SFO Medal laureate was soprano Dorothy Kirsten. While many vocalists (such as Leontyne Price in 1977, Joan Sutherland in 1984, Plácido Domingo in 1994, and Samuel Ramey (2003) have been so honored, other laureates have included stage director John Copley (2010), conductor Donald Runnicles (2009), chorus director Ian Robertson 2012.

San Francisco Opera Medal Recipients
1970 – Dorothy Kirsten
1972 – Jess Thomas
1973 – Paul Hager (house stage director)
1974 – Colin Harvey (chorister and chorus librarian)
1975 – Otto Guth
Alexander Fried (San Francisco Examiner music critic)
1976 – Leonie Rysanek
1977 – Leontyne Price
1978 – Kurt Herbert Adler
1980 – Geraint Evans
1981 – Matthew Farruggio (production supervisor and house stage director)
Birgit Nilsson
1982 – Regina Resnik
1984 – Joan Sutherland
1985 – Thomas Stewart
1987 – Régine Crespin
1988 – Philip Eisenberg (music staff)
1989 – Pilar Lorengar
Bidú Sayao
1990 – Janis Martin
Marilyn Horne
1991 – Licia Albanese
1993 – Walter Mahoney (costume shop manager)
1994 – Zaven Melikian (concertmaster)
Michael Kane (master carpenter)
Plácido Domingo
1995 – Charles Mackerras
1997 – Frederica von Stade
1998 – Irene Dalis
2001 – Lotfi Mansouri
James Morris
2003 – Samuel Ramey
2004 – Joe Harris (dresser)
2005 – Pamela Rosenberg
2008 – Clifford (Kip) Cranna (director of music administration)
Ruth Ann Swenson
2009 – Donald Runnicles
2010 – John Copley (stage director)
2012 – Ian Robertson (chorus director),  Jay  Kotcher (scenic artist)

December 4, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Puccini’s “Tosca” opens Thursday, November, 15, 2012 at San Francisco Opera with two different casts—Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu and American Patricia Racette will split the lead role of Tosca

Romanian soprano, Angela Gheorghiu (left) and American soprano, Patricia Racette (right) will split the lead role of Tosca, the hot-blooded beauty, who commits murder for the man she loves, and then plunges to her death in SF Opera’s “Tosca,” which runs November 15-December 2, 2012 at SF Opera. Photo: Ken Howard (Gheorghiu) and Scott Suchman (Racette)

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 entertain.   San Francisco Opera (SFO) closes its fall season with what looks to be a marvelous Tosca, conducted by SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti and featuring two renowned casts of principal singers, rotating between 12 performances, as was the case with Rigoletto, which opened SFO’s fall season.  Splitting the role of Tosca, Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu and American soprano and former Adler Fellow, Patricia Racette—two very strong but different voices—promise to enliven the production.   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.  Also starring are Italian tenor Massimo Giordano, in his SFO debut, and third-year Adler Fellow, American tenor Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi, and Italian baritone Roberto Frontali and Mark Delavan (former Merolini Woton in recent SFO’s 2011 Ring Cycle, as Baron Scarpia. The final two performances will be conducted by Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi.

Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu opens the opera on Thursday, singing beside Massimo Giordano as Mario Cavaradossi and Roberto Frontali as baron Scarpia.  Gheorghiu returns to SFO following her highly praised 2008 appearance as Mimi in La Bohème.  Gheorghiu, known for her theatricality and fiery temperament is well suited for Tosca, one of the great diva soprano roles that not only requires powerful singing but convincing acting as well.   For the opera to really succeed, Tosca needs to seduce not only those men on stage but the entire house too.  Gheorghiu has previously sung Tosca at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and Deustche Oper Berlin.  She made her SFO debut in 2007 as Magda in Puccini’s La Rondine, a role she reprises this season at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.

American dramatic soprano Patricia Racette is up on Friday, singing beside Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi and Mark Delavan as Baron Scarpia.  She is known for her spectacular suicide leap, which Tosca takes from a castle parapet at the end of the opera.  Racette garnered accolades and headlines for the role of Tosca in 2010 when she in stepped in on late notice to make her Met role debut and has since reprised the role at Washington National Opera, the Ravinia Festival and again at the Metropolitan Opera.

Racette also continues her more than 20-year relationship with SFO which she began as a college senior when she won first prize in the Merola Opera Program auditions.  She made her debut with the San Francisco Opera in 1989 as the voice of the priestess in Aida.  She sang several more roles with SFO while in the Merola program, including Alice Ford in Falstaff, Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus, Sister Osmina in Suor Angelica, and Freia and Helmwige in The Ring Cycle.  In 1991, she was made an Adler Fellow which led to several more performances at the SFO over the next two years, including Micaëla in Carmen, Dunyasha in War and Peace, the First Lady in The Magic Flute, and Mimì in La bohème.  She most recently appeared at SFO in 2010, as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust and in 2009 as each of the three heroines in Puccini’s triptych Il Trittico.  She has performed in 29 mainstage productions with the Company.

In SFCV interview with Jason Serinus on 11/6/2012, Racette said “My teacher calls it my ‘glove opera.’  My voice is so very, very happy doing this part. It really likes to function just the way this role does….I love that he (Puccini) gives her (Tosca) these magnificent, soaring passages. I don’t feel like I’m singing when I’m doing it. It feels like completely raw emotion riding on music, as though I’m saying things or screaming things. And that’s what’s so masterfully presented in the score. When she drops into the lower part of her voice, there’s more of a maturity to her. It’s unlike any of Puccini’s other roles.”

This production, which was first conceived by opera impresario and stage director Lotfi Mansouri in 1997, is a re-creation of Armando Agnini’s Tosca production that opened the War Memorial Opera House on October 15, 1932 and featured the acclaimed Italian soprano, Claudia Muzio.  The national anthem and first act of the opera were broadcast nationally and the opera and the house were given accolades.  What better way to kick-off the holiday season than in this historic building with this dramatic and endearing opera.

Jose Maria Condemi’s staging is always interesting and innovative but true to Puccini’s very detailed staging instructions.  For SFO’s June 2009 Tosca production, he was praised for cleverly moving the chorus members/extras on the stage so that they had real presence despite their non-speaking roles.

Masestro Luisotti always delights in his passionate conduciting of the SF Opera Orchestra and promises to be one of the highlights of the this production.

Run time is 2 hours and 40 minutes with two intermissions.

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.

Performances: The twelve performances of Tosca are November 15 (7:30 p.m.), November 16 (8 p.m.), November 18 (2 p.m.), November 20 (8p.m.), November 21 (7:30 p.m.), 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 14, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: San Francisco Opera’s “The Makropulos Case”—long live Karita Mattila! Eternal middle age never looked so good

Karita Mattila (Emilia Marty) and Gerd Grochowski (Jaroslav Prus) in Act 3 of of Janaček’s “The Makropulos Case” at the San Francisco Opera through November 28,2010. Photo: Cory Weaver

Last Wednesday’s opening performance of Janaček’s “The Makropulos Case” at the San Francisco Opera (SFO) was spectacular. With Finnish Soprano Karita Mattila in her debut role as Emilia Marty and Czech BBC Symphony’s chief conductor Jiři Bĕlohlavek also in his debut, leading the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus; the stage was set for magic—and it was delivered.

What a pleasure to see SFO close an otherwise spotty fall season by nailing it with a highly-creative production of a lesser known Czech opera.   The performance was a co-production with the Finnish National Opera and marked the fourth time “The Makropulos Case” has been performed by the SF Opera, who premiered its first U.S. performance in 1966 with Marie Collier in the title role.  It was last performed here in October 1993, 13 years ago.   Those who follow the San Francisco opera will recall that Janaček is a good omen though.  The November 2001 performance of Janaček’s more popular Jenufa (with soprano Patricia Racette in the title role) also proved to be the stand-out hit in a lackluster fall season.

The evening was all about Karita Mattila—with a voice that seemed more powerful in its higher register than usual and a seductive portrayal of lead character Emilia Marty that was brilliantly comedic, she delivered the goods all night long.  Mattila’s known for her unique mastery of Janaček’s music, having recently sung both Jenufa and Kat’a Kabanova to rave reviews.  She can now add Emilia Marty to her list.   Mattila looks a lot like Cameron Diaz (she’s gorgeous) and has an anti-diva vibe that makes her seem approachable and yet there’s enough allure to keep her elusive.  And then there’s her acting ability—from the very moment she (as Emilia Marty) showed up at Dr. Kolenaty’s law office in Prague desperate to get the formula and extend her life another 300 years, it was pure and addictive drama.  She toyed with all the men on the stage all night long and with her character as well, evoking a range of alternating emotions that made the 337 year old Emily Marty fascinating, pitiful, despicable and even enviable.   And for a character whose blood is literally going cold as time passes, she made eternal middle age look enviable.  From her first flash of leg in Act 1, to modeling a stunning cream-colored strapless ball gown inspired by Givency in Act 3, to all out posing on the bed in her La Perla undies in the final scene, she showed us her stuff.  Never mind that the entire point of this opera is that eternal life—her character’s version of it— is a boring drag and she wants out, Mattila nailed it, contradictions and all, and drove the audience wild.

While the opera depends most almost exclusively on this lead character, the rest of the cast was also in top form.  Miro Dvorsky as “Berti” (Albert) Gregor delivered a strong tenor and bass-baritone Gerd Grochowski brought a believable fervor to the emotional highs and lows that crafty Baron Jaroslav Prus experiences.  2010 Adler fellow Soprano Susannah Biller was magnificent as the young wide-eyed Krista, an aspiring singer.

Janaček wrote “The Makropulos Case” in 1926, basing it on Karel Čapek’s play.  Its emphasis on lawyers and the drawn-out settlement of an estate makes it an unlikely theme for a riveting opera but there’s a twist: tied in with a missing will, is the formula for eternal life.  Over three hundred years ago, an alchemist, Makropulos, was employed by Hapsburg emperor Rudolf II to concoct a formula for eternal life.  Not trusting Makropulos’ finished product, he forced him to test it on his daughter, Elina, who was 37 was at the time.  When she became seriously ill, Makropulos was imprisoned, but Elina recovered and escaped.   Unbeknownst to all, the formula actually worked.

As the opera opens, Elina has lived 337 years with many identities and names but always with the initials E.M. and has become a legendary opera singer (more than once).  There have been plenty of love affairs too, including one with a wealthy baron, “Pepi,” (Baron Josef Ferdinand Prus) with whom she had an illegitimate son.  When Baron Prus died almost a century earlier, he left his estate in writing to his illegitimate son.  His legal will is missing and along with it the formula because they were stashed in the same envelope.  Elina knows this because she watched Prus seal the envelope. The lost will has sparked a century-long feud between the two branches of the family, Gregor and Prus, over rights to the estate.  When Elina shows up at Dr. Kolenaty’s law office in Prague, she knows she has to lead the men to the missing will to get her formula.  Like most men she has encountered, they are all too willing to follow her lead.

One of the reasons for this opera’s lasting appeal is the interesting philosophical issue it raises–do we as humans need a limited time horizon to be happy and fulfilled?  As much as she wants the formula, Emilia Marty is disappointed with eternal life.  Were we in her shoes, would we feel the same way?  Marty actually has a form of eternal life that offers a lot of choice—it’s temporary but renewable. Granted, she had no initial choice in the matter—she was forced to drink the formula—but with each dose she gets another 300 years and, at the end of that, she can decide whether to renew or not.  By not taking the formula, she can die a normal death.

In this production, the stage is set with large-back-lit clocks that are running in actual real time, making the audience very aware that time is passing before their eyes and to juxtapose time as mortals spend it against the time experienced by the immortal Marty.

How do living three centuries of life impact one’s character?  Does one essentially keep living the same life over and over or does one learn and grow, transformed by new experiences?  It is obvious that Emilia Marty does have cumulative memory, and yet she is bored and even cruel in the way she toys with people.  She’s living through a very dynamic time in history, in a constantly changing environment, and so the range of human possibilities is always infinite and yet she is disappointed and physical beauty aside, ultimately disappointing.  How can this be?  Does it have anything to do with the age at which she initially drank the formula–age 37, and how that has impacted her further experiences and decisions?  If she could spend eternity at any age, is age 37 ideal?  Perhaps drinking it at a younger age, with more of life ahead of her, would have been better.  When, at the opera’s close, the young Krista, who is just 19 or 20 (and perhaps a much better prospect than an eternal 37) burns up the formula rather take keep it for herself, we have Janaček’s answer  reinforced with striking music.

Performances/tickets:   Sung in Czech with English supertitles. Run-time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission.  Three remaining performances of The Makropulos Case, which closes the San Francisco Opera’s fall season, are scheduled for Saturday, November 20 (8 p.m.), Wednesday, November 24 (7:30 p.m.) and Sunday, November 28 (2 p.m.), 2010.   Tickets, further information: http://sfopera.com/tickets.asp

 

 

 

 

November 19, 2010 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crawling Out of Bed for René Pape—Saturday’s Spectacular Met Opera Live in HD performance of Boris Godunov

Bass Rene Pape’s repertoire of wounded power figures reaches new heights with the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Musorgsky's Boris Godunov. Pape perfectly embodies the role of the tormented Russain tsar, Boris Godunov, whose guilt whittles away his essence. Photo Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

It takes dedication to make it to a 9 a.m. opera in a blustery rain storm; when that performance is 4.5 hours long and tackles a complex historical theme, it discourages all but the die-hard.  Count me among the dedicated and the lucky.  I was one of 217 other Sonoma County opera devotees who turned up early Saturday morning at Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theatre for the Metrpolitan Opera’s  “Live in HD” simulcast of “Boris Godunov,” the most riveting performance of its season so far.  Whether you like the opera or not, the performance itself was one of near perfection—singers, chorus, orchestra, conductor and director came together in a perfect fit.  And with director Stephen Wadsworth’s late entry to the new production, just 5 weeks before it opened, that is a fete.  With an opera of this complexity, I really appreciated the riveting close-ups and back stage interviews that accompany the HD Live transmissions.   The chance to literally crawl out of bed and into my car in yoga pants and to the theatre without the typical drama around what to wear makes it all about the music too. 

The Met’s new production is based on Mussorgsky’s final (and fullest) version of the opera.  It features German celeb bass René Pape in his Met debut in this role and a host of Russian and Slavic Eco-stars—Ekaterina Semenchuk (Marina), Aleksandrs Antonenko (Dimitri), Oleg Balashov (Prince Shuisky), Evgeny Nikitin (Rangoni), Mikhail Petrenko (Pimen), Andrey Popov (Holy fool), and Vladimir Ognovenko (Varlaam)—who all worked together like clockwork to keep the drama high in this epic story of the tormented unravelling of 16th Century Russian tsar, Boris Godunov.  The opera really involves three embedded stories, the most important of which is Boris’ complete disintegration brought on by the psychological burden of the guilt he carries for murdering the rightful heir apparent, Dimitri, the young son of the late Tsar, Ivan the Terrible.   The second story is that of succession—the grab for the throne that carries the drama through 4 acts.  An ambitious young monk named Grigori realizes that he’s the same age as the murdered young heir apparent Dimitri would have been and he schemes to take over Russia himself while pretending to be the late czar’s son.  As Grigori and his army march on Moscow, Boris is forced to battle the inner demons unlocked by his guilt.  These chip away at his faculties, leaving him physically drained and demented, a short step from his death which occurs in the final act.  The third story is that of the immiserated and fickle-willed Russian people themselves who are beset by religious and political separatism and poverty.  As Director Stephen Wadsworth explains “In a bigger sense, the opera is about history repeating itself—in the beginning the people resent a leader who took power through deceit and violence, and in the end they celebrate a new leader who does the same.  And they themselves celebrate with violence. It’s frightening.”

I love the opera because it explores just what is “Russianness,” and does the quality come from its peasants or its nobility, from Europe or from Asia?  In real life, part of how the actual Boris Godunov meets his end is that he is not himself in the Romanov line.  Instead, he was the orphan of a boyar (a citizen whose rank was just under than of the ruling class) who grew up in the household of Ivan the Terrible and became a very powerful regent who instituted the system of serfdom and helped secure Russia’s borders.  When Tsar Ivan killed his son and successor Ivan, another of his sons, preferably from his current wife Anaztasia Romanova, had to take the crown.  Fyodor, who was married to Boris’ sister Irina, was chosen but he had mental problems and proved an unfit Tsar.  Throughout Fyodor’s reign, the Russian government was contested between his brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, and his Romanov cousins.  When Fyodor died childless, the 700-year-old line of Moscow Ruriks came to an end.  The Assembly of the Land elected Boris tsar in 1599, though Ivan the Terrible had another son, Dimitri, who to some seemed the true heir to the throne.  Dmitri was born to one of Ivan’s earlier wives who preceded Anastasia Romanova.  When Dimitri died of a throat-cutting at age 10, it was speculated that Boris was behind it.  Modern historians tend to dismiss this but Boris Godunov has carried the stigma ever since and the story motivated Pushkin to write the play on which Mussorgsky based his opera.  Once tsar, Godunov sought swift revenge on the Romanovs–all the family and its relatives were deported to remote corners of the Russian North and Urals, where many met starvation or were imprisoned.  Like in opera, the Romanovs’ fortunes would again dramatically reverse with the fall of the Godunov dynasty in 1605.

The press hype around bass René Pape, set designer Stephen Wadsworth, and conductor Valery Gergiev has been phenomenal but well-deserved.  Pape was born for this role and anchors the drama throughout despite his appearance in just a few scenes. With his Eurasian looks, dark expressive eyes, and long unkempt mane–which grew more tangled as the performance progressed– Pape looks as if he came right from very line of Tatars bent on breaking tsarist Russia.  Pape’s plush bass gives Samuel Ramey, whose majestic 2003 performance as Boris at the the San Francisco Opera was the talk of the town, a run.  Pape’s repertoire includes a spade of crumbling authority figures with huge issues–King Marke in Tristan und Isolde, Méphistophélès in Faust, Gurnemanz in Parsifal, and King Philip in Don Carlo–and these at the Met alone.  What is brilliant about this performance is that Pape doesn’t overact the part.  In fact, he downplays the physical drama, and through stunning vocal delivery gives us a Boris who is battling intense inner demons but remains vulnerable and tender.

Mikhail Petrenko as the old monk, Pimen, chronicling Russia’s history in a huge manuscript which is central to the story. In the background is Rene Pape performing the title role in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godinov. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Because of Director Stephen Wadsworth’s last minute entry to the production, it’s hard to know what exactly he is responsible for and what he accepted from his predecessor Peter Stein, who left in a reputed protest over an immigration issue.

The stage design is sparse but spectacular.  Central to the drama from the very beginning and visible downstage in every scene is a huge (about 6 x9 feet) and beautiful book of Russian history, being penned at the Chudov monastery by Pimen (Mikhail Petrenko), an old monk who knows or thinks he knows the history surrounding Boris.  I was completely smitten with Petrenko after his emotive Act 2 solo which he express both intense rage and compassion.  When Pimen tells his young novice Grigori (Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko) that power hungry Boris murdered Ivan’s successor and son, Dimitri, so that he could become tsar, Grigori (the same age as Dimitri would have been) is motivated to take justice into his own hands by pretending to be Dimitri.  From that point on, the book’s centrality is emphasized by many of the main characters actually standing and performing on it.  In one scene, The Holy Fool, played splendidly by Andrey Popov, wraps himself in a page of this book, illustrating how a part of Russia’s history will be forgotten and lost and that the drama that is unfolding on stage reflects history being written before our very eyes.  The book motif is even carried through in the scene at the Polish court with the large maps that foretell the future expansion of Marina’s empire.

According to the program notes, this new production is based on Mussorgsky’s final and fullest 1872 version of the opera with the 1869 version guiding the beginning of the final act and Boris’ monologue in the Act II Kremlin scene.   The main thing about this long version is that it includes the Polish court scene in Act III, which I appreciated but some consider a lengthy distraction from the main story of Boris.  Balarus mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk in her debut as the conniving Polish vixen Marina was fantastic.  Her voice was rich and, with her fiery wavy long red hair and ample curves, she played the aging princess to the hilt.  It was very credible that power-thirsty Marina is aching to become tsarina and is trying to steer her lover

Ekaterina Semenchuk as the manipulative and power-thirsty Mirina and Aleksandrs Antonenko as Grigory/Dimitri conspire at the Polish court. Marina needs Grigory to ascend the throne of Russia. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Grigori towards the throne.  The bizarre sensual relationship between Marina and her Jesuit confessor, Rangoni (baritone Evgeny Nikitin), who extols her to support the Catholic cause, was so over the top that it became farcical.  What irony too, that I came across with such disdain for Marina and pretender Grigori/Dimitri  while Boris, just as much the conniving murderer, pulled at my heart strings. 

Valery Gergiev, using the original orchestration, did an awesome job of drawing out the very best musically from all of the performers from the main characters to those in the glorious chorus.  The chorus, stand-in for the fickle Russian people, had a major part in the opera— they initially hail Boris as symbol of hope and later revile him as a Herod who has brought the wrath of heaven down on them.  The chorus was especially effective when they were pleading for bread and later, when total anarchy occurs.

The HD experience can be a blessing and curse.  Its biggest plus is that the camera precision is so fine that we can see things that can’t be seen even from the very best seats at the Met.  It became very clear, for example, that large portions of Ekaterina Semenchuk’s face had been rendered immobile by Botox which may not have been visible to those at the opera house but produced some humorous close-ups of the outermost regions of her eyebrows moving expressively.  On the other hand, we are captive to the cameraman’s framing and Saturday’s filming included a big blunder.  We never got to see the actual grand and triumphant court entrance on horseback by Marina and Grigori, which was so disappointing since our appetites had been whetted during the second intermission when we got to watch these magnificent white horses being led through the corridors of the opera house as they readied for that symbolic entrance.  What the HD audience saw instead—the horses as a static tableau, after the entrance had been made. Ahheemmnn.   What is so wonderful about the HD performances though is the additional commentary that we are privy to at intermission.  Saturday’s hostess was Patricia Racette.  She lacks the verve of Rene Flemming, but she conducted informative interviews with Pape, Semenchuk, Popov, and chorus members.  She didn’t ask Wadsworth what he inherited from Stein and what he did to imprint his signature on the performance. 

 The Metropolitan Opera’s HD live broadcasting is now in its fifth season.  The opera series of 12 live transmissions is sponsored in Sonoma County by the Sonoma County Jewish Community Center by arrangement with Rialto Cinemas.   There are two Sonoma County transmissions for each opera—a Saturday morning performance that is a live simulcast as the opera is performed in New York at the Metropolitan Opera House and a Wednesday evening encore performance.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment