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Review: Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at San Francisco Opera through November 15, 2013

American baritone Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and American soprano Lise Lindstrom has her San Francisco Opera debut as Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013.  The production underwent a dramatic scenic overhaul with the last minute firing of its director/set designer and features bold video projections of turbulent waves, leaping flames and a myriad of abstract images.  Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

American baritone Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and American soprano Lise Lindstrom has her San Francisco Opera debut as Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013. The production underwent a dramatic scenic overhaul with the last minute firing of its director/set designer and features bold video projections of turbulent waves, leaping flames and a myriad of abstract images. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

In Richard Wagner’s early opera “Der Fliegende Holländer” (“The Flying Dutchman”), a ship’s captain is satanically cursed to roam the seas for centuries and is allotted just one chance every seven years to dock and come ashore and find redemption through the love of a woman.  San Francisco Opera’s (SFO) production, intended to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth, features lyrical music and beautiful singing but the over-abundance of video projections in constant churning motion detract from the music’s splendor.  Aside from this, last Sunday’s matinee performance featuring American bass baritone Greer Grimsley as the Dutchman and American soprano Lise Lindstrom as in her SF Opera debut as Senta, with Patrick Summers conducting and Ian Robertson at the helm of the chorus, was highly enjoyable.Behind the scenes, the waves had been quite choppy at SFO before the Dutchman opened. Petrika Ionesco, the original director and set designer of this co-production with Belgium’s Opéra Royal de Wallonie, was sacked by SFO General Director David Gockley just one week before the SFO premiere, with Glockley citing artistic differences.  A written statement from Gockley in our press kit mentions eliminating 40% of Ionesco’s scenic pieces, simplifying the staging, cutting down the use of supernumeraries, and providing more clarity.  Assistant Director Elkhanah Pulitzer stepped in and did the best she could.  Production designer S. Katy Tucker worked rapidly to refine and expand the video projections.

The production starts out quite promising.  While the orchestra’s lush Overture poetically conjures the turbulence of the tossing sea, captivating projections of surging waves fill the screens. In another early scene, Senta, who will become the focus of the Dutchman’s salvation, is by the sea with a toy boat and a lovely impressionist mood is evoked with. This scene foretells her sacrifice.  But very soon, it becomes too much. Coming from all sides of the stage; the projections are bold, immense, colorful, dizzying and far from simple.  Except maybe the color coding—red waves signified the Dutchman and his deathly realm while gray ones the bleak real world.  In Act I, we witness these projections whipping a violent storm and clouds while Daland (Kristinn Sigmundsson) stands in front of the chorus of roughly 25 sailors who are singing and swaying from left to right while the Steersman above them grips the ship’s wheel —I chose to close my eyes and just listen!  How far we’ve come though.  We used to complain about how static the sets were.  Now, with so much technical infrastructure at our disposal, it’s easy to get carried away.

The Dutchman, Wagner’s second opera, is full of lush passages and its dramatic music anticipates his future works. His leitmotifs are all introduced in the overture and it’s fun to listen for them as the performance progresses. Patrick Summers drew excellent playing from his orchestra throughout but, on Sunday, there were some occasional balance problems where singers were overpowered by orchestral sound.

Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and Lise Lindstrom is Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at San Francisco Opera through November 15, 2013.  This year marks the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.  Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and Lise Lindstrom is Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at San Francisco Opera through November 15, 2013. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Strapping Wagnerian Greer Grimsley sang the title role with passion.  He made his mesmerizing entrance in a tight black t-shirt with his long hair slicked back and sported a huge dangling pendant and provided most of the energy in the performance.  From his Act I duet with Daland/Sigmundsson, “Wie? Hör’ ich recht?” (where the treasure/daughter exchange is made), to his duets with Senta/Lindstrom, his voice reflected anguish, tenderness, power and clarity.  At intermission, I met a couple who had travelled from Seattle just to hear him sing again.  Originally from Hamburg, they remarked that his German pronunciation was impeccable.

Kristinn Sigmundsson’s strong bass as Daland is the first voice we hear.  Bold, deep and gravelly, it projected the maturity and evil-edged nature of his character—a father who is supposed to be protecting his daughter but instead sells her off to a stranger for a trunk of treasures.  Tenor and Adler Fellow, AJ Glueckert, as his Steersman, had a lovely lyrical tenor.  We’ll get a chance to hear more of Glueckert on November 27, when the current crop of Adler Fellows perform their always spectacular “The Future is Now” concert of opera’s greatest hits.

Tenor Ian Storey sung passionately as Erik, a lone hunter amongst a community of sailors, who is devoted to Senta and who tries to woo her at every turn.  Storey made his SFO debut in the Company’s 2011 Ring cycle as Siegfried in Götterdämmerung.  On Sunday, not only was his singing impeccable, he came across as a young man sincerely in love.

Ian Storey is Eric, the huntsman, who is jilted by Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013.   Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Ian Storey is Eric, the huntsman, who is jilted by Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Lise Lindstrom’s SFO debut as idealistic Senta, was strong in the singing and so-so in the acting.  On Sunday, she sang Senta’s ballad with vibrancy and her voice exhibited a lovely range.  As a young woman who is psychologically obsessed with an idealized love, and experiencing inner turmoil, she was wanting though.  As the opera’s lynchpin, her character has to channel those conflicting core emotions that drive the drama to her final sacrifice.  In this regard, she was flat as was her dramatic jump off the cliff into the icy waters, which was more of a hop.

Saturday, November 9, is Open House at SFO—SFO will host its second Community Open House at the War Memorial Opera House this Saturday, November 9, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  Free to the public, this special community event is structured for individuals and families who are interested in learning more about the world of opera, including production and artistic elements.  Children are welcome.

The 2013 Open House will feature onstage musical demonstrations including highlights from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” with the SFO Orchestra conducted by Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi and vocal selections (sung in English) featuring Adler Fellows Laura Krumm and Joo Won Kang.  The SFO Chorus, led by Chorus Director Ian Robertson, is also featured in an onstage musical demonstration.

Other activities include sing-alongs with the SFO Chorus and Adler Fellows; stage combat workshops; costume, wig and makeup demonstrations; a costume photo booth; an opportunity to meet SFO General Director David Gockley; and hands-on family activities throughout the opera house.  Costumes will also be on display.  Attendees can enter to win tickets to SFO’s “The Barber of Seville” (11.13.2013 – 12.1.2013) or “The Barber of Seville for Families” (11.24.2013 and 11.30.2013).

Details:  There are three remaining performances of The Flying Dutchman—Thursday 11/7 at 7:30 PM*; Tuesday 11/12 at 7:30 PM* and Friday 11.15 at 8 PM (* OperaVision performance: HD video projection screens in the balcony).  Tickets range from $30 (Balcony) to $385 (Box) and may be purchased at www.sfopera.com , at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, or by phone at (415) 864-3330.  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.

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

Free Pre-Opera Talks:  55 minutes prior to curtain time, music educators give 25-minute overviews of the opera.  These informative talks are free to ticketholders and take place in the Orchestra section with open seating.

Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute delay on Highway 101 South due to ongoing road expansion work.  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 Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

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November 7, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Moby Dick” fans line-up for Jake Heggie and Patrick Summers after Sunday’s “Flying Dutchman” at San Francisco Opera

Carol Upshaw of Walnut Creek was first in line to get her "Moby Dick" autographed  by Jake Heggie and Parick Summers at War Memorial Opera House yesterday.  "Jake's a friend and a great singer."

Carol Upshaw of Walnut Creek was first in line to get her “Moby Dick” autographed by Jake Heggie and Parick Summers at War Memorial Opera House yesterday. “Jake’s a great singer.”

It was an oceanic Sunday at War Memorial Opera House.  Immediately following the matinee of Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” at San Francisco Opera—the story of a cursed ship’s captain, which featured immense video projections of a raging sea—many members of the audience lined up outside the main lobby to meet composer Jake Heggie and Maestro Patrick Summers, who were signing San Francisco Opera’s new Moby-Dick DVD.  Heggie was in high spirits, chatting up fans, and so was Summers, having just conducted a mesmerizing Dutchman—which clocked in at 2 hours and 50 minutes, short for Wagner.

Recorded in October 2012 in San Francisco, Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer’s universally praised Moby-Dick is an adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic novel set for the lyric stage. The opera earned rave reviews at SFO in 2012 and features tenor Jay Hunter Morris in the role of Captain Ahab, Stephen Costello as Greenhorn, Morgan Smith as Starbuck, Jonathan Lemalu as Queequeg and Talise Trevigne as Pip.  Principal Guest Conductor Patrick Summers conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus.  The SFO presentation reunited Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer with the original creative team of director Leonard Foglia, set designer Robert Brill, costume designer Jane Greenwood, video projection designer Elaine J. McCarthy and choreographer Keturah StickannMoby-Dick was co-commissioned by SFO in partnership with the Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, Calgary Opera and the State Opera of South Australia.  The opera premiered to accolades at the Dallas Opera’s Winspear Opera House in April 2010 and then moved to San Diego before opening at SFO in 2012.

Six Recordings Planned: On October 29th, SFO also released a DVD-Blu-Ray of the Company’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia featuring Renée Fleming (DVD (RRP $24.99) and Blu-ray Ray (RRP $39.99)).  Recorded live in high-definition at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, the DVD/Blu-ray recordings feature special bonus material including interviews with cast members, program notes, plot synopses and production photographs.  Moby-Dick and Lucrezia Borgia represent the first of six operas to be released by San Francisco Opera in this new collaboration with EuroArts, with an additional four operas expected to be announced in 2014.

Moby Dick and Lucrezia Borgia are now available for purchase directly from SFO’s Opera Shop, and they can be also mailed to you.  Click here for more information about purchasing from SFO.

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November 4, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Moby Dick” DVD-signing after Sunday’s San Francisco Opera matinee

San Francisco Opera has just released a new “Moby Dick” DVD.  Composer Jake Heggie’s and librettist Gene Scheer’s opera earned rave reviews at SFO in 2012 after opening to accolades in Dallas and San Diego. (From L to R) Stephen Costello as Greenhorn, Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab and Jonathan Lemalu as Queequeg.  Photo by Cory Weaver.

San Francisco Opera has just released a new “Moby Dick” DVD. Composer Jake Heggie’s and librettist Gene Scheer’s opera earned rave reviews at SFO in 2012 after opening to accolades in Dallas and San Diego. (From L to R) Stephen Costello as Greenhorn, Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab and Jonathan Lemalu as Queequeg. Photo by Cory Weaver.

After Sunday’s matinee of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman at San Francisco Opera, composer Jake Heggie and Maestro Patrick Summers will be signing copies of the new Moby-Dick DVD, released October 29, 2013.  No tickets required – just come on in to War Memorial Opera House on 301 Van Ness Avenue directly across from City Hall at approximately 5 PM.  The new DVD (RRP $24.99) and Blu-ray Ray (RRP $39.99) editions are being distributed worldwide by Naxos and will be soon be available from major retailers.  They are now available for purchase directly from SFO’s Opera Shop, and they can be also mailed to you.  Click here for more information about purchasing from SFO.

Recorded in October 2012, Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s universally praised Moby-Dick, an adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic novel set for the lyric stage, features tenor Jay Hunter Morris in the role of Captain Ahab, Stephen Costello as Greenhorn, Morgan Smith as Starbuck, Jonathan Lemalu as Queequeg and Talise Trevigne as Pip.  Principal Guest Conductor Patrick Summers conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. The San Francisco Opera presentation reunited composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer with the original creative team of director Leonard Foglia, set designer Robert Brill, costume designer Jane Greenwood, video projection designer Elaine J. McCarthy and choreographer Keturah Stickann.  Moby-Dick was co-commissioned by San Francisco Opera in partnership with the Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, Calgary Opera and the State Opera of South Australia, and premiered at the Dallas Opera’s Winspear Opera House in April 2010.

November 2, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment