Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Zerlina and Masetto at Hidden Valley [Photo by Tiffany Velasquez-Walker]
26 Sep 2013

Opera Theater Around San Francisco

Opera in San Francisco is what occurs at the War Memorial Opera House. Every so often though you can think outside the box and find some interesting performances nearby.

Opera Theater Around San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above:Zerlina and Masetto at Hidden Valley [Photo by Tiffany Velasquez-Walker]

 

This past weekend West Edge Opera formerly known known as Berkeley Opera took a bold step, moving off the stage of a suburban East Bay high-school onto the 400 seat, Berkeley Repertory Theatre Thrust Stage for two semi-staged performances of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. Berkeley Rep is a prestigious address, after all its productions sit at the forefront of American regional theater. The spectacular new East Span of the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge somehow adds a panache to Berkeley that the funky, dangerous old Bay Bridge excluded. Expectations were high, promise was and is in the air.

This past weekend as well saw the last of six performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the 250-seat black box theater of Hidden Valley, an institute for the performing arts in Carmel Valley (2 1/2 hours south of San Francisco) that has come back to producing opera now that a degree of prosperity has returned to the Monterey Peninsula. Its Opera Ensemble founded in 1974 offers young singers an opportunity to take initial steps into professional producing circumstances. Overseeing this current Don Giovanni were conductor Stewart Robertson, Music Director Emeritus of Glimmerglass Opera and veteran stage director/designer Robert Darling.

The common artistic ground held by the two productions was opera as theater, not opera as opera.

On Berkeley Rep’s blackened Thrust Stage a 30 piece orchestra sat upstage, two chairs and a table were downstage and the singers performed within a few inches of the three-quarters surround audience. The conductor was visible to the singers only by television monitor. At Hidden Valley it was opera in the round, a 9 piece ensemble (including harpsichord) sat off in a corner, TV monitors offered the conductor’s beat, the stage itself was a small asymmetrical platform in the center of the space surrounded by audience.

Common also were the much, much reduced orchestrations. While the brass and woodwind complement of Vanessa was somewhat intact the strings were limited to twelve players total (there were forty five or so at the opera’s premiere). The Don Giovanni orchestra became a string quintet, plus a flute, oboe, and bassoon (the three woodwinds total were reduced from the fifteen brass and woodwind instruments of Mozart’s score).

Not exactly Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk, and it really did not matter as the immediacy of voice, the urgency of action, the physical presence of character created a powerful dimension of theater — a dimension that is so often and so easily overwhelmed by opera’s complexities.

Vanessa_BerkeleyOT.pngNikola Printz as Erika, Marie Plette as Vanessa, Jonathan Boyd as Anatol [Photo by Lucas Krech]

The theatrical dimension was very present in Berkeley. Vanessa was about aging soprano Marie Plette and her shallow young tenor lover Anatol, Jonathan Boyd. Innocent if weird young Erika, San Francisco Conservatory graduate soprano Nikola Printz simply wanted real love whatever that is, and dumbly wise bass Phillip Skinner was the Doctor who even knew how vapid he was. Not to forget the grandmotherly Baroness, Malin Fritz who sang very little but looked very stern. Very believable characters indeed, who were also quite real singers and very good artists. Even the staging was their own (there was no stage director), and seemed completely true to character — how could it have been otherwise.

Barber’s Vanessa itself sat very comfortably in the chamber format. The coy libretto by Barber’s life partner Gian Carlo Menotti is like a short story that resolves into a clever play on words much more so than it is a complex human situation that might end in tragedy. The chamber format imposed by the small theater responded to the wit and fun that permeates Barber’s music, and revealed his brilliance as a composer of mid-century complexities — like the splendid quintet that winds up Vanessa. And as a composer of occasional pieces, like the well known arias and duets that embellish the action.

In this reduced orchestral and sceneless format the specific colors and tones of Barber’s quite pictorial music and the atmospheres inherent to Menotti’s little twilight zone story are sacrificed. But the chamber format did ring true as the perfect place to bare the soul of this wonderful artifact of mid-twentieth century American music. The proceedings were held together by West Edge Opera music director Jonathan Khuner.

Hidden Valley has had much practice staging in the round, achieving in this Don Giovanni a degree of perfection. The irregular shape of the small center platform provided places to step, to sit and to hide, and it was turned from time to time by three very, that is very shapely damsels in black vinyl body stockings to indicate a change of scene, or rotated sometimes to make a posed stage picture visible to the entire audience. The entrance/exit aisle bisecting the theater was used for staging, the intersecting aisle axis led to platforms high against the side walls where Elvira appeared on her balcony and later the Commendatore’s statue loomed.

And there was production — minimalist lighting by designer Matthew Antaky sketched a few atmospheres, plus when those sexy stagehands threw a red rope net over the Don and drew him into hell a bit of smoke billowed from under the central platform. All this while the eight players in the pit gave it there all. And it was absolutely enough for the circumstances, probably because we were right in the middle of it.

Giovanni2_CarmelOT.pngGregory Gerbrandt as Don Giovanni, Anna Noggle as Donna Elvira, Igor Vieira as Leporello [Photo by Tiffany Velasquez-Walker]

Sitting in such close proximity to six fine young singers showing their stuff was a very great pleasure. While Don Giovanni himself seems to have the least to sing in the opera he must create a powerful presence to give reason for everyone else to sing a lot. Baritone Gregory Gerbrandt had the voice, charisma and physical stature to set off the vocal fireworks blazingly exhibited by Donna Anna sung by soprano Jennifer Jakob, Donna Elvira sung by soprano Anna Noggle, and particularly Don Ottavio sung by tenor Zachary Engle. Mezzo soprano Nora Graham-Smith as Zerlina has a vocally warm presence that was appreciated in the ensembles, and baritone Ryan Bradford brought touching boyish naiveté to Masetto. Brazilian baritone Igor Vieira had the hint of accent and the bad-boy instinct (he often ignored the beat) to make him a truly believable Leporello. Veteran (i.e. old) bass Art Schuller was a very intimidating Commendatore.

This young cast could not plumb the depths of Don Giovanni, after all the Don himself needs a bit of age to have created the catalog that Leporello thumbed through on his iPad. Stage director Robert Darling therefore took the libretto and music at face value, embellishing the story just enough to provide some staging interest, like for example the Commendatore exchanging pistol shots with Don Giovanni, wounding the Don. It was enough that the staging was a vehicle for young singers to explore their voices and hone their acting skills.

Conductor Stewart Robertson presided from afar, providing a reasonable musical basis on which these young artists could build commanding performances of some of opera’s most known and beloved music. This maestro made the singers shine at the expense of exploiting the orchestral dramas of the Mozart score — after all he had but a flute, oboe and bassoon, plus the string quintet who surely found new meaning for the word exhaustion.

Michael Milenski


Casts and production information:

Vanessa: Marie Plette; Erika: Nikola Printz; Baroness: Malin Fritz; Anatol: Jonathan Boyd; Doctor: Phillip Skinner; Majordomo: Timothy Beck; Footman: Calvin Wall. The West Edge Opera Orchestra. Conductor: Jonathan Khuner. The Thrust Stage of Berkeley Repertory Theater. September 21, 2013

Don Giovanni: Gregory Gerbrandt; Donna Anna: Jennifer Jakob; Donna Elvira: Anna Noggle; Leporello: Igor Vieira; Don Ottavio: Zachary Engle; Masetto: Ryan Bradford; Zerlina: Nora Grahamm-Smith; Commendatore: Art Schuller. Hidden Valley Opera Ensemble Orchestra and Chorus. Conductor Stewart Robertson. Stage Director: Robert Darling; Lighting Designer: Matthew Antaky; Costumer: Katy Simola. Hidden Valley Theatre. September 22, 2013.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):