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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Opera in the PNW's LiveJournal:

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Saturday, September 11th, 2010
1:57 pm
Is it just me, or was this year's staging of Tristan and Isolde a little wonky?
Saturday, August 29th, 2009
9:12 am
Cav/Pag at Lyric Opera Northwest - Aug. 28-30 - review
Cavalleria rusticana
Santuzza - Nicolase Mallat
Turiddu - Eduardo Villa
Alfio - Danny Oakden
Lola - Boyoon Choi
Mamma Lucia - Sharon Karsner

Nedda - Ralucca Marinescu
Canio - Eduardo Villa
Tonio - Danny Oakden
Silvio - Misha Myznikov
Beppe - Andrew Mayzak

Conductor - R. Joseph Scott
Stage Director - Pamela Casella Nim

Lyric Opera Northwest's production of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci is an example of the best of provincial opera.

I don't mean "provincial opera" as a term of derision: rather, a simple term of explanation. Lyric Opera Northwest is a tiny company, operating on apparently a shoestring budget. The staff has great enthusiasm and love for opera, but not much in the way of resources. And still, they managed to put together four performances of the most famous of all operatic double-bills with excellent singing, if somewhat scrappy orchestra playing, sets and props.

The venue is the tiny Meydenbauer Theatre in Bellevue, with about 400 seats. It's a wonderful place to see opera, as viewers are so close to the action. I won't dwell on the physical production that much: costumes were just fine, sets were minimal, props looked cheap. Some bits of staging were very well done: the commedia dell'arte scenes in Pagliacci were quite good. Other bits of staging appeared to be excessively busy.

The company seems to have placed the greatest emphasis on singing, and this is what gave me the greatest enjoyment. Eduardo Villa, a tenor with an impressive international resume (the Met, Munich, Berlin, Paris) sang both Turiddu and Canio with a very robust spinto tenor. The most veteran of all the performers, he seemed the most at ease on stage as well his "Addio della madre" in the first opera and "No, Pagliaccio non son" in the second were the dramatic highlights of the evening.

Also in both operas was baritone Danny Oakden as both Alfio and Tonio. As he is the only performer who did not have a bio blurb in the program, I know very little about his career, apart from the fact that he has appeared with the Seattle Opera chorus. His Alfio was menacing, violent and dangerous, not to mention well-sung: he handled the big leaps in Alfio's big solo with aplomb. His prologue to Pagliacci was very fine and earned a huge ovation.

Of the singers who only appeared in one opera: Santuzza was Nicolase Mallat, who had a strong soprano: her high notes were sometimes stronger than her low notes, though she occasionally did make an impression with low notes sung in chest voice. Sharon Karsner as Mamma Lucia had a healthy mezzo-soprano and fine diction and acting. Boyoon Choi's Lola was flirtatious, sexy and well-sung.

In Pagliacci, the Nedda was the beautiful Romanian-born soprano Ralucca Marinescu. Vocally, I thought she sounded better suited to the dramatic scenes than the lyrical duet with Silvio (although I may be biased--I think the Nedda/Silvio duet is boring and overlong). Misha Myznikov was the attractive Silvio: a fine baritone. Andrew Mayzak's pleasant tenor suited the character role of Beppe perfectly.

The 30-piece pickup orchestra was conducted by R. Joseph Scott. Things did occasionally go off the rails a bit tempo-wise, but not for long. The orchestra was also not always as in-tune as one might expect of a company like Seattle Opera. Sour notes did occasionally impede enjoyment of the operas. But to be air, as I stated in the beginning of this review: this is a company on a much smaller scale, and to me, the evening was primarily about the vocal performances.

There will be three more performances of the double-bill: At 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. today (Saturday the 29th) and 2:00 p.m. tomorrow (Sunday the 30th). There will be some changes in cast. In today's 2:00 p.m. performance features Rose Beattie as Santuzza, Gary del Rosario as Turiddu, Craig Heath Nim as Alfio, and Veronica Nim as Lola (Sharon Karsner will be Mamma Lucia in all performances); Gino Lucchetti will be Canio, with last night's other Pagliacci soloists returning. The 7:30 p.m. performance Of Cav will feature Miss Mallat as Santuzza, Mr. Rosario as Turddio, Mr. Nim as Alfio, and Miss Nim as Lola, while Pagliacci will feature Dohee Kim as Nedda, Mr. Villa as Canio, Mr. Oakden as Tonio, Greg Lewis as Silvio, and Bill Austin as Beppe.

Finally, Sunday's performance will feature Miss Beattie, Mr. Lucchetti, Mr. Nim, and Miss Nim in Cav, and Miss Kim, Mr. Villa, Mr. Oakden, Mr. Lewis, and Mr. Austin in Pag.
Wednesday, August 19th, 2009
12:39 pm
1. Abend: Die Walkure
Die Walkure, 8/18/09

Siegmund - Stuart Skelton
Sieglinde - Margaret Jane Wray
Hunding - Andrea Silvestrelli
Wotan - Greer Grimsley
Brunnhilde - Janice Baird
Fricka - Stephanie Blythe
Gerhilde - Miriam Murphy
Helmwige - Sally Wolf
Waltraute - Luretta Bybee
Schwertleite - Jennifer Hines
Ortlinde - Marie Plette
Siegrune - Sarah Heltzel
Grimgerde - Michele Losier
Rossweisse - Maria Streijffert

Conductor - Robert Spano
Director - Stephan Wadsworth
Set Designer - Thomas Lynch
Costume Designer - Martin Pakledinaz

The second act of Die Walkure isn't the longest act in the Ring: the single act Das Rheingold and the massive first act of Gotterdammerung easily exceed it. However, at times, it can seem the longest with the Fricka-Wotan argument, the Wotan monologue, and Wotan threatening Brunnhilde for what seems like forever. And that's only scene 1.

But with singing actors who take care of the text... ah, then it gets interesting. Especially when the Fricka is Stephanie Blythe, telling Wotan the truths he chooses to delude himself about. She is the superstar of this quarter of the Ring, with her acting, enunciation, and vocalism at their peak.

And the others aren't too shabby either. Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, who I had only heard previously on an ENO Peter Grimes webcast, had a tenor with heft without resorting to barking. Margaret Jane Wray repeated her previous local success in her role: Sieglinde suits her low-lying soprano well.

Walkure was Greer Grimsley's most sucessful opera in the cycle four years ago, and he's just as good this year in portraying the gamut of Wotan's emotions.

Notices about Janice Baird from the first cycle were mixed. Not having had the benefit of hearing those earlier performances, I would still guess that she has turned up her intensity in the meantime. She was very good as Brunnhilde, and her high notes in her initial batch of Ho-jo-to-ho's were spot-on.

Andrea Silvestrelli's Hunding indicates he may be better suited for villainy than a semi-sympathetic character like Fasolt. I have nothing but compliments for the rest of the Valkyries.

The staging, which portrays the characters as feeling individuals rather than symbols, continues to impress. Still, I would have liked to have seen the climax of Act II over again. So much happens in just a few seconds, that it's easy to miss.

From the "neither here nor there" department: there was at least one onstage snafu: Siegmund got murdered a little bit too forcefully--Wotan's spear was bent from the impact. As Wotan stormed off, the head of the spear flew off and fell down onto the set. And so the spear broke four acts prematurely: d'oh!
Monday, August 17th, 2009
11:34 pm
Vorabend: Das Rheingold
Monday night's Rheingold exceeded my high expectations.

Let me get through the negatives, so I can wallow in the positives with great abandon.

First: though he does a fine job with the text and is a good actor, Kobie van Rensburg's voice is just too delicate for Wagner, even as Loge which is frequently taken by lyric tenors. Secondly: Daniel Sumegi's Fafner doesn't match up to the malevolent roar of Gidon Saks's in 2005. Finally, the snake transformation in scene 3 is still lame.

Okay, negatives done.

Everyone is rightly raving about Stephanie Blythe who, as we all know, is spectacular. She is a force of nature as Fricka. And this is Rheingold, where she is barely a supporting part. One waits with anticipation for the meatier roles ahead of her in the cycle.

Four years ago, I had misgivings about Greer Grimsley's Wotan. I thought he was artificially darkening his voice. Well, in four years, he's really grown into the role and should rank as one of today's top exponents in the role.

My gold standards for Alberich have been Gustave Neidlinger and Ekkehard Wlaschiha. Time to add Richard Paul Fink to the list. Superlatives fail me: he is shatteringly good. He gives everything to the role.

Gordon Hawkins, Jason Collins, and Marie Plette are the minor gods, and not a weak link among them.

Dennis Petersen is an amazingly musical Mime. I can't wait to hear him on Thursday in Siegfried.

Marie Streijffert isn't Ewa Podles--who is?--but she sang beautifully and looked gorgeous in her cameo appearance as Erda.

Andrea Silvestrelli has a gorgeous dark bass--my only cavil with his Fasolt was sloppy pronunciation.

The Rheindaughter trio of Julianne Gearhart, Michele Losier and Jennifer Hines sounded beautiful and handled the text well: I recall the diction not being quite so clear in 2005.

Robert Spano maintained a nice balance between the pit and the singers. Some of the brass did sound a little slapdash (I heard the same sour note in the prelude that was also in Saturday's radio broadcast).

The production is "realistic" (if one could say such a thing about fantasy), but has plenty of interesting ideas--particularly that Fricka is a realist while Wotan is a bit of a fantasist. She can see the doom of the gods better than anyone else, but like Cassandra, she is ignored.

Looking forward to tomorrow evening: my first time hearing Stuart Skelton, plus the returns to Seattle of Janice Baird and Margaret Jane Wray.
Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
6:31 pm
Tristan und Isolde, August 2010 (and beyond)
Well, it wasn't really a surprise that Seattle Opera announced that their August 2010 production would be Tristan und Isolde: frequent readers of this blog (does such an animal exist?) would know the upcoming Tristan has been mentioned more than once.

What was a surprise is that rather than being a revival of the Francesca Zambello Tristan of 1998 (memorable for Ben Heppner and Jane Eaglen's initial assumption of the title roles), the 2010 Tristan will be a new production directed by Peter Kazaras and designed by Robert Israel.

The cast:

Isolde: Annalena Persson (US debut)
Tristan: Clifton Forbis (last heard in Seattle in 2001 as Cavaradossi)
Brangaene: Margaret Jane Wray (currently onstage in Seattle as Sieglinde and the third Norn)
Kurwenal: Greer Grimsley (currently onstage in Seattle as Wotan/The Wanderer)
Marke: Stephen Milling (last heard in Seattle in 2005 as Fasolt and Hunding)

The conductor will be Seattle Opera's principal guest conductor Asher Fisch, whose previous Wagner conducting assignments include 2003's Parsifal, 2004's Lohengrin, 2007's Fliegende Hollander, and both iterations of the International Wagner Singing Competition.

Story in the Examiner

The rest of the 2010-2011 season will be announced in January. Three of the productions are almost certain to be Lucia di Lammermoor (October 2010), Barber of Seville (January 2011), and The Magic Flute (May 2011).

I'm no longer sure that Mefistofele will be performed in March 2011. Past references to it have disappeared in some of my sources. The possible replacement? Don Quichotte by Massenet.

August 2011's production is to be Tannhauser, the opera from the Wagner canon missing the longest from Seattle's repertory--it was last done in 1984, incidentally, the last Wagner opera to be performed outside of the summer months in Seattle. As it's been that long since it's appeared, I'm certain it will be a new production. And the intriguing part is that Christopher Ventris, Seattle's 2003 Parsifal (and currently in Bayreuth in that role) is tapped to make his debut in the title part.

The jubilee year of 2013 (200th birthday of Wagner & Verdi, 100th of Britten) is likely to be celebrated with the final go-round of the current Ring cycle, and a production of Verdi's epic Don Carlo. Nothing heard on the Britten front, but it would be kind of nice to see Peter Grimes up here.
Friday, August 7th, 2009
8:56 pm
The season begins!
This Sunday, the opening performance of Das Rheingold at Seattle Opera marks the beginning of the 2009-2010 opera season in our lovely Cascadia.

The season's schedule thus far looks interesting. Here's my planned/hoped-for viewing.

  • August - October

    • Der Ring des Nibelungen, Seattle Opera (I'll be going to the second cycle, August 17-22)

    • Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci, Lyric Opera Northwest (Verismo in a tiny theater sounds exciting)

    • Cendrillon, Puget Sound Concert Opera (However, it isn't mentioned on their website, so I don't know for sure if it's actually going to happen)

    • La Traviata, Seattle Opera (Not my favorite Verdi opera, but I'll give it a try, though I may give up my opening night tickets for the second cast and Eglise Gutierrez)

  • November - December

    • Daughter of the Regiment, Tacoma Opera (I'll look forward to how they stage it in the rather odd Rialto Theater)

    • Orphee, Portland Opera (Thank you, Omniscient Mussel!)

    • Albert Herring, Pacific Lutheran University Opera (Not my favorite Britten, but a lot of fun)

    • The Rake's Progress, Pacific Opera Victoria (It's a long expensive trip to get there, but I really want to see this)

    • Norma, Vancouver Opera (The grandest of all bel canto operas should be worth the trip)

  • January - March

    • Il trovatore, Seattle Opera (Great cast on this one)

    • Dr. Miracle/My Fair Galatea, Tacoma Opera (Should be a fun evening of short works)

    • Capriccio, Pacific Opera Victoria (A relative rarity)

    • Falstaff, Seattle Opera (My favorite of all operas, and with the great Peter Rose and Stephanie Blythe)

    • Nozze di Figaro, Tacoma Opera (Another favorite, even if it is overplayed)

    • Nixon in China, Vancouver Opera (REALLY REALLY want to go to this. Nervous that it conflicts with the Paralympics)

  • April - May

    • Ariadne auf Naxos, Seattle Opera Young Artist Program (My favorite Strauss, and in an appropriately intimate venue)

    • Pulcinella Vendicata (Paisiello), Northwest Puppet Center (A very rare opera, and performed by puppets at that).

    • Amelia (Daron Hagen), Seattle Opera (World premiere)

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009
10:09 pm
Thank you, internet
When I first became an opera fan, there were the Met radio broadcasts for 20 Saturdays, then "NPR" world of opera for the rest of the year. Apart from that, there were only the commercial recordings I could buy. (There was certainly no outlet for pirates in Li'l ol' Logan, UT.

But now? There are podcasts (Unnatural Acts of Opera, Handelmania, Premiere Opera), there is YouTube, and is there streaming? There is no end of streaming. In the past couple of weeks, my listening has inluded: Die Vogel (Braunfels), Das Rheingold and Die Walkure from Los Angeles, Lohengrin and Peter Grimes from London, Marie Victoire by Respighi from Berlin, Tristan und Isolde from Chicago, the final act of Meistersinger von Nurnberg from Tanglewood, Simon Boccanegra from Vienna, and Parsifal from Budapest.

It is stunning how much is out there.
Tuesday, June 30th, 2009
7:08 pm
Cav/Pag at Lyric Opera Northwest - Aug. 28-30
Lyric Opera Northwest have finally updated their website and officially announced performance dates for their double-bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. Fortunately for me, it's the weekend of Aug. 28-30, meaning that I won't have to attend between peformances of--or even on a performance day of--the Ring Cycle. It conflicts with Ring Cycle III, but my tickets are for Cycle II, so it's all good.

I'm really looking forward to going. When I first started listening to opera, Pagliacci was a favorite--however, over the years, I've come to admire Cav more than Pag.

In the intimate venue that is the Meydenbauer Theater, these two works should be hair-raising.
Friday, June 12th, 2009
6:54 pm
2009-2010 Season Schedule
Here's the 2009-2010 season schedule of opera as I currently know of, in order of date of first performance. I'm including all the Western Washington companies and three major companies just beyond state borders: Portland Opera, Vancouver Opera, and Pacific Opera Victoria. Subject to change. (More disclaimers below)

Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner), Seattle Opera (Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle). Cycle I: Aug. 9-10, 12, 14; Cycle II: Aug. 17-18, 20, 22; Cycle III: Aug. 25-26, 28, 30

Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci (Mascagni/Leoncavallo), Lyric Opera Northwest (Meydenbauer Theater, Bellevue). Aug 21, 22 (mat. and eve.), 23 (mat.) Aug 28, 29 (mat. and eve.), 30 (mat.)

Cendrillon (Massenet), Puget Sound Concert Opera. Sept. 19 (mat.) (Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church), Sept. 25 (Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Seattle), Sept. 26 (Bellevue, venue TBA). These dates were printed in the program of their previous production, but I notice their website has not yet been updated, so I don't know if these dates are still valid or not--and with less than a month to go before the performance, I'm a bit dubious. (Never mind).

La boheme (Puccini), Portland Opera (Keller Auditorium, Portland). Sept. 25, 27 (mat.), Oct. 1, 3.

La traviata (Verdi), Pacific Opera Victoria (Royal Theatre, Victoria). Oct. 1, 3 (mat.), 6, 8, 10.

La traviata (Verdi), Seattle Opera (Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle). Oct. 17, 18 (mat.), 21, 23-24, 25 (mat.), 28, 30-31.

Opera choruses, arias and duets, Skagit Opera (McIntyre Hall, Mount Vernon). Oct. 18-19.

Carmen (Bizet), Opera Pacifica (San Juan Community Theatre, Friday Harbor). Weekend of Oct. 23.

Cosi fan tutte (Mozart), Seattle Opera Young Artists Program (Venues TBA, exact dates TBA).

Daughter of the Regiment (Donizetti), Kitsap Opera (Venus TBA, exact dates TBA). Not actually certain about this one.

Daughter of the Regiment (Donizetti), Tacoma Opera (Rialto Theater, Tacoma). Nov. 6 & 8 (mat.).

Orphee (Glass), Portland Opera (Keller Auditorium, Portland). Nov. 6, 8 (mat.), 12, 14.

Opera Scenes Workshop, University of Puget Sound Opera (Schneebeck Concert Hall, Tacoma). Nov. 7.

Rake's Progress (Stravinsky), Pacific Opera Victoria (Royal Theatre, Victoria). Nov. 12, 14 (mat.), 17, 19, 21.

Albert Herring (Britten), Pacific Lutheran University Opera (Eastvold Auditorium, Tacoma). Nov. 12 - 14, 15 (mat.)

Rigoletto (Verdi), Concert Opera of Seattle (Redmond Performing Arts Center, Redmond). Nov. 21.

Norma (Bellini), Vancouver Opera (Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver). Nov. 28, Dec. 1, 3, 5.

Renee Fleming recital (Benaroya Hall, Seattle). Dec. 4.

Cosi fan tutte (Mozart), Puget Sound Concert Opera. Dec. 4 (Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Seattle), Dec. 5 (Bellevue, venue TBA), Dec. 12 (mat.) (Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church).

Il trovatore (Verdi), Seattle Opera (Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle). Jan. 16, 17 (mat.), 20, 23, 24 (mat.), 27, 29-30

Bluebeard's Castle/La Damoiselle Elue (Bartok/Debussy), Puget Sound Concert Opera. Jan. 23 (Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Seattle), Jan. 24 (Bellevue, venue TBA), Jan. 30 (mat.) (Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church).

Cosi fan tutte (Mozart), Portland Opera (Keller Auditorium, Portland). Feb. 5, 7 (mat.), 11, 13.

Dr. Miracle/My Fair Galatea (Bizet/von Suppe), Tacoma Opera (Theatre on the Square, Tacoma). Feb. 6 & 7 (mat.)

Capriccio (Strauss), Pacific Opera Victoria (Royal Theatre, Victoria). Feb. 25, 27 (mat.), Mar. 2, 4, 6.

Madama Butterfly (Puccini), Skagit Opera (McIntyre Hall, Mount Vernon). Feb. 26, 28, Mar. 5, 7.

Falstaff (Verdi), Seattle Opera (Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle). Feb. 27, 28 (mat.), Mar. 3, 6, 7 (mat.), 10, 12-13.

Marriage of Figaro (Mozart), Tacoma Opera (Pantages Theater, Tacoma). Mar. 5 & 7 (mat.)

Nixon in China (Adams), Vancouver Opera (Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver). Mar. 13, 16, 18, 20.

Trouble in Tahiti/Ballo delle ingrate & Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (Bernstein/Monteverdi), Portland Opera (Newmark Theatre, Portland). Mar. 26, 28 (mat.), Apr. 1, 3.

Ariadne auf Naxos (Strauss), Seattle Opera Young Artist Program (Meydenbauer Theater, Bellevue). Exact dates TBA.

Cosi fan tutte (Mozart), Pacific Opera Victoria (Royal Theatre, Victoria). Apr. 15, 17 (mat.), 20, 22, 24.

Pulcinello vendicato (Paisiello), Northwest Puppet Center (Seattle). Apr. 23, 24 (mat. and eve.), 25 (mat.), 30, May 1 (mat. and eve.), 2 (mat.)

Marriage of Figaro (Mozart), Vancouver Opera (Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver). Apr. 24, 27, 29, May 1, 4.

Barber of Seville (Rossini), Portland Opera (Keller Auditorium, Portland). May 7, 9 (mat.), 13, 15.

Amelia (Hagen, World Premiere), Seattle Opera (Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle). May 8, 9 (mat.), 12, 15, 16 (mat.), 19, 21-22.

Madama Butterfly (Puccini), Vancouver Opera (Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver). May 29, June 1, 3, 5, 8, 10.

Dido and Aeneas/Fairy Queen excerpts (Purcell), Puget Sound Concert Opera. June 4 (Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Seattle), June 5 (Bellevue, venue TBA).

We should be hearing about the schedule of the Seattle Opera Young Artist Program and University of Washington Opera within the next couple months, and presumably also the opera programs of PLU and UPS. We probably won't hear about Kitsap opera for several months, and I have no idea about Bellevue Opera, Pacific Operaworks, and the Seattle Early Music Guild.

If you hear about any other performances in Western Washington, please comment this post.
Wednesday, June 10th, 2009
9:31 pm
The best of 2008-2009
For those of you interested in my reviews of local opera in the 2008-2009 season, here they are in their entirety.

And now, my "Best of" lists for the season. You'll notice that I divide each of them into "Seattle Opera" and "Other companies" divisions. I do that simply because Seattle Opera's resources and budget far outstrip all other local companies: it's why the NCAA has different athletic divisions.

Best sets & costumes-
Seattle Opera division: The Pearl Fishers. Honorable mention--Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung, Marriage of Figaro
Other companies: Il mondo della luna (UW Opera). Honorable mention--Le comte Ory, Faust (Tacoma Opera)

Best direction-
Seattle Opera: Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung. Honorable mention--The Pearl Fishers
Other companies: Le comte Ory (Tacoma Opera). Honorable mention--A Midsummer Night's Dream (Seattle Opera Young Artist Program)

Best orchestra & conducting-
Seattle Opera: Elektra (Lawrence Renes). Honorable mention--Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung (Evan Rogister)
Other companies: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Brian Garman) (Seattle Opera Young Artist Program). Honorable mention--Faust (Sara Jobin) (Tacoma Opera)

Best male performer-
Seattle Opera: Mariusz Kwiecien (Count Almaviva, Marriage of Figaro). Honorable mention--Antonello Palombi (Radames, Aida), Christopher Feigum (Zurga, The Pearl Fishers), Michael Weinius (2nd International Wagner Competition)
Other companies: Daniel Teadt (Valentin, Faust, Tacoma Opera). Honorable mention--Anthony Roth Costanzo (Oberon, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Seattle Opera Young Artist Program), Jonathan Silvia (Fiesco, Simon Boccanegra, Puget Sound Concert Opera)

Best female performer
Seattle Opera: Susan Marie Pierson (The Woman, Erwartung). Honorable mention--Lisa Daltirus (Aida), Stephanie Blythe (Amneris, Aida), Nadine Weissmann (2nd International Wagner Competition), Janice Baird (Elektra)
Other companies: Jennifer Bromagen (Countess Adele, Le comte Ory, Tacoma Opera). Honorable mention--Kimberly Giordano (Marguerite, Faust, Tacoma Opera)

Best production of the year
Seattle Opera: Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung. Honorable mention--Elektra, The Pearl Fishers
Other companies: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Seattle Opera Young Artist Program). Honorable mention--Le comte Ory (Tacoma Opera)

Favorite moment of the season: "Was bluten muss?" in Elektra for Janice Baird's moment of terrible triumph and Rosalind Plowright's desperate fear. Honorable mention--The judgement scene, Aida. Bluebeard's Castle--the fifth and seventh doors. Erwartung--the whole opera. A Midsummer Night's Dream--the awakening scene. Simon Boccanegra--the Boccanegra/Amelia duet. Le comte Ory--the men dressed as nuns.
Monday, June 8th, 2009
10:35 pm
Simon Boccanegra at Puget Sound Concert Opera
Simon Boccanegra (Concert performance)

Puget Sound Concert Opera in cooperation with Bellevue Opera, First United Methodist Church, Bellevue: June 6, 2009

Conductor: Samuel McCoy
Chorus Master/Piano: John Burkhardt

Simon Boccanegra: David Borning
Maria Boccanegra (Amelia Grimaldi): Rebecca Paul
Jacopo Fiesco: Jonathan Silvia
Gabriele Adorno: Stuart Lutzenhiser
Paolo Albiani: Ryan Bede
Pietro: James W. Harrington
Captain of the Guards: Austin Amaya
Amelia's servant: Sarah Evans

As much as I love Verdi, I am ashamed to admit that much of his work is terra incognita to me. For years, I only knew Simon Boccanegra for the bass aria Il lacerato spirito, and that mostly because a friend of mine at college used that as his audition aria (along with Banquo's aria from Macbeth).

More recently, I have fallen in love with the long soprano-baritone duet. And finally, watching this concert performance, I realized what an utter masterpiece it really is. It's a dark and moody opera about regret and lost opportunity, and death runs right through the middle of the work. Still, it has a stark and terrible beauty to it.

These performances by Puget Sound Concert Opera may well have been the local premiere of this work. And though they lacked staging, they did a fine job with the musical aspects of the work. The singers were accompanied by John Burkhardt at the piano along with a tiny orchestra of five string players and four woodwinds. The playing by the (in all likelihood all-volunteer) instrumentalists was by no means immaculate in intonation but they got the job done.

The singers were more polished. The villanous Paolo and Pietro were sung by Ryan Bede and James W. Harrington with dark menace. Mr. Bede, who seems very young, lent his character quite a bit of depth.

Of the principal quartet, my favorite was probably Jonathan Silvia as Fiesco, heard earlier this season as Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream with the Seattle Opera Young Artist Program. His voice was commanding as was his characterization.

Gabriele Adorno was sung by Stuart Lutzenhiser, a tenor with a lyrical-spinto sound. Mr. Lutzenhiser fearlessly conquered the score's high notes with little sign of effort. I'd like to hear him in more late-middle Verdi roles: Don Carlo or Gustavo in Ballo in maschera, to name two. Rebecca Paul's Amelia had a rich spinto sound and an expressive way with the music.

In the title role, David Borning did not sound as effortless as some of his colleagues, but was wonderfully communicative through the music. My main quibble is that his climactic "figlia" in his duet with Amelia was loud and unsubtle instead of the delicate, floating thing it should be.

I had expected a slapdash chorus, but found their singing suprisingly strong and precise, just as a Verdi chorus should be. Samuel McCoy at the podium, kept everything on the rails.
12:09 pm
2008-2009 season in retrospect
With this weekend's performances of Il trovatore at Kitsap Opera and Simon Boccanegra with the Puget Sound Concert Opera, the 2008-2009 opera season in Western Washington is at an end.

For me, this was my biggest opera-going year since I lived in Berlin in the early 90's. Besides attending all of Seattle Opera's mainstage productions, I also went to performances at Tacoma Opera, University of Washington Opera, the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program, and the previously-mentioned Puget Sound Concert Opera, not to mention the Seattle Opera's 2nd International Wagner Competition.

In the next few days I'll put together my personal list of season highlights, plus what I'm looking forward to next season--though I can mention in advance that I will be going to Portland Opera for the very first time, and I'm strongly considering taking a trip or two north of the border to try out Vancouver Opera or Pacific Opera Victoria. (I'll also be doing a brief writeup on PSCO's wonderful Boccanegra).

In any case, my next night at the opera will be the beginning of the second cycle of Seattle's Ring: Das Rheingold on August 16th.
Thursday, May 21st, 2009
9:51 pm
Tacoma Opera 2009-2010
The Daughter of the Regiment (Donizetti) - Nov. 6 & 8 (mat.) - Rialto Theatre

Marie - Jenny Shotwell
Tonio - Marcus Shelton *
The Marquise of Berkenfield - Sarah Mattox
Sulpice - Craig Grayson
Hortensius - Jeremy Shilley

Conductor - Bernard Kwiram
Stage Director - Christopher Nardine

Dr. Miracle (Bizet) & My Fair Galatea (von Suppe) - Feb. 6 & 7 (mat.) - Theatre on the Square

Laurette; Galatea - Tess Altiveros *
Veronique; Ganymede - Laurel Semerdjian *
Silvio; Pygmalion - Spencer Lang *
Mayor; Midas - Jared Ice *

Music Director - Sheila Bristow
Stage Director - Barry Johnson

The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart) - Mar. 5 & 7 - Pantages Theatre

Susanna - Jessica Robins Milanese
Countess Almaviva - Karen Early Evans
Figaro - Thomas Forde *
Count Almaviva - Daniel Teadt
Cherubino - Hannah Penn *
Dr. Bartolo - Charles Robert Austin
Marcellina - Susan Salas
Don Basilio - Robert McAulay-Barnts
Don Curzio - Spencer Lang
Antonio - Brian Trunk

Conductor - Sara Jobin
Stage Director - Elise Sandell
Thursday, May 14th, 2009
10:37 pm
May and June in opera
The 2008-09 opera season is nearly at an end in Western Washington. What's still going on?

Seattle Opera - The Marriage of Figaro, May 15 & 16, McCaw Hall, Seattle

University of Washington Opera - Eugene Onegin, May 15 & 17, Meany Theatre, Seattle

Puget Sound Concert Opera - Simon Boccanegra, June 5, Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Seattle & June 6, First United Methodist Church, Bellevue

Kitsap Opera - Il trovatore, June 5 & 6, Admiral Theatre, Bremerton

As far as I can tell, there's no live opera anywhere in Washington in July. Then things will kick off in August with the Ring Cycle at Seattle Opera, and Cav/Pag with Lyric Opera Northwest in Bellevue.
10:28 pm
The Marriage of Figaro, Seattle Opera, May 2, 2009
The Marriage of Figaro (New Production)

Seattle Opera: May 2, 2009

Conductor: Dean Williamson
Director: Peter Kazaras
Sets: Susan Benson
Costumes: Deborah Trout (Seattle Opera debut)
Lighting: Connie Yun

Figaro: Oren Gradus (Seattle Opera debut)
Susanna: Christine Brandes
Marcellina: Joyce Castle
Dr. Bartolo: Arthur Woodley
Cherubino: Daniela Sindram (US debut)
Count: Mariusz Kwiecien
Don Basilio/Don Curzio: Ted Schmitz (Seattle Opera debut)
Countess: Twyla Robinson (Seattle Opera debut)
Antonio: Barry Johnson
Barbarina: Leena Chopra
Bridesmaids: Jennifer Bromagen, Yeon Soo Lee (Seattle Opera debuts)

Marriage of Figaro is my favorite of the Mozart/Da Ponte operas, and one of my personal all-time top six favorite operas. It's a towering masterpiece that almost always works.

Seattle Opera's new production does nothing radical with the work: it hasn't been moved forward in time, the character relationships haven't been wildly skewed or experimented with. Plain and simple: it's Mozart's, Da Ponte's, and Beaumarchais's work. It worked two hundred years ago, and it works today.

What I liked best about the production was how the set grew increasingly larger: the first act in Figaro and Susanna's tiny room, then the larger Countess's room, the even-larger Count's room, and finally the gardens in the last act. It was a bit like a series of Chinese boxes nested in each other, only from the point of view of being inside the box.

Some of the character moments were supremely touching: "Deh vieni" in the final act was a lovely, tender moment. "Contessa perdono" was as devastating moment for the audience as it was for the count. Cherubino's "Non so piu" was erotic without being vulgar (That being said, there were a few too many vulgar moments for my taste).

The production was occasionally a bit too much on the busy side, particularly the transition from Acts 1 to 2: as Figaro sang "Non piu andrai" to Cherubino, Cherubino was nowhere to be seen, as he, along with most of the rest of the cast, was moving furniture around as part of the open-curtain scene change. On the other hand, the countess *was* there, making her first appearance before the beginning of Act II. There was a lot of furniture moving, some of it for reasons that escaped me.

Predictably, vocal honors go to the wonderful Mariusz Kwiecien: this is probably the best role I've heard him in so far (previously I've heard him in Seattle as Don Giovanni and Riccardo in I Puritani). "Hai vinta lo causa" was a real tour-de-force, and as mentioned earlier, "Contessa perdono" was worth the waiting for. Twyla Robinson did not have as great an opening night: "Porgi amor" did not sound pleasant at all, and in the second act ensembles, her high notes could only be described as squally. "Dove sono" sounded much better, and by the finale, she sounded altogether lovely.

Oren Gradus was a bluff, gruff Figaro, not always beautifully sung, but with good comic acting. Christine Brandes' Susanna was bright and clear, and her voice melded well with her colleagues in her many ensembles. "Deh vieni" was the highlight it should be.

Daniela Sindram as Cherubino was funny and profoundly odd: a boy who has grown too tall too fast, like a lead character from a Bill Forsyth movie. Arthur Woodley came close to stealing the show as Dr. Bartolo with a booming, stentorian bass. Joyce Castle played Marcellina as a mad old dowager, but surprisingly did not make as much as an impression--as always, Marcellina's aria was cut, as was Don Basilio's. Ted Schmitz's Basilio, a smiling snake, was believable as a true rival to Figaro.

Leena Chopra was sweet and cute as Barbarina, and it was a pleasure to hear Jennifer Bromagen, who was wonderful in last November's Comte Ory in Tacoma, making her Seattle Opera soloist debut as one of the bridesmaids.

It's hard for me to critique conducting, but I will note that the performance nearly went off the rails early on during a Figaro/Susanna duet. They did recover, and I did not hear another 'close call' for the remainder of the evening.
Sunday, May 10th, 2009
10:41 pm
Seattle Opera 1995 Ring
The 1995 Seattle Opera Ring cycle is the second production I ever saw with the company, the first being the 1994 Cunning Little Vixen.

I just noticed, however, that even though it feels like it's from the recent past, actually quite a lot of the creative personnel from those performances have passed on:

  • Monte Pedersen, Wotan
  • Wolfgang Fassler, Siegfried
  • Gabor Andrasy, Fasolt, Hunding, and Hagen
  • Hermann Michael, conductor

And now add to that list of great artists, Julian Patrick, the 1995 Alberich, who passed away last week. Patrick was a great baritone and music teacher (part of the opera department at University of Washington), and an important part of Seattle opera history.
Friday, April 24th, 2009
6:39 pm
It's Speight Jenkins Day Eve!
Seattle Opera News release (PDF)

The city of Seattle has proclaimed April 25th, 2009 to be Speight Jenkins day, in honor of his 25th anniversary as director of Seattle Opera.

Congratulations to Speight who has done a terrific job in balancing the demands of drama and vocalism to make Seattle Opera a profoundly interesting and exciting opera company.
Saturday, April 18th, 2009
12:56 pm
I miss Peter Allen
I started listening to the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts back in 1991. In those days, the host was Peter Allen, who by that point had been the host of the broadcasts for nearly twenty years.

Peter Allen was a great host. He had a deep mellow voice, he knew the operas, but show off his knowledge. When he had time to fill (which happened often), he described the sets, costumes, and stage action. He was never snarky, hip, excessively idiomatic, or "cute".

He worked by himself, but it never sounded like a monologue: it sounded like he was talking with *you*.

A few years back, he retired, and was replaced with Margaret Juntwait, who co-hosts with Ira Siff (on the Saturday broadcasts) and Will Berger (on Sirius or streaming broadcasts). I've tried to enjoy them--tried as much as I possibly can.

I can't.

Juntwait and her co-host's style remind one of a precocious child, whose favorite words are "Did you know...?" Of course, for a seasoned opera listeners, the "did you know" facts are absurdly obvious and well-known. The fully-scripted banter is painfully unfunny.

At least Juntwait and Siff have good diction. Berger slurs embarrassingly.

Metropolitan Opera, please I beg you: less is more. Less commentary, less cute, less "interesting" information. Ms. Juntwait, Mr. Siff, Mr. Berger: please, dial it down.
Saturday, March 28th, 2009
6:54 pm
A Midsummer Night's Dream in Bellevue, 3/27/09
A Midsummer Night's Dream - Seattle Opera's Young Artist Program - March 27, 2009

Theatre at Meydenbauer Center, Bellevue

Puck - David S. Hogan
Tytania - Megan Hart
Oberon - Anthony Roth Costanzo
Lysander - Bray Wilkins
Hermia - Elizabeth Pojanowski
Demetrius - Michael Krzankowski
Helena - Vira Slywotzky
Quince - Jonathan Silva
Snug - Thomas Forde
Starveling - Marc-Antoine d'Aragon
Flute - Alex Mansoori
Snout - Marcus Shelton
Bottom - Jeffrey Madison
Theseus - Jeffrey Beruan
Hippolyta - Margaret Gawrysiak
Peaseblossom - Staffan Hellman
Cobweb - Kevin Beall
Mustardseed - Aaron Smith
Moth - Elijah Ostrow
Fairies - Bronwyn James, Cecilia Lewis, Brandon Root, Jack Sbragia

Conductor - Brian Garman
Director - Peter Kazaras
Sets - Donald Eastman
Costumes - Heidi Ganser
Lighting - Connie Yun

I first became a fan of Benjamin Britten's work from a Met opera broadcast of Billy Budd, and later, the Colin Davis/Jon Vickers recording of Peter Grimes. I enjoyed those operas for their uncompromising drama and thrilling choral moments. And so, when I first heard A Midsummer Night's Dream, I found it a disappointment. There were no big moments to be found. The music itself sounded weird to me: nothing at all like Britten's big operas, and even unlike the smaller-scale works like Turn of the Screw and Death in Venice.

However, like many operas that I initially disliked upon first hearing them, actually seeing it onstage turned me around on the subject. (It also helps that I've gotten more and more used to countertenor voices--helpful as Oberon, the countertenor role, probably has the largest singing role in the work.)

This was the first opera I've seen at the Theatre at Meydenbauer Center, and I must say that I loved the venue. The theatre is tiny: around 400 seats, all on one level, and all of them with good views of the stage: perfect for a chamber-sized opera like Midsummer Night's Dream. The conceit of the production is that it takes place at a British public school--a conceit which mostly works, as the rigid social structure of Britain mirrors how the human and fairy characters do not interact (with the notable exceptions of Tytania and Bottom). It didn't *completely* work, as I don't quite buy Oberon and Tytania as senior students (or perhaps they were supposed to be burlesques of Prince William and Kate Middleton?).

Of the singers: Anthony Roth Costanzo (winner of this year's Metropolitan Opera auditions) was a standout: his clear, pure countertenor had no discernible difficulty with the music, and his Oberon has a princely disregard for others. Megan Hart as Tytania was full of pique, and in her scenes with Bottom, tenderness. Bray Wilkins' tenor seems a natural for Britten, with a plangent tone and clear diction: one could imagine him as a future Quint or Vere. Vira Slywotzky brought a huge soprano, and a lot of energy, to the role of Helena. Elizabeth Pojanowski's performance was on a smaller scale at first, but she rose to the occasion in her scenes of anger against Helena and the men. Michael Krzankowski had a powerful baritone, but did sing quite sweetly in the Act III reawakening.

The "mechanicals" were very funny and sung quite well, although Jeffrey Madison's working-class English accent was laid on a little thick: I must admit that Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins came to mind more than once. Still, the Pyramus and Thisby play resulted in the most terrific gales of laughter I have ever heard in an opera. In the walk-on roles of Theseus and Hippolyta, Jeffrey Beruan and Margaret Gawrysiak made a vivid portrait of rulers that are indulgent to the foibles of others. Beruan's bass was particularly forceful and incisive: of Britten roles, one could imagine him as a future John Claggart.

The fairy children were quite delightful and managed quite well with Britten's difficult music and Shakespeare's difficult words, while at the same time, moving the drama along. To single out one in particular, Elijah Ostrow was very funny as Moth, as his solo moments were cut off before they could happen (resulting in a silent slow burn).

The orchestra consisted of members of the Auburn Symphony, conducted by Brian Garman, who managed very well with Britten's sinuous, dreamlike music.

There are six performances total of this production, through Sunday, April 5th. In some performances, Tytania will be played by Emily Hindrichs, Helena by Michelle Trovato, and Hippolyta by Rose Beattie.

It was a great night in the theatre. I may go see it again.
Thursday, March 12th, 2009
6:54 pm
Pacific Operaworks presents The Return of Ulysses
I have not seen it yet, but I do plan on seeing one of the remaining performances of The Return of Ulysses by Monteverdi from brand-new company Pacific Operaworks at Seattle's Moore Theatre. (Performances on March 13th, 14th, 20th, and 21st).

Pacific Operaworks


Seattle Times: A new Seattle opera company is launched with extraordinary "Return of Ulysses"

Seattle P-I (perhaps their last opera review ever?): Puppetry adds an artistic edge to the debut of Pacific Operaworks

Art and Politics Now: Kentridge Return of Ulyssses Opera

Deer Dire-y: The Return of Ulysses: The Kentridge Touch
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