Archive for the ‘wagner’ Tag

Inside Die Walküre @ SF Opera: A Photo-Narrative

Being a part of Francesca Zambello’s production of Die Walküre has raised the bar for me yet again on my operatic excursions as a “Super” at the San Francisco Opera. CHECK!another dream fulfilled. This time Wagner! When I pass over the scratched and worn stage floor, I still pinch myself and marvel at all the legends who have left their mark in this hallowed place. Here’s a photo-narrative glimpse into this exciting production, and my wonderful world of Wagner.

Yes, True Wagnerians Still Walk the Earth


Eva-Marie Westbroek; Photo: Cory Weaver

When’s the last time you saw a Wagner opera and weren’t wishing singers of the past were instead onstage? Well, it would be hard to best this nearly peerless cast, particularly in today’s international crop. Eva-Marie Westbroek as Sieglinde is utter perfection, with a refulgent, voluminous voice, and yet, there’s such a naturalness to her delivery, it’s as if she’s speaking. She exudes considerable warmth in her very convincing acting expressions, and as one reviewer said, she couldn’t play the victim better. She also couldn’t look the part more (as evidenced by this glowing photo). She, and all the principals are a joy backstage too. Given the pressure they’re under to perform a VERY difficult piece, that’s quite a testimony.

In her debut as the Walküre Brünnhilde, Nina Stemme delivers the much expected stamina and bravado, but never betrays her beauty of tone, or pushes outside her “column of sound.” She uses her slighter stature and strong connection to her body to paint an authentically youthful and feisty characterization. No, she doesn’t erase memories of Nilsson’s vocal sword throwing in the highest reaches of “Ho-jo-to-ho!,” but she has a far darker, warmer, and more alluring tone, and greater physicality than Nilsson.

Mark Delavan is tireless, and the model of godly alpha-male strength as Wotan. At times he sings with a legato line, but other times chews up and spits out the german consonants to portray anger, or when commanding others. Backstage, he’s the funniest opera personality I’ve ever been around…cracking up the Supers without fail, with his disarming humor. Enjoy his perspective on Wotan, and at times refreshingly irreverent sense of humor in this interview.

Christopher Ventris as Siegmund is in the Heppner/Windgassen vein, having a brighter, not baritonal Heldentenor tone. However, he is easily heard, and has plenty of thrust to cut through the orchestra. He and Eva-Marie make an appealing and very engaged duo. Ray Aceto as Hunding is genuinely scary and imposing, and wields a very satisfying black basso. Janina Baechle as Fricka doesn’t erase vocal memories of Marjana Lipovšek (‘95), but she is quite perfect in this production’s conception of this role, and is fully and excitingly committed.

Act I


Christopher Ventris (Siegmund), Ray Aceto (Hunding); Photo: SF Opera Production Dept.

In this Act I play one of Hunding’s thuggish *insert grunt here* kinsmen, returning from a day of hunting. I carry in a giant plastic-wrapped meat pack, which I immediately throw to Hunding. (Yes, me, the one who couldn’t throw a ball to save his life as a kid…WHY?!) We all threaten Siegmund with our rifles when he hesitates Hunding’s commands. (I’m at bottom left.) Later Sieglinde ladles us up some slop (aka bloodied plastic cubes) from a giant pot, presumably whipped up from the meat I tossed. Mmm-mmm good! Another Super carries a rope with two rather sad, dangling fowl. Not surprisingly, the kinsmen have been likened to the Michigan Militia,” present-day paramilitary thugs.

Continue Experiencing an Insider’s Die Walküre—>

Heidi Melton: The Official Berlin E-Interview

Since I first sang the praises of my friend, soprano Heidi Melton on jcm, she has moved several steps closer to the exposure that her prodigious gifts hinted at. I’m very excited to share with you (Melton fans and newbies alike) my new e-interview with her: she, in Berlin, sidled up to her laptop with frosty brew-in-hand, and me, in San Francisco, eagerly awaiting her return to SFO, in 2011. Ah, it’s the next best thing to sitting down in-person at a pub!

It’s not surprising that, despite the 5,657 miles between us, her appeal, warmth, irrepressible sense of humor, and passion for her art still shine through. Enjoy this glimpse into her life, career and heart…

Photo: Kristin Hoebermann

jcm: What is your very first memory of singing or performing?

HM: I suppose that my first memory of music would be of my grandma sitting next to me on the piano bench, teaching me how to play. It is how I spent the majority of my formative years, and was very gratifying.

jcm: Are you from a musical family? Or, were your gifts helped along in any way in your childhood home?

HM: My family has always loved music, although not necessarily opera. But, they have really started finding an appreciation for it — except for my sister, who still feels that opera sounds like someone is stepping on nails! My grandma went to college for piano performance, so that was always a part of my home, but I will admit to not really discovering opera until I was about 14 or 15.

jcm: Have you always been on track to be a performer, and when did your trajectory shift towards opera?

HM: When I first started applying to undergraduate schools, I did so under music performance and music education. I applied mostly to state schools in Washington, but I had my one “pie in the sky” school, which was the Eastman School of Music. I was accepted into Eastman, but only as a music education major. I wasn’t good enough to get into their performance program. Anyhow, I’ve never been good at accepting a “no,” so I worked hard and juried into performance, and haven’t looked back.

jcm: When did it become clear that your voice was that very special and true dramatic soprano, like one of your favorites, Régine Crespin, or perhaps even a Hochdramatische (“heroic”), like another favorite, Astrid Varnay? Is it a pressure, or instead empowering to know you hold this rare gift?

HM: It does seem to be heading in that direction, doesn’t it? I do consider it a gift, and with any gift comes responsibility, so I am just trying to do all that I can to ensure that I give “the beast” everything that it needs to be the best it can be. But to answer your question, it is both a pressure and empowering.

Continue reading interview —>

Heidi Melton Wesendonck: A Short-Term Farewell

On October 20, 2009 LIEDER ALIVE! presents a benefit recital, featuring Heidi Melton (soprano), Eleazar Rodriguez (tenor), and John Parr (piano). It will be at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall, at 8:00pm.

Eleazar, an elegant lyric tenor from the current crop of Merolini, will offer Beethoven’s Adelaide, and Schumann’s Dichterliebe in the first half. And, Heidi will offer three Brahm’s lied, AND the Wesendonck Lieder in the second half. This is Heidi’s last scheduled public performance in the Bay Area, before she jets off to New York, and then Berlin. I believe she is covering the Trovatore Leonora at SFO, so only an indisposition by Sondra Radvanovsky (and the understudy) would give us her Leonora so soon.

Picture 2

Buy tickets now!

Visit the LIEDER ALIVE! main site for other event or general program info.

Heidi Melton’s youtube Debut

At last!

My friend Heidi Melton now has a footprint on youtube. After understudying Alceste for Christine Brewer at Santa Fe Opera, and Chrysothemis for Debbie Voigt at the Met this winter, she’ll continue to emerge as THE leading dramatic soprano of the next generation. Someone in france recorded and has just posted excerpts from her recital, likely from the same time as her Amelia, in last season’s Un Ballo in Maschera at Opéra National de Bordeaux.

Although a “pirate” recording, and perhaps not sanctioned by the artist, this is a wonderful introduction to her art, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing her live. Even though the sound quality is not ideal, her voluptuous bottom and molten top are in full display here. Be sure to listen to her other three videos posted as well, either in the youtube “Related Videos” or in my vodpod sidebar widget.

Stay tuned for news of her October recital for LIEDER ALIVE! at the SF Conservatory of Music (details not yet available). It will be her last Bay Area performance for some time, as she will then be on her way to New York, and Berlin in ’10.

The New ’09 Merola Generation

Auditions for the General Director

I sat in on this private San Francisco Opera, Merola Program event last night. It is billed as David Gockley’s first opportunity to hear the new batch of ’09 Merolini. I was lucky to be able to enjoy the acoustic and easy view from the boxes. The singers each walk out on the stage individually and sing a single aria of their choice. For 23 singers that was about a 2 hour parade of arias. However, given the level of talent Merola presents, it was highly enjoyable, and flew by.

MerolaThen, after a 15 minute or so intermission, once Gockley, Sheri Greenawald (Director), and the other musical staff have deliberated, they request back a handful of artists (8 this time) to sing an additional aria which the staff specifies. I imagine it’s to hear that singer in a different genre (ie: they first heard a soprano perform Wagner, and then requested Mozart for her second aria), as they will be casting them as comprimari and understudies in upcoming seasons.

As is always the case, this batch showed a great deal of promise, and also presented a few singers that seemed quite seasoned. (See the complete roster of singers and apprentice coaches below.) There are several singers in particular that are still lingering in my memory this morning, and for very good reason. They either have exceptional technique, or that X-Factor that may project them into a big career. All of the singers were enjoyable, and I hope all find some degree of fulfillment in a successful career.

The Big Picture

I hope the men are offered “Buying a Suit That Fits: 101, as there were quite a few that didn’t present themselves in the best light. I understand that young artists normally don’t have expendable cash, but fashion is an important part of their image that can be a distraction if overlooked (3 snaps!). The women, not surprisingly held this bar higher. However, vocally, the scale tipped in the men’s favor, which is welcome, as male vocal talent of the highest level seems to generally be more scarce of late. Overall, the lyric sopranos and mezzos offered a greater dose of brightness than I like. This left me craving Merola ’08′s Joelle Harvey, who had perfectly controlled technique, never sang beyond her “column of sound” (as L. Price used to refer to it), and was an actress equal to her vocal abilities. Many of the singers rushed their phrasing, which was likely the result of the adrenaline that must be rushing in this rather unnerving setting, and singers are works-in-progress at this phase of their development, so for this they are forgiven!!! There must be something in the water in Iowa, as 3+ of the singers were from towns there (none I’d heard of): Agency, Royal, and Charles City.

Wagnerian Heights

The great surprise is that we were treated to five Wagner selections, all well performed, and most on a par with the pros. This is quite unusual at an event like this, which is more typically inhabited by a greater majority of lyric voices and rep. I applaud Merola for investing in these singers, and applaud these singers for harnessing such dramatic and rare instruments.

Grandi Voci

Michael Sumuel For me the most complete package of the night was Michael Sumuel, who sang “O! Du mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhauser. He was one of two performers that touched me on a deeper level (tears), the next singer noted being the second. He has a real generosity of spirit in his performing, welcoming the “audience” in with his open arms and heart. His breath support was astounding, and his tone dark and beautiful, like a young Willard White, with a touch of Simon Estes’ edge.

Ryan BelongieI was so pleased to discover a countertenor on the roster, and Ryan Belongie was not just a novelty item in this company. This is a major talent. He has the plumminess and musicality of David Daniels, but with the restraint and minimalism of Andreas Scholl. He sang “I know a bank” from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as Handel’s “Cara Sposa”. He was transfixing, and really knew how to create a sense of theatrical space around him (I could almost “see” the sets). He is a bit of a young Peter Sellars (the opera director) look-alike. One small gripe is that the fast “B” section of “Cara…” was not as masterful as the rest, but it is amazing to consider he moved on from the tenor fach not too long ago, as I understand.

Nathaniel PeakeTenor Nathaniel Peake was one of three singers returning from the Merola ’08 roster. He matched last year’s “Salut demeure chaste et pure” with “Ah! lève-toi soleil!” from R&J. He is reminiscent of the great french tenor of past Georges Thill, and has phenomenal idiomatic french diction and technique, balancing the nasality with an open-throated tone. He offered the most perfect, finely spun, on-the-breath, diminuendo high A I may have ever heard, to top it off. We were rapt.

Gregory CarrollWe had a true heldentenor in our presence, in the form of Gregory Carroll. Seeing Jane Eaglen noted as one of his teachers was heartening too. He sang “Meine liebe Schwan!” from Lohengrin, as well as “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci. He left me wanting nothing more vocally. He could hit the stage tomorrow in a Wagner opera and deliver the vocal goods. But, he will need to learn to engage his body more in portraying his characterizations.

Maya LahyaniThe first of the two strongest offerings from the women came in the form of Israeli mezzo Maya Lahyani’s Werther aria. She is reminiscent of Tatiana Troyanos, in her passionate commitment as a tragedienne, and plummy tone. She had the X-Factor and offered the most unique and stylish look as well. Her list of teachers was very impressive, and have clearly rubbed off some of their greatness: Regine Crespin, Regina Resnik and Ruth Falcon. She did proove that she does not yet have bel canto chops in “Di tanti palpiti”, but I don’t feel that’s the rep where she will make her imprint.

Lori GuilbeauAnd, Lori Guilbeau offered a glorious “Einsam in trüben tagen”, as well as a vocally large-scaled “Ah! Fuggi il traditor!”. She offered some parallels to Carroll (above), in that she has true Wagnerian chops, and a refulgent tone, but needs to hone her physicality to match her vocal goods…which will surely come with time. She possesses a head of gleaming white blonde hair that would make any Sieglinde jealous.

Other Excellent Offerings

Susannah Biller bested her first offering with a plangent “Ach, Ich Fühl’s”. Aleksey Bogdanov offered a very seasoned Iago aria, from Othello, with a James Morris-like villainous snarl and bite. It was nice to get some dramatic mezzo action in the form of Margaret Gawrysiak’s “Stride la Vampa”. Brian Jagde, a recent convert from baritone had a big, ringing voice, and equal swagger in “Recondita Armonia”. And, bass baritone Yohan Yi offered a very resonant technique, and confident delivery in Mephistopheles’ aria (“Tra la la la”).

I eagerly await the debuts of all the Merolini in the summer operas, and into the future! I will most certainly not miss their L’Amico Fritz, as it’s so rarely done, and features Mr. Peake, among others.

The Complete Roster: ’09 Merolini

Sopranos
Susannah Biller, Georgetown, Tennessee; Lara Ciekiewicz, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Kate Crist, Agency, Iowa; Sara Gartland, St. Paul, Minnesota; Lori Guilbeau, Golden Meadow, Louisiana

Mezzo-sopranos
Margaret Gawrysiak, Geneseo, Illinois; Caitlin Mathes, Dayville, Connecticut; Ellie Jarrett, Dallas, Texas; Maya Lahyani, Hod-HaSharon, Israel

Contralto
Suzanne Hendrix, Charles City, Iowa

Countertenor
Ryan Belongie, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin

Tenors
Eleazar Rodríguez, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico; Gregory Carroll, Des Moines, Washington; Brian Jadge, Piermont, New York; Alex Mansoori, Seattle, Washington; Nathaniel Peake, Humble, Texas

Baritones
Aleksey Bogdanov, Odessa, Ukraine; John Chest, Greenville, South Carolina; Paul Scholten, Muskegon, Michigan; Michael Sumuel, Odessa, Texas

Bass-baritone
Yohan Yi, Pohang, The Republic of Korea

Basses
Evan Boyer, Louisville, Kentucky; Benjamin LeClair, Royal, Iowa

Apprentice Coaches
Keun-a Lee, Seoul, The Republic of Korea; Stephanie Rhodes, Alpine, Utah; Tamara Sanikidze, Tbilisi, The Republic of Georgia; Suzy Smith, Medicine Hat, Alberta; Miaomiao Wang, Lanzhou, Gansu, China

Apprentice Stage Director
Fernando Parra Bortí, Chihuahua, Mexico

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