Archive for the ‘opera’ Category
I’m back for my annual musings on the finest SF/Bay Area live performances of the year (#whatiattended)! As always, there’s a very healthy dose of opera, musical theatre, and jazz here, so they are more than well represented. And, I’m well aware of some great shows I had to miss because of my budget, or other commitments, but alas…it’s still a scrumptious array. Reflecting on these is a favorite way I savor and reexperience them once again.
What were your favorite Bay Area performances of the year?
1) Champion, Opera Parallèle, SFJAZZ Center
This unique jazz opera by Terence Blanchard is about the life of world champion boxer Emile Griffith, including his struggle with trauma-related dementia. A deeply affecting, tragic story, with gay content that was very impactful on a personal level. It features a great score, which deserves to land on the stages of the top American opera companies. It was heading to the Kennedy Center next, so it at least also had that audience. Unfortunately, it’s up against Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird” (featuring Lawrence Brownlee), so I fear it’s doubtful two jazz/jazz-oriented operas can have major legs. But, I get ahead of myself. This evening (Feb. 27th) had a sense of event, with Tuck and Patti, and Terence Blanchard in the audience, and lingering in the lobby afterwards as well. And we had the good fortune there of briefly meeting the contemporary opera legend, baritone Robert Orth, who passionately played Howie Albert.
The opening scene was so alive it reached out and grabbed the audience. The orchestral palette was rich, with the percussion and bass real stand outs. The orchestral hand-clapping-as-percussion really resonated. Former Merolini Karen Slack lit up the stage as Emelda Griffith, as did Arthur Woodley as the elder Emile, who was devastatingly real. The Herman’s Hole/”pussy” scene, with its fluid sexual expression was compelling and confusing, reflecting his confusion and the surrounding culture. Victor Ryan Robertson as Benny ‘Kid’ Paret was also very touching, a great physical actor, with a pleasing lyric voice in the midst of all the dramatic voices. A couple of scenes featured an actual boxer/dancer/percussionist who moved onstage in an unstoppable fashion.
Some lighting/projection cues revealed glaring flaws, and a couple of voices sounded tired. Also, where we sat there were frequent challenging sight lines, but it was thrilling to experience this opera in a true hall to jazz.
2) Dolly Tour: Pure & Simple, Shoreline Pavilion (Mountain View)
Not much needs to be said about this legendary woman. There may be many great drag impersonators of her, but there is only 1 Dolly. Her mix of goodness, simplicity, and yet worldliness and acceptance seems to be without peer.
It was a lovely night out as well, reminding me of concerts of my youth at Riverbend in Cincinnati. My favorite songs/moments included “Little Sparrow/If I Had Wings,” “9 to 5,” and two vocal quartets: “I’ll Fly Away,” and “The Seeker,” which skewed more towards bluegrass. Also, “Coat of Many Colors” and her new single “Pure and Simple” were really lovely.
I was in some disbelief that she sang it all live. The nuance and tone was so fresh…as if she was 25 again. She offered many quotable moments. When inviting a handsome band member to the spotlight for a featured musical moment, she shared: “I said I was married I didn’t say I was blind.” Her costumes take a page from Elvis’ book…bell bottoms and sequins for days!
3) Cabaret, National Tour, Golden Gate Theatre
The Emcee, Randy Harrison surely brought in audience based on his Queer as Folk celebrity, but he exceeded my expectations on stage. He offered a more solid, robust voice and technique than I expected, and than most of this role previous exponents had. I also appreciated that he used his voice in a somewhat less caricature-y fashion. He expressed plenty of lithe, engaging movement as well.
Andrea Goss, a petite Sally Bowles, was fantastic, offering a gamine, pixie appeal. Her small-scale delivered a big presence and impression. My date, who has seen a dozen or so Cabaret productions put her in his top 3…the slew of past celebrity Sallys not holding up real great by comparison.
As is often the case with this show, the love story between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz tugged on many a heart string. The set design, and how it was used was engaging throughout, integrating the orchestra in an authentic way, true to the milieu.
My show-going in 2014 started out slowly, all thanks to grad school. But, thankfully, by the summer, it was in full swing again. So, there is plenty to gush about on my annual list. Always so grateful for the Bay Area offerings…and no doubt one of the reasons I continue to call it home, especially as travel is a bit fewer and farther between these days. Performer friends, if you’re show’s not on here, I didn’t see it <wink, wink>. I hope you enjoy my musings! What were your favorites of the year?
1. Cher, with Cyndi Lauper, at SAP Center – San Jose
Cher tops my list. Surprised? Cyndi was her opening act, with a voice still in surprisingly rocking’ shape. Can she really be 61? And, for that matter, can Cher really be 68?! (Don’t answer that.) Highlights were “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Believe” (a remix), a “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” and “Half Breed” carnival-themed set, and a Burlesque-themed set (incl. “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me”), a duet with Sonny, and a staging in which she was floated above the audience, as if a religious icon (not that she isn’t). The show was really perfectly crafted…and OFFICIALLY her last. It indeed felt like a farewell. No one could pull off what she did. My friends and I had a ball, shaking our tail feathers and lip-syncing from our nose-bleeds once things heated up.
2. Matt Alber, at Great American Music Hall
Matt is the only solo repeater this year. He topped last year’s list. His brother, Lou Jane was the opening act this time. Matt’s set included “The Wind,” “The Stars,” “Field Trip Buddy,” “Rivers and Tides,” “Handsome Man,” “Velvet Goldmine,” “Rescue,” “Make You Feel My Love,” “House on Fire,” “Spectacularly,” “Brother Moon” (duet with brother, Lou Jane), “Always” (a jazzy, ACAP cover), “End of the World,” “Walking on Sunshine,” “Send in the Clowns”. It was a transfixing and warm, familial night. He alternated between piano and guitar accompaniment. His band and some classical instrumentalists joined for various songs, including a sensitively played cello, and his dad sweetly tickled the ivories as well.
3. Karrin Allyson, Jazz at Filoli Gardens
Her smoky tone and easy swagger make her one of my jazz favorites of late. Highlights included “All You Need to Say (Never Say Yes),” which features the moving line: “Search to find true happiness and the world will say yes – yes is all you need to say.” Also, Simon & Garfunkel’s “April Come She Will,” “All I Want” (Joni Mitchell), “What a Difference” (with Kenny Washington), Cat Steven’s “Wild World,” “O Baquino,” and “I Can Do Anything As Long As I Know You Love Me,” a beautiful new song by her. This is also a fantastic, intimate outdoor venue.
4. “Luster,” SFGMC, with Ann Hampton Callaway, at Davis Symphony Hall
This show featured “Tyler’s Suite,” a commissioned tribute to Tyler Clementi. Out of the three SFGMC shows I attended this season, this one was the stand-out. The chorus soloists were surprisingly solid, and the chorus delivered finely textured harmonies. Ann did an improvisational piano solo before which she asked for names and local/SF places of note from the audience, and incorporated them into her song. She had us rolling in the aisles. And that voice! So soulful, nurturing, contralto-ey. Cuts to my heart.
5. Nutcracker, SF Ballet
This production is still very fresh after 10 or so years, and delivers on all its holiday promise. Highlights were the Grand Pas de Deux, featuring Yuan Yuan Tan, and her VERY dashing prince, Luke Ingham (not pictured; I wonder if HE was “taught to be charming, not sincere”), and the magical snow scene, very moving with audible en pointe and snowfall onstage. They do NOT scrimp on the amount…for five minutes your head is in the Sierras. Calling the Zamboni!
6. Norma, SF Opera
The level of musical attunement, and true bel canto shared between Sondra Radvanovksy and Jaime Barton is a rarity these days. It harkened back to the Sutherland/Horne pairing in its best moments. How to say it…Rad’s voice is never not interesting to me. I don’t understand her vocal production, which makes it fascinating. It’s richly textured at best…buzzy at worst. Reminiscent of Callas in the lower range, and belted utterances. She was very liberal with the gossamer pianissimi, and offered some thrilling full-throttle high notes. Barton displayed moments of Horne in her lower chest. She knows how to move, and seems really “in her body,” which offered a sensuality. She’s also the most youthful Adalgisa I’ve yet seen, which made Pollione’s passion all the more believable. The production offered some nice detail, but didn’t inspire, and the Avatar-style makeup was mystifying. Norma’s two children were beyond precious.
7. Jimmy James, at Rebel
Highlights included his impersonations of Cher, Bette (doing “Feliz Navidad“), Barbra, Billie, and Liza (doing “Single Ladies”!!!) had us alternately in tears and stitches. He is a very skilled entertainer, with an incredibly versatile and impressive voice. I hope he’s fast becoming more of a gay household name that he should already be, aside from his ’80s appearances on the talk show circuit as THE perfect Marilyn impersonator.
8. Esalen Work Scholar “Reading,” in the Solarium
It was a privilege to sit in on this informal, private event. It featured teacher John Smith’s “If I Were a Robin,” and included original songs and poems/prose by the students. My emotional response to the event was no doubt stoked by the Big Sur setting, and the crackle of new writers growing their creative wings. Here’s “…Robin” from a previous show.
9. Showboat, SF Opera
What a treat to see this great american musical for the first time, and performed at this level. Standout performances were by Morris Robinson as Joe, and Kirsten Wyatt as Ellie Mae. Patricia Racette’s rendition of my favorite “Bill” was beautifully and movingly handled. Not operatic in the least. Perfectly scaled down. The production was beautiful and really served the piece.
10. Mary Lambert, at the Nourse Theatre
Mary is such an open-hearted, disarming, and authentic artist. She warmly invites you into her unique vision and storytelling. Highlights included “Jessie’s Girl” (cover), “My Body,” “She Keeps Me Warm,” and “No Secret” (encore). Her themes of body image, and mental illness/health are much needed in our current culture. Young Summer was the opening act. She was reminiscent of Lana del Rey.
Other Notable Performances:
• Michael Fabiano, as Rodolfo, La Boheme, SFO, delivered Golden Age tenorial squillo and passion
• Heidi Melton, in recital, SF Performances, SF Conservatory of Music, a Merola/Adler star returns again, incl. idiomatic and stunning Sibelius and Strauss sets
• Jef Valentine, in Panorama, ACT Costume Shop, a beautifully committed and personal vision of the Peter Pan legend
• Sean Patrick Murtagh, in Holiday Test Drive II, Martunis, incl. a perfect, refulgent “Oh Holy Night”
Favorite Drag Show of the Year:
MASCARA “Burlesque,” hosted by the Castro Country Club, featuring irreverent, moving, messy, unforgettable numbers by Uphoria, Serenity Heart, Jada Stevens, Dina Isis, Dusty Porn, and more. All in service of, to inspire, and raise funds for the queer recovery community.
Top 5 Best Movies of the Year (that I saw):
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Into the Woods
4. Love is Strange
5. The Theory of Everything
Share your favorites. And, here’s a toast to what 2015 brings!
It was another stunning year of live performance in the Bay Area and beyond. I’m forgoing reviews this time, thanks to grad school demands. I’m grateful yet again for the embarrassment of riches…one of the many reasons I gladly call San Francisco home!
1) Matt Alber @ The Rickshaw Stop
Presented by SF Bear Pride
With NAKIA, Jeb Havens…
Program incl.: Monarch, The River, Velvet Goldmine, Old Wallingford, Tightrope, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Field Trip Buddy, Hide & Seek, Always (ACAP), End of the World, Yellow, New York, Old Ghosts…
A taste of Matt live
2) Pink Martini @ The Hollywood Bowl
With China Forbes, Storm Large, Saori Yuki, Ari Shapiro…
Program incl.: Brazil, Zundoko bushi, Splendor in the Grass, Eugene, Hang on Little Tomato, Get Happy/Happy Days medley, And Then You’re Gone/But Now I’m Back medley, Yo Te Quiero Siempre…
3) Mephistopheles, San Francisco Opera
With Ildar Abdrazakov, Patricia Racette, Ramón Vargas, Marina Harris…
4) Anything Goes, Broadway Tour, Curran Theatre
With Rachel York, Fred Applegate, Erich Bergen, Alex Finke…
In the midst of the embarrassment of riches jcm partook in this year, above all, it was the year of the art song, “Hasa Diga Eebowa,” and contemporary american opera (and THIS without even having seen Moby Dick ;-(. This was particularly good news for art song and american opera, as it’s more the norm to bemoan their demise these days.
In capturing the highlights of the year, the performance and production were weighed most heavily, but in the case of new material, the script and score were of course considerations. Oh, and who can help some personal biases slipping in? Not jcm (ie: West Side Story = the greatest show ever written)! SO, here goes…
1) Sandrine Piau, (Susan Manoff, piano) CalPerfs, Hertz Hall
It was as if a gentle, gamine spirit had landed for just an hour or two, gracing us with her rare magic. She left us transfixed, susceptible to the whims of her potent storytelling. The program was studio-ready in its refinement and attention to detail, yet never bland or white-washed. She uses her lyric instrument to full advantage, painting a broad palette of tones and expressions. The very satisfying program featured french, german and english sets of Fauré, Bouchot, Chausson, Mendelssohn, Strauss and Britten, followed by a generous set of encores: “Voyage a Paris,” “Clair de lune,” and Strauss’s “Madchen Blumlein.”
Karina Gauvin, (Michael McMahon, piano) Weill Hall at the Green Music Center
The Bay Area has been given a great gift in the form of the new Green Music Center. In structure it is reminiscent of the great Musikverein of Vienna. It is nearly all wood, which is visually rich, and acoustically perfect. In a word, intoxicating. This was the inaugural recital of the hall’s vocal series. They programmed very well, especially as Karina’s Bay Area appearances are rare. Highlights included: “Le Printemp” by Hahn, “Phylidé” and “L’Invitation au Voyage” by Duparc. For her encores, she performed Weill (ie: Weill Hall) and the Scottish “Ae Fond Kiss.” The latter was deeply satisfying. Her english diction is stunning, and her textual delivery particularly soulful. On a personal note, her sister and mother were in the audience, just a few rows in front of me. She shared that this was the rare performance they were able to attend, and dedicated a song to her sister. A special night indeed.
2) The Book of Mormon, National Tour, Curran Theatre
It takes you by the balls, and won’t let you go. I’ve rarely seen the kind of go-for-broke commitment from a cast as this. 21 year-old Grey Hensen, who played Moroni and Elder McKinley, as well as Jared Gertner as Elder Cunningham stole the show. I live for Gavin Creel, but oddly he seemed not to embody the role as much as to act it. Surely he’s settled into it by now, or will fully by its UK West End run. The first 20 minutes have to be the most perfectly crafted portion of almost any Broadway show I’ve seen LIVE. You know…those laughing-and-crying at the same time moments? The vocal power in the ensemble numbers was very impressive. Having an 8 year-old behind us in the audience made the profanity and vulgarity seem even more raucous and saucy.
Why LLS (Light Lyric Sopranos)? Why now?
In April, I attended the Cal Perfs recital of Sandrine Piau at Hertz Hall. I’ll wait until my “Top 10” EOY post to review it, but needless to say, she was sensational. I bought my tickets well in advance, knowing it would be the sleeper of the season.
However, at the time it crossed my mind that the recital came and went without much fanfare, she had no SF Opera presence in this or any season to date, the hall was only half full despite its intimate size, AND even few if any of my opera friends in-the-know had it on their must list. The reasons? Her career has been almost entirely in Europe, she’s essentially a “specialist” (ie: early music, Mozart, and lieder/art song), and she’s an LLS. Unfortunately, this fach rarely commands the same mainstream attention as the big guns, and in more standard operatic fare usually serves ensemble or comprimario roles.
I’ve spent much time on jcm raving about my beloved coloraturas, dramatic sopranos, and at times full lyrics, but it’s time I shed a spotlight on the finest LLS of our time (all of them active). I hope you discover an artist new to you.
Wikipedia shares that an LLS “has a bigger voice than a soubrette, but still possesses a youthful quality.” SO, clearly this doesn’t include the full lyrics, typified by a Fleming, Moffo, or Steber. Their predecessors are Elisabeth Schumann, Bonney, and Cotrubas.
What are the qualities I want in my LLS?
I look for well modulated technique, emission “on the breath” (unless for expressive purposes), singing within one’s “column of sound” (— L. Price), a balance of sweetness and brightness (not too much of one), good taste (which is VERY important in this fach, lest they become cloying), and of course unique interpretive and expressive abilities/gifts.
There’s no hard line drawn between fachs, so some of these singers have characteristics of a coloratura, soubrette, and lyric, but I believe they are at their essence LLS. It should come as no surprise that many of their coloratura skills are astonishing, as a leaner voice is wont to move fast at times.
She was the inspiration for this post, because, she, like Sandrine is offering a Bay Area recital this year (this weekend!), which I’m not going to miss. As with Sandrine, it likely won’t be sold out, has been rather under-marketed, BUT will surely contain some of the finest singing the Bay Area has heard all year. Her holiday album Images de Noël is always a part of my Christmas. I also recommend her Baroque duet album with Marie-Nicole Lemieux: “Streams of Pleasure.”
She is the definition of good taste, portraying a supreme elegance, self-possessed carriage, and pristine tone. Her Mozart aria recital CD is superior to Dessays, but she’s less flashy and more reserved, so not the mainstream marketing darling that Dessay has become. (I admire Dessay’s art too for different reasons.)
It’s time for my third annual Top 10 round-up. These don’t attempt to be comprehensive reviews…but rather an Amuse-bouche of the most stellar performances I witnessed by the Bay, in ’11. How in the world can I compare a Pop Star to a Handel opera, you ask? Well…I warm up the jcm-ulator, and out come the tabulated results. It doesn’t lie. I seem to be trending towards opera, with musicals taking a back seat. Why? They sing louder, higher and without mics?
1) RING Cycle, SF Opera details
With the carefully crafted characterizations of a stage play, this Cycle was a well-deserved hit and had the city abuzz with Wagner. Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde was an utter triumph, equal parts true Wagnerian and singing actress. Stunning SFO leading role debuts were offered by Heidi Melton as Sieglinde, and Daveda Karanas as Waltraute. There wasn’t a weak link in the cast. Francesca Zambello’s concept was fortunately not too heavy-handed, largely staying out of the way of the story and score…more often informing it, and only periodically misstepping. I found the Industrial Revolution concepts throughout Das Rheingold to be the most iconic and potent. However, the mythic Die Walküre was the emotional highpoint, featuring the burnished, virile tenor of Brandon Jovanovich’s Siegmund. Siegfried was also surprisingly engaging. I had the good fortune of serving as Super Captain and Supernumerary in Walküre and Götterdämmerung.
2) Stacey Kent, Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel details
I fell in love with her voice three years ago. After stalking her tour schedule for a Bay Area performance, I got to experience her art live at last. She’s a real pixie…a gentle spirit, with a frail flutter to her vibrato. She completely transported me and her audience, casting a convincing spell. Her palpable, loving connection to her band leader, sax player and husband Jim Tomlinson added to the glow. She embodied “less is more,” drawing us in, rather than overworking her numbers in a too extroverted manner. Her set included lots of brazilian and french songs unfamiliar to me, some off her just released album. Come back soon Stacey!
Enjoy an updated and edited version of my previous post on San Francisco Opera’s “Notes from Valhalla: The RING Blog”:
Two years ago I began a journey into the fire…into San Francisco Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. That journey comes full circle (pun intended) this month.
It all started when I was invited to collaborate on the iconic brand image and identity for this Ring (with the fantastic design and marketing studio Mission-Minded). This alone was a dream come true. I had become an official Wagner-phile when I experienced SFO’s previous naturalistic production in 1999, with my dear operagoing friend Gil. (Watch the documentary Sing Faster for a great glimpse of that beloved production.)
The creative process began with a meeting with Director Francesca Zambello and General Director David Gockley, to discuss the particular approach of this new production (shared with ENO and WNO, but not yet performed in its entirety). The goal: to highlight the concept of destruction and rebirth, and portray a dose of the production’s modernity, including an accessible and familiar visual vernacular. (The production employs a trailer, projections of power lines and electrical towers, an office building board room, a stylish, contemporary bedroom…to mention just a few of these modern nods.)
The iconic image evolved in a direction that also took a tragic nod from 9/11, using the burning and fall of city skyscrapers to show the destruction of a civilization, parallel with that of nature (via a forest). Perched atop this, a reborn/renewed female visage…a triumphant Brünnhilde. The photo-illustration was made up of 15 or so separate images.
It’s that time again! I’m serving up my second annual Top 10 LIVE Performances of the year. It’s a follow-up to my ‘09 list. Sadly, there are no Broadway shows on this list. I plan on remedying that in 2011!
1. Die Walküre, San Francisco Opera (Details)
This production offered one of the finest casts that could possibly be assembled for this opera (and The Ring) in the current operatic landscape. The production said some new things, and offered a few fresh perspectives, but didn’t try too hard, or overshadow the score. Maestro Runnicles is a Wagnerian master, and he and the orchestra rose to the occasion again. Yeah, I was a “Supernumerary” in the production, but I was able to watch much of it from the orchestra during rehearsals, and even accounting for my bias, this would still takes my top spot. Enjoy my full review here.
2. Scalpel! The Musical, Brava Theatre (Details)
Can you say fun? It had me at the opening number, with countless heals and drag runway walks. It was the first show I’ve seen in the Brava, and I immediately loved this venue…the warm lighting, the urban ambience, and the straight, raked seating offering direct views. Even with all the camp and hijinks, the entire cast was completely committed to the material. This was the second mounting of the show, and my fingers are crossed that it returns yet again. Apparently, there was a bit of a curse on the production, with multiple cast injuries (including a very unfortunate broken leg for leading man, Mike Finn), but they pushed through, with some quick and fortuitous replacements and prevailed. Picturing Sara Moore as “poop-raking” TV reporter Kitty Kelly (“Hardballs” host) still makes me laugh.
3. Heidi Melton: Salon at the Rex, The Rex Hotel (Details)
To hear Heidi Melton plead in spoken french AND debut her chest voice was alone faint-worthy, and positively scintillating. And, to hear her in repertoire much outside her core operatic rep and comfort genres was a treat (ie: Irving Berlin and Kurt Weill cabaret, and Korngold songs). Her rendition of Berlin’s “Always” left not a dry eye in the audience. (Her Noe Valley Chamber Music Recital a few weeks before was also very beautiful). No thanks to the Adler “Future is Now” concert, which was on the same night, the recital was over all too soon (evidenced by a jcm quotation here and here)! I stuck around and imbibed and dined at the bar…I wanted to savor the spell Heidi had cast.
Enjoy the newest in my “Diva Website Series” (that’s tongue-in-cheek…well, perhaps it shouldn’t be?):
www.rhoslynjones.com just went LIVE!
Visit this new website to keep up and connect with San Francisco Opera Merola & Adler alumni, “The delicious diva,” soprano Rhoslyn Jones. Experience her amazing artistry, musings, repertoire, acclaim, and don’t miss out on her upcoming performances!
Your clicks will also help her site more swiftly climb to the top of the search engine results…so, thanks for clicking around!!!
(I designed and built it on the squarespace.com platform.)