Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Noontime Concerts: Robert Schwartz

Noontime Concert at Old St. Mary'sI did not start out planning to be at the noontime concert at Old St. Mary's, but as I was already downtown running errands, it made for a convenient break in my day. Pianist Robert Schwartz played an appealing all-Chopin program, lasting under an hour. He had a few moments of stiffness at the start, but I liked the improvisatory feel of his interpretations & the plump, unpercussive playing of his left hand. I also liked his nicely fluttering runs. Despite the echoey church acoustic, Mr. Schwartz managed not to sound muddy. The main piece was the Piano Sonata No. 2 with its familiar funeral march, which sounded solemn but not lugubrious. Mr. Schwartz always looked happily involved, & the appreciate audience gave him a standing ovation.

§ Noontime Concerts
Robert Schwartz, piano

Frédéric Chopin:
Barcarolle, Op. 60
Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55, No. 1
Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35
Scherzo in E Major, Op. 54, No. 4

Tuesday, August 30 12:30 p.m.
Old St. Mary’s Cathedral

Monday, August 29, 2011

J-Pop Summit Festival 2011

Sunday afternoon I went to Japantown for a lunch of soba noodles & found myself walking through J-Pop, a street fair of Japanese pop culture, sponsored by New People. It was actually a bit sunny out, & the fair was well-attended, mostly by younger people, many of them in anime costumes.

The vendors had interesting outfits too, such as this fellow attracting attention to a booth selling computer games:
J-Pop Summit Festival 2011

In some cases I couldn't tell if people were wearing costumes or not.
J-Pop Summit Festival 2011

$5 got you an extremely abbreviated tea ceremony which included a bite of food, a cup of tea & a gift to take away.
J-Pop Summit Festival 2011

Food trucks the size of semis were there to feed people.
J-Pop Summit Festival 2011

There was also a DIY crafts fair called the Bazaar Bizarre. Vendors sold ridiculously cute merchandise, such as nerd JERK's crochet video game characters & sexi+serpico's iPod cases that look like candy.

Bordering on the freakish was this booth selling baking mixes for doggie treats. There are gluten free options & flavors like poochi sushi.
J-Pop Summit Festival 2011

The musical background for my visit was a live performance by a punk band whose singers imitated the voices of bratty 8-year-old girls.

§ J-Pop Summit Festival 2011
8.27 SAT & 28 SUN, 11am - 6pm
Japantown, San Francisco

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Oddball Films: Ecstatic Bodies

At Oddball Films on Saturday night, guest curator Hannah Airriess introduced her genre-mixing program, which she succinctly summarized as being about how the camera reinvents the human body. In hallucinagenic excerpts from Busby Berkeley musicals, hundreds of dancers become oscillating sculptures & kinetic spectacles. It made me wonder if flash mobs are a modern equivalent.

Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) is a brief, unconvincing avant-garde film which shows a male ballet dancer in a variety of unconnected settings. The athletic fitness of Swedish high school girls is an explicit expression of the wholesomeness of a nation in the 1950s documentary The Sofia Girls. The imagery disturbingly recalls Leni Reifenstahl's Olympia, an excerpt of which was also in the program. In its masterful diving sequence, divers are transformed into flying bodies.

Charlie Chaplin turns roller skating into ballet in The Rink. Unfortunately the version we saw had no music, which drained a lot of life out of the film, but Chaplin still made the audience laugh. The 1970s educational film Gymnastics Flashbacks is a history of gymnastics as a spectator sport. It mixes modern Olympic routines with archival footage going back to 1912 & features the human body at extremes of performance.

The show ended with Parade, Parade (1973), a cinéma vérité look at a suburban Fourth of July parade. It's a snapshot of the nation, including American Indians in full regalia, acrobatic motorcyclists & Sesame Street characters.

Oddball FilmsThe show started almost a half-hour late, as people continued to trickle in. It's close quarters here, & late arrivals resorted to climbing over chairs to get to empty seats. Though intending to take Muni, I ended up taking a cab to Oddball Films. The 22-Fillmore was unusable the whole day, the buses being dispatched in groups of three at 45 minute intervals.

§ Ecstatic Bodies: Human Form on Film
Curated by Hannah Airriess
Oddball Films
Saturday, August 27th, 2011 at 8:00pm.

Musical Sequence "I Only Have Eyes for You" from Dames (1934), Busby Berkeley
Study in Choreography for Camera (1945), Maya Deren
The Sofia Girls: Rhythmic Gymnastics in Sweden (1950s)
The Rink (1916), Charlie Chaplin
Diving Sequences from Olympia (1936), Leni Reifenstahl
Gymnastics Flashbacks (1970s)
Calling All Girls (1942), Busby Berkeley
Parade, Parade (1973)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Daimyo Oak

California Juniper Bonsai
Friday morning I sought out the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that Lake Merritt even had botanical gardens. You just keep going past Fairyland. The Bonsai Garden is a walled outdoor space within the Gardens at Lake Merritt. The trees are in various states of cultivation, & the place has the feel of a workshop. Enthusiastic volunteers maintain the collection & hand out guides to visitors, though the only visitor besides me was a jogger on his cell phone. He seemed to have wandered in by mistake.

Daimyo Oak Bonsai
The oldest item in the collection is this Daimyo Oak. In 1863 Anson Burlingame, President Lincoln's envoy to China, supposedly received it from the shogun during a visit to Japan. It is possibly the first bonsai in America. The leaves are quite large, & it is somewhat stubby for a bonsai, but the trunk's hollowed-out interior is striking. And yes, the City of Burlingame is named after Burlingame.

Goose at Lake Merritt
The gardens are a good 20 minute walk from the 19th Street Bart station. I saw a line to get into Fairyland but the gardens were quiet, occupied only by a homeless guy asleep on a bench, a few seniors & a quartet of tai chi practitioners. The park at Lake Merritt is totally overrun with squirrels & these geese, whose poop is everywhere.

§ GSBF Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt

Friday, August 26, 2011

Graham Leggat (1960-2011)

Graham Leggat, who only last month stepped down as executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, passed away yesterday, August 25th, 2011, after an 18 month battle with cancer. He was a conspicuous & even feisty presence at the SF International Film Festival earlier this year. I've enjoyed the extended programming he brought to the Film Society in his 6 year tenure & am looking forward to the year-round screenings at New People Cinema.

Photo credit: © Pamela Gentile

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Merola Grand Finale 2011

Saturday night Merola Opera ended their 2011 season with an abundant 3 hour concert in the War Memorial Opera House. 20 singers presented 17 scenes. The cast, in formal evening wear, performed on the cartoonish set of SF Opera's up-coming Turandot. Director Ragnar Conde staged each scene as a miniature play, often with props & mute characters. This year's Merolini have been a consistently strong group, & this event is a sort of graduation exercise for them. Bass-baritone Philippe Sly sustained great dramatic tension in his scene from Handel's Ariodante. He is a simply captivating performer. After more than an hour of 18th & 19th century music, it was startling when the 1st half ended with the 21st century Dr. Atomic. Baritone Jonathan Michie sang "Batter my heart" with a big sound, big gestures & a biting enunciation of his k's. He was absolutely shattering. He was accompanied on stage by fellow Merolini waving flashlights, which seems a bit weak for a scene that refers to the atom bomb.

The 2nd half opened with bass Peixin Chen & soprano Suzanne Rigden hamming it up shamelessly in the soprano/bass duel from Entfürung. Mr. Chen got laughs showing off his outrageously effortless bass notes. Tenor Cooper Nolan sang fervently & communicated urgency in his scene from Lucia. Baritone Joo Won Kang involvingly expressed the torment of his character in his scene from the Pearl Fishers. Soprano Marina Boudart Harris was a mature & poised Arabella, & I liked her full, matronly sound. In a call-to-arms scene from I Puritani, bass Adam Lau was a reliable warrior, sounding loud but controlled.

The evening ended raucously with the Act I finale from L'Italiana in Algeri, featuring mezzo Renée Rapier as a hip-wagging, piece-of-my-mind Isabella. She made me want to see her do the whole role. Mr. Sly was a hilarious Mustafà, dancing around her with mincing steps while his voice bounced just as agilely. When chaos breaks out, everyone starts moving in slow motion, & Mr. Nolan displayed comic aplomb with his slowly rotating arabesque. By the end, the cast, manipulating spears, umbrellas & banners in synchrony, turns into a spinning, blinking machine. Even the program's accompanists got in on the act, singing as part of the chorus.

§ Merola Grand Finale 2011
San Francisco Opera Orchestra
Conductor - Johannes Debus
Stage Director - Ragnar Conde

Semiramide by Gioachino Rossini

"Au fond du temple saint" from Les pêcheurs de perles by George Bizet
Nadir - Scott Quinn
Zurga - Mark Diamond

"Suis-je gentille ainsi?...Je marche sur tous les chemins" from Manon by Jules Massenet
Manon - Elizabeth Zharoff
Chorus - Cooper Nolan, Scott Quinn, Mark Diamond, Joo Won Kang

"Zazà, piccolo zingara" from Zazà by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Cascart - Guodong Feng

"Bel raggio lusinghier" from Semiramide by Gioachino Rossini
Semiramide - Laura Krumm

"Andiam, fidi, al consiglio...Invida sorte avara" from Ariodante by G. F. Handel
Il Rè - Philippe Sly
Odoardo - Daniel Curran
Harpsichord - Robert Mollicone

"Sei tu?...Minacciata è la mia vita" from Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti
Orsini - Renée Rapier
Gennaro - Heath Huberg

"Vy tak pichalni...Ya vas Lubyu" from The Queen of Spades by Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Lisa - Elizabeth Zharoff
Yeletsky - Suchan Kim

"Batter my heart" from Dr. Atomic by John Adams
Oppenheimer - Jonathan Michie

"Ich gehe doch rate ich dir" from Die Entfürung aus dem Serail by W.A. Mozart
Blonde - Suzanne Rigden
Osmin - Peixin Chen

"Divinités du Styx" from Alceste by Christoph Gluck
Alceste - Deborah Nansteel

"Lucia, perdona...Sulla tomba che rinserra...Verranno a te" from Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti
Lucia - Xi Wang
Edgardo - Cooper Nolan

"L'orage s'est calmé...O Nadir..." from Les pêcheurs de perles by George Bizet
Zurga - Joo Won Kang

"Das war sehr gut Mandryka" from Arabella by Richard Strauss
Arabella - Marina Boudart Harris
Mandryka - John Maynard

"O patria...O tu Palermo" from I vespri siciliani by Giuseppe Verdi
Procida - Peixin Chen

"Tornami a dir che m'ami" from Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti
Norina - Xi Wang
Ernesto - Daniel Curran

"Il rival salvar tu dêi...Suoni la tromba" from I Puritani by Vicenzo Bellini
Riccardo - John Maynard
Giorgio - Adam Lau

"Oh che muso" from L'Italiana in Algeri by Gioachino Rossini
Elvira - Suzanne Rigden
Isabella - Renée Rapier
Zulma - Deborah Nansteel
Lindoro - Cooper Nolan
Mustafà - Philippe Sly
Taddeo - Suchan Kim
Haly - Joo Won Kang

Musical Preparation: Timothy Cheung, Robert Mollicone, Ana María Otamendi, Clinton Smith

Saturday, August 20th, 7:30pm
War Memorial Opera House

§ Photo credit: Stefan Cohen

Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation

I was at opening night of this Gertrude Stein-inspired performance by Ensemble Parallèle. The 90 minute show featured Virgil Thomson's revised, 1 hour version of Four Saints in Three Acts. Using the Gertrude Stein text cut from this shortened version, composer Luciano Chessa created a companion piece that opened the show & led into Four Saints without a break. Mr. Chessa's work is in several distinct sections, each in a different style & all of it sounding like very serious music. The 1st part opens with a soulful muted trumpet solo. The singers whisper then gradually intone the text. Other sections include a waltz, a solo for loud baritone & percussion, & an evil duet in quarter tones for 2 sopranos. The score also employs electronic sounds, & at one point I thought I heard a balloon being popped.

The stage is in continual darkness. The cast, wearing black monks' robes & cowls that hide their faces, perform ritualistic actions at a deliberate pace. The backdrop was a slow-moving, black-&-white video of clouds & people dressed as angels. Video performance artist Kalup Linzy appeared on stage & on-screen as an angel in drag & sang tunelessly during a gospel number.

After a bizarre set change requiring assistance from the pit, everything turned into its opposite for Four Saints in Three Acts. The stage was white & bright, the music spontaneously tuneful & the action rapid & silly. All the props had wheels, so there was much spinning around of people on beds & chairs. Director Brian Staufenbiel added a scenario depicting St. Ignatius as a doctor. We see St. Ignatius managing an assisted suicide, performing an operation, being arrested & finally executed in the electric chair.

The busy cast of 12 were all strong singers & actors. Soprano Wendy Hillhouse sang robustly & gave winking meaning to everything she uttered. Baritone John Bischoff has a distinctive deep & open voice. Soprano Heidi Moss sang her high notes with security & portrayed Saint Teresa I with a demented serenity. Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu moves comfortably on stage, & his large, velvety voice rolls out effortlessly.

This was my first exposure to Thomson's opera. It is cheerfully sing-song, folksy & consonant, & after 20 minutes I was tired of it. The older gentleman seated next to me got impatient much sooner. Even before the performance started, he snorted "Get on with it!" while Charles Ward of YBCA & Frank Smigiel of SFMOMA gave their introductory speeches.

§ Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation
An Ensemble Parallèle production
Nicole Paiement, Conductor
Brian Staufenbiel, Director

A Heavenly Act
Music by Luciano Chessa, libretto by Gertrude Stein
Featuring Kalup Linzy

Four Saints in Three Acts
Music by Virgil Thomson, libretto by Gertrude Stein

John Bischoff : Compère
Eugene Brancoveanu : St. Ignatius
Kristen Choi : St. Teresa II
Jason Detwiler : St. Plan
Berndan Hartnett : St. Virgil/St. Philip
Wendy Hillhouse : Commère
Maya Kherani : St. Settlement
J. Raymond Meyers : St. Stephen
Heidi Moss : St. Teresa I
Brooke Munoz : St. Cecilia
Jonathan Smucker : St. Chavez
Nicole Takesono : St. Sarah
Mike Harvey, Michael Strickland: Supernumeraries

Friday, August 19, 2011 • 8:00 PM
Novellus Theater at YBCA

§ Picture credits: Peanuts 12/5/1960; SFMOMA

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Warren Jones Master Class

At this open master class for Merola Opera participants, Warren Jones was introduced as a triple threat: pianist, coach & conductor. His knowledge of the repertoire is extremely thorough. He is a very animated coach & continually went back & forth between the auditorium & the stage. Soprano Suzanne Rigden sang "Der Hölle Rache," & her fierce coloratura made her Queen of the Night truly terrifying. Mr. Jones may not have improved her triplets, but he did make pianist Timothy Cheung's accompaniment more thunderously dramatic. Baritone Gordon Feng sang an aria from I Puritani with a big, smooth voice, & Mr. Jones tried to make it even more legato & clean. He also worked to get pianist Clinton Smith to play with a less hard touch.

Soprano Marina Boudart-Harris gave her scene from Peter Grimes a clear dramatic arc. Her voice is large & has a lot of body. Mr. Jones asked, "Have you ever sung in a bar?" as a way of encouraging her to be looser & more bluesy. Following his directions, pianist Ana María Otamendi made her introduction more scary & dangerous. Baritone Joo Won Kang held nothing back & received an extended ovation for his "Vision fugitive" from Hérodiade. His sound is large, full & open, & his rendition was full of yearning. Mr. Jones was so impressed that he gave Mr. Kang a rest while he instead coached pianist Robert Mollicone to play at a slower pace & with a more fluid touch.

Though exacting, Mr. Jones is quite humorous. He called the Queen of the Night a "raving bitch" & related the time he fell asleep in the pit of the SF Opera during a performance of Peter Grimes. Someone's high-pitched watch alarm beeped gratingly for the entire 25 minutes of the last coaching, the owner too deaf to hear it.

The Merolini's last public event is the Merola Grand Finale this Saturday, August 20, 7:30 PM at the War Memorial Opera House.

§ Master Class with Warren Jones
Merola Opera Program 2011

"Der Hölle Rache" from Die Zauberflöte by W.A. Mozart
Suzanne Rigden, soprano
Timothy Cheung, piano

"Ah! per sempre" from I Puritani by Vincenzo Bellini
Gordon Feng, baritone
Clinton Smith, piano

"Embroidery Aria" from Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten
Marina Boudart-Harris, soprano
Ana María Otamendi, piano

"Vision fugitive" from Hérodiade by Jules Massenet
Joo Won Kang, baritone
Robert Mollicone, piano

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 | 7:00 - 9:00pm | Herbst Theatre

§ Photo credit: Lisa Kohler

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Up-coming: Four Saints in Three Acts

Friday afternoon I was allowed into a working rehearsal of Ensemble Parallèle's up-coming production of Four Saints in Three Acts. As conductor Nicole Paiement explained it, the staging is a pantomime showing St. Ignatius as a doctor. He assists in a suicide, resurrects an operating room patient, gets arrested & is finally executed, joining the other saints in heaven. The cheeky staging matches the absurd tone of the libretto.

The young, hard-working cast are all strong singers & actors. I was impressed that they could take musical notes from Maestro Paiement simultaneously with stage directions from director Brian Staufenbiel, who never seems short of ideas. I already like the beautiful, dusky & expressive singing of mezzo Kristen Choi as one of the St. Teresas. Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu was recovering from an illness & sang the part of St. Ignatius from a seat in the auditorium so he would not get the rest of the cast sick. SFMike was on stage as a super, moving props around & clearly enjoying the opera. He has enthusiastically talked up the show for weeks.

§ Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation

An Ensemble Parallèle production
Nicole Paiement, conductor/artistic director
Brian Staufenbiel, director

Music by Virgil Thomson and Luciano Chessa
Libretto by Gertrude Stein

Featuring Kalup Linzy

Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
700 Howard St., San Francisco

Thursday, August 18, 2011, 8:00 p.m. (preview)
Friday – Saturday, August 19 – 20, 2011, 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, August 21, 2011, 2:00 p.m.

Buy Tickets

Teatro ZinZanni: Maestro's Enchantment

Teatro ZinZanni is a three-plus hour experience that takes place in the softly lit, womb-like interior of an antique circus tent. The audience is fed a 5 course dinner & entertained by a theatrical combination of music, magic, clowning & acrobatics. The show changes every few months, so I saw a completely different set of acts & performers from last time. The featured star is Melanie Stace, a poised but unpresumptuous performer from British TV with a clear, belting singing voice. "The Maestro," a creepy, vampire-like magician, presides over the Felliniesque atmosphere & commands attention by not speaking. His companion, the contortionist Svetlana, is a mechanical doll brought to life.

The Collins Brothers
, 2 acrobatic clowns, perform a routine in which both vie for position on a single trapeze bar. Sergiy Krutikov, a clown & juggler, has a fine sense of showmanship & inspires affection. I want one of those boomerangs he made fly around the tent. Elena Gatilova silenced the audience with her enthralling & balletic aerial routine. Her costume is tasteful yet allows us to appreciate every contour of her form. The evening's 2nd singer, the operatic Kristin Clayton, ends the show with "Ebben? Ne Andrò Lontana." As one of my table companions pointed out, the acts & the meal service flow seamlessly together, & the evening has no apparent breaks.

The audience participates in a ZinZanni show, which was a worry considering my near miss last time. Thankfully pranks involving audience members are far less humiliating in this show, though I did receive a wet kiss on the top of my head from clown Peter Pitofsky.

ZinZanni has many repeat customers. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a father & his teenage daughter who are veterans of both the Seattle & San Francisco shows. They were celebrating the daughter's imminent departure for her 1st year of college. We had another show at our table as the doting dad presented his daughter with a steady stream of going-away gifts throughout the evening. The pair also received visits from the performers, culminating with one from The Maestro in which he transformed a piece of string into a gold charm bracelet for the young lady. By then the father had to admit he was friends with some of the cast, & afterward he even introduced me to The Maestro, who looked downright friendly out of his Count Dracula get-up. Father & daughter were the sweetest act in the show.

§ Maestro's Enchantment
Teatro ZinZanni

Directed by Norm Langill
Featuring: Melanie Stace, Voronin, Svetlana, Peter Pitofsky, The Collins Brothers, Elena Gatilova, Brandon Rabe, Sergiy Krutikov, Kristin Clayton

Now through October 9, 2011
Pier 29, San Francisco

§ Photo Credit: Tracy Martin

Friday, August 12, 2011

Wood Line Near Completion?

Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line
When work stopped on Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line in the Presidio last year, it seemed unfinished. It's a series of logs, arranged like a long cable undulating through the forest alongside Lovers' Lane. This morning I took a walk up that path & saw that it is now longer in both directions & looks near completion. At the top, it emerges spontaneously from the ground, like a gigantic root. Its zig-zagging path looks quite regular when viewed from the top. A small construction crew is still working at the lower end.

§ Wood Line
Andy Goldsworthy
Wood Line is nestled within the stand of eucalyptus between Lovers’ Lane and Presidio Boulevard.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Picasso at the de Young

Picasso at the deYoungLast week I saw the big Picasso show at the de Young Museum. It's a large selection of works from the Musée National Picasso in Paris, which is currently being renovated. The exhibit contains paintings, sculptures & prints & displays Picasso's prodigious output & stylistic range. The Death of Casagemas (1901) demonstrates that by the age of 20 Picasso could paint like Van Gogh. Other works show him successfully appropriating the styles of Ingres, Delacoix, Matisse & Manet. We also see stylistic experiments that seem less successful, such as bathers with strange, geometric anatomy or surreal figures that look like balloon animals gone wrong.

There are examples of all Picasso's signature imagery: Blue Period, Rose Period, Cubist, neo-classical, crying women, self-portraits, sexually overripe nudes, etc. Sketches for Guernica & Demoiselles d'Avignon appear too, but I felt like the show often touched on iconic masterpieces without displaying any. I instead enjoyed discovering unfamiliar but delightful images, such as the child-like Cat Catching a Bird (1939).

Besides identification tags & a few Picasso quotes high up on the walls, there is no explanatory text in the galleries. This is a stipulation of the lending museum, which does not want anything to distract viewers from the art. An audio tour is available, though. I visited on a weekday morning, & the galleries were jammed with older tourists & children. The corridor outside the gallery has a nice ancillary display of photographs of Picasso, his family & friends.

§ Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris
The de Young Museum
June 11, 2011 - October 10, 2011

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Merola Opera: Barbiere, 2nd Cast

Art with Elders ExhibitFriday night I was back to hear the 2nd cast of Merola Opera's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. As the Count, tenor Daniel Curran has a light, clear & even voice and was a sustained comic actor in the disguise scenes. I got scared when his voice suddenly disappeared near the end of his 1st aria, but he recovered quickly. Baritone Mark Diamond was a commanding Figaro, & his exuberant "Largo al factotum" got an extended round of applause. He also somersaulted across the stage for us. Mezzo Renée Rapier's voice has a thick core, & I like that its chesty quality extends through her high notes. Her Rosina is impatient yet firm. Baritone John Maynard is a physically impressive Bartolo & a formidable obstacle for the lovers. His voice is powerful and mature sounding.

As Don Basilio, Peixin Chen made an immediate impact with his amazingly huge, sonorous & fathomless bass, which came out naturally and effortlessly. His sound is still in my head, & I want to hear his Sarastro. I also liked his amusing evil laugh. Soprano Marina Boudart Harris as Berta supplied the evening's high notes, & she made them comically gasping in the Act I finale. She expressed exasperation well in her Act II aria. The role of the servant Ambrogio was uncredited (Cooper Nolan?), but I found his baby-faced presence funny. He made ridiculous high-pitched whines in lieu of speech.

Conductor Mark Morash kept things moving at an even pace which was not too fast. The Act I finale communicated a feeling of exhaustion. In the storm music I liked the immediacy of the orchestra's sound & the blaring French horn.

Watching the staging a 2nd time around, I found its eccentricities more distracting and less convincing. During the overture Fiorello helps the Count change clothes, but a person sitting behind me whispered to his companion, "That must be Bartolo." I think it is not clear that the opening scene takes place in front of a house. Characters stand on tables or crawl under them but rarely sit at them. The glaring lighting was eye-wateringly painful for most of Act I.

Cast 2 performs again Sunday, August 7 at 2:00 PM.

§ Merola Opera Program
Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Gioachino Rossini

Conductor, Mark Morash
Director, Roy Rallo

Rosina - Renée Rapier
Berta - Marina Boudart Harris
Count Almaviva - Daniel Curran
Figaro - Mark Diamond
Doctor Bartolo - John Maynard
Don Basilio - Peixin Chen
Fiorello - Suchan Kim
Ambrogio - Cooper Nolan?

Friday, August 5, 8:00 PM
Herbst Theatre

Friday, August 05, 2011

Merola Opera: Barbiere, 1st Cast

Merola Opera ProgramLast night I saw the 1st cast of Merola Opera's Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Herbst Theatre. Everyone in the cast was strong-voiced & displayed likeable, ebullient personalities. Baritone Jonathan Michie brandished a razor & was a predatory Figaro. I liked his full & round low notes. He projected his character like he was on Broadway. Tenor Heath Huberg sings very high without strain & makes a pleasing sound, though his high notes seem disconnected from his low notes. He moves comfortably on stage & acted the drunken soldier with convincing looseness. Suzanne Rigden, a soprano Rosina, has a fearsome coloratura. Hearing her pick off all those high notes was like watching a bowler make a strike every time.

Bass-baritone Philippe Sly, done up like an 18th century Ronald McDonald, was clownish but not stupid as Bartolo. He has a booming voice & a captivating stage presence. His "A un dottor della mia sorte" was a complete scene in itself. He was hilarious in Act II, looking like a yoga accident when the curtain comes up. Bass Adam Lau was a ridiculous, vaguely indecent, Don Basilio. He has a big voice which he modulates well, & he seemed to have fun wearing his absurd powered wig with its erect ponytail. Mezzo Deborah Nansteel fleshed out Berta's throw-away aria with her gorgeously rich sound & expressive phrasing. The cast made a huge combined sound in the ensembles.

The sets are nearly abstract, consisting mainly of tables, often up-ended. The backdrop & scrim are curtains of Christmas tinsel garlands that are so shiny that they sometimes hurt the eye. The staging is lively and tells the story in a straight-forward fashion. The characters are in period costumes but with deliberate anachronisms thrown in. During "La calunnia" Don Basilio unfurls a poster of incriminating Anthony Weiner photos. In Act II, the audience applauded a reference to a recent end-of-the-world prophecy. I liked the dumb-show wedding between Rosina & Bartolo during the storm scene, the couple showered with money instead of rice.

The orchestra was on the floor in front of the stage, & their sound carried into the hall well. The drum made a truly thunderous sound during the storm music. The harpsichord player was eager & assertive & jokingly interpolated a tune from the Marriage of Figaro at one point.

There are 2 casts for this show, which has additional performances Friday, August 5 at 8:00 PM & Saturday & Sunday, August 6 & 7 at 2:00 PM.

§ Merola Opera Program
Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Gioachino Rossini

Conductor, Mark Morash
Director, Roy Rallo

Rosina - Suzanne Rigden
Berta - Deborah Nansteel
Count Almaviva - Heath Huberg
Figaro - Jonathan Michie
Doctor Bartolo - Philippe Sly
Don Basilio - Adam Lau
Fiorello - Suchan Kim

Thursday, August 4, 8:00 PM
Herbst Theatre