David Korevaar, the CU, Boulder, College of Music distinguished professor of piano and an apparently tireless performer, has several performances coming up in the Boulder and northern Colorado region, from a faculty recital on the CU campus to a guest performance with the Ft. Collins Symphony.
Here is a list of his upcoming appearances:
7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12: Beethoven’ Fourth Piano Concerto with the Ft. Collins Symphony, Wes Kenney, conducting. Other pieces on the all-Beethoven program will be the Coriolan Overture and the Symphony No. 7 I A major. The performance will be in the Timberline Church in Ft. Collins. Tickets are available HERE.
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30: A CU faculty recital, titled “Comedy, tragedy, virtuosity and passion.” The program features sonatas by Florence Price and Beethoven, Chopin’s F-sharp minor Polonaise (“Tragic), and a selections of Chopin études. The performance will be free and open to the public. This performance will also be available by live stream HERE.
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24: A chamber concert, the first of three to be sponsored by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra The program features piano quintets by Edward Elgar and Schumann. The performance will be in the Boulder Adventist Church. Tickets are available HERE.
Falstaff and Barber of Seville each worth the trip down I-25
By Peter Alexander Aug. 10 at 11:08 p.m.
Verdi’s Falstaffis the greatest of all comic operas. The combination of Shakespeare and Verdi at the very peak of his musical powers have produced a masterwork of scintillating humor and extraordinary beauty. And in baritone Quinn Kelsey, currently starring in the Santa Fe Opera’s splendid co-production with Scottish Opera, it has found an ideal interpreter. The rest of the terrific ensemble cast nearly reaches his level, with Elena Villalón’s Nanetta especially noteworthy.
Sir David McVicar’s set, a simple wooden structure of two stories and multiple staircases, recalls the theater of Shakespeare’s time. Furniture and props are moved on and off to change the scene from The Garter Inn—opening in Falstaff’s bedroom with various hangers-on under and in the bed with the portly knight—to the garden and the interior of Ford’s home, to Windsor Park. Only the last scene with Hearn’s Oak hulking behind the framework of the set posed any difficulties.
As stage director, McVicar showed a deft comic touch with individual characters. Moments of rollicking chaos, as in the first scene in Falstaff’s bedroom and the second act climax with Ford searching his home while Falstaff hides in the famous laundry basket, were especially delightful.
Occasionally McVicar supplied extraneous touches that distracted from the principal singers, such as bustling servants and a gardener raking the ground upstage from the merry wives at the outset of the second scene. At such moments, directors should trust the music and dispense with superfluous ideas. Happily, the distractions were few, and otherwise the direction served the comedy well.
The costumes were generic Elizabethan with comic touches, such as Falstaff’s grotesque codpiece when he goes to visit Mistress Ford. Individual touches helped identify the multiple characters who appear in the ensembles, including a witches hat for Mistress Quickly—who not coincidentally is costumed as a witch in the Windsor Park scene—and delicious pink and red for Nanetta, exchanged for bridal white at the end.
The dazzling variety of costumes for the final scene at Hearn’s Oak included everything from a moon-faced queen, a horse and a demon borrowed from Hieronymus Bosch. This might be overkill, but I for one relished every excess in this scene. It is, after all, the culmination of a lavish comedy. It is a scene about excess, the excess that drives Falstaff and Ford both to realize their overreach and accept being the brunt of the joke. Any comic opera that ends with a comic fugue deserves climactic excess.
Under conductor Paul Daniel the Santa Fe Opera orchestra played brilliantly. Daniel led the players through every twist and turn of the score, bringing out the full force of the winds when appropriate, but also moderating the gentle moments. The brief, distilled glimpses of love music between Nanetta and Fenton were handled with grace and tenderness, the delicacy of the ensemble scenes presented on the point of a needle.
Kelsey presented a virtual masterclass on vocal control and interpretation. He was boisterous and full of braggadocio at the outset, but singing with grace, even tenderness if required, full of extravagant self-pity after his bath in the Thames, by turn terrified, indignant and hilariously self-mocking at the end. He has mastered every nuance of the role and will doubtless claim a place as one of the great interpreters of Falstaff.
Villalón brought a lovely, soaring soprano to Nanetta, floating gently to her top notes in her exchanges with Fenton, then exercising restrained control of the music and the stage in her Act III aria. She was a Nanetta that the audience could fall in love with, as they should.
Eric Felling was a winning Fenton, bringing a ringing sound and eloquent phrasing to his Act III aria. Alexandra LoBianco negotiated the role of Alice Ford nimbly, singing with a bright sound that could either blend with the other wives or soar above the full ensemble. As a comedienne, she was clearly in control of the gathering plot from beginning to end. As her husband, Ford (or “Master Fountain”), Roland Wood was comically on target, fitting well into the ensembles and eliciting sympathy in his soliloquy. His voice was sometimes pinched, with a occasional hint of a wobble.
The other characters handled their comic assignments well. Brian Frutiger was a satisfying Dr. Caius, filing well a smaller part that in lesser hands can too easily be overlooked. Megan Marino sang Meg Page prettily. Thomas Cifullo and Scott Conner were well matched comic partners as Bardolfo and Pistola, enlivening every scene with their hijinks. As Mistress Quickly, Ann McMahon Quintero made her character real, in spite of lacking the hefty chest voice that would project better over the orchestra.
But it is first of all Falstaff, and then the ensemble performance that carry the opera. Nothing showed the SFO’s success better than the final ensemble with Falstaff starting the great fugue “All the world’s a joke and only the jolly are wise,” everyone joining in turn with a perfect moral for a perfect comedy. As the performance came to a joyous climax, the musical summation of Verdi’s life in the theater, no one could leave without a feeling of satisfaction.
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Close behind Falstaff as a great comic opera is Rossini’s Barber of Seville (Aug. 6). It doesn’t have Shakespeare as a source, but it does have Beaumarchais, who provided the literary source for two great operas in Barber and Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro. And while Rossini’s opera features the standard comic situations of the time, the composer’s skill and wit raise Barber into the highest realms of musical entertainment—a level that is exuberantly matched by SFO’s hilarious production.
Santa Fe’s set is a marvel of invention. Upon entering the theater, the audience is greeted by a large topiary mustache at the back of the stage. During the overture, a sculptured head rises from behind and below the stage. The night I attended the audience applauded and laughed with delight when the head proved a perfect fit to the mustache. Together head and mustache moved down to the middle of the stage, representing the façade of Dr. Bartolo’s house, with the head later revolving 180° to reveal the house’s interior.
That is only a small part of the inventiveness of the production, which uses period settings and costumes spiced with anachronistic details, including a plastic garbage bag, a computer (with an orange instead of apple as logo), cell phones and headphones. When disguised as the student Lindoro, Count Almaviva wears jeans, a down jacket and a “Sevilla” hoodie. Later he sports aviator glasses when disguised as a soldier, and enters Bartolo’s house in the final act as a Mormon missionary, singing “Peace and happiness be with you.”
Hilarity is piled upon hilarity, all in the gleeful spirit of Rossinian comedy. Thanks to the direction and design team of Stephen Barlow (stage direction) and Andrew D. Edwards (scene and costume design) the comedy never flags, sometimes pushing the limits but never undermining the plot and music, nor crossing the line into self-indulgence. I cannot remember a more raucously entertaining evening of operatic comedy.
The cast had full command of the Rossinian style, with Jack Swanson (Almaviva) and Emily Fons (Rosina) particularly agile and clean in their delivery of the flighty lines that sink many a tenor and mezzo. Swanson had great comic energy and onstage chemistry with Joshua Hopkin’s self-possessed, strutting Figaro. Fons captured attention anytime she was on stage and followed her character’s emotional twists and turns from boredom, to confidence, to (briefly) fury, to joy at opera’s end.
Kevin Burdette as Dr. Bartolo proved a master of physical comedy as well as a versatile and polished singer. Far from the stiff diplomat he played in M. Butterfly, he was agile and flexible, singing while attempting yoga poses (more anachronistic merriment), while climbing the walls (literally) or sliding out of a chair. Every moment he was on stage was a potential moment of unexpected laughs.
Nicholas Newton (subbing for Ryan Speedo Green) was vocally imposing and on target as the pompous but venal Don Basilio, always available to the highest bidder. He provided the best updated joke of the entire show, producing his “Orange”-brand computer as he sang about how to harness the rapid spread of slander.
SFO apprentice artist Murella Parton brought energy and liveliness to the role of Berta, Bartolo’s housekeeper. Always a figure of calm and good sense in the midst of the comic madness, she exploded out of her shell and enchanted the audience during her one aria, when she unexpectedly became a figure of glamour, swirling in a sparkly dress accompanied by four top-hatted dancers.
Conductor Iván López-Reynoso elicited a crisp and transparent sound from the orchestra. A worthy partner of the singers, he kept a brisk and sparkling pace that matched their comic energy. Once again the orchestra outdid itself.
In these two comic masterpieces, Falstaff and Barber of Seville, the Santa Fe Opera has delivered two peerless productions. Each is well worth the trip to New Mexico. If there are tickets left by the time you read this, they may be found HERE.
Reviews of Carmen, M. Butterfly and Tristan und Isolde
By Peter Alexander Aug. 8 at 10:38 p.m.
The 2022 summer season at the Santa Fe Opera features three very different operas about three very different experiences of love—Bizet’s Carmen, the word premiere of Huang Ruo’s M. Butterfly, and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde—as well as two of the great operatic comedies, Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Verdi’s Falstaff. First the love stories, if that’s what they are; I will write about the comedies in a later post.
Carmen (I saw the performance of Aug. 2) is about a soldier’s obsessive love for a free-spirited woman. Don José is subject to the most violent passions over which he has no control, while Carmen remains an independent women who makes her own decisions right to the end, though it cost her her life. The score contains some of the most memorable music opera can offer. In Santa Fe the music was mostly in evidence, but the production was a confounding mishmash.
Director Mariame Clément and designer Julia Hansen had lots of ideas, but they added up to confusion more than concept. All four scenes were placed on the grounds of an abandoned third-rate carnival, with remnants of a roller-coaster track framing the stage, a solitary bumper car downstage left, randomly placed ticket booths and other suggestions of a long-forgotten fairgrounds. The costumes were somewhere between the 1970s and the present day, with Micaela dressed in bib overalls and a backpack, Carmen in drab student outfits, the smugglers in undistinguished modern dress. The soldiers were dressed in bland pale-green.
Most confounding was a solitary child dancer, unidentified in the program but actually the seven-year-old daughter of bass Kevin Burdette who appeared in two of the summer’s other productions. She appeared repeatedly, sometimes pantomiming the music as in the opening prelude, at other times engaging with the characters. She bravely did all that was asked of her and moved with winning grace, but came across as just another idea that had no obvious point.
There were other gratuitous ideas throughout—smugglers carrying their contraband in upscale shopping bags, jugglers and tumblers among the Roma band, unmotivated entrances and exits by the chorus—but the evening was redeemed by the musical performance. The standout was Michael Fabiano as an ardent, impulsive Don José. He sang with a strong, expressive voice that commanded attention.
Isabel Leonard’s Carmen did not quite match his interpretation. She has a smoky voice that suits Carmen well, but lacked fire in her scenes with José. Her best moments were the Act I habanera, which elicited a strong ovation in spite of some aimless direction, and the card scene in Act III. At other times the directors left her looking lost on stage.
Michael Sumuel has a strong, commanding voice as Escamillo. He conveys the swagger and self-assurance one wants in the toreador, although the staging did not always work in his favor. Sylvia D’Eramo sang with sweetness of tone and expression as Micaëla, but had to push to be heard. Her lovely Scene 3 aria was marred by having the chorus of Roma women crowd around her for what should be an introspective moment of courage and fear.
The other roles in the Roma band—Magdalena Ku´zma and Kathleen Felty as Frasquita and Mercédes, Luke Sutliff and Anthony León as Dancaïre and Remendado—were handled ably, with sparkling precision in the treacherous quintet. David Crawford was vocally strong as the arrogant Lt. Zuniga, bringing out his contempt for Don José and his officer’s sense of entitlement toward Carmen.
Conductor Harry Bicket kept the pace well and held all the tricky ensemble numbers together, including the quintet, just. The orchestral preludes were played with beauty and expression by the orchestra, particularly the flute and harp duo before Act III. The Santa Fe Opera chorus lent their weight and outstanding voices to their scenes, particularly before the bullfight in the final scene.
A word about the version that is being performed: Santa Fe is using the dialog that was used at the first performance in Paris, rather than the recitatives composed later by Ernest Giraud. The spoken text gives some useful background that is missing in the later version. One significant cut has been made: the charming children’s chorus that accompanies the changing of the guard has been removed. Apart from he loss of music that Carmen fans will miss, the appearance of José onstage seems sudden and unexplained.
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If Carmen is about love as obsession, Huang Ruo’sM. Butterfly(Aug. 3) is about love as deception. Based on David Henry Hwang’s Tony-winning play of the same name, M. Butterfly adapts the true story of a French diplomat in Beijing who carried on a multi-year love affair with a Chinese opera singer without ever knowing that “she” was in fact a man. They both were later arrested in Paris for espionage after the diplomat shared official documents with his lover.
Ruo’s score skillfully keeps the voices prominent at all times, so that the text—thanks to the careful diction throughout by the excellent Santa Fe Opera cast—is always understandable. Credit is especially due to baritone Mark Stone in the huge role as the French diplomat, named René Gallimard in the opera, and countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim as his lover, Song Liling in the opera. Both their dialog and their individual arias were clearly sung.
Ruo sets the text with expressive vocal lines that are supported emotionally and musically by the orchestra. The result is a score of eloquent melodic speech, effectively exploring the leading characters’ emotional journeys and Gallimard’s self-deception in fascinating depth. Choruses add drama, and arias by the two leading characters add emotional depth without lingering in the memory.
There are missed opportunities in the score. For example, Song’s “I am your Butterfly” is an emotional turning point, and could be occasion for musical emphasis, but simply repeating the phrase is not enough to make the moment climactic. The pair of arias by the two lovers in the second act are memorable, but they are eloquent without reaching lyrical beauty. While Ruo does not shy away from atonality and dissonance, the music is always in service of the text, so that the opera remains “accessible” to all but the most hidebound conservatives.
The powerful exploration of human interiority and capacity for self-deception make M. Butterfly an important new opera. The reveal of Song’s true gender is a shattering moment. My one criticism of the score is that the musical texture is so unvaried that it approaches monotony. Individual voices move in heightened speech over well-crafted orchestra support; every chorus is set with all parts in rhythmic unison. While this aids intelligibility, it does not add variety to the texture.
The opera opens with a headline projected on the stage, “France Jails Two in Odd Case of Espionage” while the chorus, representing stunned Parisians at a cocktail party, mock Gallimard for his sexual gullibility. This virtuoso setting of gossip and laughter sets the stage for the following story and shows off the Santa Fe Opera chorus. The rest of the story is told in flashback, with Gallimard in prison recalling the course of his affair with Song. A series of connected scenes, effectively evoked by projections and moving panels, carry the story from Gallimard’s arrival in Beijing, to the Chinese Opera, to Song’s apartment and back to Paris and the courtroom where the lovers are convicted of espionage.
As the title suggests, both the story and the music contain references to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, representing the history of Western objectification of all Asian women, regardless of nationality. Ranging from direct quotation of the familiar aria “Un bel di” to subtle evocations of harmony and texture integrated into Ruo’s contemporary style, these Puccinian “Easter eggs” can be found throughout the opera, all the way to the very end when Gallimard chooses self-delusion over reality and envisions himself as Butterfly.
Various musical gestures recur through the score and help guide the listener through the labyrinth of emotions. Particularly striking was a nervous figure in the brass that appeared repeatedly as Gallimard fell into delusion, both as a lover and simultaneously as a diplomat trying to serve French interests in China.
The direction of James Robinson and designs by Allen Moyer (scenery) and James Schultz (costumes) kept the various locations and the plot line clear and supported the emotional arc. Dancers under choreographer Seán Curran made outstanding contributions to the opera both as Chinese cultural revolutionaries and dressers assisting Gallimard in his opera-ending transformation into Puccini’s Butterfly.
Conductor Carolyn Kuan managed the difficult task of evoking strength and power from the players where needed while keeping the orchestra subordinate to the voices. She maintained tight ensemble and evoked a rich orchestral sound while maintaining momentum to the very final chords.
Stone has by far the largest part. This is a major role for any baritone, not to be undertaken lightly. Singing with a resonant sound and conviction he made Gallimard a sympathetic character. Kim negotiated the countertenor register with both beauty of sound and enough strength to match Stone’s sound. His “Un bel di” announces his skill in the soprano register from the outset, and he never flags to the very final bars.
Kevin Burdette sang with an edgy sound that underscored the French ambassador’s distrust of Gallimard, equally appropriate when he appears later as the judge in Gallimard’s trial. Joshua Dennis made an effective brief appearance as Gallimard’s disdainful childhood friend, Marc, in a scene that illuminates Gallimard’s insecurity. Hung Wu struck the right tone of arrogant command as the communist party cadre Shu Fang.
There can be a special magic in the Santa Fe Opera’s open-air theater when music, drama and the capricious high desert weather work together. During the two lovers’ first night together, Song declaims “Ah, beautiful night.” And it was.
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Richard Wagner’sTristan und Isolde (Aug. 5) is not really an opera about romantic love. The subject that inspired the composer and inhabits the opera from beginning to end is Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophical notion of physical love as a yearning for oblivion—the “love death” with which the opera ends—and the corollaries of night as the realm of love and day as the realm of shallow reality. That was the opera’s underlying subject, but that said, there is enough action to provide a dramatic framework on which Wagner hung his lengthy monologues about day, night, love and death.
The Santa Fe Opera has long wanted to produce Tristan, a goal finally reached this summer. The only previous Wagner opera at Santa Fe was Flying Dutchman in the 1970s and ‘80s. Continuing this trend, the company has announced Dutchman again for the 2023 season.
Most Tristan productions today, including Santa Fe’s, feature abstract sets—no ship, no sails, no rocky cliffs. This lack of specific place helps bring the deeper subject to the surface, serving Wagner’s underlying purpose. Here the well-engineered set by Charlap Hyman & Herrero comprised large panels that fold, shift, and open to create the spaces in which the action takes place.
So far so good, but abstract sets can create dramatic problems. In the first act, Tristan sings “If I left the helm, who would guide us to King Marke’s shore?”—while strolling across an empty stage with no helm in view. Other scenes that seem to contradict the text occur during the opera’s 4 1/2 hours.
A critical element of the production was John Torres’s lighting design that reinforced the text’s emphasis on light and dark, effectively tying libretto and set together. Most dramatically, as day breaks in the second act while Tristan and Isolde remain in the raptures of love, they remain enveloped in a penumbra of shadow while the dawn, threatening their imminent discovery, gradually fills the rest of the set.
Santa Fe has assembled an exceptionally strong cast. The three largest roles, Tristan, Isolde and Brangäne—all in their Santa Fe Opera debuts—were uniformly strong and well matched. Tamara Wilson brought a soaring, powerful voice to the role of Isolde. Her vocal expression ranged from palpable anger and fierce hatred at the outset to intense passion and her crucial transformation to ecstasy.
Simon O’Neill is a true heldentenor, with just the heft and edge to cut through the orchestra. The love duets with Isolde rose to the heights of passion. He sang expressively throughout, although his onstage presence tended to be wooden. His best moments were in his lengthy monologue as he faces the coming of night and death in the final act; ironically, he was more alive in his death scene than in the earlier acts.
Jamie Barton was outstanding in the crucial role of Isolde’s maid Brangäne. Whether resisting Isolde’s despair, warning of betrayal, or embracing her own despair at having disobeyed her mistress, she was dramatically solid and vocally splendid.
Nicholas Brownlee, a former SFO apprentice who sang Mozart’s Figaro here in 2021, filled the role of Kurwenal. Solid, imposing, he rarely sang below forte. While this reveals the character’s strength, more nuance would be welcome. Eric Owens brought dignity to the betrayed and forgiving King Marke. He was somber and rich-voiced in his Act II monologue, but sometimes blurry in pitch.
Tristan provides a real challenge for stage directors: the pacing is not theatrical. In fact, the score is often more like a tone poem with voices, as action that only needs a moment is stretched into long reflective musical passages, virtual whole movements on betrayal, passion, or death. In that respect, it resembles Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (which Wagner knew well, and from which he borrowed several ideas including the music for the consumption of the love potion) more than any previous opera.
One good example is King Marke’s lengthy monologue when he discovers Tristan and Isolde’s betrayal. This passage is an eloquent reflection of his emotional state, but all he really says (to Tristan) is “I raised you from childhood, and yet you betrayed me!” The musical expression is powerful, but dramatically nothing happens for ten whole minutes.
Limited by the pace of Wagner’s score, the stage direction by Zack Winokur and Lisenka Heijboer Castañón was necessarily more stately than dramatic. Nonetheless, they kept the focus on the important characters and made the action clear.
James Gaffigan led the Santa Fe orchestra with a welcome sense of direction. The music never lagged, and the orchestral sound was as exciting as Wagner requires. Two members of the orchestra deserve special notice: Michael Taylor Eiffert played the numerous bass clarinet solos with surprising delicacy (disclosure: as a clarinetist I was especially enthralled by his playing); and Julia DeRosa played the extensive Act III English horn solos with flowing beauty.
The moment that everyone awaits—those hardy enough to stay to the end—is of course the Liebestod when Isolde undergoes transformation by grief and ecstasy. Wilson sailed through the carefully paced scene, ending as she should on the crest of the wave before literally disappearing into the night and Wagner’s metaphoric oblivion.
NOTE: Remaining dates for the 2022 season at the Santa Fe Opera can be found on the SFO Web page.
CORRECTION (8/10): As originally posted, the article gave the title of Huang Ruo’s opera incorrectly as M Butterfly. There should a period after the M: M. Butterfly.