Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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In Quest of Donizetti and Bellini – November 2016 to August 2017

October 23rd, 2016

The popularity of the operas of Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini, both of whom tragically died young, continue to increase, and the dramatic possibilities of their operas from the early 19th century continue to be explored.

I will be reporting on productions at the Washington National Opera, The Dallas Opera, the Santa Fe Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival.


Donizetti, La Fille du Regiment, Washington National Opera, November 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20, 2016.

Lisette Oropesa is Marie and Lawrence Brownlee is Tonio for five of eight scheduled performances of the best-known of Donizetti’s French operas (November 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20). Andriana Churchman and Andrew Stenson sing the roles on November 13, 17 and 19. Kevin Burdette and Deborah Nansteel are, respectively, Sergeant Sulpice and the Marquise of Birkenfeld for all performances.

[Below: Lawrence Brownlee will be Tonio and Lisette Oropesa will be Marie in Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment”; edited image, based on a publicity photograph from kennedy-center.org.]


On the opening night performance (November 12), U. S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg appears in the non-singing role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Cindy Gold plays Krakenthorp in the other seven performances. TImothy J. Burno, Hunter Enoch and Randy Snight round out the cast. Robert Longbottom directs. The sets are by James Noone, the costumes by Zack Brown. Christopher Allen conducts.


Bellini, Norma, The Dallas Opera, April 21, 23, 26, 29 and May 7, 2017.

Elza van den Heever is Norma, Yonghoon Lee is Pollione, Mithra Mastropierro is Adalgisa and Christian Van Horn is Pollione.

[Below: the Druids gather in the Cincinnati Opera production of Bellini’s “Norma” with sets and costumes by John Conklin; edited image, based on a production photograph for the Cincinnati Opera.]


The production’s sets and costumes are by John Conklin. Emmanuel Villaume conducts.


Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor, Santa Fe Opera, July 1, 7, 12, 21, 31, August 5, 8, 12, 16 and 24, 2017.

Brazilian Director Ron Daniels, whose Santa Fe Opera debut occurred in 2016 with Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” mounts Donizetti’s quintessential tragic opera, “Lucia di Lammermoor”, starring lyric coloratura Brenda Rae in the title role.

[Below: Brenda Rae as Lucia in the Vienna Staatsoper production of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”; edited image, based on a Michael Pohn photograph for the Vienna State Opera.]


Mario Chang is Edgardo, Zachary Nelson is Enrico. Corrado Rovaris conducts.


Donizetti, The Siege of Calais [L’Assedio di Calais], Glimmerglass Festival, July 16(m), 22, 24(m), August 4, 10, 12(m), 15(m) and 19(m), 2017.

The story of Donizetti’s worthy but rarely performed “Siege of Calais” centers on acts of heroism in the Hundred Years’ War between France and England.

The historical event, Donizetti’s opera and the perceived relevance of Calais’ events to contemporary times has inspired Glimmerglass Festival’s General Director Francesca Zambello to stage a new production of the work

[Below: A scene from the 2015 English Touring Company production of Donizetti’s “L’Assedio di Calais [The Siege of Calais]”; edited image, based on a photograph for the English Touring Company.]


Aleksandra Romano is Aurelio, Leah Crocetto is Eleonora. The sets are by James Noone, the costumes by Jessica Jahn. Joseph Colaneri conducts.


This list is supplementary to previous lists in this “Quests and Anticipations” series of selected operas being performed through August 2017:

Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the San Francisco Opera. [See In Quest of Puccini’s “Tosca” and “Butterfly” in the American Southwest – October 2015 to December 2016.]

Janacek’s “The Makropulos Case” at the San Francisco Opera. [See In Quest of Operatic Masterpieces from the German and Czech Repertories – April- November, 2016.]

Heggie’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Houston Grand Opera [See In Quest of Repertory-Expanding Operas – April-December, 2016.]

Verdi’s “Aida” at the San Francisco Opera. [See In Quest of Live Performances of Popular Operas – May-November, 2016.]

Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” at the Houston Grand Opera and Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” at the Santa Fe Opera [See In Quest of Operatic Comedy – July 2016 – August 2017.]

Gounod’s “Faust” at the Houston Grand Opera, Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” at The Dallas Opera, Weber’s “Der Freischütz” at the Virginia Opera and Montemezzi’s “L’Amore dei Tre Re” at the Sarasota Opera [See In Quest of Intriguing Operas, Casts and Productions – October 2016-March 2017.]

Berlioz’ “Les Troyens” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Janacek’s “Katya Kabanova” at the Seattle Opera, Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann” at the Los Angeles Opera and Wagner’s Götterdammerüng at the Houston Grand Opera [See In Quest of Less-Often Performed Core Repertory Operas – November 2016 -May 2017.]

Tags: Quests and Anticipations

Verdi and Verismo: An Interview with Baritone George Gagnidze

October 18th, 2016

The following interview took place at the War Memorial Opera House, in conjunction with a rehearsal of Francesca Zambello’s new production of Verdi’s “Aida”, with the much-appreciated facilitation of the San Francisco Opera.


[Below: Georgian baritone George Gagnidze; edited image of a Maik Reishaus photograph, courtesy of George Gagnidze.]


Wm: What are your earliest memories of music?

GG: When I was three years old my mother took me to a photographer in order to take a family photo portrait.  For the photo set-up the photographer gave me a small accordion that I didn’t want to let go after the photo shoot, so my mother had to buy it from the him.

Wm: When did you for become aware of opera, and when how you become interested in being an opera performer? Who influenced or encouraged your pursuing vocal studies.

GG: I was 15 years old and I saw Luciano Pavarotti in TV. That was my first encounter with Opera, his voice was so beautiful and unique! After hearing him I wanted to try reproducing the same sound the very next day.

[Below: George Gagnidze as the Boyar Shaklovity in a 2012 New York Metropolitan Opera performance of Mussorgsky’s “Khovanschina”; edited image of a Ken Howard photograph for the Metropolitan Opera.]


Wm: Many of us have associated the Republic of Georgia with the ancient lands of Colchis and Iberia, in which Medea, Jason and the Argonauts were supposed to have lived; in recent decades, Georgia, whose total population is less that half that of Los Angeles County, has produced a remarkable number of international opera singers. Are there aspects of the Georgian culture that you feel encourages operatic careers?

GG: Yes, Georgia is a country with a great cultural tradition. Folklore music and dance is very important. When I was a kid, I played the guitar and sang with my sister. On the radio and TV I always listened to Georgian folk music.

[Below: Baritone George Gagnidze and Soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, both artists from the Republic of Georgia, backstage at La Scala at a performance of Verdi’s “Aida”; edited image, based on a photograph from Facebook/Anita Rachvelishvili.]


Wm: Since your opera debut 20 years ago, you have become an established international opera star. What do you regard as the major mileposts of your career?

GG: I made my debut in 1996 at the Tbilisi National Opera with Verdi’s “Un ballo in maschera”. I was very young back then. I think the most important thing is the passion for music which should be at the first place in your life, then you can do everything.

[Below: George Gagnidze (front, left) is Rigoletto in a 2013 performance of Verdi’s “Aida” at the New York Metropolitan Opera, with Lisette Oropesa (front, right) as Gilda, Vittorio Grigolo (back, left) as the Duke of Mantua and Nancy Fabiola Herrera (back, right) as Maddalena; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph for the Metropolitan Opera.]


Wm: Your repertory is concentrated in Verdi’s heroic baritone roles and you’ve assumed as well dramatic roles from the verismo repertory. Which are your favorite roles? 

GG: I do sing dramatic baritone roles, but I love Verdi. I consider myself a “Verdi baritone” and Rigoletto or Simon Boccanegra are some of my favourite roles. In addition to from Carlo Gérard in the Verismo repertoire I also sing Scarpia, for example.

[Below: George Gagnidze as the Baron Scarpia in Puccini’s “Tosca” at the Vienna Staatsoper; edited image, based on a production photograph, courtesy of George Gagnidze.]


Wm: You have been a faculty member of the I.S.A.R.-Rheinau vocal academy near Strasbourg, France. What advice do you give young singers who study with you? What do you like best about teaching voice?

GG: It was a great experience and a lot of fun to be able to share my experience with young singers. The most important thing for me is to work on the breathing technique, text and phrasing.

[Below: George Gagnidze as Carlo Gérard in the 2016 San Francisco Opera production of Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier”; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Wm: Prior to your San Francisco Opera debut in September 2016, there have been only 23 performances in history of “Andrea Chénier” in the War Memorial Opera House, but the role of Gérard has been sung in these performances by some of the greatest baritone voices of the 20th century, including Richard Bonelli, Carlo Tagliabue, Robert Weede, Leonard Warren, Ettore Bastianini, Cornell MacNeil and Paolo Gavanelli. 

What are your thoughts as you prepare your role debut as Carlo Gérard in this historic operatic venue?

GG: I’m very happy of course, it was a very good debut and the reviews are fantastic. The San Francisco War Memorial House has a great tradition, some of the greatest baritones and at the same time some of my favorite singers such as Ettore Bastianini or Leonard Warren have sung here.

Wm: You have just begun rehearsals for Francesca Zambello’s new production of Verdi’s “Aida” in which you will sing Amonasro. What are your thoughts about the role of Amonasro and on working with Zambello?

GG: I like working on new productions, because it gives me an opportunity to dig into the character and drama. I also enjoy working in traditional productions as well, because I have the opportunity to create a character in a pre-existing concept. Francesca Zambello’s approach is very fresh. She is faithful to the story, while incorporating contemporary ideas.

Amonasro is not a long role in “Aida”, but it’s psychologically very important. Amonasro changes the direction of the opera’s story, from his first entrance. From the time of his duet with Aida in the Nile Scene, his fate and that of Aida and Radames all have changed.

I think about Amonasro and his people’s relationship to the great power, Egypt, and my own homeland, Georgia, which also is located near a great power. I find the story of the opera very interesting, with Amonasro’s emotional attachment to his daughter and his love for his country.

Wm: Thank you for spending this hour with me. I enjoyed our conversation.

GG: I did also. Thank you very much.

Tags: 2008-2016 William's Interviews

Review: Nadja Michael’s Arresting Performance in “Makropulos Case” – San Francisco Opera, October 14, 2016

October 16th, 2016

For her long-awaited return to the War Memorial Opera House, German soprano Nadja Michael takes on the role of Emilia Marty, the mysterious lead character in Janacek’s “The Makropulos Case”.

Effectively performed, the role of Emilia Marty can be a supreme achievement for a prima donna with a dramatic soprano voice and consummate acting skills. Michael’s performance was astonishing, projecting the emotions of a woman who has become bored by her long existence, yet is determined to prolong it.

[Below: Nadja Michael as Emilia Marty in the 2016 Olivier Tambosi production of Janacek’s “The Makropulos Case”; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


The opera, derived from a 1922 play of the same name by Czech science fiction writer Karel Capek (whose previous play “R.U.R.” introduced the word “robot” to the world’s languages), centers on the last few days of of a 337-year old temptress, desperately seeking the formula of the potion that had extended her life for centuries.

[Below: Emilia Marty (Nadja Michael) in the clown attire designed by Frank Philipp  Schlössmann; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Few operas provide the opportunity for a singer to dominate the performance.

A former mezzo-soprano, she has an astonishing vocal range and power voice. Clothed in Frank Philipp Schlössmann’s sophisticated costumes and platinum blonde hairstyle, she was an arresting presence in every scene. Michael as Emilia Marty seemed not to be an performer, but the actual Emilia Marty.

Michael’s  2010 San Francisco Opera debut in the title role of Richard Strauss’ “Salome” was one of the resounding successes of the company’s past decade [Nadja Michael a Sensation in Luisotti’s Soaring San Francisco “Salome” – October 18, 2009.] Her “Makropulos Case” is that performance’s equal. Appropriately, she received a spontaneous standing ovation from the War Memorial Opera House audience at opera’s end.

Charles Workman’s Albert Gregor and Stephen Powell’s Baron Jaroslav Prus

The “Makropulos Case’s” drama centers around the sudden appearance of Emilia Marty into the office of a law firm that has for decades handled a long-running dispute between the Gregor and Prus families.

Elina Marty is armed with precise knowledge of ancient documents related to the case, as well as intimate knowledge of the lives of the ancestors of the current protagonists.

[Below: Albert Gregor (Charles Workman, right) is astonished by the presence of Emilia Marty (Nadja Michael, left) and her knowledge of the existence and contents of a sealed document; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Those protagonists are Albert Gregor (effectively performed by Arkansas tenor Charles Workman, who has spent most of his career in Europe) and Baron Jaroslav Prus (sung with distinction by Pennsylvania baritone Stephen Powell).

[Below: A suspicious Baron Prus (Stephen Powell, right) finds himself sexually attracted to the mysterious actress Emilia Marty (Nadja Michael, left); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Other Cast Members and the Musical Performance 

The comprimario roles in “The Makropulos Case” provide some rich opportunities for distinctive characterizations.

These include two veterans of the 2010 performances. New Jersey bass-baritone Dale Travis is Dr Kolenaty (who rattles on about the century plus of milestones in the history of the Gregor-Prus lawsuit). Indiana character tenor Matthew O’Neill is the grizzled Count Hauk-Sendorf, who in his youth had been the lover of a previous manifestation of Emilia Marty, and is quite ready to resume the affair.

[Below: Dr Kolenaty (Dale Travis, right) and Albert Gregor (Charles Workman, left) are amazed at the information provided by Emilia Marty (Nadja Michael, center); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Another significant actor-singer, Ohio character tenor Joel Sorensen was the law clerk Vitek.

The role of Baron Prus’ son Janek, whose unsuccessful amorous pursuit of Marty leads to his suicide, was performed by Brenton Ryan in his San Francisco Opera debut. Ryan is familiar to Los Angeles Opera audiences [see Review: Los Angeles Opera Launches Ambitious New Production of “Ghosts of Versailles” – February 7, 2015] and a 2016 winner of Placido Domingo’s Operalia contest. One expects a major career from this artist. (Ryan’s 2010 predecessor in this production was spinto tenor Brian Jagde, who concurrently will be performing the lead role of Radames in San Francisco Opera’s new production of Verdi’s “Aida”.)

California soprano Julie Adams was Kristina. Latvian mezzo-soprano Zanda Svede performed the roles of the Cleaning Woman and the Chambermaid and Illinois bass-baritone Brad Walker was a Stagehand.

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra, most of whose members had played under the masterful conducting of Maestro Jirí Belohlávek’s “Makropulos Case” in 2010 and many of whom had played under the legendary Sir Charles Mackerras’ “Makropulos Case” in 1993, demonstrated its affection for the score. This year’s conductor was Mikhail Tatarnikov, in his San Francisco Opera debut.

The Olivier Tambosi-Frank Philipp Schlössmann Collaborations

This production of the “Makropulos Case” was created for the San Francisco Opera in 2010 by French director Olivier Tambosi and German designer Frank Philipp  Schlössmann (see Brilliant Belohlavek Conducts Mattila’s Masterful “Makropulos” – San Francisco Opera, November 28, 2010).

[Below: Emilia Marty (Nadja Michael, left center, on bed) is surrounded by Count Hauk-Sendorf (Matthew O’Neill, far left) and, from right to left Kristina (Julie Adams), Dr Kolenaty (Dale Travis), Vitek (Joel Sorensen), Baron Prus (Stephen Powell) and Albert Gregor (Charles Workman); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


An obvious favorite production team of former San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley, who retired this last midsummer, Tambosi and  Schlössmann created four of the productions seen during the Gockley era.

The company imported three of the team’s other famous productions – two additional opportunities to exhibit the dramatic skills of Finnish dramatic soprano Karita Mattila – Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” (World Class “Manon Lescaut” – S. F. Opera November 19, 2006 ) and Janacek’s “Jenufa” (Review: A Beautifully Performed “Jenufa” by Byström, Mattila and Burden, San Francisco Opera, June 19, 2016), as well as Verdi’s “Falstaff” for baritone Bryn Terfel (Bryn Terfel Triumphs in an Authoritative “Falstaff” – San Francisco Opera, October 9, 2013).

(Note that the large wall clocks that are such a striking feature of each of the “Makropulos” production’s scenes always give the current audience time, confirming that the dress rehearsal in which photographer Cory Weaver took the impressive production photos seen here took place in the afternoon.)


I recommend this opera, cast and production for the veteran opera-goer as well as the newcomer to opera – each of whom should find this melody-drenched opera with Nadja Michael’s stunning Emilia Marty to be a memorable theatrical experience.

Tags: 2005-2016: William's Reviews