Saturday, November 17, 2012

San Francisco Opera’s Tosca

November 15, 2012

San Francisco lost its Tosca a little ahead of schedule Thursday. Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu, having delivered an excellent first-act performance, was suddenly off to the hospital, suffering the ravages of intestinal flu. (Next-day reports had Gheorghiu resting comfortably, recuperating from severe dehydration.)

Fortunately, SFO’s high-stakes run of Puccini’s opera – featuring Patricia Racette in the alternate cast – also featured a top-notch understudy. Soprano Melody Moore, a product of SFO’s Adler Fellow program, has performed Figaro’s Contessa, Bohème’s Mimi, and also created the role of Susan Rescorla in SFO’s 2011 world premiere of Heart of a Soldier.

Following an extended intermission while Moore got into costume and make-up, she was thrust into the turmoil of Act 2, but not before a beautifully apt introduction, Baron Scarpia’s comment on the delayed concert next door: “With the diva still missing, they can’t start the cantata.” Conductor Nicola Luisotti duly paused as a round of laughter rolled through the opera house.

Moore seemed a little unsure at the opening of the act (conveniently fitting the mental state of her character), but a few well-placed screams at the torturing of her Mario had her fully warmed up, exhibiting a tone a bit more on the dramatic side of Tosca’s lirico/drammatico split. The lyricism was certainly there, however, for “Vissi d’arte.” Moore sang the piece to perfection, applying a bracing piano to its penultimate phrase, and seemed to be held aloft on the wishes of an entire opera house, all of them seemingly holding their breaths. I don’t know if I have witnessed a more inspiring moment in the theater.

Moore then shifted back to dramatic, applying a forceful vocal presence to her wrestling match with Scarpia, and then to the chilling taunts delivered over the villain’s corpse. Considering the circumstances, her execution of the scene’s complex movements was a miracle unto itself. The trick seemed even more amazing the following day, when SFO reported that this was Moore’s first performance of the role. She was duly rewarded for her courage: the audience remained subdued during the other singers’ curtain calls so that they could burst to their feet at Moore’s appearance, certainly a more memorable ovation than most performers will receive in a lifetime.

The evening’s drama had the unintended effect of overshadowing some superb performances. Italian baritone Roberto Frontali, a memorable Jack Rance in SFO’s 2010 La Fanciulla del West, delivered a Scarpia that was divinely creepy. Frontali was particulary good in the Act 1 Te Deum, savoring his lascivious dreams of Tosca even as his followers sing the sacred liturgy behind him (even today, Puccini’s musical meshing of the sacred and profane – including the Act 2 cantata-interrogation scene, seem astoundingly radical).

The pronounced vocal technique of Pompeiian tenor Massimo Giordano was initially a little distracting, but it’s hard to argue with the results, first revealed in the heart-melting tribute to Tosca’s eyes preceding the “Mia gelosa” duet, and later in a beautifully understated performance of “E lucevan le stelle.” We can also assume that both Frontali and Giordano played a significant part in navigating Moore through her maiden voyage.

Dale Travis endowed the Sacristan with an endearing crabbiness, helped by a particularly rascally group of altar boys. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn delivered the fugitive Angelotti with a thunderous tone and a genuinely desperate countenance. Luisotti’s orchestra played sumptuously, particularly the sweeping strings following Scarpia’s killing and the many outbursts of brass announcing Scarpia (has anyone short of Darth Vader had better entrance music?). The set is Thierry Bosquet’s 1997 trompe l’oeil masterpiece, based on a set originally used by SFO in 1923.

Through Dec. 2, alternating casts, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. $22-$340, 415/864-3330,

Images: Melody Moore as Tosca, Roberto Frontali as Scarpia (taken from the wings during the performance). Photos by Kirsten Loken.

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of the novel Operaville, available at

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ailing Gheorghiu Leaves Tosca Opener in San Francisco

A bit of excitement at San Francisco's opera house last night. Angela Gheorghiu, playing Tosca, was sent off to the hospital after the first act with intestinal flu (haven't heard how she is, but hopefully that means everything's okay). Melody Moore, her cover, filled in and, after a little warming up in Act 2, just absolutely shone. Gorgeous "Vissi 'd'arte," standing O, all the things you'd expect to see in a Hollywood movie. I'll have a full review up tomorrow, but meanwhile here's a shot by SFO photog Kristen Loken of Moore taking what must have been some very memorable bows.

SFO reports that Gheorghiu is doing fine, having recovered from severe dehydration. They also report that, though Moore has done many roles with SF Opera before, this was her role debut as Tosca. I might add, you never would have known Gheorghiu was ailing from her performance; she was her usual excellent self.

Below, another shot, captured from the wings: Melody Moore with baritone Roberto Frontali as Scarpia. Photos by Kristen Loken.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Opera San Jose: Die Fledermaus

November 10, 2012

Stage director Marc Jacobs has fashioned a raucous Fledermaus, making the most of the comic possibilities despite some flaws in his cast. The Act 2 party scene is so genuinely spontaneous and energetic, one is tempted to jump onstage and grab a bottle of bubbly.

Fledermaus’s vast silliness demands a solid core, and Saturday’s pair, soprano Melody King as Rosalinde and tenor James Callon as Eisenstein, proved a little low on presence. King had her moments – a solemn introduction to the insincere Act 1 trio “So muss allein ich bleiben?” – but her delivery of the Act 2 csárdás was terribly unfocused, particularly for a character who’s trying to convince the party guests that she’s a Hungarian duchess. Callon improves as he gets more fake-drunk, and he delivers some fetching top-notes by opera’s end.

The supporting cast is packed with gems both musical and comical, beginning with OSJ alum Michael Dailey, the epitome of the dashing tenor Alfred, taking some time out from his bad accent to deliver a lovely rendition of the seduction song “Trinke, Liebchen, trinke schnell” (and later being throttled halfway through “La donna é Mobilé). Baritone Zachary Altman plays the practical joker Dr. Falke with a calm treachery, and gives a velvet performance of the poignant waltz “Brüderlein und Schwesterlein.” Bass-baritone Isaiah Musik-Ayala contributed his usual strong vocals to the jailer Frank, along with some hilarious visual comedy in the final act. Mezzo Nicole  Birkland was suitably over-the-top as Prince Orlofsky, but did a few too many conductor staredowns, looking for cues.

But now I save the best for last. I’ve seen (and heard) Jillian Boye in many smaller roles, and have always loved her voice, a brilliant lyric instrument, light in flexibility but surprisingly powerful. It’s wonderful to see her getting heftier roles, including last season’s Musetta and, in Fledermaus, the fantastically entertaining soubrette Adele. Her evening began with the chambermaid’s cadenzas of joy at the receipt of a party invitation, and continued into two of the opera’s most entertaining pieces, the Act 2 ‘laughing song’ (“Mein Herr Marquis”) and the Act 3 tribute to bad acting, “Spiel’ ich die Unschuld vom Lande,” both delivered with great aplomb. Boye displayed a perfect comic sense, a seamless stage presence and a fake sob (à la Carol Burnett) that never failed to bring gales of laughter.

Prince Orlofsky’s wild Act 2 ball is helped immensely by dancers from the Ballet San Jose school and their athletic polka, as well as the enthusiasm and some purposely bad dancing from the chorus. Conductor David Rohrbaugh and his orchestra proved especially adept at the score’s many tempo changes and gradual accelerandos. Charlie Smith’s all-purpose set is at its best as the Eisenstein’s Act 1 conservatory, an airy solarium with soaring walls of faux glass. Costume designer Cathleen Edwards saved her best for Rosalinde, stunning dresses in, respectively, green, pink and copper, one for each act. The scrim was a clever touch, an enormous front page from a newspaper titled (what else?) Die Fledermaus, reporting on the events of the opera. And yes, someone managed to slip a quote from “Lady Marmalade” into the English (and sometimes French) dialogue.

Alternating casts. Sung in German, with spoken dialogues in English. Through November 25, California Theater, 345 S. First St., San Jose. $51-$111, 408/437-4450,

Images: Soprano Jillian Boye as Adele. Baritone Isaiah Musik-Ayala as Frank. Photos by Pat Kirk.

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of the novel Operaville, available at