Brasov Opera Orchestra concert at Sighisoara

We attended a wonderful concert last night, given by the Brasov Opera Orchestra in Sighisoara (Schassburg), at Casa de Cultura Mihai Eminescu, an old venue at the foot of the Sighisoara Castle. Sighisoara is a medieval city in the province of Transilvania, Romania.

There were two soloists: Cristian Braica, a wonderful Romanian contrabassist now based in Frankfurt, and Felicia Filip, a famous Romanian soprano of international renown. As the Opera Director aptly put it, the concert was an early Christmas celebration. The pieces were fantastic — classical hits imbued with solid rhythm, practiced to perfection. We were strongly impressed with the quality of the performance. In my opinion, this is a world class orchestra.

I recorded highlights of the 1 ½ hour concert with my N95 and uploaded the edited video clips (in two parts) to my SmugMug video log. They’re also available on YouTube in twoparts, and on Enjoy.


Washington National Opera's 2008 Rigoletto

This past Monday night, Ligia and I went to see WNO’s 2008 production of Verdi’s Rigoletto. Our overall impression was positive. All of the elements: cast, direction, costumes, lighting, decor, music contributed to make it a great production. There were a few things that could have been improved, and I’ll mention them below.

The Kennedy Arts Center also has its act together when it comes to taking care of its public. Free shuttles are provided from the nearest metro station (Foggy Bottom) directly to the building’s entrance, there are plenty of ushers to check tickets and direct people to their seats, the bathrooms are kept clean, and there are many concession stands in the grand foyer outside the opera hall to keep people’s appetites in check. Very nice job there.

The costumes were just wonderful: rich, colorful, beautiful — perfect. The lighting was done right: not too much, not too little. The sets were somewhat sparse, but the pieces put on stage looked fairly realistic and well-proportioned. The only problematic piece was the long feast table in Act II, which was horribly bare, and its matte paint showed all of the performers’ footsteps. I would have expected a more ornate and better-made piece for the Duke’s dining table.

The standout roles were performed by great singers, which was as expected. Carlos Alvarez did an amazing job as Rigoletto. He carried the role very well, and his voice was in top shape throughout. Joseph Calleja was great as well. He struck an imposing figure as the Duke, and his physique suited the clothes of that period well. Let’s just say he filled them in nicely. His voice was clear, wonderful and commanding.

Andrea Silvestrelli, as Sparafucile, was my personal favorite. That mountain of a man has a bass voice that makes the hall boom. It literally fills the room and makes your intestines shiver. I kid you not. And what a great guy! At the end of the performance, he proved his sense of humor by trying to crawl under the curtain to get one more round of applause!

There were a couple of roles which could have been cast better, but I’d rather not mention those people directly by name, to spare them any embarrassment. I’ll refer to them by their stage roles. Count Monterone’s voice unfortunately just couldn’t get past the orchestra. Oh, he had an impressive stage presence, but when you put all your might into the role and the audience can barely hear you, perhaps it’s not the role for you.

I wouldn’t have been so annoyed with this except the father’s curse uttered by Monterone is key to this opera. If you can’t get someone with a truly booming voice to pronounce the curse, someone that can strike fear into the hearts of the audience and blast past the orchestra, then it’s a letdown for the spectator. It’s true, Monterone’s role is a small one, and you won’t be able to get big names for it, but you should still try to get someone with a big voice, right?

Gilda was another choice that didn’t quite work out for me. The singer was charismatic and had a good stage presence, but her voice barely carried past the orchestra unless she sang high notes, where her voice was particularly strong. The orchestra helped her a bit by playing softer when she sang, but it still wasn’t quite enough. By contrast, the orchestra didn’t help Monterone. The poor fellow sang at the top of his lungs and his voice kept bouncing off the orchestral sound wall. Things didn’t quite work out for him.

In Act III, during the thunderstorm, when Rigoletto, Gilda, Sparafucile and Maddalena sing together — that’s another scene where the orchestra played too loudly and we couldn’t hear the singers. Rigoletto and Sparafucile in particular had very powerful voices, yet I could barely hear them during that particular scene because of the thunder effects and the orchestra. Shouldn’t they have adjusted their playing to allow the players’ voices to come through? After all, this was an opera, not a concert.

In spite of my gripes, Ligia and I really enjoyed ourselves. It was a great performance with many talented singers, and it was well worth our time and money. If you have a chance to go before the performances run out, do it.

[Photos courtesy of the Washington National Opera]


The World Bank’s First Opera Gala

Ligia and I attended the World Bank’s first Opera Gala today. The singers who participated in the program were an eclectic mix: previous and existing bank employees, students enrolled in opera programs at local universities, and professionals. The Gala Program and the Artist Bios can be accessed by clicking on each of their respective links.

The music selections were best hits (well known arias from well known operas). Since most in the audience were already familiar with the music, this gave us all a chance to see how each singer interpreted it. In other words, we were able to compare their performances with the standards we’ve come to expect. Overall, Ligia and I found the program good, with several standout performances.

By far, my favorite performance was that of Helen Toni, when she sang “Vedrai, carino” from Don Giovanni. She’s a retired Bank employee, and was a member of the WB-IMF Chorus for 20 years. She sang that aria just right. Her voice was soft and sweet, not loud, and right on the notes. Ligia and I were both smiling through her performance. It was very, very good.

Another standout performance was given by Cara and Patricia Rogers (daughter and mother, respectively) in “Sull’ aria”, from Le Nozze di Figaro. It was evident they did their homework by practicing it properly. The timing was right on, the voices matched – it was a joy to hear it! Cara then gave another great performance in “Quando men vo”, from La Boheme.

Kimiko Shimada has a great voice and showed its range in “Ebben?… Ne andro lontana” from La Wally. Her powerful voice has a pronounced tremolo.

Last but not least, Yoshinori Hosaka played exquisitely on those pieces where he accompanied the singers. Clearly he is a very good and dedicated piano player. He did not seek the public’s attention, but fulfilled his role as an accompanist perfectly by allowing the singers to shine.

In the end, we were happy to attend. Even though the auditorium where the gala took place wasn’t built for opera, and the voices couldn’t travel properly, it was still a promising start to what I hope will be a regular, annual event at the World Bank. Perhaps a new hall could be found for next year?