By Marilyn Farwell

For The Register-Guard

PUBLISHED: 12:00 A.M., JAN. 3

Eugene Opera relied once again on the tried and true for its traditional New Year’s Eve production, and while I tire of repeated Carmens and Bohemes, Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” of 1853, an operatic gem from his incredibly creative middle period, is music I always welcome.

Eugene Opera’s production was predictably traditional, and the singing was competent but not exceptional. Leah Partridge, however, elevated the performance with her poignant portrayal of the lead character, the consumptive Violetta.

The test this production presented for the company was whether it could maintain the musical and dramatic standards it set for itself in last year’s powerful “Dead Man Walking.” Stage director Bill Fabris kept the action moving, and conductor Andrew Bisantz drew out the pathos of the story in long, breathless lines, contrasting these phrases nicely with the bubbly party music.

But with staid trompe-l’oeil backdrops relieved only by sparkling costumes representing mid-19th century Paris, and with staging that did not upset anyone, this production did not match the excitement of the modern operas the company so beautifully produced in the past two seasons.

The three major characters of “La Traviata” (The Fallen Woman) are typical of 19th-century romantic opera: The tenor and soprano are lovers whom the baritone forces apart until the last act, when one of them dies. Perhaps because of opening night jitters, two of the principle artists had serious intonation problems.

Vale Rideout, who played Alfredo, has a pleasant, light, and agile tenor that he used impressively to shape his musical lines, but for too much of the opera he sang on the sharp side of his notes. He came into his own dramatically and musically in the last two acts.

Baritone Jake Gardner as the father, who disturbs the lovers’ plans, looked the part, has a solid voice, but too often sang flat.

It was left to Partridge to rescue the evening’s singing, and this she did impressively. Her vocal timbre changes depending on the pressure she exerts on her vocal chords. At a pianissimo level, her voice can be rich and sweet, as she demonstrated in the moving section, “Dite alla giovine” in Act II. At a higher volume her sound can turn harsh, as it did in Act I’s “Sempre libera.” Most notably, however, she carefully sculpted her musical lines to the meaning of the words. Divas also must treat dying as an art, and in the last act Partridge demonstrated that she has mastered the form.

The orchestra played well, especially in the Prelude, but because Bisantz chose to elongate the pathos of this opening section, he had nowhere left to go when this music was repeated before the last act.

Save for a few disconnections between the pit and the chorus, John Jantzi’s chorus was in good voice and gave the party scenes a sense of brio. Of the numerous comprimario roles, Brooke Cagno as the maid and Nicholas Larson as Gastone stood out.

Marilyn Farwell, a professor emerita of English at the University of Oregon, reviews vocal and choral music for The Register-Guard.


La Traviata

When: 7:30 p.m. today; 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Hult Center, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

Tickets: $20 to $69; hultcenter.org or 541-682-5000

from the Performing Arts Alliance:  http://theperformingartsalliance.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=4781.0
 Action Alert

Lend your voice to Protect Giving Day 2013!



On Wednesday, November 20th, members of the Performing Arts Alliance (PAA) will join over 200 nonprofit leaders representing the arts and human services organizations on Capitol Hill to petition their representatives to preserve the charitable deduction.
The charitable deduction encourages giving to the nonprofit performing arts. On average, 40% of the annual revenue to the nonprofit performing arts field comes from private contributions. These funds support a number of activities such as the creation and presentation of works of art. They also support programs in which arts and human services organizations partner together to address critical community issues such as education, health, poverty, and accessibility to the arts. As comprehensive tax reform remains on the horizon, lawmakers continue to consider various options that would reduce the tax incentive for charitable giving, which could result in fewer contributions to nonprofits.
PAA is working in coalition with other nonprofits urging Congress to:

  • Preserve incentives for charitable giving by protecting the charitable tax deduction from rate caps or other new limitations.
  • Reject any attempts to divide the charitable sector which would create a hierarchy of tax deductibility favoring certain types of charities over others.

Add your voice to Protect Giving Day on November 20! Contact Congress and tell them how your organization’s work in your community is supported by the charitable deduction, and how it would be affected by a decrease in contributions.

Click here to send a customizable letter to your representative.
To learn more about charitable giving policies, visit the PAA Issue Center.

I have to admit that I was expecting this article would talk about different types of sopranos…


Opera America is asking for first opera experiences.  Mine was Wozzeck at the Met:  Evelyn Lear, Geraint Evans, Colin Davis.   I loved it!


Don’t forget the AMPs this Sunday!



Each year, organizations and individuals throughout North America delight and engage opera fans old and new with hundreds of free events. From backstage tours to flash performances and YouTube contests, National Opera Week has activities for everyone, everywhere.  

Here’s a message from Thomas Hampson, honorary Chairperson of this year’s National Opera Week:

Check out Opera America’s website to find out all the National Opera Week events:


including the only NOW event in Oregon, the Eugene Opera ARTIST MENTOR PROGRAM in performances of Mozart’s THE IMPRESARIO and Puccini’s GIANNI SCHICCHI at the Very Little Theater this coming Sunday!



Sunday, November 03, 2013
2:30 PM

Very Little Theater
2350 Hilyard St
Eugene, OR 97405

Tickets are $17 adults/$15 students and seniors

FOR TICKETS CALL 1-800-821-6233


The Eugene Opera ARTIST MENTOR PROGRAM is made up of local members of our company who perform for the love of opera and of Eugene Opera!  Under the direction of Dr. John Jantzi, Eugene Opera’s Chorus Master, they make visits year round to schools, vineyards, retirement homes, and many other venues.  During the Eugene Opera main stage season, they serve as members of the ensemble and frequently study with and learn from our international stars.    THE IMPRESARIO is Mozart’s comic take on the trials and tribulations of running an opera company–and dealing with prima donnas!   GIANNI SCHICCHI (Puccini’s only comic opera) is a sassy take on pre-renaissance Florence. Both operas are fully costumed and staged, and performed in English with piano accompaniment.   It’s an enjoyable afternoon for the entire family, and a great introduction to Eugene Opera’s season of LA TRAVIATA and Puccini’s THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST!


Here’s an archived review, from the Register Guard in February 2009–the first time Verdi’s Il trovatore had been presented in Eugene:


The intrepid Eugene Opera dared to go where most opera companies, except the largest, fear to tread. On Saturday evening, the Eugene company featured Giuseppe Verdi’s sprawling 1853 epic “Il Trovatore,” an opera with a clumsy plot and yet some of Verdi’s grandest music. Although Eugene Opera gave only a “semi-staged” production, this opera still demands four outstanding singers with big, dramatic voices capable of creamy lyricism as well as flexible coloratura. Much to the credit of Eugene Opera’s General Director, Mark Beudert, the company met most of the opera’s challenges, and although not without some hitches in the beginning, the production displayed verve, dramatic excitement, and in many cases, vocal beauty.

Concert versions of operas usually present singers in tuxes and gowns standing in front of an orchestra while singing their operatic roles with little drama and no scenery. The audience usually hears some glorious music, and the presenting company avoids the costs of costumes, sets, and directors. Eugene Opera, however, set its sights higher. As usual, the singers wore formal concert attire, but the emotional tone of many scenes was set with expressive lighting by Michael Peterson, and the singers interacted with each other in ways that resembled a full operatic production. The intertwined stories of the gypsy Azucena’s lust for revenge and of the love triangle of Count di Luna, Manrico, and the aristocratic Leonora became, especially by the second portion of the evening, a forceful drama with lustrous singing and convincing acting.

Verdi originally intended Azucena to be the center of this opera, and, as if on cue, the most notable presence of the evening was the mezzo soprano, Jeniece Goldbourne, in this daunting role. Her plum-rich mezzo voice and her acting skills made her a riveting presence each time she appeared on stage. Despite a voice full of heavy vibrato and large register breaks, she sang with dramatic force and, at times, exquisite beauty.

As the opera developed in Verdi’s hands, the role of Leonora became larger than first intended until it evolved into the opera’s most substantial vocal role. Blessed with a large, warm soprano, Kelly Cae Hogan encompassed the varied moods of Lenora with finely tuned emotional shadings and pianissimos. The highlight of the evening was Leonora’s grand scena, “D’amor sull’ali rosee,” a lengthy scene which demands lyrical singing and vocal agility, both of which Hogan accomplished beautifully.

The baritone Michael Mayes as the villainous Count di Luna began the evening with spotty pitch and a thin tone, but gradually built to a warmer sound and, at times, luscious pianissimos. In his one romantic aria, “Il balen” which demands long, legato lines, Mayes succeeded only in part, but by the second act his vocal work was both warm and appropriately menacing.

The tenor, Eduardo Villa, suffered under unique circumstances. Mark Beudert was scheduled to take the role of Manrico, but fell ill, and Villa was flown in to substitute. A veteran performer of this role, Villa was next in line to be stricken by a bug, and although he bravely soldiered on, his foray as Manrico was a difficult one. He still had some lovely moments, especially in the cavatina, “Ah, si ben mio.”

Kenneth Kellog’s resonant but light bass voice added color to Ferrando’s role, and the comprimario roles taken by Marieke Schuurs, Reggie Tonry, and Nicholas Larson were in capable hands.

It is good to see that the chorus has grown to a respectable size and that it is led by a chorus master, John Jantzi. The women’s chorus’s delicate singing in the convent scene was lovely, and the male chorus, despite some pitch problems, sang with hefty conviction.

The Eugene Opera was lucky to have Willie Anthony Waters as its conductor for this difficult opera. The orchestra played extremely well under him, and although coordination with the singers was sketchy in the first part of the opera, Waters maintained tight control of the production in the second portion of the evening.

If its two productions of this year indicate the quality we can expect from Eugene Opera, the last opera of the season, “Don Giovanni,” should be worth waiting for.

The MET opens tonight with an all-star Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin



22ONEGIN-articleLarge.  Here’s an update on the drama backstage, from The New York Times:  


September 19, 2013

Backstage Drama at the Met, Worthy of Opera Itself



“It needs more psychic atmosphere,” said Fiona Shaw, the distinguished actress and, as of last month, the director of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” She was standing in an aisle in the Met’s auditorium during a rehearsal break one recent Friday, staring up at the stage like it was a gifted child having trouble fulfilling its potential.

The new “Onegin” was being a bit of a troublesome child itself. Putting on opera is always full of unexpected turns and unpleasant compromises. But this “Onegin,” which opens the Met’s season on Monday, has taken an unusually precipitous tumble from sure thing — a pinnacle of Russian music, featuring the most eminent Russian soprano and Russian conductor of our time, in a production by a widely admired theater director making her Met debut — to headache-plagued.

For one thing, that admired director, Deborah Warner, who led the production’s first iteration at the English National Opera in 2011, underwent an unexpected surgical procedure this summer and couldn’t come to the Met. Ms. Shaw, her longtime collaborator (on Broadway productions of “Medea” and “The Testament of Mary,” among others), who had also never directed at the Met, took on the assignment at what in opera amounts to the very last minute.

The Met approved the switch even though Ms. Shaw had a partly overlapping commitment to direct Britten’s “Rape of Lucretia” for the Glyndebourne Festival’s fall tour back in England, a project she had no intention of shortchanging. (She has also directed three productions for the English National Opera since 2008.) So after starting rehearsals for “Onegin” on Aug. 13, Ms. Shaw left New York on Sept. 6. Her only subsequent visit to the city was that recent Friday, Sept. 13, to work on the first and third acts and give notes to the cast before flying back in the evening.

She stood in the darkened auditorium, half-illuminated behind the lighting board, in constant motion, seeking atmosphere, while the soprano Anna Netrebko poured out her heart onstage and Valery Gergiev conducted, with his customary inscrutable hand flutters, in the pit.

Ms. Shaw pointed to a spot on the stage, then another and another. The lights would change as she went, making abrupt shifts from cool white to rich yellow and back again as she and the designers tried out different options for the classic story, drawn from Pushkin’s verse novel, about missed attempts at love between a bookish girl and a bored aristocrat.

With the addition of some light from the wings, a scene that had seemed stark suddenly turned warm; a forbidding character became, in the glow of a well-placed spot, heart-wrenching. Atmosphere gradually emerged, but the work was complex, slow and frustrating, and Ms. Shaw needed to get a lot done in very little time.

The down side of her arrangement with the Met was that Ms. Shaw was never able to see the second act — with its grand ball scene and harrowing duel — onstage with the orchestra, not to mention any of the show’s final run-throughs. Nor, as of press time, did she plan to return for opening night. All of this is extremely unusual for such a prominent production, particularly at the Met, which these days loudly and proudly touts its theatrical bona fides.

“The basic direction is done,” said the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, in an interview. “Most of the detail work is done, now it’s really a question of just following it up and making sure people remember what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Mr. Gelb said that he and the production team could together handle the execution of what he called Ms. Shaw’s “meticulous notes” in her absence: “There’s always some amount of fine-tuning going on, but the basic blocking of the movement of the performers, everything they’re doing, is set.”

Direction in a production’s final stages, though, is not just about setting the blocking. It is also about tiny details, about being on the scene to approve small yet telling shifts — from the lights to the acting — and to experience the full production and make last-minute suggestions. “It’s an unusual situation,” Mr. Gelb acknowledged.

Besides the scheduling issues with Ms. Shaw, there is the matter of the petition. The online petition, that is, signed by almost 9,000, that criticizes President Vladimir V. Putin’s antigay policies in Russia, that says Tchaikovsky was gay (which many music scholars believe but is not universally accepted at the moment) and that calls on the Met to dedicate the opening-night performance to the issue.

Mr. Putin, who in June signed the law banning “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships,” is not as distant from this “Onegin” as one might think. He has been a crucial backer of Mr. Gergiev, the director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Mr. Putin was the featured speaker at the gala opening of the gleaming Mariinsky II theater in May, when he also awarded Mr. Gergiev a recently revived Soviet-era prize, the Hero of Labor award. Mr. Gergiev and Ms. Netrebko were vocal supporters of Mr. Putin’s 2012 presidential campaign.

The Met, while expressing its displeasure with the law, has resisted the idea of dedicating opening night to anything.

“At the end of the day, what I do not think is appropriate is for the Met as an institution to become a political forum for a particular issue,” said Mr. Gelb, who added that he was working as an office boy for the impresario Sol Hurok in 1972, when Hurok’s office, which booked Soviet artists, was bombed by activists incensed by the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union.

“We are not here to exhort externally — to exhort the public into action,” Mr. Gelb said. “That is not the role of an opera house, in my opinion.”

But the writer and critic Jason Farago observes, in a column on the BBC’s Web site, that major arts institutions sometimes do speak out about politics. In 2011, when the artist Ai Weiwei was arrested and held in China without charges, the Tate Modern in London wrote “Release Ai Weiwei” in large letters on its facade. When the Bavarian State Opera in Munich put on Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” this spring, it published an article in its magazine, by Max Joseph, in support of the punk band Pussy Riot, three of whose members were convicted of hooliganism and imprisoned for a brief 2012 performance in a Moscow cathedral.

In early August, Ms. Netrebko, who was soon to begin rehearsing the role of Tatiana in “Onegin” at the Met, released a statement saying, in part, “I have never and will never discriminate against anyone.” Mr. Gergiev, on the other hand, has remained silent. (He declined through a Met spokesman to comment for this article.)

The controversy has cast a shadow over what should have been an entirely celebratory reunion for the two artists: they are appearing together at the Met for the first time since the 2002 performances of Prokofiev’s “War and Peace,” which were Ms. Netrebko’s debut with the company.

“I love him as a person because especially lately, in the past 10 years, we kind of have come to be like friends,” Ms. Netrebko said about Mr. Gergiev in an interview in her dressing room.

The return to the Met of mentor and protégée had some in the rehearsal audience remembering their early years together at the Mariinsky in the mid-1990s, when Mr. Gergiev had been artistic director for just a few years and Ms. Netrebko was just out of conservatory. Among her biggest early successes were Russian operas like Glinka’s “Ruslan and Lyudmila,” Prokofiev’s “Betrothal in a Monastery” and “War and Peace,” productions that can get you noticed in St. Petersburg but that are rarely performed in Europe or the United States.

Conducted by Mr. Gergiev, “Ruslan and Lyudmila” did bring Ms. Netrebko to San Francisco in 1995 for her American debut, and “War and Peace” — she was a girlish yet poised Natasha — brought her to the Met. But as she rose to international stardom, she abandoned those Russian parts for the more popular French and Italian ones, roles like Mimi in Puccini’s “Bohème” and Violetta in Verdi’s “Traviata.” While she has spent a lot of time in the coloratura repertory of Bellini and Donizetti in the last decade, her trills and fast runs always seemed like something she had to get through on the way to showing off her ravishing tone and radiant presence.

That is why the opera world has been waiting for her to get to Tchaikovsky. His phrases require arching lyricism more than agility, and they show off every corner of Ms. Netrebko’s voice, which has grown bigger and lusher in recent years. It was clear from a performance of his soaring one-act “Iolanta” in St. Petersburg in May, her voice simultaneously expansive and penetrating, that this is music she was born to sing.

“Of course, being Russian, I understand it very well and I can immediately, you know, color the phrase,” she said. “Nobody has to tell me that, because I know how it has to be. To put one word there, to shade another one and some phrases without” — she drew in a slow, rich breath and smiled — “any movement and it works.”

As she rehearsed Tatiana’s sweeping “Letter” aria with the orchestra for the first time, Ms. Netrebko bit into the Slavic consonants while keeping the phrasing sumptuously creamy. Mr. Gergiev slung his left arm over the edge of the pit and conducted with his right hand alone, fluttering his fingers and mouthing the words along with her. When it was over and the music continued, Ms. Netrebko came out into the auditorium and embraced Mr. Gergiev from behind as he conducted.

“He was worried about me going to the heavier repertory,” she said a few minutes later, referring to the roles on her horizon, including heavyweight Verdi parts like Lady Macbeth. (And someday, perhaps, Lisa in Tchaikovsky’s “Queen of Spades.”)

“Maybe for the other singers he would say, ‘O.K., go, go,’ ” she said, “but for me he’s very protective always. He wants me to sing long, he doesn’t want me to burn out.”

Ms. Shaw, too, had watched Ms. Netrebko’s “Letter” aria, which she thought had become vaguer in the transition from the intimacy of the rehearsal room to the Met’s cavernous auditorium. “It’s not there,” Ms. Shaw said of the performance. “She needs to get back to what she was doing in the room.”

Onstage, the director acknowledged, Ms. Netrebko had far more things to think about than she did a few weeks before: the lights, the costume, the pressure, Mr. Gergiev. Now, Ms. Shaw said, with a rueful smile, “there was a man waving his hands in front of her.”