Tag Archives: San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera: Terrific & Tragic Billy Budd

The San Francisco Opera’s presentation of Billy Budd ended with the matinee, Sunday, September 22, and still the music and drama play in my mind. The voices: absolutely first rate. The acting, set, costuming, direction, orchestra and conductor: all superb. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra, led by Lawrence Renes, captured Britten’s oceanic sound as well as the delicacy of the piccolo solo as Billy waits for execution. Readers, you may have missed this production of Billy Budd, but I hope this report encourages you to attend the opera when and where you have the opportunity. The excellence of this production promises greatness in the rest of SFO’s season.

John Chest, American baritone, portrayed Billy Budd. Eager, confident, honest, with a voice that possessed Billy’s “handsomeness, beauty, goodness” and pulled the listener into his heart while breaking the heart of the listener.

Benjamin Britten, major 20th century English composer, wrote the music set to a libretto by the great English author, E. M. Forster(Passage to India, Room with a View, Howard’s End) and Eric Crozier, a librettist and theater producer who directed Peter Grimes, Britten’s first opera, 1945, at Sadler’s Wells theater, in London. He also wrote the libretto for Albert Herring, another Britten opera. Billy Budd is based on an unfinished novella by Herman Melville. His manuscript was discovered one hundred years ago; this year is the two hundredth anniversary of Melville’s birth, in 1819. Now considered one of the central, most significant American authors, even Melville’s Moby Dick, disappeared soon after publication. He had critical and financial success with his first two novels, Typee and Omoo, but, after his later works were ignored, gave up writing novels, tried poetry, and then, in 1888, began Billy Budd. Melville passed away, in 1891.

Benjamin Britten (Nov. 1913-Dec. 1976)

Both Britten and Melville had a close relation to the sea. Britten was born in Lowescroft, a fishing port on England’s east coast. Melville actually was a sailor on whaling ships and in the Navy. His travels took him around the world. He had first hand knowledge of the closed  community on board ship and knew about the English tradition of “impressing” ordinary folks, kidnapping men and boys, to be in the Royal Navy. Britten’s music for Billy Budd captures the surging sound and rhythm of the ocean. The opera does not try to follow the novella exactly. Forster uses the characters, setting and part of the story line as a way to jump into some themes which Melville did not develop. These include the spiritual resolution offered in song by Billy and by Captain Vere. Melville did not appear to have a strong focus on religion or a specifically Christian understanding of death. Also, in the opera, there seems to be more awareness of what contemporary music writers refer to as “homo-erotic” sensuality. Having spent six months or more at a time on ships, Melville would know about relationships, but to the extent it appears in Billy Budd or Moby Dick it is more a reflection of reality than a theme.

American tenor William Burden portrayed Captain Vere with straightforward nobiity. His voice projected clarity, balance, humanity; it is a voice one could hear with pleasure for a long voyage.

The opera opens with Captain Vere, now old, beginning the story of what happened on his ship, HMS Indomitable, in 1797. In Michael Grandage’s brilliant production, the audience is enveloped in the ship. Built on the stage in a horseshoe shape opened toward the orchestra and house, the set shows the decks of the ship, the men/SF Opera Chorus kneeling on the deck/floor continually to scrape the salt off the ship. The production fit the opera ideally; I can only imagine it now with this set and direction. It also worked so well that the violence –flogging the Novice and hanging Billy –happened offstage as in classic Greek drama. The atmosphere is close; there is nowhere to go. There are no families, no pub, no market. The common sailor’s life is dictated by work enforced by cruelty. Three new sailors are brought aboard. They have been impressed and taken from the ship ironically named the Rights o’ Man. Claggart, the master-at-arms, uses the name of the ship as his first attack on the new sailor. Billy calls out farewell to friends and to the ship giving Claggart the opportunity to call Billy a revolutionary who must be watched.

American bass-baritone Christian Van Horn portrayed Claggart. He embodied the evil of the character. His powerful voice could command, insinuate, strike like a snake. 

From his first appearance on the Indomitable, Billy, has “handsomeness, beauty and goodness.” When he is under pressure, he stammers. He is liked and even admired by the men and hated by Claggart. The hatred has no special reason. It is total hate like Iago’s for Othello, a man who is better than he in so many ways. The audience feels apprehension that something terrible will happen and waits in suspense to know how it will unfold. Claggart preys on the weak Novice who was brutally flogged. He threatens the Novice with more violence if he does not cooperate in setting up Billy. At first, the Novice refuses because Billy is kind and good, but fear defeats him. This cast of seventy-five artists, forty-four of them from the SF Opera Chorus, is astoundingly good. Each projects a character, and all create a true crew. There are moments that lighten the tension. For example, in Act I, scene 3, the crew gathers to sing a late 18th century version of Rap, with each man’s rhyming verses entertaining the crowd. Billy offers to get Dansker tobacco. American bass-baritone, Philip Skinner, sings Dansker with a great, satisfying voice appropriate for a brave, true friend. Billy’s tobacco has been taken from his kit. He fights with Squeak who was set by Claggart to make trouble for Billy. American tenor, Matthew O’Neill as Squeak with presence and just the right voice creates the character willing to betray Billy who is then betrayed himself. The men are eager to attack the “Frenchies,” but fog and still winds keep them from a battle.

The crew of HMS Indomitable ready to attack the French.

Claggart (Van Horn) presses his case with Vere (Burden).

Then Claggart tells Vere that Billy is fomenting mutiny and has gold coins to bribe the crew. Given a chance to defend himself, Billy stammers. In frustration he strikes Claggart who falls dead. Vere calls three officers to serve as a court-martial. They can believe Billy, but Billy struck and killed an officer. By the Laws of War, he must die. The three officers are horrified by what they have done and ask Vere, the only witness, to stop the process, but Vere says he cannot.

Billy taken away for execution.

Surely one of the  most chilling, touching and beautiful songs in the opera is Billy’s solo while he waits to be executed. He is frightened and does not want to die. He imagines himself under the water, gone. Then, he imagines that he will be anchored by, what? Is it faith? Is it heaven? He sings, “I’m strong and I know it, and that’s enough.” He sings, “I’ve sighted a sail in the storm, the far–shining sail, and I’m content.” Vere reappears looking back through time and repeats Billy’s words about that sail. Vere also says he could have stopped it. And there’s the eye-opening, hair raising moment. He had said there was nothing he could do. He had to follow the letter of the law although he knew he was killing an angel. Now, he says, both that he could have done something and that he is “content.” In the battle between good and evil, Claggart won, but he only won by being killed. The optimism that the Goodness of the Good will find a safe harbor and that the humane regret of Captain Vere will somehow reach a contented resolution does not seem very Melville-like. The ambiguity of human life does, though. Imperfect and unfinished, just like the novella Billy Budd, that is what we are. Perhaps wisdom is to decide to be content. Perhaps.

Photo of John Chest by Andrey Stoycher; Billy taken for execution, Claggart with Vere, whole crew by Cory Weaver, courtesy the San Francisco Opera. Future operas of SFO’s season: The Marriage of Figaro, Oct. 11-Nov. 1, Manon Lescaut, Nov. 8-26, Hansel & Gretel, Nov. 15-Dec. 7.

 

Merola Grand Finale: LIVELY AT THE OPERA

The Lively Foundation was delighted to invite our music loving friends to attend the GRAND FINALE of the Merola Opera at the SF Opera House. Every voice was extraordinary on August 17 when our Lively group of twelve attended. Through their Merola months, the artists perform full length operas, the Schwabacher Concerts of select opera acts, and recitals. The Grand Finale is their graduation celebration. Their performances are with the full San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

In the Grand Finale, the “Merolini” perform a selection of arias, choruses and groups. In some “greatest hits” performances, there will be one or two pieces which are fabulous and maybe one or two which do not please. Each audience member might have his or her favorite or least favorite. In this performance, each presentation truly made the audience open eyes wide, catch the breath, and applaud. The applause only slowed because the next selection would begin a few breaths after the previous one ended. The program presented the song in its setting, so each selection is performed in the dramatic context of the opera from which it came. This allowed the performers to engage in their characters and show the audience their acting ability. It was done so successfully that for the time of that scene the audience experienced the pain or joy in the moment of the story.

Named in honor of the first director of the San Francisco Opera, Gaetano Merola, the program brings singers who are already beginning their careers to San Francisco for twelve weeks of intensive training and performing. Merola is widely considered among the finest training programs in the world. International stars launched by Merola include Ruth Ann Swenson, Susan Graham, Deborah Voight, Anna Netrebko, Dolora Zajick, Brian Asawa, Rolando Villazon, Thomas Hampson, Quinn Kelsey, Conductor Patrick Summer and so many more.

Among memorable moments were Alice Chung, Mezzo-Soprano, as Gertrude and Timothy Murray, Baritone, as Hamlet, Stefan Egerstrom, Bass, as the Spectre, in Hamlet by Thomas. (L to R) Timothy Murray and Alice Chung

Ms Chung’s presence was powerful even as Mr Murray castigated her for the death of her husband, Hamlet’s father. Their voices gave the Mother-Son relationship a new dimension beyond the usual lascivious Queen and up-tight Prince. Esther Tonea, Soprano, as Fiordiligi; Michael Day, Tenor, as Ferrando; and Edward Laurenson, Baritone, as Don Alfonso, gave Non son cattivo cornico…L’abito di Ferrando sara buono per me…Fra gli amplessi from Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti the lilting, teasing buoyancy of this opera of practical jokes in the war of the sexes.

(L to R) Esther Tonea and Michael Day

A tense scene from Maria Stuarda, by Donizetti, had all 2,000 listeners on the edges of their seats. Chelsea Lehnea, Soprano, sang Elisabetta (Queen Elizabeth I of England); Salvatore Atti, Tenor; Conte di Leicester; Rafael Porto, Baritone, Lord Cecil. The Queen cannot make up her mind: should she sign the execution order and have Mary, Queen of Scots killed or not? As the threesome debates the political pros and cons of allowing Mary to live or killing her, the voices soared. It was a gut wrenching and magnificent experience demonstrating the expressive and musical gifts of opera.

In a lighter scene, Elisa Sunshine, Soprano, sang Marie, in Donizetti’s La Fille du regiment (Daughter of the Regiment) and Andrew Dwan, Bass-Baritone, was Sulpice, who acts as her adoptive father. Both voices were outstanding. Ms Sunshine surely deserves her last name. Her actions as well as her musicality made her performance an absolute delight. What can I do now? Running up against a word limit when the Grand Finale’s incredible artists have not all been given their well deserved salutes? A rush to mention more does not do them justice. Hat’s off to Laureano Quant, Baritone, who sang Sir Riccardo Forth from Bellini’s I Puritani, Kneeling, down stage center, he reached into our hearts. Brandon Scott Russell, Tenor, sang the Prince from Dvorak’s Rusalka with a voice and presence that were surely royal; Jeff Byrnes, Baritone, was Germont, the father trying to spare Alfredo, his son, sung by Salvatore Atti, Tenor, who has lost himself to Violetta, in Verdi’s La Traviata. Mr. Byrnes, with a baritone which gets that musical term “burnished,” makes the father figure sympathetic. His distress is in his voice as the foolish lover, besotted Mr. Atti, his son, runs after that woman.

Keep track of these names! Soon you will see them perform around the US and the world. How exciting to be able to say, I was there when Anne-Marie MacIntosh sang Giulietta in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, or Brennan Blankenship sang Stephano in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. Cara Collins, Anna Dugan, Victor Starsky, Amber R. Monroe, Hyeree Shin, Patricia Westley, Edith Grossman, Nicholas Huff. Each one a star. No kidding, keep this list!

SF Opera’s Comic Triumph: Don Pasquale

DonPasquale  San Francisco Opera presented Gaetano Donizeti’s delightful opera buffa, Don Pasquale, September 28–October 15 at The War Memorial Opera House. It was tremendous fun. The music is beautiful and funny. The four leads were splendid. It was a night to cheer Donizetti’s brilliance and the accomplishments of singers, conductor, orchestra, chorus, directors and designers whose work combined to create complete theater.

DonizettiPremiered in 1843, the libretto, also written by Donzetti, puts stock figures in predictable actions with and against each other, but the plot twists in ingenious ways. Opera buffa is the opposite of opera seria, the serious dramas.There is a wealthy man in his 70s. His nephew, Ernesto, refuses to marry the wealthy woman his uncle selected for him; Ernesto loves a poor girl, Norina. The uncle is tired of supporting him, disowns him, and decides to marry a young woman. His doctor and alleged friend, Malatesta, takes Ernesto’s side and plots with Ernesto’s true love. She will present herself as sweet, innocent Sofronia, marry Don Pasquale, then make him demand a divorce to escape her domineering behavior and immense expenses.  Norina will be able to marry Ernesto with Don Pasquale’s blessing and his money.

ErnestoBrownleeIn this production created by Director Laurent Pelly, the nephew is a spoiled, lazy boy sponging off his rich uncle, not the pure rebel against authority he could have been. Norina also is something more and less than her character might have been in the commedia dell’arte from which opera buffa developed. She is a schemer who might be motivated primarily by love but might not. Even Malatesta, presented as the friend of both Don Pasquale and Ernesto seems to be motivated not only by friendship but also a pleasure in playing cruel games.

TransformFor this viewer, it was easy to feel sorry for Don Pasquale who put on a new suit and a toupee to meet his bride. He looked ridiculous but was so happy. The lesson, the closing song says, is that old men should not try to marry. And yet, though the others  made him a fool and he sees that he acted the fool on his own, there was a charming liveliness in his hopes.

NorinaDon   Bass Baritone Maurizio Muraro as Don Pasquale was amazing. His singing was great, and his physical comedy timing perfect. His expressions and actions were very, very funny. His ability to sing the rapid fire patter songs of Don Pasquale was astonishing; every note and syllable was clear and understandable, if one’s brain could keep up. His actions when he transformed himself into what he thought would attract the young woman were funny, his anger at Sofronia’s expenditures was funny, but over all, it was touching to see him try to cope with the abuse dished out by this angel turned devil.

LBrownlee   Lawrence Brownlee, internationally acclaimed tenor, made his SF Opera debut as Ernesto. He was a lout, a lover, a disappointed suitor, and a house guest tossed out of the house. He played it all with fantastic aplomb always buoyed by his lovely lyric tenor voice. He was so romantic perched on the roof of his uncle’s house, longing for Norina, and so funny packing a closetful of shirts and then trying to figure out how to carry all his suitcases.

STOBER_Heidi-SDirector Pelly’s idea for the production was inspired by Italian movies from the 1950s.  When the audience first sees Heidi Stober as Norina, she is in a black slip, leaning against the wall of her squalid room, and admiring a center-fold. Her clothes are piled on the floor. She has a cigarette. This image of the character does not appear again, but reveals some tawdry tendencies behind  Sofronia. Ms Stober’s strong, dramatic voice made her dominance of the Don and plotting with Malatesta believable. Think ahead to a sequel in which Ernesto, not used to fending for himself, finds he’s married someone better at bossing him around than his uncle had been.

CastDonPBaritone Lucas Meachem has a long relationship with the SF Opera. He was a Merola and an Adler Fellow and has sung numerous roles. It was exciting to see him in a different setting fulfilling the demands of comedy with distinction.

MeachemMuraroHis energetic patter duets with Muraro were a pleasure.  Malatesta’s double crossing drove the story ahead effortlessly. On October 4 and 7 the role was played by Edward Nelson, an Adler Fellow. Bojan Knezevic added comic confusion in a cameo role as the Notary who pretended to marry the Don and Norina. The SF Opera Chorus marched onstage as an army of gossipy servants hired by Sofronia. The SF Opera Orchestra was conducted by Giuseppe Finzi. From the beginning of the Overture, it was clear we were in for something extraordinary. Donizetti’s music represented all of the actions and characters. There was a theme which danced and limped that sounded like Don Pasquale’s happiness and hesitations. Theater wisdom says, “Tragedy is easy; comedy is hard.” Impossible to imagine if Donizetti found writing Lucia di Lammermoor easy, but the all star cast of this Don Pasquale acted and sang a comic triumph.

Pictures from top: Maurizio Muraro as Don Pasquale; Donizetti; Lawrence Brownlee as Ernesto; M. Muraro, Don Pasquale transformed; Heidi Stober as Norina/Sofronia intimidates Don Pasquale; H. Stober; Lucas Meachem, far left; L. Meachem & M. Muraro; all photos except picture of Donizetti ©CoreyWeaver/San Francisco Opera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lively Friends Meet the Merolinis

janeLeslieFrancoMerolaGrpSharonAnnA Lively group of Friends of The Lively Foundation enjoyed an evening of gorgeous singing at the San Francisco Opera House, Aug. 20.  The eleven Lively individuals came from Marin, San Francisco, Pacifica, Mountain View, and San Jose. The Merola Opera program has given Lively tickets for its friends to attend Merola performances each of the last 7 summers. Merola is a training program for singers on their way to international fame. The program gives them many opportunities and by doing so gives the rest of us the opportunity to hear great music sung by stars. Previous “Merolini”  have included Ruth Ann Swenson, Thomas Hampson, Carol Van Ness, Patrick Summers, Brian Asawa, and many others beginning brilliant careers. This summer rather than a full length opera, eleven Lively friends were treated to the Merola Grand Finale, a gala performance of arias and ensembles accompanied by full orchestra. The voices were splendid. We shall all keep our programs in order to follow the careers of our favorites. Keep in touch with Lively for future great events.

 

SPECTACULAR: SF OPERA ‘S JENUFA

Karita MattilaSan Francisco Opera’s performance of Jenufa by Leos Janacek was spectacular, June 28, at the SF Opera House. There will be one more performance of this powerful, emotion grabbing, musically fascinating work. It’s Friday, July 1; don’t miss it. The SF Opera Orchestra, conducted by Jiri Belohavek, has never played better. The voices of the singers  were stunning. Not content with making beautiful sound, the singers made their sound perfectly fit the characters they presented. Karita Mattila, pictured above, performed the role of Kostelnicka Buryjovka. From the first moment she is seen onstage, her presence becomes the tragic center of action. Her voice, suffused with knowledge and emotion, reaches into every listener. A brilliant opera star, this is her onstage debut in this role (she performed it in concert with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jiri Belohavek, in April). She has made it her own.

JanacekCzech composer Janacek began work on Jenufa, in 1895. It was premiered in 1904, in Brno, and in Prague in 1916. Janecek came from a village much like the one in his opera. He collected and studied music and songs from Moravia, his home region, as well as its speech patterns and expressions. In Jenufa, the characters live in a tightly knit community, isolated from outside culture. Jenufa is a young woman who loves Steva, a handsome man who owns the mill and is also a drunk and a flirt. At the beginning of the opera, she reveals that she is pregnant and prays that Steva will not be drafted but will marry her, saving her reputation and her life. Laca, another villager, has loved her all his life, but she is blind to him, especially now. The village does not offer a lot of options for an intelligent young woman. She teaches others how to read, but she cannot read the facts that Steva will only bring her trouble.

_B5A6096-SSteva brags to his friends that all the girls want him. Tenor Scott Quinn as Steva was both completely self-centered and too frightened of responsibility to have anything to do with Jenufa and her problem. In excellent voice, he  performed splendidly enough to earn boos at the curtain call. He was also frightened of the Kostelnicka, village sacristan, who demanded he spend one year sober before she could let him marry Jenufa, her stepdaughter.  At a loss for what to do, Jenufa hides in her stepmother’s home to have her child. Only 8 days after the birth, her stepmother has invited Steva to visit in order to convince him to marry. He refuses. In a fit of jealousy, Laca cut Jenufa’s face. She is less beautiful now and has a baby. He will marry the Mayor’s daughter instead. Laca visits and declares his love again. Desperate, the Stepmother finds a way to make this match work.

_B5A6412-MLovely Soprano Malin Bystrom, making her debut in the role as Jenufa, experiences changes through the events of the opera. An international star, she certainly must keep Jenufa in her repertory; she was exquisite. When she enters in Act I, she is a vision of happy youth. Her movements suggest a sought after young woman whose love is fulfilled. She enters through the bright sunlight of the upstage image of ripe grain. However, the set is built so that two high walls nearly connect to each other at the point where the outside world is seen. Production Designer Frank Phillipp Schlossmann did a wonderful job of creating the enclosed, separate world of the villagers. He also uses the visual theme of stones to match the frequent mention of stones in the text. There is a possible millstone, mysterious and extra large, on stage in Act I. In Act II a stone takes up the entire interior of the Stepmother’s home. When we see Jenufa after the birth, she is weak, frightened of what will become of her, and yet loves her baby.  The world of the opera might seem as distant and peculiar to 21st century San Franciscans as life on Mars. Public shame and hopelessness, real and powerfully portrayed, are the future for Kostelnicka, Jenufa and the baby.

LacaLaca agrees to marry Jenufa. Sung with great success by tenor William Burden, Laca also goes through changes from angry, violent outcast, to pacified, hopeful helpmate. This is where the internet tradition of “spoiler alert” should appear in this Hedgehog Highlight. Terrifying events will occur: the Kostelnicka confesses to her crime, the crowd tries to stone Jenufa using Designer Schlossmann’s very believable, rugged decor. Out of this terror, there is something nearly like a happy ending. In classical theater, it’s a comedy if it ends with a marriage. Order and harmony return that way. While commentators have noted that the Kostelnicka confesses in order to spare her beloved stepdaughter and because she recognizes that she acted as much for herself as for Jenufa, for this observer it is necessary to note that none of the tranquility that is achieved for Laca and Jenufa could have happened without the actions of the suffering Kostelnicka. The cast was wonderful. It was a great night for music, a triumph for theater. Do not wait; buy your tickets now.

BlessingJenLacThe loving sinner Stepmother, blesses the nearly happy couple before the truths are found out. For another Hedgehog observation of Karita Matilla, please go to  http://www.livelyfoundation.org/wordpress/?p=758  Ms Matilla made her debut with the San Francisco Symphony, in the Beethoven Festival, June 17, 2015, singing Ah! Perfido Scene and Aria, Op. 65. In this Jenufa post, photos except the unattributed ones of Ms. Matilla and Janacek, are ©Cory Weaver/SF Opera.

San Francisco Opera: PARTENOPE

deNieseDavidDanielsAShraderARothCostanzodMackPSlyPartStairspartenope

The opera Partenope: 6 characters, 3 hours and 20 minutes, Baroque opera by Handel. Turns out it is a laugh riot. What 21st century music lover who is not totally up on Baroque could guess that? San Francisco Opera’s production of Partenope, performed Oct.15-Nov. 2, 2014, was originally created by the English National Opera and Opera Australia. It traveled well. An attempt at a summary of the plot: Partenope loves Arsace, the cad who abandoned Rosmira. Rosmira, convincingly dressed as a man, shows up at the house party. She/he claims to be in love with P., too. Shy Armindo is madly in love with P., but she can barely see him. Emilio arrives and offers to marry P. She refuses. E. threatens war. P. asks A(Arsace). to lead her forces. The other men and “man” have their feelings hurt. Ormonte observes. That’s just the first 20 minutes or so. The voices of all the performers were outstanding. Two of the men sang countertenor roles; David Daniels as Arsace and Anthony Roth Costanzo as Armindo. Those voices are higher than the voices of the two females; it’s just one layer of Handel’s satire of operatic conventions of his time. Daniels and Roth Costanzo were wonderful performers. Arsace’s emotions ranged from ardent suitor to dejected reject. Armindo, amazed by Partenope’s sudden declaration of love, breaks into a tap dance with top hat and cane on top of his nightie. Daniela Mack as Rosmira/Eurimene is conniving, passionate, heartbroken while in excellent voice. Danielle de Niese as Partenope, the Queen Bee to whom all the energy of the others is devoted, is more than an opera singer. She moves with the grace and assurance of a dancer thoroughly at home moving on stage. Her statuesque form plus her engaging presence showed that Handel was correct to make an opera all about her. It is a funny opera.Would we have missed the satire without the toilet paper? Director Christopher Alden packed the 200 minutes with sight gags including potty jokes. Emilio is interrupted by a sound; is it water? oh, no, it is a toilet flushing. Partenope walks out a door revealing a toilet. Emilio, sung by Alek Shrader with authority and a self-satirizing awareness, sings while hanging from the bathroom’s transom, makes hand shadows as though at camp, and executes a hilarious yoga routine. The set designed by Andrew Lieberman adds another star to the cast. The winding staircase in Act I is not only gorgeous but also gives Armindo an opportunity to show that he can fall down all the stairs–face down–and hang from the edge while still singing. A great addition to SFO’s repertory, it suggests one get out there to see more of Handel’s operas, maybe even this one in another production to see if Handel’s own humor is still there. Pictures: (L to Rt, top row)Danielle de Niese, David Daniels, Alek Shrader, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Daniela Mack(bottom row) Philippe Sly, staircase, Danielle de Niese.