Friday, November 27, 2015

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Alice at 150

Time for some Irving Fine in honor of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

"The Lobster Quadrille"

"Lullaby of the Duchess"

"Father William"

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

West Edge Opera 2016 Festival

Hoo boy, great news from West Edge Opera about their 2016 summer festival. They'll be performing three operas, all in the old Oakland Wood St. train station, which was a wonderfully atmospheric location for this past summer's magnificent Lulu:

  • Handel, Agrippina
  • Adès, Powder Her Face
  • Janáček, The Cunning Little Vixen
Wow. Exact casting and dates to be announced later, and don't forget the 2016 Opera Medium Rare operas (Paisiello's Barber of Seville and Leoncavallo's La Bohème).

Friday, November 20, 2015

London Friday Photo

London Fruit & Wool Exchange
May, 2014
Now demolished or soon to be demolished as a result of redevelopment on Brushfield St.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Madama Butterfly Cast Change Announcement

Worrying news from the Met: owing to illness, Massimo Giordani has withdrawn from upcoming performances of Madama Butterfly that are scheduled for February 19 - March 5. This is an old production, and it's hard to believe that he'd have to show up before February 1, more than two months out. Wishing the tenor the best.

Roberto De Blasio and Gwyn Hughes Jones will sing those performances; De Blasio was already scheduled for some performances, as is Roberto Alagna.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

UPDATED:No, I Do Not Grant You Permission or a License to Use My Image.

Sign at Davies, November 13, 2015

UPDATE: The SFS communications department saw my tweet and sent me email about the sign. It turns out that the signs were posted in error. They are old signs from when Keeping Score was being recorded and filmed and audience members would have in the TV broadcasts and DVDs. The Friday program was being recorded for CD release in the upcoming Schumann series. The signs should have been a different set that just warned the audience about the CD recording. The signs we saw last week will be retired. 

I should have been less outraged, I own it! And I'm glad I never showed the sign to Mike (Godwin's Law) Godwin, whom I've known for many years.


I'm absolutely certain that San Francisco Symphony's lawyers wrote or approved this particular sign, which I saw in a couple of locations before this evening's concert. That approval doesn't make it a good idea. Let me count the ways.
  1. It's just plain rude to spring this on patrons with no warning.
  2. It's especially rude to do when you've already taken their money.
  3. That's because you're making a material change to the conditions under which the patrons are attending. You give people a choice between losing their money and compromising, if they object to granting blanket permission by simply stepping into the auditorium.
  4. There's this thing called a "photo release." Journalists, photographers, and lawyers know all about them. It's better to get releases than to pull this crap.
  5. Some people don't want their photos circulating for good reasons; for example, they've been the victim of a stalker or an abusive ex. SFS shouldn't do anything to put these people in danger, such as photographing them and using those photos in publicity materials.
  6. On the other hand, SFS could do what SFO has: put up a selfie corner and invite patrons to voluntarily send along their photos to SFS, individually or in groups.
I am going to forward the photo above to a lawyer friend - and write an irate letter to patron services, marketing, and Brent Assinck. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Allons Enfants de la Patrie

San Francisco City Hall
November 13, 2015

And Parterre Box reports that the Metropolitan Opera will play La Marseilliase before today's Tosca performance.

Friday, November 13, 2015

London Friday Photo

The Gun Tavern, Spitalfields
May, 2014
Demolished or soon to be demolished as a result of redevelopment on Brushfield St.
The owners identified themselves as the last Jewish publicans in the East End. Spitalfields has historically been a neighborhood of immigrants: French Huguenots in the 17th century, Jewish immigrants from all over Europe in the 19th century, South Asians more recently. With rising housing prices in the East End, this will no longer be the case.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Thomas Adès and Gloria Cheng, pianists, performed the following concert at the newly-renovated Herbst Theater a couple of weeks ago:

GYÖRGY LIGETI: Sonatina (1950), for piano four-hands
NANCARROW, arr. ADÈS: Studies No. 6 & 7
ADÈS: Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face for Two Pianos
MESSIAEN: Visions de l’Amen

The program was not quite in the order above; they played the Ligeti between the two Nancarrow studies and the Concert Paraphrase. 

The Nancarrow study arrangements, by Adès himself, made these works, written for player piano, playable by mere humans. They really do need four virtuoso hands to play, and my recollection is that these are not remotely the most impossible of the studies for flesh and blood and bone, either. 

The studies are both charming and astonishing, and the two pianists brought them off with flair. The Ligeti might have been my favorite work on the program; the three movements are brief and characterful, and not very much like the composer's spiky works from later in his career.

I'm hoping to see Powder Her FaceAdès's notorious first opera, one of these days, but the fact is that the Concert Paraphrase is too damn long and meandering and too damn hard to follow unless you know the opera already. Hell, for all I know, you can't follow it even if you do know the opera!

Adès played the solo piano version of the piece on his first San Francisco Performances program in 2010; I was more impressed with it then. Oh, well - it's also possible that I was more awake.

Sigh; Friday night concerts. Even with a 7:30 start time, I was not at my most alert, and I think I dozed through about 1/3 of the Messiaen. Yeah, I know, I know, that stuff can be loud and some of it certainly was. 

That said, I decided to skip reading the movement titles and just listen to the music, and boy, that resulted in a few surprises. It is just more brutal at times than you would expect based on Messiaen's habit of incorporating fantastic birdsong and Catholic mysticism in his music. 

As for the playing, Cheng is really marvelous, with a great touch and great range. This time around I found Adès on the heavy-handed and unsubtle side, sometimes overpowering Cheng even when he was on the piano that was at half-stick rather than the piano with the lid removed entirely. Joshua Kosman noted in a Tweet that he had reservations about Adès's pianism in that 2010 recital. Well, he was right. (And here I must note that "postmodernist scrimshaw" is sheer genius, the kind of phrase that makes other reviewers jealous.)

Hmm, I see from Joshua's review that the Concert Paraphrase was 18 minutes long in 2015. I think it was 25 minutes this year.  Tom, you may have heard that brevity is soul of wit, and it applies in this case.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

End of an Era: Ruth Felt to Retire

Ruth Felt
Photo courtesy of SF Performances

Huge news just now from San Francisco Performances: a press release saying that Ruth Felt, who founded and has led the organization for an astonishing 36 years, will retire in the fall of 2016.

That's an amazing run for anyone in the arts. Starting a presenting organization is hard; keeping it going through thick and thin is harder. Think about the last few years, for example: the recession and its effects; the addition of new venues while Herbst was being renovated; the decline of the subscription model.

Felt has championed young and up-and-coming artists, including the Pavel Haas Quartet, Jonathan Biss, and many others. SFP presents the valuable Alexander Quartet surveys and famed performers such as Marc-Andre Hamelin, Anna Caterina Antonacci, and Anonymous 4. They've presented new music and old, all fearlessly.

The press release has lots of quotations from performers and others, and notes that the organization is in excellent financial condition, and that programming is largely planned for the next two seasons, as has been their practice. A search committee has been formed to find a new director of SFP.

Also, there will be a gala (and fund-raiser) in honor of Ruth Felt on September 30, 2016. I plan to be there.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Rover, Shotgun Players

Dan Saski (Don Pedro), Caitlyn Louchard (Hellena), Jeremy Kahn (Willmore), foreground
Photo: Pak Han

We started subscribing to Shotgun Players after their fabulous production of Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia. It's a huge undertaking for any company, and Shotgun did a fantastic job with it in every way.

So here I am to tell you all to go see their current production, Aphra Behn's The Rover. This Restoration comedy is cleverly staged - there is almost no set, but you can still tell exactly where the actors are for every scene. Almost everyone is dressed in some combination of white, red, and black, so every scene makes a striking picture.

And the acting! Really, everyone is terrific, although I will say that the various accents and degrees of comfort with 17th c. English were sometimes a little confusing. Lauren Spencer's beautiful delivery seemed a head above everyone else's; she had the best grasp of the flow of the language and I looked forward greatly to her every appearance, every word.

Jeremy Kahn was hilarious, and rubber-bodied, and adorable, as Willmore, the rover himself; I loved Caitlyn Louchard's sharp and sexy Hellena, Willmore's gypsy, who eventually...well, go see for yourself.

The show has been extended through November 21; tickets are a very reasonable $5-30 (depending on date, your age, student/senior status, etc.), and there are no bad seats at the tiny Ashby Stage.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

International Orange Chorale

Another fine upcoming concert from IOC. The concerts are free; donations gratefully accepted.

From their press release:

All Souls Episcopal Parish, 2220 Cedar Street, Berkeley
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2015, 7:30 P.M.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2015, 7:30 P.M.

The concert features the world premiere of “Missa Brevis” by the eminent Swedish composer Fredrik Sixten, as well as sacred works by Jeremy Faust, Edvard Grieg, Georg Grün, Herbert Howells, Joshua Stoddard, Jon Washburn, and IOCSF’s inaugural Composer-in-Residence Nicholas Weininger. Several selections will feature our guest artist, baritone soloist Krassen Karagiozov, a resident principal artist at Opera San Jose. IOCSF’s fall program is headlined by Fredrik Sixten’s epic “Missa Brevis,” the most ambitious commissioned work the choir has yet undertaken. Sixten sets the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei texts in Latin interspersed with excerpts from the Psalms in English. His shimmering, brilliantly tonal yet dramatically adventurous music conveys the full range of deep emotions expressed in the Mass texts, from anguish to exaltation and from terror to serenity. Accompanying the Missa Brevis on the program is a selection of sacred settings illustrating the variety of styles and approaches that continue to make this ancient musical genre new. Jeremy Faust’s “Adam lay i-bowndyn” is a bright chorale on a Middle English paraphrase of Genesis 3, while Edvard Grieg’s “Fire Psalmer” (Four Psalms) set Swedish folk melodies in a sensitive Romantic style. “Veni,” by the Austrian composer Georg Grün, uses driving polyrhythms to convey the urgency of the sentiment “Veni creator spiritus” (Come, Holy Spirit). Two different translations of the German hymn “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” are featured: Jon Washburn takes the traditional “Lo, how a Rose” translation and hymn tune and creates a serenely flowing, languidly extended 5/4 variation on the theme, while Herbert Howells sets the alternate “A spotless Rose” version as a richly textured yet simple 20th century anthem. Josh Stoddard, a tenor in IOCSF, contributes his spare and thoughtful setting of Psalm 23, highlighting that text’s contrast of unease and assurance. The Grieg and Howells will feature baritone solos from guest artist Krassen Karagiozov. This season also marks the beginning of IOCSF’s annual Composer-in-Residence program. The 2015-2016 Composer-in-Residence is Nicholas Weininger, who has sung with IOCSF since 2007 and who has had several previous works premiered by IOCSF. For this season Weininger has composed “De profundis (A Song of Ascents)”, setting selected verses from Psalm 130 in English, Latin, and Hebrew, and combining the intricate counterpoint of a Renaissance motet with a modern cadential and tone-painting sensibility. “IOCSF is honored and delighted to premiere Fredrik Sixten’s extraordinary work,” said Zane Fiala, Artistic Director of IOCSF. “Having performed several of Sixten’s pieces before, we jumped at the chance to commission him for this season and could not be more pleased with the result. His Missa Brevis exemplifies the best of modern sacred music.”

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Root, Root, Root for the Home Team!

Jake Heggie's new opera, with libretto by Terrence McNally, opened this past week in Dallas. Now, I always cringe when I see McNally's name on the marquee, because I still have not forgiven him the gross distortions of Master Class. Yes, I know that art isn't biography, but Callas was a smart, professional, and insightful teacher, not an abusive, self-centered monster - the audio of the classes has circulate for years, so you can hear for yourself.

The reviews are in, or most of them, and whaddaya know, the Dallas critics are a lot happier than the out-of-towners.
  • Olin Chism, Star-Telegram. He describes Heggie's style as "lyrical and atmospheric while respectful of tradition." Note that this reviewer has not cottoned on to the fact that Joyce DiDonato is a mezzo-soprano...and he says little about the quality of the singing and staging.
  • Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News. Describes Heggie's music as "thoroughly tonal and often tuneful."
  • Heidi Walseon, WSJ. Her one-sentence summary: "A clumsy, overstuffed cross between a backstage comedy and a show-off exercise in compositional appropriation, wrapped in Mr. Heggie’s trademark singer-friendly but treacly tunes, Great Scott seems designed to make audiences feel smug about being insiders."
  • Joshua Kosman, SF Chron. Says about what Waleson says, only a lot funnier.  On Heggie, "There are stretches of elegantly alluring music, and others where Heggie’s writing turns derivative or mundane."
I've got a tweet out to certain persons in NYC asking which of them has a ticket to Dallas. After reading these reviews, I suspect that I'd be in the Waleson/Kosman camp, with the tone of my review depending on the mood of the day. 

The opera sounds like it's at least partly lightweight, meaningless fun. There's room for a good comedy in modern opera, or ought to be (I keep touting Lysistrata, which has a serious side, and hoping it will get performed hereabouts), but this sounds as if it's got a lot of problems. 

Ideally, if it gets performed elsewhere, Heggie and McNally will tighten it up. Everybody complains about the length, which isn't so much about the actual length as about an overly busy plot where some plot strands have no justification. This was also an issue in The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, speaking of Mark Adamo, and, to a much lesser extent, Two Women

Among the new operas I've seen in the last 20 years, the best libretto was that of Tobias Picker's Dolores Claiborne, in which J.D. McClatchy turned a 300-page monolog of a novel into a taut and dramatic libretto. Going back further, to see how it's done, ahem, Tosca or Rigoletto for the swift gallop, or La Boheme, for a more discursive and episodic libretto where you still can't reasonably cut anything.

There's a reason I'm pointing to those older libretti: Puccini and Verdi knew what would work and hammered their librettists mercilessly to get what they wanted. Current composers might consider doing exactly the same thing.

Friday, October 30, 2015

I am Opening a Betting Pool on Barber of Seville.

We are unhappy too.

That's because San Francisco Opera has just sent out a press release about Fall of the House of Usher: Richard Croft is out of both operas, replaced by Jason Bridges, as Edgar Allan Poe, in Gordon Getty's Usher House and Joel Sorensen, as the Doctor, in Debussy's La Chute de la Maison Usher. Croft has withdrawn for personal reasons.

So, who's next? Rene Barbara, Daniela Mack, Alessandro Corbelli, or Lucas Meachem? And can we sequester the casts of Jenufa and Don Carlo?


Over the summer, I saw Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen, Tristan und Isolde, Flying Dutchman, and Lohengrin. Tomorrow is the Met HD broadcast of Tannhauser. Next month, SF Opera's Meistersinger.

Something is missing!

Operabase to the rescue:

No North American performances this season - too bad! The Bueno Aires run is too soon and airfares to Argentina are high.

However, Norwegian Airlines has flights from Oakland to Stockholm for under $300 one way, and the cast there includes Swedes Katarina Dalayman and Peter Mattei. Supertitles in Swedish!

SFS: Program Change, Dutoit

Don't look so glum, Hector; we're still playing your music.

Okay, this is a head-scratcher: San Francisco Symphony had announced that Charles Dutoit would conduct the mighty Berlioz Grande Messe des Mortes (aka Requiem), Paul Groves, tenor soloist, for three performances, on March 17, 18, and 19, 2016. An announcement from SFS conveys the news that this program is postponed until May, 2017, and replaced with the following:

Berlioz: Waverly Overture
Berlioz: Harold in Italy (Italie! Italie!), Jonathan Vinocour, viola solo
Haydn: Symphony No. 104, London

What on earth could have prompted this? Not enough chorus rehearsal time? (Doubtful.) Dutoit doesn't have enough study time? (Doubtful, as he has already recorded the score.) Groves doesn't have enough study time? (Doubtful.)

Scratching my head and squinting at the monitor, I am. Also banging my head against the wall, because this was among the SFS programs I was most looking forward to in a somewhat cheerless season.

London Friday Photo

Sign of the times.
Menu seen in a pub window, Spitalfields.
May, 2014