La Boheme appeared in San Francisco Opera's first season (1923) and has never been absent from the repertory. During its first decades, the Company presented the greatest Italian singers in the roles of Mimi and Rodolfo: Claudia Muzio, Lucrezia Bori, Mafalda Favero, Licia Albanese, Rosana Carteri, Renata Tebaldi, Mirella Freni; and Giovanni Martinelli, Beniamino Gigli, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Galliano Massini, Giuseppe di Stefano, Gianni Raimondi, and Luciana Pavarotti. Since the 1960s, however, it has been rare to see an all-Italian cast singing La Boheme in the major opera houses outside of Italy. Has this lead to a stylistic difference, and, if so, does that matter?(The lack of an accent on "Boheme" is not part of the quiz. I'm just lazy.)
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
- Carter, String Quartets 1-4, Arditti Quartet (now if only I can find the CD that has the fifth and some other Carter chamber music)
- Beethoven, Harp quartet, Op. 74; Juilliard Quartet, from the early '60s
- Humperdinck, Hansel und Gretel; Rother/Berger, Schilp, Waldenau, Nissen, Arndt-Ober. This set, recorded in 1944, is a marvelous performance with wonderful, very idiomatic singing. It appears to have been recorded in one day. Berger and Nissen are perfect, Arndt-Ober, both scary funny, singing with enormous authority. What's even more impressive is that Arndt-Ober was 59 and had been singing professionally since 1906. The sound is acceptable, but considering the greatness of the set, you wish it had been made a few years later and in stereo.
- Carlos Gardel, songs
- French cafe singers
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I know some of you out there are convinced that the audience is old and getting older all the time, but read what Matthew Guerrieri had to say about this before proclaiming that the sky has fallen. Hint: absolute versus relative.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Yesterday afternoon, I saw Mahler's gigantic and sonically overwhelming Eighth Symphony at the San Francisco Symphony. As I told a friend who had tickets for Friday, the opening is like a rocket taking off, and the intensity barely lets up for the next 90 minutes. I could not fault the chorus's beauty of tone, clarity, precision, or diction; hats off to the magician Ragnar Bohlin, chorus director for the last 18 months. Special props to MTT for conducting a coherent, well-balanced, beautifully-paced, very intense performance of an impossible piece. The sound of the orchestra in the first ten minutes of Part II will linger long in memory (those pizzicatos, those harps, the winds), as will the glorious end of the piece.
I mostly loved the soloists; Erin Wall led the way with brilliant tone, joined by the darker-voiced Elza van den Heever, who alone among the soloists looked like she was having a good time. Yvonne Naef impressed with her rich-hued tone and Katarina Kareus with her power and focus. Laura Claycomb was luxury casting for Mater Gloriosa's two lines. I'd love to see Wall, Naef, and Karneus in opera, and I'd love to see van den Heever and especially Claycomb again; David Gockley, where are you? Among the men, Quinn Kelsey was the star, singing with reserves of power, very fine diction and phrasing, and extremely beautiful tone. I can fault Anthony Dean Griffey only for being perhaps a bit light for his role. Of James Morris....well, his performance raises issues I will blog about in another posting.
This was the third Mahler 8 set since 2000. It is so expensive and time-consuming to perform that I have to think it will be a while until the next set, and that makes me sad. Here's hoping it's performed to the south at Disney Hall; I would fly down for it, no question.
Believe it or not, after the cheering had died down, I got on BART and headed to Hertz Hall, where I caught a screening, with live music, of Carl Dreyer's 1927 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. I had seen only one Dreyer film previously, his Vampyr, many years ago at the Pacific Film Archive. As the program notes said, Joan is on every film critic or scholar's short list of the greatest films ever made, and rightly so. The cutting, pacing, cinematography, and acting style must have seemed alien to contemporary viewers, because they are far more like a film made in the 1980s or 1990s than in the 1920s. It is one grim film, compressing Joan's trial and execution into just one day; it contains one of the most shocking screen images I have ever seen, and also one of the greatest acting performances, from Maria Falconetti, as Joan.
The accompanying score, Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light, was composed in the early 1990s; it was performed by various UC Berkeley choirs and a group of instrumentalists. It is mostly minimalist, with a semichorus as Joan's own voice and the massed choirs singing...other text. It is a beautiful score, and so well integrated with the film that they really did seem to be one.
The Passion of Joan of Arc is available on DVD, and one of the soundtracks available on the DVD is the Einhorn score.
- Mahler, Eighth Symphony; Bernstein, passel of soloists, Sony.
- Salonen, Wing on Wing, Insomnia, L.A. Variations; Salonen, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, DG
- Stravinsky, Les Noces; Stravinsky, Columbia. Very surprised to find that this performance is in English. It is also less wildly primitive than the two live performances I've heard of the piece, both of which I liked better.
- Hartmann, Symphonies (see last week's playlist)
- Harp Music of the Italian Renaissance; Andrew Lawrence-King, helios
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I'm not going to bother posting the lists. I think rankings such as this are silly; all of the orchestras on the list are first class. And orchestras have different strengths and weaknesses, which vary depending on who is leading them. Witness reviews of the NYPO under different conductors over the last 40 years, for example.
For that matter, I have to wonder how views of an orchestra are affected by the concert hall in which it plays. I've heard both the LAPO and SFS in their halls, and I have no idea on what basis the LAPO would be ranked above the SFS; from a technical and musical standpoint, I thought the strings and winds about equal and the SFS brass better than that of the LAPO. But the LAPO plays in the best concert hall on the West Coast and the SFS in the worst, and that difference is readily audible.
That gets to another reason I have little to say about the rankings: I have heard only six of the orchestras listed on their home ground, and a couple of them only decades ago. Of course I'd love to heard them all, when my travel budget supports that.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Deepest condolences to Mr. Chang and his family over this tragedy; I'm sure he will be in everyone's hearts during the concert.
According to Steinway, fully 98% of all pianists performing with orchestras last year chose their pianos exclusively. With the “All Steinway School” designation, CCM students and faculty will have the opportunity to perform and practice on the instruments they will encounter most frequently on the concert stage.First, let's take that business about the opportunity to perform and practice on the instruments they will encounter most frequently on the concert stage. What percentage of faculty and students from CCM are or will become concert pianists? I understand that either the US or the entire world awards about eight thousand (8,000) piano degrees annually. The chances are vanishingly small that any particular pianist will make it on the concert stage. I don't mean "Become Lang Lang" or "Become Roger Vignoles." I mean, have a career playing the piano in public.
''We are extraordinarily excited to become an All Steinway School,” says Douglas Knehans, dean of CCM. “This is both a mark of distinction, a high achievement and a profound signal of CCM’s commitment to quality, its students, faculty and community. With this purchase, CCM’s world class facilities will now be matched with the world’s finest pianos throughout its performance, teaching and study spaces.''
As for "high achievement," c'mon. How much achievement is involved with buying pianos? I assume Steinway was happy to sell, given that the CCM is a music conservatory and given that the instruments are obviously not going to be dropped out of windows to test their ability to fly.
Does this really add to the CCM's prestige in the music world? What if the $4.1`million going into this purchase had gone to endowing a couple of chairs that could be filled with important teachers? (Search for the piano faculty from this page.) Or to an ongoing series of master classes? Or to expanding the class offerings on "how to run your musical career so you can eat and pay rent"?
I'm afraid that this reminds me just a bit of the much larger amount of money the New Jersey Symphony scandalously spent a few years back buying an overvalued string instrument collection to add prestige. Again, what if they'd spent that money raising musicians' salaries? Or on guest conductors? Or...?
To make one thing clear, I'm not opposed to music schools owning the best instruments they can afford to purchase. Most piano students can't afford their own Steinways, and if they have a good piano back home, they're not likely to pack it up and bring it to school with them. What I'm opposed to is piffle about being taken more seriously. I'm sure Juilliard has great pianos, and I'm equally sure that students go there for the teachers and to be in NYC. Oh, and the prestige - but the reputation is made by the teachers and history, not by the pianos in the practice rooms.
Update: And here it is. Of course, Vilar will appeal and his attorney says they expect to be vindicated. Right, well, you have to say that.
Dan Wakin's story includes these gems:
Damn right. Vilar's business turned into a Ponzi scheme, in effect.
“Beginning in the fall of 2002 they lulled Ms. Cates with lie after lie,” an assistant United States attorney, Marc Litt, said in closing arguments last week. He said Mr. Vilar was so pressed for funds that he had Ms. Cates call her broker from his kitchen after a meeting at his home to send the money.
When she pressed them for the money back, Mr. Litt said, they put her off and then lied to the Securities and Exchange Commission when she complained.
Instead, within weeks of his receiving the money, $1 million went to Mr. Vilar’s personal account; $650,000 went to an Amerindo corporate checking account; and $3.1 million went toward a settlement with other clients who were seeking their money back, Mr. Litt said, citing internal Amerindo documents.
Mr. Vilar used most of the $1 million to fulfill pledges to Washington & Jefferson and the American Academy in Berlin.
In another transaction involving Ms. Cates, an Amerindo employee said that she had cut and pasted Ms. Cates signature on a letter of authorization for a $250,000 transfer from one of her outside accounts, on Mr. Tanaka’s orders. The money was immediately used to make two $53,000 mortgage payments on Mr. Vilar’s apartment, which was facing foreclosures, [assistant U.S. attorney] Mr. Litt said.“That’s about as fraudulent as it gets,” he added.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
- Conchita Supervia, vol. 3, Marston Records. The inimitable Spanish mezzo, the most charming singer ever, in the third volume of a series of her complete recordings.
- Franz Schmidt, Symphony No. 2, Neeme Järvi, CSO, Chandos. I missed the recent SFS performances of Schmidt's Fourth, and Jeff Dunn kindly sent me a shrink-wrapped copy of the Second. Thank goodness it's Järvi and not the CSO's former music director, who would have made an overblown hash out of this gorgeous explosion of late Romantic extroversion.
- Aulis Sallinen, Kullervo, Ulf Söderblom, Finnish National Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Ondine. Sallinen is the best Finnish composer whose work you've never heard. Really. Born in 1935, he's a couple of generations past Sibelius and a generation before the young (ish) Turks, Saariaho, Salonen, and Lindberg. Kullervo derives from a particularly brutal story in Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. The music itself feels ancient, relentless, and epic. Give it a try.
- Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Complete Symphonies, Rieger, Leitner, Kubelik, Macal; Wergo. Resuming a project I started...uh...in 2007 some time, when my friend Mike lent me his set. Another of the great underperformed symphony cycles of the 20th century.
Monday, November 17, 2008
In 2009, Potlatch will be in Silicon Valley for the first time, at the Domain Hotel in Sunnyvale, from February 27 to March 1. In keeping with previous Bay Area Potlatches, there's a book of honor - no, wait, there are two books of honor this year! They are:
- Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. Le Guin
- Growing Up Weightless, by John M. Ford
- Musician of the Year, Yo-Yo Ma
- Composer of the Year, Christopher Rouse
- Conductor of the Year, Marin Alsop
- Vocalist of the Year, Stephanie Blythe
- Ensemble of the Year, Pacifica Quartet
The release also included a list of all Musicians of the Year. The 1994 award went to Christa Ludwig; a great singer, indeed, but that year was nearly the end of her long career. I doubt there was any specific achievement that earned her the award.
Chora Nova will perform works by the Baroque masters Johann Kuhnau and Jan Dismas Zelenka in
Chora Nova, under the artistic direction of Paul Flight, presents Kuhnau’s Magnificat (C Major) and Zelenka’s Requiem for Kaiser Joseph I. Both works are scored for chorus, soloists, and orchestra.
The concert takes place at 8 pm on November 22nd, at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, Dana and Durant Streets.
Chora Nova is joined by Bay Area soloists: Rita Lilly, soprano, Ruthann Lovetang, alto, Mark Bonney, tenor and Paul Murray, bass.
Tickets are $20 general, $18 senior and $10 student, at the door or online at www.choranova.org.
(Or buy your tickets from me.)
Sunday, November 16, 2008
1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog. I was tagged by The Opera Tattler.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog - some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
5. If you don't have 7 blog friends, or if someone else already took dibs, then tag some unsuspecting strangers.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Claudio Monteverdi: Magnificat for four voices and continuo, from Selva Morale e Spirituale (1640), Magnificat for eight voices, violins, sackbuts, and continuo,from Selva Morale e Spirituale (1640)
Giovanni Bassano: Quem vidistis pastores?, Hodie Christus Natus Est a 10
Giovanni Croce: Quaeremus cum Pastoribus
Giovanni Gabrieli: Angelus ad pastores ait, Hodie Christus natus est, Quem vidistis pastores?,
O magnum Mysterium
Adrian Willaert: O beata Infantia/O felices Panni (motet in 2 parts), O Magnum Mysterium
Alessandro Grandi: Hodie, nobis de caelo pax vera descendit
Gregor Aichinger Noe, noe, psallite
Friday December 5, 2008, 8pm at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church,
500 De Haro Street (at Mariposa), San Francisco
Saturday, December 6, 2008, 8pm at All Saints Episcopal Church,
555 Waverley Street (at Hamilton), Palo Alto
Sunday, December 7, 2008, 4pm at St. Mark's Episcopal Church,
2300 Bancroft Way (at Ellsworth), Berkeley
Doors open 30 minutes prior to each performance
Advance purchase: General $25 / Senior $18 / Student $10
At the door: General $30 / Senior $22 / Student $10
(415) 262-0272 / http://www.calbach.org
Monday, November 10, 2008
- Other Minds New Music Seance, three concerts on December 6 at the Swedenborgian Church at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 8 p.m. The last program especially makes me weep: Ruth Crawford and her milieu, including music by Cowell and Beyer. Personal to Sarah Cahill: the date on your web site is December 8. I wish!
- The San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows concert, where the highlight, for me, would be the mighty-voiced Heidi Melton taking on Isolde's Narrative and Curse.
Mortier was promised a big budget - $68 million - and among the reasons he left is that NYCO could only get him about $35 million of that. Of course, as a friend points out, Europeans who take over American opera companies - and Americans who've worked only in Europe, like Pamela Rosenberg - are often unaware of or uncomfortable with the fundraising requirements that come with the job. We don't know whether Mortier would have succeeded at this.
He had ambitious plans for next season, including the NYC premiere of Saint Francois d'Assis and works by Debussy, Janacek, Stravinsky, Britten, Glass, Adams, and others. Now the Board of Directors doesn't know who will be running the company, and it's hard to imagine anyone coming in at this point and putting on the planned season.
Joshua Kosman called this situation back in May, 2007. A sad tip 'o the hat to him today.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
I know you're busy and all, but I prefer mass mailings that are honest about it.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Thursday, November 06, 2008
- San Francisco Early Music Society presents the Boston Shawm & Sackbut Ensemble and Friends this weekend. One of the friends is countertenor Paul Flight, who is a wonderful singer as well as chorus director. Concerts in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Francisco; details are here.
- Mahler's Eighth approaches, at San Francisco Symphony, and tickets are still available.
- With ticket sales slowing, San Francisco Opera has a half-price ticket offer on the well-reviewed Elisir. I'm not a Donizetti fan; on the other hand, Ramon Vargas. Email me for details or sign up for their email alerts.
- Esa-Pekka Salonen is in his last year at the Los Angeles Philharmonic (sob). In his honor, the orchestra has put up a huge web site that includes photos, a timeline, interviews, and, best of all, lots and lots of performances. I'm sorry that there are only snippets of Salonen's own compositions, but you'll find complete works by Steven Stucky, Dutilleux, Lindberg, Hillborg, and Lim among the living, and Bartok, Beethoven, Brahms, and Stravinsky, among the dead. I only wish Les Noces were the great four-piano version rather than Stucky's orchestration....h/t to Mr. Noise for the link.
- Meanwhile, just across the street from Disney Hall, LA Opera will be putting on the Ring, and they have their own web site about the production. If only the cast were better! Vitalij Kowaljow, yes; John Treleaven, no.
- But it also seems the whole city of Los Angeles is catching Ring Fever: the opera company has arranged a huge, city-wide look at Wagner and his epic by a range of arts organizations. Click Ring Festival at the link just above.
- Jake Heggie's Three Decembers is on at Zellerbach for three performances next month. I have not decided whether I'm going or not. I love Flicka, but...
- Opera Tattler reports that Faust is on at San Francisco next season, and since she heard it from David Gockley at a post-Elisir talk....god, WHY? It's not 1883.
- Across the sea, London's English National Opera is now taking ticket orders for their spring season, which includes Doctor Atomic and (be still, my heart) L'Amour de Loin. Gerald Finley once more reprises Robert Oppenheimer, but not, alas, Jaufre Rudel.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
The boys at FiveThirtyEight.com, my favorite polling analysts, noted today that African Americans made up 13% of the turnout in yesterday's historic election, up from 11% in recent presidential elections. You don't have to think too hard to figure out why: the presence of an African American on the Democratic ticket.
Here's something I left out of my recent review of guest conductor William Eddins's excellent concert at the Berkeley Symphony: I saw a noticeable number of African Americans at the concert, more than I can remember seeing at past Berkeley Symphony concerts that I've attended. And at opera performances with soprano Hope Briggs, whether at San Francisco or Festival Opera, it's same story. And at Appomattox last year, where several African American singers had roles, and where the story was, to say the least, important to African Americans. And at The Bonesetter's Daughter, the crowd of Chinese-Americans.
Moral of the story: Diversity of talent also improves the diversity - and size - of the audience.
On the way back to my office after one of these talks, I overheard the following comment:
As a young conservative, I have to say that these liberals don't understand that Americans are not ready to elect a woman or black man to the presidency.I glanced at the speaker and said nothing, but I was thinking "We'll see about that, won't we."
We have seen, and perhaps the young conservative, who must feel mighty outnumbered at this liberal company, is reconsidering his statement.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
I voted on Saturday, in the rain with lots of other Alameda County residents. I got a little teary pulling the lever, er, filling in the mark, for one particular vote. I never thought I'd see the day.