Thursday, December 08, 2016

Some Kind of Award is Due

Earlier today, I received an email that deserves some kind of award, perhaps for Worst Press Release of the Year. I'm not going to reprint it, but let me count the problems.
  1. The email is from someone's personal Gmail account.
  2. The press contact is someone entirely different, and that individual's personal Gmail account is in the email. The PR firm has a web site, but somehow hasn't figured out how to set up email addresses. (Oh, wait, here is why: the company web site is very likely on Weebly and it costs money to get Google Apps for Your...oops, G Suite on Weebly. Hint: there are ways to set up an alias so that you can send email that looks like it comes from Ask me how I know this stuff, and by the way, it is not because I work for the Big G.)
  3. There isn't a reply-to set up for the press contact in the original email.
  4. The email is riddled with grammatical errors, logical issues, and poor writing.
  5. It is completely obvious that the PR company and the person sending the email have absolutely no idea of what my blog covers.
  6. I believe that my readership would not be very interested in this product. (This is a corollary to no. 5.)
  7. The pitch for an article is....naive.
  8. The Big Idea in the email is....well, I just don't know too many people who would go for the action the PR company is suggesting.
  9. Those certifications you mention are not "awards."
  10. Featured on TV in 2011 - that's five years ago - isn't all that impressive.

Hvorostovsky Withdraws from Scheduled Opera Appearances

Dmitri Hvorostovsky at the curtain call for the September 25 performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

From the Met:
Dmitri Hvorostovsky has withdrawn from his upcoming opera engagements, including this spring’s Met performances as the title character in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, due to illness. In June 2015, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and began treatment. However, balance issues resulting from the illness have made the performance of staged opera difficult, though he plans to continue performing in concerts, recitals, and the recording studio. A statement from Mr. Hvorostovsky is available below.
Mariusz Kwiecien and Peter Mattei will step into the role of Onegin at the Met for this spring’s performances, with Kwiecien singing on March 30, April 3 and 7 and Mattei singing on April 12, 15, 18, and 22 matinee.
Eugene Onegin will be conducted by Robin Ticciati and will also star Anna Netrebko as Tatiana, Elena Maximova as Olga, Alexey Dolgov as Lenski, and Štefan Kocán as Gremin. The April 22 matinee performance will be transmitted worldwide as part of the Met’s Live in HD series, which now reaches more than 2,000 theaters in 70 countries around the globe.
[Given the cast, I had planned to attend the HD broadcast which, to make this explicit, will now have the great Peter Mattei in the title role.]

[Kwiecien and Mattei bios omitted]

Statement from Dmitri Hvorostovsky

To all my friends, fans and colleagues:
It is with great sadness that I must withdraw from opera performances for the foreseeable future.
I have been experiencing balance issues associated with my illness, making it extremely difficult for me to perform in staged productions.
I will continue to give concerts and recitals as well as make recordings. Singing is my life, and I want to continue bringing joy to people worldwide.
With this pause in my operatic career and more rest in between each engagement, I hope to have more time to focus on my health and treatment.
Thank you for all your love, messages and well wishes. Your support is felt and means the world to me.
With love,
Wishing Mr. Hvorostovsky the most successful treatment possible!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Answer: Economics

Buffy Baggott (Countess Geschwitz) and Emma McNairy (Lulu)
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Question, for Jeopardy fans: Why can't San Francisco Opera put on seasons as adventurous as West Edge Opera's??

I heard that one a few times last summer from audience members and friends whose jaws were dropping at the audacity and beauty of West Edge Opera's season of Powder Her Face, Agrippina, and The Cunning Little Vixen, not to mention the 2015 season of Lulu, As One, and Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria.

And the answer is a simple one: money money money, which is directly related to the scale of the two operations.

Take a look at the 990 forms for San Francisco Opera and West Edge Opera.

The West Edge Opera 990 covers the year when the summer productions were at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley. It shows total revenue of about $303,600 and expenses of about $272,000.

The SFO 990 covers the same year. It shows total revenue of around $75 million ($75,800,000) and expenses of almost $74 million ($73,900,000). The company also has assets of $197 million. I believe most of that is funds in the endowment.

Let's try another few measures. West Edge Opera is now firmly housed in the abandoned train station for its summer season. You probably don't know how many audience members the station can seat. I certainly didn't, and I nearly fell over when I found out that it seats around 500. WEO put on three performances each of Vixen and Agrippina this year, and four of Powder Her Face, so they had to sell a total of 5,000 tickets to sell out.

The War Memorial Opera House seats around 3200 and the company puts on 65 to 70 performances a year. San Francisco Opera is trying to sell more than 200,000 tickets each season.

West Edge Opera hires freelance singers, orchestra members, lighting people, directors, stagehands, etc.

SF Opera has a permanent, unionized orchestra and a unionized chorus. The stagehands and other professionals working behind the scenes are unionized. They get paid salaries and have health and other benefits. The stars who sing solo roles get paid up to $17,000 per performance. (I do not know what the low range for soloists is or how it changes by size of the part, etc.)

David Gockley and Nicola Luisotti both got paid higher annual salaries than the entire West Edge Opera annual budget.

We're talking about very different levels of financial risk for a big opera company and an immense difference in the number of tickets that must be sold and funds that must be raised to keep an institution such as SF Opera financially stable. With the decreasing number of subscriptions purchased and the need to sell many more single tickets, it's easy to understand why SF Opera is more conservative in its programming than West Edge Opera.

Griffin Madden

Tragic news received this morning from Cal Performances: their staff member Griffin Madden died in the GhostShip warehouse fire in Oakland this past Friday night.

Matias Tarnopolsky writes:
It is with incredible sadness that I write to inform you that a beloved member of our staff, Griffin Madden, perished in the fire in Oakland on Friday night. Griffin had been missing since last being seen there, and his death was confirmed yesterday evening.
Griffin was Cal Performances’ Audience Services Associate, recently winning that full-time position after having worked as a student usher throughout his undergraduate career. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 2015 with a double major in Philosophy and Slavic Languages and Literature. He was devoted to Cal Performances and had been an integral member of our staff for five years, starting as a freshman at age 18.  Griffin was 23 years old.
Yesterday, at Cal Performances’ long scheduled staff holiday gathering, Griffin’s father, Mike, and Griffin's girlfriend, Saya, joined us in a spirit of comfort and connection with the people whom Griffin touched every day.  
Their extraordinary example of grace and optimism was truly inspiring to all of us who knew Griffin.
Cal Performances plans to hold a memorial event in the spring. If people would like to send remembrances or condolences to Griffin's family, they may send them to me at the address below and we will forward them.
Our community is heartbroken at this news. We extend our deep condolences to Griffin's family and to his friends.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Grawemeyer Award to Andrew Norman

For his well-received orchestral work Play, of course. Congratulations!

His remarks after the award are quite interesting, too; here's what he said in an interview with Tom Huizenga of NPR:
Huizenga: On a practical level, I suppose it could send more commissions your way.
Norman: If I get more commissions, great, but maybe I can use this moment to talk about things that are important to me. Like to call attention to the fact that there are problems. For instance, this award has been given to three women out of its 30-year history. And to me that's kind of an issue.
And in all honesty, I'm a white man and I get lots of commissions and there are systemic reasons for that, reasons we should all be talking about. There are so many talented composers out there. Rather than giving me another commission, why aren't we giving those people a commission?
The canon is so overwhelmingly white and male, but we can use new music to fix that problem. There are so many voices who should be heard in the concert hall today, of people whose music reflects a wide variety of experiences. That, to me, is the most important issue right now for contemporary classical music and classical music generally — how to get what happens in the concert hall to reflect the diverse society that we are.
I think that orchestras have such an opportunity, especially now in this really conflicted, contentious moment, to say something powerful and meaningful about our own time, with the all of the voices of our own time.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Shocked, Shocked

Last week, it transpired that the Metropolitan Opera won't be performing a new opera by Osvaldo Golijov after all. Neither party is saying much about what happened or why the project is being canceled. From Michael Cooper's article:
The opera house and the composer were circumspect about why the project, which was more than a decade in the making, had been called off. The Met said in a statement this week that it had parted ways with Mr. Golijov because of “conflicting schedules” but would not elaborate. Mr. Golijov declined a request for an interview; his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, cited an unspecified “difference in artistic vision” for the demise of the project.
Let me hazard a guess that Golijov's ongoing creative block is what's responsible; he has been having problems following through on commissions for years now.

However, "more than a decade in the making" does not reflect well on the Met: other composers are able to deliver commissions within a few years, and the company must have given Golijov an unusual degree of latitude to let the project drag on for so long. Consider, for example, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec: he has deliver The Letter (2008), Danse Russe (2011), and The Shining (2016) in less than the time it has taken Golijov to not deliver a score to the Met.

In response to this news, Anne Midgette took a long, hard, look at the Met's commissioning program and concluded that it is boneheaded. Okay, that is not what she says, well, not directly, but she is completely right about how misguided it is. The big problem is that the program doesn't commit the Met to actually staging anything that they commission; they can run workshops until the cows come home, but composers are not guaranteed a performance, although they do get paid for their work.

This seems very unfortunately to be typical of the Met. Over a long period - their whole damn history, in fact - there's been a very slight degree of commitment to commissioning and performing new music. Here is a list of Met world premieres:
  1. La Fanciulla del West
  2. Koningskinder
  3. Monda (Parker)
  4. Cyrano (Damrosch)
  5. Madeleine
  6. Madame Sens-Gen
  7. Goyescas
  8. The Canterbury Pilgrims
  9. The Robin Woman: Shanewis
  10. The Dance in Place Congo (ballet)
  11. Il Trittico (Il Tabarro, Suoer Angelica, Gianni Schicchi)
  12. The Temple Dancer
  13. The Blue Bird
  14. Cleopatra's Night
  15. Skyscrapers
  16. The King's Henchman
  17. Peter Ibbetson
  18. The Emperor Jones
  19. Merry Mount (world stage premiere)
  20. In the Pasha's Garden
  21. The Man Without a Country
  22. The Island God
  23. The Warrior
  24. Vanessa
  25. Antony & Cleopatra
  26. Mourning Becomes Electra
  27. The Ghosts of Versailles
  28. The Voyage
  29. Babbitt Piano Concerto (Met Orch at Carnegie Hall)
  30. The Great Gatsby
  31. An American Tragedy
  32. The First Emperor
  33. The Enchanted Island (pastiche)
Many of these works have sunk without a trace, although there are a few very bright lights in there....most of them written by Puccini. It's true that the Met has also performed a bunch of recent work not commissioned by the Met, including three operas by John Adams, Thomas Adès's The Tempest, and Nico Muhly's Two Boys

Still, you could wish that the country's most prestigious opera company would taking some kind of lead in recruiting composers to compose operas, matching them with good librettists, and then following through by staging the resulting operas. They are certainly hamstrug by factors somewhat beyond their control: the enormous cost of staging opera in NYC, their gigantic theater, and the lack of a smaller, perhaps nonunion, venue - say a thousand seats? - where they could stage new opera at a lower cost and with much less risk, perhaps drawing on their young singers' program.

You should definitely read Anne's article, which goes into a lot of detail about issues with the Met program; also take a look at Justin Davidson's article about new opera at the Met. He's absolutely right that composers rarely get it right with their first opera (or operas); the exceptions include Mozart, Berg, and Britten, so you see.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Pauline Oliveros

Radical composer Pauline Oliveros, fierce feminist, died last week at 84. The Times obituary is by Steve Smith, who also discussed her on NPR.

Russell Oberlin

The great countertenor Russell Oberlin has died, age 88. He was one of the two most important figures in the countertenor renaissance of the mid-20th century, the other being the English countertenor Alfred Deller.

Of local interest: Oberlin sang the role of Oberon in the US premiere of Britten's marvelous A Midsummer Night's Dream at San Francisco Opera.

Margalit Fox wrote the Times obituary; here's an article from a few years ago about how homebound patients dealt with Hurricane Sandy, in which Oberlin featured prominently.

Joana Carneiro & the Berkeley Symphony

Just noting that Berkeley Symphony music director Joana Carneiro withdrew from the orchestra's October program, which Edwin Outwater conducted, and has now withdrawn from the December program, which Elim Chan will conduct. The public announcement for the December program just said "We proudly present Elim Chan, guest conductor for REVERENCE!", with no mention of the reason for Carneiro's withdrawal. Earlier this fall, she withdrew from a European engagement as well.

I hope she is well and will return soon. She is scheduled to conduct SFS in 2017 in John Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary, a work I am greatly looking forward to hearing.

Germany Friday Photo

Office Machines in a Window
Munich, Germany
August 2015