Thursday, June 29, 2006

Dottoressa Strega

Well! My beloved filed her dissertation yesterday. She is now Donna H. Odierna, Dr. P.H. (Doctor of Public Health). Her dissertation is called "Learning to See the Invisible: Marginalization, Attrition, and Health Inequalities in a Study of Welfare and Substance Use."

Here's what she looked at:
  • Social marginalization and its effects on participant attrition in a particular study population

  • The relationship between marginalization and health, where she found a negative association between severe marginalization and health

  • Whether attrition of hard-to-find participants affects results, where she found that it can

The latter part of the dissertation worked by taking a set of results from a particular study population, backing out hard-to-find respondents, and re-running the original analysis. There were differences in the results. Retaining hard-to-find respondents has a significant effect on research results, in other words, and thus, possibly, on policy based on those results. She did an enormous amount of work on hard-to-find survey respondents and the efforts that went into retaining them in the study population, because the original researchers went to incredible lengths to retain as many respondents as possible.

I'm so proud of her!!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Seen at Davies

At the Verdi Requiem, the other day, soprano Jane Eaglen; this just a couple of days after the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra concert I reviewed for SFCV. I spotted her and her husband waiting for the elevator, and if anyone recognized her, it didn't show.

Conlon: Two for Two

I was in Civic Center Saturday night at 10 p.m. because I'd just gotten out of the San Francisco Symphony's next-to-last performance of the Verdi Requiem. I wish I'd gotten to it earlier in the run, because I would have loved to hear it multiple times. It was nearly perfect: I only say that because I know something must have gone wrong, that there must have been a bobble in there someplace. Whatever it was, I didn't hear it.

What I did hear was the sound of the Symphony Chorus, ethereal or thunderous as needed; the Symphony itself, with a richer and more luminous sound than what's typical when MTT is conducting; four outstanding soloists; and a performance with the emotional range, heroic scale, and drama the work itself requires. James Conlon, returning to SFS for the first time in many years, led a beautiful, shapely, wholly involving performance. At the end, he seemed faintly embarrassed by the ovation he got, deferring repeatedly to outgoing Symphony Chorus director Vance George, the soloists, the orchestra, and the chorus itself.

Well, really, everyone made marvelous contributions. The soloists were the kind of quartet I dream about: uniformly musical, comfortable with the style, and in sound vocal condition. That said, they were not all equal. Bass Vitalij Kowaljow sang well, but a bit anonymously. Tenor Frank Lopardo is now working with a voice that has lost its nap; still, he sang stylishly, with a fine Verdian line, very beautiful soft singing, and a lovely trill.

The vocal stars of the show were certainly soprano Christine Brewer and mezzo Stephanie Blythe. I think you could not ask for a better pairing; they sounded marvelous together, and, really, what I want now is to hear them as Aida and Amneris. There were plenty of decibels; more importantly, there were two beautiful and even voices, up high and down below, easily produced, perfectly steady, and with seemingly endless reserves of breath and power. The line went on and on and on - really, they were breathtaking, putting nearly every dramatic soprano or mezzo walking the earth in their shadows.

On June 9, I heard Conlon's first program of three in the Romantic Visions festival, consisting of three dances from operas inspired by Oscar Wilde, written by Zemlinsky, Shreker, and Strauss, and Zemlinsky's one-act shocker A Florentine Tragedy, also written by Zemlinsky (and also based on Wilde). The dances were, comparatively, fluff, though of course Salome's "Dance of the Seven Veils" is integral to the eponymous opera. They gave you a nice glimpse of the composers but mostly leave you wanting more.

The opera, though - whoa. It is from about 1916, and is quite firmly in the lush, splashy, style of Richard Strauss. It's written with enormous confidence and skill, brilliant orchestration, and plenty of drama. Not very much happens during the 90-minute confrontation between a merchant, his wife, and her aristocratic lover; it's largely a psychological drama. The outcome is....not what you might expect. I'm not giving it away, and, frankly, if you ever have a chance to see this piece, don't read the libretto or synopsis.

It got a bang-up performance. James Johnson provided a tour-de-force of focussed dramatic singing as Simone, the merchant. He has Wotan in his repertory, and all things considered, it is amazing that James Morris and Greer Grimsley are hired ahead of him. I'd love to hear him in the role. Kim Begley was convincing as Guido Bardi, the lover. Bianca, Simone's wife, has a tiny part, amounting to no more than five or ten minutes of work; still, Kate Aldrich made plenty of impact, and I hope she'll sing in SF again. Conlon could have kept the orchestra down a bit; the singers were overwhelmed a few times. Still, the performance was passionate and cohesive.

It's too bad the piece doesn't appear more often. I think it would fit very, very well on a double bill with Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle.

Conlon's a marvelous conductor - not so many conductors will do brilliantly with works as different as the Verdi and Zemlinsky. I hope he'll back soon, either at SFS or across the street in the Opera House. I'm sorry I didn't get to the Liszt/Tchaikowsky concert, since who knows when either of the works on that program will cross my path again?

Minor Updates on Wednesday, June 28.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Friday, June 16, 2006

LHL and JL

Buried in Lawrence Van Gelder's "Arts, Briefly" column today in the Times, Daniel J. Wakin reports the worrisome news that Lorraine Hunt Lieberson has cancelled all of her scheduled performances for the year, "for personal reasons."

The adjacent item brings happier news: James Levine returns to the BSO podium on July 7, leading the opening performance at Tanglewood.

Where I've Been

Hither and yon - three weeks in New Jersey, not quite confined entirely to my mother's house, and under some work pressure, as well. I think I am ready to resume posting, however.