Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Steve Smith mentions a happy anniversary, the first birthday of Night After Night, and I am reminded that today vilainefille and Iron Tongue of Midnight both turn two.

Grateful thanks to my readers and my many inspirations in the blogosphere!

Oh, please, oh, please.

Anne Midgette writes in today's Times about a rumor I dearly hope is true:
But the biggest news may have been the company debut of Nicola Luisotti, a fast-rising young conductor whose name the rumor mill is currently linking to the post of music director at the San Francisco Opera. Evaluating him on this performance, an opera house would be lucky to have him. It wasn’t just his passion or his ability to bring out every detail of the score and deal with the singers’ sometimes willful phrasing; it was that he conducted “Tosca” as if it really mattered. Even James Morris, who has sometimes sung Scarpia as a growling caricature, picked up on the excitement and turned in a respectably dark villain.

“Tosca” seemed vital again. And in this venerable, twice-told production, that is news indeed.
He was brilliant in last year's Forza, so, MY fingers and toes are all crossed.


I've known about Blognoggle for months, but, as usual, I am way behind in talking about it here. It's a Web site that aggregates about a hundred classical music blogs - you will generally see the last posting or so for each. Sometimes I turn up there. :-)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Character tenor.

I hope not to be punished for having a case of Schadenfreude, but I find that Wolfgang Schmidt, whose singing made SFO's 1998 Tristan and 1999 Ring such a trial, is on his way to being a character tenor, the last refuge of aging Heldentenors. Yes, there's that single Fidelio in his upcoming engagements, and some Eriks in Fliegende Hollander, but otherwise, lots of Herods, Mimes, and Aegithuses. I don't know Tiefland, though, so maybe that's a leading role.

(Yes, yes, of course I'd rather have an aging Heldentenor as Mime or Loge than a whining character tenor who talks his way through the role.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

SFS: Abbado/Midori

I caught the SFS concert last night with my friend Mike; a program of Petrassi's Concerto for Orchestra No. 2, Britten's violin concerto, and the Schumann Fourth.

The Petrassi is competently written, but meandering; there are real compositional possibilities in the repeated rhythmic phrases and orchestration with which, sadly, he does nothing much. There was a moment when I thought "Wow, sounds vaguely like the score to a Hitchcock film...Bernard-Hermannish..." and when I mentioned this to Mike he finished the thought with "...but Hermann was a much better composer." Right-o.

The Britten...an astonishing piece. He does plenty with repeated rhythmic phrases, and the orchestration is original, arresting, and full of glories. That passage at the end of the first movement, with the cymbals, harp, solo violin, and...a horn? a trombone? The passage elswhere with the tuba and two piccolos (!!). The muted brass sonorities at the end. The incredible scherzo. Midori was magnificent; at the intermission, I said to Mike "Never mind the Schumann. Couldn't they just play that again???"

Maybe that would have been a mistake, maybe a second reading wouldn't have had the magic of the first. And the Schumann was first-class, an excellent performance of a work that I think is somewhat underrated. They played the heck out of it. And Peter Wyrick, one of my barometers, smiled a lot. I hope the musicians enjoyed the concert, the conductor, and the soloist as much as I did.

More new.

Added: Civic Center and A Singer's Life.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

New addition

Celeste's Scramblings, the mostly-musical blog of alto Celeste Winant, with whom I sing in The Haydn Singers.

Update, Saturday, Oct. 28: Celeste is linking back here; I blush at her kind words. She is a terrific singer!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Some (good) news.

Back in September, I mentioned that I was off-balance about various things in my life. This is, I guess, an update.

My mom came out here for a couple of weeks starting in late September, and found a place in Oakland that she will be moving to, presumably when her house closes, though maybe sooner. That's definitely good, and a huge relief to me.

Unless something goes very wrong, I'm also going to be starting a new technical writing job on November 13, at a company whose software you may have used. That's what I was spinning about. Yes, I am a little surprised by this, mostly because I like my current job and especially the people I work with. It was a hard decision to make; as recently as September I was saying wild horses couldn't drag me away from Documentum. But it's a great opportunity at a great place, one I thought I would just never have, because my new company is notoriously tough in its hiring process and requirements. Yes, the commute is worse than my current commute, but there is a shuttle, and there will be plenty of professional and other compensations.

I expect to still be blogging, writing, and singing. The multiple trips to New Jersey have delayed the dojo - there's no way you can run a school if you might have to go out of town for indefinite periods, unless you have black belt backup - and I expect to pick up that project some time early next year.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Iphigénie en Tauride

Anthony Tommasini reviews the current show at Lyric Opera of Chicago. This is the production (and part of the cast) that will be at San Francisco Opera next summer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tristan, Second Time

To Tristan again last night; once again, miracles in the orchestra, and some on-stage problems are more obvious.

Brewer occasionally sharped in the first act in both performances, and I will have to concede Joshua Kosman's point that occasionally and unpredictably, a note would drop out or simply sound as if it wasn't properly embedded in the phrase. I'm not conceding anything else, however, and I think those problems were entirely in Act I. In acts II and III, she was magnificent. None of her singing lacked detail or nuance; the rage and sarcasm in Act I were palpable and there was plenty of passion in Act II. In act III, her shock and despair gave way to ultimate transcendence. She simply can't be called "undercast."

I'll also concede that Kristinn Sigmundsson slid upward into notes at the beginnings of some phrases, but his majestic dignity overcomes all.

Thomas Moser, sadly, disappoints through consistency. Everything is sung in a pleasant mezzo-mezzo-forte, without much color or word-pointing. Yes, he phrases musically, but it's not enough. He has to conserve his voice to survive, and act III simply needs about twice as much as he can give. The direction doesn't help. He stands around lecturing the audience, not raving, ranting, fevered, desperate.

The marvelous Jane Irwin is seriously underused, physically, especially in Act I. Give her more to do! Too much standing around!

I wish she were offstage for all of Brangaene's watch; for the first, long bit, she is above the stage in a tower, so there is at least SOME sense of distance. But when Brangaene is off-stage, the effect is magical; you hear her from Tristan and Isolde's perspective, distantly, over a wash of misty orchestral sound.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


To the last night of Fledermaus at SFO last night - utterly charming! Pure bubbling fun; intoxicating music, witty translation, funny staging, adorable sets. Loved most of the singing, though, really, did Wolfgang Brendel sing more than a phrase at a time, any time? Less Sprechstimme would have been nice. Christine Goerke was hilarious and sounds just as good live as on record (catch her on Robert Spano's recording of Vaughn Williams' A Sea Symphony); I can't wait to hear her in German opera. Gerald Thompson was a fine Orlofsky, and yet I think I'd prefer a mezzo or contralto in the role. Jennifer Welch-Babidge delighted as Adele.

And The Donald was great. It must be a bit odd to conduct Fledermaus one night and Tristan the next, but the pairing seems to suit him just fine.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Jonathan Miller, once again.

I wrote about Jonathan Miller nearly two years ago when this blog was new. He's at it again! I gave up on Daniel Wakin's Times interview a few paragraphs in. And Joshua Kosman has an entertaining story - sort of - about Miller today.

Let's just say that I haven't changed my mind about him.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Don't believe him.

Joshua Kosman gave the San Francisco Opera Tristan a pretty poor review.

Go anyway!

I'll concede his points about Thomas Moser, who sang musically, but very, very carefully and without making much impact. His sound was handsome, controlled, and underpowered; Tristan does need to make a heroic sound from time to time. And there wasn't much raving or dementia in the last movement, either.


Christine Brewer was magnificent. Joshua's review doesn't mention her bruised Achilles tendon, which I read about in Allan Ulrich's interview with Brewer. That's certainly part of the reason she moved so tentatively and the direction was so static. (The damn director didn't give the fully-mobile Jane Irwin much to do either.) Brewer's tone was beautiful from top to bottom, she was physically and vocally expressive, there was a ton of detail in her singing. She sharped from time to time, but mostly in the first act; I chalk it up to a combination of nerves and concern about her stability.

Ditto Kristinn Sigmundsson! I didn't read his movements as "bouncing in time to the music." I thought it was the unsteady gait of old age. He dominated Tristan, and the stage: I could not take my eyes off him.

Boaz Daniel and Jane Irwin were both wonderful.

Most importantly, I can't begin to describe the incredible beauty of Donald Runnicles' conducting and the sounds coming out of the orchestra. The pacing and proportions of this great and difficult opera were just about perfect. The orchestra might as well have been one instrument with many voices, each of which could be picked out of a transparent, glowing texture.

Go see it. Go see it more than once. If you love this opera, you won't be sorry.

Updated Monday, Oct. 9.