Monday, June 30, 2008

Rare Debussy

A friend writes:
I've just been listening to the recording of Debussy's Le Martyre de St.-Sébastien by MTT and the London Symphony, with Sylvia McNair and others, and narration by Leslie Caron. It's a hard CD to find--the pared-down orchestral version is easier, though not exactly a warhorse--but it's a gorgeous piece and really ought to be revived, with maximum spectacle as (I gather) the librettist, Gabriele d'Annunzio, had in mind.
Sounds good to me - I'm shallow, so the phrase "maximum spectacle" automatically makes a piece attractive to me. (That's why I have a copy of Granville Bantock's Omar Khhayam at home now.)

Has anyone ever heard Le Martyre live?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thank Goodness for Small Favors

First, I can never imagine believing that I am qualified to be president of the United States. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rising Sun

Reviewing the San Francisco Symphony. Lindberg, Seht die Sonne; Debussy songs; Beethoven, Seventh Symphony.

Some thoughts that didn't make it into the review:
  • I wish they'd programmed Lindberg's Clarinet Concerto to close, not the Beethoven. It would be fun to see Carey Bell break a sweat - and Oramo would have conducted it better.
  • Right, I hated the Beethoven. And it wasn't just the speed: it was the rigidity and lack of give between and within measures and phrases.
  • Anu Komsi really does have a lovely voice. She also has a habit of singing soft high notes with the tiniest thread of sound possible. I was very impressed the first couple of times she did this. Around the fourth or fifth time, realized that it's a trick, like those floated pianissimos Caballe could pull out of her hat. Notes sung in that fashion become disconnected from the line of the music.
  • Jeff Dunn points out that Einojuhanni Rautavaara has sold more records than the composers I listed put together. I didn't list Rautavaara because I've heard only two works by him, one a part song that I liked very much - Volti sang it on one of their concerts - the other the dreadful Manhattan Trilogy the Symphony played with Ashkenazy conducting.
  • The orchestra looked somewhere from studiously neutral to grim during the concert. My companion thought the Lindberg sounded underrehearsed, which could have caused the orchestra to look displeased. 

Monday, June 23, 2008

San Francisco Opera on the Radio

Here's the schedule for the next batch of San Francisco Opera broadcasts on KDFC:

Sunday, July 6 at 8pm – Stravinky’s The Rake’s Progress [Fall 2007]

Tenor William Burden (Tom Rakewell) stars in Stravinsky’s tale of a self-destructive young man who makes a deal with the devil. Also featured in this production are soprano Laura Aikin (Anne Trulove), mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves (Baba the Turk) and bass-baritone James Morris (Nick Shadow). Donald Runnicles, conductor; Robert Lepage, director.


Sunday, August 3 at 8pm – Puccini’s Madama Butterfly [Fall 2007]

Puccini’s tragic love story features soprano Patricia Racette (Cio-Cio-San) and mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao (Suzuki) with tenor Brandon Jovanovich (Pinkerton) and baritone Steven Powell (Sharpless). Donald Runnicles, conductor; Kathleen Belcher, director.


Sunday, September 7 at 8pm – Wagner’s Das Rheingold [Summer 2008]

The first installment in acclaimed stage director Francesca Zambello’s complete “American” Ring cycle, Das Rheingold features role debuts by baritone Mark Delavan (Wotan), mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore (Fricka) and tenor Stefan Margita (Loge), as well as Richard Paul Fink (Alberich) and mezzo-soprano Jill Grove (Erda). Donald Runnicles, conductor; Francesca Zambello, director.


Sunday, October 5 at 8pm - San Francisco Chronicle Presents Opera in the Park

This special broadcast of the beloved San Francisco tradition, San Francisco Chronicle Presents Opera in the Park, features artists from the Company’s 200809 Season in concert with members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Donald Runnicles, conductor.


Sunday, November 2 at 8pm – Handel’s Ariodante [Summer 2008]

Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (Ariodante) stars in Handel’s rediscovered tale of jealousy, betrayal and ultimate triumph, also featuring soprano Ruth Ann Swenson (Ginevra), soprano Veronica Cangemi (Dalinda), contralto Sonia Prina (Polinesso) in her U.S. debut, tenor Richard Croft (Lurcanio) and bass-baritone Eric Owens (King of Scotland). Patrick Summers, conductor; John Copley, director.


Sunday December 7 at 8pm – Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor [Summer 2008]

French coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay (Lucia) stars in Donizetti’s famed saga of a woman driven mad by her arranged marriage. The production also features tenor Giuseppe Filianoti (Edgardo), baritone Gabriele Viviani (Enrico) and bass Oren Gradus (Raimondo). Jean-Yves Ossonce, conductor; Graham Vick, director.

Pamela Z at the Royce Gallery, June 27-29

A new solo multi-media performance work by Pamela Z

Friday- Sunday June 27, 28, and 29, 2008, 8pm
Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa Street (between Harrison & Alabama), San Francisco.
Admission is $10
Tickets at the door or through PayPal (

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, June 27th through 29th, 2008, at 8pm Pamela Z Productions presents Pamela Z in the San Francisco premiere of The Pendulum, a solo multi-media performance work exploring binaries of “Yes and No” through voice, electronics, projected video and manipulation of objects. Using a minimal set including dangling objects, and two channels of projected video, Ms. Z will perform a series of art songs and text-sound pieces with live voice, real-time processing, sampled voices and sounds and custom MIDI controllers, in the intimate performance space of the Royce Gallery.

About the inspiration for the work, the artist says:
“When I was growing up, my mother often wrote long lists of questions about things that concerned her. She would then dangle a small object -such as a needle, key, or trinket- on a thread and divine yes or no answers from the direction of its swinging - systematically writing the answers next to each question. Now in her advanced years, I have found that she amassed a great deal of documentation of her consultations with the pendulum for answers to questions both monumental and insignificant. A few years ago, while helping her to move, I discovered veritable reams of such pages- hand-written and typed. These papers chronicle a portion family history - albeit through my mother's rather distressed and confused filter.”

Some of the language from these pages finds its way into The Pendulum as a mesh of vocal texture throughout its visually rich and sonically layered segments.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Medici TV at Aspen, and Elsewhere

Medici TV will have webcasts from Aspen this year, as well as Verbier and other festivals!

Lucia Tonight: Free, with Garlic Fries!

San Francisco Opera's ballpark simulcast of Lucia di Lammermoor is tonight. The production, and especially the singing, and especially Natalie Dessay, got great reviews. There's Joshua Kosman in the Chron, and, unusually, columnist Jon Carroll, with a particularly funny take on the piece. 

Tickets are still available: you register and print out your tickets at the Opera web site.

I won't be there. I was supposed to see the Symphony, which is performing the Magnus Lindberg commission, Seht die Sonne, yesterday. I should have checked the schedule, because the performance was a rare Thursday matinee, which I discovered around 5 p.m., long after the concert was over. I'll be at the Symphony tonight, and will catch Lucia another time, or not at all.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


On the Concord Ensemble's Berkeley Festival program last week was a number familiar to me, Juan Arañés’s  Chacona, "A la vida, vidita bona." You might know this piece too, if you're a Hesperion XXI fan (and who isn't?), because it's the first track on the wonderful Villancicos y danzas criollas, which Alex Ross once called "Alia Vox's unofficial dance-party CD."
The Concord Ensemble and Hesperion both perform this piece, the catchiest music ever written, with similar verve and joy. But what a difference in arrangements: the Concord Ensemble performed it a capella. On the Hesperion CD, there's a veritable orchestra, including percussion, viols, a plucked instrument (Baroque guitar?), and sackbutts. 

I've certained wondered about the historical information supporting Hesperion's instrumental forces, but the CD's liner notes are useless on this count. Davitt Maroney's program notes for the amazing Striggio mass performed at the Berkeley Festival indicate that in its time, lavish forces would have backed the singers, rendering his choice of sackbutts, cornetts, and pairs of portative organs and harpsichords conservative. But does the same apply to a secular number in a New World style?

Music in the Dark

Review, Le Poème Harmonique at the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Things I Learned This Week

  • Going to five performances in six days is a mistake, at least if you also have to go to work. That would be Das Rheingold, the SF Symphony program, and three concerts at the Berkeley early music fest ("Berkeley Festival and Exhibition" - why tell you the subject of the festival, after all?).
  • Nonetheless, I'm sorry I couldn't have attended all of the festival concerts, and I'm especially sorry to have missed the Concord Ensemble/Piffaro concert, though I did catch the Concord Ensemble's fabulous program of Spanish music.
  • It's a good idea to figure out the questions you need answered to finish your review on a day you can expect Cal Performances' press office to be open.