Monday, August 31, 2009

A Night at the Opera, Ballpark Edition

You can see San Francisco Opera's season-opening Il Trovatore free at the S.F. ballpark, on September 19, 2009, at 8 p.m. The cast looks good (Sondra Radvanovsky, Stephanie Blythe, Marco Berti, Dmitri Hvorostovsky) and new music director Nicola Luisotti conducts. Having heard him in his previous outings, he'd be worth going for even if I were singing all four leads.

I have never been to one of these events, so I can't report on sound quality, but the screen is immense, 103 feet wide. You'll be able to see the pores on the singers' faces, I'm sure.

It's best to get tickets in advance, though I believe they have not quite filled the ballpark on previous outings. Go here to sign up. You can order up to four tickets, and if the ticketing works as in prior years, you print them yourself.

Last Night of the Proms

So the BBC has a plan in place to broadcast the famous Last Night of the Proms live. That'll take place on September 12, 2009. In the Bay Area, or at least the East Bay, we're not quite getting the concert live. Instead, the Elmwood, on College near Ashby, in Berkeley, will have the program on Saturday, September 19, at 11:30 a.m. If you want tickets, buy them on line at the Elmwood's web site. $18, $15 for seniors, plus $3.50 handling charge per ticket (grrr); they'll be held at will call.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kennedy Funeral - Music Question

The last work listed in the official order of the service for Ted Kennedy's funeral today is "America the Beautiful," played as a recessional as Senator Kennedy's coffin left Our Lady of Perpetual Help. But they ran out of verses, and the organist played something magnificent and severe that I did not recognize. As the coffin was enshrouded with an American flag by the honor guard, that work ended and the chorus started in on "Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen," from the Brahms Requiem.

If anyone knows what that organ work was, please tell me.

Friday, August 28, 2009


If you're planning to attend one of the first two productions of the San Francisco Opera's fall season and you're not familiar with Il Trovatore (not so likely) or with the three operas that make up Il Trittico (more likely), you could do worse than to wander over to Unnatural Acts of Opera and scroll to the famous Price, Simionato, Corelli, Bastianini/von Karajan Trovatore and the performances of Il Tabarro (hair-raising, with Magda Olivero sounding not much different at 60 than at 28, when she made her first recordings), Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi.

Patricia Racette is singing all three of the soprano roles, of which Giorgetta and Angelica sound like killers even if you're not singing them consecutively. (At the Met premiere in 1918, the leads were sung by Claudia Muzio, Geraldine Farrar, and Florence Easton.) And these are all role debuts for Racette, who is one gutsy soprano.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kennedy Conducts

Just in case you thought there couldn't possibly be a good classical music tie-in to the passing of Senator Kennedy (yes, I know about the musicians who will sing and play at his funeral service), the Boston Symphony Orchestra has very kindly provided a photo of the Senator conducting "The Stars and Stripes Forever" at a Boston Pops concert a few years ago. He certainly looks as though he's having a good time, as who wouldn't, in front an enthusiastic audience with a great orchestra at his beck and call. Video of this event has been made available to news organizations, which should contact the BSO press office if they'd like to show a clip.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"The purchase also includes an opera house"

Somebody please buy this for me: A castle in Scotland, which looks pretty darned good from the photos, and costs a mere $8.2 million. It has 12,000 s.f., 17 bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, a dining room that seats 16 without breaking a sweat, sea views, 30 acres, and, of course, that opera house, which used to be the carriage house.

Unsuk Chin: Rocaná

Hear Unsuk Chin's gorgeous Concerto for Violin, at record label Analekta's web site.

Ted Kennedy, RIP

You were a flawed human and a great Senator. Thank you, Ted, for being a liberal firebrand all these years, and for passing so much important legislation. May your memory be for a blessing.

Health Care Reform, Again

  • David Leonhardt makes some good points in the Times. "Both parties are protecting the insurers."
  • The Times also has an excellent description of how health care is provided in Japan. "Relatively speaking, primary care is more profitable than highly specialized care, so Japanese doctors face different incentives than U.S. doctors. As a result, the Japanese are three times more likely than Americans to go to the doctor, but they receive many fewer surgical operations."
  • And here's the Times's description of how health care is provided in Canada, our fine neighbor to the north. "Imagine 10 provincial nonprofit health insurance plans without deductibles, co-insurance or co-payments for medically prescribed treatment. Canada pays for more hospital days and doctor visits per capita than the United States but spends about 40 percent less."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Urban Opera's First Venture

My mini-review in SFCV. A line didn't make it in: after a slightly shaky first number, the chorus was terrific. And, of course, next time I hope to have more than 24 hours warning.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Press release from San Francisco Opera announcing a Ladies' Night at the Opera (I added that apostrophe), for the Tuesday, Sept. 22 performance of Il Trovatore. Ticket prices are lower than usual at $27-$150 and the offer includes a wine and cheese reception at 6:30 p.m. It's described as a "social networking event." If you want to buy a ticket through this offer, go to and enter LNITE10.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Urban Opera: Dido & Aenaes

I heard last night about performances of Purcell's Dido and Aenaes taking place this weekend in San Francisco in an unusual location: the Elevated Plaza at 409-499 Illinois near 16th Street. A new company, Urban Opera, is staging the work. Here are the details, copied from the web site. I'm advised that dressing in layers is a good idea, and I heard good things about the performances and production from The Standing Room.

Urban Opera, a new opera company in San Francisco, launches its inaugural production with the first existing English opera, Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, on August 21st featuring mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich in the title role.

Performance Information

Friday, August 21
Saturday, August 22
Sunday, August 23

All performances begins at 7:00 PM, the doors will open at 6:30 PM

Urban Opera ArtSpace
409 - 499 Illinois Street (@ 16th Street)
Mission Bay, San Francisco


Premium $50, General Admission $30

To purchase tickets online please click here:

Please Note: General Admission tickets will be available for purchase at the door by check or cash. It is a large outdoor space so we will be able to fit you in.

Program Details

Dido and Aeneas is Purcell’s setting of Nahum Tate’s libretto, based on a story from Virgil’s Aeneid. The opera mixes gods, heroes, mortals, and evil spirits into a one-hour Greek tragedy.

The opera begins with a spoken prologue (the original music has been lost) between the gods followed by a staged overture designed to bring those unfamiliar with Virgil’s Fourth Book of The Aeneid up to speed. Dido, the powerful Queen of Carthage is shadowed by a malevolent spirit. She is brought out of her despair by her court and by the arrival of the Trojan hero, Aeneas. At first Love seems triumphant however Dido is ultimately undone by the evil forces of the witches, by the fate the gods have set for Aeneas, and her own pride.

Urban Opera brings together singers and actors from across a broad spectrum of the music world. Featured with Ms. Scharich, are sopranos Kimarie Torre (Belinda), Milissa Carey (Sorceress), Pamela Igelsrud (Second Woman), tenor Todd Wedge (Aeneas), counter-tenors Cortez Mitchell (First Witch/Mercury) and Michael McNeil (Second Witch/Sailor). The production is accompanied by The Jubilate Baroque Orchestra.

Kue King’s modern costume design coupled with contemporary theatrical devices aid in bringing the opera out of antiquity and into a modern sensibility.

This site-specific performance will take place in an elevated park sheltered between two beautiful new buildings in Mission Bay. A grove, a meadow, and a spectacular bay view transports viewers out of the everyday and into another world. Told as the sun sets, Dido’s lament, “Remember me, but ah! Forget my fate,” seems timeless.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More Behrens

Tributes to Hildegard Behrens are popping up around the blogosphere, as well as obituaries.
  • Alex Ross, who loved her performances, has posted an impressive and beautifully-sung clip from her 1977 Salome recording.
  • A. C. Douglas says farewell, tipping a hat toward her stage presence.
  • Tim Mangan has comments up at the OC Register arts blog, including an embedded video of the soprano in an uncharacteristic role. I don't what year this was, but her appearance is characteristic: you can see her preparing for every phrase. That's also visible on the Met Ring videos.
  • Anthony Tommasini wrote her Times obit. "Purist" is a word I really don't like to see critics using, with its implication that there's something wrong with commenting unfavorably on a singer's weaknesses or suitability for a role or repertory. He's done it before, in connection with Netrebko in bel canto.
  • An unsigned Telegraph UK obit.

Mid-August Miscellany

Tim Mangan, who is a real reporter, took a closer look at the Berlin Phil web offerings than I did. Saariaho fans, take note: their August 28, season-opening webcast includes the premier of a new Saariaho work, Lanterna Maijica. Watching it on the web is cheap, much cheaper, than a ticket to Berlin....San Francisco Symphony's new recording of the mighty Mahler 8th is now available on iTunes. I'm not going to try to link to the recording, because I don't have iTunes, so Apple is instead very kindly offering to let me download it.....Speaking of SF Symphony, they're giving a free performance at Justin Herman Plaza, in SF, on Friday, September 11, at 12 noon. Despite the date, they're playing a program of light classics: Mephisto Waltz, La Valse, Carousel Walz.....From September 16 to October 3, SFS is playing a whole lot of Mahler; Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson appear with the symphony....San Francisco Opera has a series of upcoming events too. Opera in Stern Grove on Sunday, August 23, at 2 p.m., featuring tenor Marco Berti....Opera in the Park, Golden Gate Park, on Sunday, September 13, at 1:30 p.m., featuring the great lineup of Sondra Radvanovsky, Ewa Podleś, Marco Berti, Brandon Jovanovich, and Quinn Kelsey....Opera at the Ballpark this fall has Il Trovatore (Radvanovky, Berti, Blythe, Hvorostovsky; Luisotti), on Saturday, September 19, at 8 p.m. Sign up for tickets here.....In conjunction with its 2009 Ring cycles, Seattle Opera has all sorts of fun stuff on its web site. The Road to Valhalla is videos about pre-production; great for theater and opera geeks....Confessions of a First-Time Operagoer follows newbie Cassidy Quinn Brettler as she dives into the operatic deep end. Looks like they even let her into the Rheinmaidens' flying outfits....The Seattle Opera Blog includes a running caption-the-photo contest.

Really, Frank, You Should Have Invited Me

The trials of a restaurant critic.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hildegard Behrens, RIP

Hildegard Behrens died Tuesday, age 72, in Japan. The soprano, a veteran of Wagner productions everywhere, was preparing for a recital and master classes. Feeling ill, she went to a hospital, where she died of an aneurysm.

I saw her live only once, as Marie in Wozzeck in San Francisco a decade ago. By that stage of her career, her voice had that stretched sound that a lyric voice has when it's inflated to dramatic proportions. She was 62 at the time, however, and sounded remarkably fresh and steady.


I've updated More on Health Care Reform multiple times since I first put it up. Damn right I care about this issue.

Tim Mangan Puts on a Contest

I haven't a clue who wrote the amazing screed about Tristan, but I'll run right out to read it...oh, you know, maybe I do. And maybe you do.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Astronomy in Opera

O: Già la pleiade ardente al mar discende.
D: Tarda è la notte.
O: Vien....Venere splende!

More on Health Care Reform

A few interesting items:
A couple of points. First, Josiah and I work for a highly-visible, rich, corporation, and of the health care plans offered can't gets its act together to make appropriate and needed referrals. The phrase "H1N1 flu" should light a fire under them. You can bet that it drives a geek like me crazy to hear about basic data-management issues like the ones Josiah describes.

Second, I'm a Kaiser member, because of the kinds of issues Josiah ran into. I hear mixed things about some Kaiser medical centers, but I'm pretty happy with Oakland and have gotten good care: no issues with referrals, with getting in to see my doctor, with getting appropriate tests. It's also true that I am healthy as a horse and it's probably that I would be having quite a different experience if I were chronically ill or permanently disabled. (A friend directs a disability rights organization that has been involved with accessibility-issues lawsuits against Kaiser, so I've heard plenty about this.)

Third, if you give a damn about the public option and the success of health care reform, call your Senators and Representatives and let them know about.

Lastly, do read the Wendell Potter interview I link to.

From the Liceu, Barcelona

Via La Cieca comes the news that the Liceu Opera, Barcelona, has a YouTube channel of many video excerpts. Lots and lots of good, and not so good, stuff to be seen.

Berlin Philharmonic on the Web

The Berlin Phil's ambitious efforts on the web will include live webcasts of 33 concerts in their upcoming season, plus there is a wealth of archived material available on their web site. None of this is free. However, you can see previews of archived materials, and, you know, I'd pay to see some of these programs. Pierre Boulez and Pierre-Laurent Aimard in the Bartok Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste? Well, they're not performing in San Francisco together any time soon.

Memo to the NY Times Copy-Editors

Guess what's in today's Times obit for David Drew?
After graduating from Cambridge in 1954, Mr. Drew worked as a freelance music critic and as a publicist for Decca Records, for which he wrote liner notes and brochures. His first historical reclamation project was Olivier Messaien, an enthusiasm dating to his Cambridge days, for whom he made a case in several important articles.
"Historical reclamation" of Messiaen in the 1950s, when the composer was alive and well, composing and teaching, with many masterpieces ahead of him?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pssst! Want to see the Seattle Ring?

An acquaintance of mine has a set of tickets for sale to cycle two, which is next week (Aug. 17, 18, 20, 22). The tickets (long story) are likely to be a combination of Tier 1 and Tier 2 locations; cost is $100/opera. If you're coming from the west coast, this offer also includes a ticket on the Coast Starlight (!).

Interested? Email me or post here and I'll put you in touch with Mark.

Return of the VRWC

Remember Hillary Clinton's line about the vast right-wing conspiracy?
She was widely derided despite the fact that she was right. See Richard Mellon Scaife, etc.

Today, in the kind of nonsense being spouted about health care reform (nonsense about "death panels," for example), we're seeing the return of the VRWC. Take a look, for example, at this Times article, which is about where that nonsense is coming from. And take a look at Paul Krugman's column today about why there's no room for bipartisan compromise, however noble a goal that might be, when Republicans think "birpartisan compromise" means "do what we want."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How We're Killing People Right Now

Worried about demagogues talking about nonexistent "death panels" in health care reform? think they might be real? Read about how the health insurance system kills people by denying care.


Apparently I liked The Letter better than everyone else:
Kozinn calls out the excellence of some of the music. He and Midgette disagree about Michaels-Moore's Robert Crosbie:
  • Michaels-Moore sang strongly but played a wimpy husband (Midgette)
  • Anthony Michaels-Moore made Robert, Leslie’s husband, into an emotional volcano that seemed out of character for this quiet, self-effacing rubber planter. (Kozinn)
Downey mentions laughter at inappropriate moments. I noted down a bunch of these early in the opera; they definitely seem like misfires in the libretto.

I suspect that part of the reason I am so positive about the opera is that, really, it's so much better than the movie, and I saw them in close proximity. I found Racette's Leslie much more sympathetic than Davis's. I was sitting up in the mezzanine, not down on the floor, and for all I know it was more convincing at a distance.


As Terry Teachout has been telling us for the last couple of years, that's how The Letter - Paul Moravec's new opera, for which Terry wrote the libretto - opens. The house lights go down, the conductor slinks into place, and the opera opens with a series of gunshots. When the lights come up, there's Patricia Racette as Leslie Crosbie, gun in hand and looking rather stunned.

It's almost exactly how the famous 1940 film of the same name opens, if you swap Bette Davis for Racette. Not exactly, because in the film you see the veranda of the Crosbie bungalow, situated on a rubber plantation near Singapore, and you see Leslie shooting Geoff Hammond.

I watched that film a few days before the premiere of the opera, and was mostly unhappy with it. Yes, great atmosphere and photography, and a good performance from Davis, but this was heavily offset by the chilly quality of her character, for whom I could feel no sympathy, and the unexamined racism of the script, exemplified by its treatment of Hammond's mixed-race wife.

I'm extremely happy to report that I thought The Letter (the opera) a terrific piece. I have to say up front that Terry is a friend and I've been following the creation of this opera from well before the official announcements. He's done a rather thorough job of setting expectations for the opera, in many blog postings describing what he and Moravec set out to accomplish with The Letter.

I'm somewhat amused to report that there was some misdirection involved in how expectations were set. For one thing, the creators will tell you that they were aiming for a very compact, movie-length opera, because "attention spans are getting shorter."

I don't buy that - multibook sagas and very long books sell well, Ring cycles sell out everywhere, and movie fans regularly attend long films - but even if I did buy the premise, The Letter is a single stretch of about one hour and forty minutes (100 minutes). That is a long for a one-act opera and it's a long stretch of music to through-compose. Offhand, I can think of only three one-act operas that exceed, let's say, one CD: Elektra, Salome, and Das Rheingold. I don't think it's necessarily easier to sit through 100 consecutive minutes of music than to sit through the four short acts of La Boheme, which, as everybody knows, tends to sell out.

And The Letter is a mighty well-constructed 100 minutes of music. Yes, it's compact, in that the music is direct, tightly-written, and has plenty of momentum. There are some short interludes to cover scene changes; otherwise, it's almost continuous singing. I liked the music a great deal, more than I like the composer's Pulitzer Prize winning Tempest Fantasy, in fact. It's absorbing; it carries the drama brilliantly, drawing the audience into the action; it fleshes out the characters and makes them real humans; the arias are beautiful and singable.

I loved the often-gorgeous orchestration, and thought that the accompaniment of dialog exceptionally good, where some composers of new operas fall into ostinato-itis and just run a riff in the orchestra. I sometimes felt the word-setting for dialog wasn't ideal and didn't fall entirely naturally: sometimes the tone rose at the end of a sentence for no apparent reason, or a rest didn't punctuate the phrase correctly, or a name was at the end of a sentence and would have made more sense at the beginning. These are minor complaints.

Now, the composer and librettist have been telling listeners, over and over, in and out of print, that it's opera for non-opera-lovers! for film-lovers! it's not experimental opera! it's not for eggheads!, but I suggest that you ignore them.

For one thing, during the pre-premiere symposium, I heard the phrase "tone row" used, and the composer meant by that exactly what an egghead like me understand him to mean. He even sang the row, which, if I'm remembering this correctly, is associated with Leslie Crosbie. For another, in an era when there's no longer a common musical language, every composer is writing experimental music, music that suits his or her personality and style.

With a bit of hesitation - and a bit of a joke - Moravec also said during the symposium that there are leitmotivs associated with each character, and with the letter itself. (The joke? Terry hates Wagner.) It's easy enough to hear the motifs; the chromatic theme associated with Leslie, the bluff, hale-fellow-well-met diatonic theme associated with her husband, the insinuating tune you hear when the lawyer's assistant is on stage. All are subtle and blend in well with the overall texture of the music, with the possible except of Robert Crosbie's motif, which was too good-natured and stuck out of the overall texture of the opera perhaps more than was ideal.

In any event, the music adds tremendous depth to the characters and propels the drama forward. That's exactly what you want in opera: I was so caught up in the music and action that I stopped taking notes a few minutes in. And when it was over, I was very sorry I wasn't going to get to hear it again. I should have gotten on the list for the dress rehearsal, you bet.

I was particularly impressed with how the opera handles the matter of racism on the part of the English colonists. In the film, the racism passes no questions asked; it's just how people were. In the libretto, the racism makes you squirm, and it's obviously supposed to. There's a fabulous scene in a bar, where a bunch of good old British boys toast Leslie Crosby's guts in shooting her supposed rapist while talking in dialect to the Asian waiters and referring to the Chinese Woman as "a yellow whore." And during the Chinese Woman's scene, lawyer Howard Joyce's view of her changes to the point that he apologizes to her.

The women in the cast were better vocally than the men, though all acted up a storm and were mostly well-directed. Patricia Racette did a great job as Leslie Crosbie, singing with guts and tenderness and rage where required. She's a terrific actress and put across Leslie's internal conflicts with great power. She ought to have let her nails grow out for the role, or maybe the makeup department could get her paste-ons; I just don't think Leslie Crosbie's fingernails would have been at lesbian standard length.

Mika Shigamatsu, a mysteriously late substitute for Ning Liang ("scheduling conflict"), was a dignified Chinese Woman, singing with a soft-grained and lovely tone. The libretto gives this straightforward character more inherent dignity than the other characters in the book, and she's a far cry from the vengeful dragon played wordlessly by Gale Sondergaard in the 1940 film. She has a single aria in her six-minute scene, singing about her love for Geoff Hammond, whose demise we see at the opening and whose live-in lover she is.

Anthony Michaels-Moore was an appropriately bluff Robert Crosbie, loving Leslie nearly to the end and apparently foolish enough to believe her. As in past San Francisco appearances, he sounded somewhat wooly and hollow-toned. The veteran James Maddalena sang the conflicted lawyer Howard Joyce effectively. Roger Honeywell was not at all memorable as Geoff Hammond; I wish they'd cast someone with a truly gorgeous voice in the role. He wasn't bad, but neither will I be looking for his name on future cast lists. Rodell Rosel was an unctuous Ong Chi Seng, Joyce's legal assistant.

The set, by Hildegard Bechtler, works extremely well, facilitating smooth scene changes and neatly dividing up the stage. (For those who don't know this: the Santa Fe house doesn't have a fly tower and has limited wing space. Most opera there use a unit set or the designer finds ways to move around portions of the scenery to create discrete spaces.) A wall in the Crosbie home swings open to reveal a jail cell; a panel opens and out slides Howard Joyce's office. (Bug report: conductor Patrick Summers is disconcertingly reflected in a glass door in the office set during the Chinese Woman's scene.) Jonathan Kent directs efficiently, but I wish he would spare us the opera-ending visual cliche of Patricia Racette dragging the tablecloth and place settings onto the floor as she collapses. Summers does a good job keeping the opera moving and balancing a good-sized orchestra.

UNIX Geekery Warning

You'll see.


Here and there around the blogosphere -
Update: Fixed the link to Amanda Ameer's posting, with a hat-tip to Joshua.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What I Want is an Indictment or Ten

I'm sure you're surprised by this headline: E-Mail Reveals Rove's Key Role in '06 Dismissals.

Sayeth the Times:
Thousands of pages of internal e-mail and once-secret Congressional testimony showed Tuesday that Karl Rove and other senior aides in the Bush White House played an earlier and more active role than was previously known in the 2006 firings of a number of United States attorneys.

Aides to former President George W. Bush have asserted that the Justice Department took the lead in the dismissals, which set off a political firestorm that lasted months. Mr. Rove played down his role in the firings in a recent interview and in closed testimony last month before Congressional investigators.

But the documents, released by the House Judiciary Committee after a protracted fight over access to White House records and testimony, offer a detailed portrait of a nearly two-year effort, from early 2005 to 2007, by senior White House officials, including Mr. Rove, to dismiss some prosecutors for what appear to be political reasons.

Seattle Opera Tristan

So, next year's Seattle Opera Summer Wagner will be Tristan und Isolde. I'm chagrined to read that it won't be a revival of the magnificent 1998 production by Francesca Zambello, the second act of which was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on any stage. Instead, there will be a new production, by Robert Israel, directed by Peter Kazaras, starring Annalena Persson and Clifton Forbis; Asher Fisch will conduct.

Why is this, anyway? Does the 1998 production, made for the pre-renovation opera house, simply not fit? Was it irrevocably damaged when it was produced in Chicago in 1999? The expense and some real problems with fitting the production to the War Memorial Opera House stage were cited as to why we didn't get the production a few years ago when Christine Brewer sang Isolde here.

You could also say I'm wondering about Kazaras's directing abilities. I bet Stephen Wadsworth might want to take a shot at one of the great psychological operas in the repertory.

Health Care Reform Follies

The wiseguys at have the funniest explanation of the difference between single-payer insurance and government-provided health care that you will ever see, in a posting called Not All Socialist Countries are Alike. They manage to work in a photo of poutine, to give you an idea.

Meanwhile, we've been treated to the spectacle of people showing up at health care town halls to demand that the government stay out of Medicare. Yes, you've got that right: some of your fellow citizens don't understand that the federal government provides health insurance to all Americans over 65. It's single-payer insurance for our older citizens.

Lastly, a friend called to my attention the spectacle of an editorial making the claim that under the British health care system, which rations health care in various conscious ways (unlike the US, where we ration irrationally and with no transparency), the physicist Stephen Hawking, who has had amyotropic lateral sclerosis for many years, "wouldn't have had a chance" under British health care.

Dear editorialist: Do your homework. Hawking, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, was born in Oxford and has lived in Great Britain for his entire life. He has clearly gotten excellent health care.

Monday, August 10, 2009

PBO Genius

Philharmonia Baroque has a great idea, which I read about 2 minutes ago:
Toasting a Natural Combination: Beer and Baroque

PBO is proud to announce the first concert of our "Beer and Baroque" Series, featuring the Horns of PBO. Discover the joy (and quirks) of the natural horn with an evening of Baroque music and locally brewed beer. Join us at the Pyramid Alehouse, Brewery and Restaurantin Berkeley on September 14. Tickets include the concert and drinks and are available beginning next Friday, August 14 by contacting Office Manager Kenton Kuwada, (415) 252-1288. $20 advance/$25 door.

Organized by board members Michael Colbruno and Brian Gould, this event is sponsored by Pyramid and Clear Channel Outdoors.

What I like about this: music, informal setting, low prices, beer. I wonder if you get to talk to the players afterward. I mean, any horn player will want a drink after the concert.

San Francisco Opera in Stern Grove

This year's Stern Grove Opera program looks like fun:

Stern Grove Festival's 72nd Season finale features the renowned San Francisco Opera Orchestra with tenor Marco Berti, who stars in the 2009-10 season opening production of Il Trovatore. Berti will be joined by four superbly talented Adler Fellows, sopranos Leah Crocetto, Heidi Melton, and Tamara Wapinsky, and mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas, in a program of Italian favorites conducted by Giuseppe Finzi, including arias and duets from A Masked Ball, Cavalleria Rusticana, Tosca, Turandot, La Wally, Madama Butterfly and more.

Sunday, August 23, 2 p.m.
Sigmund Stern Grove, 19th Ave. & Sloat, San Francisco

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Carleen Hutchins

Carleen Hutchins, who created a new family of string instruments, conducted acoustical research, and invented the free-plate tuning technique used by many string instrument makers, died Friday at 98. Take a look at the NY Times obituary.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Chat with Daniel Levitin

I make no claims whatsoever about This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin's recent book, since I have not read it. But this looks potentially interesting:
To celebrate the paperback release of "The World in Six Songs", New York Times best-selling author and research scientist Daniel Levitin will be doing a live, interactive web chat on Ustream.

The chat will be taking place on Friday, August 7th starting at 5pm PST. Fans will have the chance to interact with Dr. Levitin through Ustream's chat and Twitter Social Stream. The event will be taking place here:

Dr. Levitin's previous work includes New York Times bestseller and Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist "This Is Your Brain On Music."

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

In C in LA

See Tim Mangan's posting in the OC Register's Arts Blog: if you're in Los Angeles tomorrow, you can play in a pickup performance of In C rather Thursday night: rehearsal at 11:30 p.m., concert at midnight. Believe me, I'M TEMPTED.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

To This We've Come

While I was in Santa Fe the other week - yes, I swear I will get to discussing The Letter, really - I stopped by the bookstore Collected Works, hoping to find the Somerset Maugham play and short story on which the new Paul Moravec opera is based. I failed, but I had what you might call a discouraging conversation with the woman at the cash register.
Me: Where would I find short stories by W. Somerset Maugham?

Her: Can you spell that? I'll check in the computer.

Me, blinking a bit: M-A-U-G-H-A-M.

Her: And her first name?

Me, just barely keeping my head off the counter: Him. Somerset. S-O-M-E-R-S-E-T.
Yes, indeed. Santa Fe's best indy bookstore has an employee who had evidently not heard of Maugham, one of the most famous and successful English writers of the 20th c., before the day I walked in.

Now, the store had plenty of Maugham in stock, including several of the major novels and a couple of volumes of short stories - no sign of The Letter in any, alas, though I did eventually find the libretto for the opera, over the in the Santa Fe Opera section.

But I was shocked to find, on the back of the Vintage edition of Cakes and Ale, the word "who's" used where "whose" was quite obviously intended.

O tempora! O mores!

American Idol, Semi-Operatic Division

Want to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in front of tens of thousands? KDFC and San Francisco Opera are giving you the chance to take a shot at our unsingable national anthem; the reward is that if you win, you get to sing it at Giants Stadium before the simulcast of Il Trovatore on September 19. For full details, go to

The Piano Business

You know how some of us like to stand on the piano-in-every-middle-class-home as evidence of something about the status of classical music in the 19th century? Take a look at this, from a novel written in the 1890s about the year 1887; Joshua Kosman might recognize it off the top of his head:
He had no particular aptitude for trade, and that by which he lived (he had entered upon it thirty years ago rather by accident than choice) was thoroughly distasteful to him. As a dealer in pianofortes, he came into contact with a class of people who inspired him with a savage contempt, and of late years his business had suffered considerably from the competition of tradesmen who knew nothing of such conflicts between sentiment and interest. A majority of his customers obtained their pianos on the "hire-purchase system," and oftener than not, they were persons of very small or very precarious income, who, rabid in the pursuit of gentility signed agreements they had little chance of fulfilling; when in pecuniary straits, they either raised money upon the instruments, or allowed them to fall into the hands of distraining creditors. Inquiry into the cirumstances of a would-be customer sometimes had ludicrous results; a newly-married couple, for instance, would be found tenanting two top-floor rooms, the furnishing whereof seemd to them imcomplete without the piano of which their friends and relatives boasted. Not a few professional swindlers came to the office; confederate rogues, vouching for each other's respectability, got possession of pianos merely to pawn or sell them, having paid no more than the first month's charge. It was Mr. Lord's experience that year by year the recklessness of the vulgar became more glaring, and deliberate fraud more artful.
George Gissing, In the Year of Jubilee

Acoustician Christopher Blair at Adaptistration

While Drew McManus is on vacation this week, acoustician Christopher Blair is guest-blogging at Adaptistration. If you're interested in why your local symphony hall sounds the way it does, and you bet I am (Davies! sigh), you'll find his discussions thoughtful, clear, and extremely well informed. Start with this posting.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Memo to NY Times Copy Editors

Considering the seven corrections you had to make to one article by Alessandra Stanley, I would think you'd be keeping a careful eye on everything you edit this week. For instance, you might consider counting to see if the number of people listed in each photo caption matches the number of people visible in the photograph.

Take the Caramoor Festival Semiramide review that's up right now. There are six singers and one conductor visible, plus various orchestra members. The caption reads as follows:
From left, Will Crutchfield, Vivica Genaux and Angela Meade in "Semiramide" at the Venetian Theater at Caramoor.
Well, no. The gent to the far left happens to be tenor Lawrence Brownlee. Will Crutchfield is conducting; he's up on the podium with his back to the audience, between Genaux and Meade.

I do not know the three singers to the far right, which the caption doesn't even attempt to identify, but I bet the Caramoor press department, or even their reporter, could clue in the Times. Also, for new-media types, Will Crutchfield is easy to find on Facebook.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

What Gets Attention and What Doesn't

Like most bloggers, I run an an analytics program to track hits, search terms, and other information about who reads this blog and what they read. I used SiteMeter for the first few years, and switched last year, with some pain, to Google Analytics.
I write about a wide range of topics, from politics to dull orchestral repertory to current opera productions to the joys of Elliott Carter. (I mean that, too.) I've been rather shocked to find that even now, two years after his passing, the top search term resulting in hits to the blog is "Jerry Hadley."

You could say I'm not exactly happy about this. I didn't say anything particularly original about the tenor: I commented on the several times I'd seen him live (one hit, one miss, one pass owing to illness), the ups and downs of his career, and on the sad manner of his death. I have to guess that it speaks to something about either the size of Hadley's fan base or to prurient interest in how he died.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, thank you; I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment. If you happen to be reading this posting because of a search on Hadley: I hope you'll consider taking a look at the rest of what I write about.