Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday Miscellany

Local to Me (San Francisco Bay Area)

Magnificat Baroque opens its 2010-11 season with John Blow's Venus and Adonis, with performances on October 8 in Menlo Park at St. Patrick's Seminary, October 9 in Berkeley at St. Mark's Episcopal, and October 10 in San Francisco at St. Mark's Lutheran.... San Francisco Opera's Ring Festival starts early, with classes taught at SF Conservatory by composer Conrad Susa; $165 for five two-hour classes taught on Saturdays starting September 24. Phone the conservatory at 415-503-6283 or register online....San Francisco Performances will have $20 Salons at the Rex again; performers include the sensational young soprano Leah Crocetto, the equally sensational soprano Heidi Melton, and killer pianist Sarah Cahill playing Scriabin, Rudhyar, and Crawford Seeger....Speaking of Rudhyar, Other Minds has a two-program Rudhyar in Retrospect celebration on September 27 (Swedenborgian Church, SF) and 29 (Valley Presbyterian Church, Portola Valley).

Out of Town

Want to try out the Met Player, which gives you access to a couple of hundred historic Metropolitan Opera radio and TV broadcasts going back as far as the 1930s? You can sign up for a free 7-day trial (or rent an opera for 30 days or subscribe on a monthly or yearly basis)....LA Opera will be having an Opera of the Day discount price from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pacific time, for a specific production, performance, and seating section. To find out today's special offering, visit the company's web site or follow them on Twitter or Facebook....Seiji Ozawa turns 75; you can wish him a happy birthday at the BSO's Facebook page or listen to a selection from his 1999 recording of Carmina Burana.  The BSO has also posted a PDF listing all of his recordings with the BSO....Metropolitan Opera Live in HD tickets go on sale to the general public next week. Be there or be square, especially if it's the only way you'll get a look at the upcoming Lepage Ring, Le Comte Ory (Florez, Damrau, DiDonato), and a few other operas worth seeing. (That link goes to the priority ordering page because I ponied up for advance ticketing.)

Waaaaay Out of Town

But I wish I could go anyway: Dancer in the Dark, a new opera by Poul Ruders, based on a screenplay by Lars von Trier, premiers at the Royal (Danish) Opera on September 5. There's a trailer at the opera's web site (Danish and English). The work will be performed in Germany, Sweden, and New York (one of these things is not like the others) in 2011.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Fall Previews - Opera Edition

I'm not one of the ten (10) writers tapped by SFCV to do previews of the Bay Area's fall music season, so I'm going to make some kind of attempt to post about what I consider the highlights to be. Let's start with the opera scene.

At the big guy, San Francisco Opera, we have a weird season that I've already complained quite a bit about: a dozen performances each of Madama Butterfly and Aida, a bunch more of Nozze di Figaro, plus Werther, a mixed bag of an opera, Cyrano de Bergerac, a genuine rarity staged for the benefit of the world's greatest living baritenor, and, finally, the opera I am really excited about, Janacek's The Makropoulos Case, starring one of the world's greatest living sopranos, Karita Mattila. If you're relatively new to opera, by all means, take in the standards even though Pat Racette is not singing Cio-Cio-San; unless you subscribe, it'll be tough to get a ticket to Cyrano, Domingo's probable swan song with this company. Werther has a fantastic third act, not so much the first two - I'm going, knowing that it will not be sung with what you would call French style. Makropoulos is a great masterpiece by the eccentric and distinctive Bohemian Moravian; it will be easy to get tickets; I hope you'll go.

Here on my side of the Bay, Berkeley Opera, renamed Berkeley West Edge Opera, has a great season all around, opening with Handel's Xerxes, followed by a re-imagining of Carmen into The Carmen Fixation, with the excellent Buffy Baggott, and closing up with Clark Suprynowicz's Caliban Dreams. Not yet up on their web site is the readings series, one-off concert performances of rare operas, but they were announced in the printed brochure I picked up at Legend of the Ring. (I realize not all of these operas are in the fall, but I am thrilled by the repertory!)

Down South, Opera San Jose is putting on a couple of standards this season, but also the West Coast premier of David Carlson's Anna Karenina. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with Tolstoy's great and maddening novel of marital unhappiness. On the Peninsula, West Bay Opera has La Forza del Destino,  which would be interesting to see in a small theater.

Pocket Opera hasn't got dates up yet, though their season is listed on their home page. As usual, they've got a fair number of rarities (what, exactly, is The Marauders, which is by Verdi? I Lombari?) mixed with standards, but you have to have a high tolerance for a piano-dominated orchestra and unnecessary narration from the stage. Worth it for a piece you won't get to see anywhere else, but I would personally skip the standards.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Has Anyone Succeeded with the Blogger Cut-Tag Icon?

Tried to get it to work in my last posting - it didn't.

Why The Times Can't Call Liars What They Are

An exchange I had with the Public Editor's office.

First, I sent the following letter to the editor:
To the Editor: 
Jane Brody has written marvelously and informatively about end-of-life issues in her Personal Health columns, especially during her late husband's final illness. I was disappointed to see that in her latest column, she says that conservatives "erroneously" called certain counseling provisions in the proposed health care reform legislation the "death panel option."

No, there was no error involved. Those were outright lies told for political gain and they should be identified as such.

Yours truly,

Lisa Hirsch

I forwarded it to the Public Editor's office with the following comments:
I just sent the following letter to the editor to the Times, for publication. However, I'm concerned about how it is that outright lies can be termed "errors."

I understand that The Times and Ms. Brody might have felt that calling a lie a lie could lead readers to focus on that point rather than the excellent points she makes about end-of-life counseling, but it's seriously misleading to call outright lies, repeated constantly by opponents of health care reform, "errors."

There's a problem with your editing and writing standards when you allow liars to hide in this way.

Thank you for your attention to this.
The Public Editor's office started by not reading my email very carefully, and said this:
Dear Ms. Hirsch,

Thank you for writing.

This office has no say in selecting letters for publication in The Times. I will make sure that the proper person sees your letter.

Daniel E. Slotnik
The Office of the Public Editor
The New York Times
I wrote back as follows:
I know that you have nothing to do with what gets published.

I am writing to you because the Times's writing and editing standards are of concern. That is, I am raising an issue with YOU, the Public Editor's office, about why the Times allows writers to call outright lies "errors."

-- Lisa
Lisa Hirsch
And Mr. Slotnick replied:
Dear Ms. Hirsch,

Thank you for this.

The Times has to be very cautious about using loaded terms like the word "lie." Using "lie" presupposes that the speaker does not believe in the "death panels" and is using the term dishonestly to influence a debate. Although that certainly could be the case The Times is not in a position to make that judgment with regard to its coverage.

Jane Brody used the word "erroneously" to describe how opponents to health care reform have used the idea of death panels. Webster's New World dictionary defines erroneously as "containing or based on error; mistaken; wrong." The definition of the root "error" is even more explicit: "The state of believing what is untrue, incorrect, or wrong" is the first definition.

The Public Editor's office thinks that "erroneously" was a more suitable word.

Daniel E. Slotnik
My final comment:
The Times is a total humbug if it is unable to recognize that those "errors" were all in support of a particular political agenda.

-- Lisa
I posted this exchange on the Well, and there followed an involved discussion about which people using the phrase "death panels" were lying and which were simply in error, because they trusted what they were being told by the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. There was also some discussion about whether it would be appropriate to call everybody a liar. I would be okay with "consistently misrepresented" or "misled" rather than "lied." I find "erroneous" rather lightweight for what was going on. The Times is certainly aware that there was a pattern of misrepresentation.

I am absolutely certain that Palin and Beck have legislative analysts on their payrolls, people who read legislation and tell their bosses what it says. (Your Congresscritter does too. Who has time to read legislation that's as long as a Trollope novel? People who get paid to do so.) And I do not for a second believe that those people read the provisions about reimbursing physicians for time spent counseling terminally patients about their medical options and thought they were reading about "death panels."

So somebody was knowingly lying to influence the political debate. I am also sure that some people were simply misled by the liars, because they weren't reading the legislation itself and they weren't reading the reality-based media, either.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dear O.C. Register:

You have one of the best classical music critics in the country and you assign him to the drunken-20-something beat?

Did he piss someone off or are you just stupid? We should have known something was going on when you shut down the O.C. Register Arts Blog last month.

Okay, Tim explains exactly what happened and why. I'm glad Tim still has a job. But you do realize that this means the O.C. Register can't be taken seriously any longer?


Part-Timer in SF

Anna Karenina Preview, Noe Valley Chamber Music

Noe Valley Chamber Music is presenting a preview of David Carlson's opera Anna Karenina, which will be performed at Opera San Jose starting September 11, 2010. You can hear excerpts from the opera as well as a discussion by Carlson of his approach to composition. There will be wine and hors d'oeurves.

Noe Valley Ministry
1021 Sanchez St.
San Francisco

Sunday, August 29, 2010
4 p.m.
$25 per person, cash or check only

To get tickets for the opera itself, go to the Opera San Jose web site.

Monday, August 23, 2010



I feel sure I read a rumor someplace that Andrea Bocelli would be appearing at the Metropolitan Opera. Since he is a microphone singer and lacks the technique for staged opera, yes, dread struck my heart.

Turns out, he's singing a concert. It'll include a few Handel arias and a bunch of songs, and I won't be there.

Friday, August 20, 2010


A newish Blogger feature is the ability to add static, undated pages that sit in one place and don't scroll off the current screen the way sequential, chronological postings do. I'm going to be moving odd ends from my crowded sidebar to pages just to clean up the look of the blog, plus, I plan to move the publicity and web site basics to their own pages.

My first page, though, is about the little matter of qualifications. Click the Creds link near the top of the sidebar to read what I think of this and see what my credentials are.

I Will Have to Consolidate All of This Sooner or Later

Do have a page with venue information. If you're SFS or SFO and you perform in one place, just put the address on the home page and on various second-level information pages.

If you're a small chorus or orchestra (Cal Bach, Philharmonia Baroque, NCCO) that performs each program in three or four locations, have a Venues page with an easy-to-find link on the home page.

Hell. Another Point.

Do tell ticket-buyers up front about those pesky per-order or per-ticket "convenience charges" so that they are not surprised by additional charges added only after they click the Check Out button. Your audience members' blood pressure may rise at the sight anyway, so warn them in advance!

Do consider dropping them entirely by rolling legitimate costs into actual ticket prices! It is galling to be an out-of-town visitor who cannot just walk up to the box office to avoid these charges. If it's a per-ticket charge and you're planning to visit NYC for two weeks, attending six opera performances, those $10-per-ticket and $2.25 fees add up mighty fast. Yes, that means you, Metropolitan Opera.

Two More Web Site Points

Forgot these:

Do increase web server capacity when you know your ticketing system will get slammed. I have heard plenty of horror stories about what happened when the Royal Opera House releases tickets for, say, the Fall opera season.

Don't time out a user session when someone is trying to buy tickets! (This means you, San Francisco Symphony.) If you've got a hard session limit of 20 minutes set, configure that fancy system for which you're paying a lot of money to increase the timeout limit by five minutes every time there's an addition to the shopping cart. Someone trying to buy 2 tickets to 15 concerts, with seats in different parts of the house, can easily hit a hard time limit. You do want to sell those tickets, right?

And a small additional word about choose-your-own-seat software: if Brown Paper Tickets can do it for the El Cerrito High School theater, where Berkeley Opera performs, your organization can figure out a way to do it too. Okay, if you're a small chorus with open seating for your concerts, this is not a big deal. But if you're LA Opera or a small theater company, it is a big deal.

Web Site Basics

A companion to the publicity basics posting, because I've been surprised at how many arts organizations have web sites that aren't necessarily meeting the needs of their audience. I'm going to try a slightly different format owing to the nasty readability problems with Blogger bulleted lists.

DO make it easy to find information about your next concert. If you're a small organization, put all concert info right on the home page. If you're a big organization presenting dozens of performances a year (that means you're a big-city orchestra or opera company), put an obvious link somewhere on the home page. Putting it another way: information about your next concert should be no more than one click away and the information should be easy to find.

DO make it easy to buy tickets. Because you want people to buy tickets, don't you?
  • Make it easy to find prices.
  • Make it easy to buy tickets on line. You can use PayPal (I know of several small Bay Area organizations that do this), you can use a third-party vendor such as Brown Paper Tickets or City Box Office, you can have a custom page for credit card entry, but make it easy.
  • If you've got the budget to use Tessitura (again, big-city, big-budget organizations that perform in big venues), for the love of God, get the choose-your-own seat module. Do not make your customers loop through the ticketing process multiple times before they are assigned a satisfactory seat. (That means YOU, LA Opera.) Some percentage of them will give up on you, meaning you didn't succeed in selling a potential audience member a ticket.
  • If you're using Tessitura or other ticketing software, I assume it can tell you how many people get into the system without buying tickets. That's important to know and think about.
  • Regardless of which ticketing software you use, web analytics programs can tell you whether or not people navigate to the ticket-buying page.
Do make sure that some staff and board members of your organization check out the web site and go through the ticket ordering process. If there are issues with either, it's better for you to hear about them from a sympathetic party rather than a crabby blogger like me.

Do get some ordinary folks to try out your web site and comment on it.

Do think about accessibility issues. This topic is too complicated to really get into in a single blog posting, but there are many, many web sites out there discussing how to make your web site accessible for users who have visual impairments or blindness of different types, whether they are completely blind and use screen readers or they're color blind or partially sighted. Suffice it to say that it is not that hard to modify the HTML on your pages to make them easier to use.

Just a few minor points -
  • Don't make any web site functions or information dependent on color coding. About 10% of the population has limitations on what colors they can see.
  • Don't use teeny tiny fonts or fonts with super-light stroke weights.
  • Don't use white-on-black. Looks snazzy, but much harder to read than black on a lighter color.
Do make it easy to find the all-important Contact Us page. Put a link on the home page and, in fact, on every page. You want to hear from your audience members, whether they are happy or unhappy. You want journalists to contact you with questions. If your group can be hired for special events, you want to be contacted. So don't bury this page.

Do make any music on your page optional! Use a Listen to Us link instead of automatically launching an excerpt from your last performance or recording. Keep track of how many people click the link and how many don't.

Do make a list of the specific tasks you expect people to accomplish on your web site, then check to see how many clicks each task takes. Don't make people click too many times; they will give up. Don't make people scroll too much, either.

Don't make your web site look like a ransom note. Stick with a headline font and a body text font and leave it at that.

Don't have any blinking text at all on the page. It looks amateurish and silly and it's really annoying.

Do think about the layout and where you want links to be on the page. Make it consistent.
Don't hide content by only having important information linked to a second-level page.

Do hire a pro to help with all this stuff. And do get some trusted testers to try out all the functions before you launch.

Yet Another Update to Publicity Basics

An addition to the publicity basics posting:

Keep the contact list for your organization (or client) consistent. That is, if you're sending press releases to a particular list, always use that list; if you're offering comp tickets or interview opportunities to a particular group of people, keep it consistent.

For Everyone Who Feels Faintly Guilty About Reading the Stieg Larsson Books As Fast As Possible

Admit it: you're one of them. Read this.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Probably Pays Peanuts, But...

I am lucky enough to have a job I like a whole lot at a company that has been stable through the recession. But the following job opening crossed my inbox yesterday, and man. I always said the only job that could drag me away from my current gig would be working for an opera company. This would be mighty tempting if I were un- or underemployed.

Editorial Assistant, Grove Music/Oxford Music Online

Have a degree in music and also tech-savvy? Are you analytically minded and do you enjoy untangling complex problems, finding efficient solutions, working with databases, and learning new skills? The world's largest university press has an opening for an innovative and highly organized editorial assistant to support the Grove Music program.

The editorial assistant will play an essential role in the ongoing development of both our print program and Oxford Music Online. Specific areas of responsibility include administrating projects from acquisition to production, preparing content for publishing online, managing workflows and writing content for public pages, liaising with individual scholars and academic editorial boards, editing content, research editing, and general administrative support.

Strong research and writing skills, ability to communicate diplomatically, a keen eye for detail, organizational skills, and the ability to multitask are essential. A degree in music is required. Familiarity with (or at least no fear of learning) HTML, XML, and image-editing software is a definite plus. 1 year minimum of work experience desired.

Submissions for advertised and posted positions should be sent to the email or street address below. Electronic mail responses to positions are also accepted.

Human Resources Representative
Oxford University Press
198 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Fax: 919-677-1177
Email: humanres at oup.com

When applying for any position, please state the position you are interested in, salary requirements and the source of the advertisement.

Please, no phone inquiries.

Oxford University Press is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Race to the Bottom

There's a strike at the Mott's apple juice plant in Rochester, NY. The company wants to cut workers' hourly wages, reduce 401(k) contributions, and increase the workers' share of health insurance costs. That's not uncommon in this economy, when so many companies are doing badly and losing money.

What's different here is that the parent company of Mott's, Dr. Pepper Snapple, is profitable, to the tune of a $555 million profit last year. The company claims that the workers at the Mott's plant are overpaid compared to other workers with similar jobs in the Rochester area and also that "as a public company, Dr Pepper Snapple Group has a fiduciary responsibility to operate in the best interests of all its constituents, recognizing that a profitable business attracts investment, generates jobs and builds communities.”

Dr Pepper Snapple increased its dividend by 67% this year, so we can safely say that they're looking out for their shareholders.

As one of the striking workers says, it's disgusting that they want to cut pay to the people who're doing the work. Note to Mott's: when you're profitable, you should be rewarding your workers, not cutting their pay.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up, Illinois Division

Remember Rod Blagojevich, the former Governor of Illinois? Former because he was arrested on a nice array of corruption charges, which included an attempt to auction off the Senate seat formerly held by President Obama?

The jury hung on 23 of 24 counts, convicting him on one. The judge has declared a mistrial in those 23 counts, and he will be retried on them.

And just in case you don't remember Blago, here are the relevant bits from today's Times report on the verdict:

On Dec. 9, 2008, Governor Blagojevich, then in his second term, was awoken around dawn at his Chicago home and arrested. Federal prosecutors accused him of turning his state office into a criminal enterprise to benefit himself, citing what they said were brazen efforts to get political contributions in exchange for legislation to help a local pediatric hospital, state funds for a school, a law to benefit the horse track industry and, most infamously, for Mr. Blagojevich’s choice to fill Mr. Obama’s Senate seat.

Government agents had secretly recorded some 500 hours of telephone calls with Mr. Blagojevich and his advisers, and a portion of those recordings became a crucial element of the prosecution’s case.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Found in the Chron

Two items of interest in the Chronicle in June, 2009, which wound up in a never-published posting - why, I don't know:
  • Joshua Kosman's review of the third Schubert/Berg program, which consisted of Berg's Chamber Concerto and Schubert's Great C Major Symphony.
  • Jonathan Khuner is interviewed by Edward Guthmann. In the article, he's called a prompter, and the interview focusses on that aspect of his work, but I think the correct term for his position is assistant conductor. His job includes conducting rehearsals and, I would bet, coaching singers, as well as prompting. He has performed the same functions at the Metropolitan and at Bayreuth. I've heard Jonathan conduct many times at Berkeley Opera, and, you know, he is damned good. I wish he'd get a full run of something at San Francisco Opera; he's better than a fair number of guest conductors I've heard there. The little anecdote about Lotfi Mansouri, who tried to get rid of prompting and prompters, is telling. Sheesh.

Messe de Tournai

My review of EUOUAE's Messe de Tournai program is up at SFCV now.

This didn't make it into the review: some of the music was sung from original notation, some from transcriptions. Some singers appeared to be singing from memory, some from music.

One of the men read his music from an iPad.

A Tale of Two Concerts

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a big fan of California Bach Society. I've been attending their concerts for some years now, starting when Warren Stewart was their director. Warren was (and still is, with Magnificat) a brilliant programmer. Paul Flight, who is in his third season, puts together great programs and has led Cal Bach to an even higher vocal standard than the chorus had previously reached. (Full disclosure: I have sung with Paul most seasons since 2005, in several choruses.) Cal Bach sings very much with one voice, a pure, blended, and balanced voice. The chorus's sound is focused, clean, and clear, almost always perfectly in tune; it's the most consistently gorgeous tone I've heard from a non-professional chorus.

This approach works beautifully in most of the music Cal Bach sings, especially in the sacred music that makes up two-thirds or three-quarters of their programming. This past season, in a program of selections from Monteverdi's madrigals, it was less than perfectly successful. As usual, the sound was exceptionally lovely, transparent and vibratoless; as usual there was good unanimity of attack and dynamics, though it must be said that in this context, some fumbled attacks at the start of a few madrigals really stood out.

But I have to question the whole enterprise of singing madrigals, an intimate form, with a 30-voice choir in which individuality has, of necessity, to be suppressed. Monteverdi's madrigals set passionate and sometimes heart-rending texts, such as the series written when the composer was grief-stricken over his wife's death. As much as I admired the beautiful tone, I would have preferred more individuality, more spontaneity, and more guts in the singing, less the sense of a uniform group singing in carefully-rehearsed unanimity.

The second half of the program brought some of this individuality, with the appearance of tenor Brian Thorsett and a couple of the choristers for some solos and duets and a concluding work with the chorus. The emotional temperature of the performance went up noticably, and I, for one, would have liked the whole program to be hotter and more passionate.

Around the same time, I saw San Francisco Renaissance Voice in a program called
"Songs of Love and War." (Full disclosure again: I sang with SFRV for one program in 2007.) This was an immense and ambitious program, about two hours of music that included motets, madrigals, character pieces, and a mass by Victoria.

Now, Cal Bach is an auditioned amateur chorus; SFRV is a chorus of pros and semi-pros. SFRV singers have bigger, fuller, more soloistic voices than Cal Bach singers. The SFRV sound is less pure than Cal Bach's; you can pick out individual voices and everything is generally more full-throated and sometimes rougher around the edges. I rather liked this; I found it appropriate to the theme of their concert and liked the greater thrust of the sound. It's probably closer than the Cal Bach sound to how secular works written for performance in the home would have sounded.

This is obviously a matter of taste and not everyone will share my particular taste. I confess, as well, that my particular taste in madrigal singing has been influenced by the number of them I've sung myself and also by an LP of Gesualdo madrigals I bought in the distant past. The very young Marilyn Horne is one of the singers, to give you an idea.

I seriously question whether the pure and ethereal choral sound is the right one for all early music. I know I'm not the first person to wonder about this. Greg Sandow and Robert Philip have both written about it, and in fact there's a book called The Sound of Medieval Song that discusses the this issue, starting by quoting all known sources that describe what medieval singers sounded like. (I'd own a copy if it weren't an insanely expensive OUP book. Can you believe $185, or a mere $99 if purchased from Amazon?)

I am not expecting Cal Bach to turn around and start incorporating a less unified sound into some of their concerts, especially since they sing predominantly sacred music. But it would be an interesting musical stretch for the group if they did!

It Took 110 Pages...

...for me to throw Ann Patchett's Bel Canto against the wall. By that time, I had realized I did not give a damn whether the terrorists lined up the hostages and gunned them down one by one. In fact, I was hoping they would, just so the book would end.

I can point to a few musical points that made me think Patchett just doesn't know much about opera - her star soprano sings Sonnambula three days in a row and also has Tosca in her repertory - plus there's a Spanish error that even I could spot, and what I think is a borderline error of medical fact - but what pushed me over the edge is that I really did not care one bit about any of the characters or what happened to them.

Putting it another way, I am simultaneously reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Way We Live Now - very different books! - and I'd be happy to be stuck on a train chatting with any character in those books. If I were stuck with any of the characters from Bel Canto, I'd push them onto the tracks.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Like Patrick, I went to the EUOUAE program Friday night at Old First. If they do more concerts and if you love medieval and renaissance music, do go. They were wonderful and performed marvelous repertory. Watch for my SFCV review, which I just filed.

Martin Bernheimer is 100% Right

Read Martin Bernheimer's comments on what a newspaper should do when an outside entity demands the firing, demotion, or reassignment of a critic.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Worst of All

Alex Ross summarizes the responses from the classical blogosphere and embeds an attempt to manufacture the worst of all possible musical works. I got itchy when the bagpipes entered....and nearly threw in the towel at 8:45.

Prohibition is Stupid for All Sorts of Reasons

The dangers of tobacco are well known, and I support government public health efforts to persuade and help people to reduce their use, from smoking cessation programs to taxes on tobacco products to age restrictions. I don't support prohibition; we already know how well that works.

But the latest, at least as reported by A.C. Douglas, is insane. Rolling your own from comparatively unprocessed tobacco might well be safer than using tobacco company products and it's certainly more economical. Insert rant about regressive taxes here.

(For the record, I also support legalization of marijuana use and decriminalization of other drugs. The drug war and prohibition do more harm than open, regulated drug use would do.)

Update: It turns out ACD was misinformed. The legislation is to ensure proper payment of taxes, not to ban shipping.

Pulling Up a Lawn Chair

Last month, a blog posting of mine linked to an article by Heather Mac Donald. I have to confess: I responded to two sentences of a long article. Greg Sandow, though, has responded to her entire thesis with five blog entries' worth of commentary posted over a five-day period. MacDonald has now replied to him.

I'm not going to link to the whole shebang. Instead, you can visit Drew McManus's Adaptistration posting on the vendetta discussion, where he has individual links.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Alex Ross nominates a performance of Wilhelm Furtwängler's Piano Quintet as the worst recording ever made, and offers a clip as evidence. "The work is an immensely earnest mishmash of Brahms, Franck, Bruckner, and Reger, full of unmemorable ideas developed at unrelenting length" also describes the worst work I have ever heard performed by a professional ensemble, Amy Beach's Piano Quintet. Perhaps almost no one can write a decent piano quintet, but the several minutes I've heard of Beach's piano concerto are no better.

That said, the worst recording in my personal collection is very likely Lorin Maazel's Tosca. I had to take it off somewhere in Act I. Honestly, is there another recording with two artists so badly miscast as Birgit Nilsson (Tosca) and Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau (Scarpia) are on this??

Conrad L. Osborne loves this recording, claiming that Nilsson gives the best purely vocal performance on record as the Italian diva, but he is just plain wrong. I don't give a damn whether she sings every note with perfect accuracy. She is completely at sea stylistically, her legato is nonexistent, and she sounds like she should be singing Isolde or Elektra. Oh, wait.....

Sunday, August 08, 2010


I'd given some thought to going to Seattle this month to see the new production of Tristan und Isolde. After seeing the video the opera company has produced - well, part of it, because I just can't sit through too much of Speight Jenkins's yakking - hoo boy. I dodged a bullet: boring production, soprano who doesn't sing in tune, silent-movie acting. The 1998 production, which Seattle Opera told me last year has been mothballed for financial reasons, was spectacularly beautiful, well directed, and well sung. Too bad!

After you watch the video through the Liebestod, try this for immaculately-sung contrast:

(And note Dame Margaret's use of portamento, which I was recently informed just isn't allowed in Wagner. Uh-huh. Tell it to Kleiber and Price. Pending some library research, I'll have a few more things to say about that assertion.)

Sunday Miscellany

News, upcoming events, etc.
  • The last performance of Berkeley Opera's Legend of the Ring is this afternoon at 2 p.m., at El Cerrito High's excellent theater. Hear some terrific singing and a novel production in a small theater!
  • Concert presenters: Enter your programs for the whole year for inclusion on San Francisco Classical Voice's performance calendar. You do need to be a registered user of the site.
  • SFCV also has a new Musicians for Hire directory!
  • Deutsche Grammophon is celebrating Mahler's birthday in style. Among other things, you can vote for a People's Cycle of the symphonies. Right now, Kubelik's First and Mehta's Second are getting the most votes for those symphonies. Mehta? Love his opera recordings but I'm not convinced his style is right for Mahler.
  • California Bach Society's Summer Choral Workshop is on Saturday, August 21, 2010, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They're singing through Hidden Treasures of Mozart and Haydn. I attended this last year, and I'd go again except that I sang the major works in 2006 with the Haydn Singers. $45, includes lunch, a great opportunity to work with Paul Flight, who is a terrific conductor. It's in Palo Alto and worth the drive if you're not on the Peninsula. Registration closes on August 14.
  • Speaking of Cal Bach, they're auditioning all voice parts on August 25. Read about the repertory for the 2010-11 season here.

Friday, August 06, 2010

And Here I Thought Lindsay Graham Was Somewhat Sane

He has floated the idea that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should be, well, amended so that children born here are not citizens under certain circumstance. Even Mitch McConnell appears to be backing slowly away from Graham.

Don Rosenberg Loses His Lawsuit

Don Rosenberg lost his lawsuit against the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Cleveland Orchestra. Read Dan Wakin's article here.

I'm only half surprised. I thought the age discrimination allegations would be tough to prove, but it did look as though the Orchestra put improper pressure on the Plain Dealer because of Rosenberg's critical opinion of Franz Welser-Most.

As Previously Announced..

....anonymous posting is now disabled.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


As I mentioned a few postings back, I've been reading Trollope's The Way We Live Now on my phone. I wanted to report back on how this has worked out.

It's not the first book I've read on my phone, which is a Nexus One. The Nexus One - which has evidently gone out of production, sigh - has a great screen, competitive with the iPhone. It's easy on the eyes.

I started the experiment with John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps, which is short. (The book bears some resemblance to the famous Hitchcock film but the screenplay invented great swaths of plot.) That worked out, so I thought, well, why not try something a little longer, a book I've wanted to read for a few years?

So I downloaded The Way We Live Now. I am delighted at just how well this is going. The Way We Live Now runs something between 750 and 1000 pages in print, amounting to 100 chapters. Carrying around a book of that size is a pain in the neck, and, of course, you can easily see just how much is left to read.

I'm using the free Aldiko reader on my phone. It has chapter listings, and you can find out what percentage of the book you've read, but there's no pagination, and of course I'm not lugging around a two-pound paperback or five-pound hardcover. I don't feel daunted by the length. I can read a chapter or two at leisure wherever I am - my living room, the bus to work, someplace I'm waiting. The reader picks up where I left off and provides various navigation aids if I want to jump back or forward. The Way We Live Now is in the public domain, as was The Thirty-Nine Steps, so I downloaded them for free.

I'm surprised and happy! I'm on chapter 39. And the other day I found that Ulysses is in the public domain.

Opera? on Television?

Yes, and it's not even Live from Lincoln Center.

Several San Francisco Opera productions will be broadcast on KQED TV between August 26 and September 23, 2010. That's a heft dose of concentrated opera, and of course right around the opening of the season. There will be multiple showings of each; Rita Moreno hosts and each broadcast will include interviews with singers, conductors, and members of the creative team.

The first broadcast of each is on a Thursday evening at 8 p.m. For subsequent airings, "see local listings."

Here's the lineup:
  • Madama Butterfly, with Patricia Racette, Brandon Jovanovich, Zheng Cao, and Stephen Powell/Donald Runnicles, August 26.
  • Don Giovanni, with Mariusz Kwiecien, Elza van den Heever, Charles Castronovo, and others/Donald Runnicles, September 2.
  • La Rondine, with Angela Gheorghiu and others, September 16.
  • Samson and Delilah, with Olga Borodina and Clifton Forbis, September 23.
That Butterfly was one of the greatest things I've ever seen; the first performance was, well, perfect, and the Don Giovanni far and away the most convincing production of the opera I've seen.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Hector Berlioz Would Have Wound Up in Opera Tattler

From p. 54 of the Dover edition of his Memoirs:
As I was intimately acquainted with every note of the score, the performers, if they were wise, played it as it was written; I would have died rather than allow the slightest liberty with the old masters to have passed unnoticed. I had no notion of biding my time and coldly protesting in writing against such a crime -- oh dear no! -- I apostrophised the delinquents then and there in my loudest voice, and I can testify that no form of criticism goes so straight home as that. For example, I once remarked that in Iphigenie en Tauride cymbals had been put into the first dance of the Scythians, in B minor, where Gluck has only strings; and that in Orestes' great recitative, in the third act, the trombone parts, which, in the score, are so exquisitely adapted to the situation, had been left out altogether. The next time the opera was played I was resolved that if these errors were repeated I would show them up. Accordingly, when the Scythian ballet began I lay in wait for my cymbals; they came in just as they had done before. Boiling with anger, I nevertheless contained myself until the piece was finished, and then, seizing the occasion of the momentary lull which preceded the next piece, I shouted out with all my might, "There are no cymbals there; who has dared to correct Gluck?"

The hubbub may be imagined.

Hector Berlioz Tells You Where to Sit

From p. 51 of the Dover edition of his Memoirs:
After having thus succeeded in getting my man into the theatre when one of Gluck's masterpieces was to be played, I placed him on a seat in the pit, conjuring him not to change his place, seeing that others were not equally good for hearing, and that I had tried every one. Here you were too near the horns, there you could not hear them; on the right the trombones were too loud, on the left the repercussion from the stage-boxes produced a disagreeable effect; nearer to the stage you were too close to the orchestra, and the voices were drowned; higher up you were too far from the stage, and the words were inaudible, or you could not follow the facial expressions of the actors; the instrumentation of this work was best appreciated from such a place, the chorus from another; in one act the scene was laid in a sacred forest, which was so vast that the sound was lost in most parts of the theatre, therefore it was necessary to go nearer; in another, which represented the interior of a palace, and was what is called, in the language of the theatre, a salon ferme, the force of the sound being doubled by this seemingly trifling change, it became advisable to move to the back of the pit,* where the voices would seem to blend in more complete harmony.
* I take "pit" to mean "orchestra seats" or "stalls," in American and British usage.

Monday, August 02, 2010

You Rant About How Terrible Modern Music Is. I Say You Are Not Listening.

Hoisted from the comments, something I wrote:

Twentieth and twenty-first century music runs the gamut from harmonically conservative composers like Schmidt and Vaughn Williams and, hell, Havergal Brian to Britten and Shostakovich, both of whom are firmly in the standard rep, to Stravinsky, Bartok, and Janacek to Glass, Reich, and Adams, to Carter, Xenakis, and Fernyhough (born decades apart), to Lindberg, Salonen, and Saariaho (and Sallinen and Aho and Part and...) to Higdon, Harbison, Diamond, (Melinda) Wagner, and on and on.

Really, there's something for everyone. Any person interested in Western notational music who can't find something to like in the music of the last hundred years isn't trying very hard.

Yes, Indeedy

Neither Hector Berlioz nor A.C. Douglas understands that fiorite carry much of the emotional content in early- and mid-19th century Italian opera, in addition to the joyous (and to them objectionable) display of vocal athleticism. No surprise there; Berlioz grew up conversant with an entirely different musical language and followed his own idiosyncratic path as a composer. You'll notice that ACD hasn't quoted Berlioz's opinion of St. Wolfgang.

(Oh, and I apologize for the long break between Berlioz quotations. I'm reading him at a leisurely pace - he is, um, a little tiring - plus I am simultaneously reading The Way We Live Now (on my phone!) and a popular novel or two. I have plenty of pages dog-eared for posting.)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Anonymous Posting Biting the Dust Soon

I'm going to remove the anonymous posting option later this week. It's gotten to the point where I'm seeing multiple anonymous comments per controversial posting and it's best if people can tell who is posting what. You will still be able post pseudonymously (several people do), but you have to have a unique identity. Google accounts are fine, OpenID is fine. Just use it consistently.