Monday, January 31, 2011

Season Announcement Season: LAO, and Suddenly SFO's Season Looks Great

Placido Domingo announced the LA Opera 2011-12 season today. James Conlon must be tearing his hair out:
  • Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (Company Premiere); Conlon/Jenis, Dyka, Semenchuk, Grivnov, Cresswell
  • Mozart's Così fan tutte (Production New to Los Angeles); Conlon/Kurzak, Donose, Constantinescu, D'Arcangelo, Pirgu
  • Gounod's Roméo et Juliette (Revival); Domingo/Machaidze, Grigolo, Miller, Kowaljow
  • Verdi's Simon Boccanegra (Company Premiere); Conlon/Domingo, Martinez, Kowaljow, Secco
  • Britten's Albert Herring (Production New to Los Angeles); Conlon/Shrader, Bonner, Mack, Bunnell, Michie, Miller, and others
  • Puccini's La Bohème (Revival); Summers/Costello, Perez, Rucinski
Okay, Albert Herring is a rarity, except that Santa Fe had it last year, also with Alek Shrader, and Lorin Maazel is touring it to Berkeley this year. After the brilliance of the Freyer Ring and Conlon's Recovered Voices series...and the success of Il can only shake one's head sadly and wish the company weren't in such a deep, deep financial hole. Sorry, Henry!

Good Enough for Them

H/T Brad DeLong:

Joshua Holland reports on libertarians who accept social services that you might think they would refuse on principle - such as Ayn Rand, who accepted Social Security and Medicare when the cost of treating her lung cancer might have bankrupted her. I'm sure she considered herself "deserving," unlike poor people who receive such services.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Milton Babbitt

The great modernist composer and teacher has died, age 94. His students included Mario Davidovsky and Stephen Sondheim; he knew and loved barroom piano as well as modern notational music. NPR has a remembrance and obit here.

I like his music a whole lot, myself, and, yes, I'm fine with the idea of new music that's written for other composers - or for people like me who like modernist music.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Scientific Literacy and Copy-Editing, NY Times Blogs Edition

A day or two ago, I happened to comment to friends that people understand science poorly in part because science journalism is often so bad. She's not a science reporter, but this morning, Lisa Belkin had a giant howler on the Motherlode blog:
In the year after an abortion, 15.2 out of 1,000 sought psychiatric help (defined as admission to a hospital or clinic), which was essentially the same as the rate of that group (14.6 percent) in the nine months before the abortion.
I posted a comment about it, because 15.2 out of 1,000 is nothing like 14.6 percent; it's 1.52 percent. I also noted that this was the second time that an error like this had appeared recently on the Motherlode blog. It's just plain embarrassing to see this multiple times. It is just not that difficult to tell what 10% is at a glance, and to tell whether you're looking at 15.2% or 1.52%.

My comment did not get posted, but the text was corrected to the following, without any correction notice:
In the year after an abortion, 15.2 out of 1,000 sought psychiatric help (defined as admission to a hospital or clinic), which was essentially the same as the rate of that group (14.6 per 1,000) in the nine months before the abortion. 

Does the Times have copy-editors? Are all of them innumerate? It's the kind of error that's in the first quotation above that contributes to scientific misunderstanding. And I really think there should be a correction notice on the posting.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And That's Not All

Hollywood Bowl 2011 has one or two other items worth catching, most notably the first of the bullet list:
  • The amazing Kari Krikku in Magnus Lindberg's fantastic Clarinet Concerto, conducted by Joana Carneiro. (Could we not get a performance of this piece in the Bay Area? Please? I don't know if Krikku has a lifetime lock on performing it - he is splendid, as you can hear on record, and as I was lucky enough to hear last February in NYC - but we have a great principal clarinetist in the SFS.) Copland's Clarinet Concerto is also on the program - not with Krikku - as well as Appalachian Spring and Nielsen's Maskarade Overture.
  • Yuja Wang in the Rach 3 with Tchaikowsky 5, Lionel Bringuier conducts
  • Beethoven's 9th and the Choral Fantasy on the same program - whew! Raphael Fruhbeck de Burgos conducts.
  • Olga Kern plays the Rach Rhapsody; Leonard Slatkin conducts a program that includes the Brahms 4th
  • Philip Glass Ensemble in Powaqqatsi
  • The Labeque sisters in the Poulenc concerto for two pianos, a charming and lovely piece

Gimme Those High Cs, Baby!

So, given the choice of Turandot performances, should I see fall's fully-staged Hockney production in San Francisco (which I've seen twice), with Irene Theorin (Nicola Luisotti conducting), or summer's Hollywood Bowl presumably-concert performance with Christine Brewer (Gustavo Dudamel conducting)? Hmmm!

Belated Comments

I just okayed three comments for publication for which I evidently did not receive notifications....or else I just accidentally published duplicates! Apologies, in any case.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Season Announcement Season: Carnegie Hall

Alex Ross notes that Carnegie Hall has announced its 2011-12 season, with a hat tip to MTT's Carnegie showing of his American Mavericks series. I'm personally pleased to see that the JACK Quartet is playing Ruth Crawford Seeger's string quartet.

If you live in the Bay Area, or if you're me, another item that might catch your eye as especially memorable is the news that Kaija Saariaho will hold the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair for the season.

If you want to see what's on offer in plain HTML, start here. The electronic version of the season brochure is, I'm sure, entertaining to view, but not on this slow and stupid old computer. (Note to web designers: you get the most flexible and usable designs when you assume that everybody has a slow and stupid old computer.)

Visiting orchestras include the Mariinsky, Philadelphia, Budapest Festival, San Francisco, American Composers, Metropolitan Opera, Minnesota, Atlanta, ORR, Baltimore, London Phil, Berlin Phil, VPO, Boston, St. Luke's, NYPO, and Cleveland. Recitals of note include singers Karita Mattila, Susan Graham, Ian Bostridge, and Matthias Goerne. (Be still, my heart.) Oh, and the pianist with Bostridge? THOMAS ADES. Also: plenty of great pianists and string quartets.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Janos Gereben writes:
The virtual demise of the mostly-elevator-music KDFC, self-described as "casual, comfortable... classical," is acceptable, the actual destruction of weird & wacky & amateurish KUSF is a pity.

But for listeners, there is a real practical-physical issue, which is bad well beyond matters of taste. 102.1 - now turning into rock or pebbles, who cares - has an ERP (effective radiated power) of 33,000 Watts, broadcasting from a 1000-foot tower. 90.3, which was KUSF and is now the "new KDFC" has 2,850 ERP, broadcasting from a height of 100 feet, and audible in a 10-block radius.
Now, besides the random single-movement programming, lots of "comfortable" flute music, and a ban of bothersome vocal music, KDFC also had broadcasts of the SF Symphony, and - lately - of the SF Opera. If you want to hear those in the future, better move to the Inner Richmond.
Then, there is the way the switch was handled. KUSF's Howard Ryan says: "They just came in and asked me to step out while there was a record on and shut the transmitter off. We weren’t even able to sign off or thank the community or let the listeners know what was going on. We were literally the last people to know." Classy!
Will KUSF's "rescue" of the Met Broadcasts when KDFC dropped them ("no interest in opera in San Francisco," says our marketing research), continue from the new KDFC? Unlikely, but it would be nice to be surprised.

And the Chron has a story about protests at USF.

Hot Air Music Festival, 2011

The Hot Air Music Festival, San Francisco Conservatory's annual student-organized new music festival is on Sunday, February 6, 2011, just a couple of weeks from now. It is free (FREE - donations gratefully accepted) and the composers are living except for Lou Harrison.

The program is something:

1:45                  Triumphant Digitally Synthesized Fanfare To Hot Air Music Festival by Red Bennett

2:00                  Michael Gordon’s Industry, Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin and Percussion and Osvaldo Golijov’s Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind in the Recital Hall

3:00                  Paul Bergel’s Winchester House of Mystery Suite and George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae in the Recital Hall

3:30                  Reception, meet-and-greet with performers, including the Mobius Trio and the Delphi Piano Trio (pending confirmation)

4:00                  Music by Matthew Cmiel, John Russell, Derrick Spiva, Jr. and Christopher Porter in the Recital Hall

5:00                  Music by Louis Cruz, Pantawit Kiangsiri, Pierre Jalbert and David Gottlieb in the Concert Hall; Music by Anthony Porter, Luciano Chessa, Harry Whitney and Alden Jenks in the Recital Hall

6:00                  Music by Devon Farney and Stephen Hartke in the Concert Hall;  Music by Clayton Moser, Aaron Pike and David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion in the Recital Hall

7:00                  Louis Andriessen’s Worker’s Union and Steve Reich’s Six Pianos in the Concert Hall

8:00                  Samuel Adams’ Tension Study No.1, Arvo Paert’s Spiegel im Spiegel and Dan Becker’s Gridlock in the Concert Hall

9:00                  Kajia Saariaho’s Pres and John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur in the Concerto Hall

Be there, or be square, and give 'em a few bucks if you can.

More on the KDFC/KUSC/KUSF Situation

First, see the previous posting on this news for the text of a letter sent by Brenda Barnes, President of KUSC, to that station's membership about what's happening. Thanks to Brian from Out West Arts for the letter!

Second, Peter Hartlaub, who broke the story in the S.F Chron, tells me two things in email (used with permission and thanks):

Third, I sent a question to KDFC in response to their email about the changeover:
Are you retaining the same programming style (individual movements, repertory limited to 1750-1900 except for tonal 20th c. composers, no vocal music or opera) or are you going to improve the programming to something that isn't just "soothing" and "an island of sanity"? 
That is, something people who are knowledgeable about classical music might want to hear.
I received the following response:
We will play more complete pieces and branch out a little but we will still be soothing and an island of sanity.  Thank you for asking!
Brenda [Barnes]
I plan to reply - I signed the original email with my KDFC pseudonym, Melissa Linden, and will be decloaking and attempting a dialog of some kind.

If you want to send your opinions about repertory, use the email address (Not my classical.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New at San Francisco Classical Voice

So, in the welter of news yesterday (KDFC sold, San Francisco Opera season announcement, etc.), I never got to one item: San Francisco Classical Voice has a new executive director, John Robinson, who comes to SFCV from the Santa Barbara Symphony and who had previously worked at Frank Salomon Associates in NYC, which manages various classical musicians. Mary Falvy, SFCV Board president, says this:
"We are very excited to welcome John Robinson as SFCV's first full-time Executive Director," said Mary Falvey, President of the Board. "Through its reputation for high-quality independent content, SFCV has become the Bay Area's go-to source for information about the rich cultural life of our region, and we are now poised to make a lasting impact on our community by helping to bring classical music to more people — and vice versa — and also to bring more attention to the connections between classical music and other types of music that people know and love. John's demonstrated experience in developing collaborative partnerships and a broad base of support in the community, together with his skills in organizational development and his knowledge of multiple facets of the classical music business prepare him well to lead SFCV to accomplish our audacious goals.
SFCV has gone through many, many changes in the last few years, including a shift from publishing mostly concert reviews, features, and opinion pieces to many more previews, fewer reviews, and just about no opinion pieces. You won't find anything equivalent to the series investigating finances at SF Opera under Pamela Rosenberg, for example. So it'll be interesting to see what happens next.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

News, Big News, About Bay Area Classical Radio

KDFC, the "classical music" station everybody loves to hate, has been sold to the University of Southern California, and will become a nonprofit. It's giving up its frequency (102.1) and moving to 89.9 and 90.3.

If those frequencies sound familiar, it's because KUSF was located at 90.3 - at least until 10 a.m. this morning, when the staff got blindsided. For now, at least, KUSF becomes a web-only station. This will increase their online presence greatly; presently, they can only have 100 online listeners at a time. Work being performed this week will allow thousands to listen at once.

One result of this is that KDFC will have a much weaker signal. I can't get KUSF on my stereo in Oakland; will I be able to get KDFC? WIll they get a stronger transmitter?

I understand, I think, why KDFC lost its old frequency: the sale didn't include the frequency, which the former owners get to keep. I do not understand how KDFC obtained access to KUSF's old frequency. I have email out looking for more information.

No, wait: here's an article at KUSF's web site explaining the situation: USF sold the frequency. assigning it to the Classical Public Radio Network. (Note to self: collect facts before writing.)

The big question for me, and probably for you, is whether this means that KDFC's programming is about to improve drastically because it will no longer be profit driven. The smaller question is, why were they sold? Their listernership was supposed to be huge; did that not translate into profitability? or not enough profitability?

San Francisco Opera, 2011-12

So, the press release from SF Opera hit my in-box a while ago. It's glass-half-full time, for sure. Here's the lineup, with the conductor and cast in parentheses:
  • Turandot (Puccini); Luisotti; Theorin/Foster, Crocetto, Berti/Fraccaro, Aceto/Van Horn. Two runs, of 6 and 3 performances. 
  • Heart of a Soldier, (New opera by Christopher Theofinides); Summers/Hampson, Burden, Moore. 
  • Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti); Riccardo Frizza/Fleming, DeShong, Meli, Kowaljow.
  • Don Giovanni (Mozart); Luisotti/Meachem, Dehn, Farnocchia, Lindsey, Lehtipuu, M. Vinco, Robinson. 
  • Xerxes, (Handel); Summers/Graham, Daniels, Prina, Stober, Oropesa, Tigges.
  • Carmen (Bizet); Luisotti/Aldrich, Arancam, Szot, Gartland.
  • Nixon in China (J.C. Adams); Renes/Mulligan, Kanyova, O'Neill, Lee, Yuan, Carfizzi.
  • Attila (Verdi); Luisotti/Furlanetto, Vargas/Toree, Dyka, Kelsey, Ramey (!).
  • The Magic Flute (Mozart); Rory Macdonald/Shrader/Peake, Stober, Gunn, Sigmundsson, Shagimuratova.
Many debuts, including three conductors and a bunch of singers I've never heard; many important returning artists, Renee Fleming's appearance being the biggest news. Lucas Meachem and Heidi Stober return in major starring roles, so they are, I presume, considered up-and-coming and worth cultivating. I loved Meachem in Forza and Die tote Stadt, liked Stober better in Radamisto in Santa Fe than in Werther.

There are four operas out of nine that I've never seen: Lucrezia Borgia, Nixon in China, Attila, and of course Heart of a Soldier, which is new and an SFO commission. Lucrezia has two drawbacks: it's by Donizetti, and I'm just not a Fleming fan. Still, I'll probably go; I loved Fille, beyond all expectation, and who knows? Perhaps Fleming will be on her best behavior.

Xerxes has a splendid cast; of course, I saw a great production by Berkeley Opera last fall, in a great seats for a price that would get me a Balcony Rear seat at SFO. I will probably go, because one doesn't often get the chance to compare two top-notch casts in a Handel opera.

Of the others...well, there are some puzzles here. Two Mozart operas, both done within the last few years in new-to-SFO productions, both getting different new-to-SFO productions. I don't understand that at all.

DG is being taken by Nicola Luisotti, so we can guess that, since we just had Nozze with him conducting, we'll have Cosi soon. The cast has no one who particularly interests me; besides, the last go-round was stupendous. As for Magic Flute, the singers who interest me most are Gunn (Pappageno) and Sigmundsson (Sarastro). Who goes to Flute for a great Pappageno or Sarastro? Not me, at these prices.

There's one oddity buried in the Magic Flutei casting. Melody Moore, one of the three principals in Heart of a Soldier, the First Lady. What? From a starring role to a bit part usually filled by an Adler Fellow? I speculate that she is covering either Pamina or Odabella in Attila.

Carmen? Sigh. I saw three of the four productions that have been done since 1995, I saw it at Berkeley Opera in there someplace, and since Conchita Supervia is not back from the dead, there's no way. It's only been a few years and it's much too soon.

Turandot? Well, that's trickier. It's been nine or ten years and I love the opera, at least, the parts Puccini wrote. But I'm not much into supporting cash cow productions; Marco Berti was a blot on Trovatore in 2009; Irene Theorin is an unknown quantity. And the last go-round was excellent, with Patricia Racette at her most beautiful, Jane Eaglen in good voice, and Jon Villars a fine Calaf.

So let's run the numbers:
  • Four cash-cow standards
  • One new opera, likely to be middle-of-the-road musically, and definitely of the in-the-news type
  • One modern classic
  • One bel canto rarity
  • One Verdi rarity (which Luisotti is conducting at La Scala Real Soon Now; in fact, we're sharing the production with them)
  • One Baroque rarity
In some sense, I suppose that's a reasonable distribution for a nine-opera season, except for the repetitiveness of the four cash cows. Wish we had, say, Elektra or Lohengrin in there instead of one of the Mozart operas. Or something by Zemlinsky or Shrecker. Or anything by Britten. And Carmen, again??

It makes you wonder, doesn't it, about that subscriber survey SFO sent out not long ago? Most of these operas were on the "would you go see these?" questions, even though, obviously, the season was already set in stone. Why ask so late? It seems...uh...cynical to me. It's not as if decisions could be made based on the results, though the opera might be able to take a stab at projecting ticket sales to subscribers.

Well, it's choose-your-own for me, this year. That will free up some money for Castleton Opera (Rape of Lucretia, Albert Herring), Los Angeles Opera (Turn of the Screw with Pat Racette), and a trip to a summer music festival to be named later. Will it be Bard Music Festival? Santa Fe Opera for Wozzeck with my man Richard Paul Fink? Wexford Opera? Tanglewood?


There's one other interesting item on the schedule, a December 3 gala concert in honor of the great Frederica von Stade, who is retiring after a long and important career. The concert is being presented in collaboration with PBO and a couple of other institutions.'s in Herbst Theater. I am absolutely certain that demand will far outstrip the ticket supply for this program: back in the Mansouri era, SFO sold out the 3200-seat opera house for the Marilyn Horne gala! Why Herbst? It is very strange.

Why Beloved Reader (I Mean That) Henry Holland Needs His Own Blog

Cher public, I have received a comment from Henry Holland vis-a-vis A. C. Douglas that had me howling - yet I cannot publish this comment in full, owing to my own stated policy and desire to discourage name-calling. I'm not even sure I can publish it in part, least I be quite correctly accused of hypocrisy. Thus, I leave it to your imagination.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rolling of the Eyes

For the record, A.C. Douglas gets it wrong: I did not post his comment, then delete it and repost an edited version, in order to put on a show or have a fit of pique. I assume that he's attributing to me what he would have done in my place.

What actually happened was that I was out running errands, saw the comment come into email (smartphone, yes), and clicked the Publish link without reading the comment carefully enough. Twenty minutes later I checked it again, saw the name-calling, and thought "Oh, shit." I deleted and republished when I got home. It's that simple: reading too fast and following the usual routine.

It's nice that he's gotten some supportive email. I have too. :)

And it's fine that he's not posting further comments here. His stance a few years ago was that he doesn't have comments on his blog because he claimed that bloggers should reply on their blogs, not in comments. This hasn't kept him from taking advantage of others' comment sections while keeping comments disabled his own blog. Make what you will of that.

Season Announcement Season

  • San Francisco Opera announces the 2011-12 season tomorrow. A couple of things are already known or suspected: Heart of a Soldier for the fall season, Nixon in China for the summer. Also, probably Turandot and Carmen, based on information found on singer web sites and the like. Watch this space; I'll have something up as soon as I can after I receive the press release.Yes, you can expect eye-rolling over the warhorses.
  • Metropolitan Opera announces on February 16, 2011. I have the invitation on hand but won't, alas, be in NYC this year.
  • Tanglewood announced back in late November, but did I blog it? I did not. As usual, many fine offerings and outstanding conductors and performers. Read the season schedule here.Highlights include a string quartet marathon (2 two-hour programs daily!), the Berlioz Requiem, the Emersons, an all-Sibelius program led by James Levine, Jean-Yves Thibaudet playing the complete piano music of Ravel, including the concertos, a concert performance of Pelleas et Melisande, Yuja Wang in the Rach Rhapsody, quite a bit of Schumann and Mahler, a ton of tasty contemporary music, some programs conductor by young Lionel Bringuier, who impressed the hell out of me at a Green Umbrella concert three years in LA, appearances by Christoph Eschenbach and Christoph von Dohnanyi and by Raphael Fruhbeck de Burgos (I especially like his all-Brahms program with soloist Stephanie Blythe, though....a true alto would be better suited to the Alto Rhapsodie and Schicksalslied), Handel's Orlando, conducted by Nic McGegan, and Porgy & Bess conducted by Bramwell Tovey, 

What He Means, Of Course...

is not "once the column goes up, I don’t know what goes down; that’s not my department …," but "vonce ze kolumn goess up, I don't know vat goess down; zat's not my department."

Truer Words Were Never Spoken

Anthony Tommasini on Giuseppe Verdi:
Verdi should not be blamed for his own popularity nor tainted by the excessive devotion of the most fanatical opera buffs. Those who dispute the sophistication of his craft don’t know what they’re talking about.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How Things Work Around Here

Received from A.C. Douglas and published as a comment to a previous posting:
In future, write that sort of things on your own blog, not in comments to mine.
In future, I'll write what I please here. You have the option to publish or not. If you ever edit or not publish any comment I make here, that will be the last time I make any comment here on any post of yours.

See how that works?

I'll just say: someone who allows comments on his blog about once every 18 months has a lot of nerve. I'll be seriously considering whether to publish your comments in the future as a matter of policy. I don't particularly mind insulting language directed at me, but I do mind other commenters - guests on my blog - being insulted.

I note that I have no problem with Terry Teachout and Alex Ross disabling comments on their blogs: they couldn't handle the volume. Just guessing that Sounds & Fury doesn't get thousands of a hits a day.

Babbitt: Music for a Mass

If you missed November's performances of Milton Babbitt's Music for a Mass by the International Orange Chorale, there's another chance:

January 30, 2011
4 p.m.
Noe Valley Ministry

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Bit More on the Top Ten Business

Some apposite commentary elsewhere in the blogosphere:

Steve and I talk about criteria the other day, actually, and everything I say below owes a good deal to him. 

If you're following the comments section of Anthony Tommasini's original article, you'll see that there are nearly 800 postings. Tommasini was able to reply in line to some of them, including to my original, very early comment, saying he should be considering composers before Bach, because there's plenty of greatness in Hildegard, Machaut, Power, Dunstaple, Dufay, Josquin, Lassus, Monteverdi, Schuetz, Biber, and so on. His response asked about criteria: how do you compare Schumann and Dufay when they're so different? Here's what I said:

Don't know whether you will see this in the giant list of responses, and there's no way to insert a reply in line with your response to me. You ask how one compares Dufay to Schumann. Well, how does one compare Beethoven to Schumann? Sure, they're stylistically much closer, but still. I would use similar criteria for all of these decisions: importance in own time (Dufay was known internationally); influence on peers; opinions of peers; critical reception (contemporary and continuing); technical skill; innovation; staying power. Add in other criteria as you wish. Breadth of production, as with Mozart, is certainly one potential criterion.
For composers before Bach, staying power is tough because of the demand and expectation that there would be new work on a constant basis. (And even for composers contemporary with Bach: how many Handel operas were performed between his death and the revival of Rodelinda in 1932?) And composers are constantly being discovered or rediscovered. You were in music school a few years before me, but probably we both used Grout. Did you ever hear of Biber before the last ten or 15 years? If so, you were way ahead of me, and he's a tremendous composer. (Thank you, Andrew Manze.)

So we don't really have staying power to go by with composers of the 17th century and earlier; in the present day, the audience for early music is very much a niche audience. Still, the other criteria remain valid. 

Why So Shy? or, Mozart and Monteverdi

Back in my posting Top Ten: A Fool's Errand, I made the following assertion:
It is especially crazy to omit Monteverdi, who operates right on the edge between the Renaissance and the modern. He didn't invent opera, but he wrote operas that are in a class with Mozart's; he wrote great secular works and great sacred works.
A. C. Douglas predictably disagreed with this in the comments, saying "Not on this planet." Today, he's got a blog posting up about what I said. For reasons that escape me, he's not identifying me or linking to this blog. It's not as if I'm ashamed of this opinion, and surely he is not, though he claims "charity." (Uh, what?) Besides, there's this company called Google, and if you're reading this blog, I presume you know how to do a web search.

I figured something like this would happen, and believe me, I am prepared to defend what I said, and will, in just a minute. I'm going to leave it to John Marcher to deal with the Hendrix/Beethoven issue; he's fully able to defend himself, should he so choose.

First, let's get something out of the way. My comment above should be read thusly:
It is especially crazy to omit Monteverdi from consideration for inclusion in the top ten, owing to his having lived before Tommasini's arbitrary cutoff era of the late Baroque. 
It's just as crazy as it would be to omit Wagner from consideration. 

Now that that's out of the way, let's get to what really galled ACD, which is my assertion that Monteverdi's operas are in a class with Mozart's. You should bear in mind that, like many reasonably sane people, I regard Nozze di Figaro as, probably, the most perfectly put-together opera in the repertory. It's an amazing clockwork of great music and a complex plot that somehow does get worked out in the end. It's a comic opera, and there's plenty that's funny in it, but there's also the underlying edge provided by our knowledge of the Count's character and what is likely to happen in his marriage. Then there are the class and sexual politics of the opera, which come out more subtly than in the Beaumarchais play from which the libretto is drawn, but which still drive a great deal of the plot.

Two operas that I'd consider to be in a class with Nozze are Verdi's Fallstaff and Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea, for somewhat different reasons. Falstaff is worked out something like Nozze in that it is fast-paced, brilliantly scored, fantastically structured, very much driven by both character and plot. It's the summit of 19th century Italian opera; verismo, and especially Puccini's operas, would not be possible without it.

As to Poppeai, as I said in the comments to my original posting, ACD very likely hasn't had the opportunity to see it in close proximity with Nozze. I have, at San Francisco Opera in the late 1990s, both with superb casts. Bryn Terfel, Solveig Kringleborn, Angelika Kirschlager, Bo Skovhus in Nozze, and an even more amazing group of singers in Poppea; Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, David Daniels, Robert Lloyd, Mel Ulrich, Roxandra Dunose, Barry Banks, John Relyea, Norman Shankle...well, it was something. I had to see Poppea twice, and I dragged my slightly reluctant partner to it, too. She thanked me, you bet: the opera got a stunningly great production and performances, the kind that stay in memory forever. It was also the only time I saw the late lamented LHL. She was unforgettable.

Here's why I rank Poppea up there: the music is great and the opera is put together with the same level of genius  and finish as Nozze. The plot is even more complex. We have Nero's relationship with the courtesan Poppea and the breakup of his marriage to Ottavia, who is sent into exile. We have Nero's relationship with his teacher, the great philosopher Seneca, a serious and important relationship. We have his friendship with the poet Lucano. We have the relationships between Ottavia and Poppea and their respective nurses; one of these is a comic drag role, amazingly, lending an astonishingly (and anachronistically) modern touch to the opera. We have the loving sacrifices of Drusilla and Ottone, who flee when Ottone is exiled. We have frolicking and innocent youngsters in love, too. 

We have the whole political world of Rome and its astonishing corruption, exemplified both by Nero's desire to discard Ottavia for Poppea and in his willingness to send his beloved teacher Seneca to his death in order to preserve his power as Emperor.

So besides the grand political workings-out, which are comparable, perhaps, to Don Carlo and Simon Boccanegra, we have just about every variety of human love, all wrapped up in magnificent music, music that's passionate or austere by turns.

Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, the fact that I think Poppea is as great as Nozze has absolutely nothing to do with why classical music is trouble. Think about it for a minute: what are the consequences of that opinion? Why, I might encourage people to go see both operas.

And While We're At It...

How about the amazing JACK Quartet? They could bring their Xenakis quartets show or play that Georg Friedrich Haas piece that calls for complete darkness.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bring ICE to the Bay Area!

Or, a serious suggestion for Cal Performances and San Francisco Performances, the presenters most likely to have the interest and money to do so.

And why does this come up today? Because I was perusing email I received from ICE today about their upcoming travels to San Diego, Chicago, Minnesota (concerts in two cities), and Baltimore. 

Dear Quitter:

Yes, I mean you, the former Governor of Alaska. Do you have any idea what the term "blood libel" refers to, and why it's just plain wrong to use it in connection with the discourse surrounding the shooting of a Jewish Congresswoman?

Criticism of the terms of discourse: not the same as false claims that Jewish people kill Christian children to make ritual use of their blood. You can't, and should not, be taking on the mantel of the oppressed. You're not oppressed; you're not being falsely accused. You had the crosshaired map on your web site and took it down within an hour of the shootings in Tucson.

You have, indeed, contributed to poisoning the discourse, both before and after that terrible event.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Visitors from Princeton

I spend a half-hour a couple of times a month looking over the vast amounts of information gathered about this blog by Google Analytics. I installed Analytics long before Blogger Stats became available, and, because it's designed for use by people using AdWords campaigns, it returns, well, a whole lot of detail, some of which is unnecessary for my purposes. (There's no "goal" page to click through to where someone might buy something, for example.)

I noticed not long ago that I get more hits per month than I might expect from Princeton University. Now, Princeton has a highly-regarded music department, and the school is within hailing distance of New York City. I write about musical and operatic events in NYC pretty often, so this isn't a huge surprise, but it's more than I get from other Ivies. 

I'm curious about who might be reading me from Princeton, given something a friend told me a couple of weeks ago; feel free to post a comment or drop me a line privately. I am known to be discreet with the email address of the well known, too.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Top Ten Composers: A Fool's Errand

Over at the NY Times, Anthony Tommasini, chief classical music critic, has undertaken the challenge of naming the top ten composers of the Western notational, wait. He hasn't. He's undertaken the challenge of naming the top ten composers of the Western notational tradition since the high Baroque.

Over at Sounds & Fury, A.C. Douglas is claiming Tommasini has big balls; he's also naming his own top ten, none of which will surprise you.

Both of youse: forget it.

For ACD: Tommasini gives it away in his opening paragraphs, where he talks about top ten and top 100 lists in other fields (best 100 books in English, best films, etc.). I'd bet that a Times editor dreamed up this stunt. The idea has nothing to do with Tommasini's guts or manhood, and he loses exactly nothing by going through with the exercise. It has to do with marketing: someone had the undoubtedly correct idea that a feature like this, spread out over a week or more, complete with video and audio examples, would attract eyes. I own that it's an entertaining exercise, at the very least.

For Tony: Dodging around the fact that this is an impossible task in the first place, I wish you hadn't weaseled out of including the whole of Western notational music history. What a chance to advocate for composers outside the mainstream symphonic / chamber music canon, and introduce Times readers to composers new to them. Damn right you can make a case for including Josquin and Monteverdi in that list; also Hildegard of Bingen, Guillaume de Machaut, Guillaume Dufay, and many others.

It is especially crazy to omit Monteverdi, who operates right on the edge between the Renaissance and the modern. He didn't invent opera, but he wrote operas that are in a class with Mozart's; he wrote great secular works and great sacred works.

I'm more in agreement about the omission of living composers, though even there I am troubled. Omit the living and you essentially write women composers completely out of the picture. There were more women active between 1750 and the late 20th c. than one might think, but they did not have much in the way of opportunities to become well known or widely played. Today, we are lucky enough to have many, many women working as composers, and there's at least one whom I'd consider to have a shot at the pantheon.

For me: I looked at the illustrations for the article and crazily assumed they were Tommasini's final picks, despite the fact that there are thirteen faces. So there's a comment by me on the ArtsBlog about dropping Tchaikowsky and including Bartok. Well, I'd stick with that one, for sure; I'd add that it's critical to include Debussy, probably by dumping consideration of Chopin. Debussy and Bartok rank with Schoenberg and Stravinsky in terms of their influence on composers in the 20th and early 21st centuries.  And I think one could safely lose Schumann, much as I love his music. I would like to see Verdi or Puccini included, in part because of all the German-language heavyweights in the thirteen, in part because they're that good. But it's nuts to omit Wagner, whose giant ambitions and harmonic language lead directly to the 20th century and serial composition.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Nixon in China Preview, NYC

Wish I could go:

WQXR Presents: Special Preview of John Adams’ Nixon in China
Wednesday, January 19 at 7pm
The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space
44 Charlton Street (at Varick Street) 
New York, NY 10014

Decisions, Decisions

The first weekend in March has three weekend-long events that I'd like to attend:

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Love Letters from a Mezzo

Reviewing Lettere Amorose, Magdalena Kozena's latest. I've had her Bach-but-not-J.S. CD for years. Time to open it; I loved this collection.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Scalia to Women: Rights? You Have No Rights.

California Lawyer interviewed Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently. Here's part of what he said:

Q:  In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
 A: Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. ... But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don't like the death penalty anymore, that's fine. You want a right to abortion? There's nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn't mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.
Here's the text of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Gosh. I guess we are not "persons," either, even though the Supreme Court ruled in 1971, under Warren Burger, that the Equal Protection clause applied to women. Thanks for clearing that up, Justice Scalia!

Read all about it at the Huffington Post.

Minority Report (2007)

(The first of a series of catch-up blog postings, most started contemporaneously with the performance I'm commenting on.)

Apparently I'm the only person in the Bay Area who didn't love Iphegenie en Tauride, the surprise hit of San Francisco Opera's 2007 summer season. I'm getting some email brickbats over it, so, explanations herewith.

Most importantly, the music did not engage me the way it evidently engaged everyone else. Yes, the score has many beauties - the glorious choral writing and the moment of recognition, among others. But the extreme restraint and classical balance just didn't appeal to me in my mood of the day.

Now, I was not expecting Strauss's Elektra, an opera where the extremity of the musical expression matches the emotional tone of the libretto. But the production, with the writhing bodies and principals staggering around and suffering a great deal, looked more appropriate for Elektra than for the music I was hearing. So there was a disconnect between the visual and the aural. In addition, sitting in the orchestra, somewhat to the side, the principal singers all seemed a size too small for the house, even with the comparatively light orchestration, as wonderful as Susan Graham was. (To my mind, this means the opera itself belongs in a smaller house.) Bo Skovhus sounded sadly worn for a pretty young guy.

Whether I would have liked a more classical production better, I don't know. It Depends.

That said, there was one major delight, the surprise of Heidi Melton's Diana flooding the house with sound from somewhere up in the balconies. Woot!

Season Announcement Season

I have the first of what will be about two thousand season announcements in hand:

  • Spoleto Festival USA, May 27-June 12, Charleston, SC. Operas: Kaija Saariaho's Emilie, with Elizabeth Futral (Karita Mattila sang the premier; sigh); The Medium, in celebration of Gian Carlo Menotti's centenary; The Magic Flute. The St. Lawrence String Quartet, pianist Inon Barnaton, and other musicians will be in residence playing chamber music; also conductor James Gaffigan. There are tons of chamber music concerts scheduled, not much, yet, about repertory.
  • Seattle Opera's 2011-12 season features Porgy and Bess, Madama Butterfly (with Patricia Racette, yay, and Stefano Secco, sigh), Carmen (zzzz), Attila (with John Relyea), and Orpheus and Eurydice.