Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Now, There's A Classy Substitute or Two!

Menahem Pressler must bow out of his Music@Menlo programs, owing to a family emergency. I hope all will be well with Mr. Pressler and his family.

Bowing in - Jeffrey Kahane and Gil Kalish!

Kahane takes the Carte Blanche concert, which will include Chopin, Faure, and Brahms.

Kalish takes the piano part for Concert Program VI, which will be otherwise unchanged.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Gothic Arrives

Okay, so I was not in London on Sunday. But the reviews and comments on Havergal Brian's gigantic Symphony No. 1 are out there on the net, and I have been reading with interest and amusement. Start with Kenneth Woods, who has fascinating comments and links to other commentators and reviewers.

Then go to the BBC Proms web site and actually listen to the thing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Yes, she's the kind of a girl who makes the News of the World"

In one sense, yes, I'm having a lot of fun following the expanding circle of scandals surrounding Rupert Murdoch's journalism empire in Great Britain, where, among other things, his minions hacked into and tampered with the voicemail of a young girl who'd been murdered, obtained private medical information about Gordon Brown's then-infant son, and bribed Queen Elizabeth's bodyguards to obtain phone numbers and travel information.

In another...well, keep in mind that the News Corporation owns the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. Not that you could trust them, but the recent revelations should give you even more pause.

Monday, July 11, 2011

SF Opera: Rumor & Gossip Edition

Lohengrin with Brandon Jovanovich, care of someone posting anonymously, as do we all, on Parterre Box.

San Francisco Opera Ring: Good News and Not-So-Good News

Press release from San Francisco Opera with some interesting news:

SFO sold 99.96% of the available tickets to attendees from 46 states and 21 countries. Box office income was $7,236,673.

KDFC will broadcast all four operas on radio:
Performances of Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung have been recorded for the San Francisco Opera International Radio Broadcast, available locally on Classical KDFC (90.3 in San Francisco, 89.9 in the North/East Bay, 89.7 in Eureka, 92.5 in Lakeport/Ukiah) on the following dates: Das Rheingold (September 4), Die Walküre (October 2), Siegfried (November 6) and Götterdämmerung (December 4). The Ring operas will also be broadcast both nationally and internationally through the WFMT Radio Network.
However (sigh, big sigh):

At this time, there are no immediate plans to release this new San Francisco Opera Ring cycle on DVD or to remount this production in the near future.

NYCO Joins the War on Musicians

H/T La Cieca. AGMA reports that NYCO is "proposing" the following:

  • Eliminate all health insurance.
  • Eliminate ‘contract year’.
  • Eliminate all employment guarantees.
  • Eliminate weekly artists.
  • All employment to be on a per-performance basis.
  • Eliminate re-engagement rights.
  • Eliminate tenure.
  • Eliminate minimum staffing provisions.
  • Eliminate paid time off.
  • Eliminate vacation pay.
  • Eliminate travel time.
  • Eliminate all references to New York State Theater.
  • Eliminate releases and leaves of absence.
  • Freeze severance pay. Payable only to people who resign now.
  • Allow non-AGMA singers, not covered by contract.
  • Eliminate dancers from contract.
  • Eliminate production staff numbers and guarantees.
What's left after that? A pickup organization, not an opera company.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Gods Shouldn't Talk Like the People Next Door

That's what Desmond Shaw-Taylor told Andrew Porter when Porter started working on his singing translation of the Ring nearly 40 years ago. It's a matter of tone: Wagner writes in different textual and musical tones for the different groups of characters in the Ring. The Giants move heavily to heavy music; Loge is light and mercurial, befitting the demigod of Fire and his trickster nature.

This raises the question of whether the Gods should act like the people next door.

Francesca Zambello's Ring makes a number of errors of tone, in the staging and in the supertitle translations, where the tone she's setting on stage is at odds with the music and the libretto. There's the physical horseplay between Wotan and Bruennhilde, which I called out in my review. Do the Gods really act like that? And what about the phone conversation that got laughs right before Fricka's entry?

Zambello also has a habit of throwing characters on stage who aren't there in the libretto. I remember these, and perhaps there are more; I'll include my theories about what her justifications might be:
  • The end of the first Rheinmaiden scene in Rheingold, with Loge watching on the side. Loge says later in the opera that he has talked with the Rheinmaidens and promised to get the gold back for them. We don't know how much time passes between Scenes 1 and 2, only that it's enough time for the Ring and Tarnhelm to be forged. We don't know when the Giants start to build Valhalla.  I see no good reason to put Loge on stage at this point; his first entry in the score is accompanied by his characteristic fiery leitmotif, as it should be.
  • Rheingold, scene 2, when Fricka wakes Wotan up, Zambello puts Donner and Froh on stage too. here FZ is establishing the Gods as frivolous, Gilded-Age types. Not so bad. But...did Fricka whack Wotan with the blueprints, as in 2008? If she did, I missed it, a piece of stage business I found eye-rolling the first time around.
  • The Rheinmaidens' on-stage appearance at the end of Rheingold, rather than singing offstage or from the pit. I saw Zambello discuss this, and other subjects, at a music critics' panel between Siegfried and Goetterdaemmerung, during cycle 1. She wanted the Rheinmaidens to appear, dressed in brown rather than gold, to show their growth over the course of the opera, and also the environmental degradation that had started with the theft of the gold.
  • Hunding's men, who appear twice in Walkuere, were invented for this production. I presume this is to give Hunding social context within some period of American history, but I find it wholly unnecessary. Hunding appears as a single individual in Walkuere, and individualism is a prominent trope of American social history. Act I works best as a confrontation among three individuals, and the Siegmund/Hunding fight works best as a fight between two men, alone in a rocky place.
  • The parade of dead heroes during the Annunciation of Death. I found this moving in last year's production, though not necessary. I am sure it's distracting for some, and, again - the scene is a discussion between a Goddess and a man. Do they need dead heroes? Can Siegmund see them?
  • Fricka's appearance on the freeway in Act II of Walkuere. She tears up the contract for Siegmund's death that she forced Wotan to sign, now that Siegmund is dead. A little gratuitous! We already have Wotan, Bruennhilde, Siegmund, Sieglinde, and Hunding on stage.
  • The Forest Bird in Siegfried is supposed to be offstage, but in this production she's been personified as a young woman. I found her adorable and her interactions with Siegfried, all at a distance, quite touching. (Contrast with another personified Forest Bird whom I liked in the past, the cellphone-wielding Bird of Mark Streshinsky's production of Legend of the Ring at Berkeley opera.)
  • Hagen's Watch at the beginning of Act II of Goetterdaemmerung, where Gutrune is inserted in the scene to converse - and flirt? - with her evil half-brother. Truly unnecessary, and the implied flirtation is past gratuitous. If anything, Gutrune and Gunther probably look down on their half-dwarf brother. And of course there's the unnecessary remote control...which got laughs during the production I saw. 
Then there's the pile-up at the very end of the opera, with the imposed feminist viewpoint and the Rheinmaidens providing mounds of garbage for Siegfried's funeral pyre, rather than the vassals bringing mighty logs. Gosh - it's a mess. Too many people coming and going and rushing around what should be a comparatively static scene. Not to mention, too much Kumbaya, as my review said. FZ talked about the fact that there's six minutes of music after Bruennhilde rides into the flames, and how hard it is to figure out what should happen there. Buh? Wagner spells it out quite clearly in the libretto.

The director gives us another Kumbaya moment that I did not much care for: the godly huddle in Rheingold around Donner during his call to the mists, in which all of the Gods grab hold of the croquet mallet that he lugs around - while he's singing. What, the God of Thunder can't make a mighty noise on his own? They're also so far upstage as to make Gerd Grochowski work much harder than he should need to.

At the critics' panel, I challenged her on her calling the Rheinmaidens good, because on one hand, they lose the gold! and on the other, their merciless teasing of Alberich sets off the whole story. On the third,
 as Frick says, they've drowned a lot of men. She had a reasonable explanation - that they're 13-year-olds who don't fully understand their own actions and they grow up during the course of Rheingold and the whole cycle. I can sorta buy that.

The rewrite of the libretto for supertitle purposes that bugged me most, though, was the translation of something Wotan says in Siegfried, where he first refers to Alberich as "schwarz Alberich" and himself as "licht Alberich." Dammit, the latter was translated as "Wotan, lord of light," when he's making a clear analogy, for good reasons, between himself and Alberich.

They have so much in common! They're both willing to abuse and use others in the pursuit of power. Alberich enslaves the Nibelungs with the power of the ring, and rapes Gunter and Gutrune's mother to create Hagen.

Wotan is willing to make a deal with the giants using the goddess Freia as payment of the construction fees for Valhalla. He creates Siegmund and Sieglinde with the idea of creating a free man who can obtain the ring, then doesn't exactly take good care of them, not to mention the nameless mortal woman who is their mother.

The mistranslation of "licht Alberich" is bad, very bad, given the above; far worse than any of the silliness I describe above, because it undermines our ability to understand an important analogy between two of the moving forces of the cycle.

The 10,000 Foot View and the 1,000 Foot View

When technical writers talk about documents, you hear phrases like "30,000 foot view" and "10,000 foot view" tossed around. The idea is that different documents, or the same document, can look at a product from different perspectives. To make complicated software work, you need high-level views to understand how the software fits into a stack that might include hardware, the local area network, a database server, client software, APIs, and so on. You need low-level views to get the right arguments for a method.

My Ring review is a high-level overview of the Zambello/Runnicles Ring that ran for three cycles at San Francisco Opera in June and early July. I called it a triumph and I'll stand by that.

Still, I have some quibbles, which I'll be discussing in a posting that I expect to put up shortly. But I need to make a couple of things clear first.

I'm fine with modernizing or interpreting the Ring (and any other damn opera) according to the director's ideas. You want to put the Ring in feudal Japan or on the moon, fine by me. You just need to be dramatically convincing and reasonably consistent about it. Wagner's fairly sparse stage directions aren't the Holy Writ, to be obeyed without question or alteration.

I feel the same way about Shakespeare, as it happens. It would be silly to always perform Shakespeare the way his plays were done during his lifetime: outdoors, rather rapidly, in Elizabethan dress, and with boys or young men playing women's parts. Hey, I'd love to see that from time to time! But any playwright or composer knows that theater changes and audience expectations change. Once the work is released into the wild, it's open season.

So for people out there complaining that the Zambello Ring is Regietheater or Eurotrash or in some way illegitimate or wrong - you're just wrong yourselves. This stance is obviously objectionable - and ludicrous - when the complainers haven't even seen the production. Hold your fire, buy tickets, and wait until you see the whole, which is greater than the sum of the parts that can be described in any review.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Why Does New York City Need Two Opera Companies?

Over at About Last Night, Terry Teachout asks the above question. Evidently his Sightings column tomorrow will ask about NYCO's mission, or purpose. Once upon a time, it was the "people's opera," putting on lower-cost productions of popular operas, often starring up-and-coming young Americans; once upon a time, it presented repertory the Met wouldn't touch.

A couple of the answers to Terry's question are self-evident. Think of a few of the other large Western cities: London has the Royal Opera and the English National Opera; Paris has the Palais Garnier and the Opera Bastille Comique (three houses, two companies though!); Berlin has the Deutsch Oper, the Komische Oper, and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden. New York is populous enough to support two major companies.

And even with the more adventurous repertory and stagings under Peter Gelb, a big opera company willing to take on important contemporary operas - and Baroque opera - is a good thing.


A press release from San Francisco Opera announces the following changes in the 2011-12 season:
  • In Lucrezia Borgia, Francesco Meli "has withdrawn," replaced by Michael Fabiano.
  • In Attila, Oksana Dyka and Ramon Vargas have both "had to withdraw," replaced by Lucrezia Garcia and Fabio Sartori. Note: the latter two singers are appearing in this opera right now at La Scala, conducted by Maestro Nicola Luisotti. Coincidence? I think not.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Hadid Builds an Opera House

The visionary architect Zaha Hadid has finally got some career traction in the form of commissions, and the city of Guangzhou, China, has just completed building an opera house that she designed. NY Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff reviews the new house in the Times.

It's a gorgeous building and the review is appreciative - but it leaves out the most critical question: how does the house sound?

Facepalm! Perhaps Tony Tommasini is getting his visa in order?.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Setting Up a Blogger Blog for Mobile Devices

Of interest primarily to users of Blogger, but I'm willing to bet that TypePad and WordPress have comparable settings.

Smartphones are selling like hotcakes, and people who have smartphones read blogs on them. This can be damned inconvenient, because of the small size of the screen; blogging platforms default to an assumption that readers are on a laptop or desktop computer.

On Blogger, you can set up your blog so that Blogger detects when a smartphone asks to see a page of the blog. From the Dashboard, click Settings > Email & Mobile. In the Mobile Template section, select the radio button labeled Yes. For more information, read this informative posting on official Blogger Blog.

Anyone want to contribute TypePad and WordPress instructions?

Update: From C.K. Dexter Haven, WordPress information, hoisted from the comments:

 believe that WordPress has the default set to show mobile templates because every time I've read a WordPress blog, that's the version I see.

But just in case:
Start at the Dashboard
- on the left menu, click on Appearance 
- at the bottom of the sub-menu that opens, click on Extras
- ensure that the box labeled "Display a mobile theme when this blog is viewed with a mobile browser" is checked.