Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Call Me Cynical

Email from LA Opera trumpets a new web site feature: select your own seat! We're happy to finally be able to offer this! And we're waiving the handling fee for online orders for Simon Boccanegra and Albert Herring tickets, starting on January 29!

Um, well, yes, it is a good thing that LAO has caught up with every other major presenting organization I've bought tickets from in the last five or six years. Why they didn't enable this module from Tessitura long ago is beyond me. And I consider handling fees for online orders to be vile. Roll those fees into overall ticket prices so customers - your audience members - don't feel nickeled and dimed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Am Ashamed of Myself.

This afternoon's background music is Orinoco Flow and Exile. Feel free to post derisive comments when you pick yourself up off the floor.

A Bit More on Pricing and Audience Segmentation

Elsewhere on the intertubes, a friend suggests that if all the tickets aren't sold, the price was too high, and that's the justification for the American Mavericks pass.

Well, hold your horses. It's more complicated than that.

As the biggest game in town, San Francisco Symphony has many constituencies, or market segments, or niches that it's trying to fill. People attend for social reasons; because they want to hear the old classics and not much more; because they want to hear the latest and greatest; because they want to hear particular soloists; because their husband/wife/spouse/partner/companion likes that stuff; because they're professionally interested; because they're music students; etc, etc.

SFS wants to both sell the maximum number of tickets and make the maximum possible revenue. The two needs are somewhat in conflict. The perfect price for selling out the house every time might be under the price that maximizes revenue, and there's major risk in pricing seats too low. That is, if you start with a high price, it's easier to offer discounts than to say "Ooops! We advertised this seat last June for $75, but now it's $95."

Only the airlines can get away with that kind of pricing. It's easy to understand why an orchestra might not want to get into airline-style pricing.

Here are some of the segments SFS has to take into account in deciding on prices:
  • People who plan ahead
  • People who make decisions spontaneously
  • People who have the money to pay full or full subscriber prices
  • People who are bargain hunting
  • New listeners the orchestra wants to get hooked
  • People who are risk averse
I plan ahead, have money to buy at full subscriber prices, and I'm risk averse. I would have wept if I'd missed seeing the Janacek/Debussy program. (I can't count on being assigned a plum review, either.) The above doesn't take into my particular craziness, either: I care mostly about repertory.

So the question is, what's too high? If people buy at a particular price point, it wasn't too high for them. If every seat does not sell, you then look for the next price at which tickets will sell. SFS does this with their apparently-annual January sale, which is going on right now, with rush tickets, with dumps to Goldstar, and with passes like the Mavericks pass. SF Opera typically does the same thing: some seats turn up on Goldstar, and they've been known to do half-off sales. That's how I got a $225 seat to Die tote Stadt for $100 or so.

As I said, it's complicated. I'm fine with SFS's January sale because 1) it is now predictable and 2) I understand the reasons for their needing to find buyers for unsold inventory. But the Mavericks pass is an enormous discount. And there is certainly some risk of audience resentment, when someone like me slaps her forehead and wonders why she didn't save a few hundred bucks by waiting to buy tickets. Or save even more by not buying tickets at all.

Slightly updated at 12:15 p.m.

Pricing and Audience Resentment

Drew McManus had an article at Adaptistration the other day called Placebo Pricing and the Ticket Price Quandry; he points to Joe Patti's Butts in the Seats article Info You Can Use: Forget Dynamic Pricing, Use Placebo Pricing. Both articles are well worth a read, followed by some contemplation as to how events are priced and why.

Ticket discounting is rampant in various ways. Some presenters just plain have inexpensive tickets, from amateur choruses to the wonderful Old First Concerts. Others have rush ticket programs, such as the senior rush and standing room tickets at San Francisco Opera or the $20 rushes at SF Symphony. I showed up for that Susan Graham recital expecting to pay full price, but got a very nice rush seat instead; probably if I'd gone to the Eco Ensemble program Saturday night, I would have gotten the same deal.

For the last several years, San Francisco Symphony has had a big more-or-less half-off sale around the end of January. I know people who buy short subscriptions for the fall and gamble that they'll be able to get discount tickets for the spring. I've taken advantage of that sale myself a few times, but this year I bought most of my tickets up front at subscriber prices. There have been some exceptions; for instance, I don't have tickets to any of the chamber music programs coming up, and I bought a rush to see Shostakovich's 14th Symphony.

I know why presenters offer these discounts: it's better to sell a seat at a discount than to have it empty, for all sorts of reasons.

But I heard about a particular San Francisco Symphony offer today that I have to admit fries me just a teeny little bit, hence the "audience resentment" part of my blog title. Among the many tickets I bought last fall, after quite a bit of hassle, are tickets to three programs in the American Mavericks series. They're orchestra seats that I bought at the subscriber price which gets something like $10 or $15 off per seat.

As of this week, SFS is offering a $100 pass to all of the American Mavericks programs. You buy the pass in person or over the phone, then redeem the pass for tickets anywhere in the house other than Loge and Side Box, subject to ticket availability.

You also get a CD and a DVD.

Now, the fact that this pass is available at all means that very likely I can get rush seats for any concerts I don't already have tickets to. But it is an unusually blatant discount; for a third of what I paid for three seats, a gambler who waited can get into nine concerts.

Of course, nothing is keeping me from buying the pass and going to a few additional concerts. It's just....maybe rewarding the wrong behavior, when a subscriber starts kicking herself for having bothered to buy tickets in advance.

Don't Do This

The LAPO sends along email ostensibly containing the Hollywood Bowl 2012 season announcement. However, what's in the mail is a pretty graphic and a link. Click the link and you're taken to a pretty web site, where if you click the correct link, a 23-page PDF downloads.

Folks, just don't do this. Don't make people click twice just to download your press release. Paste the essentials - say, five pages of essentials - into the email, with a "more details" link that goes directly to an HTML page.

P. S. This is why I haven't actually read the press release yet.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Countess Finds a New Home

In last week's NY Times Magazine, Dan Wakin had an article about the late Bernard Greenhouse and his beloved Stradivarius cello, known as the Countess of Stainlein. Today, he follows up with a short, sweet article: the Countess was sold to a Canadian patroness of the arts, who plans to lend it to a young Canadian cellist. The cello sold for more than $6 million, which was the minimum asking price.

I'm glad that the cello will be played; it's unfortunate that great old string instruments are so expensive that only the wealthy or investment syndicates can afford to own them. And it's worth keeping in mind that Christian Tetzlaff, one of the world's greatest violinist, plays a modern instrument that cost something like $30,000 new. He sounded pretty damn good on it in San Francisco two weeks back.

What killed me in the Times Magazine article was the news that upon his death, Gregor Piatigorsky's cello was lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the provision that cellists could apply to play it, but the family would have to approve the application. In the 35 years since Piatigorsky's death, there's been one request, which was turned down.

String instruments need to be played. Maybe that cello is getting regular workouts from a museum staff member; maybe there is some provision that Dan Wakin didn't report on. But I wish that cello were being played regularly, in practice and in concert, by someone who loves and cherishes it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Susan Graham Update

My earlier posting now links to the review on Out West Arts. Brian and I were at the same concert, even though we weren't within 350 miles or 2 days of each other.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

Anthony Tommasini is surprised that Fabio Luisi can conduct American music well:
But on Sunday afternoon Mr. Luisi, conducting the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, revealed another dimension to his artistry. Who would have expected this Italian maestro to be so at home conducting Copland’s jazzy Clarinet Concerto, let alone an aria from “Wuthering Heights,” the only opera by Bernard Herrmann, of “Psycho” fame? 
Let's take that paragraph and sub in another name or two:
But on Sunday afternoon Mr. Levine, conducting the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, revealed another dimension to his artistry. Who would have expected this midwestern American maestro to be so at home conducting Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, let alone exceprts from Goetterdaemmerung?
Or how about this?
But on Sunday afternoon Mr. Oazawa, conducting the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, revealed another dimension to his artistry. Who would have expected this Japanese maestro to be so at home conducting Debussy's La Mer, let alone choruses from Saint Francois d'Assis, the only opera by Olivier Messiaen?

Decisions, Decisions

It's one of those weekends:
  • Christopher Maltman at Herbst, tonight
  • Pablo Heras-Casado at SFS (I have a ticket for this)
  • The Enchanted Island Saturday morning
  • Eco Ensemble at Hertz Hall, Saturday
  • Paul Jacobs at Davies, Sunday afternoon

Eastman Kodak

Eastman Kodak, one of the great industrial companies, has filed for bankruptcy.

I have a nice digital point & shoot, but also several film cameras, which I still use. I have shot many a roll of Tri-X - yes, I like grain - and T-Max and Kodacolor and Ektachrome. (I use other B&W films, too; my favorite is Ilford XP-2.) I still have a roll of (unused) Kodachrome around here someplace, but the last lab that could process it closed a year or two back, sadly.

Kodak changed photography. Before its cameras and films, a photographer had to do it all: lug around a big camera and glass plates, and, usually, a mobile darkroom and chemicals. In the 1890s, Kodak began to offer a small camera that came pre-loaded with a long roll of film. Once you had finished shooting it, you sent the whole camera back to Kodak. In return, you received your photographs, developed and printed, and the camera, which had been loaded up again.

Kodak changed photograph again in the last 35 years, by inventing digital photography. Oh, yes, they did, but couldn't figure out how to capitalize on it, despite their incredible depth of knowledge. I hope they'll manage to survive. I don't know what I'll do without Tri-X.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Separated at Birth?

San Francisco Opera logo (dates from the beginning of David Gockley's tenure; based on the opera house chandelier):

Los Angeles Opera logo (new; "visually encompasses the company's past and future; the design comes from the interior of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion"):

Dark Today

You can't read Iron Tongue of Midnight today because I am protesting SOPA and PIPA. Call your Senators and tell them what bad policy those bills are.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Season Announcement Season: Lyric Opera of Chicago

H/T La Cieca; I'm not on LOC's press list:
  • Elektra  (New production)  Christine Goerke, Jill Grove, Emily Magee, Alan Held  Sir Andrew Davis/cond., David McVicar/dir.
  • Simon Boccanegra (Covent Garden production)  Thomas Hampson, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Krassimira Stoyanova, Frank Lopardo . Sir Andrew Davis/cond., Elijah Moshinsky/dir.
  • Werther  (New production)  Matthew Polenzani, Sophie Koch, Kiri Deonarine, Craig Verm.  Sir Andrew Davis/cond., Francisco Negrin/dir.
  • Don Pasquale  (Dallas Opera production – “new to Chicago”)  Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Marlis Petersen, René Barbera, Corey Crider. Stephen Lord/cond., Sir Thomas Allen/dir.
  • Hansel and Gretel  (LOC production)  Elizabeth DeShong, Maria Kanyova, Jill Grove.  Ward Stare/cond., Richard Jones/orig. prod.
  • La bohème  (San Francisco Opera production – “new toChicago”)  Ana María Martínez/Anna Netrebko, Dimitri Pittas/Joseph Calleja, Elizabeth Futral. Emmanuel Villaume/cond., Louisa Muller/dir.
  • Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg  (New production)  James Morris, Johan Botha, Amanda Majeski, Bo Skovhus.  Sir Andrew Davis/cond., David McVicar/orig. prod.
  • Rigoletto (“New staging with Lyric sets/costumes”)  Andrzej Dobber/Željko Lucic, Albina Shagimuratova,  Giuseppe Filianoti, Andrea SilvestrelliEvan Rogister/cond., TBA/dir.
  • A Streetcar Named Desire  (“Staged concert performance”)  Renée Fleming, Susanna Philips, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Anthony Dean GriffeyEvan Rogister/cond., Brad Dalton/dir.
Thomas Hampson as Boccanegra? Well, if Placido could do it.....I am not a big Meistersingeri fan, and at this point in his career, Sachs seems a bit much for Morris. Elektra and Hansel look good, for sure.

Season Announcement Season: San Francisco Opera

Just the facts, and not all of them:
  • Rigoletto; double-cast with 12 performances; Luisotti/Finzi; Lucic/Vratogna, Kurzak/Shagimuratova, Demuro/Lomeli
  • I Capuleti e I Montecchi; Frizza; DiDonato, Cabell, Pirgu, Owens; co-production with Bavarian State Opera
  • Moby-Dick (SF Opera co-commission); Summers; Costello, Heppner/Jay Hunter Morris, Smith, Lemalu, Trevigne, O'Neill, Orth
  • Lohengrin; Luisotti; Jovanovich, Nylund, Lang, Grochowski, Sigmundsson, Mulligan
  • Tosca; double-cast with 12 performances; Luisotti/Finzi, Georghiu/Racette, Massimo Giordano/Jagde, Frontali/Delavan
  • The Secret Garden; SFO commission; cast & production team to be announced at a later time
  • Tales of Hoffman; Fournillier; Dessay, Polenzani, Coote, Van Horn
  • Cosi Fan Tutte; Luisotti/Dehn, Lotzsch, Stober, Demuro, Sly, Vinco
  • The Gospel of Mary Magdalen; SFO Commission; Christie/Cooke, Kanyova, Burden, Gunn

Also announced: SFO commission to Tobias Picker for Dolores Claibourne, set for the fall of 2013; reliably rumored to star Dolora Zajick.

The season announcement and full details are on the SFO web site, which was updated earlier today to include the 2012-13 season.


I will skip Rigoletto (unless I think one of those sopranos can make me forget Swenson) and stand through Tosca (with Racette, of course  - why do you ask?). Those operas will be the season's cash cows, plus Rigoletto is a nod to the Verdi centenary even though it's early. The rest of the season looks good, and there's an attractive array of singers new and returning.

I'm particularly happy about Sasha Cooke's debut, based on having heard her live at SFS and on the Met HD Doctor Atomic. I might have considered skipping I Capuleti, which I saw 20 years ago when it last appeared here, but it would take wild horses to keep me away from JDD in pants. Moby-Dick has been well received; do I see it with Heppner or JHM?

Hoffman, sure; wouldn't miss Polenzani. Cosi, sure, because it does not come around every ten minutes. The surprise commission, sure; and of course I'm very much looking forward to Mary Magdalen, based on having loved Mark Adamo's Lysistrata.

Monday, January 16, 2012

$20 Million to Juilliard's Early Music Program

Bruce Kovner, chairman of the board of the Juilliard School, has donated $20 million to its early music program - which was started with money he donated. He also gave the school a trove of manuscripts several years ago.

Graham: Which Concert Did You Hear?

Susan Graham gave a recital at Cal Performances the other night, and reactions are varied.
At least one other blogger was there beside me, and I hope he will eventually weigh in on the recital.

As for my opinion. Among other things, I have to wonder whether I am really cut out for vocal recitals, especially those that run two hours. I think the last one I attended (and reviewed) was Anne-Sophie von Otter in the fall of 2005. (Right, I have missed quite a few really good ones along the way, and previously, most prominently, every last LHL recital.) It's not so easy to listen to one voice for so long; there's a built-in lack of variety even when it's the greatest artist in the world on stage.

And lest there be any doubt, Graham is among the greats of our time, a singer who pretty much has it all: a beautiful and beautifully-controlled voice, great technical facility in fioriture, skill with languages, a fine actor, and, well, sincerity. I believe every word that comes out of her mouth; there are no false notes.

I loved most of her program, especially the French songs, and thought the half-dozen plus encore from Wilhelm Meister a real stroke of genius, especially the contrasting settings (by Liszt, Duparc, Wolf, and Thomas) of "Kennst du das Land?" The Poulenc set on the second half, with its delicacy and wry tone, suited her especially well. She was magnificent and touching in the Purcell scena that opened the concert.

Still, I found myself feeling faintly dissatisfied afterward. It's not that she did anything wrong. The whole recital, including the funny and often sexy encores, was immaculately done, everything where it should be. But I was never deeply moved and also never got the sense that she was taking chances or pushing her own limits. I think this might be what Jason is getting at in his review (although see below for comments on one area where he faults her).

Next question: is that a problem, or a mismatch of what the artist is offering in a particular program with my hope for being transported or overwhelmed in some way? I think it's perfectly reasonable for an artist to offer a program that is superbly performed in every way (as this was) and that isn't an attempt to plumb the depths. After all, half the program was French, where the emotions and intellect are engaged in a different way from, say, German or some English (see Britten) works. And French chanson seems the perfect match for her, or was the other night.

As for the Horowitz setting of Lady M.'s major speeches from the Scottish play: Jason, honestly, the reason she didn't grab you in that is that the composer didn't give her a damn thing to work with. The texts, so different from each other in mood and style, were set to music that hardly varied. Sure, she could have shrieked more, but I doubt the composer called for it, and in his particular idiom, it would have been out of place. The idiom itself is flat - all that damn parlando - and the magnificence of the texts simply overwhelmed the mediocrity of the idiom.

This got me thinking: how many great Shakespeare operas are in English?

(pause for reflection)

Right, two. Verdi and Reimann - and even poor Thomas, whose Hamlet is not very good - all have the luxury of setting paraphrases, a choice that Thomas Ades made in setting The Tempest. How Britten got away with setting Shakespeare, and creating music to match the language, is one of the great triumphs of composition.

As to the critical distinctions, I think Jason's speculations about Graham's motives for this program are just that - speculation, and unnecessary speculation. I've heard a couple of tiny signs of age in her singing (a few unnecessary glottal attacks, a surprising amount of sliding around - perhaps a style choice? in Xerxes), but I think the comparative restraint of the other evening had more to do with the repertory she was singing than anything else.

Update: Yeah, couldn't stand the cute but inaccurate headline. A mezzo, but not mezzo.
Update 2: Added a link to Brian's review on Out West Arts. He heard exactly what I heard. And so much for spontaneity; she sang the same program as in Berkeley.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Extra! Extra!

The crazy and wonderful Janacek Sinfonietta takes 26 brass to play, quite a bit over the usual complement even for a Wagner opera. San Francisco Symphony kindly provided me with the following:
Horns – Robert Ward, Jonathan Ring, Bruce Roberts, Jessica Valeri, Doug Hull (assistant)

Trumpets –

On stage: Mark Inouye, Micah Wilkinson, Jeff Biancalana
On the terrace: Ron Blais, Michael Tiscione, Jeff Lewandowski, Justin Emerich, Scott Macomber, Brad Hogarth, Adam Luftman, David Burkhart, John Freeman

Some position detail for the terrace trumpets:
Balcony   1 Adam Luftman
               2 Mike Tiscione
               3 Jeff Lewandowski
               4 Justin Emerich
               5 Scott Macomber
               6 Brad Hogarth
               7 David Burkhart
               8 John Freeman
               9 Ron Blais
Bass Trumpet – Mark Lawrence, Timothy Owner
Trombone – Timothy Higgins, Paul Welcomer, Chris Hernacki, John Engelkes
Euphonium – Matt Tropman, Bruce Chrisp
Tuba – Jeffrey Anderson

Le Martyr de Saint Sebastien has some unusual orchestration too, like three harps and two keyboard players.

Harp: Douglas Rioth, SFS principal; Jieyin Wu and Karen Gottlieb
Keyboard: Robin Sutherland, SFS principal; Marc Shapiro
UPDATE: corrections to some player names, plus more detail about who was where in the trumpets.

Ligeti Violin Concerto Orchestra

SFS has kindly sent me the full list of everyone who played in last week's spectacular performances of the Ligeti violin concerto:

Christian Tetzlaff & Michael Tilson Thomas, of course!

Violin I – Alexander Barantschik (scordatura), Mark Volkert, Jeremy Constant
Violin II – Dan Carlson, Paul Brancato
Viola – Jonathan Vinocour (scordatura), Yun Jie Liu, Katie Kadarauch
Cello – Peter Wyrick, Amos Yang
Bass – Scott Pingel
Flute – Robin McKee (doubling on recorder), Catherine Payne (doubling on recorder)
Oboe – Jonathan Fischer (ocarina)
Clarinets – Luis Baez, Steve Sanchez (doubling on ocarina), David Neuman (doubling on ocarina)
Bassoon – Steven Dibner (doubling on ocarina)
Horns – Nicole Cash, Jonathan Ring
Trumpet – Mark Inouye
Trombone – Timothy Higgins
Timpani – David Herbert
Percussion – Jack Van Geem, Tom Hemphill
Harp – Douglas Rioth

Y'all were great; it was a privilege to hear such a great piece played so very beautifully. Deepest thanks.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Deep Bow

As a blogger, I spend a lot of time complaining about things worth complaining about, and often about things that really aren't. Goodness knows, I have complained a lot about Michael Tilson Thomas, especially when SFS seasons give short shrift to new music or seem boring.

This season, though, has been exceptional, and after a night like tonight's - the Janacek Sinfonietta and Debussy's Le martyr de Saint Sebastien, two wild and wonderful pieces - there's not much to do other than bow deeply and kiss his feet, and be grateful that the centennial makes it possible for him to get the kind of funding you need to put on those pieces. The Janacek with its 26 brass, the Debussy with its spectacular staging, narrator, singers, chorus, three harps....you get the picture.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New to the Blogroll

I added Zerbinetta's blog Likely Impossibilities a couple of weeks ago (and should have added her, and been reading her, long before that). Today I've added cellist Jon Silpayamanant's blog Mae Mai. A big welcome to you both (and apologies to Zerbinetta)!

Wagner World Wide

A useful site for Wagnerians:

www2013:Wagner World Wide

In their own words:
In recognition of composer Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) bicentennial in 2013, the Forschungsinstitut für Musiktheater(fimt) at the University of Bayreuth is planning a multi-year series of events to take place around the world under the general heading WagnerWorldWide 2013 (WWW 2013). This will culminate in a conference to be held in Bayreuth during the summer of 2013 coinciding with the launch of a new staging of Wagner’s opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen.

The events leading up to the 2013 conference will vary in size and scope, from individual lectures and seminars, to fully fledged conferences, all centered around an exploration of Wagner’s current meaning and worldwide significance, in five specific areas of inquiry (Topics):
Sounds good to me!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Current State of NYCO

A friend forwards email sent by George Steele to NYCO's mailing list, and it's hard to see any chance of the organization pulling out of the current spin and surviving to stage opera:

Dear Friend,

I am writing to bring you, a supporter of New York City Opera, up to date on our negotiations with the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and Local 802 American Federation of Musicians--the two unions that represent the artistic heart of our organization: the principal singers, the New York City Opera Orchestra and New York City Opera Chorus, along with our wonderful dramatic and musical staff.

As you may have read, on Saturday evening, after months of good-faith negotiations with representatives from the two unions, both rejected the Company's most recent offer. Because the unions have pledged to strike our performances, we simply cannot afford to pay for rehearsals until we have an agreement.

We are hopeful the process will move forward over the coming days and that we will together find a resolution to the tough questions that face all of us.

I look forward to keeping you apprised of developments as they occur in the days ahead. Meanwhile, I thank you--NYC Opera's loyal friends and supporters--for your continued support and understanding.

With best wishes and deepest gratitude,

George Steel
General Manager and Artistic Director
New York City Opera

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Perhaps I Should Not Have Responded

Greg Sandow quotes David Gockley's gloom-and-doom from a year ago - before following up - and I responded, though my response is awaiting moderation.

Found on the Web

Research on the Web seems to be fashionable these days and I guess I'm no exception.  Recently I have been working on the Google search engine with Larry Page
I have no idea whether Sergey and Larry are still on leave or if Sergey's Stanford web page is still there because, why not?

Good New for the Merola Program

The Merola Program of San Francisco Opera has received a pair of bequests totally almost $3.5 million. From the Jack H. Lund Charitable Trust comes about $2.49 million; from the Blanche Thebom Trust comes a bit over $1 million.

Lund was a long-time opera fan and collector of opera memorabilia; Thebom, a mezzo-soprano, had a long and distinguished career as a singer.

Other good news is that the Merolini will perform two fully staged operas this summer (and I have never seen either): Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera and Argento's Postcard from Morocco.

While we're at it, here's the Merola summer schedule:

Thursday, July 5, 7:30 PM
Herbst Theatre

Saturday, July 7, 2:00 PM
Yerba Buena Gardens
by Dominick Argento
Libretto by John Donahue
Thursday, July 19, 8:00 PM
Saturday, July 21, 2:00 PM
Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center

by W. A. Mozart
Thursday, August 2, 8:00 PM
Saturday, August 4, 2:00 PM
Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center

Saturday, August 18, 7:30 PM
War Memorial Opera House
$45 Orchestra Premium and Grand Tier Premium
$35 Orchestra and Grand Tier
$25 Dress Circle

Monday, January 09, 2012

Alexis Weissenberg

The pianist Alexis Weissenberg has died, age 82, of Parkinson's disease, at his home in Lugano, Switzerland. The Times obituary is here.

I don't know his work at all, but the life story is certainly colorful.

He Likes a Challenge

Complete text of a Metropolitan Opera Cast Change Advisory:
Roberto Alagna will sing the title role in Gounod’s Faust this evening, replacing Joseph Calleja, who is ill.

Alagna sang Faust last month on December 23 and 28 and will sing the role of Cavaradossi tomorrow evening in the season premiere of Puccini’s Tosca. Alagna has frequently stepped in on short notice at the Met, most notably in the fall of 2007 when he sang two performances of Roméo in Roméo et Juliette substituting for a colleague, then two scheduled performances of Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly before taking over as Radamès in Aida for one performance on very short notice.

It is extremely rare for an opera singer to perform leading roles on two consecutive evenings, but Alagna volunteered because he enjoys the challenge. “To sing Faust and Tosca on consecutive nights makes my adrenaline flow,” he said. “This is what makes being an opera singer so exciting for me.”
Faust is conducted by Alain Altinoglu and also stars Marina Poplavskaya, Kate Lindsey, George Petean, and Ferruccio Furlanetto in other principal roles.

San Francisco Opera Teasers

I'll update this posting (and republish it with a new time stamp) as the correct guesses arrive.
  • January 8: The hint is a photo of Rita Hayworth in the film.....Gilda! Well, so, Rigoletto.
  • January 9: The hint is Shakespeare's coat of arms. People guessing Otello: no, no, no. They just performed it a couple of seasons ago (badly). Other guesses are Macbeth (again, performed recently), Romeo, or I Capuleti. My sources say the latter.

SFS, This Week and Next

SF Mike at Civic Center had a great post the other week about the upcoming programs at San Francisco Symphony. I agree with every word.

You've missed the (incredible) Ligeti Violin Concerto, but this week's program of Janacek's Sinfonietta and Debussy's Le martyr de Saint Sebastien should be one of the highlights of the season, with its two idiosyncratic and marvelous works. The Janacek isn't done often because....it requires 25 brass. You won't have another shot at it for 10 or 15 years. Goldstar has cheap tickets, so if you haven't bought your Janacek/Debussy ticket yet, go for it.

Pablo Heras-Casado's program next week looks great too! I cannot believe that I will get to hear the Dallapiccola for the second time.

For Sacred Harp Singers

This will be fun (probably I cannot go):

24th Annual All-California Sacred Harp Singing Convention
Two Full Days of Singing!
Saturday and Sunday, January 14-15, 2012

This traditional gathering of shape note singers from across the country comes to the Bay area once every three years. Sing early American 4-part hymns and enjoy a traditional noontime potluck lunch. No Admission Charge.

Casa de Flores
737 Walnut Street
San Carlos, California

Schedule (both days):
9:00 Registration
9:30 Singing
12:00 Potluck lunch
1:00 More singing
3:30 Cleanup

For details and updates, and a printable PDF flyer, please visit the Convention web site at:

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Holy Cow!

Let's get the rest of today's SFS program out of the way quickly: the opening Liszt piece, Prometheus, had its moments, but I cringed when they got to the fugue, in exactly the same way I cringe when a pianist hits the fugue in Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy. Back slowly away from the counterpoint, boys, and leave it for people who know what they're doing.

The Tchaikovsky First, Winter Daydreams, which occupied the whole second half of the program, was worth staying for, if only because it's not performed often. It probably should be played more often; it's certainly appealing, with lots of big tunes and a few looks forward. The slow movement is awfully long, and I wish the scherzo had gone rather faster, but whatever. It's something of a rarity, it's not that technically challenging for anyone in the orchestra (or on the podium), and they had to play something on the second half of the program.

But I bought my row H seat in the orchestra for just one reason: to hear Christian Tetzlaff in the Ligeti Violin Concerto. Holy cow! What a piece! And what a performance!

It is insanely complicated, between the microtones, the rhythmic and metrical complexities, the fact that it's really a concerto for a bunch of soloists, the crazy solo part. Look at this scoring:
Two flutes (first double alto flute and alto recorder, second doubling piccolo and soprano recorder), oboe (doubling soprano ocarina in C), two clarinets (first doubling E-flat clarinet and soprano ocarina in F, second doubling bass clarinet and alto ocarina in F), bassoon (doubling soprano ocarina in C), two horns, trumpet, tenor trombone, timpani, two suspended cymbals (medium and low), crotales, tubular bells, gong, tam-tam, two woodblocks, tambourine, snare drum, bass drum, whip, two Swanee whistles, glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, marimbaphone, and strings; the orchestral strings include five violins (one with scordatura), three violas (one with scordatura), two cellos, and one bass.
That percussion battery took three guys to play. "The orchestral strings include" means the orchestral strings ARE five violins, three violas, two cellos, and one bass. "Scordatura" means that Alexander Barantschik and Jonathan Vinocur were playing instruments tuned to other than the standard tuning. They had their own seats directly in front of MTT, effectively making them something of a trio with Tetzlaff. Back in the violin section were Mark Volkert, Jeremy Constant, and a second stand of violinists I couldn't identify from my seat.

For all of that, the structure of the piece and its major musical features are not difficult to hear, even if we hadn't had James Keller's excellent program notes and a clear and helpful spoken intro by MTT. He sounded slightly apprehensive; while I haven't seen the score, I can only imagine that it is a bear to rehearse and lead.

Stylistically, it's typical of Ligeti, combining some big, folklike tunes (and folk tunes) with immensely complex compositional techniques. Some of the techniques are old (variations; passacaglia); some are newish (microtones). It is beautiful - and sometimes very funny, though I was the only person I saw smiling at the ocarina entry (!).

All of the parts are extremely difficult. The solo part...holy shit. Demanding doesn't begin to tell the story; the soloist has to be comfortable at vast extremes of pitch and dynamics, have the highest level of virtuoso skill, and the musicianship to make it all make sense.

Christian Tetzlaff has all of that and obviously loves the piece. He was superlative, and so was everyone else on stage. I was on my feet at the end; the orchestral players gave the soloist a hand of their own; I was sorry to see how many audience members sat on their hands and didn't appreciate the greatness of piece and performances.

Muzyka Nowa

Q2, the new-music branch of New York City's WQXR, will have a broadcast festival of contemporary Polish music starting on January 16 and running through January 22. The program looks great; a fine combination of familiar composers and many new to me. The landing page is  www.wqxr.org/poland

Highlights include:

*An audio stream of In Memoriam Henryk Mikołaj Górecki recorded at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York City in November, 2011 in front of a sold-out audience
Two full-day, 24-hour marathons of contemporary classical Polish music
* Polish-born, New York City-based composer Jakub Ciupinski plays D.J.exploring the breadth of Polish contemporary music
* An interview with Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s son, the Texas-based composer Mikolaj Górecki
* Warsaw Autumn Festival and UNSOUND Festival spotlights

The full press release is below the cut. I'll be listening!

From the Diary of Samuel Pepys

7 January 1659/60:

...After he was gone I went home, and found my friends still at cards, and after that I went along with them to Dr. Whores(sending my wife to Mrs. Jem’s to a sack-posset), where I heard some symphony and songs of his own making, performed by Mr. May, Harding, and Mallard. ....

From the Diary of Samuel Pepys

4 January 1659/60:
...Then I spent a little time with G. Vines and Maylard at Vines’s at our viols...

Saturday, January 07, 2012


A reader challenged asked Joshua Kosman to come up with a list of CDs to help him become familiar with the orchestral music of the last 50 years - let's say that means back to 1960, though we're cheating a little there.

Joshua came up with a fine list, except that almost all of it is from the last 30 years and almost all of it is in, hmm, I'm not going to be able to come up with a good phrase to cover all of those guys 'n gals. Without having heard it, I think I'd pitch the Kernis symphony in favor of something by Saariaho, say, Graal  Theatre, even though that would make his list even more Finn-heavy, and I'd swap Magnus Lindberg's Seht die Sonne for the composer's fantastic Clarinet Concerto.

I'm kinda shocked that there's nothing on his list by Shostakovich.

And, really, you can't survey the orchestral music of the last 50 years without throwing in something big by a high modernist or two. Can't we get one of Carter's big essays out there? Some Stockhausen? Birtwistle? Wuorinen?


Election Season

It's 2012 and yes! There is a presidential election in the United States. I am not exactly a politics junkie, but I do read some politically-oriented blogs and sites. Here are a few you might want to read, from the commie-pinko-rat progressive/liberal wing (if you're not a progressive/liberal, you'll have to find your own):

  • FiveThirtyEight, now relocated to the NY Times.This is actually a nonpartisan blog dedicated to poll analysis.
  • Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist; read his columns on M & F as well
  • Brad DeLong, economic historian at UC Berkeley
  • Electoral-Vote, where the Votemaster is an expat US citizen living in Holland
There are plenty more out there: Daily Kos, etc.

The Republican Primaries

It's a sorry sight, sorrier than usual, as the Republican candidates vie to move as far to right as possible in order to placate "the base." Mitt Romney, who signed a health care law as governor of MA that's a lot like the federal health care law, has to deny that the federal plan is any good; he also has to say how wrong he was to sign the MA marriage-equality bill. 'Nuff said; he is, of course, lying.

Here are a few tidbits about the Republicans. Even more than the Democrats, they're for the richest and most powerful, and far less interested in the other 99% of us:

Getting Ready for Le Martyr de St. Sebastien at SFS?

You're more likely to have a recording of the Janacek Sinfonietta, I know. Here's what I did: I bought a copy of the Ansermet recording from eClassical and downloaded it to one of my computers. I've listened to it several times this week.

And yesterday, I discovered that Google Books has Le Martyr....and the published book includes Debussy's score. So I can sit at the computer listening and follow along in the score.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Upshaw Postpones Concert

From San Francisco Performances:
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco Performances announces that the January 28 recital with soprano Dawn Upshaw and pianist Stephen Prutsman has been rescheduled to Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 7pm at the Herbst Theatre. Dawn Upshaw is withdrawing from upcoming performances in January 2012 in order to complete recovery after successful surgery to remove a small malignancy (unrelated to her 2006 breast cancer).  Her physicians have confirmed that the prognosis for a full recovery is excellent, and she expects to resume her performance schedule next month.
I'm sorry to hear about the surgery and the reason for it; wishing the great singer a swift and complete recovery.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

From the Source

Over on Facebook, San Francisco Opera is having a teaser contest for the upcoming season, starting on January 8. I'm not planning to participate, but I note that they've let slip the news that the season will be nine operas. We can assume 6 in the fall, 3 in the summer.

Season Announcement Season: LAO Rumor & Gossip

Hoisted from the comments:
The LAO information I've heard so far is that the Britten opera will be Gloriana. D'Arcangelo has already confirmed in the press that he'll sing Don Giovanni here next season. They will likely present a Wagner opera and I've heard that it will be Parsifal. And one last tidbit, Angela Meade's press folks have confirmed she will be making a starring appearance in LA next year. Assuming it is not in one of the aforementioned operas, that could lead to a number of possibilities given what she sings

Season Announcement Season: Seattle Opera

Seattle Opera was actually first out of the gate, a couple of weeks ago. Their 2012-13 season, with the vague theme of varieties of love, will be:
  • Turandot
  • Fidelio
  • La Cenerentola
  • La Boheme
  • Suor Angelica/La Voix Humaine
Lots of Puccini, with whom I guess opera companies feel they cannot go wrong; also, the summer of 2013 will include the last bring-up of the Wadsworth Ring, which of course is expensive. If I lived in Seattle, I'd be buying plane tickets instead of opera tickets....except for the Ring.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

NYPO Names New Executive Director

Following what was apparently an exceptionally difficult search, the NY Phil has named Matthew VanBiesen as its new executive director. He'll come on board in the spring some time and will overlap a bit with Zarin Mehta, who is retiring after quite a few years at the orchestra. The overlap is smart, believe me, with a job of this complexity and visibility. Also very smart is that he won't be directly involved in the current labor negotiations.

Dan Wakin's story contains one odd bit: the orchestra won't discuss any of the terms of VanBiesen's contract. Hello, the salary will come out in a 9900 in a couple of years, plus, anyone with some knowledge of orchestra management and access to Adaptistration can figure out the range by just looking at the pay for the executives at the BSO, LAPO, SFS, PO, CO, and CSO. It'll be in the $650K to $1M range, but probably not more than the $807K that Zarin Mehta is earning.

VanBiesen is coming to the NYPO from Melbourne, where he has only served for about two years. The orchestra he runs currently receives half its funding from the government, while the NYPO gets, well, I assume approximately nothing from government sources. Just noting that this didn't work out so well at San Francisco Opera, where Pamela Rosenberg simply had no idea of the fund-raising demands of her job and evidently strongly disliked that particular responsibility.

VanBiesen previously served in Houston, and it looks as though he did an impressively good job there: he took over during a terrible time for the orchestra and everything improved greatly under his leadership. He will have a few challenges in NY too:
While relatively inexperienced and a leader of organizations with less than half the Philharmonic’s $69 million budget, Mr. VanBesien faces enormous challenges: persistent and large deficits, labor friction, hefty pension liabilities, the lack of an established summer home like the Boston Symphony’s at Tanglewood, and competition from orchestras visiting Carnegie Hall. Problems even extend to the orchestra’s widely scorned auditorium, Avery Fisher Hall: Philharmonic officials say the hall needs renovations, which will displace the orchestra for an extended period, according to plans in the works with Lincoln Center, which owns the building.
I have no idea how long the next renovation of Avery Fisher Hall is expected to take, but 18 months of camping out didn't hurt San Francisco Opera back in the day. I have many complaints about Lotfi Mansouri's leadership at SFO, but how he managed the retrofit of the opera house and the workings of the company during the retrofit aren't among them.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Rolling on the Floor

Peter Gelb has an article in the Huffington Post defending the Lepage Ring. I started laughing right here, half-way through the third paragraph:
Of course, because our Ring is revolutionary, not everyone supports it. 
I was still laughing when I got to this, in the next paragraph:
I strongly believe in Lepage's literal but imaginative approach.
Of course, he offers nothing to demonstrate the revolutionary nature of the Lepage Ring...because it's not. "Literal but imaginative" doesn't equal revolutionary, and he must know that. The character interpretations are middle of the road; most reviewers have mentioned that the singers don't seem to have much directorial guidance, in fact. The damn Machine is a big old distraction, adding little value for a lot of time and money. Rheinmaidens who swim are nothing new; see photos of Met and Bayreuth productions going back to, um, 1876 for swimming Rheinmaidens. 
Hopefully, with the completion of the cycles, this Ring will stand out as one of the Met's greatest feats. 
No, Peter. It's going to stand out as one of the Met's biggest wastes of money. 

Season Announcement Season

It is early 2012, meaning we can expect season announcements to come fast and furious over the next several months. First up in the Bay Area will be San Francisco Opera, which announces the 2012-13 season on January 17. No press conference, no reception, just a press release. Opera Tattler's guesses about the season are here. I can't say I'm thrilled. Once around with I Capuleti was enough; I would happily skip Tosca for the next ten years even with La Racette; don't need to see Rigoletto again soon. That leaves me with Lohengrin, Moby Dick,  and The Gospel of Mary Magdalen, assuming OT is right.

I have one prediction about the upcoming announcements: we can expect lots of Verdi and Wagner to appear in calendar year 2013 during the bicentenary of the two composers' birth. I'm hoping that with Verdi we'll hear some of the rarities, not more of the usual.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Unpublished Letter to the Times (Another One)

The Times Sunday Dialog this week is about the ostensible value of a third party. Here are the Times letter and responses. I rolled on the floor alternately laughing and weeping when I read the letter. Here's my unpublished response:

To the Editor:

Robert A. Levine is making a joke by suggesting that the U.S. needs a "centrist third party," right? Either that, or he is unaware that the Democratic Party has been pushed so far toward the center that for the last 20 years it has embraced policies well to the right of that great liberal, Richard M. Nixon, and that the Republican Party is out on the fringes someplace compared to what it espoused as recently as the 1970s.

What the country actually needs is a Democratic Party dedicated to its own past ideals: support of unions and working people, progressive taxation, a sound safety net, full employment, environmentalism, support for the public schools. Only the Green Party and various Socialist factions embrace these ideals today, sadly.

Very truly yours,

Lisa Hirsch

[While my mention of the Green and Socialist parties might look like agreement about the need for third parties, I do not welcome the potential splitting of the left-of-center vote in national elections. See, for example, the 2000 Presidential election. Just a few of Ralph Nader's 90,000 votes in FL would have tipped the election to Al Gore and perhaps the last decade would not have been so disastrous for the U.S. I do fully support third parties in local and state elections.]