Thursday, July 26, 2012

King Roger, Past Productions

Found in the Times archive:

I've seen Tony T. at King Roger and at both of today's Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival programs. I hope he liked King Roger as much as I did and got the performance he's obviously waited a long time for.

Compare and Contrast 19: Hearing Voices

Opera Tattler and I both liked Erin Morley just fine, but:
  • OT: Erin Morley (Roxana) has a cold, brilliant sound. 
  • Me: Erin Morley, whom I had not heard before, made a gorgeous Roxana. What a voice - distinctively dark, beautiful, sterling control. 
Erin Morley made her Santa Fe debut as the Queen of the Night, which was not at all obvious from her performance last night. She must have one hell of an upper extension.

Why isn't William Burden a Huge Star?

I've heard William Burden as Captain Vere, Peter Quint, and the Shepherd in the last four years, and he has been superb in all: a beautiful voice, scrupulous musicianship, a strong stage presence. Oh, he's good-looking, too.

So why? The only possible answer is his preference for off-the-beaten-track repertory. Looking at his Operabase listing, I see the odd Ottavio or Edgardo - and I'm sure he is very, very good in those - but more operas like The Rape of Lucretia, King Roger, and recent/new opera. It's too bad that it's hard to become a really big star doing this repertory - but there are advantages to being a go-to tenor in unusual repertory, too. You never get bored, and I get to see you a lot. And yeah, you bet I'm looking forward to our Mary Magdalen.

King Roger, Santa Fe Opera

I ran into a friend after last night's performance of Szymanowski's King Roger, and as she put it, we were both stunned, in a good way, by the piece. It's not done often, though it is starting to get more attention. I imagine the major barriers are the unorthodox religious stance of the Shepherd, the homoeroticism (at least in this production....!), and the Polish language. The first two really, really should not be a problem these days in most countries, and, okay, learning operatic Polish gives a singer access to a fairly small repertory (Strasny dwor, anyone?).

Beyond that and the little problem of selling tickets - my gosh, why would any company not stage King Roger? The music is glorious, a richly orchestrated brew that sounds like a cross between Strauss and Berg while quite obviously being neither. Thematically, it deals with the conflict between orthodox, church or temple-based religion and nature-oriented religion, the one with its constraints, the other with its ability to slip all constraints and run wild.

Indeed, to the extent that there is a plot, that is it: a shepherd appears in a kingdom, espousing a religion of the fields, mountains, and streams. The populace is initially resistant and wants him tried and executed, but the King's wife, Roxana, is open to his message. By the end of the opera, the King has been at least briefly carried away into a bacchanal, and his wife and subjects have run off with the shepherd. In between - the opera is a short 90 minutes, three acts that run continuously - the King is variously enraged by his wife's attraction to the shepherd and his religion and attracted his own self. Yes, there are a few smoldering moments between King and shepherd, you bet, and I certainly know what I make of the King's admission of a cold heart toward his wife.

Santa Fe has given King Roger a bang-up performance. Stephen Wadsworth directs, in a straightforward manner; the Personregie is adequate, though not revelatory. The sets are sparse and handsome, though i wish they'd left the back wall open; in this nature-inspired opera, I would have loved to see the drifting mists and distant lightning. (As it was, we had to settle for a visiting dragonfly or two.)

On the musical side, things could really not have been better: Evan Rogister did a fine job of handling the large and colorful orchestra, and on stage, wow. Mariusz Kwiecien and William Burden burned up the stage as the King and shepherd, respectively, though interestingly the King has hotter music than that of the shepherd, who lives very much in his own world. Erin Morley, whom I had not heard before, made a gorgeous Roxana. What a voice - distinctively dark, beautiful, sterling control. Dennis Petersen sang very well and was just rightt as the King's counselor.

And the chorus! They have a lot of heavy lifting, starting with the crypto-church-hymn at the beginning and going all the way to the end. They were fabulous, with, I think, some choristers singing behind the scrim at the back of the stage.

I wish I could see it again, and I sure do hope that other companies pick up this gorgeous work.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kodaly Institute Concert

From composer Michael Kaulkin comes word of a choral program to be performed in Oakland this Friday, July 27, at Holy Names University. HNU is home to the Kodaly Institute, after the great Hungarian composer and pedagogue Zoltan Kodaly. The concert includes -

  • Kodaly, Ode to Music
  • Britten, Hymn to the Virgin
  • Works by Liszt, Orban, and Paszti (Yes, this should sound like a Hungarian program)
  • Kaulkin, a capella setting of the Milton poem Surge! Age surge!

McLean Chapel, Holy Names College, 7:30 p.m., Friday, July 27. Free!

(I would go except that I'll be in Santa Fe for King Roger and Maometto II.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sally Ride

Oh, damn. From the Times comes the sad news that Sally Ride, the first woman in the US astronaut corps, has died of pancreatic cancer at the young age of 61. She was a physicist, a rare enough thing for women of her age; she was so respected that she sat on both investigatory boards following the destruction of the shuttles Challenger and Columbia. She did a tremendous amount for women and girls in the sciences, as a visible scientist and through many major efforts.

The very private Dr. Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Dr. Tam O'Shaughnessy, who is also the CEO of Sally Ride Science. I think that might be for Tamara, after a look at the company web site.

Chora Nova 2012-13

I don't expect to be singing with Chora Nova this year (see: martial arts three or four days/week), but the upcoming season is certainly interesting and attractive:

Saturday, November 17

  • Handel: Choruses from Solomon, Te Deum for Queen Caroline, Zadok the Priest
  • Hummel: Mass in D Minor
Sunday, March 24
  • Bernstein, Chichester Psalms
Saturday, May 25
  • Charpentier, Te Deum
If you're looking for a very good auditioned amateur chorus, Chora Nova is an excellent choice. It's a well-run group with an exceptionally talented conductor in Paul Flight. Auditions are August 21, 23, and 28.

Record Profits

Caterpillar, maker of heavy construction equipment, had record profits last year and projects more of the same this year. They're doing so well that they've raised executive compensation.

And they're trying to freeze worker wages for the next six years, along with freezing worker pensions.

Got it? Executives get more and more money, regular workers get less and less, despite record profits, to "stay competitive." The workers are striking, as well they should be. I wish they'd get out the tumbrils.

Fabio Armiliato is a Very Good Sport

See Woody Allen's fluffy and very funny new film, To Rome with Love, for why.

Friday, July 20, 2012


You may have seen reports over the last few weeks to the effect that Larry Page, founder & CEO of Google, has lost his voice and therefore can't participate in conference calls, give speeches, and so on.  Needless to say, I wish Larry well - and I'm sure that he has good doctors.

There's plenty of speculation about what might be wrong, from nodes or polyps on his vocal chords to Scott Adams's suggestion that he might have spasmodic dystonia, which has affected Adams's voice.

Singers worry a lot about their voices, and with good reason. In recent years, Natalie Dessay has had nodes removed from her vocal cords and Rolando Villazon had some kind of cyst removed from his. But the most famous case of nodes in opera history might have been the great soprano Lucrezia Bori's.

She had become a big star when the nodes appeared, and she spent a good five years off the stage. I read somewhere that for a full year, she did not speak at all. She came back in good form and sang for about another 15 years before retiring with her voice still in beautiful condition.

She's among my favorite early 20th c. singers, with a beautiful voice and tremendous style and charm. Here's her Mimi, from 1914, before her vocal hiatus.

There's plenty more of this lovely and graceful singer on YouTube.

SFS Program Updates

SFS just sent a press release about changes to the already-announced 2012-13 schedule. This information is important, whether you've ordered your tickets or not.

  • Jorg Widmann's piano concerto is out, replaced by the "Emperor" Concerto, still with Yefim Bronfman. Also on the program, Symphonie Fantastique. Love the Berlioz, but that's one program that went from a yes to a no. Sorry, Fima!
  • The visual accompaniment to the Missa Solemnis is by video artist Michael Tilson Thomas. Um.
  • The Fleming residency will include Robin Holloway's, wait, I'll just quote this, because it is inscrutable: "a new SFS commission by Robin Holloway with soprano Renée Fleming, a re-imagining for orchestra of Debussy’s Ariettes oubliées, based on Paul Verlaine’s poems." By Robin Holloway with soprano Renée Fleming. You'll have to tell me how this one goes, given what I thought of her performance in Lucrezia Borgia.
  • Matthias Goerne will be singing Wagner (Wotan's Farewell and "Die Frist is um") instead of orchestrations of Brahms songs. 
  • The press release doesn't mention (and the web site still doesn't say) what will be on the concert honoring John Goldman.
Lastly, and to me perhaps most importantly, single tickets go on sale this Monday, July 23. That noise you hear will be me banging my head against the web site.

Update: I have asked SFS about the omission of the Symphony Chorus from the page that lists Les Noces as one of the works being performed. :) It's gotta be a mistake.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Not Really a Hiatus

Less posting the last couple of weeks because of the season end - of course, I have a huge backlog of postings to try to write - but more importantly, I'm teaching jujitsu again and that is eating my brain. (Also back at Tai Chi, so that is taking up two nights a week.) I am woefully out of shape and expect it will be a few months before I am fully myself again.

If you're interested in starting Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu classes, let me know and I'll send information. It's just one class/week at the moment. Hoping to increase that to two soon.

Debussy at Eastman

A fascinating symposium/festival celebrating the 150th birthday of the great composer, one of my two candidates for the deepest hidden influence on 20th c. concert music. The Festival Gala will include two acts of Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien: irresistible! I am sure various heads will be exploding at the thought of a crossover adaptation of Pelleas to go with a comic book version of the opera:

The Eastman School of Music presents
Oct 1-27, 2012

Festival highlights: 

Sat, Oct 13 at 8pm
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Festival Gala Concert
Eastman Philharmonia; Eastman School Symphony Orchestra; Eastman Wind Ensemble; Eastman Chorale
With illustrated introductions by Eastman Professor of Music Theory Marie Rolf
Printemps (1887), Prix de Rome work for orchestra
Three transcriptions for wind ensemble:
   Hommage à Rameau from Images, arr. Donald Hunsberger
   Sarabande from Pour le piano, arr. Mark Scatterday
   Marche écossaise, arr. Mark Scatterday 
Nocturnes (1899) for orchestra and women’s chorus (critical edition by Denis Herlin)
Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien (1911) Acts IV and V (critical edition by Eiko Kasaba and Pierre Boulez)

Wed, Oct 17 at 8pm
Kilbourn Hall
Musica Nova performs The Debussy Project: New works by Eastman composers, inspired by Debussy’s piano prelude “Des pas sur la neige” 

Sat, Oct 20 at 8pm
Kilbourn Hall
Eastman faculty and students
A prism chamber concert featuring non-stop, surround-sound performance, with arrangements of some of Debussy’s best-known piano music and songs 

Fri, Oct 26 at 8pm
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Pelléas Redux – a crossover arrangement of Debussy’s opera to accompany P. Craig Russell’s comic book Pelléas et Mélisande 

Sat, Oct 27 from 9:30am to 5pm
Hatch Recital Hall
Presentations and the North American premiere of five new songs
With guest scholars Denis Herlin, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, and Mylène Dubiau-Feuillerac, Université de Toulouse; and Eastman Professors of Music Theory Marie Rolf and Jonathan Dunsby 


Oct 1-27 
Sibley Music Library at the Eastman School of Music
An exhibit of Debussy manuscripts, including a complete working draft of La Mer, and “Minstrels” arranged by Debussy for violin and piano for Arthur Hartmann

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Troyens News, SF Opera Edition

News news news:

  • In comments here, Rob Gordon reported that Anna Caterina Antonacci's bio in the London production lists Cassandre in SF as a future plan. (Good news, that; she is a remarkable singer.)
  • Susan Graham told John Marcher that Troyens here is on her schedule - so she must be Didon.
  • Graham also said 2015.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Season Announcement Season: Long Beach Opera

No press release yet, but via Tim Mangan, here's Long Beach Opera's 2013 season:

  • Jan. 27, Feb. 2-3: “The Fall of the House of Usher” (Philip Glass)
  • March 24, 30: “Unicamente La Verdad” (Gabriela Ortiz)
  • May 11, 18-19: “The Tell-Tale Heart” (Stewart Copeland); “Van Gogh” (Michael Gordon)
  • June 15, 22-23: “Macbeth” (Ernest Bloch)
I haven't heard any of those! Road trip(s)!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Twitter: Threat or Menace?

Drew McManus has a posting up about institutional use of Twitter, with a pointer to an anti-Twitter posting at On an Overgrown Path. I am not a really big fan of using Twitter to bring PDQ Bach into reality, but I'm certainly finding it useful for a few things:

  • Spreading the word about a new blog posting
  • Spreading the word about an event
  • Getting information about breaking news (I picked up the death of DF-D hours before it hit the papers)
  • Cracking wise 
  • Getting pointers to neat stuff I would not otherwise have noticed
  • Sending instant messages to people & institutions who aren't on other IM systems ("When is your season announcement?")

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Festival Opera Benefit

Joshua Kosman has a fine article about Walnut Creek's Festival Opera in today's Chron. The company is facing a serious deficit; its fundraising efforts include a benefit concert this Saturday with a great lineup that includes Hope Briggs, Eugene Brancoveanu, Brian Thorsett, Brian Leerhuber, and many others. If you're free, tickets are $100. Here are the details:

Make Our Garden Grow: 8 p.m. Saturday. Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. $100. (925) 943-7469.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Cheap Ring Recording

Looking for an excellent but inexpensive Ring recording?

Amazon has the Janowski for around $30. The set has one serious problem, Theo Adam's Wotan, and, yeah, that's a problem. But it's got some great singing as well: Jessye Norman's Sieglinde, Kurt Moll's Hunding, Siegfried Jerusalem's Siegmund, Jeannine Altmeyer's Brunnhilde, Yvonne Minton's Fricka. Rene Kollo is a good Siegfried. The conducting is excellent, the sound gorgeous.

It's a great bargain, whether it's your first or tenth Ring.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Carter Discussion on WPRB

Received from music writer & blogger Joe Barron -
On Wednesday, July 25, I will appear as the guest on Marvin Rosen's radio program "Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde" on WPRB Princeton. We will be playing and discussing the music of Elliott Carter. Broadcast time is 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. EDT. For those of you in the Princeton area (including Philadelphia), WPRB is at 103.3 on the FM dial. The show may also be heard around the world at, and Marvin archives his shows for a week or so at his own website, 
The playlist will include Carter's String Quartet No. 4 with the Composer's Quartet and the the Concerto for Orchestra with Boulez and the NYPO, as well as some shorter pieces and historic recordings. 
I urge everyone to blow off work and listen.
I'll second that!

Another Way to Hear Philharmonic 360

Email from Q2 Music tells me that at 3 p.m. today, they're going to broadcast the Philharmonic 360 program.

Note: that's 10 minutes, no, 7, no, 6 minutes from now. Hi, there, you should send out time-sensitive material on a more timely basis. But maybe the program will be archived after the broadcast, nice if audio-only is more convenient for you than Medici TV's free (registration required) video stream.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Coming to San Francisco

The multi-company production of Les Troyens that we'll get...some time....has opened in London. Read all about it:
No hints about the local casting, except that Brian from OWA and I are betting on BJo for Enee.

And I Thought I Had Problems with the SFS Box Office

A tale of woe and terror trying to buy a Met subscription. Seriously, the Met should send a couple of comps to the author for her troubles.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

City of Sin at West Edge Opera

I am unfortunately going to miss West Edge Opera's upcoming double bill:
  • Brecht & Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel
  • Hagen & Muldoon's Vera of Los Vegas
The program is on two Sundays, July 29 and August 5 at 3 pm, and Friday, August 3 at 8 pm at the El Cerrito Performing Arts Theater at El Cerrito High School.

Desolee! Really! Loved the last two shows and was looking forward to this. But I will be out of town for one of the dates, in Santa Fe, and am committed elsewhere on Sunday afternoons just now. 

Friday, July 06, 2012

Wagner Oops

So, contrary to my previous blog posting, I am NOT NOT NOT speaking at the Northern CA Wagner Society tomorrow - a scheduling conflict has put me out to November 3. Sorry.....! I've known this for several weeks and should have posted it earlier.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

What Should I Listen to First?

Evelyn Lear

Evelyn Lear, a great singer of both contemporary and older opera, died Sunday in Maryland. She was 86.

Philharmonic 360

Jealous that you missed last weekend's NYPO spectacular at the Park Avenue Armory?

Medici TV to the rescue!

They'll be streaming the program, which included works by Stockhausen, Boulez, and Ives, for 90 days, starting tomorrow. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

No One Expects...

the Higgs Boson!

Except for the physicists who've been waiting decades for a glimpse of the elusive subatomic particle. Now CERN thinks they've got evidence of its existence. The Times article I link to includes this charming bit:
At CERN itself, 1,000 people stood in line all night to get into the auditorium, according to Guido Tonelli, a CERN physicist who said the atmosphere was like a rock concert. Peter Higgs, the University of Edinburgh theorist for whom the boson is named, entered the meeting to a standing ovation.
This reminds me of the news that Fermat's Last Theorem had been solved. It's a great day for physics!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Nixon News

No mystery to this: there are hardly any seats left for the final performance of Nixon in China at SF Opera. I count 3 in the Balcony/Balcony Circle, 3 in Dress Circle/Grand Tier, 1 in the orchestra, and 10 in the boxes.

I expect it's a combination of the great press, word of mouth, and heavy discounting. I'm glad that Magic Flute and Attila sold well and have earned their keep; I'm sorry that the heavy discounting was necessary to sell lots of Nixon tickets. Musical organizations oughta be rewarded for the risks they take.

Once again, the biggest thanks to David Gockley and SF Opera for a great run of a great opera, and of course to the team of John Coolidge Adams, Alice Goodman, and Peter Sellars for bringing it to life.


If you go to symphony concerts often enough, you get to know the players musically, and even though you probably don't ever talk to them, you wind up feeling like you have a personal relationship with them. even though you don't. You watch their comings and goings and talk about who played the flute solos in which pieces, and who was in the concertmaster's chair today. The players become part of your musical neighborhood, and changes in the neighborhood can be unsettling. 

During the curtain calls for Saturday's season-ending SFS program, a tall guy came out at the back of the stage and handed principal percussionist Jack van Geem a bouquet of red roses, which garnered another big hand from the audience. Then I noticed that the tall guy was Michael Tilson Thomas.

I emailed SFS, and today got the reply: Jack van Geem is retiring, and so is trumpeter Glenn Fischthal.

Hail and farewell; thank you so much, Mr. van Geem and Mr. Fischthal, for your contributions to this great orchestra. Enjoy your post-SFS life, and know that you'll be missed, and remembered with great pleasure.

It's Over

The greatest season I'm likely to see from SFS came to an end last night, with a choral-focused concert of Ligeti's Lux Aeterna, Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw, and Beethoven's 9th.

It made for a short but powerful first half. Ligeti's microtonal polyphony creates a vast haze of sound, with pitches and chords moving in and out of focus. It is ghostly and beautiful music, and will bring to mind the composer's Requiem for anyone who saw SFS perform it a few years ago. The Schoenberg was so short I didn't get much of a fix on it, especially given that a young girl sitting behind me, age perhaps 7 or 8, whispered to her mother during it - an unfortunate distraction, as the child had also whispered to her mother during the hushed and delicate Ligeti. Perhaps mom had a talk with her, because there wasn't a peep out of her during the 65-minute Beethoven. Wish that talk had taken place before the concert.

As for the Beethoven, it was a fine "central" performance, with no eccentricities at all. It was not noticeably fast or noticeably slow; everything worked extremely well without bringing any new interpretive insights to how you might perform the 9th. As such, I won't be buying the recording; I have several "central" performances of the complete LvB symphonies already.

The chorus, the big star of the show, was tremendous: responsive, rock-solid in tone, dynamics, and ensemble, producing a clear yet powerful sound and sailing through the uncongenial choral writing.

Erin Wall and Kendall Gladen, the soprano and alto soloists, were just fine in their ensemble and brief solo or duet contributions. Bass Nathan Berg had a bad night, sounding grainy, wobbly, and constricted on top; I saw people looking at each other and grimacing at the end of his first entrance. Tenor William Burden sang the difficult solo in the 6/8 Alla marcia section gloriously, with heroic thrust and beautiful tone. In the orchestra, special kudos to Robert Ward and Jessica Valenti for nearly flawless work in the treacherous 1st and 4th horn parts. And Catherine Payne, you were great in the solo piccolo part in the last movement; I hope it was as much fun to play as it was to hear you play.