Sunday, September 30, 2012

Leontyne Price Debut

So the SF Opera program has a long article on company history. It's got some mighty awkward writing, but that's not the primary thing I'm complaining about tonight. On a list of San Francisco Opera debuts, they've got this:

Leontyne Price, 1957*

The asterisk means "professional opera debut."

Now look. There's an awful lot of weaseling required to put Leontyne Price's professional opera debut in 1957. She was in a revival of Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts in 1952; the production ran for a couple of weeks on Broadway, then moved to Paris for a while. Then she sang for some time in a revival of Porgy and Bess.

Is anyone disputing the operatic status of either Four Saints or Porgy? I sure hope not.

Is anyone claiming that Price didn't get paid for those appearances? I bet she collected a paycheck.

Apparently what's really meant is that her 1957 debut at San Francisco Opera was her debut with a permanent opera company.

Capuleti Roundup

Read all about it:
More as they come in.

Dumb and Dumber

But with some great singing: reviewing I Capuleti e i Montecchi at San Francisco Opera. If you don't believe me about Nicole Cabell "standing in a sink:"

Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

She spent most of the first scene up against one or the other of the walls. I really thought Lotfi Mansouri was back for minute; singers leaning on walls is one of his directorial tics, and not a good one.

Here are some of the Tim Burton escapees, surrounding Joyce DiDonato, who is doing a Fred Astaire imitation.

Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

I have nothing against Regietheater, and would love to see, for example, Stefan Herheim's Parsifal or Rusalka, which sound brilliant and illuminating. But maybe you need Germans or other northern Europeans for this; the French team responsible for Capuleti has no clue what they are doing.

The opera itself is in the second or maybe third tier of Bellini's operas; it sounds superficially like his greatest, Norma, but doesn't come close to that opera's power and impact. Don't go looking for Shakespeare, because it's based on different sources and misses the boat dramatically.

But you definitely should hear Joyce DiDonato, Nicole Cabell, and Riccardo Frizza. I know, I know, it's not exactly a conductor's opera, but Frizza is the real deal. If only SFO had had Cabell in last year's Lucrezia Borgia, and Michael Fabiano in Capuleti! Nicola Luisotti has a lock on the major Italian operas at SFO, but Frizza is so good in these second-rate operas that I would just love to hear him in one of the greater works by Donizetti, Bellini, or Verdi.

DiDonato is an interesting singer, which I mean in a good way. She isn't exactly beautiful - I think of her as appealing - and neither is her voice, but she is distinctive in a way that gets your attention. The voice is focused and penetrating rather than lush; I find the reediness and flicker vibrato truly arresting. She moves beautifully on stage and is hot hot hot because of the sexual ambiguity of her pants roles. (I find her a lot hotter than Susan Graham, who sings a similar repertory.) I loved her in Le Comte Ory, where her dramatic seriousness and focus played off so well against the froth and farce of Damrau and Florez.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur

Congratulation to Elliott Carter, who has been admitted to the Légion d’Honneur! Read the speech (not Carter's) here.

Metropolitan Opera, Maria Stuarda Cast Change

In the role of Leicester, Francesco Meli out, Matthew Polenzani in. Meli is no longer keeping this role in his repertory.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fall Free for All, Cal Performances

Want to get a look at Cal Performances' spectacular 2012-13 offerings, free of charge? And have a lot of fun, too?

All you have to do is show up on Sunday, September 30, at UC Berkeley, between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The venues are Zellerbach Hall, Wheeler Hall, Hertz Hall, Pauley Ballroom, Lower Sproul Plaza, Sather Gate, Bancroft Studio, Stephens Lounge, Choral Rehearsal Hall, the Campanile and Morrison Hall Loft.

The performers include the Kronos Quartet, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, the Cypress String Quartet, Davitt Maroney, the University Chorus and Symphony, Shotgun Players, Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company, Kitka, and...a ton of other folks in many musical and theatrical styles.

I'm especially intrigued by the mention of an instrumental petting zoo!

For the full story, check this web page; there are schedules by time and location.

The Well Lives!

You may have read a few months ago that the Well, an early Internet discussion forum, was put up for sale by Salon, which had owned the Well for some years.  There was utter consternation on the Well itself over this, because the system has, well, bounced around a bit over the years.

The sale went through yesterday, to a small group of longtime Well members incorporated as The WELL Group, Inc., led by the amazing Earl Crabb. They were able to hang on to the domain name, which had been a concern; some users only use the Well for email, and they provide a significant amount of income.

If you're interested in intelligent conversation with no advertising and no data mining (the Well's conferencing system is not crawled), the Well offers a web-only account for $10/month and a web or SSH account, with email, for $15/mo. The web-based interface is strictly no frills; the Pico interface is fast, flexible, and old-style.

Yeah, I know, everywhere else is free. However: no ads, the best privacy on the web, and a lot of good conversation. To sign up, SSH to or browse to the Well.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

IE Security Issue (Well, Duh)

Another reason to switch to Firefox, Opera, Safari, or Chrome. If you don't, at least install the recommended tool.

More on Mitt

Some reading & listening matter:

Monday, September 17, 2012

President of the 1%

Mitt Romney was caught earlier this year on a clandestine video that got leaked to Mother Jones. On tape, he shows both his contempt toward and his ignorance of the people he claims to want to lead, calling 47% of the population, in essence, dependent freeloaders who don't pay taxes. For once, David Brooks actually nails the guy, as having lost all sense of the social contract and all sense of the people he's actually talking about. Okay, Brooks nails him until the last paragraph, where he runs off the rails, but whatever.

Bizarrely, Romney doesn't seem aware that people like me - who pay plenty of taxes and are happy to do so - are also in the class people who are going to vote for Obama no matter what. But here's the Times helpfully spelling out just who the people are who don't pay income taxes:

  • Half the households that don't pay income taxes are too poor to do so.
  • The other half is families using tax credits, and consists of senior citizens and low-income working families.
I'll just quote the Times hitting the nail over the head here:
Put bluntly, these are not households shirking their tax liabilities. The pool consists mostly of the poor, of relatively low-income working families and of old people. The tax code is specifically designed to reduce the burden on them. 
Indeed, the recession and its aftermath have left tens of millions of workers out of a job or underemployed, removing more households from payment of federal income taxes. Moreover, the Bush tax cuts – the signature Republican economic policy of the 2000s, which doubled the child tax credit, increased a number of other deductions and exemptions, and lowered marginal tax rates – erased millions of families’ federal income tax liabilities.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Compare & Contrast 22

Anthony Tommasini and I review the same concert, four years and 2500 miles apart.
AND, Joshua Kosman saw this in 2008, Zerbinetta (Likely Impossibilities) saw it this year:

Can You Figure Out Today's Google Logo?

I couldn't. Dear readers, I am curious. Without mousing over the live Google doodle, what do you think the below illustration is?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Medieval News

I started reading Medieval News, via Google Readers, some months ago, and have been enjoying news of medieval Europe ever since. One story that started in August concerned archeologists digging in Leicester, England, in hopes of finding the medieval Grey Friars Church.

That is the church where the body of Richard III was taken and buried after the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. The location of the church was known into at least the early 17th century, but the knowledge has been lost for centuries.

About ten days or so ago, the archeologists found what they thought was the cloister of the church, so they started another trench.

Then they turned up a couple of skeletons. One is the disarticulated remains of a woman. The other is a man with an arrow near his spine, a killing wound in the back of his skull, and severe scoliosis.

The bones are out for DNA and other testing, but really, it is very hard not to believe that the long lost remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England, have been found.

"For Personal Reasons"

Mmm-hmm. In what is unfortunately the least surprising announcement since "Levine Cancels," Ben Heppner has withdrawn from all San Francisco Opera performances of Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick. Jay Hunter Morris, originally scheduled for the last two performances, picks up the entire run of eight. (And the SF Opera web site has already replaced photos of Heppner with photos of Morris as Ahab.)

I haven't heard Heppner live since Fidelio in September, 2001, and I was hoping he'd be in good voice for this run. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


The phone rang around 7 a.m. It was a friend of my partner, telling us to turn on the TV. Apparently she also told Donna something about what had happened, because Donna got up looking nauseated and couldn't talk.

September 11, 2001 was a very, very bad day that led to very, very bad things. The US was still in a foul mood over the disputed 2000 presidential election. After September 11, George Bush got us into two disastrous wars that still aren't quite over. We destroyed Iraq for nothing - there were no weapons of mass destruction. We spent trillions that we didn't have, following Bush's tax cuts. The economy went into a tailspin. We lost enormous social and political capital worldwide.

Thousands of Americans and persons of other nationalities died on September 11, 2001. Hundreds of thousands have died since in our wars.

It was a very, very bad day.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Let Me Count the Ways, Part II

So. Kevin Lonergan's Margaret arrived in the mail from Netflix last week, and I am now one of the fifteen people who have seen it.

1. It is not the masterpiece everyone is so noisily proclaiming it to be, although....

2....the acting is very good.

3. It is absolutely not killing opera....

4....because arty people who live on the Upper West Side and date handsome foreigners might, in fact, go to the opera on a date.

5. The film does not "revolve around opera." It revolves around the effects of the accident that takes place in the first five minutes of the film.

6. I somehow missed the Lohengrin prelude and all that other music Zachary Woolfe says plays in the background, but I'll take his word for it. I was paying more attention to the NYC architectural porn, which is poorly knitted into the story. You want city porn, try Woody Allen's Paris or Rome - or New York.

7. There is one aspect of the film that is completely, totally unbelievable: that the 17-year-old Jewish girl who is the main character doesn't already have a shrink or doesn't immediately get bundled off to one given what happens to her.

Related post: Let Me Count the Ways

Time for a DVR 2: San Francisco Opera on KQED

Hosted by our friend Flicka, an odd assortment of operas from the last few years: The Magic Flute, Salome, Otello, and Il Trittico.

Okay, well, I thought Salome was limply conducted and had a terrible soprano, and Otello was...well, maybe I should write it up some day. Trittico was fantastic, and I've been hoping for three years that there would be a DVD release. This is not this past summer's Magic Flute, it's the previous production, with Runnicles conducting and Piotr Beczala as Tamino.

Here are the details:

Mozart’s The Magic Flute:
*  KQED 9:  Thursday, Sept 20, 2012, 8:00 p.m.
*  KQED 9:  Friday, Sept 21, 2012, 2:00 a.m.
*  KQED Life:  Friday, Sept 21, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
*  KQED Life:  Saturday, Sept 22, 2012, 1:00 a.m.
*  KQED Life:  Monday, Sept 24, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
*  KQED Life:  Tuesday, Sept 25, 2012, 1:00 a.m.

R. Strauss’ Salome:
*  KQED 9: Thursday, Sept 27, 2012, 8:00 p.m.
*  KQED 9:  Friday, Sept 28, 2012, 2:00 a.m.
*  KQED Life:  Friday, Sept 28, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
*  KQED Life:  Saturday, Sept 29, 2012, 1:00 a.m.
*  KQED Life:  Monday, Oct 1, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
*  KQED Life: Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012, 1:00 a.m.

Puccini’s Il Trittico:
*  KQED 9:  Thursday, Oct 4, 2012, 8:00 p.m.
*  KQED 9:  Friday, Oct 5, 2012, 2:00 a.m.
*  KQED Life:  Friday, Oct 5, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
*  KQED Life:  Saturday, Oct 6, 2012, 1:00 a.m.
*  KQED Life:  Monday, Oct 8, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
*  KQED Life:  Tuesday, Oct 9, 2012, 1:00 a.m.

Verdi’s Otello:
*  KQED 9: Thursday, Oct 11, 2012, 8:00 p.m.
*  KQED 9:  Friday, Oct 12, 2012, 2:00 a.m.
*  KQED Life:  Friday, Oct 12, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
*  KQED Life:  Saturday, Oct 13, 2012, 1:00 a.m.
*  KQED Life:  Monday, Oct 15, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
*  KQED Life:  Tuesday, Oct 16, 2012, 1:00 a.m.

Time for a DVR 1: Lepage Ring on KQED

Email from the Wagner Society reminds me that the Lepage Ring will be on TV this week - sort of - depending on what your cable plan is. Here's the helpful email about the situation in the Bay Area:

A reminder that the PBS showings of the Met Ring will be beginning Tuesday. For us in the Bay Area, they will be aired three times on KQED and KQED+. They have very different schedules, so pay attention - there will a quiz at the end.  :-) 
On KQED+  (which is Channel 10 here in the East Bay):
"Wagner's Dream" (the making of the Met Ring) and the four operas are on consecutive evenings  Sept 10 - 14.
"Wagner's Dream" starts at 8pm, and the operas all start at 7pm. 
On the basic KQED Channet 9, it's a different story:
There is no "Wagner's Dream", and the four operas are on 4 consecutive Sunday mid-days. They run Sept 16 - Oct 7.
Rheingold starts at noon and the rest at 11:00am. 
Also, to complicate things even more, KQED+ Channel 10 will repeat the daily eveningtime performances early the next morning. So Sept 11 at 2:00 am for "Wagner's Dream" and the next 4 late nights at 1:00 am for the 4 operas.  
If you're still confused, visit: monthly grid only shows the prime-time programs, so if you want to look for one of the other showings, click on the relevant date in the gray bar.)
If you're not in the Bay Area, check your local PBS station.


Anu Komsi, an extremely good Finnish soprano, has a new album out that I heard about from eClassical's email. Gliere Concerto for Coluratura, check. But the presence of Sibelius's Luonnotar interests me a great deal. Dame Eva Turner, who was not in any way a coloratura soprano, had it in her repertory and sang it a few times in Great Britain.

Will have to get the recording.

Labor Disputes

I've been slightly remiss in not even mentioning the developing, and dire, labor situations at several US orchestras. Drew McManus is on top of it all, and I suggest a look at his last month or so of related postings. My links below are to Drew's tag for the specific organization.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

If You're Feeling Nostalgic....

...for Gildas of the past, here's the great Ruth Ann Swenson at what I expect was her peak:

Rigoletto Roundup

Hmm. A range of critical thought (now with Joshua Kosman):
  • Lisa Hirsch in Classical Review
  • Joshua Kosman in the Chron. He's more enthused about Lucic than I was and apparently was affected less by the annoying opening-night goings-on than I was.
  • Jason Serinus in SFCV is mostly in agreement with me on opening night; see the comments for his thoughts on the alternate cast. I don't know where he was sitting, but Pomakov was not good from my seat.
  • Richard Scheinin in the Merc likes it a whole lot more than I did. I understand why they double-cast it: see David Gockley's many statements about the cost of moving sets around. Twelve performances with a single cast would drag out over more than two months because you need to give the singers a rest. And the twelve Rigoletti and twelve Tosci are paying the bills for the season, enabling the company to do Lohengrin, Moby-Dick, The Secret Garden, and The Gospel of Mary Magdalen.
  • Opera Tattler saw opening night and second night.
  • SF Mike was there and has fashion notes; he liked Lucic better than I did.
  • Axel Feldheim liked Demuro and Lucic better than I did.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Rigoletto, Opening Night at SF Opera

I've got a Rigoletto review up at Classical Review in Chicago. Herewith the ancillary material that would not have been appropriate in a formal review.

One problem with opening night is the speechmaking. Okay, the heavy-hitting donors need to be thanked in front of their social peers, and I'm as grateful to anyone for the Gunns and Mrs. Littlefield. But I wish David Gockley could do the thanking. He's got good stage presence and knows what to do with a microphone in his hand. John Gunn was extremely ill at ease and meandering; George Hume did better. Maybe they'd rather not be on stage.

I just don't know what the story is with SFO and tenors in this opera. Nearly every lyric tenor knows the role of the Duke of Mantua, and a fair number of tenors up into the spinto range - but in three of the last four presentations of Rigoletto, the tenors have been forgettable. I saw Tito Beltran in 1997; Giuseppe Gipali in 2006; Francesco Demuro this year. 

I don't doubt the company's commitment to hiring the best possible singers, and I'm not expecting them to put Pavarotti on stage for every bring-up, but heavens. Frank Lopardo, in 2001, was excellent (and, sadly, cast with a weak Gilda and poor Rigoletto); he isn't the most glamorous tenor of his generation, but he is a solid singer with great style and no vocal issues. I've also liked him greatly in two performances of the Verdi Requiem. He's a pleasure to listen to, and I've never missed him more than last night. David Lomeli, who withdrew from the Vratogna/Shagimuratova cast, was a fabulous Rinuccio in 2009's Trittico, and surely he can sing rings around Demuro as the Duke, as could Michael Fabiano, who sensationally took over the tenor lead in last season's Lucrezia Borgia. I'll be interested in what folks think of Arturo Chacon-Cruz in the other cast.

Meanwhile, the generally dispiriting performance last night: I wonder how much of it stemmed from trying to rehearse two casts in a warhorse production in its fourth and possibly last staging. I certainly hope the subsequent performances get better. I also find myself fearing that I'll never again hear a Rigoletto as good as Gavanelli/Swenson in 1997, however forgettable Tito Beltran was. 

Opera in the Park (Golden Gate Park)

I won't be there, but San Francisco Opera has a nice lineup for tomorrow's Opera in the Park, which is at Sharon Meadow, Golden Gate Park, at 1:30 p.m. Here are the expected singers:

Sopranos:  Nicole Cabell, Marina Harris, Aleksandra Kurzak, Albina Shagimuratova, Nadine Sierra
Mezzo-sopranos:  Kendall Gladen, Laura Krumm
Tenors:  Arturo Chacón-Cruz, Francesco Demuro, Brian Jagde, Saimir Pirgu
Baritones:  Joo Won Kang, Željko Lučić
Basses:  Andrea Silvestrelli, Eric Owens

I'd especially like to hear reports on Arturo Chacon-Cruz, given David Lomeli's withdrawal and, uh, my disappointment with Francesco Demuro's performance last night.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

A Bad Day for Classical Music

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians say they've been locked out and their health insurance has been cancelled. Ernie Suggs and Craig Schneider at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution are on the story.

NY Times Loses Its Mind

Allan Kozinn has been reassigned to "general cultural criticism." Norman Lebrecht has the story, which Kozinn confirms on his Facebook page. Well, okay, Kozinn confirms the reassignment. Lebrecht has a lot about the supposed political machinations at the Times; I have no idea how to evaluate what he says. There is a petition at asking the Times to reinstate Kozinn.

I am tremendously sorry to hear about this, and one need only read a couple of Kozinn's articles - for example, his recent Cage piece - to understand what a mistake the Times is making.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

What Organized Labor Has Done for Us

It's (almost) Labor Day, 2012. We all have a lot to thank organized labor for:
  • Minimum wage
  • 40-hour work week
  • Occupational health & safety regulations
  • Child labor laws
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Passage of the Social Security Act
  • Passage of the National Labor Relations Act
  • Collective bargaining rights
  • Pensions
  • Passage of many civil rights laws

Cal Performances 2012-13

I never did report on the upcoming Cal Performances season, which will feature some fantastic programs. I now have a long update from them, so here goes. (If you want to cut directly to the added events, go here.)

Esa-Pekka attended the Cal Performances season announcement by videoconference. Everybody at my table pulled out cellphones or cameras to take a few photos.

It is quite a season, with many, MANY great performances. At the top of my must-see list would be Einstein on the Beach, the three concerts that Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia will be giving, and Christian Tetzlaff's solo recital. Here are my personal highlights:
  • Mariinsky Ballet in the complete Swan Lake 
  • Einstein on the Beach
  • Nancarrow 100 Celebration
  • Salonen and the Philharmonia. The programs are Salonen's Helix, Beethoven's 7th, and the Symphonie Fantastique; a concert performance of Wozzeck (!!!); and Mahler's 9th. There are also a couple of extra-performance events associated with Salonen's visit, including a colloquium, E-SP conducting a rehearsal with the UC Symphony, and a symposium on Wozzeck.
  • Mark Morris's The Hard Nut
  • Nicolas Hodges, piano, in a recital that will include a Birtwistle commission/world premiere
  • Christian Tetzlaff, my favorite living violinist, alone on stage
  • Leonidis Kavakos, violin
  • Nolan Gasser's The Secret Garden
  • Brentano String Quartet (Purcell, Bartok 4, Beethoven Harp quartet)
  • Jeffrey Kahane, piano
  • Bejart Ballet, the program with Le marteau sans maitre and Le sacre du printemps. What a pairing! Wah. Bejart cancelled their tour.
  • Nicola Luisotti and the SF Opera Orchestra in a pretty strange program, including Puccini, Rota, and Brahms
  • Ojai North! curated by Mark Morris this year