Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sarah Cahill at Old First Church, Friday, August 2, 2013

The pianist performs a program that's typical for her but not many other pianists! The program includes:

  • Shinji Eshima's "Delta 88" 
  • John Kennedy's Naturali Periclitati" (2007) 
  • Samuel Carl Adams' "Piano Step" (2010)
  • few of Ann Southam's "Glass Houses" (1981)
  • Two works by Henry Cowell: "Rhythmicana" and "High Color," both written during his years incarcerated at San Quentin. 

8 pm this Friday, August 2nd
Old First Concerts
1751 Sacramento Street at Van Ness, San Francisco


Sergei Taneyev's 1895 Oresteia received its U.S. premiere the other day at the Bard Festival. An extreme rarity, it's getting somewhat mixed reviews as a work, with accolades for the performers.
Anyone else?

Annals of Copy-Editing

Found in Leitmotive, the quarterly journal of the Wagner Society of Northern California:

In a photo caption on page 11, Jon Vickers.

In running text on page 16, John Vickers - five times.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Random Stuff

Alex Ross is in Bayreuth; I'm not. (I'm not in Seattle or Santa Fe, either, owing to family obligations.) Looking forward to Alex's reports on the Castorf Ring.....Intermezzo has photos of Castorf's production. Goetterdaemmerung on Wall Street sounds like a nod to Chereau and Shaw and a few others...If you're listening to the Proms Ring, by Barenboim, the Staatskapelle Berlin, and a cast of many, consider reading commentary by Intermezzo, Jessica Duchen, Mark Berry, and Finn Pollard, who have a nice range of opinions. Yes, I'm sure there are reviews in the newspapers too, but they're not in my RSS feed.....Anthony Tommasini has an article in the Times how much improved the Mostly Mozart festival is. It depends on which parts of the programming interest you: "staged concert" performances of Nozze (Ivan Fischer), middle-of-the-road programming for the orchestra, and some great chamber programs....Also in the Times, Gustav Mahler's love life before he married the loveliest girl in Vienna.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Peter Buffett on Charity

Peter Buffett, composer and philanthropist, has a fine op-ed in the Times today, about many issues surrounding charitable giving in the United States, inequality, unintended consequences, and the need to do something new. This is crucial to keep in mind:
Because of who my father is [Warren Buffett], I’ve been able to occupy some seats I never expected to sit in. Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.
As a friend used to say, the American Cancer Society's board of directors includes CEOs of chemical companies, so you'll never find the ACS seriously discussing pollution or chemicals in the environment as potential causes of cancer, though they'll happily suggest you quit smoking and get PAP smears done.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Conversation Continued

A new reader mentioned that he'd found me through On an Overgrown Path, where I find that Bob Shingleton has a fine posting in response to this week's postings by me and Elaine Fine. (If you're not already reading Bob, give his blog a try; he knows more music than you do - definitely more than me - and also knows more about the BBC and Sufiism. Not at the same time, necessarily.)

He makes many good points, although as I have said in the past, I consider Twitter a useful tool. If I get some retweets, might mean more people are reading my blog!

In any event, he's right about transparency. For the record, some things I've said before:

  • Nobody pays me to write this blog.
  • There's no advertising on the blog.
  • If a review of mine is in SFCV or Classical Voice, I was paid by them to write it and the ticket was comped, with a very few exceptions.
  • If a review appears here, I probably paid for the ticket, but I do get some comps. 
  • My tone in paid reviews is more measured and deliberative than my tone here.
Still planning to get together some statistics about my readership.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Proms Rheingold

Couple of reviews on favorite blogs of mine:

Mark Berry, Boulezian
Finn Pollard, Where's Runnicles

I'm listening to it right now, and I'm with Finn. Yeah, the orchestra does sound glorious and there is some fine singing, but Barenboim's take on it is too glossy and polite for me, though he does indeed have a good grip on continuity. Just listen to the entry of the giants, which is around 42:00.  Then compare with Solti. He's not my favorite Wagnerian, but note the accents and the slight sense of drag, as if the giants are so huge they are attached the earth and cannot move. Karajan is punchier than Barenboim, though smoother than Solti. I can't find Krauss on line; my recollection is that he is overwhelming in the section. See, also, as always, Furtwangler.

Update: WTF did they substitute for the anvils? A bunch of cowbells? Sheesh.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Further to Previous

If you're following the current discussion of the ebb and flow of music blogging, here are some related links:
I recommend reading the comment threads, too.

I'm planning to create a spreadsheet or something with columns for month, number of unique visitors, number of visits, number of pageviews, and number of blog postings. I'm not sure how far back I will go, but it should be interesting. My readership has seasonal highs and lows, has some highs when there is hot news, and seems to also correspond with how much I'm posting.

The Ebb and Flow of Blogging

At Musical Assumptions, Elaine Fine is lamenting what she calls the fall of musical bloggery. First off, the ebb and flow of one blog doesn't mean the blogosphere is dying. Second, there is a seasonal aspect to all of this; there's less going on in the summer musically (at least in my neck of the woods) and people are more likely to be outdoors than blogging, reading blogs, or attending musical events. I mean, Dial M for Musicology had no postings in January, but they're back in business and have had several this month.

Here are some of my own statistics for this year, with apologies for formatting issues:

Month      Number of Postings      Number of Visits    Number of Page Views

July               24                                   2900                             3800
June              27                                   3600                             4500
May               17                                   3800                             4800
April               20                                  3700                             4700                           
March            32                                   5400                            7500
February       26                                   4400                            5800
January         34                                   3900                            5200

Now, what might account for some of the ups and downs? In my case, there were a few things going on in the first three months of the year:
  • Season announcements, which I track and comment on.
  • San Francisco Symphony strike, which I didn't cover as closely as I should have (a planned summary posting was pre-empted when the strike was settled, for example).
  • The death of SFS principal oboist William Bennett.
I was out of town for the first 11 days of May and tired out after that, so May was slim pickings in posting. I had readers anyway.

I'd like to see statistics for a number of blogs over a several-year period showing a fall of musical bloggery. The stats for one or two blogs over less than half a year don't show a pattern. I can definitely say that my readership has increased over the last few years. I obviously can't speak for anyone else.

What I can say is that the 50 or so music blogs I read are alive and well, and with the Proms on right now, there's almost more than I can keep up with. Anyone who thinks there's a gradual fall of music blogging might just consider a change of reading material.

UPDATE: I originally labeled the third column Number of Visitors. It is now corrected to Number of Visits. They're not the same thing.

New to the SF Opera Board of Directors

I've been muttering to myself for a few years about the failure of the current generation of tech giants to donate to the Bay Area's arts organizations. Oh, there are a few exceptions - I saw Marissa Mayer's name (and that of the company she then worked for) on the donor board for a fashion-related exhibit at the De Young a while back (maybe it was the Saint-Laurent, maybe the Balenciaga). Still, you'll hunt far and wide to find these folks' names in the programs of SF Opera and Symphony.

Perhaps there's been a change! San Francisco Opera just announced some changes on its Board of Directors, and some prominent tech folk have joined. I actually did a double-take, because no one at Google ever called Bill Coughran "William M. Coughran, Jr." when he worked here. (Update: Bill is still at Google in an advisory capacity, it turns out.)

In any event, congratulations to everybody at SFO who had a hand in recruiting the new board members.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

KDFC: Composer Dates vs. Musical Trivia

A friend sent email to KDFC asking why they don't announce the dates when works they broadcast were composed. He got a reply. Here it is in full, with his identifying information removed.

From my friend:
 Sent: Saturday, July 20, 2013 11:12 AM
 Subject: Suggestion

 How about giving the composition dates of the pieces? To me this is more useful  information than the apocryphal anecdotes that typically follow a piece.
KDFC's response:
Thanks for the feedback [friend of Lisa],
We regularly discuss these sorts of topics with listener panels. Predominantly we're told dates without context are not as helpful to  most.  We completely understand our presentation can't be ideal for all interests, and we thank you very much for listening.
 Now you know: KDFC's listener panels - we don't know how big these are, or how representative of their listeners - are determining whether it's useful or helpful to tell listeners when compositions were written. Boo. Feel free to send email to KDFC telling them what you think.

And by the way: in the old, old days, KDFC did provide this tiny amount of factual information. How much time does it take to say 1788 or 1805 or 1913, for that matter?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Luxury Casting: The Legend of the Ring in Minneapolis

Get this casting for performances of the four-hour Legend of the Ring:

Brunnhilde/Wellgunde: Jane Eaglen
Alberich/Fasolt: Richard Paul Fink
Siegmund/Siegfried/Froh: Jay Hunter Morris
Wotan/Gunter: Philip Skinner
Luretta Bybee, Kevin Langan, Sally Wolfe as everybody else. 
Jonathan Khuner conducts 

September 13 & 15, 2013
The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts (a 500 seat theater, so expect to be deafened)
Minneapolis, MN

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Minor Communications Issue

Just a suggestion: if every event at your festival is sold out, the daily emails you send out that 1) discuss how wonderful last night's performance was and 2) tout upcoming concerts should clearly state the following:
Our upcoming events are sold out, but check with the box office for returns.
Since that's the only way you will get in. I unsubscribed from the mailing list. And yeah, I should have bought tickets to the events I wanted to see months ago.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Breaking News: Silver to ESPN

Nat Silver signing books at Google, November, 2012

Nate Silver is moving FiveThirtyEight to ESPN, starting, uh, soon. He gave notice at the Times today. Of course, there's nothing official from Silver, ESPN, or the Times yet.

Late-Breaking Addition to Mary Magdalene Media Round-Up

Sid Chen has a lengthy and thoughtful review in NewMusicBox.

Operavore's Wagner Week

WQXR NY's Operavore show is dedicated to Wagner next week, July 22 to 28. Sounds like fun to me. Here's the full schedule:

OPERAVORE opera schedule:

Monday, July 22: The Ring Cycle (four separate performances from the Metropolitan Opera)

Tuesday, July 23: Great Recordings of Wagner Operas I

Wednesday, July 24: The Ring Cycle (four separate performances from the Bayreuth Festival)

Thursday, July 25: Great Recordings from Bayreuth Festival

Friday, July 26: The Ring Cycle (Sir Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic)

Saturday, July 27: Great Recordings of Wagner Operas II

Sunday, July 28: The Ring Cycle (recent recordings by Staatskapelle Berlin, Mariinsky Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera and Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra)

The 24/7 Operavore stream and a detailed schedule may be found at: operavore/

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

No, I am Not Following William Burden Around.

It might look that way, though:

  • 2008, Santa Fe Opera: Vere, Billy Budd
  • 2011, LA Opera, Peter Quint, The Turn of the Screw
  • 2012, San Francisco Symphony, tenor soloist, Beethoven, 9th Symphony
  • 2012, Santa Fe Opera, The Shepherd, King Roger
  • 2013, San Francisco Opera, Peter, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
  • 2013, Santa Fe Opera, Frank Harris, Oscar*
Personal to David Gockley: Pick up King Roger, will you? It's short and glorious and better than the last couple of commissions.

Previously: Why Isn't William Burden a Huge Star?

* Kevin Newbury, whom I dissed for his direction of Mary Magdalene, is directing Oscar, too. I hope he does better with it.

Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music

The schedule for Tanglewood's annual Festival of Contemporary Music just landed in my inbox. It's very nice, all music I'd like to hear, especially George Benjamin's new, reportedly feminist opera Written on Skin - none of it, alas, composed by women. Blame Pierre-Laurent Aimard, this year's director. The daily schedule is as follows:

Aug 8
CARTER: String Quartet No. 1
New Fromm Players

Aug 8
MASON: Years of Light (world premiere, TMC commission)
STROPPA: Let Me Sing Into Your Ear (U.S. premiere)
CARTER: Instances (East Coast premiere, TMC co-commission)
LACHENMANN: “…zwei Gefühle…”
TMC Fellows; Brian Church, narrator; Michele Marelli, basset horn

Aug 9
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
CARTER: Epigrams (U.S. premiere)
STROPPA: Traiettoria (U.S. premiere)
With JACK Quartet and New Fromm Players

Aug 10
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
LACHENMANN: “…got lost…”
CARTER: Retrouvailles; Tri-Tribute; 90+
With Elizabeth Keusch, soprano; Stephen Drury, piano; New Fromm Players

Aug 11
NANCARROW, transcr. Adès: Study No. 6 & 7 for two pianos 
STROPPA: Ay, There's the Rub
LIGETI: Three Pieces: Monument – Self portrait – Movement
REICH: Music for 18 Musicians
Mickey Katz, cello; TMC Fellows; New Fromm Players

Aug 12
BENJAMIN: Written On Skin (U.S. premiere)
TMC Fellows; George Benjamin, conductor

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Last Words on Mary Magdalene

First of all, I've updated the media roundup so many times that there are now links to 22 different commentaries on The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, plus Mark Adamo's own blog posting. I've just added Alex Ross's, which I had managed to miss on account of being two months behind in reading The New Yorker.

I hope you will all read Patrick Vaz's lengthy and thoughtful posting on the opera, because he goes into far more detail about the plot and its relationship to both the canonical and gnostic gospels than any other reviewers.

Long Beach Opera, 2014 Season

Apparently I forgot to do a season announcement posting for LBO, among the most adventurous opera companies in the country. (Locally, see West Edge and Opera Parallel, for adventurous. Hmm, they do not seem to have done season announcements yet.) That's the bad news, but the good news is that they've changed a few dates, so I don't have to do a correction.

This is just the basics; the operas, the composers, the dates. Please visit their web site for further information, because they perform at more than one venue.

All I can say about this season is "Wow." I have already put The Death of Klinghoffer on my calendar. Not sure about whether I can get to the others. Also note that that in September, LBO has performances of the late Peter Lieberson's King Gesar, and goodness knows, you will not have many chances to hear that opera.

2014 Season:  OUT OF BOUNDS
January 26February 1 & February 2m, 2014
QUEENIE PIE by Duke Ellington

March 16 & 22m, 2014  

Double Bill - May 4 & 10m, 2014 
AN AMERICAN SOLDIER'S TALE by Igor Stravinsky/Kurt Vonnegut libretto 
A FIDDLER'S TALE by Wynton Marsalis

June 22, 28 & 2m
, 2014   

No works composed by women, alas.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Proms are On!

And they webcast every last program. Find programs and listen here (for July) or here (BBC3).

UPDATE: P. S. Stephen Hough is about to play the Paganini variations of both Rachmaninov and Lutoslawski. Second half of this very rich program is RVW's wonderful Sea Symphony.

Late-Breaking News: Handel's Ademto by BASOTI

From Chip Grant of Urban Opera fame comes word of performances tonight and tomorrow night, conveniently at San Francisco Conservatory of Music:

Chip says: I have been directing the West Coast Premier of "Admeto" with BASOTI at the SF Conservatory of Music.  "Admeto" is an opera by G.F. Handel; written basically to pit two rivals against each other ... think Angelina Jolie v. Jennifer Anniston (if Brad Pitt was a countertenor).  The story is based on a play by Euripides.  The opera will be told Lagaan-style (riffing on the 2001 Bollywood film "Lagaan").

With a chamber orchestra conducted by Sam Emanuel with some choreographic touches by the incomparable Travis Rowland, it's baroque opera meets bhangra.

Tonight and tomorrow night only!

Where:   Sol Joseph Recital Hall (downstairs)
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
50 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA  
When:   Friday, July 12th  7:30 p.m. 
Saturday July 13th  7:30 p.m.
Tickets:  $25 and $15 (student / senior)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

News, News, News

Alsop Injured

Photo by Grant Leighton

Because of a hand injury, Marin Alsop isn't conducting at Cabrillo this year; instead, Carolyn Kuan and Brad Lubman split podium duties. Also, Brett Dean's piece is out, Mason Bates's Alternative Energies (already heard at Davies) is in. Full details on the Cabrillo web site.

Domingo Hospitalized

LA Opera

From LA Opera comes word that Placido Domingo, the world's most durable baritenor, has been hospitalized in Madrid, Spain for treatment of a pulmonary embolism resulting from deep vein thrombosis. He's expected to make a full recovery. Best wishes from here!

Crissy Broadcast Panel Discussion

Composer Lisa Bielawa is putting together a participatory site-specific work for Crissy Field, to be performed in October. It'll feature 800 musicians, including many amateurs and sounds like a lot of fun. There's a free panel discussion coming up about the work. Details:

Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 5pmCenter for New Music | 55 Taylor St. | San Francisco

Admission: Free, no tickets required

Featuring Panelists:
Lisa Bielawa, Composer & Artistic Dir. of Airfield Broadcasts & Artistic Dir., San Francisco Girls Chorus
Marc Kasky, Director for Civic Engagement, Crissy Broadcasts
Adam Fong, Co-Founder, Center for New Music
Rozella Kennedy, Exec. Dir., San Francisco Contemp. Music Players
Livia Camperi, Member, San Francisco Girls Chorus & Airfield Broadcasts

Want to Participate in Crissy Broadcast?

Visit the SF Symphony web site, read about the performances, and click the Apply Here button. 

Media Roundup, Mary Magdalene

Updated multiple times.

Mark Adamo has a few comments of his own posted at his web site.

Ranging from modified rapture to, ah, very, very negative:
No link to David Littlejohn's expected WSJ review yet. Georgia Rowe's Contra Costa Times article, which I originally listed above, is a preview, not a review.

I Don't Know How to Love Him.*

Back in 2006, I saw Mark Adamo's Lysistrata at NYCO. The cast was first-class (Chad Shelton, Emily Pulley, and Victoria Livengood in three of the leads), the libretto dramatic and wryly funny, the score beautiful and at times catchy. So I had high hopes for the composer's third opera, which I looked forward to greatly, and man, am I ever disappointed, as you can tell from my review. I will here note that I have exchanged friendly email with Mark over the years since 2006, and you bet I was sorry to be writing a negative review of Gospel.

Mary Magdalene has a whole raft of problems, only some of which I called out in my review. I was surprised to see that I was more or less alone in calling out the set and the framing device as issues for the opera - of course, everybody else had space and time constraints too, and we all have to write about what we think is important. (Since I started this draft, John Marcher has also called out the framing device as a problem.)

A week before the premiere, SFO invited reviewers in for a press event, and a very nice one it was. Kip Cranna, always the most eloquent and intelligent of lecturers, interviewed the composer and director about the opera and how it took shape. Not that Mark Adamo really needs an interviewer; he is extremely smart, knowledgable, and funny, and appears to have all the details of everything he has ever read right at his fingertips. Okay, he has also been talking about this opera for a few years now, and I doubt there were big surprises in any of Kip's questions. (For that matter, there might not have been any surprises.)

That's where I first heard about the framing device. I was sitting about eight feet from where the interview was taking place, and somehow I was able to keep from just putting my head in my hands. I should look at my notes and see what I wrote. I kinda think it was something like "Oh, shit."

Because....I've seen this sort of thing before. "Oh, the opera takes place in the past! Let's have an archeological framing device!" Okay, really, I do know that the decision-making process was not that facile for Mary Magdalene. But I was surprised that this particular idea made it through the vetting process.

It didn't work for Berkeley Opera's Otello, which opened with archeologists discovering a tomb on Cyprus, though the boxes representing the tomb did clutter up the stage. It didn't work for Festival Opera's otherwise excellent Aida, where a grandstand of Victorians watched the ghosts of the characters (I guess....) singing and acting out the story. These were both before David Gockley's tenure in SF, and I have no idea which of his spies colleagues at SFO saw those productions, if any. And compared to Mary Magdalene, those were low-budget productions indeed.

Now, obviously, writing a libretto that incorporates a framing device is different from making up a framing device for a 19th century opera. But still: I found the mixture of ancient and modern clothing, modern scaffolding and ancient ruins, intensely distracting. The Greek chorus effect, which Adamo discussed at the press event, didn't work so well either, because it's a distraction when the chorus sings a citation! It's not part of the main story! You can make a Greek chorus work in an opera; Stravinsky managed it very well, thank you, in Oedipus Rex. But that was a Greek tragedy, and, well, Igor Stravinsky.

The framing device also sets up a plot line that doesn't get any resolution at the end of the opera. We have the Seekers, and they're unhappy with modern Christianity (I can't say I blame them), and after witnessing Mary and Yeshua's meeting and wedding, and his death and resurrection.....we get nothing from them. Their story is not resolved. How does their faith change? How do their beliefs change? What is the impact on their lives?

Well, at that point, the opera has been going for quite a long time; the first act is 90 minutes long, the second almost an hour. There is a big dramatic scene with the crucifixion - with the best music in the opera - followed by the final Mary-Yeshua scene. You'd really break the mood by putting in a few minutes of conversation to round out the Seekers' story line. So this is not going to get resolved.

Anyone who's been reading this blog for a few years knows I think it's not such a good idea for performers to read reviews unmediated. It's definitely not a good idea to respond publicly to one's reviews. If you're a composer who has just spent five or six years working on a new opera, well, you're going to read the reviews. While it's always nice to publicly thank everybody who worked so hard to put your opera on stage, I would be talking with my publicist before saying anything publicly about the reviews or reviewers.

Mark isn't taking advice from me, however, and has posted some thoughts on his own blog. He's also not going to be revising the opera to suit my particular tastes. But he raises a few issues that I was planning to discuss anyway.

He complains that reviewers found the opera either muddled and overly complex or too simplistic. Well, let's work that out, because both are correct. At the macro level, there are too many plot strands going on, with none of them fully worked out. I called out several in my review, and I'll add another one or two:
  • Mary-Yeshua romance
  • Transformation of Yeshua's philosophy because of Mary
  • Yeshua and Christianity as political threats to Roman rule
  • Conflict between Mary and Peter
  • Peter's love for Yeshua
  • Yeshua's relationship with his mother
  • The Seekers and their modern-day discontents
That's enough plot for a Trollope-length novel of, say, 750 pages. If you're writing an opera and you have less than three hours of stage time, you have to make some decisions about what to focus on. Mary Magdalene tries to do it all, and fails all around. Maybe one of the above plot lines gets its due, that of Yeshua's relationship with his mother, thanks to Miriam's aria and her comments to Mary.

It's at the line level that the libretto is overly simplistic and sometimes cliched. Take this:
This I know:
You bring me to life.
Radiant man, answered pray’r,
You bring me to life:
Back to life!
The nights I wasted, searching,
Asking watchmen in the square:
“Have you seen him? Have you seen the one I love?”
That's Mary, singing about the man she's in bed with at the start of the ancient part of the opera. After Yeshua rescues her from a pair of Roman policemen, he sings this:
Are you ashamed? You should be.
But no one’s here to shame you.
Are you to blame? You could be.
But no one’s left, no one’s here to blame you.
Breathe: close your eyes.
Later you’ll apologize.
But for now, let the moment go by.
They’re gone. Look, it’s dawn.
See the flames light the sky?
They can’t claim you.
They won’t blame you.
Nor will I.
That's a partial paraphrase of something the historical Jesus supposedly said to Mary, but oh so clunky! I cringed, really, when I read this in the libretto and heard it sung a couple of days later. I mean, at the press event, Mark said he didn't want any archaicisms, which is perfectly fine. But "Breathe, close your eyes/Later you'll apologize" is an anachronism in the opposite direction. It sounds like something a guru or shrink might say today, or any time since the 1960s.

The combination of the overly complex plot and the overly simple lines given to the characters also mean that the actual philosophy of the Gnostics and Gnostic Christianity simply doesn't get its due. Not that I think an opera is the ideal place for pilpul,** but a complicated and subtle philosophy gets reduced to New Age bromides about loving each other and "look at what we tried to do." Well, WHAT EXACTLY did you try to do? It's never spelled out in complex terms.

And as far as archaicisms go.....well, there are ways to elevate the tone of what you're writing without them. I am afraid that the libretto completely misses on this point, and based on something Mark said at the press event, it was deliberate. He talked about a point in writing the libretto where he was running into problems trying to write words to be spoken by Yeshua, Mary, Miriam, and he did a big search-and-replace and gave the first three different names. He made a joke about not being able to find an equivalent of Peter, a problem I could have solved for him: one of the meanings of the Hebrew name Evan is "rock."

Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe it would have been good to be a little overawed when putting words into the mouths of Biblical characters without irony or satire or comedy.

Back when Andrew Porter was writing his singing translation of Wagner's Ring, he was given the excellent advice that "the gods shouldn't talk like the people next door." Well, if you're writing about a man who became a god, you can't give him cliches and New Age nonsense to sing. You need to give him something at least a little elevated. You need to show that this is a guy whose teachings inspired deep devotion from his disciples and whose teachings became the basis of a major religion. He isn't just a guy on the street. He had to have been something special, but you can't tell from the libretto of Mary Magdalene or from the music written for Yeshua.

As for the footnotes, nobody thinks they're a matter of vanity and everybody thinks it's fine to do a lot of research. But in the end, all the scholarly apparatus - the direct quotations and allusions to the gnostic and canonical gospels - just isn't what makes a good libretto. Footnoting your libretto as heavily as Mark did this one - well, it looks defensive. It looks as though you are worried about what people might say about your libretto. And if the libretto isn't eloquent and able to stand on its own, no amount of scholarly scaffolding will make it a good libretto.

I'll put it another way: the footnotes serve to emphasis the gap between the libretto's ambitions and its actual success. The many direct quotations from and paraphrases of older texts make the reader wonder why Mark didn't just make up his own text completely from scratch.

As for the music....well, over at A Beast in a Jungle, John Marcher is a whole lot more impressed than I was. If this opera had really great Big Tunes, I wouldn't mind, but I don't believe any of the melodies rises above the mediocre. None of them approach the greatness of Kern, Porter, Gershwin, Lesser, Sondheim or their great contemporaries. I would like to get the recurrent "Nazarene/Magdalene" line out of my head. And, uh, "I Don't Know How to Love Him," whose lyrics might as well have come from this show, has a more memorable tune than anything in Mary Magdalene.

* NB: I started working on this posting more than two weeks ago. It is pure coincidence that Patrick used the same post title.

** Unless your name is Richard Wagner, who gets mighty deep into the philosophy during Act II of Tristan. He gets away with this because of the unearthly beauty of the music.

Piccola Morte Sings Music of Lassus

A new chamber chorus, Piccola Morte, launches in high gear this Friday, July 12, with a performance of works by Lassus. You've undoubtedly heard some or all of these performers:

Christopher Kula, director
Tonia D'Amelio, soprano
Danielle Reutter-Harrah, mezzo-soprano
Brian Thorsett and Eric Tuan, tenors
Nik Nackley, baritone

And you can hear a sample from rehearsal here. Lassus is about my favorite composer of vocal music from that period, and you can hear why.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
114 Montecito Ave
Oakland, CA

Friday, July 12
8 p.m.
Suggested donation: $5-20

Partial repeat performance:

Noontime Concerts
Tuesday, July 23rd, 12:30 p.m. 
Old St. Mary's Cathedral, 660 California St., San Francisco.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Let Me Count the Dopes Update

A couple of years back, I wrote up a bunch of politicians who'd been caught with their pants more or less down. Apparently, voters are more forgiving than you might think:

  • Mark "Appalachian Trail" Sanford just made it into the House of Representatives, representing South Carolina, after winning a special election.
  • Anthony "Tweeter" Weiner is running for Mayor of New York City.
  • Eliot Spitzer want to run for Comptroller of NY State.
We'll see what happens with Weiner and Spitzer, eh? But I am shaking my head. How do these guys have any credibility at all?

Saturday, July 06, 2013


A few months back, I wrote about the importance of having legal documentation in case of emergency or death, including a will, medical and financial powers of attorney, and so on. I mentioned the web site Get Your Shit Together, which is set up to make it easy for you to start (and finish!) this process.

In the last six months or so, two men I knew died suddenly and unexpected of heart attacks. Both were in their mid-40s. I know very well that there is risk involved with driving a car or crossing the street. Your family and friends won't be happy if you die suddenly or are severely injured, but you can make life a little easier for them by having your paperwork in place.

There's an area I didn't discuss in my previous posting: your various internet accounts and content you own that's on the internet. Accounts might include bank accounts, merchant accounts (Amazon, MDT), other financial institutions (stockbroker, 401(k) provider), social networking sites, blogs, etc.

There are two things to think about:

1. Making all of the account names and passwords available to whoever would be handling your affairs if you died or were incapacitated.

2. Making clear what you want to happen to all of the intellectual property, photos, and so on. If I want the content of this blog to survive me, I have to spell that out in my will so that my executor has an obligation to make sure that happens. I believe that Google removes inactive blogs after some time period, so my intention is to have the content downloaded and printed in bound volumes, then donated to some appropriate archive, which I will have to figure out. Also, I may purchase 100 years of web hosting so that the content can be uploaded and live on in blog format.

Dear Pixar: Ever Heard of the Bechdel Test?

We went to Monsters University tonight, and while it's undoubtedly a beautifully-made animated film that looks fantastic, has fabulous voice acting, and has a great Randy Newman score (shades of Elgar and Brahms!), I came out of it wanting to bang my head against the wall.

It's 2013, and Pixar is still making movies where the plot is out of the 1940s or 1950s. For all the technology that goes into the filmmaking, here we've got a film that's equal parts frat boy movie, buddy movie, and underdog-wins movie. Pretty much everyone is a stereotype of some kind: the nerdy underdog, the big dumb lug, the nearsighted librarian, the chubby, unpopular guys, the droning professor. I mean, don't y'all have any imagination? A stereotype with five eyes and three legs is still a stereotype.

And there's only one leading female character to stand up to six or seven leading male characters, plus there are several subsidiary female characters. The female characters never exchange a word.

Even monsters can't be individuated enough and can't break out of stereotypes enough to get a few female characters front and center. Pixar, you should be ashamed of the stereotyping and your guy-centric plots.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

So Do They All

To the last SFO Cosi fan tutte of the season last night, and boy, was it dispiriting, almost top to bottom. If this is the best a big company such as SFO can offer in Mozart, Houston, we have a problem.

To take the most egregious problem first, Nicola Luisotti does not understand what Mozart conducting requires: a bubbling sense of forward motion; a pulse that fits the harmonic tempo; snappy rhythms and accents. He doesn't understand Mozart's phrasing, either, or if he does, he didn't communicate it to the singers. The overall result was a sluggish and enervated performance that barely came to musical life and only in the second act.

The second most egregious problem was terrible direction from Jose Maria Condemi. What to say? The personenregie was awful; singers didn't characterize very much and their physical timing was poor. Condemi deployed the cast too symmetrically too much of the time and moved them around clumsily. The singers looked clueless and out of touch with the plot.

Maybe that's because, as a writer I respect pointed out, they were all debuting in their respective roles, including Luisotti, who has had rather limited experience with Mozart. And they were a mixed bunch, with Susannah Biller (Despina) and Phillipe Sly (Guglielmo) standing head and shoulders above the others. Biller pretty much stole the show with a winning combination of charm and insolence, and also good singing. She gets the Mozart line. Sly did too, mostly, and he has a gorgeous voice, the best on stage. He was a pleasure to listen to and should be back in the future as Figaro, the Count, Don Giovanni, or Leporello. Yeah, he could give a good account of any of those roles.

Marco Vinco (Don Alfonso) has one of those voices with no core, so while he was obviously singing melodies, he sounds weirdly pitchless and approximate. This was his second appearance at SFO, too. He cuts a good figure and seems to have some acting ability, but with that voice, he should not be hired back. Francesco Demuro was pretty good as Ferrando, delivering a fine account of "Un aura amorosa" with a melting second verse, certainly better than his subpar Duke of Mantua last year. Still, my Ferrando of choice was unavailable for this performance, being otherwise occupied at the War Memorial just now.

Ellie Dehn (Fiodiligi) and Christel Lotzsch (Dorabella) were both second-rate. Lotzsch sounds squeezed at times; Dehn has a pretty voice and evidently can trill but her phrasing was choppy and full of awkward breaths. This is Dehn's third appearance here in a leading Mozart role, and I just don't get it. The world is full of better Mozart singers, some of them very fine indeed. For that matter, there are plenty of better Mozart conductors than Luisotti; it would be nice to get Cornelius Meister back, considering that the Abduction performance I heard him lead a few years ago was one of the two or three best-conducted Mozart operas I've ever had the pleasure of hearing.

The previous staging of this production also left something to be desired in how the women's part were cast. We had Flicka, as always a wonderful stage presence but audibly past her fabulous prime; Alexandra Deshorties, singing Fiordiligi but sounding more like a Dorabella, and the mostly forgettable Claudia Mahnke as Dorabella. I saw it in June (after an unfortunate incident in September - don't ask) and got Nathan Gunn instead of Hanno Mueller-Brachman, along with Paul Groves and Richard Stillwell. I remember this first bring-up as being much more solidly directed. I don't remember Anne Manson's conducting at all.

So, an unfortunate night at the opera. It's tremendously sad that a lot of people undoubtedly left the house last night thinking that Cosi is not a very good opera, when in fact it is a great opera. And an opera house like San Francisco should be doing much, much better, all around, by Mozart's operas.

Google Reader, RIP

Yesterday was the last day of Google Reader, which was my go-to RSS reader for most of the last decade. It was willing to fetch some new feeds last night after midnight, and I still have Reader open in one browser, so it's not quite dead, but will be the next time I close the browser or reboot or, very likely, click the Refresh button.

I was not happy when the social features were removed a couple of years back, because I discovered some good blogs by reading friends' shared items. I was even more unhappy when its demise was announced a few months ago.

And what do you know? The two replacements I've looked at have a serious and predictable lack: Feedly's Android app does not have a Mark as unread function, and neither does the Digg RSS reader in the browser. Feedly & Digg, what were you thinking? Your software engineers very likely use an RSS reader, and you cannot have missed this feature on Google Reader.

And while you're at it, give me a way to alphabetize my feed list.

Monday, July 01, 2013

What to Wear When Conducting

A couple of points, regardless of your sex/gender.
  • If you're wearing black, but the top and bottom are not from a set, for heaven's sake, make sure the blacks match.
  • In no event should the audience be able to tell anything about your under garments because of the fit of your outer garments.

KA Kills

Screen shot of Cirque web site

Zachary Woolfe and I have both had a few things to say about Cirque du Soleil's show KA, directed by none other than Robert Lepage, whose design prefigures that of Lepage's Metropolitan Opera Ring.

Now the KA set and rigging have taken the life of a Cirque acrobat. The show is at least temporarily closed down. Let's hope nothing like this happens on the rotating planks of the Ring set.