Monday, June 30, 2014

Corporations Do Not Have Religious Beliefs

Have you ever seen one in a synagogue or church?

Also, do I get to withhold the portion of my taxes funding wars?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Walking Out (Again)

So, yeah, it was undoubtedly a mistake not to swap my Show Boat ticket for a performances either earlier or later in the run, because lots of shows, and especially musicals, would look weak after the incredible SFS Peter Grimes.

But I honestly think I would not have liked it much in any event: the schtick seems prehistoric, sort of like watching Barber of Seville, where it seems as though every staging has schtick that's been around since 1816. Show Boat isn't that old, but this staging makes it feel that old. It is....just painful, in various ways.

Two of the comic characters talk, all the time, as though they have sandpaper in their throats. Apparently this is supposed to be funny. A third sounds like Kristen Chenowenth, or maybe I mean Jean Hagen's character in Singin' in the Rain - you know, the one whose voice and pronunciation are so bad that she can't possibly be in a talking picture?

I did not care much for the songs, which are....okay, but not much better than that, though it was nice to hear Old Man River in its intended context. The book and lyrics are not much better, and of course you can see the major plot points coming a mile away whether you've read the synopsis or not.

Lastly, the whole damn show is amplified. I understand why, but I don't have to like it:
  • So the dialog can be heard
  • To bring the non-operatic voices up to approximately the volume of the operatic voices
All of the principals wear body mikes. They are always on for dialog; they are on for the smaller voices when they are singing. The big-voiced singers (Morris Robinson, Heidi Stober, Patricia Racette, and maybe others) sound amplified when they're singing because of ambience microphones, which are used to help balance out the quality of sound.

Considering that part of the reason for doing a show like this in an opera house is that Broadway houses don't use full orchestras and don't use singers who can, you know, sing, maybe SFO should only be hiring singers with operatic voices when it does musicals.

As far as I can tell, pretty much everybody reviewing this show loved it, so you may take me as the token grump, since I couldn't even get it together to enjoy this show as a period piece.

As Good As It Gets

Peter Grimes at San Francisco Symphony: a splendid performance, with great singing  and conducting, outstanding direction, and a flawless performance from Stuart Skelton in title role. I'll try to write more later, but I am still feeling a little stunned. As Patrick said to me on the way out of the hall, "I've seen it before, and I've heard it on record, but this feels like the first time. Now I really know what it's about."

Some tickets are still available for tomorrow's 2 p.m. performance, at the SFS web site and at Goldstar. You'll have to wade through a party of 350,000 of your closest friends to get to Davies, but it's worth it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

My Wild and Crazy Company

Open a new Google spreadsheet.
Type p in cell A1, r in B1, i in C1, d in D1 and e in E1. Hit enter.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Julius Rudel

Conductor Julius Rudel, who was, for decades, music director and executive director of NYCO, died today in Manhattan, age 93. He said earlier this year that he never dreamed he'd outlive the opera company (sigh). He had a huge impact on the company and its repertory, believing it should offer new, American, and less-well-known operas in addition to repertory staples. Staging Giulio Cesare decades ago for Beverly Sills helped make her a star and was a big part of the Handel revival over the last few decades.

RIP and thanks for all you did for opera.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lower Prices for Peter Grimes at SF Symphony

If you're hesitating about going to see Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes at San Francisco Symphony, perhaps this special price offer will get you off the fence, or perhaps the preview page at SFS. Stuart Skelton and Elza van den Heever, the stars of the show, also got excellent reviews in Grimes at ENO earlier this year.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Safe Rolling & Falling Class in Berkeley

I still have some openings in my safe rolling and falling class, which starts next month. Details:

Start date: Saturday, July 12, 2014, runs ten classes
Time: 1:00 - 2:30 p.m. OR 1:30 - 3 p.m. (I am not sure which slot is open at Studio 12; 90 minute classes, in any event)
Location: Studio 12, Sawtooth Building, Berkeley, CA, on Eighth Street near Dwight Way
Cost: $200 + AJJF membership ($35 for age 16-64, $10 for age 65+). No one turned away for lack of funds.

Class size is limited to ten students. I'll be teaching several of the rolls and falls from Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu, and there will be plenty of time to practice them. 

Please do let others know about this class. If you'd like to enroll, let me know in comments or email.

Friday, June 20, 2014

More on the Klinghoffer HD Broadcast Decision

 Links to some relevant articles and a few thoughts of my own about the opera. More to come, no doubt.
I think there is a case to be made against the libretto, but it's not one I have seen before: if you want to present the Israel/Palestinian conflict in an even-handed way, which is what I believe Adams and Goodman have said they were trying to do, having Israel represented by an American Jew and Palestine represented by terrorists misrepresents both sides. An American Jew isn't an Israeli and isn't Israel; Palestinians deserve better representation than the minority of terrorists. Consider an alternative plotline unrelated to the Achille Laura hijacking: a Palestinian family that lost its land after fleeing in 1948, an Israeli family that lost its home in the Holocaust or after fleeing Iran. And there's an obvious bad side in murdering an old man who has no power in the conflict. I haven't seen or heard the opera and have no opinion as to whether it is anti-Semitic. I will say that the portrayal of Henry Kissinger in Nixon made me squirm, though.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Met Cancels Klinghoffer HD Broadcast

From the Met:
New York, NY (June 17, 2014)After an outpouring of concern that its plans to transmit John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer might be used to fan global anti-Semitism, the Metropolitan Opera announced the decision today to cancel its Live in HD transmission, scheduled for November 15, 2014. The opera, which premiered in 1991, is about the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship and the murder of one of its Jewish passengers, Leon Klinghoffer, at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.
“I’m convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic,” said the Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb. “But I’ve also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.” The final decision was made after a series of discussions between Mr. Gelb and Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, representing the wishes of the Klinghoffer daughters.
In the interests of transparency, the Met ought to release some evidence of the "outpouring of concern," because right now it looks like the ADL and the Klinghoffer daughters have done this single-handedly.

From John Adams:
My opera accords great dignity to the memory of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, and it roundly condemns his brutal murder. It acknowledges the dreams and the grievances of not only the Israeli but also the Palestinian people, and in no form condones or promotes violence, terrorism or anti-Semitism. The cancellation of the international telecast is a deeply regrettable decision and goes far beyond issues of 'artistic freedom,' and ends in promoting the same kind of intolerance that the opera’s detractors claim to be preventing.

If You Are a Facebook User... might want to read this ProPublica article about their various lies about how they use and intend to use the Like button....and also this Gizmodo article about how to opt out of cross-internet tracking.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ticket Fees

You've Cott Mail, Thomas Cott's invaluable daily arts news & opinion roundup, links today to news stories about a blood pressure-raising subject close to my heart: ticket fees, hidden and not, necessary and not. Take a look!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

RIP (January - June, 2014)

A number of deaths that I missed:

  • Claudio Abbado, revered conductor. I  never saw Abbado live and have only a couple of his recordings, so no personal connection here, but he was tireless and much-loved across the musical spectrum, because he was a passionate champion of new music as well as old.
  • Gerd Albrecht, controversial conductor
  • Rafael Frubeck de Burgos, beloved conductor. Missed my chance to see him this season in SF, his first appearance here in decades.
  • Lee Hyla, adored composer. He was a figure at Brandeis for a while when I was a student there - I remember seeing him in Slosberg Music Center - and it's my loss that I didn't get to know him then. NEC remembers him, as does his student, composer Liz White.
  • Elodie Lauten, composer. Also read Kyle Gann's tribute to her.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Joshua Kosman tells you all about why I have started to skip most revivals of warhorses, in a review of San Francisco Opera's La Traviata. This revival was planned for Sonya Yoncheva, who withdrew from this and the fall Boheme production on account of pregnancy, and might have been better with her, but Luisotti's erratic conducting was not predictable, whereas Saimir Pirgu's weak showing as Alfredo was entirely predictable based on his poor appearance in I Capuletti.

P. S. Pirgu is singing the Shepherd in King Roger at the ROH next season, a role taken brilliantly by William Burden at Santa Fe in 2012. Too bad; the ROH could have hired Burden or any number of better singers for the part.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Among the living and dead men, there's a single woman whose work will be featured at Ojai next year (2015, that is):
 The 69th Festival programming will feature works by John Luther Adams, Béla Bartók, Pierre Boulez, Edgard Varèse, and Iannis Xenakis, as well as by emerging composers, including Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Roland Auzet, and Lei Liang. Additional programming will be announced in the fall.*
Yes, my tongue is a bit, just a bit, in cheek, although I am always happy to see Boulez and Xanakis programmed. I count a few songs by Ruth Crawford Seeger and a work by Maria Schneider as the only works composed by women performed at Ojai in the last five years.

* This is from a press release that isn't on the Ojai web site's press section yet.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Compare & Contrast 26

The English National Opera has a new staging of Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini, by Terry Gilliam. Mark Berry and Jessica Duchen went to opening night:

This production opened several days after I left town, or you bet I would have been there too.

Friday, June 06, 2014

He is moving like a tremendous machine!

Before you settle in to watch the Belmont tomorrow (may all the horses come home home safely), you need to see the 1973 Belmont, possibly the greatest race run by any horse, anywhere.  (The only  competition would be Dr. Fager's record-breaking mile and Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral.)

Ron Turcotte later said that Secretariat wasn't running as fast as he could have. One can only imagine, given that his Belmont and world record time for the mile-and-a-half is still standing after 41 years.

Obligatory musical note about tomorrow: one of the horses entered is named Tonalist, whose odds are currently 8-1. You could bet on him. Maybe he has a sibling named Atonalist?

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Not Dead Yet

So I am back, and at this point more or less recovered from the killer jet lag. I think I was awake for 22 hours coming home, which is better than the 32 hours of being awake on the way to London.

Blogging to resume today or tomorrow, most likely. I have a nice queue of blog postings to write. I have gotten some of my photos up on Flickr, but I warn you, there are around 900. I will post all of them, then create a best-of set for those of you who don't need to see 125 photos of Battle Abbey and the field where the Battle of Hastings was fought on October 14, 1066, for example.

Compare & Contrast 25

[Pushing this up top to another another link.]

I have deep respect for Finn Pollard, of Where's Runnicles, and for Mark Berry, of Boulezian. They're both thoughtful, passionate, and intelligent reviewers whose comments illuminate whatever performance they're discussing. So it's with great interest and curiosity that I link to their very different conclusions about Claus Guth's recent production of Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Royal Opera. Capriccio takes yet a third position on the work and performance.
  • Finn Pollard. "Guth's more significant, and problematic decision, is the dramatic framing. We open and close on the Empress in a hospital bed, and the clear implication is that everything else that happens in the entire opera is a figment of her imagination. The whole story is an extended dream sequence. Now, I don't say that there isn't material in text and context which can justify this approach. This is not a production, broadly speaking, where you feel constant violence is being done to the text (though there is more than I was altogether happy about). But I came away with significant objections to it. It was never sufficiently clear to me why the Empress was in this institution. 
  • Mark Berry. "To begin with, she – and we – are somewhat unclear concerning the boundaries of reality and dream. Is Freud being channelled or satirised? Unclear, and all the better for it, which renders the very ending, in which it appears ‘all to have been a dream’ something of a disappointment. That said, much of what we see in between is riveting. With the best will in the world, some of Hofmannsthal’s symbolism upon symbolism –The Magic Flute really is best left alone – can seem unnecessary; it certainly seemed – and seems – to do so to Strauss. Yet the poet’s idea of transformation gains a fair hearing, or rather viewing, and there is a proper sense of the mythological, even the fantastical, to the dreamed world we enter, never more so than at the spectacular close to the second act, Olaf Winter’s lighting crucial here, and the craggy opening of the third."
  • Capriccio has a comparatively low opinion of the work and feels this production doesn't work: Claus Guth struggles to make any sort of statement with the piece, obfuscating the already limping dramatic frame with a jejune hospital sequence opening, and, incredibly, a final scene where the Empress wakes up and "it was all a dream". The Empress writhes with night terrors in the opening scene and seems to be in extreme psychological anguish, though we're not sure why. Then her nurse cooks up this fantastical story for her (in the dream? as a bed time story? as a therapist?), and continues to pull all the strings throughout the opera in the guise of a cartoonily gothic, rocky horror demon. There's lots of playing with doubles and mirror images as the Empress empathises with the Dyer's Wife (or rather the Dyer's wife is a projection of her own insecurities), after the bed ridden descent to the earth, which confirms that the opera in this production is in fact all a delusion of the Empress. Guth runs out of interpretive ideas and the concept becomes more tenuous and ever less probing as the story churns on into Act II, several decisive plot points lacking any obvious motivation or on stage stimulus (e.g. the Emperor deciding he has to kill his wife, the total changes of character in the Dyer's wife, the reason for the nurse's punishment). This can be chalked up to "dream logic" but it feels lazy and doesn't make for satisfying viewing since we don't know what The Empress is so cut up about in Act I and what all these Freudian images are a reflection of in the waking world.
The kind of reviews that make me wish I'd seen the production, indeed.