Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hvorostovsky Withdraws from Met Trovatore Performances

From the Met:
Dmitri Hvorostovsky has withdrawn from his upcoming performances of Verdi’s Il Trovatore—February 3, 6, 9, and 13 matinee—due to his ongoing treatment for a brain tumor.

Juan Jesús Rodríguez will sing di Luna in these performances, making his Met debut. The Spanish baritone has sung the role at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo; Teatro di San Carlo in Naples; Palacio de la Ópera in La Coruña, Spain; and the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. This season, he also sings the title roles in Verdi’s Rigoletto at Madrid’s Teatro Real, Nabucco at the Las Palmas Opera, and Rodrigue in Verdi’s Don Carlos at the Palacio Euskalduna in Bilbao.

The February performances of Il Trovatore are conducted by Marco Armiliato and also star Angela Meade as Leonora, Dolora Zajick as Azucena, Marcello Giordani as Manrico, and Kwangchul Youn as Ferrando.

Monday, December 21, 2015

At the Met

The Met is staging Georges Bizet's The Pearl Fishers (Les Pecheurs des Perles) for the first time in approximately a century. The cast includes Diana Damrau, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien, and Nicolas Teste.

That's a hell of a strong cast, and quite frankly, it is wasted on Pearl Fishers. I should know; I've seen it, and it is a work best presented as a ten-minute good-parts version, along with Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet and a few other works of that ilk.

Really, when a work drops from your company's repertory for a century, it's a good idea to think about why. It might be a forgotten or neglected masterpiece, or maybe it's just not very good. It's the latter where Pearl Fishers is concerned. It has one good aria, for Leila, one good tenor aria, and one beautiful and famous duet, a typical male-bonding duet.

The opera also has huge cultural-exoticism issues; here's a review of the first bring-up of the production at ENO that discusses this.

So, here's the Met, with a fine group of singers and conductor Gianandrea Noseda. What could they have staged instead?

Well, those four would make a good group in any number of mid-19th century works, but I would have sprung for King Roger, considering that just now Mariusz Kwiecien owns the title role. Polenzani showed more charisma in Tales of Hoffman in SF a few years back than I would have expected and he has a glorious voice, certainly better than that of Saimir Pirgu, who sang the Shepherd in London recently. Damrau might be able to manage Roxana, and there must be something for Teste to do.

Oh, well. Repertory choices, wish I were making them for the Met.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Event of the Year That I Will Be Missing

Matthias Goerne singing Winterreise in March, 2016, at the soon-to-open Taube Atrium Theater in the Wilsey Center for Opera, because at $125/seat, the price is more than I pay for my opera tickets.

There are surely good reasons for the sky-high pricing, such as the tiny theater (they'll sell 897 tickets to this over three performances), the fees to Goerne and his pianist, and whatever William Kentridge, the artist who designed the production, is being paid.

However, looking at my receipt, I paid under $60 to see Goerne and Leif Ove Andsnes give a stunning recital of Shostakovich and Mahler in 2012. I'm afraid that $125 is beyond my mental willingness to pay for a one-hour Lieder recital, even though there is no singer I'd rather hear in this than Goerne.

London Friday Photo

Princelet St., Spitalfields
London, May, 2014

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Glimmerglass Opera 2016

Glimmerglass, almost first out of the gate, announced their summer 2016 season a while back. Here's what is planned for the main stage:

  • La Boheme, with Michael Brandenburg, Raquel Gonzalez, and Dale Travis
  • Sweeney Todd, with Greer Grimsley, Luretta Bybee, Patricia Schuman, and Peter Volpe
  • The Crucible, with Jamie Barton, Jay Hunter Morris, Brian Mulligan, and David Pittsinger
  • The Thieving Magpie (La Gazza Ladra), with Rachele Gilmore, Michele Angelini, Musa Ngqungwana, and Dale Travis
I've been curious about the Pulitzer-winning Crucible, by Robert Ward, for a long time, and that is one hell of a cast.

There's other fun in store, including a master class with Christine Goerke, an evening with Jay Hunter Morris, a recital by Jamie Barton, and a talk by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Monday, December 14, 2015

That Was Fast.

Words to warm the heart of any concert presenter, found at the sfSoundBox site:

I received the concert announcement at 11:29 a.m. and bought a pair of tickets immediately. Good thing I did. If you didn't grab a ticket or two, keep an eye out for returns.

A Change of Voice

From the Met:
Andrey Nemzer will sing the role of Orlofsky in this evening’s performance of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Die Fledermaus, replacing Susan Graham, who is ill.
A winner of the 2012 National Council Auditions, Nemzer made his Met debut in 2013 as the Guardian in Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten. His other recent performances have included Don Alfonso and Il Sole in Cavalli’s Veremonda at the Spoleto Festival; Agnes the Digger in Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox at Opera San Antonio; and two Mozart roles, Ramiro in La Finta Giardiniera and Monostatos in Die Zauberflöte, with Opera Theatre of Pittsburgh.
 Tonight’s performance of Die Fledermaus, conducted by Met Music Director James Levine, also stars Susanna Phillips as Rosalinde, Lucy Crowe as Adele, Toby Spence as Eisenstein, Dimitri Pittas as Alfred, Paulo Szot as Dr. Falke, Alan Opie as Frank, and Christopher Fitzgerald as Frosch.
Some people are going to complain that Orlofsky has to be a mezzo, and I would have to say that while the role works best with a mezzo, I wouldn't pass up a chance to hear Andrey Nemzer in anything. (Okay, Aida, that wouldn't be so good.) He has an amazing voice, which I've heard only in Frau, where the Guardian of the Threshold of the Temple (to give the character his or her full name) is on stage for about five minutes in Act III.

Matthew Shilvock Appointed General Director of San Francisco Opera (Belated Commentary)

Matthew Shilvock
SFO/Scott Wall

Back in September, San Francisco Opera made the announcement that everyone who cares about the company had been waiting for: Matthew Shilvock, currently Associate General Director of SFO, will become General Director when David Gockley retires at the end of the season.

During the press conference at which this announcement was made, Steven Menzies, head of the search committee, went into some detail about the selection process. The committee made a list of some 70 potential candidates, consulted with numerous experts and people in opera, and winnowed the list down to around 20 plausible candidates, then did more winnowing. They wound up with 3 to 5 finalists, if I'm remembering this correctly. (I have notes from the press conference, but they are at home and I am not. And I'm not in a good position right now to watch the video of the press conference.) The finalists were then asked to make presentations discussing repertory, future plans of other sorts, and so on. Then the final selection was made.

There's no question about Shilvock's qualifications for the post. He has a master's degree in public administration, specializing in nonprofit administration; he worked at Houston Grand Opera from 2003 to 2005 and has been with San Francisco Opera since 2005, in a series of increasingly responsible roles. Putting it another way, he has had 12 years of working with David Gockley, who has had a sterling record in managing the business, labor, and other operations at both Houston and San Francisco. And at SFO, Shilvock has been in charge of crucial areas, including labor negotiations and media.

I'm confident that Shilvock will continue Gockley's superb financial and management record. He was extremely poised during the press conference, and he has worked successfully in a couple of the most potentially volatile areas for an opera company manager. 

I am less confident about matters of repertory. It's no secret that Gockley's programming has been more conservative, with more repetitions of a few standards, than many of us would like, including David Gockley. Here's what I wrote after the December, 2012 press conference announcing the 2013-14 season:
During his introductory remarks, Gockley was explicit about this: that the need to keep the company on a decent financial footing has been paramount during the ongoing recession. His priority has been to keep quality high while sacrificing repertory. He said that he is leaving repertory holes, and he knows it, that he hopes will be filled by his white knight successor. During the chit chat after the press conference, I told him that this had pre-emptively answered my planned question about whether we'd be seeing From the House of the Dead and Die Frau ohne Schatten, because....both are very expensive to stage and risky as far as ticket sales go.
At this point, the recession is essentially over in the Bay Area, where the economy is white-hot and unemployment is under 4%. (Not that many people aren't suffering, between long-term unemployment and the difficulty of finding a place to live.) And this year, the company has put on two very expensive productions, Les Troyens and Die Meistersinger.

During the press conference, which you can view on the SFO web site,  several of us tried to pin Shilvock down on his plans. I led off, with a very specific question that I had thought out with both hands:
The Royal Opera commissioned The Minotaur from Harrison Birtwistle, and the opera was popular enough that they were able to sell out two runs. Do you have plans to present this or any other opera by Birtwistle?
Okay, nobody is going to commit to such a thing during a press conference unless the journalist has somehow managed to read the GD's mind. So I did not get anything like a yes or a no. Joshua Kosman followed up with a different repertory question. Some time later, William from the Opera Warhorses blog also asked a rep question.

What we got in response was a lot of very polite bobbing and weaving, with no specifics, though there was some mention of Rameau (Shilvock's undergraduate speciality). I also understand that he has said that we are due for a Parsifal production, which is certainly true, but I can't recall whether this was at the press conference or on another occasion. We've now seen a bit about what is planned for the Wilsey Center's 299-seat theater.

A bit later in the press conference, I asked about concert and semi-staged opera, which is the most economical way for a company to put on large-scale, but risky, works, and where San Francisco Symphony has show just how well this can be done. (For example, the rehearsal period for last year's magnificent Peter Grimes was about 10 days, versus three weeks or more for a fully-staged production.) Shilvock didn't duck this one, but said that the expectations for the company are that it puts on fully-staged opera, and it might not meet expectations to present opera in concert.

Now, I am all about repertory. As much as I'd like to see Sonya Yoncheva in La Traviata, I would prefer to see almost anyone in an opera I've never seen before, whether staged, semi-staged, or strictly in concert. I realize that this puts me in a minority, but how many more performances of Butterfly, Rigoletto, Traviata, Boheme, Tosca, etc., etc. does the world need? SFO has some responsibility to persuade its audience of the value of the entire repertory, not just the opera warhorses, as it were.

And I'm just not very happy with some of what Shilvock said in his AP interview in September:
"We want people's first experience in the opera house to be resonant and to be exciting and to be to some degree comfortable, so that they will come back," Shilvock said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "So I think we have to treat the 'Traviatas' and 'Bohemes' very sensitively." 
 Unlike their European counterparts, U.S. companies have very little government assistance, which factors into decisions on operas and directors. 
[paragraph deleted] 
"Our patrons are also our investors, and because many of our core subscribers are also our most generous philanthropists, we need to make sure that our programming jibes with their expectations, what they'd like to see onstage," Shilvock said. "That doesn't mean that we have to be conservative. Many of them have very adventurous tastes and interests, but I think it does mean that we have to be careful about what happens on our stage."
We'll have to wait a year or two for Shilvock's programming interests to come to the fore, because Gockley was asked by the board to do at least some of the programming for the next couple of seasons (and that was necessary, given how far out you have to go to sign singers, directors, etc. and start designing new productions). I'm certainly hoping that Shilvock will be the repertory white knight that Gockley was hoping for in 2012. He's inheriting a company on a sound financial footing, with an endowment that David Gockley has done a superb job of building. Let's see what he can do with that.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


In William Grimes's obituary for composer John Eaton:
“Opera has always been the place where composers have tried out the newest ideas,” he told Capital New York (now part of Politico) in 2010. “Composers today are writing lollipops for the audience.”

Information that Should Be Easy to Find

Here's a post guaranteed to get two thumbs up from Drew McManus: if you're a nonprofit organization - and how many US orchestras and opera company aren't? - your web site should include an easy-to-find list of all officers and trustees of your organization.

That's not particularly difficult to do, either, so I am rolling my eyes over the fact that I'm having to contact press offices to get my hands on a list of the trustees. Officers, easy to find; trustees, buried or not listed. Transparency, people, transparency!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Weilerstein and Barnaton Cancel February Concert

Alisa Weilerstein and Inon Barnatan
Courtesy Stanford Live

From Stanford Live comes a press release:

The cellist Alisa Weilerstein has canceled her upcoming Stanford Live recital with pianist Inon Barnatan on February 6 at Bing Concert Hall. The duo had planned to perform works by Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff and a new composition from Joseph Hallman.  No rescheduled date has been announced. 
Ms. Weilerstein, a 2011 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” winner, has been forced to curtail her travel schedule due to personal circumstances. Because she will be in the final stages of her pregnancy, it has been deemed unwise that she make an overseas flight and so it is with deep regret that she must postpone her visit to Stanford. 
All current ticket holders will be given the option to use their credit for a future performance in the 2015–16 Stanford Live season or to request a refund. For more information, contact the Bing Concert Hall Ticket Office at 650-724-2464 (BING) or visit


Tower of London
May, 2014

Media round-up for SF Opera's double bill of Gordon Getty's Usher House and Robert Orledge's completion of Debussy's La chute de la maison Usher.
  • Joshua Kosman, Chron. He has some intriguing remarks on the Debussy, but summarizes the production as "two misconceived creations side by side on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House in a dreary, dispiriting presentation." See further remarks below.
  • Georgia Rowe, Mercury News. "Unspeakably dull." Of Getty, "Set to a meandering, repetitive score, it's musically bland and dramatically inert."
  • Jeff Dunn, SFCV. Focuses less on the music than I would have expected.
  • Opera Tattler. "The Fail of the House of Usher." "Kitch rules."
  • Ilana Walder-Biesanz, Bachtrack. "Gripping."
  • James Ambroff-Tahan, SF Examiner. There's almost no evaluation of the music in this review.
  • Stephen Smoliar. Surprisingly positive, but I wish there were more about the music.
A few comments about Joshua Kosman's last paragraph, which addresses an issue that I am sure most of us have wondered about: the influence of Gordon Getty's support for the arts in getting his works performed. For example, decades ago, SF Symphony gave the first, concert, performances of Getty's Falstaff opera Plump Jack.

Here is Joshua's extremely judicious last paragraph:
Getty’s history as a benefactor for the Bay Area’s musical scene is long and exemplary; it’s no exaggeration to say that nothing in our musical life would be remotely the same without his attentive and munificent generosity. But not even well-merited gratitude can justify General Director David Gockley’s decision to put the company’s imprimatur on this sorry double bill.
I'll be the first to say that I wouldn't mind a peek at Getty's will, where there might be large bequests to any number of Bay Area musical organizations. Artistically, Joshua is surely right if the work is as bad as he says. (I have not seen it yet, but given the reviews I have read and friends' opinions, I bet I will agree with him.)

But it's also worth comparing the financial cost of putting on the double bill with the cost of, let's say, Mary Magdalene. That work was commissioned by SFO, meaning that the company bore the full cost of development: the commissioning fee to Mark Adamo, which must have been in the hundreds of thousands; the cost of the production and staging (sets, director fee, etc.); the fees paid to a large cast that included four leads, and the chorus, etc.

The Usher House production came from the Welsh National Opera, so I assume a rental fee and shipping costs were involved (plus any costs that might be associated with adapting the sets to the SFO stage, if the two houses are very different);

MY BAD. It's a co-production of SFO and (the other) WNO.

The assistant directors directed the revival staging; the cast is smaller and less expensive than the Mary Magdalene cost, and the production runs for only four performances.

I realize that taking a flyer on a commission and staging a work that is a known quantity involve very, very different degrees of risk to a company. But staging the Usher House double bill might have been a good financial decision by SFO in all kinds of ways, regardless of the reputational risks.

London Friday Photo

Wilks St., Spitalfields, London
May, 2014

A very friendly cat who looks a lot like my own cat, Cricket.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Philharmo, no, Avery Fi, no, David Geffen Renovations

Arrived in the email, a press release from Lincoln Center about the architecture and design firms that have been chosen to renovate that concert hall where the New York Philharmonic performs. I am going to put the whole thing after the cut, after noting a few things.
  • I am not surprised by the corporate-PR blather in the press release, but I wish they'd been a little more earnest and up front about the goals. How about this?
    • We'll fix the acoustics.
    • We'll improve the audience amenities and comfort.
    • We'll make it more useful for the NYPO for rehearsing and performing.
    • We'll make it more accessible and usable for community events.
  • I hope they get the acoustics right.
  • The press release cites the involvement of Heatherwick Studios in designing the "master plan for Google's new campus in Silicon Valley." It does not mention that the City of Mountain View summarily refused to grant the development rights for the master plan. (I do have to admit, apparently the city council liked the design, but didn't want to grant rights to develop 2 million s.f. to Google. Instead, LinkedIn got more than a million s.f. of dev. rights and Google got around a half-million. I note for the record: I work for Google but I don't speak for the company in any way, shape, or form.)

Antonacci Cancels Recital Tour

If you have a ticket to Anna Caterina Antonacci's recital, scheduled for May 6, 2016, you now have a ticket to see the US recital debut of Italian soprano Rosa Feola. She replaced Antonacci, who has canceled her entire spring, 2016 US recital tour, citing family reasons. This would have been Antonacci's local recital debut.

Feola's program is:

MARTUCCI: Ciclo Op. 84 Tre pezzi     
LISZT: Tre Sonetti del Petrarca
TOSTI: Sogno; Non t’amo piu’; A vucchella                             
VERDI: Ad una stella; Stornello; Deh pietoso, oh addolorata; La zingara
DONIZETTI: A Mezzanotte; Eterno amore e fe; Ne ornera' la bruna chioma
ROSSINI: L'invito (Bolero); La promessa; La fioraia fiorentina

From the press release:
SFP Founder and President Ruth Felt noted, “While we are extremely disappointed with the cancellation of Anna Caterina Antonacci’s highly anticipated debut, we are thrilled to be able to introduce this talented young soprano to Bay Area audiences. To have Rosa Feola graciously step in to perform a wonderful Italian program on the date originally announced for Ms. Antonacci is a remarkable treat for our vocal series audiences. I look forward to sharing this exciting new talent.”
And also:
San Francisco Performances is contacting all ticket holders of the change of artist. SFP subscribers and single ticket holders for the May 6, 7:30pm, 2016 recital should use their tickets on the same date and time for Rosa Feola’s recital. For more information ticket holders can email, or call (415) 677-0325. 

Ojai Music Festival 2016

As I'd previously discussed, Peter Sellars will be music director of next year's Ojai Music Festival. He is the first MD since I have been posting about Ojai to pay any significant attention to composers who are women.

Here's the planned schedule for the festival (after the cut), which will take place from June 9 to 12:

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Women's Self-Defense Class, January, 2016

I'm planning a self-defense class for next month, in my beautiful location in El Cerrito!

When: Most likely 4 Sunday afternoons, 2 to 5 p.m., starting January 3 or 10.

Where: Mind-Body Dojo, 7512 Fairmount Ave, El Cerrito, CA. This is just a few blocks east of El Cerrito Plaza BART, and convenient to 80/580 (Central Avenue exit)

Cost: $150/student, open to all regardless of ability to pay

Who: All women age 16 and up. We are LGBTQ-welcoming. No athletic or martial arts experience necessary; techniques adaptable to suit your needs.

What. The curriculum includes:
  • The foundations of self-protection: Alertness, awareness, & avoidance
  • Use of the voice; use of common objects as weapons
  • Basic strikes: hammer blow, heel of hand, elbow blows
  • Basic kicks: front, side, rear
  • Escapes from common attacks: chokes, bear hugs, hair pulls
  • Defending yourself on the ground or against a wall
  • How to deal with an attacker who has a weapon
  • Securing your home
  • Staying safe on the street, in your car, home, or workplace
How to enroll: email me (, post here, or phone me at 510-842-NAGE (6243).

What else: Forward this information to women you know!

Questions? Ask in the comments.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The Cast Update in the Seraglio

An addition to the cast for the Met's upcoming performances of Die Entführung aus dem Serail:
American tenor Brenton Ryan will make his Met debut as Pedrillo in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail this spring. Ryan will sing all five performances of the opera, which opens on April 22 and continues on April 27, 30, May 3, and May 7 matinee.

Monday, December 07, 2015


Over the summer of 2015, after the last opera performance of the 2014-15 season, San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet started replacing the seats in the War Memorial Opera House.

Unless you sit in the balcony, you may not have noticed! On the other hand, you may have noticed the small ticket price increase - $1 or $2 per ticket - that is paying for the new seats.

For my second performance of Die Meistersinger, I got a seat in the Balcony, row K, because for the first performance, I was in Orchestra, Row M. That's an orchestra-friendly location, where the SFO orchestra sounds like the greatest orchestra in the world, on purely sonic terms. But singers tend to be somewhat covered there, hence my choice of a balcony seat, since the Balcony is on the singer-friendly side.

Well, the orchestra still sounded damn good up there, and I still had a little trouble hearing the singers as well as I would have liked. So I think that Mark Elder could have dialed the orchestral volume back by 15% with no harm done.

But, to get to the point, the new seats are fantastic. They are wide enough for my sizable backside; the lumbar support is superb; they are high enough off the ground. Nothing is going to fix the complete lack of leg room in the Balcony, but I can't wait for the seat upgrades elsewhere in the house, because after sitting for....a very long back and other body parts felt fine.

Civic Center and San Francisco Opera

I just completed a survey from San Francisco Opera that arrived via the following email:
Dear Ms. Hirsch, 
San Francisco Opera is committed to creating the best patron experience possible. Many opera patrons have told us it is a challenge getting to the War Memorial Opera House. We hope we can make a difference. 
Please help us develop new transportation programs by taking this brief 2-minute survey. 
We value your feedback and encourage you to complete the survey before it closes on Wednesday, December 16. Your responses will be kept strictly confidential and will not be linked to you personally in any way. 
To thank you for your participation, all respondents who complete the survey will be entered to win one of five pairs of tickets to an opera of their choice in summer 2016.We are grateful for your help and support! 
Sincerely,San Francisco Opera
I opened the survey - I'm willing to play - and the questions started off by asking subscriber/single-ticket buyer, then went on to how the patron gets to the opera, then the kicker: how safe do you feel in Civic Center? And questions about whether you'd take a shuttle from Civic Center BART/MUNI or a shuttle from the East Bay.

Well, okay. So this survey isn't really about transportation. It's really about the failure of San Francisco's city government to provide adequate housing and mental health care to homeless people living in the Civic Center area, and about the failure of BART to keep its station in decent condition, free of stink and with the escalators all working.
The State of Utah has had great success in reducing actually housing homeless people and offering them supportive services. San Francisco could do this. The disappearances of single room occupancy buildings, the disastrous turning-out of the mentally ill from hospitals without housing or group homes or support services, and the continuing shortage of housing for low-income people have all been major factors in the increase of people living on the street. 
I'm sorry to say that the survey doesn't address this head-on, by, say, providing contact information so that people like me can write to individuals at San Francisco City Hall and BART to demand decent housing and services for homeless people. This country has the money to do this, and it's a matter of human decency to take better care of the homeless.

Amazons Come to San Francisco

Ars Minerva, the opera company that put on this year's wonderful La Cleopatra, has announced its next production:

Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate (The Amazons on the Fortunate Island)
Music by Carlo Pallavicino 
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piccioli (1679 - Teatro Contarini delle Vergini - Venezia)

May 21 and 22, 2016
Marines' Memorial Theater
609 Sutter St. at Mason
San Francisco, CA

This should be a lot of fun! And undoubtedly the music will be great.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Mystery Work

A friend of mine is trying to identify a work that used to be played from time to time on a now-defunct Tacoma-area classical music station. Here's what he knows and doesn't know about it:
  • The station called it "The Bells."
  • It is an orchestral work
  • Bells are prominently featured.
  • It is not Rachmaninoff's The Bells.
  • It's not a variant of the Carol of the Bells.
  • It's not August Read Thomas's Prayer Bells.
  • It is a brighter-sounding piece than the Thomas.
  • It's not Leroy Anderson's Song of the Bells.
  • It doesn't seem to be one of the works on the IMSLP page of works featuring bells.
  • It was probably written in the last 100 years.
Any thoughts on what this might be?

UPDATE: It turned out to be an orchestral version a band arrangement of a Byrd harpsichord piece,  The Bells.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Just a Bit Batty

Say the Met press office:
Mireille Asselin will sing the role of Adele in this evening’s season premiere performance of Johann Strauss, Jr.’sDie Fledermaus, replacing Lucy Crowe, who is ill.

London Friday Photo

Spitalfields Market
London, May, 2014

Monday, November 30, 2015

San Francisco Opera Cast Change Annoucements: Summer, 2016

And the run of withdrawals and cancellations continues at the War Memorial Opera House!

There are no changes to Jenufa.

For Carmen, Nadine Sierra has withdrawn from her scheduled engagement as Micaela. Ellie Dehn replaces her in the opening night cast. In the alternate cast, Maxim Aksenov replaces Riccardo Massi as Don Jose. Massi and Sierra are both withdrawing for personal reasons.

Further, resident conductor Jordi Bernacer replaces Carlo Montanaro for the final Carmen performance.

For Don Carlo, Krassimira Stoyanova has withdrawn, owing to ongoing health concerns that prevent her from traveling long distances. (And that is a bummer.) Ana Maria Martinez replaces her as Elisbetta di Valois. And I must admit, Martinez is a very classy replacement.

Ferruccio Furlanetto will replace Rene Pape as Filippo II in the very last performance of Don Carlo, owing to a scheduling conflict on Pape's part. As I said about Martinez....

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Triifonov to Join NYPO Board of Directors?

The question mark shouldn't be in my post title, of course. The NY Philharmonic announced the other day that the young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, who was recently featured in a series of Rachmaninov concerts, is joining the organization's Board of Directors. My choice of punctuation reflects the look on my face when I think about the appointment.

What, exactly, does Trifonov have to offer the NYPO and its board that it doesn't already have? Well, the board already includes three famous performers, all older than Trifonov: pianist Yefim Bronfman and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell.

Here's what the press release says:
“Daniil Trifonov will be an outstanding addition to the New York Philharmonic Board of Directors,” said Chairman Oscar S. Schafer. “He is a brilliant pianist who, since his debut in 2012, has thrilled our audiences and established a strong rapport with our musicians that critics and audiences have noticed. His insights as a young musician who travels the world will bring an immensely valuable perspective to the Board at a time of growth and expansion for the Orchestra.”
I won't dispute that he's an outstanding young pianist; he has strong technique and has engagements all over the world, both as a recitalist and orchestral player. But think about what the NYPO chairman thinks: he'll have valuable perspective as a young musician who travels the world.

I am stymied. Trifonov certainly will be traveling the world: his upcoming engagements are in Stockholm, Munich, Vienna, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Rome, Cologne, Barcelona, London, and Los Angeles, with multiple concerts in some of those cities, not always on consecutive days.

Those are the locations for his concerts from December 8 to the end of February. He has from 1 to 10 days between cities, usually 2 or 3, meaning he gets to town, rehearses or tries out the piano, performs, and leaves in a fairly short time frame.

So what is it that the NYPO Board imagines he will do for them? Do they imagine, with his concert schedule, that he will even be able to attend most board meetings? I suppose he can Skype in, but that doesn't exactly get you in touch with the pulse of what's going on in NYC.

Here are some reasons people are invited to join arts organization boards:
  • They're wealthy donors and they'd like to participate in organizational decision making.
  • They know rich people and they're good at using their rainmaking skills to bring large donations to the organization.
  • They're civic-minded and they've got business or arts experience that is useful to the organization in practical ways. (Remember my comment that Ruth Felt would be getting lots of board invitations because of her success at running SF Performances for 36 years?)
  • They're famous people who are genuine fans of the organization or the art that the organization promulgates. (Note the presence of Alec Baldwin on the NYPO Board, and, of course, Bronfman and Perlman.)
  • Take a look at this document, from the Association of California Orchestras.
I can't imagine that Trifonov is going to somehow become part of the NYPO branding. That should consist of the following:

New York Philharmonic, est. 1842
American's Oldest Professional Orchestra
Alan Gilbert, Music Director
Esa-Pekka Salonen, Composer in Residence

Or see the graphic at the top of this post!

A friend suggested, on Twitter, than Trifonov would have insight into young people and what they want. I dispute this. People who grow up to win international piano competitions have usually spent most of their lives from a young age practicing, as in, playing the piano 4 to 8 hours a day. They have to do schoolwork, but their social lives are usually impaired by all that practing. Trifonov went to a conservatory and spent his college years practicing and preparing for competitions. 

Really, he's not in any way representative of young people. He's had a very unusual life. What can the NYPO get from him that they can't get by talking to a few hundred New York area young people? Or surveying a few thousand NY area young people?

Updated and slightly reworded on November 30 to include Joshua Bell.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Alice at 150

Time for some Irving Fine in honor of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

"The Lobster Quadrille"

"Lullaby of the Duchess"

"Father William"

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

West Edge Opera 2016 Festival

Hoo boy, great news from West Edge Opera about their 2016 summer festival. They'll be performing three operas, all in the old Oakland Wood St. train station, which was a wonderfully atmospheric location for this past summer's magnificent Lulu:

  • Handel, Agrippina
  • Adès, Powder Her Face
  • Janáček, The Cunning Little Vixen
Wow. Exact casting and dates to be announced later, and don't forget the 2016 Opera Medium Rare operas (Paisiello's Barber of Seville and Leoncavallo's La Bohème).

Friday, November 20, 2015

London Friday Photo

London Fruit & Wool Exchange
May, 2014
Now demolished or soon to be demolished as a result of redevelopment on Brushfield St.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Madama Butterfly Cast Change Announcement

Worrying news from the Met: owing to illness, Massimo Giordani has withdrawn from upcoming performances of Madama Butterfly that are scheduled for February 19 - March 5. This is an old production, and it's hard to believe that he'd have to show up before February 1, more than two months out. Wishing the tenor the best.

Roberto De Blasio and Gwyn Hughes Jones will sing those performances; De Blasio was already scheduled for some performances, as is Roberto Alagna.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

UPDATED:No, I Do Not Grant You Permission or a License to Use My Image.

Sign at Davies, November 13, 2015

UPDATE: The SFS communications department saw my tweet and sent me email about the sign. It turns out that the signs were posted in error. They are old signs from when Keeping Score was being recorded and filmed and audience members would have in the TV broadcasts and DVDs. The Friday program was being recorded for CD release in the upcoming Schumann series. The signs should have been a different set that just warned the audience about the CD recording. The signs we saw last week will be retired. 

I should have been less outraged, I own it! And I'm glad I never showed the sign to Mike (Godwin's Law) Godwin, whom I've known for many years.


I'm absolutely certain that San Francisco Symphony's lawyers wrote or approved this particular sign, which I saw in a couple of locations before this evening's concert. That approval doesn't make it a good idea. Let me count the ways.
  1. It's just plain rude to spring this on patrons with no warning.
  2. It's especially rude to do when you've already taken their money.
  3. That's because you're making a material change to the conditions under which the patrons are attending. You give people a choice between losing their money and compromising, if they object to granting blanket permission by simply stepping into the auditorium.
  4. There's this thing called a "photo release." Journalists, photographers, and lawyers know all about them. It's better to get releases than to pull this crap.
  5. Some people don't want their photos circulating for good reasons; for example, they've been the victim of a stalker or an abusive ex. SFS shouldn't do anything to put these people in danger, such as photographing them and using those photos in publicity materials.
  6. On the other hand, SFS could do what SFO has: put up a selfie corner and invite patrons to voluntarily send along their photos to SFS, individually or in groups.
I am going to forward the photo above to a lawyer friend - and write an irate letter to patron services, marketing, and Brent Assinck. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Allons Enfants de la Patrie

San Francisco City Hall
November 13, 2015

And Parterre Box reports that the Metropolitan Opera will play La Marseilliase before today's Tosca performance.

Friday, November 13, 2015

London Friday Photo

The Gun Tavern, Spitalfields
May, 2014
Demolished or soon to be demolished as a result of redevelopment on Brushfield St.
The owners identified themselves as the last Jewish publicans in the East End. Spitalfields has historically been a neighborhood of immigrants: French Huguenots in the 17th century, Jewish immigrants from all over Europe in the 19th century, South Asians more recently. With rising housing prices in the East End, this will no longer be the case.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Thomas Adès and Gloria Cheng, pianists, performed the following concert at the newly-renovated Herbst Theater a couple of weeks ago:

GYÖRGY LIGETI: Sonatina (1950), for piano four-hands
NANCARROW, arr. ADÈS: Studies No. 6 & 7
ADÈS: Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face for Two Pianos
MESSIAEN: Visions de l’Amen

The program was not quite in the order above; they played the Ligeti between the two Nancarrow studies and the Concert Paraphrase. 

The Nancarrow study arrangements, by Adès himself, made these works, written for player piano, playable by mere humans. They really do need four virtuoso hands to play, and my recollection is that these are not remotely the most impossible of the studies for flesh and blood and bone, either. 

The studies are both charming and astonishing, and the two pianists brought them off with flair. The Ligeti might have been my favorite work on the program; the three movements are brief and characterful, and not very much like the composer's spiky works from later in his career.

I'm hoping to see Powder Her FaceAdès's notorious first opera, one of these days, but the fact is that the Concert Paraphrase is too damn long and meandering and too damn hard to follow unless you know the opera already. Hell, for all I know, you can't follow it even if you do know the opera!

Adès played the solo piano version of the piece on his first San Francisco Performances program in 2010; I was more impressed with it then. Oh, well - it's also possible that I was more awake.

Sigh; Friday night concerts. Even with a 7:30 start time, I was not at my most alert, and I think I dozed through about 1/3 of the Messiaen. Yeah, I know, I know, that stuff can be loud and some of it certainly was. 

That said, I decided to skip reading the movement titles and just listen to the music, and boy, that resulted in a few surprises. It is just more brutal at times than you would expect based on Messiaen's habit of incorporating fantastic birdsong and Catholic mysticism in his music. 

As for the playing, Cheng is really marvelous, with a great touch and great range. This time around I found Adès on the heavy-handed and unsubtle side, sometimes overpowering Cheng even when he was on the piano that was at half-stick rather than the piano with the lid removed entirely. Joshua Kosman noted in a Tweet that he had reservations about Adès's pianism in that 2010 recital. Well, he was right. (And here I must note that "postmodernist scrimshaw" is sheer genius, the kind of phrase that makes other reviewers jealous.)

Hmm, I see from Joshua's review that the Concert Paraphrase was 18 minutes long in 2015. I think it was 25 minutes this year.  Tom, you may have heard that brevity is soul of wit, and it applies in this case.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

End of an Era: Ruth Felt to Retire

Ruth Felt
Photo courtesy of SF Performances

Huge news just now from San Francisco Performances: a press release saying that Ruth Felt, who founded and has led the organization for an astonishing 36 years, will retire in the fall of 2016.

That's an amazing run for anyone in the arts. Starting a presenting organization is hard; keeping it going through thick and thin is harder. Think about the last few years, for example: the recession and its effects; the addition of new venues while Herbst was being renovated; the decline of the subscription model.

Felt has championed young and up-and-coming artists, including the Pavel Haas Quartet, Jonathan Biss, and many others. SFP presents the valuable Alexander Quartet surveys and famed performers such as Marc-Andre Hamelin, Anna Caterina Antonacci, and Anonymous 4. They've presented new music and old, all fearlessly.

The press release has lots of quotations from performers and others, and notes that the organization is in excellent financial condition, and that programming is largely planned for the next two seasons, as has been their practice. A search committee has been formed to find a new director of SFP.

Also, there will be a gala (and fund-raiser) in honor of Ruth Felt on September 30, 2016. I plan to be there.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Rover, Shotgun Players

Dan Saski (Don Pedro), Caitlyn Louchard (Hellena), Jeremy Kahn (Willmore), foreground
Photo: Pak Han

We started subscribing to Shotgun Players after their fabulous production of Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia. It's a huge undertaking for any company, and Shotgun did a fantastic job with it in every way.

So here I am to tell you all to go see their current production, Aphra Behn's The Rover. This Restoration comedy is cleverly staged - there is almost no set, but you can still tell exactly where the actors are for every scene. Almost everyone is dressed in some combination of white, red, and black, so every scene makes a striking picture.

And the acting! Really, everyone is terrific, although I will say that the various accents and degrees of comfort with 17th c. English were sometimes a little confusing. Lauren Spencer's beautiful delivery seemed a head above everyone else's; she had the best grasp of the flow of the language and I looked forward greatly to her every appearance, every word.

Jeremy Kahn was hilarious, and rubber-bodied, and adorable, as Willmore, the rover himself; I loved Caitlyn Louchard's sharp and sexy Hellena, Willmore's gypsy, who eventually...well, go see for yourself.

The show has been extended through November 21; tickets are a very reasonable $5-30 (depending on date, your age, student/senior status, etc.), and there are no bad seats at the tiny Ashby Stage.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

International Orange Chorale

Another fine upcoming concert from IOC. The concerts are free; donations gratefully accepted.

From their press release:

All Souls Episcopal Parish, 2220 Cedar Street, Berkeley
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2015, 7:30 P.M.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2015, 7:30 P.M.

The concert features the world premiere of “Missa Brevis” by the eminent Swedish composer Fredrik Sixten, as well as sacred works by Jeremy Faust, Edvard Grieg, Georg Grün, Herbert Howells, Joshua Stoddard, Jon Washburn, and IOCSF’s inaugural Composer-in-Residence Nicholas Weininger. Several selections will feature our guest artist, baritone soloist Krassen Karagiozov, a resident principal artist at Opera San Jose. IOCSF’s fall program is headlined by Fredrik Sixten’s epic “Missa Brevis,” the most ambitious commissioned work the choir has yet undertaken. Sixten sets the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei texts in Latin interspersed with excerpts from the Psalms in English. His shimmering, brilliantly tonal yet dramatically adventurous music conveys the full range of deep emotions expressed in the Mass texts, from anguish to exaltation and from terror to serenity. Accompanying the Missa Brevis on the program is a selection of sacred settings illustrating the variety of styles and approaches that continue to make this ancient musical genre new. Jeremy Faust’s “Adam lay i-bowndyn” is a bright chorale on a Middle English paraphrase of Genesis 3, while Edvard Grieg’s “Fire Psalmer” (Four Psalms) set Swedish folk melodies in a sensitive Romantic style. “Veni,” by the Austrian composer Georg Grün, uses driving polyrhythms to convey the urgency of the sentiment “Veni creator spiritus” (Come, Holy Spirit). Two different translations of the German hymn “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” are featured: Jon Washburn takes the traditional “Lo, how a Rose” translation and hymn tune and creates a serenely flowing, languidly extended 5/4 variation on the theme, while Herbert Howells sets the alternate “A spotless Rose” version as a richly textured yet simple 20th century anthem. Josh Stoddard, a tenor in IOCSF, contributes his spare and thoughtful setting of Psalm 23, highlighting that text’s contrast of unease and assurance. The Grieg and Howells will feature baritone solos from guest artist Krassen Karagiozov. This season also marks the beginning of IOCSF’s annual Composer-in-Residence program. The 2015-2016 Composer-in-Residence is Nicholas Weininger, who has sung with IOCSF since 2007 and who has had several previous works premiered by IOCSF. For this season Weininger has composed “De profundis (A Song of Ascents)”, setting selected verses from Psalm 130 in English, Latin, and Hebrew, and combining the intricate counterpoint of a Renaissance motet with a modern cadential and tone-painting sensibility. “IOCSF is honored and delighted to premiere Fredrik Sixten’s extraordinary work,” said Zane Fiala, Artistic Director of IOCSF. “Having performed several of Sixten’s pieces before, we jumped at the chance to commission him for this season and could not be more pleased with the result. His Missa Brevis exemplifies the best of modern sacred music.”

Friday, October 30, 2015

I am Opening a Betting Pool on Barber of Seville.

We are unhappy too.

That's because San Francisco Opera has just sent out a press release about Fall of the House of Usher: Richard Croft is out of both operas, replaced by Jason Bridges, as Edgar Allan Poe, in Gordon Getty's Usher House and Joel Sorensen, as the Doctor, in Debussy's La Chute de la Maison Usher. Croft has withdrawn for personal reasons.

So, who's next? Rene Barbara, Daniela Mack, Alessandro Corbelli, or Lucas Meachem? And can we sequester the casts of Jenufa and Don Carlo?


Over the summer, I saw Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen, Tristan und Isolde, Flying Dutchman, and Lohengrin. Tomorrow is the Met HD broadcast of Tannhauser. Next month, SF Opera's Meistersinger.

Something is missing!

Operabase to the rescue:

No North American performances this season - too bad! The Bueno Aires run is too soon and airfares to Argentina are high.

However, Norwegian Airlines has flights from Oakland to Stockholm for under $300 one way, and the cast there includes Swedes Katarina Dalayman and Peter Mattei. Supertitles in Swedish!

SFS: Program Change, Dutoit

Don't look so glum, Hector; we're still playing your music.

Okay, this is a head-scratcher: San Francisco Symphony had announced that Charles Dutoit would conduct the mighty Berlioz Grande Messe des Mortes (aka Requiem), Paul Groves, tenor soloist, for three performances, on March 17, 18, and 19, 2016. An announcement from SFS conveys the news that this program is postponed until May, 2017, and replaced with the following:

Berlioz: Waverly Overture
Berlioz: Harold in Italy (Italie! Italie!), Jonathan Vinocour, viola solo
Haydn: Symphony No. 104, London

What on earth could have prompted this? Not enough chorus rehearsal time? (Doubtful.) Dutoit doesn't have enough study time? (Doubtful, as he has already recorded the score.) Groves doesn't have enough study time? (Doubtful.)

Scratching my head and squinting at the monitor, I am. Also banging my head against the wall, because this was among the SFS programs I was most looking forward to in a somewhat cheerless season.

London Friday Photo

Sign of the times.
Menu seen in a pub window, Spitalfields.
May, 2014

Thursday, October 29, 2015

West Edge Opera's 2016 Opera Medium Rare Series

West Edge Opera hits the jackpot once again with its two-opera Opera Medium Rare series, staging The Barber of Seville and La Boheme.

Wait, you say those are not exactly rare? They're not the Barber and Boheme that you expect. Instead, it's their Doppelgangers:

Paisiello’s Barber of Seville
Sunday, February 7, 3 pm
Lisser Theater at Mills College
Tuesday, February 98 pm
Freight and Salvage 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley
Sara Duchovnay, soprano
Jonathan Smucker, tenor
Nikolas Nackley, baritone
Carl King, bass 
Jonathan Khuner, conductor

Leoncavallo's La bohème
Sunday, March 20, 3 pm 
Lisser Theater at Mills College
Tuesday, March 22, 8 pm
Freight and Salvage 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley
Carrie Hennessey, soprano
Buffy Baggott, mezzo-soprano
Alex Boyer, tenor
Anders Froehlich, baritone
Ryan Bradford, bass

Jonathan Khuner, conductor

Lisser Theater, a 250-seat proscenium theater, is on the Mills College campus in Oakland and Freight and Salvage is at 2020 Addison Street in downtown Berkeley’s arts district. Tickets are $22 for general seating with a $20 senior discount price. Premium seats are $40.00. Tickets for all performances are available online at Lisser Theater tickets can be purchased by phone on the West Edge Ticketline, 510-841-1903, and Freight and Salvage tickets by phone are purchased by calling 510-644-2020 extension120. For more information, go to West Edge Opera’s website at

(If they do a second round of these, let me get in line to suggest Manon Lescaut by Daniel Auber and Turandot by Ferrucio Busoni.)