Friday, June 12, 2015

David Littlejohn

I heard last week that journalist, arts writer, and professor David Littlejohn had died at 78, following what I gather to have been some years of declining health. None of the major papers has done an obit yet, including the Wall St. Journal, for which he'd written opera reviews and other articles for some years, but the Berkeley J-School has a fine obituary on their web site.

Twenty years ago, when I was in the process of turning into a crazy opera person, I picked up a used copy of his book, The Ultimate Art, which collects essays he wrote as program notes for San Francisco Opera. I've read it a couple of times and go back to the essays for inspiration from time to time. He was a great writer with a fine appreciation of the specifics of opera and of what makes it such a great art form. I even quoted him once, in a review of Don Giovanni, which he'd called "the impossible opera."

I was lucky enough to eventually meet him; a mutual friend who knew I admired The Ultimate Art and his reviews introduced us one night at the opera house. I knew this was planned and brought along my copy of the book for him to sign. I also asked him a question about his essay on Shakespeare operas: did he still feel that Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream was an inferior opera? No, he had gotten more familiar with the opera changed his mind about it. I was glad to hear that, because, well, it's one of my favorite operas and I'd seriously disagreed with his printed take on it.

I ran into him off and on over the several years since them, and chatted with him when I could. I heard him give a terrific lecture a couple of years back on Ring productions he'd seen and what he thought of him. (I disagreed with him on his evaluation of a couple; that's what makes horse races.) I've heard from a couple of friends about what a great teacher he was, and I wish I'd had the opportunity to take a class from him. I know I would have learned a lot from him.

I also know that SF Opera had a seat for him for Les Troyens, and I'm tremendously sorry that he didn't get to see the production. He would have had interesting things to say about it.

RIP, David Littlejohn. I'm so sorry we won't get to chat again.

UPDATE: I'm pleased to see that the Chron has published an obituary for Mr. Littlejohn.

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