Friday, July 31, 2015

Hector Berlioz Will Live Into the 24th Century

We know this because a few minutes into Star Trek: First Contact, Jean-Luc Picard, far from home, is listening to Ryland Davies sing "Vallon sonore."

h/t Steve Hicken for pointing this out to me.

London Friday Photo

Urban Gardening
London, May 2014

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vic Firth

Vic Firth, the legendary principal timpanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and also a legendary manufacturer of drumsticks of all kinds, died the other day. Here are the obits I have seen:
For once, I think Fox, who is usually a genius, put her emphasis in the wrong place, with more about Firth-the-entrepreneur and less about Firth-the-genius timpanist.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Somebody Caught This Before I Could Report It.

A correction posted at the NY Times, at the bottom of a fascinating story about the discovery of human remains at Jamestown, Virginia:
Correction: July 28, 2015 An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly, on second references, to Sir Ferdinando Wainman and Sir Thomas West. They are Sir Ferdinando and Sir Thomas, not Sir Wainman and Sir West.
I was surprised that "Sir Wainman" and "Sir West" got through. It is not common knowledge that certain British titles take the title holder's first name, not last, but I figured that the Times's copy-editors would know this. For example, Dame Gwyneth Jones is referred to as Dame Gwyneth, not Dame Jones.

Metropolitan Opera Cast Change: More Keenlyside Withdrawals

Received from the Met, and as worrisome as Simon Keenlyside's withdrawal from the NYPO premiere of Totentanz in the spring:

George Gagnidze and Željko Lučić will share the title role of Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Met this fall, replacing Simon Keenlyside, who is taking a necessary period of vocal rest for much of the year and temporarily removing the role of Rigoletto from his repertoire. Gagnidze will sing the first seven performances of the opera, while Lučić—already scheduled to sing the December performances of the run—will also sing Rigoletto on November 13, 16, and 19.

Because both baritones were also scheduled to sing Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca at the Met, that role will now be shared between four singers: the originally scheduled Lučić and Marco Vratogna, as well as Roberto Frontali and James Morris.

Casting By Date

Rigoletto:        George Gagnidze (Oct. 20, 23, 28, 31, Nov. 4, 7, 10)
                        Željko Lučić (Nov. 13, 16, 19, Dec. 2, 5, 8, 12mat, 17)

Scarpia:           Roberto Frontali (Oct. 16, 21)
                        Željko Lučić (Oct. 24mat, 29, Nov. 2, 6)
                        James Morris (Nov. 11, 14mat, 18, 21)
                        Marco Vratogna (Nov. 25, 28mat, Dec. 1)

Notice from Google

I found this message on my Blogger dashboard on the way to write a post about something completely different:
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Saturday, July 25, 2015

West Edge Opera Lulu: Close to a Sellout

If you haven't got a ticket yet for the West Edge Opera production of Alban Berg's Expressionist masterpiece Lulu, well, I hope you order one right now. For one thing, it is nearly sold out.

For another, it is sensational. WEO was kind enough to invite me to last week's piano dress rehearsal, and what I saw on stage was nothing short of dazzling.

They're staging the opera in the decayed Beaux Arts Wood Street train station in Oakland, abandoned after the 1989 earthquake and now a magnificent wreck.

The beautiful and charismatic Emma McNairy stars as Lulu herself, and sings and acts the hell out of an exceptionally long and difficult role. She sounds and looks great throughout, with the range, volume, and expressiveness a soprano needs for Lulu.

Philip Skinner is Dr. Schoen, and, again, he's great. I'm at the point where his name on the marquee is enough to get me to an opera performance.

Tenor Alex Boyer is a fine, fine Alwa, making his part sound like bel canto.

Buffy Baggott as Countess Geschwitz, bending McNairy over, and in an outfit that makes a nice visual pun and reference to another great version of this story.

Bojan Knezovic as a menacing Schigolch.

The direction, by Elkhanah Pulitzer, is as good as any opera staging I have seen. I liked Jonathan Khuner's lucid conducting, and have great praise and admiration for Andrew Dixon, the rehearsal pianist, who is also in the greatly reduced orchestra for Lulu

As usual, West Edge Opera, working with a tiny budget, has produced a spectacular success. At a time when major figures in the opera world are publicly disparaging seminal musical styles of the 20th c., it's a good thing that small companies such as WEO and Opera Parallele know how to find the audience for the great works written in those styles.

Special thanks to Mark Streshinsky for the invitation and permission to take photos. All photos above are by me. (and there are around 200 more where they came from).

I Hope Someone From San Francisco Opera is Listening.... the Bayreuth Tristan und Isolde. Stephen Gould, the tenor, is okay; paying attention to the words, a little pressed. Hmm, why, in that acoustic, is he oversinging?

But Evelyn Herlitzius, who is singing Isolde? OMG. There were personnel issues, with the rumored Eva-Maria Westbroek evidently withdrawing, and with.....whatever happened with Anja Kampe that led to her withdrawal.

But there has to be someone available right now who can sing Isolde better than this. The phrase "wobble you can drive through" floats through my head. Sliding into an awful lot of notes, basic tone attractive only at low volume levels.

And she's signed up for Brunnhilde in San Francisco in the next bring-up. Please, it's not too soon to replace her. Someone should be talking to Christine Goerke's agent right now.

New Esterhazy Quartet in Late Beethoven

A rare opportunity to hear the late Beethoven string quartets in close proximity to one another, played by the excellent New Esterhazy Quartet.

Lisa Weiss, violin
Kati Kyme, violin
Anthony Martin, viola
William Skeen, violoncello


Beethoven: The Late Quartets

The complete Late Quartets in three concerts:

Wednesday August 26, 2015, at 8 pm: Op. 127 & Op. 130
Friday August 28, 2015, at 8 pm: Op. 135 & Op. 132
Sunday August 30, 2015, at 4 pm: Op. 131 & Op. 133

All concerts at:

Hillside Club
2286 Cedar Street (between Spruce and Arch)
Berkeley, CA 94709

Tickets for each concert are $20 (with discounts for seniors, students, and Hillside Club members), and are sold only at the door.

For more information, please call Hillside Club at (510) 845-1350 or visit

Website of the New Esterházy Quartet:
Print quality photos of the quartet:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

99 Years and 76 Rings: Verna Parino, 1916-2015

Terri Stuart of the Wagner Society of Northern California writes to the membership:
Dear Wagner Society Members, 
It is with profound sadness that I must inform the Society that our greatly beloved member, Verna Parino, died peacefully on Monday July 20th. It is hard to think about the Wagner Society without many wonderful memories of Verna, who was one of the founding members of the Wagner Society of Northern California and served as its President for many years. Verna had also been a member of the predecessor organization Wagner International Institute.  
Verna's interest in opera had beginnings similar to that of many people who were first exposed to opera with Met Opera radio broadcasts. For Verna that happened in Minneapolis where she grew up and went to college. Interestingly enough, Verna went to Minneapolis to see two Minnesota Concert Opera productions of "Legend of the Ring" a revised 4 hour version of Der Ring des Nibelungen in 2013. Verna sat in the front of the orchestra seat and when the artists bowed at the end of the performance, her dear friend tenor Jay Hunter Morris blew her a kiss. 
Verna Parino was not just a Wagnerian, she was also a hard-working member of the Marin Chapter of the San Francisco Opera Guild for many years. She also served as the Director of Preview Lectures for the San Francisco Opera Guild Chapters. Verna scoured the globe and invited scholars to visit the many Guild Chapters to lecture about the San Francisco Opera's performances each year. Along the way she befriended many scholars, authors, artists and singers. Nothing invigorated Verna more than sharing her love of music, opera and Wagner with others. Verna was especially fond of the late Monte Pederson a terrific bass-baritone and the winner of the very first Wagner Society Grant recipient. Verna saw Pederson give a many Wagner performances and especially his riveting Wotan at La Scala and Seattle and other Opera Houses. 
In her lifetime Verna had seen 76 Ring Performances - the last of which was in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2015. Verna witnessed Rings on 4 continents - the most unusual of which was in a Ring in Shanghai. I know many members have wonderful Ring stories about Verna. The most striking characteristic of Verna, for me, was that she always had interesting and positive comments about productions, conducting, singing and Wagner scholarship. No matter how unusual a particular regie theater production may have been, Verna could always manage to find something positive to say.
Her family will soon provide us with information about a memorial service for Verna and the Society will keep you posted about information as it becomes available.
I'm sad that she's gone, but there is a life well lived, a life very much to be celebrated as much as mourned. Ave atque vale, Verna Parino.

Les Troyens: 3.5

Tickets and program

After some back and forth with myself, I took Wednesday, July 1, off work and went to the last Troyens performance. I also dragged a friend there, which involved offering her my ticket in the Dress Circle, buying one of two remaining seats in the orchestra, and getting my girlfriend on the phone with her to tell her that she had to go. 

At the end of the performance, she looked at me and said "Let's plan a trip to Vienna," which of course is where the McVicar production is headed next (as far as we know, because who knows which production Chicago is doing next fall). And also "I have a new favorite opera." My life's work might be done.

I also took my tickets to the next-to-last Figaro and swapped it for Troyens tickets for friends who didn't have the budget to see it. I mean, how could I not? Those signs outside the opera house saying "Once in a lifetime" might be right, given how expensive it is to stage. But I also think that this run proved that there is an audience for the opera, which is as it should be. As far as I can tell, from having looked at the ticketing page for each performance, it was pretty close to a sellout.

About that last performance: yes, Bryan Hymel did sing it, and yes, he was in great form, and so was everybody else. It was a breathtakingly great performance, with everyone giving their all, one of those performances everyone who attended will be remembering decades from now. 

I think having Hymel on stage was certainly part of it, given his star quality and magnificent singing, but also, it was the last performance of a great run, and it was an OperaVision night, with the cameras rolling. 

OperaVision exists partly to provide a closer view for the balcony audience, which is pretty damn far away from the stage, and also to capture video for possible TV or movie theater screenings. The company uses the system for three performances of each run. For Troyens, they filmed 1, 2, and 6. Presumably, they'd use primarily performances 1 and 6, because the second performance was one of those where Cassandre was sung by Michaela Martens. I saw that, and she was excellent, but Antonacci is one of the stars, so they'd use 1 or 6 for the Troy scenes with Cassandre, meaning....most of the two acts.

The company has been able to broadcast several operas each season on KQED for the last few years. Troyens has the disadvantage of taking up four hours of air time, and the advantage of being a great, great opera given a terrific run of performances. So we'll see if it turns up on TV. I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Am Just a Bit Ahead of John Marcher.

He hit a thousand posts this week, a major milestone.

Here's the post count for this blog:

The Price of a Concert Hall

Found in the NY Times obituary for Vera Stern, arts administrator, widow ex-wife of Isaac Stern, and one of those who saved Carnegie Hall back in 1960:
When Carnegie Hall was threatened with demolition, to make way for an office tower, Mr. Stern served as the public face of the campaign to save it, but his wife worked furiously behind the scenes, proselytizing and persuading. Eventually, the city agreed to buy the hall for $5 million and spend another $100,000 to improve it. In recognition of Mrs. Stern’s efforts, Box 44 was named for her.
Five million for one of the greatest concert halls in the world!

For comparison's sake, Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, which is most emphatically not one of the greatest, cost $28 million and was completed in 1980. Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is one of the greatest, as well as one of the most strikingly beautiful, cost $274 million, of which $110 million went to build the garage (or, putting it a bit differently, the hall's basement)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

For Sale

Remember the site that was auctioning off various props before the sale and demolition of San Francisco Opera's warehouse earlier this year?

At the moment - except that the auctions seem to have ended - they have a number of SFO productions on the block, for prices running up to $40,000. Only one of the old productions has sold, the lovely Michael Yeargan La Boheme last seen with Beczala and Gheorghiu a few years ago.

Also up for sale (or maybe not):
  • Yeargan's famous Di Chirico-inspired Rigoletto
  • Ponelle Cav & Pag from 1975
  • Die Fledermaus from 1990
  • Ponelle Gianni Schicchi, described as the remains of the production
  • Samson & Dalilah from 1980
  • Hockney's Magic Flute
  • Yeargan/Bosquet Merry Widow
  • Guillaume Tell, what's left of it
  • Susannah, from 2014
Various catches: you have to arrange for transportation. These productions can take up a lot of room and are presumably expensive to transport. Read the fine print, as the production probably doesn't include costumes; for example, borrowed costumes were used for Susannah and they're obviously not part of this sale. You may have to provide various parts needed to put the productions on stage ("rakes").

Not a catch: these productions are mostly rather expensive, not impulse-buy material.

I'm a little shocked that Susannah is up for sale so soon, considering that it is new new new, but the sale contract includes "free rental to SFO" for the next decade. I hope it'll be back.

I'm so sorry to see that Yeargan Rigoletto leave town. It was first seen in the 90s with Swenson and Gavanelli, and I have loved it every time I've seen it. We can expect a new production next time SFO performs the opera, I suppose.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Yes, I Am Planning a Trip to Chicago Next Fall.

Opera Magazine confirms a rumor I'd already heard: Les Troyens, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Fall, 2016, Brandon Jovanovich.

"Co-Production with San Francisco Opera"

A web search on the phrase "co-production with San Francisco Opera" turned up a couple of interesting items last week:
As I noted a while back, that Les Troyens was on its way to San Francisco was the worst-kept secret in the world....because it was a co-production with SFO that appeared in London and Milan before being seen here.

The Kind of Thing We're Trying to Avoid

Yes, I mean you, BBC Proms:

They're playing the Nielsen clarinet concerto and Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe," but you can't tell which suite, what Delius and Wood will be played, or who is conducting, unless, of course, you recognize the gent in the photo. I do, but that's not the point.

This kind of listing should include every work and performer without a viewer having to click through.

Kodaly Institute Concert, Holy Names University

Holy Names University in Oakland has an annual Kodaly study program, and this includes a concert that is open to the public. 

I can't find details on their web site, but here's what circulated on my neighborhood mailing list:

Judit Hartyányi, Conductor
Friday, July 30,  7:30 p.m.

McLean Chapel
Holy Names University
Please join us for the 42nd annual Kodály Summer Institute Choral Concert!

The Institute chorus and various smaller groups within the institute will
perform sacred and secular music from the Renaissance through the 20th
century by Weelkes, Willan, Tóth, Kodály and contemporary composers from
within the Institute.

This concert is free to the public. Donations are welcome at the door.

London Friday Photo

London Eye
May, 2014

Thursday, July 16, 2015

More Vickers

Around the web and media:

Cut Sheet

The recent SF Opera performances of Les Troyens lasted around 5 hours, including two intermissions totaling nearly an hour, so, four hours of music. The evening performances all started at 6 p.m. so that everybody could head out around 11 p.m.

Back in the 1960s, the company performed the work in three seasons.  Those performances started at 8 p.m., which is when typical three-hour opera performances generally started then. Let's assume that they ended around 11:30 and had two intermissions totaling 45 minutes, although I do not have timings for these performances. These assumptions imply an opera with less than three hours of music.

What could they have possibly cut? Well, I don't know for sure, but here is some speculation, after which I will ask.

  • Ballet music. I myself would start here, with the dances in Act III by the laborers, the farmers, and the builders. There's a ballet in Act IV someplace before "Nuit d'ivresse." 
  • But I hope they wouldn't cut the Royal Hunt & Storm, the best-known ten minutes of the opera, despite Berlioz's staging demands. Only the terrible Choudens score was available then, so I'm also curious about the placement of the Royal Hunt & Storm: at the beginning or end of Act IV?
  • You could cut a verse here and there from various arias and duets, perhaps from the Didon/Anna duet in Act III. You could cut a verse from "Nuit d'ivresse," but I hope not, and possibly shorten the extremely long introduction to the scene.
  • There is a little slack in the grand ceremonies of Act I; it might occur to some that you could remove the scene with Andromache and her son, who never sing a word. 
  • I've heard some of a heavily-cut French concert performance that made some startling cuts in Act I. Well, startling if you've only heard this work uncut, anyway.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

SFO Sweeney Todd Casting Update: Paternity Leave Edition

I was seriously looking forward to the return of Gerald Finley, not seen here in a decade since his debut as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Doctor Atomic, even though his return was as the title character in Sweeney Todd. Fate intervenes: he has withdrawn in order to be at home with his wife for the birth of their child in mid-September.

You may here assume that I have many thoughts I am not bothering to record about the timing of this announcement, after season sales are well under way, after the end of the summer season, and so on, considering that there are no secrets about how long a typical pregnancy lasts. It is entirely possible that Finley didn't withdraw until recently.

Brian Mulligan takes over the role, and I know that he will be excellent, but, well, I am still disappointed. I hope Finley is under contract for something in the near future. And I hope that the expectant parents have a boringly typical end of pregnancy and delivery, with happy and healthy mother and child at the end of it all.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Jon Vickers

Jon Vickers, Canadian heldentenor, has died at 88, "after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease," according to the announcement at the Royal Opera House web site.

Vickers was a famed Otello, Tristan, Grimes, Siegmund, and Enée, and sang an extremely wide and unusual repertory that extended as far back as Nerone in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea and included Laca in Jenufa at a time when Janacek was not seen that often outside central Europe. He was a singer of great concentration and intensity; thoughtful, analytical, and not at all interested in fame, just in his art.

I never saw Vickers live, though he sang until 1988 and certainly there must have been performances of his that I could have seen. On record, some of his vocal tics stand out in ways that make it hard for me to connect with his singing; I also don't know some of his great assumptions, such as Grimes.

But right now he's been very much in my thoughts, as one of the singers who was in the forefront of the revival of Les Troyens. Vickers sang Enée at the Covent Garden performances led by Rafael Kubelik and Colin Davis, which brought Troyens into the public eye and made clear that it's a masterpiece, after so many years of being regarded as a failure.

RIP, Jon Vickers.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Santa Fe Opera Cast Change, Rigoletto

Bet you could see this one coming:


Tenor Bruce Sledge will replace Bryan Hymel in all remaining
performances of Verdi’s Rigoletto as The Duke of Mantua

SANTA FE, NM – General Director Charles MacKay announced today that tenor Bruce Sledge, who had been previously announced as singing the role of The Duke of Mantua in the July performances of Verdi’s Rigoletto, will replace Bryan Hymel for all remaining performances of Rigoletto.
It was announced in early June that Mr. Hymel had withdrawn from the July performances of Rigoletto citing difficulty in committing to both performances of The Trojans at San Francisco Opera and rehearsals in Santa Fe. In a recent statement, Hymel said “Although I deeply regret having to withdraw from the production ofRigoletto at Santa Fe Opera, doctors have advised a period of rest to deal with the exhaustion caused from a heavy performance schedule this past season. I wish my colleagues all the best in their remaining performances.”
“We wish Bryan Hymel a fast recovery, but we know that the role of The Duke is in good hands with Bruce Sledge,” said Charles MacKay. “Bruce was praised by critics and audience members alike at the opening night performance on July 4, and we feel incredibly fortunate that this outstanding tenor is able to step into this role for the rest of the season.”
No stranger to Santa Fe Opera audiences, tenor Bruce Sledge made his Company debut as Count Almaviva opposite Ana María Martínez as Rosina in The Barber of Seville (2005). He returned to rave reviews as Paulo Erisso in Maometto II (2012) and was seen last season in the dual roles of Vladimir Vladimirescu and the Fisherman in the double bill of Mozart’s The Impresario and Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol. “Bruce Sledge sang with appealing lyricism as Vlada’s henpecked husband,” said Opera News of his 2014 performance, “then performed to glorious poetic effect as the Fisherman.” Of his opening night as The Duke of Mantua in Santa Fe Opera’s Rigoletto (2015), The New Mexican said that he brought both “vocal lightness and musical clarity to the role.”
Here is Hymel's performance schedule, as reported by; I'll say it's heavy, considering the number and variety of the roles and the travel involved. 

 Dec 15  La Damnation de FaustFaust frParis(Opera)C: Philippe Jordan; D: Hermanis 
 Oct 15-May 16  La bohemeRodolfo itNew York(Met)C: Carignani / D Ettinger; D: Zeffirelli 
 Oct-Nov 15  CarmenDon José frLondon(RO)C: Bertrand de Billy / Alexander Joel; D: Zambello 
 Sep 15  CarmenDon JoséWashington(WO)C: Rogister; D: Meeker 
 Jul-Aug 15  RigolettoIl Duca di Mantova itSanta FeC: Bignamini; D: Blakeley 
 Jun-Jul 15  Les troyensAeneas frSan Francisco(SFO)C: Runnicles; D: McVicar 
 Mar 15  La bohemeRodolfo itDallasC: Frizza; D: Peter Kazaras 
 Jan 15  Guillaume TellArnold frMünchen(SO)C: D Ettinger; D: Antú Romero Nunes / Johannes Hofmann 
 Dec 14-Jan 15  Anna BolenaLord Percy itChicago(Opera)C: Patrick Summers; D: Newbury 
 Oct 14  CarmenDon JoséNew OrleansC: Lyall; D: B Dalton 
 Sep 14-Jan 15  La bohemeRodolfo itNew York(Met)C: Frizza; D: Zeffirelli

Moving Around

The most interesting news I've gotten this week comes from Mr. CKDH at All is Yar, who started from personnel changes at the LAPO and casually dropped in a startling fact about the Met Orchestra.

First, the good news: the LAPO has a new principal flutist, Denis Bouriakov. Bouriakov is the orchestra's fifth principal flute in the last seven years, following the departures of Mathieu Dufour, David Buck, and Julien Beaudiment. I am sure that everyone is holding their breath and hoping that he sticks, given the comings and goings.

Next, the bad news: the orchestra has announced that Michele Zukovsky, principal clarinet and an orchestra member for more than fifty years, will be retiring. She's had a fantastic career and is one of the rocks of the LAPO. I've heard her play and she was great. Hale and farewell, Michele Zukovsky! You will be missed.

And now the startling fact about the Met Orchestra: They've had four principals depart in the last couple of years. Principal clarinet Anthony McGill now holds the same position at the NYPO; principal bass Timothy Cobb also moved across the plaza to the NYPO. Now both of its principal flutes have left, Bouriakov for the LAPO and the other, Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson, for the CSO, where he'll take the chair vacated by Mathieu Dufour, who has left for the Berlin Philharmonic.

Well, now: that the Met has serious financial problems isn't a secret, and it could be a sign of those problems that they're losing so many principals to other orchestras. It's bad news for them, in any event; that kind of churn in first chairs is not good.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Let the Speculation Begin.

Now that the 2014-15 season is over...

San Francisco Opera will have its 100th anniversary in a few years; this is even mentioned in the summer, 2015 programs. Certainly the company is going to plan a very special season to celebrate; see, for example, the wonderful centennial season of San Francisco Symphony. Here are some....possibilities:
  • The announcement of a campaign to replace or greatly improve the opera house, which has antiquated facilities, terrible storage and rehearsal space, etc.
  • A commission or two
  • Birtwistle. Need I say more?? Perhaps Gawain, perhaps The Minotaur, perhaps Henry Holland's fav, The Second Mrs. Kong, which sounds really weird.
  • Something spectacular. Could be:
    • A Ring revival, although it would be awfully close to the announced revival, which I believe is planned for 2017-18.
    • Die Frau ohne Schatten, not seen in SF since 1989; planned for the Rosenberg era but cut in favor of Ariadne owing to $$$ troubles
    • William Tell, considering that we've now heard a first-class tenor who can sing Arnold as the role is meant to be sung. 
    • Or if it's got to be something else by Rossini, Il viaggio a Reims, which has a cast of 14 principal singers
    • Or perhaps something by Meyerbeer, because see "tenor who can sing these roles"
    • Something from the Licht cycle
    • A revival of Les Troyens. Well, I can dream, but it does cost less than the Ring.
    • From the House of the Dead, promised long ago by Pamela Rosenberg
What would you like to see?

Here's what you would like to see; honestly, I like all of these ideas, so keep 'em coming:

  • Benvenuto Cellini (Rob Gordon)
  • Something by Henze, perhaps The Bassarids (Rob Gordon)
  • King Roger (Rob Gordon)
  • Rimsky-Korsakov fair-tale opera, perhaps Sadko, Tsar Sultan, Snegurochka, Kitezh (Rob Gordon)
  • Rimsky, Le Coq d'Or (JSC)
  • Ghosts of Versailles (JSC)
  • Schreker, Korngold operas not named Die Tote Stadt, Braunfels, Egk's Peer Gynt, Hindemith's Mathis der Maleror his three one-acters etc. (Henry Holland)

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Pandora's Gift Revived

I was lucky enough to see Mark Winges's wonderful Pandora's Gift when Volti and company performed it in May at Z Space in San Francisco. It is a gorgeous piece, very dramatic and beautiful, and wonderfully staged by Erika Chong-Shuch.

If you missed it, I urge you to catch the upcoming performance in Oakland:

Thursday, July 16
7:00 p.m. (note start time)
Scottish Rite Center
1547 Lakeside Dr
Oakland, CA 94612

Tickets are available here.

The concert also features a performance by the Estonian Television Choir.

Reviews of the May production:

West Edge Opera Summer Festival, 2015

I can't believe I forgot to post about this: West Edge Opera has a fantastic summer season starting in just a few weeks. I hear that one of the operas is well on its way to a sellout, in fact. Here are all of the performances that are coming up:

Alban Berg
in German with English supertitles
conducted by Jonathan Khuner
directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer
featuring soprano Emma McNairy as Lulu
and bass-baritone Philip Skinner as Dr. Schön
Saturday, July 25, 8 p.m.
Sunday, August 2, 2 p.m.
Saturday, August 8, 8 p.m.
Oakland’s abandoned Train Station at 1405 Wood St at 16th Street

Laura Kaminsky
As One
Libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed
in English with English supertitles
conducted by Bryan Nies
directed by Mark Streshinsky
featuring baritone Dan Kempson
and mezzo-soprano Brenda Patterson
Sunday, July 26, 2 p.m.
Saturday, July 31, 8 p.m.
Saturday, August 8, 2 p.m.
The Oakland Metro, 522 2nd St., Oakland

Claudio Monteverdi
Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria
in Italian with English supertitles
conducted by Gilbert Martinez
directed by Mark Streshinsky
Featuring baritone Nikolas Nackley as Ulysses
and mezzo-soprano Sara Couden as Penelope.
Saturday, August 1, 8 p.m.
Friday, August 7, 8 p.m.
Sunday, August 9, 2 p.m.
American Steel Studios , 1960 Mandela Parkway at 20th St.

Tickets and more information are online at or by calling (510) 841-1903.

All performances are preceded by a pre-show talk 45 minutes before curtain and followed by a post performance reception with the artists.

It's Lulu that has the hot ticket sales. Take that, everyone slagging atonal or serialist music.

Robert Koff Remembered and Honored

Back in my high school years, I knew I wanted to be a music major, but I didn't have a very good idea of where I should think about going to college. My flute teacher, Beverly Radin, strongly advised me against going to a conservatory. She felt that a conservatory education was too limited and regretted that she hadn't attended a general university or college. I took her advice, but still didn't know where to apply; my high school guidance counselors were nice people who had no idea of where you went for an art or music degree.

So come the fall of my senior year, I had a couple of obvious candidates picked out, such as Yale and Cornell. I got recruited pretty heavily by Bryn Mawr on the basis of my SAT scores and applied there. I went to visit a few friends here and there, including an ex who was an MIT student and a good friend at Brandeis. While I was there, I wandered into the music building and somehow - I really don't remember how - I was invited to chat with Robert Koff, who was then the music department chair. I told him about my musical background, which included a shockingly small number of years of flute and piano lessons, but, unusually for the 1970s, a year of introductory music theory. I had also played in my high school band and sung in the chorus for a couple of years.

The next thing I knew, he told me he was writing me a letter of recommendation, a great kindness and something I had not asked for. It was a remarkable vote of confidence, the sort of thing I didn't get much of in high school. I was, and remain, grateful for this help.

It was only one of many kindnesses I have heard of Mr. Koff performing for other music students at Brandeis. He was deeply involved with teaching and coaching chamber music and had strong and lasting friendships with many other Brandeis music students. I wasn't that interested in chamber music, although one friend does remember us playing Mozart flute quartets together, and I do regret that I didn't get to know Mr. Koff better. I could have used a performance mentor at Brandeis, but I figured it was all my own problem.

In his career before Brandeis, Mr. Koff was the founding second violinist of the Juilliard Quartet; he is on several of their earliest recordings. I don't know any specifics about the reasons he did not continue; I do know that it's not at all unusual for a prominent chamber group to have personnel changes, and also that life on the road - and the Juilliard toured, and tours, a lot - is extremely difficult.

Mr. Koff died a bit over a decade ago, at 86. His family, friends, and students came together last year to found the Robert Koff Scholarship in Music, to support music students at Brandeis. At the scholarship web site, you can read more about Mr. Koff, his career, and the myriad ways he helped music students. There is a link to a site with many lovely photos of him, and a link to a recording of him in Bach. You can also make a donation to the fund.

If you know any Brandeis graduates, especially musicians who knew Mr. Koff, please do spread word of this scholarship.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Once Again, I Beg of You.

Dear Concert Presenters:

PLEASE, oh pretty please with sugar on top, please provide your schedule on web page that works like paper, where at a glance an interested person can see the following for every one of your concerts:

Date, day of week
Works on program (and who is playing what, if it there is an ambiguity)

I'm looking at you, Music@Menlo, and you, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Do you  make money from every click? I don't think so.



London Friday Photo

Gate at Shakespeare's Globe
London, May, 2014

Thursday, July 02, 2015


We could see more performances of Les Troyens if opera companies would stop performing Faust, Romeo & Juliet, Manon, and Samon & Dalilah* and put the money aside for better operas. Seriously, just stop with that stuff.

* Added for Joshua Kosman's benefit. I thought it was a hoot the one time I saw it....but once in a lifetime is enough for me.