Monday, August 31, 2015

The Rats Begin to Chew the Sheets.

Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin) and Annette Dasch (Elsa)

Hans Neuenfels's remarkable Lohengrin production got its very last performance the other day, and I am lucky to have seen it. Popularly known as the Rat Lohengrin, that performance got the biggest ovation I have ever heard for any performance. Somewhere around Klaus Florian Vogt's fourth or fifth curtain call, people started standing up, and by the time the whole cast came out for their fourth or fifth curtain call, the unison clapping had started. The ovations went on for maybe 15 or 20 minutes after the last chords.

  • Vogt's Lohengrin astounding. He sounds beautiful enough on record, even more so in person, but on record you can't tell just how much projection and power he has, this with a vocal timbre associated primarily with Mozart. Also, he can act. Also, he is as beautiful as his voice.
  • Remarkable direction and conception of Lohengrin, Elsa, and the King.
  • Rats weirdly charming and, again, beautifully directed.
  • Lab or asylum? I'm not sure.
  • Beautiful set design.
  • Jukka Rasilainen the best Telramund I have seen, vocally and dramatically.
  • Petra Lang better than in SF, where I disliked her intensely, but sounding....rather pressed toward the end. I do not hear a susccessful Isolde in her (Bayreuth, 2016).

No, I couldn't resist the post title. Could you have?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tristan und Isolde: Longer Version

Some bullet points:
  • Production emotionally very dark, which can mostly be justified. Yes, trapped in a maze of sorts for Act I worked very well.
  • Act III staging of Tristan's sick-bed hallucinations was ghostly, beautiful, and effective. Excellent use of a scrim, too.
  • Kinda dubious about the Act II torture chamber.
  • Portraying Marke as an evil torturer is contra everything in the libretto and score, though K. Wagner mostly made it work.
  • My traveling companion thought Tristan had died and then been resurrected by the attention of his friends (Kurwenal, the Shepherd, and a third unidentified character), but what I saw was exactly the kind of thing you see in every other production of the opera.
  • Stephen Gould's Tristan mostly beautiful sung, with some odd stabbing at the notes in Act I.
  • See previous long post about Herlitzius's Isolde.
  • Georg Zeppenfeld!! That was a gorgeously sung Marke, and what a voice. (He has appeared in SF once, as Sarastro in the production we saw between Hockney and Kuneko.)
  • Christa Mayer an excellent Brangane, well sung and acted.
  • Towering work from Christian Thielemann. Astonishing, yet unmannered and natural, control over every musical element.

Castorf Ring: Siegfried and Goetterdaemmerung

Bullet points:
  • Petrenko's conducting did not improve in any substantive way, despite the very exciting Walkuere Act 3, those these operas were, I admit, better than the truly boneless Rheingold. He remained pedestrian, without an instinctive feel for the shape and process of these great works and without much feel for their sound-world, too.
  • One example of where he fell down is the beautiful chords that accompany Bruennhilde's awakening, which reappear at the beginning of Goetterdaemmerung and again during Siegfried's narrative, when he is dying and finally remebers her. These chords must be majestic and must glow, and they carry with them some mystery as well. Petrenko did not time them well; did not take enough time for the pauses; did not allow them to expand, did not judge the dynamics well. 
  • Stefan Vinke's vocal stamina is truly astonishing, and, singing Siegfried, he sounded fine at the end of both operas. He doesn't have the most beautiful voice, though he could sing sweetly when the score calls for it and he's reasonably musical; I'd say he could back off the loudness a bit.
  • Catherine Foster (Bruennhilde) was pretty good, not great. Her voice is built more like Karita Mattila's than like those of many sopranos we consider Hochdramatische, with most of the power in a very clear and cool top, IOW she would sound to most of us more like a Salome or Chrysothemis than a Bruennhilde. She had pitch problems when she woke up, and pitch problems during the immolation. First time I have heard the soprano having more trouble at the end of Siegfried than the tenor.
  • Personal to Frank Castorf: ¨Ḧeil dir, Sonne!¨ should tell you that it's not midnight when she wakes up.
  • There's a lot that I am willing to buy about Siegfried's loutishness, but not his having sex with the Forest Bird.
  • That was otherwise a nice staging of her scenes.
  • But I would like an explanation of how Br. changed her clothes and location while asleep. 
  • Stephen Milling's fabulous Hagen was he closest thing to a show-stealing performance I saw at Bayreuth. He is awesome.
  • The Personregie was truly remarkable in its detail and care and character development, whatever you thought of the production as a whole. I'll just point to everything Allison Oakes did as Gutrune in the last few scenes, especially in her solo bit between the funeral march and the entrance of Hagen and Gunther. Great direction and execution.
  • Call me shallow: yes, I do think that there ought to be something spectacular going on at the end of Goetterdaemmerung. If you're not going to put on a worldwide barbeque, figure out something to match what you hear in the music.
  • Great work by Claudia Mahnke as Waltraute and the Second Norn.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

SF Opera Magic Flute Cast Change Announcement

Received from SF Opera communications:
San Francisco Opera today announced a cast change for its upcoming Company revival of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Mexican-American baritone—and 2015 Adler Fellow—Efraín Solís will make his role debut as Papageno beginning  October 20, in lieu of previously announced Philippe Sly who has withdrawn from the production citing personal family reasons. 
Solis has been terrific on stage, stealing a scene or two from the likes of Dolora Zajick, and I am sure he will be a terrific Papageno. Wishing Mr. Sly the best.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


During the first intermission of tonight's Götterdämmerung, I caught a glimpse of a familiar figure and turned to confirm my glimpse.

During the second intermission, I looked around for him and found him, and now I have Harrison Birtwistle's autograph. I am going to frame it with one of the curtain call photos from last year's Yan Tan Tethera.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Tristan und Isolde:, Short Version

I came out of the Festspielhaus at the end of Act 2 raving because HOLY MOTHER OF GOD it was the greatest 90 minutes of Wagner conducting that I have ever heard live. I could not believe the sounds coming out of the pit.

Thielemann FTW!

Seriously, they could have just played the whole thing a second time and I would have gone home happy.

Acts 1 and 3: also pretty damn good. More tomorrow, very likely. Plenty to puzzle over in the production.


Evelyn Herlitzius
Deutsche Oper web site

So I do not get the great love for Evelyn Herlitzius. What she does on stage, at least tonight as Isolde, is not, for me, more compelling or better acted or more involved than what I have seen from a half-dozen or so singers, most of whom sound a whole lot better than she does. Even at its best, it's neither a distinctive nor beautiful voice, and her execution is wildly inconsistent.

I will say this for her: she sounds significantly better in person than she did on the opening-night Tristan broadcast, and in fact so did Stephen Gould (the excellent Tristan). This is one of the rare times in my life that I've heard a broadcast and then heard the same production, singers, and house live, and it adds support for my long-time contention that opera house miking for radio almost always makes singers sound worse than they sound in the house.

Still, I find her vocal inconsistency troubling. Sometimes she'll hit the first note of a phrase dead on, and her voice will have presence and spin, and the phrase comes out with a beautiful line. Other times, she misses, and hooks up to the note she is trying to hit. She was best in tonight's Tristan either singing softly, when she was always in tune and had a consistently good attack, or at triple forte (most of the time). She does always land on the right pitch....eventually.

I don't know what causes this particular problem and her general tonal inconsistency: a voice that is naturally difficult to control; age; wear and tear; forcing for volume; singing beyond your means (a lyric voice in dramatic roles); poor technique; other vocal issues. Anja Kampe was originally scheduled to sing Isolde in this production, and she has it all, a beautiful voice and great stage presence. I really wonder what it would have been like with her.


The Nibelungenlied is a heroic epic surpassed only by the Iliad of Homer. It was written at about A.D. 1200 by an unnamed poet, for performance at court in Austria somewhere between Vienna and Passau. In it there culminated a tradition of heroic poetry reaching back to the sixth or fifth century A.D. in the lands of the Germanic peoples, and so well did it succeed in its own age that, for want of copying, all earlier poems on the theme in German were lost for ever. Modern poet and poetasters have often returned to its subject, prominent among them Richard Wagner with his gigantic music drama Der Ring des Nibelungen with which (as with his Parsifal and his Tristan -- whatever their merits as modern works of art) he has unfortunately harmed the cause of medieval German poetry by intruding reckless distortions between us and an ancient masterpiece. Thus those who come to the Nibelungenlied from Wagner will be much surprised by what they read in it.

                       -- Arthur Thomas Hatto, 1965; introduction to his prose translation of the Nibelungenlied

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Getting Things Done

Brought on by reading an article about people who are currently supporting Donald Trump. A couple of notes from the real world:

  • To those of you who say we need a businessman, not a politician, in the presidency: getting things done in politics requires the ability to negotiate with the other team, er, party.
  • Not to mention, do you really want a businessman who has been through four bankruptcies??? 
  • It seems that by "political correctness," you mean "treating others with respect." Please explain to me the problems you see in treating others with respect.
  • Yeah, I'm sure a lot of his spewing is what people think but don't say. That isn't a positive.
I understand why people like a guy they think won't be beholden to donors. Better campaign finance laws could fix that for all candidates, by severely limiting private donations and funding presidential campaigns from public money.

Castorf Ring: Die Walkuere

Again, the bullet points version.

  • Orchestra sounds great; it's a much darker, fatter sound than I am used to hearing in San Francisco, where a sleek tone is favored.
  • Some odd directorial choices, including crucial scenes played almost out of sight, indoor scenes played (apparently) outdoors, lack of interaction between character in important scenes (Wotan monolog to Bruennhilde in Act II, their big scene together in Act III).
  • And still very conventionally staged in most ways, certainly nothing like Rheingold.
  • Johan Botha, born to sing Siegmund. No, he's not much of an actor, but his voice has absolutely perfect placement for the role, and he is both tireless and vocally expressive.
  • Anja Kampe (Sieglinde) was the audience favorite tonight, and she was wonderful.
  • Ditto Claudia Mahnke's Fricka, but this was one of the scenes where the interactions with Wotan were inexplicably blank.
  • I really really like Wolfgang Koch's singing, would enjoy hearing his Wotan in a more conventional production. It's got the necessary solidity of tone and expressiveness.
  • Did not love Catherine Foster (Brunnhilde) in Act II, though the whole Annunciation of Death scene was very well done; in Act III, she blossomed and turned into a goddess.
  • Fantastic group of Valkyries, a couple of whom sounded ready for Bruennhilde. A big wow here.
  • Kwangchul Yoon also has got the perfect voice for Hunding, what used to be called a "black bass."
  • I am struck by how much of a difference it can make to observe certain stage directions, for example, Wotan audibly striking his spear against something when he calls to Loge; in this case, it was an oil drum sitting on stage.
  • I wonder how many fire marshalls it takes when you're using live fire in a 140-year-old wooden opera house.
  • Kirill Petrenko looked at the score before Act 3, noticed that it's kind of an exciting opera, and woke the fuck up.

Castorf Ring: Das Rheingold

My first opera at Bayreuth! I am mostly going to give the bullet-points version here, because I am going to be doing a Letter from Bayreuth for SFCV, filling in any gaps here on the blog. For the Ring, I am nearly dead center in the sixth (6th) row; the view is great and the sound definitely is different from other houses. Wish I knew 1) whether the anvils are live 2) how many harps there were in the pit. May have my editors ask about these things.
You know how you're always told to bring a cushion because of the notorious wooden seats? Well, what I need most is a foot rest. My feet dangle a couple of inches above the floor; my butt is reasonably happy with the firm surface (there IS a cushion on the seat, thin, but there) and my back is okay with the wooden seat back.
- Huge amount of stage activity; extremely detailed theatrical working out, all in character as the characters are presented, which is not a complete picture of any of the characters (they are all thugs or floozies, it seems), but dramatically consistent for each character.
- Unusual use of live video, with cameramen visible on stage much of the time, to project either closeups of the main action or to show action off the main dramatic focal point (most of it made up - implied by the characters you see on stage but not action you will find in the libretto)
- Outstanding singing from everybody. No complaints. Claudia Mahnke, heard a few times long ago in SF, gorgeous as Fricka, can't wait until tomorrow when she has a lot more to do. Wolfgang Koch excellent as Wotan, King Thug of the gods. Nadine Weissman, magnificent contralto as Erda. SF Opera, you should hire her. Yes, I am happy to play talent scout for you.
- The sound IS something different and special. The house is small enough that I can hear the singers' voices bouncing around (good), undoubtedly a function of the size (1900 seats), construction (all wood - including the floor), the cowl between the audience and the pit, and the location of the orchestra (mostly under the stage). Also the way the seats fan out in the hall.
- Kirill Petrenko, recently appointed chief conductor designate of the Berlin Phil, seriously at sea, and this is his third time with the Ring at Bayreuth: any individual 30 seconds sounded beautiful, but very fast and weirdly boneless conducting, with almost nothing made of most of the big moments and little sense of the structure or shape of the piece. Wot?
(Fixed the formatting problems, yay!)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Monday Bust

Tower of the Deutsches Museum

So Monday was not much of a day in Munich. I decided to walk a couple of miles to the Deutsches Museum, the city's enormous museum of science and technology, remembered fondly by friends who've been there as either adults or children. And so I did, despite intermittent drizzle, meandering all the way, past the university on Ludwigstrasse, past the Residenz, past the Bayerische Staatsoper, past lots of things, taking photos at Dallmayer's, the Viktualienmarkt (where I bought nothing except a bowl of mediocre soup), and everything else at all interesting.

Alleged Vienna-style goulash

At least the cabbages were cute.

And....there was a line of a couple of hundred people, stretching far down from the entrance, and somebody told me that there was a two-hour wait to get into the Deutsches Museum. No, I did not have enough left in my feet to wait that long, so I turned around and headed back.

I crossed the river, and a few blocks later found a grocery store, so I went in and bought some things. And then I made a bad mistake: I hadn't brought a bag from the apartment, and I bought a coated paper bag instead of a heavy-duty plastic bag. Right by the Isartor, even though I'd kept the bag under my poncho, the bag of course fell apart.

I managed to distribute most of its contents to my pockets and purse, and wrapped up what was left in the remains of the bag. I got onto the S Bahn at Isartor and was back at the apartment pretty quickly, but my side was sore from carrying the wrapped up bag, and I was tired and sorry that I hadn't gotten to a museum.

So I hung around and read for the rest of the day and into the evening.

Updated, with photos: 8/21/2015

London Friday Photo

Battle Abbey
(Near Hastings)
May, 2014

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Not Plain Jane

From the Met:
Jamie Barton will add a new role to her Met repertory this season when she sings Giovanna Seymour in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, replacing Elīna Garanča, who has withdrawn due to a death in her family.
Barton will sing the September 26 matinee, October 1, 5, 13, January 5, and January 9 matinee performances; for the latter two dates, she replaces the originally announced Ekaterina Semenchuk. At the October 9 performance, Serbian mezzo-soprano Milijana Nikolic will make her Met debut in the role.

Garanča will return to the Met in March to sing Sara in the company premiere of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux.
Sympathies to Elina Garanča and Toi Toi Toi to Jamie Barton.

San Francisco Opera: Upcoming Radio Broadcasts

Here's the fall schedule of radio broadcasts on both KDFC and WFMT (Chicago); presumably the rest of the season will eventually turn up on KDFC:

KDFC can be heard on the FM dial at 90.3 (San Francisco, Oakland, Sausalito), 89.9 (North and East Bay), 104.9 (South Bay and Peninsula), 92.5 (Ukiah-Lakeport); on Comcast Cable 981; or online at KDFC monthly broadcasts can also be streamed on demand after each initial Sunday night broadcast for four weeks.

Sunday, September 6 at 8 p.m. – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro)
Philippe Sly (Figaro), Lisette Oropesa (Susanna), Nadine Sierra (Countess Almaviva), Kate Lindsey (Cherubino), Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva), John Del Carlo (Bartolo), Catherine Cook (Marcellina); conducted by Patrick Summers. Recorded Summer 2015.

Sunday, October 4 at 8 p.m. – Marco Tutino’s Two Women (La Ciociara)
Anna Caterina Antonacci (Cesira), Sarah Shafer (Rosetta), Dimitri Pittas (Michele), Mark Delavan (Giovanni), Edward Nelson (John Buckley); conducted by Nicola Luisotti. Recorded Summer 2015.
Sunday, November 1 at 7 p.m. – Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens (The Trojans)
Anna Caterina Antonacci (Cassandra), Susan Graham (Dido), Bryan Hymel (Aeneas), Nian Wang (Ascanius), Sasha Cooke (Anna), Brian Mulligan (Coroebus), Christian Van Horn (Narbal), René Barbera (Iopas); conducted by Donald Runnicles. Recorded Summer 2015.

WFMT’s weekly Saturday broadcasts can be streamed online at

Saturday, August 29 at 10 a.m. – Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto
Željko Lučić (Rigoletto), Aleksandra Kurzak (Gilda), Francesco Demuro (The Duke of Mantua), Kendall Gladen (Maddalena); conducted by Nicola Luisotti. Recorded Fall 2012.

Saturday, September 5 at 10 a.m. – Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly
Patricia Racette (Cio-Cio-San), Brian Jagde (Pinkerton), Elizabeth DeShong (Suzuki), Brian Mulligan (Sharpless), Julius Ahn (Goro), Jacqueline Piccolino (Kate Pinkerton), Efraín Solís (Prince Yamadori), Morris Robinson (The Bonze), Hadleigh Adams (The Commissioner); conducted by Nicola Luisotti. Recorded Summer 2014.

Saturday, September 12 at 10 a.m. – Vincenzo Bellini’s NormaSondra Radvanovsky (Norma), Jamie Barton (Adalgisa), Russell Thomas (Pollione), Christian Van Horn (Oroveso), Jacqueline Piccolino (Clotilda), AJ Glueckert (Flavio); conducted by Nicola Luisotti. Recorded Fall 2014.

Saturday, September 19 at 10 a.m. – Carlisle Floyd’s SusannahPatricia Racette (Susannah Polk), Brandon Jovanovich (Sam Polk), Raymond Aceto (Rev. Olin Blitch), Catherine Cook (Mrs. McLean), James Kryshak (Little Bat McLean); conducted by Karen Kamensek. Recorded Fall 2014.

Saturday, September 26 at 10 a.m. – Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball)Julianna Di Giacomo (Amelia), Heidi Stober (Oscar), Ramón Vargas (Gustavus III), Thomas Hampson (Count Anckarström), Dolora Zajick (Madame Arvidson); conducted by Nicola Luisotti. Recorded Fall 2014.

Saturday, October 3 at 10 a.m. – George Frideric Handel’s Partenope
Danielle de Niese (Partenope), Daniela Mack (Rosmira), David Daniels (Arsace), Alek Shrader (Emilio), Anthony Roth Costanzo (Armindo), Philippe Sly (Ormonte); conducted by Julian Wachner. Recorded Fall 2014.

Saturday, October 10 at 10 a.m. – Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella)
Karine Deshayes (Angelina), René Barbera (Don Ramiro), Efraín Solís (Dandini), Carlos Chausson (Don Magnifico), Christian Van Horn (Alidoro), Maria Valdes (Clorinda), Zanda Švēde (Tisbe); conducted by Jesús López-Cobos. Recorded Fall 2014.

Saturday, October 17 at 10 a.m. – Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème
Alexia Voulgaridou (Mimì), Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo), Nadine Sierra (Musetta), Alexey Markov (Marcello), Christian Van Horn (Colline), Hadleigh Adams (Schaunard), Dale Travis (Benoit, Alcindoro); conducted by Giuseppe Finzi. Recorded Fall 2014.

Saturday, October 24 at 10 a.m. – Marco Tutino’s Two Women (La Ciociara)
Anna Caterina Antonacci (Cesira), Sarah Shafer (Rosetta), Dimitri Pittas (Michele), Mark Delavan (Giovanni), Edward Nelson (John Buckley); conducted by Nicola Luisotti. Recorded Summer 2015.

Saturday, October 31 at 10 a.m. – Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens (The Trojans)
Anna Caterina Antonacci (Cassandra), Susan Graham (Dido), Bryan Hymel (Aeneas), Nian Wang (Ascanius), Sasha Cooke (Anna), Brian Mulligan (Coroebus), Christian Van Horn (Narbal), René Barbera (Iopas); conducted by Donald Runnicles. Recorded Summer 2015.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Touched with Moonlight

Update: If you'd to follow Heidi's blog about this recital, go here or put the URL in your RSS reader.

From soprano Heidi Moss, a lovely singer, comes news of a Lieder Alive recital she'll be giving next month with pianist Daniel Lockert. She has chosen a beautiful program that includes 19th and 20th century songs and new works by Daron Hagen, David Conte, Erling Wold, and Jacques DesJardins:
An die Nacht- Richard Strauss
An die Nacht- Jacques DesJardins (who is one of the founders of Opera Parallele)
Die Nacht- Richard Strauss

Mondnacht- Kurt Erickson
Mondnacht- Robert Schumann

Eingang-David Conte (of SFCM)
Eingang- Anton Webern

Junge Tanzerin- Omari Tao
Der Tanz (soprano part)-Franz Schubert

—brief intermission--

Standchen-Franz Schubert
Nahe des Gelibten-Henry Mollicone (renowned composer of Face on the Barroom Floor)
Nahe des Geliebten-Franz Schubert

Schlacht-das Mas-Erling Wold (This piece is almost operatic in scope, and will feature a video element)

Atem der Stauten-Daron Hagen (his operas have been performed nationally, including his recent Amelia at Seattle Opera with Nathan Gunn)
An die Musik-Franz Schubert
Finale from Richard Strauss’ Capriccio
Program details:

Sunday, September 13, 2015
5 p.m.
Noe Valley Ministry

She's also planning to blog the experience of preparing the recital; details to follow.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Alte Pinakothek

So when I draggled out of bed Sunday just past noon, the question was where to go: to what Alex Ross described in a comment as the "daft Stuck House museum" or the Alte Pinakothek, Munich's Old Master gallery.

The Alte Pinakothek won, largely because it is closer to my apartment in Schwabing and I did not know how long I would last walking around. The building has been under renovation for some time, and the renovations will continue until 2017 or 2018, and so something like a quarter or more of the collection is inaccessible. What's left covers roughly the 15th to 17th centuries; I did not see a lot from before, say, 1450. Most of it is German, though there's a good helping of Italian and Dutch work in there as well. I saw some Van Dyke painting, but not a single Rembrandt, and I'm guessing that most of the Dutch masters are in the rooms currently under renovation.

My overall impression is that it's an excellent collection, but I was not left gaping as I was when I saw the Uffizi Gallery's early collection in Florence in 2004. That is a collection of uncommon splendor.

Not that there aren't a whole lot of fine paintings; there are. I was particularly struck by the flowing overall architecture and beautiful individual paintings of the Kaisheim altarpiece by Hans Holbein the Elder, with the inner and outer views hung on the same wall. These are enormous, probably 15 or so feet high, and beautifully painted. There's another magnificent altarpiece, by a different artist, in the same room.

But I also saw some very odd details, like the Fathers of the Church altarpiece where the heads of two of the fathers look as though they were pasted onto the bodies, and where two of the fathers have hands that look like they were painted by a studio apprentice who didn't quite understand how fingers and wrists work anatomically.

Then there's the roomful of Titians and Tintorettos: every painting in that room has such dull colors that I wondered whether they are in need of a good cleaning. And...well, after the 25th crucifixion or scene from the life of the Virgin Mary, it does get to be a bit of thematic overkill.

I did love a few of the paintings in the gallery. The smallish Durer self-portrait is a marvel of intensity and directness, and what a beautiful young man he was. In a room adjacent to it, there's the exceptionally beautiful Lippi Annunciation, so much lighter in spirit than the many weighty German paintings.

And a few paintings to right of the Lippi, I nearly fainted when I caught sight of a small Virgin and Child, because I had not realized the museum had a Leonardo. I did not need to see the label to know what I was looking at; there was simply no mistaking who the artist was. It is the Madonna of the Carnation, so called because Mary is amusing the Christ child with a small red flower. Seeing it immediately put everything else in the museum into a particular odd perspective, that of an excellent collection in which a single painting seems to overwhelm everything else.


On my first couple of trips to Europe, back before the Internet, I lugged with me Let's Go France, Let's Go Paris, and the equivalent guidebooks for Great Britain and London. I have vivid memories of some of the most useful information in these guides, which were published by Harvard students and intended for those trying to travel on the cheap.

Generally, the opened with sections on how to get to a country and how to get around (from an airport to the nearest big city, how to use local transit systems). They included useful stuff about phone systems (a big mystery to anyone who'd never dialed an international call), currency, how to tip, and how the washing machines worked.

An awful lot of this stuff seems to have been dropped from current generations of guidebooks. I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Germany, and I think I am going to leave it here. It is a bit out of date (the Let's Go guides were revised annually by student travelers) and is seriously lacking in practical how-tos without having anything to balance out the lacks.

I'm a bit surprised, to tell the truth. I used the Lonely Planet London guide on my five-week trip there in 2004, and that was a great guide, with detailed information not only about the big stuff but about the myriad quirky small museums and other delights of London. Oh, well! Thank goodness for the Internet.


I had a completely uneventful flight to Germany, after arriving at the airport so early that there was no one in line at the Lufhansa counter. Then it took maybe 15 minutes to get through the TSA line, so I had 90 minutes or so eat dinner, watch planes taking off, and read.

The premium economy seat was probably worth the ridiculous extra cost, considering that the flight to Munich was around 11 hours. There's a lot of leg room, and a significant amount of extra room side to side, so that your are not constantly bumping into your neighbor. But there's a big bulhead-like cabinet between the pairs of seats, so one of your legs can float to the side, but the other cannot, and the seat itself isn't that much wider than standard economy. I will say more or less for sure that I think the Airbus 340 has a much quieter cabin than the 747s flown by US carriers, Virgin, and BA.

I did get some sleep on the plane, which may or may not have made the jet lag any better. I have been going to sleep around midnight, Munich time, and on Sunday (8/16), I woke up around 4, read for several hours, and slept until just after noon (groan). Seems like a similar pattern tonight; went to sleep around 12:30, woke up around 4-something, am now awake and blogging.

I suppose what counts most is that I am conscious between 4 p.m. and midnight starting on Friday, when I will be in Bayreuth listening to a very long Eb major chord.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

West Edge: A Better Summer Season than San Francisco Opera

Well, that's what I said to Mark Streshinsky after this afternoon's final performance of Ulysses, better known as Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria. Look at it this way: Lulu and Ulysses were smashing successes and As One, for all the libretto's weaknesses, had good music, excellent performances, and touched many deeply.

SFO had the smashing (and well-deserved) success of Les Troyens, a sad mess with the unfortunate La Ciociara, and, somewhere in between, what sounded like a decent Figaro.

More tomorrow about Ulysses; I have some beefs with the direction of two scenes, but overall it was a wow, with some great performances, great music (and playing and conducting), and some great direction.

And, you know, it was a damn good summer for operas about the Trojan War. As I keep saying, an enterprising opera company could make a fantastic season of Trojan War operas. Think of the tie-ins: classes on the Odyssey and Illiad and the Aeneid; classes on Greek history and archeology; a Greek islands cruise; a set of t-shirts, one per opera: Collect them all!

Thursday, August 06, 2015


Roman Totenberg's violin, the Ames Stradivarius, 35 years after it was stolen from his office at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA. A woman who'd inherited it from her late ex-husband took it to be appraised, and the appraiser recognized the instrument immediately.

The man from whom she'd inherited it was also Totenberg's suspect as the thief, but in 1980, the authorities, even with a tip from a third party, didn't feel there was enough evidence for a search warrant.

Totenberg, a famed violinist and teacher, died in 2012 at age 101, teaching almost until his last breath.

Read all about it in Michael Cooper's story in the NY Times. (And for the authorities' next trick, could they find the Davidoff Strad, stolen from Erika Morini's apartment when she was dying?)(The violin, not the cello currently played by Yo-Yo Ma.)

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

As One, West Edge Opera

West Edge Opera's summer season opened the other week, with Alban Berg's Lulu and Laura Kaminsky's As One. I have the Sunday afternoon matinee subscription, and caught the premiere of Laura Kaminsky's As One at the Oakland Metro, a club on 2nd St. near Jack London Square.

If you have tickets, be warned that the venue is absolutely sweltering on a hot day and has poor air circulation. You'll want to wear as little clothing as you are publicly comfortable in.

First, the good stuff, which is very good indeed: the performances were just about immaculate from every musical and dramatic standpoint. Mezzo-soprano Brenda Patterson (Hanna After) and baritone Dan Kempson (Hannah Before), who play the transgendered Hannah at different stages of her life, have both got beautiful voices that could be upper or lower extensions of one another; both were musically sure, direct, and clear, as individuals or in duet. And they looked good together, too, when they were near each other.

Mark Strashinky's direction worked well, doing a great deal with very few props. I admit that I was perplexed by those of Jeremy Knight's Kimberly Reed's projections that were for the scenes in Norway, which mostly showed bright daylight. Hannah went there to be alone and see the northern lights, and generally you do that during the wintertime, when Norway has about 22 hours of darkness.

The Friction Quartet played the score gorgeously, and the score is mostly beautiful and effective. I'd definitely like to hear more of Kaminsky's music, especially her several works for string quartet.

Now for the not-so-good stuff. Oh, the libretto. The libretto is by Mark Campbell, an experienced librettist, and Kimberly Reed, on whose life story I gather the libretto is based, who is a filmmaker.

I see the libretto as having several problems: the first is all too common in recent operas, a failure to distinguish between recitative and more lyrical forms. In other words, it's short on arias and looooong on talk talk talk talk. That conversational libretto style is extremely difficult to set and accompany effectively, and you wind up with extended stretches of music that go on for too long and just don't work well. I hear it as traveling music, but it doesn't get anywhere, just goes on and on and on without enough contrast of tempo, color, rhythm, style. My general impression is that Kaminsky's music started out more interestingly than it finished up. Of course, it is also true that the Metro was so hot that I lost focus now and then and simply faded out. Maybe I missed some moments of greater dramatic tension.

Then there's the fact that there's not all that much drama in the story. Yes, there's a bit of struggle around telling Hannah's parents; there's the freedom that comes from crossing the bridge and becoming Hannah After for a few hours, even before the change; there's the slight but touching story of being scolded by a grade-school teacher for girly handwriting. The latter bit appears later in the piece, when Hannah After sends some letters in her natural handwriting, and this was...well...both trite and mawkish.

And speaking of drama, hoo boy, is there a major dramatic fall-off about 15 or 20 minutes from the end of the opera. We've just had the most serious and dramatic moment in the libretto, when Hannah escapes an attacker in a parking lot. (More about this latter.) She jumps on a plane and heads for Norway, to a lonely cabin in the middle of nowhere, for some personal contemplation. She picks berries. She goes out in a boat (it leaks, but she doesn't have to swim back to shore). She tries to get on the Internet, if I'm remembering this right. She writes letters. She looks at the constellations.

But really? Nothing happens. I think there is an intended revelation in there somewhere, but it does not come across because not much happens musically or in the text at that point. It sure doesn't feel like any kind of dramatic climax, and thus the entire final 20 minutes is completely anti-climactic.

Now, about the attack. To start with, Kaminsky telegraphs it in the music to the point that I was sitting there thinking "I hope she doesn't get beaten up too badly." I did not hide my face in my hands. But by the end of the attack, which Hannah does indeed escape successfully, I was enraged anyway.

That's because there's a film trope where a woman is attacked by a man, and her response is to flail around ineffectively, then die or get raped or badly beaten.* It's as though no women ever took a self-defense class or maybe wrestled with a brother. In this case....Hannah Before is a manly, football-playing guy. Are you trying to tell me that Hannah Before never learned how to throw a punch? Or that this knowledge somehow got lost, so that all she could think to do was get in the car and drive away?

Right after the attack scene, we hear about a number of attacks and murders worldwide on transgender people. Yes, this does happen - and has happened to people I know - but at this point, I felt like the libretto was checking off a political point.

By and large, I think that keeping it more personal - and more intense - would have made a better opera with better dramatic structure.

* Do not get me started on the godawful staging of the scene in La Ciociara where Giovanni rapes Cesira. Honestly, it was so bad that I was sitting there wondering why Cesira didn't go for the golden target when Giovanni was standing there with his legs apart. Sometimes having specialized knowledge makes it tough to suspend disbelief.

UPDATED: Corrected the creator of the projections from Jeremy Knight to Kimberly Reed, my bad.

Rumor & Gossip

Reports in various papers indicate that the commission to be announced shortly by Santa Fe Opera for 2017 is about Steve Jobs, composed by Mason Bates. Color me dubious on both subject and choice of composer. I have not seen anything yet about the librettist. Maybe it's Walter Isaacson.