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 Croft has withdrawn for personal reasons.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.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Second Bride of Lammermoor

©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Albina Shagimuratova, currently scheduled to appear* as the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, will sing the title role in tonight's final performance of San Francisco Opera's Lucia di Lammermoor, replacing Nadine Sierra, who is ill.

* Shagimuratova has missed the first three Flute performances. Presumably she will be singing going forward, since she is well enough for tonight's Lucia.

Things I Don't Understand About Twitter.

Really, only two things:

1. Why is Twitter considered "hard to use" by casual users? I just don't get it. You create an account, pick people to follow, enjoy the unending stream of links and banter. Apparently this is hard for people who are used to Facebook: recency is confusing to casual users, while just the thing for, well, people like me.

2. Why isn't Twitter just charging users? It's a hugely important and valuable tool for journalists, activists, etc. I'd pay up to $15/mo to use Twitter. With more than 300 million users,  if Twitter could get 100 million of them to pay $1 to $5/month, I see a nice revenue stream that isn't dependent on ads or growth.

Here's Timothy B. Lee's excellent Vox piece on the company.

No, Twitter probably should not be acquired by Google. Take a look at the history of Google acquisitions to see what happens to such companies.

Monday, October 26, 2015

I Warned You.

Back in September, I worried out loud about the number of cancelations on the SF Opera schedule. (Since then, Albina Shagimuratova has missed the opening Magic Flute.)

And now the upcoming Meistersinger has been hit by the cancelation curse: A press release tells me that Greer Grimsley, who was supposed to sing Hans Sachs, has withdrawn on account of ongoing health issues. British baritone James Rutherford will sing Sachs. I described him as "woolly-voiced" when he sang Wolfram in the last SFO Tannhauser, and so did Joshua Kosman.

Feel Grateful, Londoners

An article in the Guardian talks about Simon Rattle's upcoming return to the London Symphony Orchestra, discusses the soon-to-be-announced feasibility study for a new venue, and complains about existing London concert halls.

Sir Simon isn't making a new hall any kind of requirement for taking up the post (good), but there's been moaning about the Barbican Concert Hall and Royal Festival Hall (Southbank Centre) for a good long time.

I heard concerts in both halls last year, and all I can say is, everyone with complaints should join me for concerts at Davies Symphony Hall, where the San Francisco Symphony plays, and Zellerbach Hall, where a number of visiting orchestras and the Berkeley Symphony perform. The latter really is the definition of a concrete monster; a brutalist building set in a brutalist section of a beautiful campus, with absolutely dead acoustics that even a Meyer Sound Constellation system can't tame. Davies has been renovated and was improved by the renovations, but it isn't what I'd call a really good-sounding hall. It is easy to overload and singers in particular have a tough time there unless they have gigantic voices. I'm thinking of the Christine Brewer/Stephanie Blythe/Dolora Zajick class of gigantic here.

The Barbican and RFH are heaven compared to both of these venues. Come visit and I'll prove it to you.

Esther Geller

Esther Geller, artist, known to me better as the wife, and then widow, of Harold Shapero, has died at 93. Condolences to Hannah Shapero, daughter of Harold and Esther.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mälkki 2: Tiensuu, Chopin, Sibelius at San Francisco Symphony

A very short review; I didn't take many notes, and I don't know either the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1 or Sibelius 5 very well, so my impressions are...general.

The concert-opening ten-minute work by Jukka Tiensuu was a real delight, alternating giant, whomping chords with slithering sounds throughout the orchestra, starting and stopping, and rather unpredictable. A lot of beautiful and novel sounds from the orchestra, and what a shame it was only ten minutes - but this year, new music is mostly being doled out that way; note, for example, the fifteen-minute piece by Ted Hearn that was on a different program a couple of weeks ago. You might think that SFS has decided that even MTT can't sell audiences on new music - or maybe SoundBox is becoming the de facto new-music series, since it's hip, later than usual, and attracting a noticeably younger audience than the main stage.

Of the Chopin....well, I know Chopin style better than this work, owing to the Stanford Reactions to the Record symposia and a lot of time spent listening to the old dead guys 'n gals. This concerto is a good 40 minutes long, and although James Keller mounts a spirited defense of its form in his program note, I'm going to come down on the side of Donald Francis Tovey and say that yes, the keys of the first and second themes of the first movement are too close, and I'll go perhaps a bit beyond and say that the the concerto is entirely too long.

The performance, with pianist Simon Trpčeski, was more efficient than poetic, with rubato barely there, and that is what I missed most: poetry.

The Sibelius seemed like an excellent performance of a work I find beautiful and enigmatic. It certainly was beautiful, and beautifully played.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

I am a Bad Person.

As you can tell from my tweets to Lyric Opera of Chicago, which will stage an opera based on Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto shortly:

London Friday Photo

Christ Church, Spitalfields
Viewed from Brushfield St.
London, May 2014

(By popular demand. Last week's photo was the last I had uploaded, and this morning, well.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

And While I am At It....

I just stumbled across a copy of Behind the Curtain, a print publication of San Francisco Opera, that I never took out of its envelope when it arrived. Here's a nice quotation from David Gockley, describing La Ciociara:
I wanted an opera with a gorgeous score so the audience is crazy with delight to see and hear it, not cringing in their seats. It can be challenging for composers to write beautiful music because critics often condemn them for it.
Can anyone please come up with recent examples of this from, say, in the last 25 years?

There were plenty of complaints about La Ciociara, but most of them focused on its poorly-executed, blatant imitation of Puccini and weak libretto. On the other hand, I remember quite a lot of praise for just how beautiful Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick was. It has problems, which I've discussed, but that the score is beautiful is not one of them - except to the extent that it limited the emotional range of the piece.

And if that's the kind of criticism that Gockley is thinking of, he's off base.

Friday, October 16, 2015

I've Been Ranting About This Stuff For a While.

From a review published in 2008, on conductor William Eddins's concert at Berkeley Symphony:
Before the Gilliland, [Eddins] made some droll comments about the different versions of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, calling the full orchestra rendition a "wallowing cow" by comparison with the trimmer Paul Whiteman jazz band version, which he prefers to perform. He also slipped in a quip about Barack Obama that got him a rousing hand.
I can't say I cared for a joke he made at the expense of the Second Viennese School and the austerities of that style, which he implied was completely responsible for the suppression, after World War II, of composers who wrote melodies. It's dismaying to hear important musicians play the style wars game at this late date, when no style is unacceptable in the academy or the concert hall.
Besides, a conductor as persuasive and communicative as Eddins, who has such a great natural feel for the local ebb and flow of rubato, as well as for the larger structures, is in the best possible position to make an eloquent musical case for the many masterpieces of the Second Viennese School.

A Friend Asks...

...what are the five greatest operas of the last 50 years? That is, since 1965.

I have a few ideas, but I also know that, owing to living and attending the opera in the US, there's a lot of good stuff I haven't seen yet. Please post your candidates - more than 5 candidates would be great! - in the comments!

And Now for Some More Ranting

Back in June, in his SFCV news column, It's News to Me, Janos Gereben quoted David Gockley rather extensively on new operas and why there are more of them now. (You'll have to scroll down at the link to the item I'm talking about.)

I gotta say, June was a great month for catching folks at San Francisco Opera saying this kind of thing, and I also gotta say, I'm surprised at David Gockley, whom I consider to be extremely smart and knowledgable, not to mention, musically sophisticated.

There is a lot to argue with in what he says. I'm going to copy over most of the article. If it's something Janos wrote, I have prefaced it with JG. If it's a Gockley quotation, it's indented. My own comments I will preface with [LH].
[JG] Writing in the summer season's program, Gockley says that against heavy odds for producing new works, there has been a resurgence, and he quotes OPERA America statistics comparing the 1960s and '70s with the past 10 years. Why the change?
I trace this resurgence to one phenomenon: the ultimate failure of "serialism" and its atonal offshoots as music that works in the opera house. The Second Viennese School, led by Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg, lent great genius and prestige to this movement, and it became the music of academia throughout most of the 20th century. But it remained a connoisseur’s delicacy, resisted by large-audience art forms like symphony and opera, especially the latter and particularly in the United States.
[LH: Well, he's wrong about the music of academia. You need to look for an article in Musical Quarterly by Joseph Straus, called "The Myth of Serial 'Tyranny'" for a good rebuttal. But which academia does he mean, in which countries? In which regions of the United States, even? Which composers is he talking about? You can find plenty of nonserialist music composed throughout the whole century, from composers as diverse as Shapero, Martinu, Britten, and Shostakovich and many, many, more.]
[JG] The path from what he calls the failure of serialism to more accessible works, Gockley says, was paved by Philip Glass, "whom I credit as being the Moses that led composers out of the wilderness of this so-called 'modernism.' He developed his own voice and refused to be a prisoner to academic imperatives." (Gockley has commissioned and produced several operas by Glass, including Appomattox in San Francisco.)

[LH: See the above, about composers who, well before Glass, somehow weren't writing music of the Second Viennese School.]
[JG}Led by Glass and fellow minimalists Steve Reich, John Adams, Meredith Monk, Michael Torke, and Michael Nyman, and inspired by opera composers such as Carlisle Floyd and Douglas Moore, Gockley posits, such "neo-melodists" emerged as Jake Heggie, Ricky Ian Gordon, Mark Adamo, Stewart Wallace, and Chris Theofanidis:
Suddenly, all felt liberated to use their own musical voices. Because their work was better accepted, they were kept busy writing new pieces. They got better at what they did. They built happy relationships with librettists and producers. Glass has 28 operas under his belt, Floyd 12, Heggie five, and Adams eight. There is nothing like experience to improve a composer’s craft, including having the right to fail and being given other chances. 
Opera companies cannot continue rehashing the past. New works refresh the opera-going experience and broaden audiences. Of course, the operas must be successful. Fortunately, there is ample evidence that this is happening and will happen more and more as time goes on.
[LH: Floyd and Moore are among the composers who, long before Glass, were writing nonserial music.]

You really ought to read Nicola Luisotti's remarks from around the same period, about how awful serialist is - and about his own influence on the embarrassing La Ciociara. The interview appeared in SFCV in June.

While you're at it, take a look at Alex Ross's article on conservative programming at the Met, which has a paragraph about Gockley. 

Keep in mind, Gockley and Luisotti are in charge of one of the major US opera houses, and in all of these articles they talk as though audiences are too conservative, too shy, to have their minds open enough to hear, for example, Lulu, which is one of the great monuments of 20th century music. They just can't take anything challenging, or anything that they might have to think about, or that might make them intellectually or musically uncomfortable. 

I honestly find this embarrassing. I understand that the people who have to raise money to fund the arts in the US are in a tough position, between influential patrons, the immense cost of staging opera, the economy, and so on. But opera audiences are diverse: there are people who will go for St. Francois or Jenufa who have no interest in Verdi. There are people who got into opera through heavy-metal rock and who don't want to hear Puccini. There are people who find Baroque opera boring, and people who don't want to hear anything more radical than Britten.

Every season that's overly heavy on Puccini, Verdi, and Mozart is a turn-off for someone who doesn't want to hear Rigoletto or Madama Butterfly for the third, fourth, fifth, Nth time. Every failure to stage challenging operas is an insult to the intelligence and curiosity of the audience - and an admission of failure on the part of opera company marketers that they're not imaginative enough to figure out how to sell new and unusual opera.

Even if you think that serialism is somehow the source of all that is wrong with music in the last century - and really, there are plenty of us who like serial and atonal music - that doesn't explain the failure of opera companies to program composers such as Mascagni (he didn't only write Cavalleria Rusticana), Respighi, Zandonai, Zemlinsky, Schmidt, Nielsen, Martinu, and, of course, Schreker, who wrote non-serial, non-atonal music that ought to be comparatively easy to sell to even conservative audiences.

And for crying out loud - we haven't had a Britten opera at San Francisco since 2004-05.


Email from San Francisco Symphony last night touts a partnership with.....Uber. "Ride with Uber and support the Symphony at the same time!" says the subject line.

I. Don't. Think. So.

SFS might not realize that Uber is widely detested, considered anti-labor (remember, they tried to pretend that their drivers aren't employees), and considered a very bad symbol of the so-called "sharing" economy.

As an organization whose major assets are the unionized musicians, in a city known for its leftist politics, the orchestra might want to think about who they might attract and who they might drive away with this so-called partnership.

I'm certainly not going to touch it. I get to SFS from the east bay using a combination of car, AC Transit bus, and/or BART, and it's going to stay that way.

London Friday Photo

Birthplace of Thomas a Becket
Corner of Ironmonger Lane and Cheapside
May, 2014

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sort of French

Berkeley Symphony opened its 2015-16 season tonight with a program that looked great on paper. In execution, it left rather a lot to be desired. It was, really, the kind of program that makes me want to stay home with Boulez conducting Debussy....or Boulez.

In all fairness, a qualification or two. I was under the Zellerbach overhang, which can't possibly improve on the poor acoustics of the hall. I've heard an awful lot of great Berlioz this year, too - I'm looking at you, San Francisco Opera, Donald Runnicles, and everybody who had a part in Les Troyens. Beyond that, I have a few great recordings of Les Nuits d'Ete, and the last time I heard it live, it was with Susan Graham, at San Francisco Symphony with MTT conducting, a great account of the work.

There's no tactful way to say that tonight's performance by soprano Simone Osborne, led by Joana Carneiro, was a disappointment from start to finish. Tempos dragged; there was no lilt at all to "L'ile inconnu," the concluding song. Singer and conductor had difficulty staying together, and Carneiro's phrasing was incomprehensible; she has little feel for Berlioz's line. The orchestra was so recessed that none of the cycle's colors came through.

Osborne sang from the score with terrible French, everpresent and unvaried vibrato, and failed completely to put across the mood or sense of the poems. Really, Berlioz should never be boring, and this performance was.

I'd be willing to bet that Kaija Saariaho's Laterna Magica, a 20 minute orchestral work given its West Coast premiere, got the lion's share of the rehearsal time for the concert. Here, the playing seemed idiomatic and confident, as did Carneiro's conducting. I'm a well-known Saariaho fan; I've seen Adriana Mater, her second opera, and several of her chamber works, including the violin concerto Graal Theatre. I liked last year's Adriana Songs just fine.

But this particular piece doesn't work so well, I feel. It seemed episodic and somewhat ungrounded; in need of more color, contrast, snap, and momentum than it has. I will say that I had in mind Joshua Kosman's remark last year about Saariaho's "trademark gray palette," in his review of Adriana Songs, and after this piece, I think I know what he means - although that is not what I heard in Adriana Songs.

The program closed with a decent account of Ravel's Bolero, excepting some blare and poor blend in the last 30 seconds of the work. I must say that I was ready for it to be over right after the trombone solo.

Other commentary:
  • Joshua Kosman, Chron
  • George Rowe, Daily Democrat
  • Joe Cadigan, SFCV. Okay, never mind that I disagree with his assessment of Osborn; I'm puzzled as hell by his remarks on the Berlioz itself: "...Berlioz’ Nuits d’été, in which melodic inventiveness is swallowed up in a luxurious sea of strings, making it hard to differentiate between the six movements." I had problems differentiating among the movements because of Carneiro's tempos.

Domingo Withdraws from (Some) Tosca Performances

Placido Domingo is about to lose something: his gallbladder. Says the Met:
Plácido Domingo, currently at the Met to conduct Tosca, was admitted to the hospital yesterday, suffering from cholecystitis, or inflammation of the gallbladder. He is scheduled to undergo a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) early next week, and it is expected that this minimally invasive procedure will allow him to resume his activities after a brief hospital stay. 
Marco Armiliato will lead this Friday evening’s opening performance of Tosca, and Paolo Carignani will conduct the performances on October 21, 24 matinee, 29, and November 2.

Domingo is expected to make a full recovery in time to conduct the performance on November 6, as well as the three later performances for which he was originally scheduled: November 14 matinee, 18, and 21. In April, he will return to the Met to the reprise his acclaimed portrayal of the title role in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.
Wishing the famed baritenor the easiest possible surgery and a swift and complete recovery.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I think of orchestras, even the big ones, as being local organizations. San Francisco Symphony is a San Francisco organization, even with the odd run-out to Sonoma, Stanford, or Davis. The New York Philharmonic is a NYC organization, the BSO takes in Boston (and of course summers in Tanglewood).

So it was mighty strange to start getting email from the NYPO telling me about their new Ann Arbor, MI. Here's a slideshow from their "inaugural" residency in AA. (Note the tiny white type - okay, it sure looks tiny on a 15" MBP. Not good.)

Here's what the press release, such as it is, terms this:
....the inaugural performance residency of its five-year partnership with the University Musical Society of the University of Michigan, in conjunction with the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. 
I just don't understand what's going on here. Which way is the money flowing? Who benefits?  

Let's take a look at the distance from Ann Arbor to a few other cities with big-time orchestras, all as the Ford drives, and ask ourselves what, exactly, the relationship is between the University of Michigan and the New York Philharmonic:
  • Ann Arbor to Detroit: 43.5 miles
  • Ann Arbor to Cleveland: 167 miles
  • Ann Arbor to Chicago: 240 miles
  • Ann Arbor to Pittsburgh: 284 miles
  • Ann Arbor to Philadelphia: 582 miles
  • Ann Arbor to NYC: 613 miles
Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, and Pittsburgh aren't good enough? Don't have the dough for this? Or what? An awful lot of people in my area drive 40 miles to and from work every day.

Oh, wait: Cleveland has its own residency - in Miami, I seem to recall. And there's a photo in the slideshow of Matthew VanBiesen, the chief executive of the NYPO, giving a talk on 21st C. Orchestras and Social Impact. I wonder how that might sound coming from the chief executive of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, considering the very different circumstances of the cities where their orchestras reside.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Adler Fellows 2016

San Francisco Opera has announced the 2016 Adler Fellows:
The ten singers selected as 2016 Adler Fellows are sopranos Julie Adams (Burbank, California), Amina Edris (Christchurch, New Zealand) and Toni Marie Palmertree (Fleetwood, Pennsylvania); mezzo-sopranos Zanda Švēde (Valmiera, Latvia) and Nian Wang (Nanjing, China); tenor Pene Pati (Auckland, New Zealand); baritone Edward Nelson (Santa Clarita, California); bass-baritones Matthew Stump (Goshen, Indiana) and Brad Walker (Lake Zurich, Illinois); and bass Anthony Reed (Alexandria, Minnesota). 
The two pianists selected for Apprentice Coach Fellowships are Ron Michael-Greenberg (Montreal, Canada) and Noah Lindquist (Brooklyn, New York). The Adler Fellow apprentice coaches work closely with Mark Morash, Director of Musical Studies of the Opera Center, and John Churchwell, Head of Music Staff at San Francisco Opera. The coaches participate in the musical activities of both San Francisco Opera and the Opera Center, and they are involved in all aspects of the Adler Fellows’ training by acting as pianists for master classes, working with master coaches and preparing the Adler Fellows for concerts and mainstage roles.

Nonprofit Governance

Carnegie Hall, 1963, courtesy

It's a good day to think about nonprofit governance issues.
  • In this corner, we have the collapse of Gotham Opera, where the board had a little too much trust in the executive director, who evidently never recorded certain expenses, amounting to a cool $600,000, enough to sink a small-budget organization. The board of San Diego Opera ought to be feeling just a bit queasy right now.
  • In that corner, across town, we've got the kerfluffle at Carnegie Hall, where Board Chairman Ronald Perelman resigned after less than a year over issues with Clive Gillinson, the hall's executive director.
Russell Platt has an article up at The New Yorker about the situation at Carnegie Hall. I agree with Platt completely about the problems of having board members who somehow expect concert halls, which are nonprofit cultural institutions, to behave like profit-making businesses, especially financial sector businesses.

Platt raises an issue about which I don't completely agree with him:
But the reluctance of Gillinson and his staff to provide detailed information about profits and losses of particular concerts to Perelman and the board is entirely justified: if artists’ fees (which are often extremely high) at such a prominent venue as Carnegie were distributed to board members, the information would find its way to the Internet in a matter of days.
I agree that the Board should focus on raising money (and so on) so that Carnegie can continue be one of the great concert presenters of the world. It is very expensive to transport an orchestra from Boston, let alone from Vienna, for example. There is no way to make a profit on such a presentation.

But let's think for just a minute about the matter of artists' fees. This is a matter of great secrecy, though occasionally the curtain is lifted just a bit. Some years ago, for example, the tenor Roberto Alagna said that concerts were a great deal more financially beneficial to him than opera performances. He indiscreetly mentioned some numbers, and my recollection is that he said he could get paid $16,000 per performance in the US versus $60,000 for a concert in Europe.

I don't know a darned thing about what you get paid if an artist performing as a soloist with an orchestra or presenting a solo recital at Carnegie Hall. But I'm willing to bet that there's a big spread among newcomers starting out, big stars (think Placido Domingo or Lang Lang), solid performers, and legends such as Maurizio Pollini or Martha Argerich.

The leaked material from the Sony hacking case showed that female movie stars often get paid less than their male co-stars. I am sure that you are shocked, shocked to hear this: the case that I specifically recall is that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams got paid less than Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper in American Hustle.

So you've got to wonder about what we might learn if there were more transparency about artist fees, especially at a famous and important venue like Carnegie Hall. I've heard an awful lot of good music at Old First Concerts in San Francisco, played mostly by local musicians. I'm willing to bet that they are deeply underpaid compared to the groups and soloists appearing at Carnegie.

 Of course I'd like to know whether Daniel Barenboim gets paid more or less than Martha Argerich, or whether Christian Tetzlaff gets paid more or less than Leila Josefowicz. That's a fairer comparison than Barenboim and Argerich; he spends most of his time conducting, she doesn't play solo recitals any longer.

And speaking of investors, and profit and loss, here's something of interest to people in the Bay Area:
"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."
That's Matthew Shilvock speaking, in an interview he gave to the Associated Press the week that he was appointed General Director Designate of San Francisco Opera. It's a little hard to parse what he means about treating the Traviatas and Bohemes "very sensitively;" he could mean no naked orgies on stage, or he could mean something different, like, we're going to perform one of them in alternate years.

But I am very concerned about "our patrons are also our investors." That is much too close to Ronald Perelman's apparent expectations or beliefs about how Carnegie Hall should operate, with both eyes firmly on the money. Patrons aren't investors; they are audience members. They support institutions because they trust the artistic mission of the organizations and trust the administrators.

I am also concerned about meeting the expectations of investors, I mean, patrons. Despite the protestations that we don't have to be conservative, that clause after the "but" certainly implies that the company doesn't want to upset anyone. And you should certainly think about how an opera by Gordon Getty might have made it to the stage at San Francisco Opera.

Ticket Buying Hell

Okay, more evidence of why staff and board members and members of the press should go through exactly what the public goes through to buy tickets.
  1. The organization's web site doesn't have a choose-your-own-seat option.
  2. The box office's hours are during weekday working hours only.
  3. Even if you call during those hours, you get an answering machine (and you hear about how to buy ticket on line - see 1 above).
I'd really like to see this concert, even though it's at a logistically difficult time for me, but my companion has some specific seating needs and the seating software didn't make the right guess in 10 tries. Also, the concert is selling poorly enough that there's a two-for-one offer. Maybe, just maybe, people aren't buying because they are having problems buying - and the first rule of selling tickets is "Make it easy for people to give you their money."

Gotham Opera: The Other Shoe Drops?

Gotham Opera is blaming its former director, David Bennett, for the terrible discovery that the company had $600,000 in debt that apparently nobody knew about. Read that article, which contains gems such as the following:
According to Gotham staff and a board member, a cache of unpaid bills, invoices and fines totaling $600,000 were never put on the books or reported to the board, and were discovered after Bennett left for San Diego last spring. The Gotham’s annual budget was $1.8 million, according to the company’s most recent tax filings. 
“There was one person who had full access to the books. One person. And it was the responsibility of that person to input all of these invoices,” said Edward Barnes, the current executive director at Gotham. He was hired to replace Bennett in May.
I see more than one person at fault here. Why on earth did only person have full access to the books? Was there no outside accounting firm that saw the company's books? Ever? Did no one on the Board read whatever information Bennett provided carefully enough to ask more questions?? Apparently not:
 They never questioned the financials because they had faith in Bennett.
That's negligent, to say the least.

Bennett, of course, is saying "Now they get it!" Um, it was your job to make sure that the Board fully understood the company's financial situation.

Dell to Buy EMC

Really? This makes about as much sense as HP buying Compaq, and I'm sure you all remember how well that worked out, since Carly Fiorina is in the news again. Of course, Dell will get VMWare, which is doing well.

Maybe I'll drop Joe Tucci a note about how EMC managed to kill the spirit of Documentum, or maybe about how there was a period when people were getting promoted....but not getting the raises that should have gone with those promotions. Yes, you could say that I have some very good reasons for working elsewhere now.

UPDATE: And Joe Tucci will get a remarkably nice payout. Anyone want to guess how many layoffs there will be when the purchase goes through?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Robert Koff Celebration at Brandeis

Robert Koff's family, the Brandeis music department, and the Lydian String Quartet present a celebration of the late violinist and teacher. All proceeds benefit the Robert Koff Scholarship Fund.

Where: Slosberg Music Center, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA

When: Saturday, October 17, 2015, starting at 7 p.m.

What: Preconcert talk, performance, reception

Tickets: $20 adults / $15 Seniors & Brandeis community / $5 students (Buy tickets in advance at Brandeis Tickets.)

Friday, October 09, 2015

And Even More.

Two additional issues with the new SF Opera web site:

  • If there's a season calendar with a month-by-month layout - like a wall calendar, you might remember those - I can't find it. There is a scrolling calendar, but you can't see more than maybe a week at a time.
  • The new skin for Tessitura, which handles on-the-web ticket sales, is ghastly. It loads slowly, the seat labels are unreliable for the last row of a section, and the graphical display is much smaller than the old display. This is a serious problem for anyone with poor eyesight, which might be the cases for older audience members, who may be more likely to be using a desktop machine than a smartphone.

Figlia! A Tal Nome Io Palpito!

And her name is: Lianna Haroutounian.

You may recall that Haroutounian had been announced for one performance as Amelia Grimaldi in Simon Boccanegra, with the balance TBA. Today, the Met said that the Armenian soprano will sing all of the performances, on April 1, 5, 9, 13, and 16, 2016.

Lucky Met audiences! I heard her in Tosca about a year ago in SF, and how I would love to see her in this.

London Friday Photo

Fleet St. near Royal Courts of Justice
May, 2014

Thursday, October 08, 2015


Okay, I have wandered around the new SFO web site, and can report a couple more things.

  • The mobile web site has exactly the same content and layout as the desktop site; that is, they've used responsive design.
  • On the good side, this means the type is very large and readable on the desktop. On the down side, this means you scroll an awful lot.
  • It's very easy to read on a smartphone, and mine doesn't have an unusually large screen.
  • Cast & Creative team is too far down the page. Maybe get that above the trivia, which includes something about....The Barber of Seville? And get it above the place where you're touting subscriptions.

You Might Be a Little Confused.

A recent trend in web site style is to have a home page that scrolls, and scrolls, and scrolls, largely robbing you of any sense of location on the site, and hiding stuff, because you don't know how far you need to scroll. They look splashy, and to my mind they don't actually work very well.

SF Opera has gone and provided us with one of these on their redesigned web site.

I happen to have a rather strong preference for a web site where you see a bunch of links and can tell what will happen when you click one. So....this will take some getting used to.

I can report that the press photo presentation is greatly improved over the old web site, though.

And by the way, that's Brian Mulligan in the blond wig and beard, as Enrico in Lucia. That definitely confused me.

Met Musicians: Tannhauser Survival Guide

In the run-up to last year's unfortunate labor dispute at the Met, its orchestral musicians started putting out a regular newsletter on the web. After everything settled, more or less, they've kept it up and really done a terrific job of it, providing lots of insight into how an opera orchestra works and what its members do. They had an article on the oldest living former orchestra member, they've had memorials to recently deceased members.

Now they've got a survival guide to the Met's upcoming Tannhauser production, done as a hangout this coming Saturday, October 10. Six orchestra members will tell you all about the opera, its orchestra, and how to survive a Wagnerian marathon.

For details, and to reserve a space in the hangout, read this web page.

Cal Bach's Zelenka

California Bach Society will be performing the Missa Votiva of Jan Dismus Zelenka next week. I've sung some Zelenka myself; he was a great composer whose work seriously deserves many more performances than it gets. Kudos to Paul Flight for getting him on the local radar, at least. The soloists are Rita Lilly and Elizabeth Kimble, soprano; Gabriela Estephanie Solis, alto; Chris McCrum, tenor; and Sepp Hammer, baritone.

Dates & Locations:

Fri, Oct 16, 2015, 8pm at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in San Francisco
Sat, Oct 17, 2015, 8pm at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Palo Alto
Sun, Oct 18, 2015, 4pm at *First Congregational Church* in Berkeley

General tickets are $28 in advance, or $33 at the door; senior tickets are $20 in advance or $24 at the door. Students and patrons under 30 always pay $10. The advance prices are available until 5 pm on Thursday before concert weekends. To order tickets, go here.

Spirited Light: Sacred Music for the New Millenium

That's the title of an upcoming program by North Star Vocal Artists, led by Sanford Dole. It'll be performed in SF and points north later this month and in early November.

The program includes works by Einojuhani Rautavaara, Frank Ferko, Jake Runestad, Ivo Antognini, Sanford Dole, Ola Gjeilo, Joseph Gregorio, Pavel Lukaszewski, and Roxanna Panufnik, a great lineup in my book.

Dates & locations:

Friday, October 30, at 8:00pm
St. Gregory of Nyssa Church, 500 DeHaro Street, San Francisco

Sunday, November 1, at 4:00pm
St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 16290 Arnold Drive, Sonoma

Saturday, November 7, at 8:00pm
First Presbyterian Church, 1510 Fifth Avenue, San Rafael

Sunday, November 8, at 4:00pm
Paul Mahder Gallery, 222 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Volti Open Rehearsal, Wednesday, October 7

Volti, the Bay Area's superb new music chorus, is having an open rehearsal tomorrow in San Francisco. They'll be reading through a new work by Tonia Ko, who is their Choral Arts Laboratory (CAL) composer for the 2015-16 season.

Here are the details:

Volti: Open Rehearsal with 2015-16 CAL Composer Tonia Ko

DATE & TIME: October 7, 20157-9pm


1187 Franklin St
San Francisco, CA 94109

Monday, October 05, 2015

Post-Weekend Miscellany

Sweden has issued a series of arts-related bank notes, and the individuals pictured include Ingmar Bergman, Greta Garbo, Astrid Lindgren, and Birgit Nilsson. Can't the US have pretty currency illustrated with people other than politicians??.....Ethan Iverson interviews tenor Mark Padmore...After consideration, I'm convinced that Alex Ross is right about Andris Nelsons, the BSO, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus...also see Alex's post on the performing arts in America....Patrick Vaz lists "Fun stuff [he] may or may not get to" for October (I also might or might not get to that stuff)...San Francisco Symphony has appointed Matthew Spivey, currently Vice President and General Manager of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO), to the position of Director of Artistic Planning. The press release says this about the job:
As Director of Artistic Planning for the San Francisco Symphony, Spivey will work closely with Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas in setting the Orchestra’s artistic direction and act as a member of the executive management team. He will oversee programming for the Orchestra’s 31-week subscription season, recording projects, commissioning programs, tours, festivals, and provide artistic direction for the SF Symphony’s 200+ concerts and presentations each season. The San Francisco Symphony serves one of the largest concert-going and music education audiences in the U.S.   
That means that he's the guy to complain to when we get a season that looks like this.

Festival Opera, stepping out of its usual habitat in Contra Costa County, will visit Oakland with an interesting double bill next month: Gustav Holst's Savitri and Jack Perla's River of Light. They'll be performed November 14-15, 2015, at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center Arts, 388 9th Street, Oakland, CA. Both chamber operas will be sung  in English. For more information, visit Yes, I'll be thinking about the fact that they're staging a pair of operas, composed by white men, about India.

Saturday, October 03, 2015


I opened the season brochure for Symphony Silicon Valley and found a program called Prokofiev & Sinfonietta, but the composer of the Sinfonietta was listed as...well, see the scan:

Janácfi? What? 

The description sure sounds like the great Janacek Sinfonietta: blazing brass, indeed. The piece calls for 4 horns, 9 trumpets in C, 3 trumpets in F, 2 bass trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 euphoniums, and a tuba.

Aaaaaand the web site has it right: Janáček. Looks like the graphic designer didn't know a hacek from whatever the heck is over the c in the brochure - but how many people did this little goof get past to make it into print?

That said, I'm putting this concert on my calendar. Whatever the Martinù is, I'll enjoy it; I'll enjoy the Prokofiev, and hey, you don't get to hear the Sinfonietta very often owing to the cost of hiring all the extra brass.

Friday, October 02, 2015

October is Hell Month

Groan. I can't go to four concerts every week.

SFS dates are the first day of a 3-4 concert run.
All month: SFO, Lucia di Lammermoor, Magic Flute.
Mariinsky is more than one date. I left Twyla Tharp off.

10/3 - Mariinsky
10/4 - Andras Schiff
10/4 -   Phil Baroque: Scarlatti discovery (other dates as well)

10/11 - SFS Chamber Music: Arensky, Martinu, Paulus
10/12 - Pavel Haas Quartet
10/12 - Bloch Lecture I, UCB: Saariaho, etc.
10/14 - Berkeley Symphony, Ravel, Berlioz, Saariaho

10/15 - SFS/Susanna Malkki, Christian Tetzlaff: Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich
10/16 - UCB: Regents’ Lecturer Anssi Karttunen in Composers Colloquium
10/18 - Anonymous 4
10/18 - Cal Bach: Zelenka Mass
10/18 - Paul Jacobs & Christine Brewer, recital, Davies
10/21 - Bloch Lecture II, UCB:  “Making Music, Sharing Music:“ Kaija Saariaho in conversation with conductor Susanna Mälkki, cellist Anssi Karttunen,

10/22 - SFS/Malkki, Trpceski: Chopin, Sibelius, Tiensuu

10/23 - eco ensemble, UCB: Saariaho composer portrait
10/24 - SFCMP, SFJCC: lots more Saariaho
10/25 - Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Marin County
10/26 - Left Coast Chamber Ensemble
10/28 - Noon concert at UCB: More Saariaho

10/30 - Ades/Cheng concert
10/30 - UCB Symphony: Saariaho, Sibelius, Debussy
10/31 - UCB Symphony: Saariaho, Sibelius, Debussy


In My Book, This was the Wrong Choice.

James Levine has dropped out of conducting the Met Lulu in favor of Tannhaueser.  Draw the obvious conclusions about his energy reserves. I'd certainly rather hear him in Lulu.

From the Met:

James Levine Will Focus His Energies on Tannhäuser This Fall;
New Production of Lulu Will Now Be Conducted By Lothar Koenigs

New York, NY (October 2, 2015) – Faced with the demands of rehearsing and performing two large-scale operas simultaneously this fall, Met Music Director James Levine has decided to lighten his workload by removing the new production of Berg’s Lulu from his schedule so that he may focus his energies completely on Wagner’s epic drama Tannhäuser. Levine has long been identified with Tannhäuser at the Met, having conducted 62 performances of the opera with the company since 1977. Lothar Koenigs, who made his Met debut in 2008 conducting Mozart’s Don Giovanni, will now lead the first 5 performances of Berg’s Lulu, a work he recently conducted at Welsh National Opera. The conductor of the final three performances will be announced at a later date.
“Conducting evening performances of Tannhäuser while rehearsing Lulu in the daytime would be an ambitious undertaking for any maestro, let alone for someone who only recently returned to full-time conducting,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. “I’m pleased that Jim will now be able to concentrate his energy onTannhäuser and that Lulu will be in the capable hands of Mr. Koenigs.”
Tannhäuser opens October 8 and plays seven performances through October 31, which will be a worldwide transmission as part of the Met’s Live in HD series. The cast features Johan Botha in the title role, Eva-Maria Westbroek as Elisabeth, Michelle DeYoung as Venus, Peter Mattei as Wolfram, and Günther Groissböck as the Landgraf.
The new production of Lulu, directed by William Kentridge, opens November 5 and plays eight performances through December 3, including a worldwide Live in HD transmission on November 21. The cast features Marlis Petersen in the title role, Susan Graham as Countess Geschwitz, Daniel Brenna in his Met debut as Alwa, Paul Groves as Painter and African Prince, Johan Reuter as Dr. Schön and Jack the Ripper, and Franz Grundheber as Schigolch.

UPDATE: Perhaps you found yourself wondering who Lothar Koenigs is, since the Met only bothers to mention his Met Don Giovanni performances and Wozzeck at the Welsh National Opera. The press release should have mentioned that Mr. Koenigs is the Music Director of the Welsh National Opera.

Met Cast Changes

Too late for Stephen Costello's withdrawal from last night's Anna Bolena, but here's an upcoming cast change for Tosca:
Roberto Aronica will sing Cavaradossi in the first five performances of Puccini’s Tosca at the Met this season—October 16, 21, 24 matinee, 29, and November 2—replacing Massimo Giordano, who is ill. As originally scheduled, Aronica will also sing the role on November 25, 28 matinee, and December 1 
Aronica adds a role to his Met repertory this season with his first company performances of Cavaradossi, a role he has recently sung with Greek National Opera, Opera di Genova, and Deutsche Oper Berlin. His other recent performances include the title role in Verdi’s Otello and Alvaro in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino at Teatro Regio di Parma; Radamès in Verdi’s Aida with Opera Australia; and Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Arena di Verona. The Italian tenor made his Met debut in 1998 as Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata. His other roles with the company have included the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto, Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème, and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. This season’s performances of Tosca are conducted by Plácido Domingo and Joseph Colaneri and alsofeature Oksana Dyka, Angela Gheorghiu, Maria Guleghina, and Liudmyla Monastyrska in the title role; Marcello Giordani as Cavaradossi; Roberto Frontali, Željko Lučić, James Morris, and Marco Vratogna as Scarpia; and John Del Carlo as the Sacristan. For more information, including casting by date, please click here.
Debating which particular combination of these singers I might want to see; also...surprised to see Guleghina's name in there, for some reason.

London Friday Photo

Peterborough Court, Fleet Street
May, 2014

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Saariaho Month

Kaija Saariaho is in residence at UC Berkeley this semester, and there will be quite a few performances and discussions of her music. Here's a press release from UCB, plus an addition by me, as they omitted the October 14 Berkeley Symphony program.


Monday, Oct. 12, 8-9:3 pm. Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Bloch Lecture 1, “Secret Gardens and Public Persona:“ Kaija Saariaho in conversation with
UC Berkeley’s Matias Tarnopolsky, Mary Ann Smart, and Edmund Campion

Wednesday, October 14, 8 p.m. Berkeley Symphony, Zellerbach Auditorium, UC Berkeley Campus, including Sarriaho's Magica Lanterna

Friday, October 16, 3-5pm, 125 Morrison Hall, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Regents’ Lecturer Anssi Karttunen in Composers Colloquium

Wednesday, October 21, 8-9:30 pm, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Bloch Lecture 2, “Making Music, Sharing Music:“ Kaija Saariaho in conversation with conductor
Susanna Mälkki, cellist Anssi Karttunen, UC Berkeley’s David Milnes and Matias Tarnopolsky

Friday, October 23, 8-10pm, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus, Tickets:
Cal Performances/ECO Ensemble, David Milnes, director
Kaija Saariaho Portrait Concert with guest soloist, cellist and Regents’ Lecturer Anssi Karttunen,
soprano Lauren Snouffer, and baritone Nikolas Nackley.
Program to include: /Sept Papillons/ for solo cello, /The Tempest Songbook/ for ensemble with soprano and baritone, /Notes on Light/, for cello and chamber orchestra.

Saturday, October 24, 7:30pm, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, Tickets:
San Francisco Contemporary Music Players Concert perform works for solo instruments and
video by both Kaija Saariaho and Jean-Baptiste Barrière, including /Six Japanese Gardens/ & /Time Dust./

Sunday, October 25, 8pm, Mill Valley and Monday, 10/26, 8pm, Tickets:
Left Coast Ensemble Chamber Music set including /Miroirs/ and /Sept Papillons/.

Wednesday, October 28, 12-1pm, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus, Free and open to the public
Free Noon Concert featuring Saariaho’s music with live video works of prize-winning Parisian
composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière; “/Chréode; Violance/, featuring guest soloists Camilla Hoitenga;
/Ekstasis/, for soprano, electronics & video on two texts by Simone Weil & Louise Michel featuring
soprano, Raphaële Kennedy.

Friday, Oct. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 31, 8pm, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
University Symphony Orchestra Concert, David Milnes, conductor
Jean Sibelius, Symphony No. 4
Kaija Saariaho, /Leino Songs/ (2007), featuring soprano Ann Moss
Claude Debussy, /Jeux/
Tickets: $16/12/5, 510.642.9988

Friday, November 6, 3-5pm, Department of Music, 125 Morrison Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Bloch Lecture 5, “Continuing Thoughts on Music:” Kaija Saariaho in conversation with Jennifer Koh
and UC Berkeley’s Matias Tarnopolsky
Free and open to the public

Wednesday, October 28, 8-9:30 p.m., Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus, Free
Bloch Lecture 3, Intuition, Collaboration, Discovery: Kaija Saariaho in conversation with, flutist,
Camilla Hoitenga and UC Berkeley’s Matias Tarnopolsky

Friday, October 30, 3-5pm, 125 Morrison Hall, Elkus Room, UC Berkeley campus, Free
Bloch Lecture 4, “From the Avant-Garde through IRCAM, to the Present Moment:” Kaija Saariaho in conversation with composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière and UC Berkeley’s Adrian Freed, Edmund
Campion, and Deirdre Loughridge,

Friday, November 6, 3-5pm, Department of Music, 125 Morrison Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Bloch Lecture 5, “Continuing Thoughts on Music:” Kaija Saariaho in conversation with Jennifer Koh
and UC Berkeley’s Matias Tarnopolsky

Free and open to the public