Sunday, January 31, 2016

Tattling: Usher Special Edition

So, what do you think the responsibilities of music-venue ushers might be? I would say the following:
  • Hand out programs.
  • Help patrons find their seats.
  • Help with special seating situations (a conflict over whose seat it is - I was involved with one of these years ago - or a seat that just doesn't work for some reason).
  • Deal with anti-social audience behavior.
A few years ago, I was at a concert where a woman and a small child - perhaps 8 or 9 years old - were seated a row or two behind me. The child was fidgety and chatty during the first half of the program. I spoke with an usher and the child was silent for the second half.

In the last week, I've been to two programs where somehow the ushers didn't manage to fulfill their responsibilities to the audience in dealing with anti-social behavior from other audience members.

At SFS last week, Marek Janowski conducted a couple of Beethoven symphonies. My partner and I didn't sit together; she was in an accessible seat on a side aisle near the rear of the hall, I was closer to the stage.

During the second half of the program, a couple near her chatted to each other throughout the performance. An usher was seated near my partner, who gestured to the usher about the noise, making what I would have thought was a universally-understood gesture (cue flapping thumb and fingers - I'm sure you know what I mean). After the concert, my partner spoke with the usher, who said, first of all, "but they were in the box." (Implication: people in boxes are too important to be asked to keep quiet during a performance.) The usher also thought, somehow, that it was the movements of the couple that were disturbing my partner.

Now, SFS goes to some lengths to encourage audiences to stay quiet during performances. They've got charming pre-recorded announcements by various members of the orchestra (for instance, Robert Ward doesn't sound nearly as gruff as he looks; he has a sweet light tenor speaking voice). I have never heard an exception, such as "except for you folks in the boxes; you can talk all you want." And of course, most of us have paid good money to sit in the hall, and deserve exactly the same consideration from our fellow audience members. 

If SFS wanted to allow random talking during the performances, they could build out a few glass-enclosed boxes and sell the seats for a premium price -- but they haven't, because of the general expectation that audience members will behave respectfully toward each other and the musicians.

Today, something similar happened at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's magnificent performance of Messiaen's Des canyons aux etoiles....One or more audience members chattered through the concert and an usher seated nearby did nothing.

What. The Fuck.

Ushers, it is really up to  you to keep the anti-social members of the audience from interfering with patrons' enjoyment of a concert. Please do your jobs.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

NY Phil Appoints Jaap van Zweden

Jaap van Zweden
NY Philharmonic Photo

Jaap van Zweden, currently music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Hong Kong Philharmonic, will be the next music director of the New York Philharmonic, succeeding Alan Gilbert. (Link is to the press release.)

Van Zweden starts his term in 2018-19 and will be music director designate in 2017-18. During that season, he will be leading several weeks of programs at the NYPO.

Van Zweden is currently recording Wagner's Ring in live concerts for Naxos with the HKP; Das Rheingold has already been released and Die Walkuere was just recorded within the last couple of weeks. It is of even more interest to me now. The singers include Matthias Goerne (Wotan), Stuart Skelton (Siegmund), Heidi Melton (Sieglinde), and Michelle deYoung (Fricka).

The conductor was in the news a couple of years ago owing to reports of clashes with the musicians in Dallas. When speculation started about who would succeed Gilbert, Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim more or less said, do not hire someone who has musician problems. 

Van Zweden studied at Juilliard and was appointed concertmaster of the Concertgebouw at the astonishingly young age of 19, becoming a conductor in his late 30s. He's now 55.

Related coverage:

Updated list of open spots (I removed the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra because Jansons re-upped for another five years; thank you, Immanuel!):
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO)
  • City of Birmingham SO (Rumors of Edward Gardner; suggestion made that Mirga Grazintye-Tyla is also a strong possibility)
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Orchestra Nationale de France
  • Vienna Staatsoper / VPO (Dominique Meyer not planning to appoint a WSO MD; his contract expires in 2020.)

And closed:
  • New York Philharmonic; Jaap Van Zweden appointed, 1/27/16, succeeding Alan Gilbert
  • National Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda appointed, 1/4/2016, succeeding Christoph Eschenbach.
  • Leipzig Gewandhaus: Andris Nelsons appointed, 9/9/2015
  • LSO: Simon Rattle appointed, 3/2/2015
  • Orchestra de Paris: Daniel Harding, 6/11/2015
  • Berlin Philharmonic: Kirill Petrenko appointed, 6/22/2015
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard succeeds Donald Runnicles in September, 2016

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Whoever Could Have Predicted?

Jonas Kaufmann out of the Met's upcoming Pagliacci and Manon Lescaut, owing to illness.

This will have a domino effect, with Roberto Alagna replacing Kaufmann in Manon Lescaut....and Marco Berti replacing Alagna in Alagna's scheduled Pagliacci performances. It's best explained by the Met's press release:
Star tenor Roberto Alagna—currently at the Met giving an acclaimed performance of Canio in Pagliacci—will sing his first-ever performances of des Grieux in Manon Lescaut, replacing Kaufmann. To allow time for him learn the staging before theFebruary 12 new production premiere, Alagna must withdraw from his remaining performances as Canio as he undertakes this new challenge. The French tenor, who has sung more than 100 Met performances since 1996, learned the role of des Grieux for a 2006 series of performances that were canceled, meaning that this season’s Met performances are the first time he will ever sing the part onstage.
Marco Berti, currently starring at the Met as Calàf in Puccini’s Turandot, will replace Alagna as Canio in the remaining performances of Pagliacci. These performances will be Berti’s Met role debut as Canio.
(Let's just say that at this point, I will faint if Kaufmann ever sings opera on the West Coast.)

The Impossible Happens

LA Opera has a better 2016-17 season than San Francisco Opera.

Main stage:

  • Macbeth, Verdi; Placido Domingo (sigh), Ekaterina Semenchuk/Conlon
  • Akhnaten, Glass; Anthony Roth Costanza in the title role. Matthew Aucoin conducts a PHelim McDermott production
  • Abduction from the Seraglio, Mozart; Aleksandra Kurzak and others/Conlon.
  • Salome, R. Strauss; Conlon/Patricia Racette.
  • Tales of Hoffman, Offenbach. Diana Damrau as the four female leads, Nicolas Teste (her husband) as the four bad guys. He's a good singer, fortunately; unfortunately Placido Domingo conducts and Marta Domingo directs.
  • Tosca, Puccini. S. Rad, Russell Thomas. Conlon conducts.

Also, a semi-staged production of Wonderful Town and off-main productions of The Source, a new score for Nosferatu by Aucoin, and Kamala Sankaram's Thumbprint.

Not-quite-full details after the cut. See the company web site for full details.

Monday, January 25, 2016

As If.

Maybe I just don't know what goes on in the upper reaches of Davies - after all, I usually sit in the orchestra section - but the following photo, which accompanied a request to complete a survey about the program I just attended, doesn't look anything like what I saw around me Saturday night at Marek Janowski's program:

You got your young white male hipster, your young white female hipster (I presume), and a young probably-African American male. I'd be a lot more likely to see this folks at SoundBox - at least, that's what I think. You tell me.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Robert Tuggle

Robert Tuggle
Metropolitan Opera Photo
Linked from the Met home page

I just got the sad news that Robert Tuggle, Director of Archives at the Metropolitan Opera since 1982, died yesterday. The Met has a news flash up about this; there are some remembrances of Bob at opera-l and, at Opera Nostalgia, Charles Mintzer has written a memorial as well.

I knew Bob slightly; he was very kind to me when I was actively researching the life and career of Dame Eva Turner, and over the years he'd made some contributions to the accumulated stock of information about her. He traced her career and found 75 performances of Turandot, not the 200 she claimed, for example.

I encountered him first as the author of The Golden Age of Opera, and eventually he signed a copy I gave to a friend of mine. He told me that the bit in the book about the alleged suicide of Claudia Muzio very likely wasn't right; that he had eventually discovered that his source, the Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayao, had not even been in Rome when Muzio died.

He was a lovely man and did an immense amount for opera and the Met, where he worked for nearly his adult life: his decades as archivist were preceded by many years doing education for the Metropolitan Opera Guid. He had been working for a very long time on a biography of Kirsten Flagstad, and like many others I hope it will eventually be published.

RIP, Bob Tuggle. You'll be greatly missed. And deepest condolences to Bob's partner, Paul Jeromack, and to all of Bob's friends and family.

London Friday Photo

One Poultry, London
May, 2014

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Open Door Jujitsu: Upcoming Classes

First of all, my dojo has a new name and a new web site. We are still conveniently located a short walk from El Cerrito BART, near the Central Avenue exit from 80/580, and close to San Pablo Avenue.

Second, we've got two special classes coming up:

Simple Balance Exercises Class

Saturday, February 6, 2016
12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m
$20/student, no one turned away for lack of funds. Open to all.

A one-session class on easy exercises that you can do at home.

Women's Self-Defense Class 

Four Saturday afternoons
March 5, 12, 19, and 26, 2016
~noon to 3 p.m. (might be 12:30 to 3:30)
$150/student. No one turned away for lack of funds. We are LGBT-welcoming.

Concerned about your personal safety? This 12-hour class reinforces your self-confidence and provides practice in self-protection techniques, including:
  • The foundations of self-protection: Alertness, awareness, & avoidance
  • Use of the voice; use of common objects as weapons
  • Basic strikes: hammer blow, heel of hand, elbow blows
  • Basic kicks: front, side, rear
  • Escapes from common attacks: chokes, bear hugs, hair pulls
  • Defending yourself on the ground or against a wall
  • How to deal with an attacker who has a weapon
  • Securing your home
  • Staying safe on the street, in your car, home, or workplace

To enroll, or for more information about either of these classes, email me at

Friday, January 15, 2016

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Repertory Fatigue

The SF Opera season announcement came out earlier this week. Before I tell you what's in it, let's take a look at some company history, including the upcoming season.
  • Don Giovanni: 1995; 1999-2000; 2006-07; 2011-12; 2016-17 (five bring-ups since 1995)
  • Rigoletto: 1997-98 (two runs with different casts), 2001-02, 2006-07, 2012-13, 2016-17 (five bring-ups since 1997)
  • La Boheme: 1996-97 (Broadway Boheme, 4 rotating casts, many performances), 1999-2000 (two runs with different casts),  2003-04 (two runs with different casts), 2008-09, 2014-15 (two different casts), 2016-17 (6 bring-ups since 1996)
  • Madama Butterfly: 1995-96, 1997-98, 1998-99, 2001-2002, 2002-03, 2005-06, 2007-08, 2010-11, 2013-14, 2016-17 (10 bring-ups since 1995, i.e. you can depend on seeing this in alternate years) 
That's just since I re-upped in 1995 after not having subscribed since the mid/late 1980s.

You know why I'm doing this, right? Because these works are again on the schedule, all in the same year. It is a depressing season, and the infinite rerun of Rigoletto, Boheme, Don Giovanni, and Butterfly is why. (It could be worse: La Traviata could have been on the schedule!)

This kind of scheduling suggests a major failure on the part of SF Opera, an admission that they can't figure out how to sell a modestly more interesting season to their patrons. David Gockley said as much to Joshua Kosman:
“This is a transition year, and I didn’t want to leave my successor with something big and ugly,” Gockley said in a phone interview. “I wanted to be sure to hand Matthew something that was attainable.” 
This is a sad state of affairs and doesn't serve the audience well. Or at least it doesn't serve audience members who want something beyond the operatic top 10 (or 25), who want the repertory to expand rather than contract, who think that a little dissonance doesn't chase audiences away, who think that there are plenty of operas with tunes that are never heard but are worth reviving, whether that's early Verdi, the unknown Donizetti, operas by Respighi, Martinu, and others.

Here are the main-stage operas, with some casting information.
  • Andrea Chenier, with up-and-coming tenor Yonghoon Lee, soprano Anna Pirozzi, George Gagnidze, J'nai Bridges. Nicola Luisotti conducts.
  • Dream of the Red Chamber, cond. George Manahan and an all-Asian cast that will be singing in English. Most singers make their debuts, but you will remember Nian Wang from Les Troyens.
  • Don Pasquale, with the brilliant Lawrence Brownlee, finally making his SFO debut; Heidi Stober, Maurizio Muraro, Lucas Meecham/Giuseppe Finzi, production by Laurent Pelly so it will be Cute.
  • Vec Makropoulos: with Nadja Michael as EM; I thought her poor in Salome. Stephen Powell as Prus, Scott Quinn is Albert Gregor. Mikhail Tatarnikov conducts.
  • Aida, with Leah Crocetto, Brian Jagde, and Ekaterina Semenchuk. I am not convinced that this will work well for Crocetto, who has a lovely voice that doesn't seem quite right for this spinto role, and who isn't a big projector of emotions. I've never been wholly won over by Jagde. Prediction: Semenchuk, who showed both voice and temperament in her tiny appearance in Luisa Miller, runs away with the show. George Gagnidze is Amonasro; he is this season's Christian Van Horn/Brian Mulligan/Andrea Silvestrelli. Luisotti conducts.
  • Madama Butterfly: If only I hadn't retired this opera, I might look forward to seeing Lianna Haroutounian in the title role. Zanda Svede as Suzuki, Maxim Aksenov as Pinkerton, Anthony Clark Evans as Sharpless. yves Abel conducts, Jordi Bernacer takes the last performance.
  • Rigoletto: Quinn Kelsey should be very good, almost certainly superior to Zeljiko Lucic, who took the title role last time; Pene Pati as the Duke, Nino Machaidze as Gilda. Andrea Silvestrelli is back as Sparafucile, Zanda Svede is Maddalena. It'll be the Yeargan again, reimiagined in some way by director Rob Kearley.
  • La Boheme. Erika Grimaldi/Julie Adams (Mimi), Ellie Dehn (Musetta), Arturo Chacon-Cruz (Rodolfo), Audun Iversen (Marcello; cond. Carlo Montanaro.
  • Don Giovanni: I have not see DG since the great production of 2007, and I might skip it again. Idelbrando D'Arcangelo as Giovanni, Erin Wall (Anna), Ana Maria Martinez (Elviro), Marco Vinco as Leporello, Sarah Shafer as Zerlina. Marc Minkowski conducts (possibly the most interesting aspect of the opera).
God help us all: nine operas, of which seven are Italian, one is Czech, and one is in English (despite its source material, composer, and all-Asian cast!). Nothing German, nothing Russian, nothing French, and except for the premiere, none written after 1925. That's almost as timid a season as I can imagine. It's as though the giant productions of 2015 sucked all the money sense air out of the room, leaving a Greatest Hits for Beginners season. Two Verdi, two Puccini, one each of Mozart, Donizetti, Sheng, Janacek, and Giordano.

Things are better across the street in the tiny Taube Atrium Theater, which seats 299. We'll get Anna Caterina Antonacci in Poulenc's poignant La voix humaine and Ted Hearn's The Source. That does not make up for the above....a season I'll have to be paid to attend, except for the three operas I've never seen before, two of which are not among opera's greatest works and one of which is completely new....and maybe Makropoulos because I love the opera.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

The Guys of Lammermoor

San Francisco Opera staged a new production of Donizetti's evergreen Lucia di Lammermoor  this fall. Based on Sir Walter Scott's novel The Bride of Lammermoor, the opera has held the stage continuously since its premiere in 1835. Yes, I expect that there will be a few bicentenary productions twenty years hence.

By then, this production is likely to be dead and buried, just like the skewed-perspective production done in 1999 and the 2007 production that I can't tell you about because I skipped it entirely.

The new production, with design and projections by Erhard Rom, directed by Michael Cavanagh, looks good. It's based on a memorial of some kind in Italy, and so there's a lot of fake marble on stage, both inside the castle and outside in the gardens. It's so orderly that there is not much sense of nature or of Scottish wilderness, both of which I think are, or should be, part of the environment of this particular opera, so the looks sort of go for nothing.

Photo by Cory Weaver, SF Opera

Also, Enrico's study looks like it was designed by Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe. This is evidently because of a time shift from early 19th c. Scotland to the middle of the 20th c.

It's true that there is a rocky Scottish coast visible through the picture window. Presumably they've got a really really good boiler installed in the Ashton manse.

Piotr Beczala (Edgardo Ravenswood) and Brian Mulligan (Enrico Ashton) 
duke it out at the Wolf's Crag.
Photo by Cory Weaver, SF Opera

The big exception is the Wolf's Crag scene, in which Enrico Ashton confronts his political enemy - the man whose estate he has stolen - Edgardo Ravenswood. This is set on a terrace that evidently is floating up in the clouds someplace; it was vertiginous to behold because of the swirling clouds, but still, somehow, it seems perhaps a bit too neat for rural Scotland.

Also, everyone is dressed in...what? Mid-century urban clothes? There were plenty of trench coats, which I thought had left with Pamela Rosenberg were no longer de rigueur in updated productions. There's just one exception, which I'll get to later in this review.

I could not figure out the motivation for the updated production. Is Enrico supposed to be a 20th c. criminal? If so, I couldn't tell; I would have needed a lot more overt violence for this point to get across.

The singing really was very good, with the handsome Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, not heard here for a few years, unveiling a darker and more burnished sound than in his last appearance. Brian Mulligan - basically the star of the fall season, with starring roles in Lucia, Sweeney Todd, and the Poe double bill - sang beautifully as the Bad Guy. So did Nicolas Teste as Raimondo (Lucia's spiritual advisor) and AJ Glueckert as Normanno, Enrico's henchman. Tenor Chong Wang looked natty in plaid as doomed bridegroom Arturo but sounded less comfortable than as Hylas in the summer's Les Troyens. Zanda Sveda was memorable as Lucia's companion Alisa despite having about only about 30 measures to sing.

Still, overall, it wasn't what I'd call a great Lucia. And it's largely because the most memorable singing came from the men who are not the star of this particular show, full stop.

Oh, wait. I seem not to have discussed the star of the show.

So when Diana Damrau's withdrawal was announced, I hit my head against the wall a few times, and I'm sure you did too. The German soprano is a wonderful performer with a great voice, and I had seen her replacement, Nadine Sierra, only once before, as Papagena in The Magic Flute.

Sierra, then an Adler Fellow, was an excellent Papagena and the role seemed an excellent fit, which is why I was a bit surprised when she was announced as the Nozze Countess in the 2014-15 season. It's a role that requires more gravity than your typical mid-20s Papagena has. I had tickets to that revival, but wound up swapping them for a pair of tickets to Troyens that I gave to friends, so I missed Sierra's Countess.

I'd love to tell you that she was a spectacular Lucia, the greatest replacement ever, but I'm afraid I really can't. She was certainly competent, singing the fioriture with a good legato and executing the trills cleanly. She did a good job with Lucia's famous Mad Scene, in tune and beautifully coordinated with principal flutist Julie McKenzie (who got a well-deserved on-stage solo bow at the end of it all) although...well, it was a remarkably polite Mad Scene, especially considering the Grand Guignol crime scene she left behind.

Nadine Sierra as Lucia
Photo by Cory Weaver, SF Opera
Maybe she used up all her verve killing him.

I hear that the bridegroom shown above was a body double, not Chong Wang. Personal to the stage designers and makeup artists: we've all seen a lot of CSI and Law & Order:SVU, and the spatter on the walls just doesn't match the wounds on the corpse!

But the big problem with Sierra was that she just wasn't very exciting or interesting. Her voice is pretty enough but not remarkably so; her singing was good enough but not spectacularly so. And this opera is best when the title character can bring a little spectacle to it....and not just the spectacle provided by a particularly bloody bedchamber.

Oh, and that exception I mentioned above: somehow, Lucia was the only character on stage dressed in 19th c. clothing, except, of course, for the ghosts who, irritatingly enough, kept popping up throughout the opera.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Pierre Boulez Media Round-Up and Odd Ends

I'm still sad over the death of Pierre Boulez at 90. As Alex Ross said, he was the "last remaining titan of the post-war avant-garde." It's the passing of an era.

From San Francisco Symphony comes the news that Boulez conducted here once, in 1986, in their New & Unusual Music Festival at the Civic Auditorium. But he didn't conduct SFS! Instead, he conducted the Ensemble Intercontemporain, in his own Dialogue de l'ombre double and Répons.

SFS itself last performed a work by Boulez in 2003; it was Messagesquisse, with MTT conducting.

Here's a partial listing of obituaries and commentary about Boulez. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Pierre Boulez

Le Maître Pierre Boulez has died, age 90. He was an immeasurably important composer, conductor, and teacher. His music, of immense complexity and intellectual rigor, could still be magnificently beautiful.

I saw him conduct a varied Rug Concert at the NY Phil in the 1970s, and his own sur Incises at the Ernest Fleischmann memorial concert five years ago. It was as gorgeous with Matthias Pintscher and the Boulez-founded Ensemble Intercontemporaine in Berkeley last year. For me, there's no better work to remember him by.

Media roundup of obits and memorials to follow.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Noseda to National Symphony Orchestra (DC)

Gianandrea Noseda will be the next music director of the Washington, DC National Symphony Orchestra. He will be Music Director Designate for a season (2016-17), with his appointment commencing in the fall of 2017. His initial contract runs through 2020-21.

I have never heard Noseda conduct, so I have nothing the slightest bit useful to add to Anne Midgette's coverage, to which I link above. He has conducted the Met on several occasions and there will be reviews at the Times of his work there.

Updated list of open spots:
  • New York Philharmonic
  • City of Birmingham SO (Rumors of Edward Gardner)
  • Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Orchestra Nationale de France
  • Vienna Staatsoper / VPO

And closed:
  • National Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda appointed, 1/4/2016, succeeding Christoph Eschenbach.
  • Leipzig Gewandhaus: Andris Nelsons appointed, 9/9/2015
  • LSO: Simon Rattle appointed, 3/2/2015
  • Orchestra de Paris: Daniel Harding, 6/11/2015
  • Berlin Philharmonic: Kirill Petrenko appointed, 6/22/2015
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard succeeds Donald Runnicles in September, 2016

Friday, January 01, 2016

Haydn's Students

Here's another outstanding program from the New Esterhazy Quartet, a great opportunity to hear music by composers you probably haven't heard of. Um, okay, it's likely you've heard of that Beethoven guy:

Haydn and His Students VIII

János Spech: Quartet in G minor, Op. 2 No. 1 
Joseph Haydn: Quartet in Bb, Op. 71 No. 1
Ludwig van Beethoven: Quartet in F, Op. 59 No. 1

Friday, January 15, 2016, at 8pm, Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar Street (at Spruce),
Berkeley, 94709 tickets for this Friday concert are $20, and are sold only at the door 

Saturday, January 16, 2016, at 4pm, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church,
1111 O'Farrell Street (at Franklin), San Francisco, 94109

Sunday, January 17, 2016, at 4pm, All Saints’ Episcopal Church,
555 Waverley Street (at Hamilton), Palo Alto, 94301

Tickets for Saturday & Sunday are $25 (discounts for seniors and students)

(415) 520-0611

London Friday Photo

Princelet St., Spitalfields, London
May, 2014