Saturday, July 30, 2016

Keep Calm and...What?

Some of you might remember this from the 2012 presidential elections:

At the moment, I gotta say, I'm dubious about trusting Nate. Here's why: his calculations right now are way, way off those of his election prediction peers.

Nate Silver,, presidential prediction, polls-only forecast: (computer scientist Andrew Tanenbaum and his colleague-in-statistics Christopher Bates):

These analysts/sites all do election analysis based on polling. The methodology is obviously different to get such wildly different results. I will have to read the fine print, but Nate Silver is very much the outlier here.

Oh, wait: here's the polls-plus forecast.

Okay, that's the model that includes historical data and the state of the economy.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bayreuth Sale at ArkivMusic

ArkivMusic celebrates the opening of the Bayreuth Festival with a sale on Bayreuth-related recordings. "Related" because they're including various recordings by Marek Janowski, who is conducting this year's Ring, but whose own Wagner records were not made at the festival. Also, Furtwägnler's RAI Ring: not from Bayreuth. Und so weiter.

But if you're looking for a cheap Ring recording, look no further. Among others:

  • Furtwägnler, RAI Ring, $34.99
  • Janowski, Dresden Staatskapelle Ring, $27.99 (Sorry about Theo Adam, but otherwise the singing is excellent)
  • Solti, VPO, Ring, $38.99 (Legendary, but not my favorite)
Throw in a few Parsifal recordings, odd ends of Meyerbeer and Weber, and last year's Bayreuth Tristan und Isolde on DVD (Thielemann/Herlitzius, Gould, dr. K. Wagner) and you've got a nice sale.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Elisabeth Schwarzkopf of Movie Musicals

Starting as a teenager in the late 1940s and continuing for the next two decades, Ms. Nixon lent her crystalline soprano to some 50 films, sometimes contributing just a line or two of song — sometimes just a single, seamless note — that the actress could not manage on her own.
That's the soprano Marnie Nixon, who has died at 86, described in Margalit Fox's NY Times obituary for her.

The singer had a long and distinguished career, making many recordings of 20th c. and contemporary classical music and sometimes appearing on stage under her own name. But she still seems to be best remembered as the voice of Natalie Wood in West Side Story, Deborah Kerr in The King and I, and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. And I am pretty well enraged by the tiny pay she received for her enduring excellence singing for those three.

Friday, July 22, 2016

LA Phil Press Department Needs a Macro.

And so do I. Their latest press release, reproduced below, skipped the diacriticals in their Associate Conductor's name.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 8PM
Media Sponsor: KUSC
Los Angeles Philharmonic Associate Conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla returns to the Hollywood Bowl to conduct a concert featuring works by Beethoven and Ravel on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 8PM.  The LA Phil welcomes renowned pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, sopranos Janai Brugger and Elizabeth Zharoff, mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell, tenors Rafael Moras andKevin Ray, and bass Colin Ramsey for a performance of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy with the Los Angeles Master Chorale.  The program also includes Ravel's Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2 with the Master Chorale.
Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla was a Dudamel Fellow with the LA Phil in the 2012/13 season, became an assistant conductor in 2014 and with the start of the 2016 Hollywood Bowl season becomes Associate Conductor.  At the age of 29, she has already made meaningful relationships with top orchestras around the world and gained a reputation for mesmerizing performances.  In addition to her responsibilities as the LA Phil's Associate Conductor, Mirga is Music Director of the Salzburg Landestheater.   Most notably, Mirga has been named Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra starting with the 2016 season.  In this position, Mirga follows in the footsteps of distinguished conductors Sir Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons. 
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, hailed as one of the best pianists in the world, joins the LA Phil for this performance while embracing three significant residencies this season: with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and the Colburn School in Los Angeles.  At the latter, he continues a three-year engagement where his passion for education and fostering young musical talent is invested in masterclasses and performances with the students. Thibaudet's recording catalogue of more than 50 albums has received two Grammy nominations, the Diapason d'Or, Gramophone and Echo awards and the Edison Prize. He has also made a significant impact in the worlds of film, fashion and philanthropy - performing on the award-winning film soundtracks for AtonementPride and Prejudice and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and attired in a concert wardrobe designed by Dame Vivienne Westwood.
Complete program:
BEETHOVEN          Leonore Overture No. 3
BEETHOVEN          Choral Fantasy
RAVEL                   Mother Goose Suite
RAVEL                   Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2
Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 8PM
Los Angeles Philharmonic
PEABODY SOUTHWELL, mezzo-soprano
KEVIN RAY, tenor
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Grant Gershon, artistic director

[There's obviously no way MGT will be mistaken for anyone else. I say they need a macro because I need one too: I have to look up the diacriticals in Gražinytė-Tyla every time. In fact, I'm not even sure what the diacritical over the e is. Sometimes, copy and paste is your friend.]

[I can't tell you how shocked I was to see "Ravel" and "Jean-Yes Thibaudet" and then find that Thibaudet isn't playing one of the Ravel piano concertos.]

Germany Friday Photo

Madonna of the Carnation, Frame
Leonardo da Vinci
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
August, 2015

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Edward Stephan Appointed SFS Principal Timpani

Mr. CKDH and his source - - were right. Here's the SFS press release.

SAN FRANCISCO, July 21 – Edward Stephan has been appointed principal timpani of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), beginning with the opening of the 2016-17 season. Stephan is currently principal timpani of the Pittsburgh Symphony, a position he has held since 2011. He was previously principal timpani of the Dallas Symphony from 2009 to 2011 and the Fort Worth Symphony from 2001 to 2009. While in Texas, he appeared twice as soloist with the Fort Worth Symphony and was awarded the American Airlines Distinguished Musician Award in 2006. "Ed is a remarkable virtuoso and musician,” stated Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. “We all look forward to the exciting contributions he will make to our orchestra."
Edward Stephan began his percussion training at the age of six. He holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Texas and a master of music degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. While living in Boston, Mr. Stephan performed with the Boston Symphony, the Rhode Island Philharmonic, the New Haven Symphony, and the National Lyric Opera. He was a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in 2000 and 2001. He can be heard on numerous recordings with the Pittsburgh Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, Dallas Symphony, and North Texas Wind Symphony.
In recent years, Stephan has performed with the Chicago Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Philharmonia Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, Aspen Festival Orchestra, and the Dallas Opera Orchestra. He has served as principal timpani of the Crested Butte Summer Music Festival and is currently timpanist of the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Stephan is in demand as a teacher and clinician. He presents regular masterclasses throughout North America, Europe, and Asia at many of the world’s most prestigious conservatories, universities, and festivals. He is a co-host and presenter of the annual Washburgh Timpani Seminar, has served on faculty at the Aspen Music Festival, and currently serves as chair of the percussion department at Duquesne University. Mr. Stephan proudly endorses Adams timpani, Pearl percussion products, Remo percussion products, Luft Timpani Mallets, and Mike Balter mallets.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Get Out Your Tape Recorders: SF Opera Fall Broadcasts

From San Francisco Opera comes the fall schedule of broadcasts on KDFC and the WFMT Network. In addition to the June, 2016 operas (Carmen, Don Carlo, and Jenufa), you can hear the David Gockley gala concert and a 1982 performance of Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto, conducted by the late Sir Charles Mackerras and starring a terrific-looking cast.

KDFC can be heard on the FM dial at 90.3 (San Francisco, Los Gatos and Saratoga), 89.9 (North and East Bay), 92.5 (Ukiah-Lakeport), 104.9 (South Bay and Peninsula); on Comcast Cable 981; or online at  KDFC monthly broadcasts can also be streamed on demand at after each initialSunday night broadcast.

Sunday, August 7 at 8 p.m. – CONCERT: Celebrating David! Gala in honor of David Gockley
Julie Adams, Renée Fleming, Ana María Martnez, Karita Mattila, Patricia Racette, Nadine Sierra, Heidi Stober (sopranos); Catherine Cook, Sasha Cooke, Daniela Mack, Dolora Zajick (mezzo-sopranos); Michael Fabiano, Brian Jagde, Simon O’Neill, Pene Pati (tenors); Edward Nelson (baritone); Eric Owens (bass-baritone); René Pape, Anthony Reed (basses); Nicola Luisotti, Jiří Bělohlávek, John DeMain, Patrick Summers (conductors); Frederica von Stade and Thomas Hampson (co-hosts).  Recorded June 16, 2016.

Sunday, September 4 at 8 p.m. – FROM THE ARCHIVES: George Frideric Handel’s Julius Caesar
Tatiana Troyanos (Julius Caesar), Valerie Masterson (Cleopatra), Sarah Walker (Cornelia), Delia Wallis (Sextus), James Bowman (Ptolemy); Charles Mackerras (Conductor). Recorded Summer 1982.

Sunday, October 2 at 8 p.m. – Georges Bizet’s Carmen
Irene Roberts (Carmen), Brian Jagde (Don José), Ellie Dehn (Micaëla), Zachary Nelson (Escamillo), Amina Edris (Frasquita), Renée Rapier (Mercédès), Edward Nelson (Moralès); Carlo Montanaro (Conductor). Recorded Summer 2016.

Sunday, November 6 at 7 p.m. – Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlo
Michael Fabiano (Don Carlo), Ana María Martnez (Elisabetta), Nadia Krasteva (Princess Eboli), Mariusz Kwiecień (Rodrigo), René Pape (Philip II), Andrea Silvestrelli (Grand Inquisitor); Nicola Luisotti (Conductor). Recorded Summer 2016.

Sunday, December 4 at 8 p.m. – Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa
Malin Bystrӧm (Jenůfa), Karita Mattila (Kostelnička), William Burden (Laca Klemeň), Scott Quinn (Števa Buryja); Jiří Bělohlávek (Conductor). Recorded Summer 2016.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Women's Self-Defense Intensive: Sign Up Now!

The sort of thing you learn in this class.

I've still got some openings in the intensive women's self-defense class that I'm teaching this month. You can sign up between now and Saturday, or just come to the dojo at 12:45, fifteen minutes before the class starts.

This class includes  basic kicks, strikes, blocks, and defenses against common attacks, with a focus on practicing physical skills. It's open to all adult women, cis or trans. No previous athletic or martial arts experience necessary.
  Dates:      Two Saturdays, July 23 and July 30
  Time:       1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
  Tuition:    $90 (open to all regardless of ability to pay; just let me know in advance)
  Location:  Mind-Body Dojo
                    7512 Fairmount Avenue
                    El Cerrito, CA

Send me email ( if you'd like to enroll, if you have questions, or if you'd like to be on my dojo mailing list. Alternatively, use the contact form on the dojo web site.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Little More Drama at Bayreuth

Castorf Ring

Soprano Jennifer Wilson is stepping aside from the role of Sieglinde in the upcoming Bayreuth Ring. Heidi Melton will be taking the role instead.

Slipped Disc has published a gracious statement from Wilson, and it sounds as though she lost the role through no fault of her own - a significant disappointment, I'm sure.

Marek Janowski had expressed concerns that her timbre was too much like that of Catherine Foster, Bayreuth's Brünnhilde, and decided during the rehearsal period that it would be best to buy out her contract. He would be fine with having her as Brünnhilde in a concert performance.

Then Wilson quotes him as follows:
He told me that he no longer conducts staged opera because he hates the productions, but that if a concert of Walkuere came up he would be happy to have me as his Brunnhilde.
That's mighty puzzling. I mean, Janowski has said this before, and he has recorded a Wagner opera set in concert over the last decade. But the last I looked, Bayreuth is staging Frank Castorf's Ring again this summer, and Janowski is conducting it. I'm very curious why he seems to have made this one-time exception, especially with a production that has gotten more a few epithets thrown at it since 2013.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Occasional Tomato Report

On the positive side, I have at least one tomato on each of the plants.

On the negative side, the plants themselves are not looking great (not shown).

Germany Friday Photo

August, 2015

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

JACJ Quartet?

Some news from the marvelous JACK Quartet: founding members Ari Streisfeld, violin, and Kevin McFarland, cello, will be leaving the group. Streisfeld has accepted a position at the University of South Carolina School of Music, where he will start a new Masters Degree in Violin Pedagogy program. McFarland has relocated to Colorado and plans to spend more time there with his longtime partner. He says that "I plan to spend more time devoted to composition, improvisation, and solo performance projects."

I feel lucky to have seen the JACK twice with the four founders, first in a magnificent program of the four Xenakis string quartets, second in a gripping performance of the Haas string quartet In iij. noct, the quartet played in darkness. After eleven years together, as their FB page says, this is a huge change for them.

I am also sure that the new configuration will be terrific. Joining them will be violinist Austin Wulliman, a founding member of the Spektral Quartet, and cellist Jay Campbell. 

From their FB page, notes on the transition:
The quartet will give its final New York performance with the original members on July 19 at the Lincoln Center Festival celebrating the music of Steve Reich, and our final performance all together will be on August 5 at the Crested Butte Music Festival in Colorado. The new members will transition in during the fall performing together at the Park Avenue Armory in New York on October 30 & 31.
A fond farewell and best wishes to Ari Streisfeld and Kevin McFarland; a warm welcome to Austin Wulliman and Jay Campbell.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Jaap van Zweden Extends Hong Kong Philharmonic Contract

I'm sure he'll have lots of fun with the NY to HK commute, which seems like total madness. The HKPO press release can be read here; short version is that the contract is extended through the summer of 2022.

Updated list of open spots:
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO)
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • 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:
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic; Jaap van Zweden's contract extended through summer of 2022
  • City of Birmingham SO; Mirga Grazintye-Tyla appointed 2/4/2016, succeeding Andris Nelsons
  • 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

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Comments: Public Service Announcement

I've known for some time that I don't get email notifications for all comments submitted to the blog, so I am in the habit of checking Blogger daily for any comments that need to be reviewed and published.

Today, I heard from a regular commenter asking about a comment of his - and I haven't even received an indication of the comment in Blogger.

Please let me know if you've attempted to post a comment that didn't get published. Use my email address,

Friday, July 08, 2016

New SFS Principal Timpanist?

The well-informed Mr. CKDH, of the blog All is Yar, reports that SFS has extended an offer to Edward Stephan of the Pittsburgh Symphony:
The San Francisco Symphony has been without a Principal Timpanist since David Herbert decamped the Bay Area in 2013 in the midst of that orchestra’s labor troubles for the Chicago Symphony, leaving a rather pointed indictment of SFS management in his wake.  After three years and multiple auditions, they appear to be close to filling the void:  an offer has been given to Edward Stephan, currently Principal Timpani of the Pittsburgh Symphony.  No word yet on if he’s accepted.  If he doesn’t, expect Michael Israelievitch to continue as Acting Principal.
No, I have no idea how he knows this, but, as I say, he is well-informed.

What Does Emerging [fill-in-the-blank] Really Mean? And How Long Does It Take to Emerge?

Well, I think I will say: practically nothing, and as long as you need.

This slightly dyspeptic thought stimulated by the fact that "emerging [something]" seems to be the biggest cliche in classical music these days. Practically the only worthwhile thought in composer Kevin Volans' speech is his mention that "emerging composer" is a ridiculous and overly restrictive category, because composers put in that category get attention that drops off as soon as they are seen to have emerged...or reach age 40...and because composer typically get better over time.

Now I've got a press release saying that baritone Lucas Meachem is the Emerging Star of the Year, winner of the 2016 Emerging Stars of the Year Competition. He earned this title through an online poll.

So, um, how is an online poll anything other than a popularity contest? And how do we know that he is THE emerging star of the year, when the poll seems to have been restricted to San Francisco Opera singers supported by the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Emerging Stars Fund? What exactly are the criteria for appearing in this poll?

Says the press release:
The other artists supported by the fund and featured in this competition were Malin Byström (Jenůfa/title role), Sasha Cooke (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg/Magdalena), Leah Crocetto (Luisa Miller/title role), Michael Fabiano (Luisa Miller/Rodolfo; Don Carlo/title role), Brian Jagde (Carmen/Don José), Daniela Mack (Il Barbiere di Siviglia/Rosina), Brian Mulligan (Sweeney Todd/title role; Lucia di Lammermoor/Enrico; La Chute de la Maison Usher and Usher House/title roles), Alek Shrader (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg/David), Nadine Sierra (Lucia di Lammermoor/title role; The Magic Flute/Pamina) and Heidi Stober (Sweeney Todd/Johanna).
Also, you know, Meachem made his first major San Francisco Opera appearances more than a decade ago, appearing in small roles in the 2003-04 season. Online sources suggest that he is 37 years old, which, quite honestly, is typically mid-career. You could also take a look at his OperaBase page to get an idea of the size of his career: it looks pretty darned big to me, with appearances in the recent past and near future at the Met, SFO, LOC,  ROH, LAO, Den Norsk Opera, Dallas Opera, and elsewhere.

Germany Friday Photo

Bayreuth, August 2015

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Purchase Completed, More or Less

I guess I am going to Chicago in November.

A word of warning: I carefully set up an account at LOC this morning, well before single-ticket sales opened up. I logged on and started the seat selection process around 9 or 9:15....and ran into some problems.

I had no difficulty selecting seats for the first two Troyens performances....and then the Tessitura instance would not actually put my Don Quichotte seat selection into my cart. I tried to check out with just the Troyens tickets....and Tessitura managed to lose them before I got to the screen where you provide credit card information.

So I logged off and tried again, and while I did get tickets, they were not as good as I'd had during the first round, when I managed a seat in Main Floor, row BB. I'm a bit behind that now. (Why did I not request press tickets? Because I don't have a paid review for this.)

I left a message with someone at LOC saying that their ticket purchase flow was screwed up: I may have been silently logged off at some point, the Tessitura instance lost my seats, blah blah blah. I'm glad I know the jargon and I am also sorry I don't have more exact notes about the process.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

New York City Opera 2016-17 Season

Well, okay, I admit that I was more than skeptical about the revived / resurrected NYCO, but the 2016-17 season looks great:

  • Aleko, Rachmaninov / Pagliacci, Leoncavallo double bill
  • Fallujah, Tobin Stokes
  • Candide, Leonard Bernstein, dir. Hal Prince (!), some new lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (!!)
  • La campana sommersa, Respighi (The Sunken Bell)
  • Los Elementos, Antoni de Literes (part of the opera in Spanish series)
  • Angels in America,  Eötvös
They've also got a couple of performances of La Boheme and Die Fledermaus this summer.

Visit the company web site for complete information about the season.

Fun Concerts I Can't Get To, But Maybe You Can

Some of us don't like 8 p.m. start times; some of us who are time-agnostic can't logistically get to 6 p.m. concerts. Here are a couple of great-looking concerts with that early start time. For full disclosure, I can never get to concerts on Tuesday or Thursday nights, so the first concert is out on two grounds.

I hear good things about Sol Jin, and his program includes Dichterliebe, always a draw. I have heard Mirella Hagen in the last 24 hours, as a Rheinmaiden on Simon Rattle's recording of you-know-what, plus I heard her in Bayreuth last year, and let me just say, she's a wonderful singer. Wish I could go!

LIEDER ALIVE! or 415-561-0100
Schumann’s Dichterliebe, Brahms and Strauss – Baritone Sol Jin (Merola 2015) and pianist John Parr in collaboration with the Merola Opera Program.
Tue July 5 at 6pm
Sommer-Liederabend – Joint presentation with Wagner Society of Northern California: program of Berg, Britten, Debussy, R.Strauss, Wagner and Wolf by soprano Mirella Hagen and pianist Robin Engelen.
Fri July 8 at 6pm
Both programs at Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez St, San Francisco
Tickets: $75 Premium Reserved Seating, $35 General Admission, $15 Students (all prices include reception with artists and free-flowing bubbly)

Pro Tip of the Day

Over at The Reverberate Hills, Patrick Vaz has his helpful monthly Fun Things I Might or Might Not Get To post. Right at the start, he notes that it's dyspeptic. Yes, it is, and I want to address two of his complaints, which I have heard from others as well:
Dear SF Opera: for the love of God, would you please put a regular calendar, with an obvious link, back on your awful site? And maybe restore the front-page list of the season's operas, with a link to each, the way you used to have them, before you decided it was much more important to have huge slow-loading garish photos of wankers drinking from champagne flutes than it was to provide easy access to basic information about the season?
First thing is the second point: there are links to all of the season's operas, but you have to scroll down a bit from the top of the landing page to find them ( ). Eventually, you'll see this:

Each of those large boxes is a link to the page about the opera named. (As you can see, the run of Carmen is over but it hasn't been removed from the roster yet.)

Now, regarding the calendar: yes, I agree, the company should have a static calendar available someplace. The URL is the obvious location.

But I think it's important to understand why there isn't one: the new SF Opera web site is designed to work across different sizes of screens, from the 24" desktop monitor I have at work to my smart phone, which is on the small side by current standards. 

And there's a reason the company wants its web site to work across screen sizes: I believe they've stated that 80% or so of web searches and hits for the site are coming from phones and tablets. Static calendars look like shit on small screens because they need to be a fixed size to list all necessary information. Using what's called responsive design, which looks good on all screen sizes, is the best way to do this.

I can say from looking at my dojo's web site statistics that around 80% of hits to the site are also coming from small devices....and that's why the web site uses a responsive design.

And here, finally, is the tip. To find the page for a specific opera, type the following into Google: name_of_opera

Substitute Carmen for name_of_opera and the first link will be to the Carmen page, for example.

Monday, July 04, 2016


The San Francisco Opera 2015-16 season is over, with 2016-17 opening in September. It's time for the summer festival season, whether at the abandoned Oakland Wood St. Station, where West Edge Opera will hold forth, or Bayreuth, where Andris Nelsons abruptly stepped down from conducting the new production of Parsifal, which stars Klaus Florian Vogt.

But the talk never stops. A few weeks ago, music director Nicola Luisotti and SFO announced that Luisotti had decided not to renew his contract when it runs out in two years, that is, at the end of the 2017-18 season. This effectively means that his last appearance on the podium as music director will be during the fall of 2017, because the summer season in 2018 is given over wholly to the Ring, with former MD Donald Runnicles conducting.

So here's a place for you to list your favorite candidates for the job, their strengths and weaknesses, and why you'd like to see them here.

I, of course, have a few of my own favorites and will comment on other names that have come up. In no particular order:
  • James Conlon, since the Met didn't pick him up to succeed James Levine. He is a terrific all-around conductor who has done some superb work in LA and at SF Symphony; he has lots of opera experience; he is passionate about a particular repertory (Entartete Musik, which he promoted with his Recovered Voices project). Currently: Music Director of the LA Opera and of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra, Turin, Italy.
  • Semyon Bychkov. Well, who wouldn't want him? A great conductor, and he does not have a permanent post. Of course, that means he doesn't want one.
  • Pablo Heras-Casado. PH-C should be the front runner for a lot of jobs right now; why the NY Phil didn't grab him, I do not know. He has the widest working repertory of any living conductor, from early music to music of our time; he is an interesting and exciting conductor; he would look good in the publicity photos. He appears to be extremely charming. (Gratuitous and unnecessary remark: he looked awfully slick at his last SFO appearance. The unruly curls were better.) Currently: Principal Conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke's, NYC and Principal Guest Conductor, Teatro Real, Madrid.
  • Donald Runnicles. Love him, and he's as photogenic as Heras-Casado, but: Been there, done that. Why would he leave his current great job at the Deutsche Opera Berlin to come back here? The only thing that would surprise more than the Return of Runnicles would be the appointment of James Levine.
  • Susanna Malkki. Her visits to San Francisco Symphony have been mighty impressive and have included lots of interesting repertory. She is formidable in 20th and 21st c. music, as the former MD of the mighty Ensemble Intercontemporaine. She was recently appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the LA Philharmonic, so we know she'll be spending some time in sunny California. She is chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic.
  • Alan Gilbert. The outgoing music director of the NY Philharmonic is a dab hand at late 19th repertory and forward, and the upcoming season is his last in NY. He has conducted at the Met and done semi-staged opera at the NYPO. We could conceivable get a production of Nielsen's Maskerade if he were SFO MD.
  • Cornelius Meister, who lead a fabulous Abduction from the Seraglio in his only SF Opera appearance some years ago. Unfortunately, he was just named music director of the Stuttgart Opera.
Okay, I'll name Heras-Casado, Malkki, and Gilbert as my actual favorites for the job.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

The Late Friday News Drop, Dream of the Red Chamber Edition

Design for Bao Chi Costume, by Tim Yip

Received from San Francisco Opera at 5:45 p.m. last night, a carefully-worded press release about a cast change in their upcoming premiere of Bright Sheng's Dream of the Red Chamber:

SAN FRANCISCO (July 1, 2016)—San Francisco Opera announces a principal cast update for Dream of the Red Chamber, the new opera by Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng and co-librettist David Henry Hwang which receives its world premiere on September 10, 2016, with five additional performances through September 29. Japanese-American mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts, who is currently starring in the title role of Carmen, will now sing the role of Bao Chai, replacing previously announced mezzo-soprano Nian Wang who has determined that the vocal part was not a suitable fit for her voice and has withdrawn from the project.
Sacramento native Irene Roberts made her San Francisco Opera debut as Giulietta in Les Contes d’Hoffmann in 2013 and returned this summer to perform the title role of Carmen in a production by Calixto Bieito. During the 2015–16 Season, Roberts joined the ensemble of the Deutsche Oper Berlin where she appeared as Carmen, Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro. She also performed the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos with Palm Beach Opera and made her debut at London’s Wigmore Hall in recital with tenor Bryan Hymel and pianist Julius Drake. Past seasons have seen Roberts at the Metropolitan Opera (Le Nozze di Figaro and Parsifal), Palm Beach Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Atlanta Opera.
Roberts will join a cast of established and rising Asian singers in Dream of the Red Chamber, including Chinese tenor Yijie Shi (in the role of Bao Yu); South Korean soprano Pureum Jo (Dai Yu); South Korean mezzo-soprano Hyona Kim (Lady Wang); in her U.S. debut, Chinese contralto Qiulin Zhang (Granny Jia); Taiwanese soprano and Merola Opera Program alumna Karen Chia-ling Ho (Princess Jia); and Chinese-American mezzo-soprano and former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow Yanyu Guo (Aunt Xue).
The Company also announced several new cast members for the work today. Tenor Alex Boyer and current San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows tenor Pene Pati and baritone Edward Nelson will perform the ensemble roles of Eunuchs and The Stone while a trio of current Adler Fellows—sopranos Amina Edris and Toni Marie Palmertree, and mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde—will assume the ensemble roles of Handmaidens and The Crimson-Pearl Flower. Bay Area actor Randall Nakano will make his San Francisco Opera debut in the non-singing role of The Monk.
Based on one of the great classical novels of Chinese literature by 18th-century Q’ing dynasty writer Cao Xueqin, Dream of the Red Chamber will be brought to life by an all-star creative team of acclaimed Taiwanese director and playwright Stan Lai and designer Tim Yip, who is perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning art direction in Ang Lee’s 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
The announcement of new cast members is interesting and gives us some ideas of the shape of the opera; I'm wondering whether the Handmaidens and the Eunuchs will be latter-day Ping, Pang, and Pong, for example

But the big news is, of course, Nian Wang's withdrawal. You can't argue with a singer who says "not a good fit," and the chronological distance from the premiere, which is just a couple of months off, makes it likely that the announcement was held until the company was sure that they had a suitable replacement. 

And I describe this as a carefully-worded press release because of the description of Wang's replacement: "Japanese-American mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts." It was apparent from the original cast announcement that San Francisco Opera had sought out Asian singers for the leads, which I thought wise, considering how common it is in show business in general to cast European-descended performers as Asian characters, a practice called "yellowface." I'm glad that the company was able to cast Roberts in this role, and at a late date, it could not have been easy to find a Asian replacement for Wang.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Separated at Birth; Jazz & Science Fiction Edition

Ethan Iverson, left; Charles Stross, right

Charles Stross will be at Borderlands Books in San Francisco on Sunday, July 11, 2016 at 3 p.m.
The Bad Plus (including Ethan Iverson) will be at Herbst Theater in San Francisco on Saturday, January 21, 2017, at 7:30 p.m.

Manon Lescaut No No No.

From the Metropolitan Opera:
In order to conserve her vocal energies in a season that has included numerous performances of demanding repertory, Anna Netrebko has withdrawn from three of her eight scheduled performances of the title role in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Met next season. In her place, Kristine Opolais—who starred in the premiere of the Met’s new staging earlier this year—will sing the role of Manon Lescaut on November 21, December 7, and December 10. 
In order to accommodate her added performances as Manon Lescaut, Ms. Opolais will withdraw from one of her scheduled performances of Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème. In her place, Hei-Kyung Hong will sing Mimì on December 8.

Tomatoes Today

They were falling over, so I had to put them in tomato bondage last night.

It's Déjà Vu All Over Again: Cost Disease, Round le 47th, or, A Tale of Two Opera Houses

This time it is the normally sensible Terry Teachout running aground in the Wall Street Journal on the shoals of the so-called cost disease and its effect on musical organizations. "Cost disease" is a term that some economists apply to a situation where costs go up, but for various reasons, productivity can't go up, leading to a spiral of increased costs.

I've heard the term applied to classical music off and on for the last ten or so years. The argument runs something like this: it takes four musicians to perform a string quartet, and that's the same number it took in [some year in the past], but they are getting paid more and they can't increase their productivity.

Well, it depends on how you define productivity. Every time this argument comes up, I point out that, in fact, there has been an immense increase in productivity in classical music. Musicians these days have incredible chops, vastly more technical ability than even 50 years ago. Listen to recordings of Le sacre du printemps from the late 20s - there are three - or even from the 50s, then compare to the quality of what you get now, when college and even good high school orchestras can play the piece more competently than professional orchestras from the 1920s.

If you can learn music faster, and play it better, you have an increase in productivity. That 18th c. string quartet may have taken the same four players for a Haydn quartet that the Takacs takes today, but could they play the Bartok quartets?

Beyond this, Terry has chosen to address the problems of the Metropolitan Opera through the lens of the cost disease. The Met has major financial issues, but I just don't see them as having a damn thing to do with the cost disease.

Here are the critical numbers:

Metropolitan Opera expenses, FYE July 2003: $201,000,000
Metropolitan Opera expenses, FYE July 2013: $311,900,000
(Sources are the 990 forms right here.)

Percentage of tickets sold, 1995-96: 90%
Percentage of tickets sold, 2015-16: 66%
(Source: Terry's WSJ article)

Who needs the cost disease to explain this? Expenses went up 50% -by a cool $100 million - during a period when ticket sales were falling. A 50% cost increase is nearly impossible for an arts organization to absorb; if your tickets sales are falling on top of that, your fund-raising requirements go up and up and up.

I'm going to further note that all the smaller-scale productions in the world will not reduce overall costs at the Met because of the union contracts.

And the cost disease, which should apply across the board to all opera companies, does not explain why a company such as San Francisco Opera should manage to approximately break even annually and avoid that 50% cost increase that the Met has incurred. It's not SFO has gotten a whole lot more efficient than the Met.

In this case, I'll just go ahead and state what should be obvious: SFO has far better management than the Met! We have had a decade of labor peace; the size of our endowment has tripled under David Gockley; he has held costs under very tight control; and he has introduced some operational efficiencies by consolidating certain operations across the courtyard from the opera house; he has built a new, 299-seat theater and an archive, and turned all of this into a great fund-raising opportunity.

Germany Friday Photo

Globetrotter, Munich
The REI of Germany