Friday, May 19, 2017

Bonus Friday Photo 2

Detail from a Pieta, LACMA
March, 2017

Bonus Friday Photo

Kauai, HI
April, 2017

Bonus photo because I ran a pair of photos twice this year.

Oakland Friday Photo

Crimini Mushrooms, Farmer Joe's Market


William Baumol, an important economist,  died the other week at 95. You can read his NY Times obituary here. The Times is evidently not going to run the letter I sent them, so here's a blog post on the subject.

He is most famous in musical circles for Baumol's cost disease, which is explained in the obit as follows:
For example, he said, it takes exactly the same number of people and the same amount of time to play a Beethoven string quartet today as it did in, say, 1817. Yet the musicians who spent years studying and practicing — and still have to eat and live somewhere while doing that — cannot be paid the same as their 19th-century counterparts. Their wages, too, will rise, even though they are no more productive than their predecessors were. As a result, their work eventually becomes increasingly expensive compared with more efficiently produced goods.
That paragraph takes an extremely unsophisticated view of what musicians do. The violinist of 1817 had far fewer technical resources than the violinist of today, because of changes in how violin is taught, changes in expectations, and changes in the music professional violinists must be able to play today. The violinist of 1817 hadn't seen anything more difficult than Beethoven and Bach. The violinist of today has seen Paganini, Bartok, Wagner, Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Stravinsky, Berg, and many, many other composers who make great demands on a player's technique.

This has raised productivity in an extremely important way: the player of today can learn music much, much faster than the player of 1817. That is an increase in productivity. To provide on example, the orchestra for the first attempt at performing Tristan und Isolde had something like 50 or 60 rehearsals before everybody threw in the towel and declared the opera unperformable. Contrast that with the San Francisco Opera orchestra, which had the following rehearsals for the company's 1998 and 2006 productions of the opera:

12 hours orchestra readings (4 rehearsals)
9 hours sitzprobe (3 rehearsals)
7.5 hours staging (2 rehearsals)
Dress rehearsal (1 rehearsal)

33.5 hours rehearsal
10 rehearsals

10 hours orchestra reading (3 rehearsals)
3.5 hours sitz (1 rehearsal)
6.5 hours staging (2 rehearsals)
Dress (1 rehearsal)

25 hours of rehearsal
7 rehearsals

(Grateful thanks to Teresa Conception and SFO Orchestra Manager Tracy Davis for providing these details.)

It takes about three to four weeks to stage an opera these days, and.....can you recall the last time a work was declared unperformable after 70 rehearsals? No? That's because of increases in musician productivity - even though it still takes four players the same amount of time to perform a Beethoven quartet as it did 200 years ago.

Friday, May 12, 2017

An Already-Interesting Don Giovanni Gets Even More Interesting

San Francisco Opera's upcoming Don Giovanni production was already intriguing, between the debuts of Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Erin Wall, Stanislas de Barbeyrac, and conductor Marc Minkowski, and the return of Sarah Shafer, Ana Maria Martinez, Michael Sumuel, and Andrea Silvestrelli. Joshua Kosman had a cast-change article in the Chron last night and now I have the press release:
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (May 12, 2017) — San Francisco Opera’s 2017 Summer Season will include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the War Memorial Opera House beginning Sunday, June 4 through Friday, June 30 for eight performances. In a cast change announced today, Uruguayan bass-baritone Erwin Schrott and American bass Erik Anstine will sing the role of Leporello. Both artists are making their first appearances with San Francisco Opera and stepping in for previously scheduled bass Marco Vinco, who has withdrawn from the production for health reasons. Schrott is scheduled to sing the first six performances and Anstine the last two.
I did not much care for Marco Vinco's last appearance here, as Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte in a dispiriting performance of a great opera, so no regrets here, especially with Erwin Schrott coming in for most of the performances.

If you happen to check out my Cosi post, I should note that Ellie Dehn has proven to be a terrific singer in other roles; I loved her Musetta in the last Boheme and she was a standout in last year's Carmen. Maybe this particular role was just not a good fit. AND Claudia Mahnke, not so good in this Cosi, was a fabulous Fricka in 2015's Bayreuth Ring. Maybe they were done in by Luisotti? It is reasonable to expect that Marc Minkowski will be much better.

Oakland Friday Photo

May, 2016

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Santa Fe Opera, 2018

Santa Fe Opera announced its 2018 season today:

  • Candide, Bernstein, new production (Laurent Pelly), company premiere. Bicket/Rae, Shrader, Burdette, Schneiderman, Ott, Troxell.
  • Madama Butterfly, Puccini, revival. Bignamini; Kaduce/Martinez, Gluekert/Guerrero, Marino, Pallesen
  • Doctor Atomic, Adams & Sellars, new production, company premiere. Aucoin/McKinney, Bullock, Bliss, Arwady, Okulich, Mix
  • The Italian Girl in Algiers, Rossini, revival. Rovaris/Mack, Swanson, Conner, Hendrix, Verm
  • Ariadne auf Naxos, R. Strauss, new production. Gaffigan/Echalaz, Sledge, Morley, Majeski, Gilfrey
Most exciting, to me, is the new production of Doctor Atomic. I hope it won't be a duplicate of the SF production. After that, Ariadne. Might see Butterfly as it has been ten years. Candide, maybe, but there will be a good semi-staged version at SFS next season.

I Called It.

This past January, I ran a blog post speculating a bit about future San Francisco Opera productions. Here's part of what I said:

Santa Fe Opera has commissioned an opera by Mason Bates called The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. Bates is a popular guy in San Francisco, with SF Symphony commissions and a Beethoven/Bates Festival to his name, not to mention, a Grammy-nominated CD.
If I were the general director of a prominent opera company that is situated at the north end of Silicon Valley, in a city overrun with young (and not so young) nerds who work for companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, and, yes, Apple, and I had an interest in attracting more young, well-off audience members, well, I would be chatting with Santa Fe about doing the second bring-up of an opera about the loved and hated founder of Apple. Note: as announced, it also has a smallish cast, which, in these economic times, is always welcome.
As I noted at the time, I had and have absolutely no inside information about this, but I did call this one. Here's the press release I just got, announcing dates and also the news that SFO has signed on as a co-commissioner along with Santa Fe and Seattle. Co-produced with Indiana U and with support from Cal Performances, too.

I'd previously noted the small cast. One act with a prologue and 19 scenes sounds like the opera tops out at two hours, max, so, less rehearsal times, etc.

That bit about his confidant, Steve Wozniak?? Woz designed the first couple of Apple models and is also an iconic figure. And I spotted him in the audience at the Berlioz Requiem last week.





SAN FRANCISCO (May 9, 2017) – San Francisco Opera today announced its participation as a co-commissioner of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs—the first full-length opera written by Bay Area composer Mason Bates and set to a libretto by Mark Campbell—joining Santa Fe Opera and Seattle Opera, with support from Cal Performances. The new work is a co-production with Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and will have its world premiere beginning July 22, 2017 at Santa Fe Opera. San Francisco Opera will present the Bay Area premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs during the Company’s 2019–20 repertory season at the War Memorial Opera House. Bates’ electro-acoustic opera is composed in one act and is comprised of a prologue and 19 scenes.

The creative team is led by director Kevin Newbury, who previously staged the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2013) and a new production of Norma (2014) for San Francisco Opera. In their Company debuts, the designers include scenic artist Victoria “Vita” Tzykun, costumes by Paul Carey, lighting by Japhy Weideman, projection design by London-based 59 Productions and choreography by Chloe Treat. Casting and conductor for San Francisco Opera’s presentation will be announced at a later date.

San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock said: “This is a profoundly moving new opera that I am excited to bring to Northern California audiences. Steve Jobs was an iconic figure in contemporary life whose genius has impacted the very way in which we engage with the world. But he was also a real person and a member of our immediate community. Mason’s new opera is a deeply layered, moving portrayal of a man grappling with the complex priorities of life, family and work. Like all great operas, I have been so impressed by how it speaks to the universality of the human condition. This is not just an opera about one man. It is an opera about all of us.”

Composer Mason Bates added, “Jobs’ search for inner peace is the story of the opera, which is about a man who learns to be human again.” Together, Bates and Mark Campbell have fashioned an opera that traces the development of Jobs’ spirituality through his relationships with five major figures in his life: his wife Laurene, his confidant Steve Wozniak, his girlfriend Chrisann, his spiritual advisor Kobun and his father Paul. The past informs the present along this deeply emotional journey, during which Steve Jobs never leaves the stage. Bates has established distinct musical idioms for each character and notes that “as they interact, their music will blend almost like on a DJ rig.”

According to scenic designer Victoria Tzykun: “The products and experiences that Steve Jobs dreamed up with his teams defied expectations and provided a sense of wonder. That sense of wonder is what is very important for us to capture in this production. In order to provide that for modern audiences, we are harnessing cutting-edge technology and fusing it with traditional stagecraft in a way that will create a world that has never yet been seen on an operatic stage: a visually minimal physical environment that can morph in an endless variety of ways through physical movement, video and light. The scenic units will glow from within and be projected on as they move about the stage, seamlessly blending the different mediums.”

Since its inception in 1923, San Francisco Opera has embodied a spirit of innovation. From the building of the iconic War Memorial Opera House in 1932 to the creation of the Merola Opera Program and Adler Fellowships, San Francisco Opera continues to be an industry leader in the opera world. The Company has also had a long history of presenting world and United States premieres including a new work by John Adams, Girls of the Golden West, scheduled to open November 21, 2017.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Hector, I Love You, But What Were You Thinking?

To SF Symphony last night for the second of three performances of Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts, better known as the Requiem, Op. 5, of Hector Berlioz.

James Keller's notes for the piece are a hoot, but the first thing that caught my eye is that these performances are being done in a reduced version by conductor Charles Dutoit, who is on the podium this week. Reduced, and yet:
4 flutes, 2 oboes and 2 English horns, 4 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 8 trombones (all offstage), 3 tubas, 8 timpani (some timpanists also play percussion), bass drum, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, tenor drum, and strings (16 1st violin, 14, 2nd violin, 12 violas, 10 cellos, 8 double basses), mixed chorus of 80 sopranos and altos, 60 tenors, 70 basses, and a tenor soloist. In addition, 4 brass ensembles positioned at the four points of the compass, consisting of N, 2 cornets, 2 trombones, and tuba, E 2 trumpets and 2 trombones, W 2 trumpets and 2 trombones, and S 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, and 2 tubas.
The score also gives instructions should a performance feature more players.

In any event, holy cow, this is a bizarre piece even by Berlioz's standards. Completed in 1837, the composer revised it in 1852 and in 1866-67, so evidently....well, I'm curious about the earlier versions and might check whether the first version has ever been recorded. I mean, I am making an assumption here, that only the last version is performed and recorded these days.

As I said, it is a rather bizarre work. It is quite long at about 80 minutes, and Berlioz makes compositional choices that, shall we say, are not the obvious ones. Your typical Dies Irae is a flamethrower; see Verdi, for example. Not this one, which is hushed and slow-ish, with Berlioz holding the fireworks for the Tuba Mirum and, perhaps, Symphonie Fantastique. The text-setting is awkward and so is the vocal phrasing. Last night was the first time in a long while that I really regretted not getting a recording in advance of a performance, because I'd never heard a note of the piece, and, well. I wish I'd had an idea of what was coming.

It has some fabulous moments, some very loud, as when everybody is going at once and the only way you know there are strings is that you can see them bowing furiously, and some very quiet, as in the closing Sanctus, and some in the middle (whichever movement it is where the strings and brass do nothing for an extended period and it's just the chorus and winds). But formally, well, it is messy and awkward, the composer's immense ambition somewhat exceeding his ability to create something unified. By Les Troyens, with a great dramatic libretto to hang his fabulous music on, he'd come a long way.

I must also say that the performance itself left something to be desired. The orchestra, normally a miracle of precision, had some off moments at the beginnings of phrases. The huge chorus, consisting of the SF Symphony Chorus, Young Women's Choral Projects of San Francisco (Susan McMane, dir.), and Golden Gate Men's Chorus (Joseph Piazza, dir.) sounded as though it needed to live with the work for a good deal longer, which is one way of saying they sounded underrehearsed. There was a general lack of confidence, heads were deep in scores much of the time, and the sopranos in particular had noticeable tuning problems in exposed phrases, of which, alas, there are many.

This piece is nothing like the other big choral works in the SFS Chorus's repertory; that's a group that could probably sing the Brahms or Verdi Requiems from memory and that does amazing work on shorter and less oddball works. But it's strange enough to make the Missa Solemnis sound easy, and that is saying something.

Other opinions:

  • Joshua Kosman, Chron, calls the performance anemic, and yeah, I'll go along with that. Surprising lack of energy for the number of people in the house. I found myself wondering at one point what Donald Runnicles would have done with it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Le Temple de la Gloire, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, PBO Chorus, New York Baroque Dance Company and Many Individuals

I saw the first performance of PBO & Friends' short run of Rameau's Le Temple de la Gloire, with libretto by Voltaire, on Friday night, April 28. Cal Performances presented it at Zellerbach Hall, one of their venues on the UCB Campus. 

Oh, man - it was a huge amount of fun. I've seen a fair amount of Baroque opera, most of it Handel with several Monteverdi productions thrown in for good measure. This was my first experience of French Baroque opera; not only that, French Baroque opera presented with an intention of getting somewhere near French Baroque production style. The Handel and Monteverdi operas were all presented in varying degrees of modern style, the better to avoid a completely static production. This was...different, in good ways.

The PBO forces had Baroque-style sets, Baroque-style ballet, and Baroque-style movement. That is, the singers used a vocabulary of fairly stylized physical gestures; the dancers didn't get very far off the ground. The dance vocabulary was more limited than today's ballet and didn't call for the same extreme physical technique. The sets were a hoot; an assortment of painted flats flown in and moved in and out from the sides.

Aaron Sheehan as Apollo in PBO’s Le Temple de la Gloire, by Rameau. Photo by Frank Wing.

The music was terrific and mostly very beautifully performed; yay, Nicholas McGegan, who brings life and joy to all he conducts. I loved the dancing and the dancers from the NY Baroque Dance Company, and there was a lot more dancing than you'd find in more recent, say, 19th c., operas.

The singing was mostly excellent, with some variation of voice size and flexibility. I especially liked soprano Chantal Santon-Jeffery, who has a big, glamorous voice, Philippe-Nicolas Martin, who has a gorgeous baritone voice and would make a fine Chorebe, and Camille Ortiz-Lafont, whose dark and beautiful mezzo lent considerable character to Act 2.

Artavazd Sargsyan as Bacchus and Camille Ortiz-Lafont as Erigone in PBO’s Le Temple de la Gloire, by Rameau. Photo by Frank Wing.

As for the plot...well, there isn't exactly a plot. It's about how to be a good ruler and be admitted to the Temple of Glory. During the opera, three different rulers try to gain entrance, and two fail. This was aimed directly at Louis XV, the French king of the time. It didn't matter much, and of course there was the fabulous dancing ostrich. (You can see photos of her on Twitter; thank you, PBO! And thank you, Cal Performances, for access to the press photos.)

PBO’s Nic McGegan with NYBDC’s Catherine Turocy (center in black) with the cast of Le Temple de la Gloire by Rameau. Photo by Frank Wing. 

The curtain call photo above gives the best idea of the style and scope of the sets. I believe that if you click it, you'll be able to see a larger version.

I'm very glad to have seen this, and let me note that somehow I hear a through-line in the vocal declamation from Rameau to Gluck to Berlioz. I hope to see more Rameau, and this particular public Twitter exchange suggests that we just might:

Let's just say that I hope the Board of Directors of San Francisco Opera was in attendance at Le Temple de la Gloire and that they agree with their General Director that SFO needs to stage some Rameau.
Other Commentary (Yes, I know the last several are coming):
A preview by Georgia Rowe, Mercury-News; another by Charlise Tiee at KQED; another, by Lou Fancher, at SFCV.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Roomful of Teeth

Courtesy of Roomful of Teeth
Photo by Bonica Ayala

The new music group came to town the other day, and some reviewers were there.

Something I couldn't squeeze in: there's a collaborative aspect to some of the works Roomful of Teeth performs because the composers are singers in the group. This is a good thing; instant feedback, the ability to adjust to the group's astounding capabilities. 

And something irrelevant to the review: reading the texts from The Tempest reminded me of how gorgeous it is, and that I must re-read it.

Monday, April 24, 2017

When Databases Don't Communicate

I received the following somewhat amusing email from San Francisco Opera:

We noticed you were looking into Rigoletto. We're thrilled to present a dazzling cast under the baton of Music Director Nicola Luisotti, who infuses this classic masterpiece with "breathless urgency" (San Francisco Chronicle).
Dear Lisa,
We noticed you were looking into Rigoletto. We're thrilled to present a dazzling cast under the baton of Music Director Nicola Luisotti, who infuses this classic masterpiece with "breathless urgency" (San Francisco Chronicle).

We look forward to seeing you at the Opera House soon!
Questions? Our friendly and knowledgeable Box Office staff are here to help!

Only somewhat amusing, because

1) It's ambiguous whether this is trying to sell me a ticket, but I bought a Rigoletto ticket last year
2) most people don't understand how an email such as the above even gets sent
3) some percentage of SFO customers will find it upsetting to receive email such as this

Either I was logged in to the SFO web site when I last looked around at who was singing what or the site deduced my identity from a tracking cookie. That information went to the marketing software that sent me the email above, but there is no point in this process where the ticketing database is checked to see whether the target (that's me) already has a ticket. (I think, because it's ambiguous.)

I'll probably be sending this email along to the right person at SFO to suggest adding such a check, but in the meantime, I've got an addition to the publicity basics page: Don't Make Your Customers Think You Are Stalking Them.

And You Thought Opera Tickets Were Expensive.

Here's a screen cap of SHN's ticket sales page for Hamilton. There are a surprising number of tickets available directly from the house, without going through the expensive, and legal, secondary market, and yet I'm not leaping to buy:

Because $868 ticket is what I'd be willing to pay for a Bayreuth ticket.....for Lauritz Melchior singing Tristan.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Flying Tenor

Says a cast change announcement from the Met:
AJ Glueckert will make his Met debut as Erik in Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer and will sing the role in the first four performances of the opera at the Met this season on April 25, 29matinee, May 4, and 8. The American tenor replaces the originally announced Jay Hunter Morris, who has withdrawn from his scheduled performances for personal reasons.

This is also Mr. Glueckert’s role debut as Erik, a role he will reprise at Oper Frankfurt later this season. As a member of the ensemble at Oper Frankfurt, he has sung the Prince in Dvořák’s Rusalka and Lyonel in Flotow’s Martha. Additionally, he has sung with other opera companies including  Don José in Bizet’s Carmen at Pittsburgh Opera, Steersman inDer Fliegende Holländer and the Preacher in the world premiere of Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene at San Francisco Opera, Bacchus in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxosat Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and the Crown Prince in Kevin Puts’s Silent Night at Minnesota Opera and Opera Philadelphia. Later this season, he will sing Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Glyndebourne Festival.

Der Fliegende Holländer will be conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and also star Michael Volle as Holländer, Amber Wagner as Senta, Dolora Zajick as Mary, Ben Bliss as Steersman, and Franz-Josef Selig as Daland. The May 12 performance casting of Erik will be announced at a later date. For further information, including casting by date, please visit 
Hoping all is well with Jay Hunter Morris, a fine singer of whom I am fond; he was a memorably beautiful young Siegfried in the 2011 SF Ring, both vocally and physically.

Congrats to AJ Glueckert, who was an Adler Fellow and is also a terrific singer.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Work in Downtown SF? Want to Sing in a Chorus?

Then have I got a group for you!

The SF Tech Chorale is currently under construction. This group will meet at 345 Spear St., in Google's offices there. Read all about it, right here, and then sign up.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

McGrath on Fleming

Almost ten years ago, Charles McGrath had an article in the NY Times about Anna Netrebko that irritated me so much that I think I stopped reading somewhere on the first page, after he stated or implied that before the modern era, no opera singers could act. Okay, maybe Callas? But otherwise, acting was an art discovered only by recent singers.

Now he's got a big gushy piece about Renée Fleming. I have to note that alone of the three pieces that were published this week about her, his more or less says that her upcoming Met appearances as the Marschallin will be her last stage appearances. Well, that's been the rumor for the last year or two, plus the other articles say she will continue to appear in recital. And if you look at her own schedule, you'll see that they are her only stage appearances there. Otherwise, it's concerts, galas, and recitals as far as the eye can see.

There's an awful lot to disagree with in the Fleming article: her departure is only a watershed if you think she sells out every ticket in the house (I am not convinced) or if you think she is an extremely important singer. Well, look at the repertory she has sung, which has been central lyric roles, very little of it unusual. She has sung little new or contemporary music. She hasn't had the huge and varied repertory that some singers have. There's a photo of her singing "Ain't it a pretty night" from Susannah - did she ever appear in the complete opera? The answer is yes, she did, in a single run at the Met. Her other appearances in 20th c. opera were Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles, Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire, and Susa's The Dangerous LiaisonsI'm willing to bet not, especially since the article states outright that in the 90s she and her management team made a decision for her to limit her repertory. [This paragraph updated to include full information about Fleming's appearances in comparatively recently operas.]

Netrebko and Kaufmann sell out the house, no doubt, especially Kaufmann (though we will probably never see him in the US again).

I'm pretty sure that it was Fleming's own publicists who managed to tag her as "the people's diva," and who managed to get her on the Super Bowl and lots of TV shows. That's they're job, after all.

McGrath mentions Fleming's "early talent" in jazz. This was certainly a road not taken; I have personally never thought Fleming had much of a feel for swinging rhythm and can't quite imagine her relaxing enough to really let down her hair in jazz. And by not much of a feel, I mean, not much in the way of rubato in her opera singing.

Then there's this appallingly ignorant statement, in the list of her roles:
...the title role in Dvorak’s “Rusalka” (an opera that was practically unheard-of until Ms. Fleming brought it back into the repertory)...
First thing is, Rusalka has never been out of the repertory in Czech-speaking areas. Second thing, it has never been in, or brought back into, the repertory (that is, a piece that is regularly performed) in the US. (Take a look at the opera's recent and forthcoming performance history at Operabase.) Thus, McGrath's phrasing is simply bizarre.

Fleming sang around 20 performances of it at the Met and another half-dozen or so at SF. The SF performances were around 20 years ago, too; the Met 20 were scattered over 2 or 3 runs or the opera over the years. I do not know which other companies she sang it with, but not enough to drag it into the repertory, let alone "back into" the repertory, where it never was: the first Met performances were with Gabriela Benackova, in 1993, and at SF with Fleming. SF hasn't revived it and doesn't own a production.

But the big problem here is that McGrath is giving her credit for something she doesn't have any real responsibility for. She could have been an advocate for Czech opera in the US, but she hasn't been.

I think McGrath might be confused here:
Ms. Fleming doesn’t have much interest in becoming a figure like Adelina Patti, the hugely popular 19th- and early-20th-century opera star who went around, like Cher, giving farewell concerts for 20 years after she “retired.”
I'm really pretty sure that he's thinking of Nellie Melba.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

WDCH. Then and Now

WDCH, March, 2017
Rather late in the day, which is why two of the huge steel plates look gold and several look black. 

I took many photos of Walt Disney Concert Hall in the fall of 2007, using a now-obsolete Canon point & shoot. I now have a Canon dSLR, the EOS Rebel Ti5, and on a recent visit I took many more photos.

The 2007 photos are here; the 2017 photos are here. They are pretty different! It remains the most photogenic building I have ever seen, not to mention one of the greatest concert halls in the world.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Bonus Photo

Oakland, March 2017

I see that once more, I cleverly posted the same Friday photo twice. Here is a make-up photo.

Did All That Dancing Do This to Her?

Patricia Racette has withdrawn from upcoming Met performances of Alfano´s Cyrano de Bergerac owing to an abdominal hernia. Jennifer Rowley will sing all of the performances. Toi toi toi to Jennifer Rowley and best wishes to Patricia Racette in recovering from the hernia! (This might require surgery....)

Oakland Friday Photo

Persimmon Leaves
November, 2016

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Christian Reif at Berkeley Symphony

Received today, not a surprise:
BERKELEY, CA (March 23, 2017) – Guest conductor Christian Reif will lead Berkeley Symphony in Shostakovich's evening-long, epic Symphony No. 13, “Babi Yar,” on Thursday, May 4 at 8 pm at Zellerbach Hall. The Orchestra is joined for the Berkeley Symphony’s season finale performance by bass Denis Sedov and a men’s chorus comprised of alumni of the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus, the Pacific Boychoir Academy, and members of the St. John of San Francisco Russian Orthodox Chorale, led by chorusmaster Marika Kuzma. Reif is stepping in for Berkeley Symphony Music Director Joana Carneiro, who recently gave birth to triplets.
Tickets for the Berkeley Symphony concert on May 4 start at $15 and are available at www.berkeleysymphony.org or by phone at (510) 841-2800, ext. 1.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Met National Council Audition Results

A couple of these young singers' names should be familiar!
This year’s winners are Samantha Hankey, 24, mezzo-soprano (Eastern Region: Marshfield, MA); Kirsten MacKinnon, 26, soprano (Middle Atlantic Region: Vancouver, BC, Canada); Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, 23, countertenor (Eastern Region: Brooklyn, NY); Richard Smagur, 26, tenor (Central Region: Clarkesville, GA); Kyle van Schoonhoven, 28, tenor (Central Region: Lockport, NY); and Vanessa Vasquez, 26, soprano (Middle Atlantic Region: Scottsdale, AZ).
Kyle van Schoonhoven is a first-year Adler Fellow;  Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen was in last year's Merola program. Congratulations to all of these talented singers!

Stop, Already!

Found in my in-box, and this is just a sample:

  • Her program, the complete Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach, is one of the most beloved works in the piano repertoire (SF Performances)
  • Best known for the beloved children’s novels A Series of Unfortunate Events he wrote as Lemony Snicket – and which he has recently adapted into an acclaimed series for Netflix – Daniel Handler brings his relentlessly mischievous style to a new play for adults. (Berkeley Rep) 
  • Violinists Itzhak Perlman, Cho -Liang Lin, concertmaster of Philadelphia Orchestra David Kim and Midori have put together special video greetings to celebrate the centennial of their beloved teacher - Dorothy Delay.  (Dorothy Delay tribute)
  • Members and alumni of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program will also perform a variety of beloved arias, duets and ensembles. (LA Opera)
  • The Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) is a cultural centerpiece of the Princeton community and one of New Jersey’s finest music organizations, a position established through performances of beloved masterworks, innovative music by living composers, and an extensive network of educational programs offered to area students free of charge. (PSO)
  • For the first time, this original jackets edition brings together all of the recital albums this beloved American mezzo-soprano recorded for Columbia Masterworks from 1974 to 1998.  (ArkivMusic)
  • The Bay Area’s beloved former SF Symphony violist Geraldine Walther, now violist of the world-renowned Takács String Quartet, will join forces with superb pianist David Korevaar to perform the Chopin Sonata for viola and piano, Schumann’sMarchenbilder and David Carlson's True Divided Light, commissioned for NVCM.  (Noe Valley Chamber Music)
  • The beloved biblical story of Noah's ark set to music,
    featuring nearly 500 performers of all ages 
    at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on May 6 (LAO - again)
  • Beloved Virtuoso Kyung Wha CHUNG Returns to Carnegie Hall,
    Tackling the Highest Peak:
    The Complete Solo Sonatas & Partitas of J.S. BACH in a Single Evening (Kathryn King Media)
  • First are the beloved outdoor Symphony for the Cities concerts from July 3 to 9. (Minnesota Orchestra)
  • Don’t miss Sonya Yoncheva as one of opera’s most beloved heroines, the tragic courtesan Violetta, opposite tenor Michael Fabiano as her lover, Alfredo. (Metropolitan Opera)
  • The Aram Khachaturian International Competition has aimed at identifying talented young musicians since 2003 when it launched as part of the centennial celebrations for the beloved Armenian composer. 
  • The composer, a true Romantic, became desolate and enraged, hatching a plan to return to France and murder his former beloved, her new suitor, and her mother, then kill himself. (Boston Symphony Orchestra - describing Hector Berlioz)
We need a few more adjectives.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Unpaid Labor

Email received from a theater company:
Subject line: Come sing with us!
[omitted: a couple of notes about their upcoming season] What makes this jaw-dropping piece particularly special is that the playwright asks us to to welcome a completely different choir for each performance!!! What an amazing challenge and opportunity! In this spirit of community, we are reaching out to you - our loyal supporters - for recommendations and thoughts.
Here are the main points we have been sharing with the choirs:
  • The shows are Wed-Sat nights and Sun matinees from May 2nd to June 1st.
  • Each performance will feature a chorus of volunteer 12-20 singers. If your choir is larger, it might be featured in more than one performance.
  • The choir will sing about 20 minutes of music featuring simple harmonies. Our music director believes it will take 4-5 hours to learn. The score is available upon request. There will also be one 2 hour rehearsal onstage before your performance led by our music director. Sheet music and accompaniment will be provided for the performance.
  • We will be promoting your choir on our website, lobby, and emails. Each singer will also be given a 1/2 off ticket price code to pass on to friends and family.
If you or someone you know is in a choir, we hope you might consider joining the dozens we already have booked on this special project. We really think it will be a memorable experience for everyone involved. If you are interested in joining us, would like to see the music, or have any additional questions please email me at [email address omitted]
My reply:
My first thought is this: does [theater company] pay its actors?
I am confident that the answer is yes.
You are here asking for 12-20 singers per performance, and it looks as though there are 20-25 performances. So you're asking for something between 240 to 500 singers to put in 4 to 5 hours each to learn the music, or approximately 960 to 2500 aggregate hours, depending on how fast the singers learn and how many singers there are.
Then they've got to attend a rehearsal and appear in the show, more hours. For this, you are offering a discount code, in hopes of selling tickets to people who want to see their friend or relative perform.
Would you ask actors to put in this much unpaid labor? If not, perhaps you should be hiring a professional chorus for this show. If it's too much money for you to do that, it's the wrong show for [theater company] to perform.
I have not yet renewed my subscription or made my donation for this year. This makes me rethink whether I should continue to support [theater company]. 

Borda Return Media Round-Up

For reference. Am I missing anything? (Yes, so I have updated the post.)

Awaiting the Correction.

An opera company I won't name just made an entertaining error in the email announcing their 2017-18 season. And I can tell you exactly what happened, too.

The email announces four operas. One of them is by a composer who is also represented in this year's repertory. The header area of the announcement names Opera A, which will be done next year. The body of the email, with details about each of next year's operas, lists Opera B...which is in the 2016-17 season.

I'm pretty sure that they used last year's season announcement as a template and somehow didn't update all of the text in the body of the email. The composer name was the same, the costumes might be interchangeable (depending). The link in the header goes to the 2017-18 season, the link in the body goes to 2016-17.

The moral of the story is that your mailing list management program contains a feature that allows you to send drafts to yourself and anyone else you think should proofread outgoing email before you send it to the thousands of email addresses on your mailing list. You should use this feature liberally.

I obviously don't know exactly what happened; maybe someone inadvertently skipped that step or maybe someone thought they were sending the email to 10 people rather than the whole mailing list. But I spotted the error about 2 minutes into reading the email, and probably a few other recipients did too.

I Did Not See This One Coming.

Last week, I published an extremely gloomy post about the current state of the New York Philharmonic, after learning that their chief executive, artistic administrator, and senior vice president for capital campaigns and the endowment were all leaving the orchestra, just as Alan Gilbert leaves, with a year before Jaap van Zweden arrives, and with a renovation down the road that will completely disrupt the orchestra for a couple of years.

Honestly, I thought that the orchestra had a good chance to wind up in bankruptcy court within ten years, considering that they've been running deficits since the 2001-2 season.

But yesterday morning, Michael Cooper of the NY Times managed to scoop the press departments of both the NY Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic by publishing some astounding news ahead of the orchestras' press releases: Deborah Borda, who has been chief executive at the LA Phil for 15 years, is returning to the NY Philharmonic.

As far as I can tell from what I'm reading and hearing, nobody saw this one coming. If you'd asked me who could possibly run the NYPO successfully, i would have said, in no particular order, 1) Brent Assink, who is leaving the San Francisco Opera...and who turned down the NY job last time it was open 2) David Gockley, who has retired from the San Francisco Opera but who probably isn't interested in this job, and 3) Deborah Borda, but she is not going to leave LA.

So much for that thinking.

Over at the Washington Post, Anne Midgette, after picking herself up off the floor, speculates on why Borda would take on this particular challenge:
Why would Borda want to return to a job she already had? Speculation is already running rampant. Her last stint at the New York Philharmonic was a mixed experience. She was the first woman to run a major American orchestra when she took over in 1991, but she had a contentious relationship with Kurt Masur, the music director for her entire tenure. Does this return offer her a chance to realize her vision for the orchestra in the company of a new music director?
Or did she want to live in the same city as her longtime partner, Coralie Toevs, the chief development officer of the Metropolitan Opera? Or did the board just offer her a boatload of money?
The answer is likely some combination of all three, but perhaps outweighed by the thrill of a challenge. The New York Philharmonic, for all of its longtime foibles, is widely seen as one of the pinnacles of the orchestra world, the peak of a career. And it’s in such dire straits right now that only a real visionary can help fix it. No one doubts that Borda could be the person to turn it around; still, it would certainly be a major coup for her were she to pull it off.
I think Anne is absolutely right: the thrill of the challenge has to be a huge factor in the decision. The Philharmonic post is a difficult one, between the musicians' reputation, the apparent lack of direction of the orchestra over a long period, the years of financial problems, and the huge task of raising money for the renovation. If Borda can pull off the renovation and stabilize the orchestra's finances, she'll go down in history as a hero, the savior of the country's oldest orchestra.

The other reasons are significant as well. After 15 years of racking up frequent flyer miles, who wouldn't want to be in the same city as her beloved?

As for the boatloads of money, Deborah Borda is already the highest-paid orchestra executive in the country. When the Phil's 990s start to come out for the second Borda era, we'll see just what the pricetag was. But the point is, if she does what she's setting out to do, she'll deserve every penny.

My last thought on this is speculative: the NY Philharmonic's repertory has been far more adventurous and interesting under Alan Gilbert than under his last several predecessors. You'd need to go back to Boulez to find the last conductor who took a serious interest in forward-looking programming. There has been some concern about Jaap van Zweden's interest in new and recent music. But under Deborah Borda, the LA Phil's programming has been the most interest and adventurous of any orchestra in the country, and it just gets better and better every year. We can at least hope that she'll hire a progressive replacement for Edward Yim and continue this in NYC.