Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pure Speculation

One of the consequences of the changing of the guard at San Francisco Opera is the advent of a general director who is perfectly happy on social media and whose name is appearing on a monthly email newsletter to subscribers. I've now seen enough of his writing and speaking - and sense of humor - to be confident that Matthew Shilvock is writing the newsletter himself. (Note: you could almost play Shilvock Bingo with the newsletter and speeches. He likes "incredible" a lot. :) Between his tweets and these newsletters, we know something about his travels and what he is seeing out there.

For example, we know that Matthew was in Santa Fe last summer, and during the fall he saw Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin from the Met general director's box, in company with Peter Gelb, Kaija Saariaho, and Amin Maalouf, the work's librettist. More recently, he saw Evelyn Herlitzius, our upcoming Brünnhilde, in Barcelona, starring in Strauss's Elektra. (I will interject a small complaint here about the fact that every damn opera company in Europe seems to be producing Patrice Chereau's Elektra, his last opera staging, but we are not.)

One ought not draw conclusions based on Travels with Matthew, but if one were prone to overthinking things, one might speculate a bit. And this is complete speculation; I know nothing other than what is out there in public.

1. 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.

2. L'Amour de Loin is among the most successful recent operas, owing to the shimmering beauty and intensity of its music. Coincidentally, it also has a small cast, with just three characters and what looked like a subset of the huge Met chorus. It can easily be done on a unit set with no scene changes. There have been enough different productions that SFO would have a choice of stagings and would not have to develop its own production.

This would be a great choice for SFO to put on, especially given (ahem) that I think the main stage has never seen an opera composed by a woman. (Rachel Portman's The Little Prince was done at Zellerbach in 2008.) Saariaho is one of the greatest composers of our age. If SFO doesn't do this one, let me heartily recommend Adriana Mater, which is what the company should have done in 2015 rather than the pretty awful Two Women, because it is a much more effective and affecting look at the consequences of war and rape.


Eric Pease said...

thanks for the tip on the Mason Bates opera in Santa Fe. I've never been to Santa Fe and would be a good excuse to do a long weekend trip.

Any tips about attending Santa Fe Opera for a first timer would be appreciated.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm planning a Sante Fe trip this summer. They are also doing a serious rarity, Rimsky's Le Coq d'Or.

If you're flying in, the airport is in Albuquerque, an hour from Santa Fe. ABQ is an interesting city with lots that is interesting. Same with SFe, which has great stuff on their museum hill, where there are a couple of museums. There is also a good museum dedicated to and run by Native Americans.

If you're interested in nuclear history, Los Alamos is about an hour drive away. The Bradbury Museum is weird because it is very pro-nuclear weapon. I saw some amazing exhibits at he county history museum about life at Los Alamos during WWII.

There is a lot of great art for sale, including at some of the pueblos and in galleries in town. Musically, the Santa Fe Chamber Festival is outstanding and a change of pace from the opera. There is likely to be some kind of symposium about the Bates opera.

The city is interesting to just wander around on foot.

The opera house is fantastic, partly open to the air, at the sides and out the back of the stage. The unusual construction does mean that they don't have a fly tower. If you see sets being rolled on and off from the sides, that is why.

I would book a place to stay as soon as you have your dates. I found a very nice place through VRBO the last time I went. AirBNB is also possible and there are lots of hotels.

Anonymous said...

Le Coq d'Or (Zolotóy Petushók) is a wonderful piece. I've only seen it once -- the famous NYCO production, with Norman Treigle and Carol Neblett (alas, not Beverly Sills, although Neblett was good enough). It's short, weird, bitterly funny, insanely tuneful, and magically orchestrated. I sure would like to see it again. I can't understand why it doesn't have a higher profile in the US (the same goes for the other Rimsky fairy-tale operas).

Lisa Hirsch said...

Pamela Rosenberg was going to mount Le Coq d'Or in SF but ran out of money, or maybe time. SF had lots of Russian operas under Mansouri, really, they were the highlight of his tenure. I don't expect to see Ruslan again in the US, and it was a fabulous production, with the Mariinsky, I think, with marvelous costumes made in Russia because it would have been much, much too expensive to make them anywhere else.

This might be the moment for me to mention that supposedly the Met will have a production of Kitezh in the next few years, or, to give it its fabulous full name, The Tale of the Maiden Fevronia and the Invisible City of Kitezh. I am so there.

Mike A. said...

If/when that production of Kitezh comes to the Met, run, don't walk to catch that "can't miss" production. I specifically flew to see that Tcherniakov production at Liceu in 2014, without knowing any single one of the singers, and up to this moment, it remains as one of the most haunting, harrowing, beautiful, devastating (in short, INTENSE) opera moments in my life. I had the privilege to sit next to Eric Halfvarson's wife that night, and we chatted some about his schedules etc. In my book, it's going to really hard to better that production in the future. Although, I have my doubts that the Met will really do it, especially after the commotion surrounding "Prince Igor". I think Kitezh is much bigger production that Prince Igor (those red poppies notwithstanding).

Lisa Hirsch said...

I would love to see that opera and will move mountains to get to the Met to see it. But I'm glad that the production is being done elsewhere, which means that even if the Met punts I have a chance. (It's being done at the Mariinsky in April of this year, hmmm. No, I really can't.)

Ced said...

Regarding bringing Steve Jobs to SF, I'm pretty sure it has been pitched to SF opera (though not explicitly mentioned, in this interview Bates mention's the (pre)history prior to Santa Fe taking it:
It has been workshopped locally, so they don't have to go to Santa Fe to know if they're interested.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thank you for the link! And here is a clickable version of it, too.

Mike A. said...

Speaking of Saariaho, Opera de Paris just announced their 2017/2018 season (, which includes her adaptation of 2 Noh plays, "Only the Sound Remains", directed by Peter Sellars and starring Phillipe Jaroussky! This was premiered at Dutch National Opera March last year, although I found one review from the Guardian that wasn't very encouraging. (

What I found the most interesting for me from the Opera de Paris' 17-18 Season is their new production of Handel's Jephtha. This production was (again) premiered first at Dutch National Opera last November, but I think the Paris cast is much better, with William Christie conducting his Les Arts Florissants and with Ian Bostridge in title role. It'll run around the same time as the Saariaho's opera above, so it's very tempting for me. Both are playing at Garnier, which is another incentive. I need to start saving now! ;)

Lisa Hirsch said...

There's probably a Bachtrack review of the Saariaho.

I saw Jephtha years ago at Philharmonia Baroque, in oratorio format, but it did seem stageable.

Unlikely I will get to Paris in 17-18, but I do need to check Operabase as season announcements come in. I'm particularly interested in new & unusual....