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.