Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Year in Review

This was one very weird year, in so many ways. Personally, it was pretty good! My job went reasonably well, and I have the best colleagues possible in Cloud Networking Docs and generally in Cloud Docs. The only task left with my mother's estate is filing one final tax return. I did not travel as much as I would have liked to, although....Los Angeles for opera; Seattle twice for work within a one month period; NY twice, once for my mom's unveiling, my aunt Ida's unveiling, and my uncle Irving's 99th birthday party, and, ten weeks later, Irv's funeral (sigh, but he had a good long run...); once to Hawaii (not the best vacation ever for various reasons); and once to Santa Fe for opera.

Musically, I will forever remember 2017 as the year Mason Bates wrote a better opera than John Adams. At no point before the dress rehearsal of Girls of the Golden West would I have expected this, and in fact, I would have laughed at the notion.

Boy, was I wrong. While my review of GGW was not as vitriolic as Joshua Kosman's, he and I and nearly everyone else are in agreement about the weaknesses of the opera; in fact, I'm willing to bet that even reviewers who on balance liked it agree about what the weaknesses are. And everybody loved the performers, too.

That said, while Bates's The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs has obvious weaknesses (see my review for details), the music is inventive, energetic, and consistently engaging. I'm looking forward to seeing it again in SF! And wondering about the casting, since Seattle announced an almost completely new cast for their bring-up. My bet: Brian Mulligan or maybe Quinn Kelsey as Steve.

Some of the big musical highlights of 2017:

  • Nixon in China at the LA Phil. Conducted by John Adams himself, gorgeously directed by Elkhana Pulitzer, and with a terrific cast, Nixon remains one of the great 20th c. additions to the operatic repertory.
  • Salome at the LA Opera. A revival of an old and well-traveled Peter Hall staging and somewhat looking its age, but also with some wonderful touches. An excellent cast, led by the surprisingly convincing, and very brave, Patricia Racette. You wouldn't have thought this was her role, but her combination of musicality and total dramatic commitment makes up for the fact that her voice isn't exactly the right type or size. Beautiful and supportive conducting from James Conlon helped a lot, I am sure. The supporting cast was very fine, with Isaacha Savage a magnificent Narraboth and Alan Glassman a lyrical and convincing Herod. Savage is the real dramatic tenor deal and I look forward to seeing him in leading roles. This performance also made me a fan of the opera after decades of casually loathing it, which is why I now have five recordings of it floating around. Read Alex Ross's wonderful Gramophone roundup for recommendations.
  • Das Rheingold at the NY Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert's last subscription appearance as music director of the orchestra. An excellent cast, although....I found Eric Owens a little recessed for Wotan. Jamie Barton as Fricka, Russell Thomas a real WOW as a lyrical and straightforward Loge, and Christopher Purves as the best Alberich I have seen (and I include a great performance by Richard Paul Fink at Seattle in 2001). I note that with Morris Robinson's Fasolt, this was the first non-Porgy opera I've seen with more than one African American singer! And how on earth did they get the great Stephen Milling as Fafner? Gilbert was excellent, and, by the way, there were six harps on stage, although That Hall being what it was, they weren't very audible in the upper reaches.
  • Das Lied von der Erde with the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Esa-Pekka Salonen, Stuart Skelton, and Karen Cargill delivering greatness all around.
  • Alcina and The Golden Cockerell at Santa Fe, in addition to Steve Jobs. I hope to write up both productions in greater detail.
  • Elektra at San Francisco was in the HOLY MOTHER OF GOD category, with Christine Goerke's haunted and fabulous Elektra leading the way in an absorbing, if slightly wayward, Keith Warner production set in a museum. Adrianne Pieczonka, Michaela Martens, and Alfred Walker rounded out a tremendous cast; Henrik Nanasi conducted; all my friends saw this multiple times and I only wish I'd gone to the Wednesday performance I missed.
  • Manon at SFO. Okay, I'll never be a huge fan of the piece, but the sparkling production and excellent singing by Ellie Dehn and Michael Fabiano made this the second-biggest pleasant surprise of the year for me, after Steve Jobs.
  • Turandot at SFO, Nina Stemme, Brian Jagde, Leah Crocetto, debuting conductor Christopher Franklin gave the best performance of this I've seen. I've got a detailed review about half done.
  • Claire Chase's amazing four-hour flute recital, the first fruits of her 23 year commissioning project, Density 2036. Greatest recital I've ever seen? The review was not easy to write because you run out of superlatives pretty fast.
  • Merola triple bill of La Serva Padrona, Savitri, and The Bear. Peter Kazaras's direction left a good deal to be desired, but the singing and execution did not.
  • Krzysztof Urbańsk's two programs at San Francisco Symphony were simply astonishing.
And some lowlights:
  • Girls of the Golden West. I've already said plenty about this.
  • Berlioz Requiem at SFS, with Charles Dutoit giving an uncharacteristically weak performance.
  • Frankenstein at West Edge Opera. A well-performed train wreck of an opera.
Important news:
  • MTT to retire as music director of SFS in three years. Wow. I mean, I have had a lot of complaints about the degree of dead-white-guy programming, but the orchestra is in great shape and it's been a wonderful partnership. Enormous shoes to fill, etc. 
  • James Levine, finally, after forty years of rumors.
  • Charles Dutoit, and since his behavior was in the newspapers 22 years ago, it's not even rumors.
  • Waiting for about 30 other shoes to drop.

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