Monday, April 30, 2018

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Pet Peeve

I've got one (I know, you're thinking "SHE HAS 27 PET PEEVES WE HEAR ABOUT THEM ALL THE TIME SHUT UP ALREADY"):

Organizations that send me email, usually repeatedly, and hard copy mail about their productions.

Especially when I'm a subscriber and I have a season subscription. Yes, I'm looking at you, Shotgun Players (I already have my tickets for Dry Land, yet here's an oversized postcard for it) and you, San Francisco Opera. I already paid for my subscription tickets and made healthy donations to you both!

You can work around this by segmenting your postal mailing list! I don't need post cards telling me about Cav-Pag / Arabella / Rusalka / Carmen / Tosca / Roberto Devereux / Wonderful Life / Orlando. (Or the Domingo concert, which I will not be attending.) Isn't there some way to opt out??

Friday, April 27, 2018

Dal Monte/Gigli Madama Butterfly

A while back, I finally ordered this famous pre-war recording of Madama Butterfly, starring the lyric soprano Toti Dal Monte and the great tenor Beniamino Gigli, conducted by Oliviero de Fabritiis.

By famous, maybe I mean "notorious." Dal Monte made an interpretive choice for the recording unlike that of any other soprano: she actively tries to sound like a 15-year-old.

And....I found it nearly unbearable. She has to distort her natural sound and hold back an awful lot, and honestly, it's a mistake. The music is written for an adult soprano, not a kid.

She can't keep it up throughout, either. When she finally gets to the finale, she has to let loose with her full voice, and she does.

What I remember from the rest of the set - because, really, it's Butterfly's show - is that Gigli is predictably magnificent. And also that the Dal Monte recordings added as an appendix have her singing naturally, and they are lovely. So, if you're a completist for either of the artists, or the opera, or you want to unusually eccentric interpretation of the title role, go for it. Otherwise, there are plenty of Butterfly sets that represent the title role better.

Friday Photo

Early Morning
October, 2017
Laurel District, Oakland

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Single Tickets to SFO Ring Go On Sale May 1, 2018

From San Francisco Opera:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (April 25, 2018) — Beginning Tuesday, May 1 at 10 a.m., tickets to individual performances within Richard Wagner’s four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), will be available for purchase. Previously offered only as complete cycle packages, tickets for Das RheingoldDie WalküreSiegfried and Götterdämmerung will go on sale for the first time.

San Francisco Opera Marketing Director Lisa Bullard said: “I’m pleased that after our successful 20-month Ring cycle subscription campaign, we are now able to offer all remaining tickets for each individual performance. Beginning May 1, music lovers can choose to attend one or more of the Ring operas. There are a limited number of great seats remaining for all 12 performances.”

During San Francisco Opera’s subscription campaign for the Ring, ticket sales have been robust and far-ranging. To date, audiences for the summer 2018 cycles hail from 48 states and 27 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Finland, Iceland, Mexico, Poland and Singapore.

San Francisco Opera presents Wagner’s Ring cycle—one of the most ambitious musical and theatrical works ever conceived—with an internationally-renowned cast of Wagnerian artists, featuring soprano Evelyn Herlitzius as Brünnhilde, bass-baritone Greer Grimsley as Wotan, tenor Daniel Brenna as Siegfried, soprano Karita Mattila as Sieglinde, tenor Brandon Jovanovich in the roles of Siegmund and Froh, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton as Fricka and Waltraute, and many others, directed by Francesca Zambello and under the baton of leading Wagnerian interpreter Donald Runnicles. For complete cast and more information, visit

In anticipation of the Ring, San Francisco Opera presents an ongoing Ring Festival of lectures, film screenings, panel discussions and musical performances lasting through the end of the third cycle. One highlight among the many Festival offerings are a series of Wagner chorus concerts featuring the San Francisco Opera Chorus on each Thursday (June 14, 21 and 28) during the three cycles. For a complete schedule of Ring Festival events from now through July 1, visit

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

L'Orfeo Projections

As you can tell from my review, I loved the projections used for L'Orfeo in the Apollo's Fire production. Camilla Tassi, the assistant director, was responsible for them, and she was kind enough to send me a list of the images she used for the production. Here it is, with her notes:

- Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, "Orpheus leading Eurydice” 
(different iterations, like when I fade out Euridice, or have Euridice lead instead of Orfeo) 

- Edward Poynter's "Orpheus leading Euridice" from Hades
 (but only had Orpheus emerge from rocks/Hades)

- José Benlliure y Gil's "La Barca de Caronte"  
For the Act 3, Caronte and River Styx (for bringing Caronte’s image in and out, this is where I added the mist effect overlay)

- "Orpheus door de Bacchanten verscheurd" 
(for Act 5, Baccante women)

- Nicolas Poussin's landscape 
(used for the fields of Thrace)

- Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's "Dance of the Nymphs”
(used for the wedding)

- Tadeusz Styka's “Orpheus"
(when Musica, in the prologue, talks about Orfeo)

- Thomas Barker of Bath's "An Arcadian Landscape with Deities”
(the Act I pastoral setting)

SFCM Story, Part 2

The press release has arrived and is below the cut. Some highlights:

  • SFCM is putting up a new building, which will open in 2020.
  • The site is at Van Ness & Hayes.  immediately south of City Hall, across the street from Davies and catty-corner to the Opera House. Corrected, h/t Michael Strickland for the correction in the comments. You might remember one of the buildings currently on the site as formerly a big gift shop and ticket office for the Opera. 
  • It will include student & faculty housing, as well as two concert halls, a restaurant, classrooms, rehearsal spaces, and a recording studio.
  • Impressively, it will also include 27 apartments for residents of an apartment building that will be demolished to construct the SFCM building, at the same rates the residents are currently playing. No one will be permanently displaced. 
  • The entire project is supposed to cost $185 million.
  • $96 million has been raised toward a fundraising goal of $110 million
  • (I think the $46 million gift must be in addition to the $96 million, but that is not explicitly stated.)
  • The existing campus on Van Ness at Oak will remain in use.

SFCM Story, Before the Press Conference: A Big (BIG) Gift

Thomas May has the story in the NY Times (I am surprised that this wasn't embargoed until noon SF time or something, but seeing a tweet with this story on Twitter means I've scooped the Chron, SFCV, etc., so it's all good):
Capping the celebration of its 100th anniversary, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Wednesday announced a gift of $46.4 million from the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, among the largest donations ever to an American music school.  
The gift will help fund construction of a $185 million, 12-story building on a site just south of San Francisco City Hall. Designed by Mark Cavagnero Associates and scheduled to open in 2020, it will include two concert halls, rehearsal spaces, high-tech studios and classrooms, and will provide housing for the student body.
The article doesn't have a map to indicate what the site "just south of SF City Hall" is, and looking at a map, I can't figure it out. Looking forward to the Conservatory's press release.

The William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation is local, with offices on Bush St.  It does not make grants to individuals. Its web site says:
The William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation supports nonprofit organizations in several areas including (but not exclusively) medical research, access to college, the arts, and higher education.
Possibly I'll have more thoughts on this later today.

UPDATE: This Chron article from 2015 has details on the location of the new building(s). H/T @phibetakitten for the link.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sills Award to Sierra

Nadine Sierra as Lucia, with Piotr Beczala
Photo by Cory Weaver, SF Opera

I kinda don't get this; I've seen Nadine Sierra a couple of times and thought she was a charming Papagena and a good, but not particularly memorable, Lucia. She dropped out of two other operas where I would have seen her, Carmen (Micaela, "personal reasons") and Manon (title role; "too heavy for me just now"). I skipped her Nozze Countess.

Met Press release:

New York, NY (April 24, 2018) – Soprano Nadine Sierra has been named the winner of the 13th annual Beverly Sills Artist Award for young singers at the Metropolitan Opera. The $50,000 award, the largest of its kind in the United States, is given to extraordinarily gifted singers between the ages of 25 and 40 who have already appeared in featured solo roles at the Met. The award, given in honor of Beverly Sills, was established in 2006 by an endowment gift from the late Agnes Varis, a managing director on the Met board. In 2009 Sierra became the youngest ever winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and has gone on to make her mark at the Met with memorable performances in Verdi’sRigoletto, and Mozart’s Le Nozze di FigaroIdomeneo and Don Giovanni. In the Met’s 2018-19 season, Sierra will reprise the role of Gilda in Rigoletto.
Met General Manger Peter Gelb presented Sierra with the award today, saying: “Nadine is a most deserving recipient. I’m sure that Beverly would have been pleased with our choice.”
The Sills Award was created to help further recipients’ careers, including funding for voice lessons, vocal coaching, language lessons, related travel costs, and other professional assistance. Sills, who passed away in 2007, was well known as a supporter and friend to developing young artists, and this award continues her legacy as an advocate for rising singers. The 29-year-old Sierra is the 13th recipient of the award, following baritone Nathan Gunn in 2006, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in 2007, tenor Matthew Polenzani in 2008, bass John Relyea in 2009, soprano Susanna Phillips in 2010, mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard in 2011, soprano Angela Meade in 2012, tenor Brian Hymel in 2013, tenor Michael Fabiano in 2014, baritone Quinn Kelsey in 2015, soprano Ailyn Pérez in 2016, and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton in 2017.
Nadine Sierra said: “This award is a true gift to singers because it honors not only a beautiful artist in Beverly Sills, but treasures the legacy she left behind. It's not enough to say that I'm honored to be receiving it, but more that I feel incredibly humbled. Opera can and should belong to anyone who has the pleasure of witnessing its timeless beauty. I believe Ms. Sills, through all of her achievements and generosity of sharing this music with people around the world for many decades, would certainly agree. I'm very thankful to the Metropolitan Opera for selecting me as the recipient of such a meaningful and empowering award.”
Nadine Sierra made her Met debut in 2015 as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. She followed that with three Mozart roles at the Met: Zerlina in Don Giovanni, her role and Live in HD debuts as Ilia in Idomeneo, and earlier this season, her role debut as Susanna in Le Nozze di FigaroShe made her professional debut with Palm Beach Opera while still a teenager, in her home state of Florida. She studied in New York at Mannes College of Music and was an Adler Fellow with San Francisco Opera. She made her debut at San Francisco Opera in 2011 as Juliet/Barbara in the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis's Heart of a Soldier.  Recent engagements include Gilda in Rigoletto (La Scala, Milan, Chorégies d'Orange, Opéra Bastille, Seattle Opera), Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor (La Fenice, Venice, San Francisco Opera, Zürich Opera), Zerlina in Le Nozze di Figaro (Paris Opera), Tytania in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Norina in Don Pasquale (Valencia), Musetta in La Bohème, Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro and Pamina in Die Zauberflöte (San Francisco Opera), Flavia Gemmira in Eliogabalo (Paris Opéra) and Nannetta in Falstaff (Staatsoper Berlin). In June she sings the role of Norina in Donizetti's Don Pasquale (Paris Opéra)She is the winner of the Marilyn Horne Foundation Vocal Competition, the 2017 Richard Tucker Award Winner, and has recently signed a record contract with Deutsche Grammophon/Universal.

Romantic Leads

Cast change announcements from the Met

  • In last night's RomeoAndrea Shin sang Roméo, replacing Charles Castronovo, who was ill.
  • Najmiddin Mavlyanov will sing the role of Cavaradossi in the May 8 and 12 performances of Puccini’s Tosca. These are the last two performances of the run; the previous cast change said "Yusif Eyvazov will sing the role of Cavaradossi in the first four performances of the spring run of Puccini’s Tosca, replacing Marcelo Álvarez."

Something's Up at SFCM

I know this because I've gotten invitations to a press conference tomorrow, one that I can't attend, with hints of BIG NEWS TO COME. Originally, the Mayor of SF was going to attend, but now he will not. There will be other speakers, the press office has asked whether reporters are bringing photographers, etc.

There's just one hint in the email I received today:

We're about to redefine the musical life of the Civic Center.

No idea what's going on here, and I'd prefer not to speculate, but looking forward to the eventual press release about it!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Apollo's Fire: L'Orfeo

Wedding of Orfeo and Euridice
Apollo's Fire
Photo by Mark Nelson

I finally got to see Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, the master's first opera, and it was a first-class performance, by Apollo's Fire. (I've seen four different productions of Poppea, only one of Ulisse.) I reviewed it for SFCV.

Museum Mondays Bonus Photo

St. George and the Dragon

Museum Mondays

Painting Detail
Bavarian National Museum, Munich
August, 2015

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Nope. Not Me.

An eagle-eyed friend spotted this on an upcoming program at the Center for New Music in San Francisco:
Permutations presents New York’s Ghost Ensemble in their West Coast debut, with an evening of music featuring works by Pauline Oliveros, Ben Richter, Sky Macklay, Andrew C. Smith, and Liisa Hirsch.
The ii is distinctive. Definitely not me - I don't have a sideline as a composer.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Repertory Madness

The three big presenting organizations in the Bay Area -- Cal Performances, SF Performances, and Stanford Lively Arts -- have announced their 2018-19 seasons. I will try to get some thoughts posted this week, but no promises as I've got a couple of reviews to write.

However, something jumped out at me, because it's unmissable: there are three cellists performing the complete Bach suites this season. Here they are:
  • Yo-Yo Ma - September 30, 2018, Greek Theater (the perfect venue, right?) (Cal Performances)
  • Jean-Guihen Queyras - October 30, 2018, Herbst (SF Performances)
  • Alicia Weilerstein - May 1, 2019, First Congo (Cal Performances)
Yeah, I had to check to see whether Stanford Live had the same program with a fourth cellist. Nope. Maybe it's not too late for them to engage Clemens Hagen, or, for a little novelty, a Baroque cellist such as Pieter Wispelwey.

Does anybody think about the ticket sales implications of this? Especially when Ma is one of the cellists?

SF Opera Annual Meeting

I was able to go to the annual meeting of San Francisco Opera this year. It was held on Wednesday, April 11, at Herbst Theater, just across the courtyard from the opera house.

There were financial and artistic reports, and also some singing. I don't have the program in front of me, so this is largely from memory. I may make some updates when I find the program.

The company's financial condition is improving, in that the endowment has been going up, owing to both contributions to it and the stock market, and the draw on it is going down. After two seasons of 9.5% draw (gulp - that is a big, bad number), the next report will show a 4.5% draw on the endowment. Ticket sales projected, producing about 21% of income. As recently as the 90s, this number was much higher, and there's no denying that everybody would like that number higher.

Someone asked, during the Q&A, about getting younger people into the house, and I was not thrilled by John Gunn's answer, which was along the lines of "Young people are often raising kids, and when their time and money frees up, then they come into the house." Sorry, won't do: young technical people making $150,000/year and up often have the time and disposable income, and really can afford to hire sitters, and many of them are making that kind of salary for years before they have kids.

Matthew Shilvock talked about the artistic side of things. He mentioned three pillars of the company's artistic vision: Community, Total Art, and Cutting Edge, if I have this right. Unfortunately, he picked the company's new Tosca production to introduce how these concepts apply, and, you know, every big company has to have a Tosca production and nobody expects it to be especially visionary. The opera is too damn grounded in specific locations on a particular day in time. Everybody knows what the Castel Sant'Angelo looks like. This was....not very convincing.

Things were a little livelier during the Q&A. I got in line with a question, and I know the poor man was thinking "OMG DO I HAVE TO HEAR ANOTHER BIRTWISTLE QUESTION FROM HER" because I could practically see the sigh of relief when I asked about Opera for All Voices instead. 

No, actually, I couldn't; he has a good poker face. (I sort of regret not asking about Birtwistle. :) In any event, a few people later, Ilana Walder-Biesanz asked about diversifying the repertory and got a non-answer from, I think, John Gunn, who dodged around a bit to mention performers, which was not her question. Shilvock jumped in at this point, without any specific repertory to name, to say that "we're in discussions with a very exciting woman composer," which of course left us guessing. 

Here are some plausible candidates for the composer they're talking to - and bear in mind that Shilvock's phrasing was vague enough that we should presume there's no contract yet. In alphabetical order, and I'm listing these composers because they're all composed well-received operas:
  • Unsuk Chin
  • Jennifer Higdon
  • Laura Kaminsky
  • Missy Mazzoli
  • Meredith Monk
  • Olga Neuwirth
  • Rachel Portman
  • Kaija Saariaho
  • Du Yun
And there are a whole bunch of women out there who've written important or interesting works in other genres that SFO might be willing to commission (remember, Jake Heggie had not written an opera when he got the commission for Dead Man Walking).

In any event, I hope the discussions lead to a finished work, and I'm looking forward to more news about this.

UPDATE: Of course, I'd be happy to see performances at SFO of existing operas by any of the above composers. L'Amour de Loin, Breaking the Waves, Alice in Wonderland, Atlas, Adriana Mater, etc.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Museum Mondays

Head in a Helmet
Gods in Color exhibit
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, December 2017

Friday, April 13, 2018

San Francisco Ring Tickets Available for Cycle 1

A co-worker of mine won't be able to see the Ring this June after all, and he is trying to rehome them. They're for Cycle 1:

Das Rhengold, June 12 7:30 p.m.
Die Walküre, June 13 7 p.m.
Siegfried, June 15, 6 p.m.
Götterdämmerung, June 17, 1 p.m.

The seats are in Balcony 1, which is the frontmost section of the Balcony. The seats are D-115 and 117. Here's a seating chart. I am not sure how easy it is to see the OperaVision screens from there.

I can put you in touch with him. Email me at or DM me on Twitter and I'll pass along his email address.

Friday Photo

Bay Bridge from 345 Spear St.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Richard Tucker Foundation Award to Christian Van Horn

Christian Van Horn, from his personal web site

Congratulations to bass-baritone Christian Van Horn, who has appeared in mostly big roles in SF since 2010, on being awarded the Richard Tucker Foundation Award!

Monday, April 09, 2018

Museum Mondays

Gods in Color exhibit
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, December 2017

Friday, April 06, 2018

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Lawrence Brownlee in Recital

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee gave a recital Saturday night, only his second local appearance, following his San Francisco Opera debut the other year in Don Pasquale. He was delightful in that bonbon -- it's pretty silly even as opera plots go -- and was seriously good the other night. Here are the reviews and some further thoughts that wouldn't fit into my review.

We're pretty much on the same page here; Brownlee is new to Dichterliebe and it'll be very different hearing him a couple of years down the road. 

The thoughts I couldn't get into the review: Brownlee is such a consistent vocalist that I would be willing to bet that he sings for a good long time. His comfort in florid music, standards, and contemporary music somewhat puts me in mind of the late Hugues Cuénod, who died at the remarkable age of 108 and performed until his early 90s. Like Cuénod, Brownlee has a light tenor of the sort that seems like it wouldn't change much even with some age-related wear. He is 46, meaning he's been singing professionally for around 20 years, and there is no audible wear at all. 

Here you've got an opera tenor who has a serious interest in contemporary music. New music groups should be falling all over themselves to hire him and commission more work for him. And the Cuénod comparison suggests to me that early music groups should be trying to hire him too; the late tenor sang pretty much everything. I mean, Brownlee would be fabulous in Bach, Monteverdi, Machaut, the troubadours.

Lastly, I hope a recording of Cycles of My Being will be forthcoming.

Upcoming Performances I Can't Attend (Volti, Cowell, John Luther Adams)

I'll be out of town this coming weekend (doing jujitsu) and the first weekend of May (professional conference), and thus I am missing a few events I'd love to attend

  • Bard Music West: The World of Henry Cowell. Once again, they're at Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez at 23rd, SF, CA. Dates are April 6 and 7. I attended one of the concerts last year and wow, it was great.
  • Volti is singing a work by Ruth Crawford (Seeger) at Bard West on Friday night....
  • ....and on Saturday, they're the chorus for John Luther Adams's new orchestral work, "Become Desert," which Seattle Symphony is performing at Zellerbach Hall (Cal Performances).
  • I will be back in time for Sunday's Seattle Symphony program, which includes JLA's "Become Ocean" and oceanic works by Sibelius and Britten.
  • Out into May, Volti has a great program on May 4 and 6, called Bay and Beyond.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Monday Miscellany

Various odd ends I've had floating around.

Museum Mondays

Gods in Color exhibit
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, December 2017