Friday, September 28, 2018

Friday Photo

Inexplicable Photo
Munich, Germany
August, 2015

I have no idea what this stuffed deer is doing on the roof.
I think it was on the building that contained the store with the green dirndls (see previous Friday Photo).

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Compare and Contrast 36: Met Opening Night Samson and Dalila

An amusing, sort of, group of reviews:
  • Anne Midgette, Washington Post
  • Anthony Tommasini, NY Times. He's kinda cranky, and this caught my eye in particular: "But the production weighed it down. Given Mr. Gelb’s determination to make opera relevant, one might think that this, of all works — it’s set, after all, in Gaza — would scream for an updated concept." C'mon, Tony - that's The Death of Klinghoffer, and you know what happened when the Met produced that opera.
  • Justin Davidson, NY Mag / Vulture. The one I wish I'd written.
  • Christopher Corwin, Parterre Box

Russia House, I Mean Stravinsky Festival

When the 2018-19 season for SFS was announced earlier this year, there was an awful lot of sighing, whimpering, and eye-rolling among my friends, because the season opened with a Stravinsky Festival. This is the second or third of them since MTT has been the music director here, and of course they're important because you just never hear Stravinsky's music.

Okay, I could just barely type that without falling under my desk laughing. Stravinsky is one of the composers you hear most often at SFS; MTT is a great conductor of Russian music in general, and after nearly 25 years with him, the orchestra is a sleek, colorful machine when it plays the ballets and everything else Igor wrote.

But I was reminded by Rebecca Mead's wonderful New Yorker profile of George Benjamin that SFS used to be an orchestra that programmed recent music and focussed on specific living composers who weren't John Adams and Mason Bates: not that long ago, Benjamin was composer in residence here, and the orchestra and its individual players did several performances of Benjamin's music. I attended a couple of those programs and reviewed one.

It is really sad that some combination of pressure from the orchestra's administration and/or board and MTT's current preferences has resulted in pretty conservative programming for a once-adventurous orchestra. This year's eye-rolling wasn't all about the Stravinsky fest; it was about the season in general. I'm sort-of interested in a fair number of the programs, but it's not until MGT is here doing Sibelius (and, unfortunately, Tchaikovsky) that there's much that excites me. (And after that....oh, the season-end L'enfant et les sortileges.)

And it seems as though I'm not the only person who'd like to hear less Stravinsky: both last weekend and this, I got offers from SFS of $15 tickets, undercutting even Goldstar. (That's on top of my looking into tickets to hear Yuja Wang play Ravel and blanching when I saw that the cheapest seats in the house were $99, up in the second tier. I gave it a pass; I wouldn't pay that much, plus the second half of the program was a work I dislike pretty intensely.)

Maybe try playing music people haven't heard so many times, eh?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Honeck Extends Pittsburgh Symphony Contract

Manfred Honeck has extended his contract with the Pittsburgh Symphony through the 2021-22 season. If you live in the Bay Area, this means you can scratch him off the list of candidates to be the next music director of the San Francisco Symphony, because MTT's last season is 2019-20.

Museum Mondays

Exterior Detail (Drain Spout?)
Villa Stück, Munich
August, 2015

I visited Villa Stück thanks to a comment here back in 2015 from 
Alex Ross, referring to the "daft Villa Stück." It is a
wonderful and indeed slightly daft house museum. I took
the wrong damn camera and many of my photos are too
dark to be worth posting, although....perhaps they are
editable in Flickr.

Big thanks to Alex for the pointer!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Berkeley Symphony Season Opening

Berkeley Symphony is in for an exciting year or two as they search for a new music director; the last time this happened, the programs were really interesting (okay, this is usually the case with Berkeley Symphony) and the range of conducting equally interesting.

Their season opener is in about two weeks. I wish I could be there, but I'll be, well, far away. Their date is between my performances of Tristan und Isolde and the new opera Bérénice.

Otherwise, I'd be eager to see this:

Thursday, October 4, 2018, 7p – HIGDON & RAVEL
Zellerbach Hall, 101 Zellerbach Way, Berkeley

Berkeley Symphony
Ming Luke, Guest Conductor
Benjamin Beilman, Violin
Dimitri Shostakovich: Festive Overture, Op. 96
Jennifer Higdon: Violin Concerto
Anna Clyne: Night Ferry
Maurice Ravel: La Valse

Friday Photo

German Fashion
Munich, Germany
August, 2015

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Cast Changes: Les Huguenots at the Opéra National de Paris

The upcoming revival of Les Huguenots at the Opéra National de Paris has now had two cast changes, and, well, yeah, they're the singers you just might have expected to cancel.

Diana Damrau was original cast as Marguerite de Valois, a role that Joan Sutherland sang in her prime. Damrau withdrew a few months ago, to be replaced by Lisette Oropesa. This puts me at Martha Argerich cancelation levels with Damrau; I saw her as Fiakermilli in Arabella in 2004 and in that well-traveled Laurent Pelly Daughter of the Regiment in SF with Juan Diego Flores. She cancelled Lucia in SF a few years ago, and now there's this. I've also heard suspicions voiced that she might withdraw from the incoming Traviata at the Met.

This week, it's tenor Bryan Hymel, cast as Raoul, who has withdrawn, to be replaced by Yosep Kang. Hymel was in SF in 2015 for Les Troyens and sang three of the six performances, replaced by Corey Bix for the other three. It might be easier to find a substitute Tristan than Raoul, because there aren't many singers with Raoul in their repertory. Meyerbeer was the most popular opera composer of the 19th century, but with few performances of his works these days, there aren't singers who can just pull roles from his operas out of their back pockets.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

NY Philharmonic Fires Two Players

Not exactly, but that's what they are trying to do, according to a story in the Times by Michael Cooper: principal oboist Liang Wang and associate principal trumpet player Matthew Muckey have both been placed on unpaid leaves of absence. The orchestra plans to dismiss them and there are discussions going on with the musicians' union.

The reason for both dismissals is unspecified misconduct. From the story:
The orchestra said in a terse statement only that after it had received reports that the two players had “engaged in misconduct,” it retained Barbara S. Jones, an attorney at Bracewell and a former federal judge, to investigate. An orchestra official said the investigation took five months.
“Following the investigation, the Philharmonic advised the musicians that their employment was terminated,” the orchestra said in the statement. “At the request of their union, the Philharmonic delayed the implementation of the termination and placed the musicians on an unpaid leave of absence pending the union’s review of the matter.”
The players’ union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, said in a brief statement only that it was “aware of and currently looking into this matter.”

Runnicles and Luisotti

I did a summing up the other month of Nicola Luisotti's career at San Francisco Opera, but I omitted something I'd consider important: a summary of the composers he performed at SF. Just for the heck of it, I'm including Donald Runnicles for contrast:

Runnicles: 101 productions of operas by Wagner, Rossini, Mussorgsky, R. Strauss, Verdi Beethoven, Mozart, Puccini, Gluck, Susa, Bizet, Wallace, Britten, Debussy, Janacek, Humperdinck, Berlioz, Messiaen, Busoni, Shostakovich, Thompson, Tchaikovski, Adams, J. Strauss, Stravinsky, and Korngold.

Luisotti: 36 productions of operas by Verdi, Puccini, R. Strauss (Salome), Bizet, Wagner (Lohengrin), Boito, Bellini, Tutino (Two Women), Giordano (Andrea Chenier).

Runnicles was here for many more years, including part of the Mansouri era, which featured a lot of Russian opera, and the Rosenberg era, which was the most adventurous ever. Luisotti was here for most of Gockley and the early Shilvock era only, and as we know, David Gockley really want to restore endangered Italian opera to its full glory, so a music director whose talents lay 95% in that area was perhaps just right for him.

Still, you can see whose talents are the broader.

Roberto Devereux at San Francisco Opera

Russell Thomas in the title role of Roberto Devereux
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera is currently presenting Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, for the first time since 1979. It's one of the so-called Tudor Queen Trilogy operas, although the three operas were not written as a group and were not connected in Donizetti's mind. (The others? Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda.)

I am not a big Donizetti fan, and in fact I've walked out of more of his operas - two - than those of any other composer: La Favorite, which got an ugly production and mediocre singing, and L'Elisir d'Amore, because I was there mostly for Ramon Vargas and he didn't sing that night. In retrospect, perhaps I should I have stayed for Alek Shrader, who is a good singer whom I have enjoyed a lot since then, in Partenope, Alcina, and Albert Herring.

In any event, while I'm not much of Donizetti fan, I am a fan of good singing, and the casting for Roberto Devereux could hardly be better, with tenor Russell Thomas in the title role, Sondra Radvanovsky as Elizabeth I, and Jamie Barton as Sara, Duchess of Nottingham. If that trio sounds familiar, they made a splendid team four years ago in Norma, which had the drama of Thomas joining the cast after the run had already started. Artur Rucinsky, who made his SFO debut last year as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, was to have sung the Duke of Nottingham; he unfortunately had to withdraw a few weeks ago owing to injuries he suffered in a bicycle accident. Adler Fellow Andrew Manea replaced him.

I'm not going to say a whole lot about the production and direction, because I was very tired Friday night, to the point of feeling like I was coming down with a cold, and I mostly let the opera wash pleasantly over me, without a lot of analysis. I am neutral about placing the action in the Globe Theater, which is hung on an alleged rumor that Elizabeth appeared anonymously in one of Shakespeare's plays, apparently A Midsummer Night's Dream, as we're told during the overture.

The Glob Theatre
No. actually, it's Russell Thomas (Devereux) and Jamie Barton (Sara, Duchess of Nottingham)
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Who knows? Certainly not me, but that explains this photo, which I thought must somehow be the last scene setting of Falstaff when I saw it in a trailer or ad or something:

This set is flown in for about 45 seconds during the overture. Pretty, though!
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

I thought the direction, by Stephen Lawless, okay - I mean, there's nothing awful but also nothing great.The libretto just doesn't give the director that much to work with. There aren't many confrontations or big crowd scenes; in those confrontations that take place, the musical pacing doesn't invite what you might think of as action. It's a pretty weak libretto! So there was a lot of standing and singing, and mostly that's okay with me, given the thin plotting and the fact that I really don't care about what's happening on stage.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Queen Elizabeth 1
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The leading trio of Radvanovsky, Barton, and Thomas really could not be improved upon. They were even better than in 2014! In that Norma, I felt that Radvanovsky, who was marvelous technically, nonetheless sounded as though some of the spectacular effects she could pull off were just that: effects that weren't well-integrated dramatically or in the vocal line. There was none of that here after she was thoroughly warmed up (her entrance was a little bumpy), just a steady stream of magnificent singing, with every phrase utterly musical and sincere and integrated into the whole. Similarly, she really lived the role, most especially during her long last-act scene, with Elizabeth staggering around the stage in a nightgown, without her wig, and looking very much her age.

Russell Thomas in the title role of Roberto Devereux
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Thomas's career has really taken off in the last four or five years, I feel. He is being hired regularly, for leading roles, by major companies, and rightly so. He's got a beautiful, burnished tenor voice and he's an excellent actor - also a handsome man, which never hurts! Among current tenors singing dramatic roles, how many have Donizetti and Wagner, Bellini and heavy Verdi, in their repertory and sing them all so well?? He sang with even more subtlety and emotional range as Devereux than as Pollione.

Jamie Barton as Sara, Duchess of Nottingham
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Jamie Barton remains one of the great singers of her generation, a mezzo with easy high and low notes, a huge range, and the same versatility as Thomas: by July, 2019, we'll have heard her in SF in Bellini, Donizetti, Dvorak, and Wagner. She sang gorgeously and acted very well as Sara, a role that really could have used more direction. I would have liked to be more convinced that she just couldn't get out fast enough to save the life of Devereux. (Elizabeth may have a crush on him, but it's Sara he really loves, and vice versa; she is under her husband's thumb and maybe we need even more evidence of this.)

Blood on his hands: Andrew Manea as the Duke of Nottingham.
Implies he personally tore Devereux's head off. I say: not likely.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Andrew Manea, as the villain of the piece, the Duke of Nottingham, isn't quite ready to be singing leading roles at the international level. He sounded wooly and without much vocal core for most of the opera, with his voice firming up toward the end. His acting was good enough.

Riccardo Frizza conducted and was very good, with the music moving well and always sounding beautiful without becoming repetitive or oom-pah-pah-ish. I will say that the chorus sounded weirdly under-rehearsed and tentative, and that is very unusual.

I hope that Radvanovsky, Thomas, and Barton will be back in future seasons, and perhaps in Verdi (Il Corsaro, folks!).

Other writers, who all got more out of the setting and its implications than I did:

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Cleveland Orchestra Suspends Principal Trombonist

After the July WaPo story about sexual harassment in the classical music world, which included information about concertmaster William Pruecil the Cleveland Orchestra commissioned a full investigation into harassment issues at the orchestra. Now they've suspended principal trombone Massimo LaRosa, 43, who has been with the orchestra since 2007. The new WaPo story is somewhat hair-raising.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Luisi Withdraws, Young to Conduct

First cast change announcement of the San Francisco Symphony season: Fabio Luisi's planned April, 2019, program is postponed to a future season. Simone Young steps in with a completely different program. From the press release:

Pavane for a Dead PrincessPiano Concerto in G major
Opus 35

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Conductor Simone Young makes her San Francisco Symphony (SFS) debut April 18–20, 2019 at Davies Symphony Hall, replacing Fabio Luisi. This change is a result of scheduling conflicts with Luisi’s new appointment as Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Young will lead the SFS in Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Opus 35, and will be joined by pianist Louis Lortie for Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. Luisi’s program, which includes cellist Mario Brunello, has been postponed to a future season.

Simone Young is currently Principal Guest Conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of Lausanne, and this season returns to Berlin State Opera to conduct Die Frau ohne Schatten, and to Vienna State Opera with Lohengrin. She will also lead performances of From the House of the Dead, Jenufa, and Tannhäuser at Bavarian State Opera, and of Elektra at Zürich Opera. In addition to her April 2019 debut with the SFS, Young will also conduct orchestras in Stockholm, Lausanne, Berlin, Leipzig, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and Australia in the 2018–19 season.
Young’s previous positions include Principal Conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic (1998-2002), Artistic Director of the Australian Opera (2001-2003), Principal Guest Conductor of the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon, and Artistic Director of the Hamburg State Opera and Chief Music Director of the Hamburg Philharmonic (2005-2015). Along with her honorary doctorates from the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne, Young counts the Brahms Prize of Schleswig-Holstein and the Goethe Medal among her numerous awards and accolades. A “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” in France, member of the Order of Australia, and professor at the Academy of Music and Theatre in Hamburg, Young also has an extensive discography, most of which comes from her time as Chief Music Director of the Hamburg Philharmonic. Please visit Young’s website for more biographical information. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Museum Mondays

Nativity Scene
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
Germany, 2015

This otherwise lovely and atmospheric painting 
has a remarkably cartoonish and unrealistic
Christ child. Perhaps it was left to a younger
member of the studio??

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Tearing My Hair Out: NY Times Does It Again

Do women in classical music matter to the NY Times?

What has me going this week is an article that is, exasperatingly, called "Five Minutes to Make You Love Classical Music." Exasperating because that's as clickbait as it gets; the entire proposition is dubious because so many works last longer than that, and because whether you love a piece or not is so dependent on the performance and the circumstances in which you hear it. I mean, who is going to be converted by just five minutes?

The article itself....well, the author got responses from 18 people, who are all critics for the Times or "some of our favorite artists." Here's the breakdown by sex of those who responded:

  • 14 men
  •   4 women

Breakdown by what they do:

One of the four women is Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, who is a Times writer. The others are composers Carolyn Shaw and Julia Wolfe, and soprano Julia Bullock.

The men are Zachary Woolfe, Anthony Tommasini, Seth Colter Walls, Joshua Barone, and Michael Cooper of the Times (four critics and one music-biz writer); Esa-Pekka Salonen, Leon Botstein, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, John Eliot Gardiner (conductors; Salonen is, of course, also a distinguished composer); composers Nico Muhly and Nicholas Britell; pianists Daniil Trifonov and Ethan Iverson; director Yuval Sharon.

Fifteen of the works chosen were by men, three by women.

So, the Times has no control over what people choose as their potential gateway classical music drugs, but they sure had some control over who they asked about this. Just to suggest a few women who could have been asked and might be among "our favorite artists:" Susanna Mälkki, Marin Alsop, MGT, Yuja Wang, Martha Argerich, Leila Josefowicz, Alisa Weilerstein, Claire Chase, Francesca Zambello, Kaija Saariaho. And as long as the Times's critics got to have their say, how about a couple of highly visible non-artists, Anne Midgette and Deborah Borda?

Future Women's Intensive Self-Defense Class: Send Me Email!

Not enough sign-ups for the class I'd planned for this month, so I'm going to try something a little different: ask potential students what dates would work for them, because we are all so busy.

Here are dates that would work for me from October to the end of the year:

Saturday, October 20 - any two or three hour block between 11:30 and 3:30
Sunday, October 21 - 3:30 to 6:30 pm

Saturday, October 27 - any two or three hour block between 11:30 and 3:30

Saturday, November 3 - any two or three hour block between 11:30 and 3:30
Sunday, November 4 - 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, November 17 - any two or three hour block between 11:30 and 3:30
Sunday, November 18 - 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

(Possibly, because I may go to a jujitsu event this weekend:
Saturday, December 1 - any two or three hour block between 11:30 and 3:30
Sunday, December 2 - 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.)

Saturday, December 8 - any two or three hour block between 11:30 and 3:30
Sunday, December 9 - 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, December 15 - any two or three hour block between 11:30 and 3:30
Sunday, December 16 - 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

The class can be taught as two three-hour or three two-hour sessions, with the latter being better for learning the material. I can't teach the class over just one weekend. I can teach it on non-consecutive weekends.

If you'd like to take this class, send email to with the dates that would work for you.

Class is $95/students, open to all regardless of ability to pay. Open to all adult women, cis and trans, age 16 and up. Classes are in El Cerrito near BART and AC Transit buses.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Monday, September 03, 2018