Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Can't Quite Count

There was a dust-up on Twitter this afternoon between musicologist Dr. Kendra Leonard and the Brooklyn Art Song Society over women composers on the BASS's programs this season. I got involved because I was pretty sure Dr. Leonard was in the right, and BASS's Twitter account was tweeting....defensively.

Among other things, I said I'd post some numbers about the season, and here they are.

I'm looking at the 2018-19 season, which opened on October 5 with an all-Ives program. Unfortunately, because the organization's web site doesn't list every song by every composer, I can't provide exact numbers. But I'm very sure that there are many more works by men than by women being performed.

Among other things, there are eleven concerts, and Ives, Barber, Bernstein, Rorem, Copland, Gershwin and Wolf get programs all to themselves, for a total of 8 programs of the 11 (Wolf's Morike-Lieder are performed twice). No female composer gets a whole program or even half a program. One program has several women on it. Libby Larsen is on two programs.

It'd be nice if BASS would count the number of woks on each program so we can see exactly what the gap is between male and female composers.

UPDATE 10/31: Brooklyn Art Song Society has asked that I note their Ithaca College residency, at which they taught the songs of Libby Larsen. There was also a lecture about her.

Good for them! But 1) it doesn't change the count below 2) their web site doesn't state the length of the residency or their focus on Larsen, as far as I can tell. That's the kind of thing I would highlight if it were very important to me.

Male Composers Represented

Charles Ives (program to himself, songs on the touring program. Maybe 10 songs?)
Samuel Barber (program to himself, at least 13 songs)
Leonard Bernstein (program to himself, not sure how many songs are in Arias & Barcarolles. 8 songs on the program total, I think.)
Ned Rorem (program to himself; two cycles and selected songs. Say 10 songs?)
Aaron Copland (program to himself, at least a dozen songs)
George Gershwin (program to himself; hard to tell how many songs/pieces total, but let's say 10)
Daniel Felsenfeld (5 works)
Hugo Wolfe (Programs to himself; Morike Lieder complete - 23 songs? - given by two different sets of singers)
Michael Djupstrom (Oars in the Water)
Hershel Garfein (3 Rides)
David Ludwig (Songs from the Bleeding Pines)
James Matheson (Pessoa Songs)

Female Composers Represented

Libby Larsen (Songs from Letters; The Strange Case of H.H. Holmes; Pharoah Songs)

On one program:
Germaine Tailleferre (6 songs)
Ruth Crawford Seeger (2 works)
Clara Schumann (Selected songs)
Eve Beglarian (Selected songs)
Whitney George (one work)

Happy Halloween from Camille Saint-Saens

"Fossils," from the composer's Carnival of the Animals.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Museum Mondays

Musée National du Moyen Age
(Musée de Cluny)
From the exhibit "The Birth of Gothic Sculpture"
Paris, October, 2018

Friday, October 26, 2018

Friday Photo

Street sign, Paris
October, 2018

Trompe l'oeil painting across from the street sign above.
Yes, even the painter and the ladder.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Today in Sexual Harassment

Updates to two stories:

There's no doubt that the Cleveland Orchestra could have done better. Here are the last few paragraphs from the WaPo story I link to above:

As for La Rosa, the report stated that the orchestra was approached about his behavior on at least three occasions, twice by universities. In one case, the orchestra was unable to investigate because the student did not make a formal complaint. La Rosa was issued a warning.
Gremillet said the orchestra will improve its whistleblower policy and create an anonymous hotline that will provide a better process for future complaints. “It’s a clear message that none of this will be tolerated,” he said. 
But he declined to discuss the report’s conclusion that the orchestra could have done more in the past. “The report speaks for itself,” he said. “That’s why we’re releasing it.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

New Production, Same as the Old Production: Tosca at San Francisco Opera

Tosca is back at San Francisco Opera, for what seems like the 10 millionth performance. The press handout verges on boastful in discussing how many times the company has presented it: more than 175 performances in 38 previous seasons, opening the season six times, presented in back in the company's first season and inaugurating the War Memorial Opera House in 1932.

I am not sure in how many of those previous seasons I saw Tosca. I know I saw the productions of 1997, 2004, 2009, and 2012; I may have seen 2001 and I may have seen it back in the 1980s.

I decided to see it this year largely because of the presence of conductor Leo Hussain, making his SFO debut, and soprano Carmen Giannattasio making her SFO and role debuts. In the absence of a music director, every conductor appearing in the War Memorial Opera House is worth a look, and I'd heard good thing about Giannattasio.

I'm glad I went -- sort of -- and also mildly regretful, because with better planning, I could have seen SFCMP's Carter program and caught Tosca another night. I'm pretty sure that I don't need to see this opera again for another ten or fifteen years. Oh, the performance did remind me that it's a beautiful score with some humor in the first act, but....I've seen it too often and I'm seriously suffering from repertory fatigue.

Also, this new production? Okay, the church isn't based on Sant'Andrea della Valle, so it wasn't identical to every Tosca Act I set that you've ever seen.

Act I, with Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi and Dale Travis as the Sacristan.

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

But then you get the Palazzo Farnese, with the desk audience left and a chaise lounge audience right, and then you get the Castel Sant'Angelo, with the archangel Michael and his sword, and they look a lot like other productions you've seen.

Act II. Scott Hendricks (Scarpia), Joel Sorensen (Spoletta), Carmen Giannattasion (Tosca).
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Lianna Haroutounian, Act III, 2014
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

(There's no press photo of the new production showing the whole Act III set, but, honestly, it's not different enough from Bosquet's production to matter. The angel is center stage; its pedestal has a different shape; the silhouettes of Roman buildings are spread out around the background.)

The problem with Tosca is that the libretto is so very specific about the time and place of the opera that unless you go full Regie -- always a risk with a popular and well-known work -- every production will look very much alike. (If you're wondering about the risk, well, after Luc Bondy's Tosca was done at the Met, there was a prominent donor who kept asking Peter Gelb whether she'd see the old Zeffirelli production again before she died. The answer is no, but I'm sure she's happier with David McVicar's production than with Bondy's.)

The question arises why a new Tosca was necessary. I mean, maybe the Thierry Bosquet sets in use since 1997 were in terrible shape, but considering how great the Hockney Turandot looked after refurbished, perhaps the Tosca could have been similarly treated.

Also, let's just say that I'm getting a little jaded by the company's choice of tenor. This was the third bring-up in a row with Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi. I'm somehow certain that he is not the only tenor who can sing this role. He has improved greatly since the first time around, but the roles of Turridu and Canio had his name written all over them, as I noted in my Cav/Pag write-up.

He benefitted a lot from Shawna Lucey's direction, which I thought overall excellent. His Cavaradossi seemed very human and sensitive; the director gave him a wide range of emotional expression.

I feel like his "Recondita armonia" is still lacking in charm, and his high notes seemed a stretch with the darkening of his voice, but "E lucevan le stelle" was excellent, in part because of Hussain's conducting, which was in some ways very beautiful and in others just bizarre.

Act I seemed to be pretty typically paced, perhaps a bit slower than usual, and the orchestra sounded especially beautiful. But Act II was...well, let me put it this way: Act II typically gallops like a runaway horse right up until the chords preceding "Vissi d'arte." Hussain's Act II was more like a gentle amble, almost completely lacking in tension and excitement. It hung together, barely, but it was rather the way I'd imagine Reginald Goodall might have conducted the opera. It was so unidiomatic that I was tempted to put on the great de Sabata recording when I got home, just to remind myself of how Tosca usually sounds.

All of this said, should you go see this Tosca? Well, Carmen Giannatasio, singing the title role, might just be worth the price of admission. She is about the best Tosca I have seen. A fine actor, she has exactly the right kind of voice for the role, a full, richly colored, large, and beautifully projected genuine Italian spinto soprano. You just don't hear this kind of voice much! She is a wonderful singer and would have been perfect for, say, Elisabetta di Valois in Don Carlo. I certainly hope she'll be back.

Carmen Giannattasio, Tosca, Act II.
She just pulled the knife out of that shield behind her.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

MGT Out, ? In, at San Francisco Symphony



Replacement conductor and repertoire for January 18–20 concerts will be announced at a later date

The following options are available for those who have purchased tickets to these performances:
  • Wait for additional communication from the San Francisco Symphony, announcing new conductor and concert repertory. Your tickets and seat locations will remain unchanged for the new concert date.
  • Exchange your tickets for any remaining San Francisco Symphony subscription concert in the 2018-19 Season.
  • Exchange your tickets for a gift certificate, which can be used at any time.
  • Donate your tickets, and receive a tax deduction for the total ticket value.
  • Receive a refund for the value of the ticket.

If you need assistance with your ticket, contact the San Francisco Symphony Box Office by phone at 415-864-6000, email at, or in person at the Box Office located at 201 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA.

Subsequently: Esa-Pekka Salonen Replaces MGT (that is, music director designate Esa-Pekka Salonen)

Monday, October 22, 2018

Cav 'n Pag at San Francisco Opera

(Started on September 25, alas!)

San Francisco Opera is a few weeks into a run of the perennial pairing of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. I last saw this twofer in the mid-1980s, and I remember almost nothing about it; however, a look at the SFO archive shows that it was the only time I saw Fiorenza Cossotto, about whom, right, I remember nothing.

I missed the last SFO bring-up some 15 years ago, but I do not remember why. Saving money? Wincing at the thought? Dismayed by the cast? Who knows?

This is, basically, The Set for both Cavalleria and Pagliacci.
Ekaterina Semenchuk (Santuzza) on the steps.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

After this round of verismo, as far as I am concerned, Cav should be mothballed, preferably in the same warehouse to which Gounod's Fault should be consigned. What a musical wreck! The piece has genuinely bizarre proportions, with a long prelude and hardly any singing in the first 20 minutes, and part-way through there's the famous Intermezzo. There's not much in the way of arias, either. Turridu, the lead tenor (I....can't bring myself to call him the hero, because he's a creep), gets an offstage aria right after the prelude, and an aria to his mother when he knows he's doomed. Santuzza, the wronged woman who is at the center of the tale, gets an aria. Lola, the third party, has a bit of singing to do, as does the baritone sorta-bad-guy. Mama Lucia helps move things along.

Honestly, do it as excerpts: that gets you maybe 12 minutes of really good music without the filler. (Faust has maybe 22 minutes of really good music!)

Such as it is, it got a decent performance, with Daniele Callegari, new to SFO, conducting well (the orchestra sounded lovely). Turridu was sung by the veteran tenor Roberto Aronica, who sounded worn, a bit wobbly, and utterly unsubtle, not that this stuff needs subtlety. (Really, like Andrea Chenier, this thing works best with a few big Italianate voices going at it hammer and tongs.) Ekaterina Semenchuk was a splendid Santuzza, singing with beautiful tone and sterling control. Jill Grove was a good Mama Lucia; Laura Krumm a pretty Lola. Making his local debut, baritone Dimitri Platanias made an excellent impression as Alfio.

Amitai Pati as Beppe, Lianna Haroutounian as Nedda and Dimitri Platanias as Tonio

 in Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci."

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

And Platanias carried the excellent impression over into Pagliacci, where he was in the excellent company of soprano Lianna Haroutounian as Nedda (Toni Marie Palmertree the night Haroutounian was ill), David Pershall (Silvio), and Amitai Pati (as Beppe, tag-teaming with Joel Sorensen the night I saw the show - Pati was unable to sing; Sorensen sang unobtrusively from various stage locals, a score concealed in a newspaper, while Pati acted the part - great job, you two excellent troupers!). Haroutounian was a delightful Nedda, Pershall a charming Silvio. Marco Berti was less wonderful as Canio.

So, the tenors were really the weak spot among the singers, and all I could think was - Canio and Turiddu both have Brian Jagde's name all over them, so why not get him off the Puccini beat for the season, cast him in this double bill, and hire somebody else for Cavaradossi? Well, what do I know, maybe he really is the only tenor in North American who can sing Cavaradossi. (I fall on the floor simultaneously laughing and crying at this notion.)

The production was nice to look at, and director José Cura had a cute idea about connecting the two operas. It didn't entirely work for me. I suppose there is a working class in Buenos Aires that might somehow be parallel to the rural farming folk of Cavalleria, but I didn't see it.

And that's all - I can stand to go another 30 years without this double bill and I really do not need to see Cav again, ever.

Museum Mondays

Interior Detail
Villa Stuck, Munich
August, 2015

Friday, October 19, 2018

Paris Les Huguenots Media Round-Up

I'm finding a fair number of reviews of this opera and I'm behind in elaborating on my multi-opera Letter from Paris, so!



Friday Photo

Bayreische Staatsoper
Munich, Germany
August, 2015

You knew I'd have one of these, right?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Will He or Won't He?

I'm about ready to start a betting pool on whether tenor Bryan Hymel will sing any of his upcoming engagements. His cancelation history when I'm anywhere near by isn't good:
  • He sang half his scheduled performances of Les Troyens in San Francisco
  • He withdrew from the Santa Fe Opera Rigoletto that was scheduled immediately following Les Troyens. (He was signed up to rehearse the Duke while singing Enée - madness.)
  • He withdrew from the Paris Les Huguenots ten days before opening.
A friend who saw him earlier this year in I vespri siciliani said he was wonderful until he cracked a note, and after that, he struggled.

Figuring out what the issues are is not really possible unless you're one of Hymel's intimates (his teacher, his coach, his manager, his family). Is it nerves? Vocal problems? Voice changing, as voices do? Plain old audience members have no way to know.

My personal interest in this is a plan to attend Les Troyens in February, in Paris. I'm very curious who will sing the male lead.

Monday, October 15, 2018


I have no idea how that post from 2016 (or maybe 2017 - I believe I published it very very late) got pushed to the top of the blog. It was not deliberate.

Museum Mondays

Ceiling and Chandelier
Villa Stuck, Munich
August, 2015

Friday, October 12, 2018

A 70-Year Old, an 80-Year-Old, a Centenarian, and a 142-Year-Old Walk Into a Concert Hall.

And it doesn't matter that two of them are dead: these four are the face of new-ish music at San Francisco Symphony, based on the various documents comprising the 2016-17 season announcement.

It is really a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty season, and I do not say that because of the absence of P***** G**** from the schedule.

Let's start with the depressing half-empty part; a second post will cover the good stuff.
  • No works composed by women are being performed this season.
  • No works by African American composers are being performed this season.
  • Two works by composers of color are being performed; both are from China, one is being played by a visiting orchestra from China.
  • Works by seven (7) living composers are being performed this year. They are John (Coolidge) Adams, Steve Reich, Bright Sheng, Robin Holloway, Andrew Norman, Qigang Chen, and M. Tilson Thomas.
Once again, John Adams, Lou Harrison, and Charles Ives are the American Mavericks, joined this year by Steve Reich, who turns 80. Of the works being performed, the most important two are the local premiere of JCA's The Gospel According to the Other Mary, which sounds like a masterpiece based on the audio I have heard, and the composer's second violin concerto, Scheherazade.2. Looks like only one Reich work has been announced; one program is entirely TBA.

There are three SFS co-commissions, the Overture to the new opera Dream of the Red Chamber, by Bright Sheng (co-commission with SF Opera - I'm totally confused by this); Europa and the Bull, by Robin Holloway; and Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind by M. Tilson Thomas.

The remaining works by living composers are Play, by Andrew Norman; Angegram, by MTT (it's a charming, and slight, curtain raiser);  Enchantments oubliés, by Qigang Chen, played by the China Phil; 

We don't, of course, know what will turn up on the SoundBox schedule, and it's common not to announce the chamber music series until closer to the fall. Only seven living composers are represented of the many whose orchestral works will be performed this season. Of them, Adams and Reich are now in the Grand Old Man category, and one is the music director of the orchestra.

So there you have it: a season almost entirely made up of music by dead white men. People, it is 2015. It is time for this orchestra to do a better job of performing music by women and people of color. It is time to do a better job of performing music by the rarely-heard rather than recycling Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikowsky, Mozart, Dvorak, Bach, and the rest of the top twenty-five or fifty composers. See Alex Ross's recent article and blog post on rarely-heard symphonists. Why not, for crying out loud? 

You could consider making an explicit commitment to performing works by women, African Americans, and other composers of color, which would give you the following incomplete list of composers to choose from:
Thea Musgrave, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Johanna Beyer, Kaija Saariaho, Joan Tower, Judith Weir, Nicola LeFanu, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Roxana Panufnik, Amy Beach, Elizabeth Maconchy, Unsuk Chin, Chen Yi, Sheila Silver, Chinnary Ung, Olly Wilson, Florence Price, George Walker, Ulysses Kay, William Grant Still, Anthony Braxton, Anthony Davis, Julius Eastman, Pamela Z, Ken Ueno, Lily Boulanger, Ethel Smyth, Cecile Chaminade, Vivian Fine, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Galina Ustvolskaya, Vítězslava Kaprálová, any of the hundreds of composers listed here and the hundreds of composers I've missed.
As usual, Los Angeles beats the heck out of SF in the new music category.

(Drafted the week of the season announcement, but I have had other priorities recently. Glass-half-full post to follow this week.)

Friday Photo

View into the Munich Residenz
Munich, Germany
August, 2015

Monday, October 08, 2018

Depressing Thought of the Day

On the steps of the Palais Garnier tonight, after seeing Berenice for the second time, I was thinking about what a terrific conductor Philippe Jordan is, on the basis of his Tristan and Berenice. There is no way he would give up a job like the one he has for San Francisco Symphony or San Francisco Opera, especially not the Opera. He is music director of the Opera National de Paris, with two opera houses that can simultaneously perform a total of four operas. This anniversary year for opera in Paris is special - that's how you get the budget to stage Les Huguenot and Les Troyens in the same season - but still. It is a great job.

Moreover, if you were a European working in Europe, would you want to work in the US just now, in a location that is a nine-hour flight from London, more from central Europe, given the political situation and our authoritarian-leaning president? I bet that you would not, unless you were already employed in the US and sticking around seemed better than looking for a job in Europe. So at the moment, I am betting on Americans for both of the gigs, not that I have any idea who those Americans might be.

Museum Mondays

Exterior Detail
Villa Stück, Munich
August, 2015

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Opera Tattling: Paris Opera Tristan and Berenice

The audience during Michael Jarrell's new opera, Berenice, was perfectly behaved in my vicinity.

For Tristan, it was a different matter. Some rustling of programs and coughing during the prelude, then, much worse:
  • The man in the row ahead of me and just to my right who silence, but did not turn off, his very large phone and who checked the time at least once during each act. Yes, it's a long opera, but you knew that when you bought the ticket, right? Get a watch if you really need to check the time during the performance.
  • The man two or three rows up and to my left who took photographs during the performance, at least one per act. Dude, ask the press office if you have an official use; if not, check the internet. But don't take photos during the performance. 
Both were well-dressed middle-aged men who should have known better.

Cast Changes: Santa Fe Opera, 2019

Received from SFeO:
Updates to the 2019 Season were also announced. Corinne Winters will sing the role of Leïla in The Pearl Fishers, replacing Lisette Oropesa, who will make her La Scala debut in the summer of 2019. Tracy Dahl will sing the role of Despina in Così fan tutte, replacing Rebecca Evans who has withdrawn for personal reasons. Maxine Braham (Choreographer/SFO debut) and Duane Schuler (Lighting Director) join the creative team of Jenůfa.
 In addition, the company had record-breaking ticket sales and fundraising this year.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Friday Photo

Kodak Signs
Munich, Germany
August 2015

You don't see these often in the US!