Monday, March 25, 2019

Friday, March 22, 2019

Music@Menlo 2019 Festival

Congratulations to Music@Menlo: in a season of 55 works, one was composed by a woman!

Considering that their season is arranged by decades, this is...unimaginative and shameful.

(By the way, your web site? There seems to be no way to find a list of the programs with all of the works on each, in chronological order. Stop being so clever and just give people a nice list. I'm lucky that I had a works list PDF so I could just count them, but I have no idea from it how the works are distributed by concert or who is playing them.)

Friday Photo

29 Avenue Rapp Detail
Paris, October, 2018

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Ojai, 2019: Barbara Hannigan, Music Director

The final Ojai schedule was published today. I have a big problem: this is opposite the annual Northern California jujitsu camp that I try to attend. The program below is astonishing.

June 6-9, 2019
Thomas W. Morris, Artistic Director
Barbara Hannigan, 2019 Music Director 

Thursday, June 6

1:00-4:30pm Ojai Presbyterian Church
Led by Ojai Talks Director Ara Guzelimian, these three insightful sessions explore various facets of music-making and ideas featuring Barbara Hannigan and members of EQ, an interview with Thomas W. Morris on his Ojai years, and with members of LUDWIG on their distinctive vision.

5:30-6:00pm Libbey Park Gazebo
JOHN LUTHER ADAMS/ The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies Part I

Steven Schick, percussion 

7:30-10:30pm Libbey Bowl
STRAVINSKY/ The Rake’s Progress  (fully-staged)                          
Equilibrium Artists: Aphrodite Patoulidou, soprano; Yannis Francois, bass; Elgan Llyr Thomas, tenor; Fleur Barron, mezzo-soprano; Antoin Herrera-Lopez Kessel, bass; James Way, tenor

Los Robles Master Chorale
Edo Frenkel, harpsichord
Linus Fellbom, director
Barbara Hannigan, conductor

Friday, June 7

8:00-9:00am Ojai Art Center
Donor Concert 

CLARA IANOTTA/ dead wasps in the jam-jar (iii)  US Premiere
TYSHAWN SOREY/ Everything Changes, Nothing Changes  West Coast Premiere

JACK Quartet           

11:00am-1:00pm Libbey Bowl 

Part I 11:00-11:45am
JOHN ZORN/ The Alchemist       
JOHN ZORN/ Hexentarot 
JOHN ZORN/ Ghosts 
JOHN ZORN/ The Aristos

JACK Quartet
Stephen Gosling, piano 

Part II 12:15-1:00pm
JOHN ZORN/ Ouroboros
JOHN ZORN/ The Unseen           
JOHN ZORN/ Necronomicon                                         
Jay Campbell, cello
Alexa Ciciretti, cello

2:00- 3:00pm  Ojai Presbyterian Church 
Zorn II (2016-2018) a film by Mathieu Amalric   

5:30-6:00pm Libbey Park Gazebo
JOHN LUTHER ADAMS/ The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies Part II
Steven Schick, percussion 

7:30-10:00pm  Libbey Bowl
Part I 7:30-8:30pm
DEBUSSY/ Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut (from Images Book 1)
RAVEL/ Une barque sur l’ocean (from Miroirs)
MESSIAEN/ Un reflet dans le vent (from Preludes)                                                 
SCHOENBERG/ String Quartet No. 2  
Stephen Gosling, piano 
Barbara Hannigan, soprano
JACK Quartet

Part II 9:00 – 10:00pm 
DEBUSSY/ Syrinx                                                                        

SCHOENBERG/ Verklärte Nacht
VIVIER/ Lonely Child                                             
Aphrodite Patoulidou, soprano
Barbara Hannigan, conductor

10:15-11:30pm Ojai Art Center 
A late night of ballroom dancing with LUDWIG Ballroom Band and Bill Elliott, master of ceremonies
(donor event)          

Saturday, June 8

8:00-9:00am Zalk Theatre 
JAMES DILLON/ La Coupure      
Steven Schick, percussion
Ross Karre, William Brent, video and sound design

11:00am-1pm Libbey Bowl 

Part I 11:00-11:30am

Tribute to Oliver Knussen with music by Oliver Knussen
KNUSSEN/ Masks for flute with wind chimes
KNUSSEN/ Autumnal for violin and piano
KNUSSEN/ Sonja’s Lullaby
KNUSSEN/ Cantata
KNUSSEN/ Eccentric Melody for cello
KNUSSEN/ Ophelia’s Last Dance
KNUSSEN/ Study for Metamorphosis for solo bassoon
Stephen Gosling, piano

Jay Campbell, cello
Part II 12:00-1:00pm         
RACHMANINOFF/ The Isle of the Dead (arranged by Thomas Beijer)   
MARK-ANTHONY TURNAGE/ Twice Through the Heart                

Kate Howden, mezzo-soprano 

Edo Frenkel, conductor                             

2:00- 3:30pm  Ojai Presbyterian Church 

Music is Music – a film by Mathieu Amalric
C’est presque au bout du monde – a film by Mathieu Amalric
Taking Risks  - a documentary film by Accentus Music about Barbara Hannigan’s Equilibrium mentoring initiative  US Premiere

5:30-6:00pm Libbey Park Gazebo
JOHN LUTHER ADAMS/ The Mathematics of Resonant BodiePart III
Steven Schick, percussion 

7:30-10:15pm  Libbey Bowl 

Part I 7:30-8:00pm 
JOHN ZORN/ Jumalattaret                       

Barbara Hannigan, soprano
Stephen Gosling, piano 
Part II 8:15-9:00pm 
RITES OF PASSAGE: Folk songs from around the world 

Equilibrium Artists
Edo Frenkel, piano

Part II 9:30-10:15pm 
GRISEY/ Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil (Four Songs Crossing the Threshold)           
Barbara Hannigan, soprano
Steven Schick, conductor 
Sunday, June 9

8:00-9:00am Zalk Theatre 
CATHERINE LAMB/ String Quartet   US Premiere
JACK Quartet 

11:00am-1:15pm Libbey Bowl

Part I 11:00-11:45am

WALTON/ Façade: An Entertainment                                                              
Barbara Hannigan, speaker 

Part II 12:15-1:15pm         
TERRY RILEY/ In C           
Festival artists

4:30-6:30pm Libbey Bowl 
STRAVINSKY/ Pulcinella (complete)     
HAYDN/ Symphony No. 49 “La Passione”     
GERSHWIN/ Girl Crazy Suite (arranged by Bill Elliott)          
Kate Howden, mezzo-soprano 
James Way, tenor
Antoin Herrera-Lopez Kessel, bass
Barbara Hannigan, conductor and soprano

Monday, March 18, 2019


AND one more cast change that I missed:
March 11, 2019 Jean-François Lapointe will sing the Marquis de la Force in all upcoming performances of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, replacing Dwayne Croft. Canadian baritone Jean-François Lapointe makes his Met debut as Marquis de la Force, a role he has previously sung at Dutch National Opera. Recent performances include Hérode in Massenet’s Hérodiade and Rodrigo in Verdi’s Don Carlo at Marseilles Opera and Valentin in Gounod’s Faust and the title role of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell at the Grand Théâtre de Genève. This season he sings Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff at Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Golaud in Debussy’s Pélleas et Mélisande at Opéra National du Rhin, and Thésée in Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie at Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.  
The cast for Dialogues des Carmélites includes Isabel Leonard as Blanche de la Force, Adrianne Pieczonka as Mme. Lidoine, Erin Morley as Constance, Karen Cargill as Mère Marie, Karita Mattila as Mme. de Croissy, and David Portillo as the Chevalier de la Force. Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts. Performances of Dialogues des Carmélites are May 3, 8, and 11, 2019. The final performance will broadcast live to cinemas worldwide as a part of The Met: Live in HD.
Weirdly, while I don't particularly like this opera, I will be attending the HD performance anyway. (Well, the repeat.) That's one hell of a cast, and the production is a legendary John Dexter production from the 1970s that I've always wanted to see.

Met Cast Changes

The first is from last week!
March 14, 2019 Gregory Kunde will sing Samson in the March 16, 19, and 23 performances of Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila, replacing Aleksandrs Antonenko, who is ill.
And jumping in, or maybe I mean off, a performance that is already under way as I publish this:

March 18, 2019 
Iulia Isaev will sing the title role in tonight’s performance of Puccini’s Tosca, replacing Jennifer Rowley, who is ill. Romanian soprano Iulia Isaev makes her Met debut in tonight’s performance of Tosca. Her performances include Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Vienna State Opera and Opéra du Rhin in Alsace; Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera and Deutsche Oper Berlin; and Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin at Greek National Opera. She has sung many roles with Bucharest National Opera including Alice in Verdi’s Falstaff, Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Nedda in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, and Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello. This season she reprises Alice in Bucharest. The cast for Tosca includes Joseph Calleja as Cavaradossi, Wolfgang Koch as Scarpia, and Philip Cokorinos as Sacristan. Carlo Rizzi conducts. Performances of Tosca run through April 6, 2019. 

Mueum Mondays

Detail from "The Martyrdom of St. Denis"
Henri Bellechose
Louvre, Paris
February, 2019

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Farewell to Lila

Almost eight years ago, I ran a blog post that included the news that we'd gotten a new dog, just a few months after the death of Molly B., our first. The post included this photo of the new dog:

Lila the Werewolf, July, 2011

I'm very sad to report that Lila died on March 13. She was probably around 12, and she had been having increasing mobility problems and associated pain. We had taken her to our favorite vet a few weeks ago to ask about her condition; she was still moving reasonably well and absent other health problems, the vet thought she might live a couple more years. But, she said, that thickening on her left knee might be bone cancer, so we should keep an eye on it. 

By March 11th, she was having a big problem getting up stairs. She was falling a couple of times a day, and she was clearly fearful about this and in more pain, so we took her back to the vet on Wednesday. Favorite vet and another vet agreed that yes, it was probable she had bone cancer (the thickening was worse), it would spread rapidly, and she was not a good candidate for amputation, given her age and the serious arthritis in her other leg and back. We don't want our pets to suffer, so we sadly and regretfully said goodbye to her.

She was not the sharpest knife in the canine drawer (we've had a very very smart dog and she was...a handful), but Lila was one of the sweetest. She liked and got along with almost all dogs and she turned out to be fine with cats. (We did a LOT of training to make sure she knew how to behave with them.) She was kind to people and always very nice to be around, as well. She lost her hearing a couple of years ago, and as her arthritis worsened, she no longer wagged her amazing tail, which could clear tables easily when she was younger.

We miss her very much and we're sad she's not barking at squirrels and begging for orange slices, one of her favorite people foods. Despite behind in some pain, she was sweet and cuddly right to the end.

Lila, March 11, 2019
I was eating a tangerine and she wanted a slice, which she got.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Museum Mondays

Panel of the Sedano Family Triptych
Gérard David
Louvre,  Paris
February, 2019

Friday, March 01, 2019

Organizational Differences

San Francisco Opera Timeline:

May 16, 2016: Official announcement that Nicola Luisotti is leaving at the end of 2017-18 season
October, 2017: His last performance as MD
July, 2018:        His contract expires
December, 2018: We have no idea who is replacing him
January, 2019:  A second season is announced with all guest conductors

San Francisco Symphony Timeline:

October 31, 2017: Official announcement that Michael Tilson Thomas is leaving at the end of the 2019-20 season
December 5, 2018: Official announcement of the next SFS music director
June, 2020: MTT's last performance as MD

Friday Photo

Doorway, 29 Avenue Rapp
Paris, October, 2018

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

And Because I Am a Bad Person....

Noted, on the web page about Damnation de Faust, with thoughts of the production of Les Troyens that I just saw in Paris:
High-flying tenor Bryan Hymel sings the doomed and besotted Faust, opposite dazzling mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča as the forsaken Marguerite 

Met Season, 2019-20: More of the Same

Gosh, not long ago a prominent opera commentator was calling SF's season boring. Here's what has dropped at the Met:
  • All-male-composer season
  • Twenty-four operas
  • One opera written after 1950 (Ahknaten)
  • Eight written after 1900 (Turandot, Tosca, Butterfly, Ahknaten, Katya Kabanova, Porgy & Bess, Rosenkavalier, Wozzeck)
  • Three Mozart (Flute, Nozze, Cosi)
  • Five Puccini (Turandot, Tosca, Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Boheme)
  • Three Verdi (Traviata, Macbeth, Simon Boccanegra)
  • Two Massenet (Manon, Werther)
  • One each: Handel (Agrippina), Glass (Ahknaten), Rossini (Cenerentola), Berlioz (Damnation), Wagner (Hollander), Janacek (Katya Kabanova), Donizetti (Maria Stuarda), Gluck (Orfeo), Gershwin (Porgy), Tchaikowsky (Queen of Spades), R. Strauss (Rosenkavalier), Berg (Wozzeck)
  • In Italian: 14
  • In French: 3
  • In German: 4
  • In English: 2
  • In Czech: 1
  • In Russian: 1
I could certainly put together a season of ten operas I'm willing to see out of the 25 above, but it's  otherwise a pretty boring season: Simon Boccanegra, Agrippina, Ahknaten, Damnation, Katya, Orfeo, Porgy, Queen of Spades, Rosenkavalier, and Wozzeck.

UPDATED, since I managed to overlook La Boheme in my original counts and since I was off by one in my count of post-1900; Tosca just makes it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Music at Versailles

I was in France recently, and one of the highlights of my trip was that, on the basis of my review of three operas last October, I was invited to visit the Château de Versailles, the gigantic 17th c. palace located a few miles to the west of the city. Once there, I was shown around by Maxime Ohayon, director of development for Chateau de Versailles Spectacles, which is why there's a photo of me in the Hall of Mirrors with no one behind me.

I also interviewed Laurent Brunner, director of performances for Spectacles, about their musical program. Note that Spectacles handles all performances at the palace.

I wrote about music at Versailles for SFCV, and let me tell you, there are amazing things going on there. I was not able to see an opera in their beautiful little opera house, which seats only 700, but I did see a terrific concert of Baroque music with the Concerto Köln and a wonderful countertenor, Valer Sabadus.

Huge thanks to Maxim, Laurent, and Fanny Collard, (communications), for the invitation and their generosity.

You can see more of my photos in this Flickr photoset. I'm particularly fond of the photos I took under the stage of the opera house.

The Surveillance State in Ticket Sales

Or, why I'll never click a link in email from [redacted] again.

I received email over the weekend from a performing arts org about a program that they're presenting. Curious about what was actually on the program, I clicked through.

Today I got email reading as follows, and I'm pretty sure it's because of how they track and respond to click-throughs:
Hello, Lisa!
We're as excited as you are that [ensemble] is coming to [redacted]! Prices may increase due to demand, so the sooner you get your tickets, the better. 
If you have any trouble purchasing your tickets online, or need assistance in any way, you can contact the Ticket Office and we’ll be happy to help with your order.
Nope, nope, and nope. I may unsubscribe from [redacted]'s mailing list, or I may just never click a link again, but I do not want to feel as though I am being stalked by any performing arts org.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Museum Mondays

Hans Memling: Angel Holding an Olive Branch
Musée du Louvre, Paris
February, 2019

Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday Photo

Old pieces of the Sainte Chappelle, collected outside the chapel
Paris, February, 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Duking It Out

News from the Met:
Bryan Hymel has withdrawn from upcoming performances as the Duke in Verdi’s Rigoletto, due to personal reasons. 
Francesco Demuro will sing the Duke in the March 6, 9, 15, and 20 performances; Matthew Polenzani will sing the performances on April 26, May 1, and 4; and Stephen Costello will sing the May 10 performance.
This is Hymel's third high-profile cancelation in the last few months: Les Huguenots and Les Troyen in Paris were the first two.

He's scheduled to open the San Francisco Opera season in September, and...well...I hope he's okay.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Museum Mondays

Birth of Gothic Sculpture 
Musée National du Moyen Age (Musée de Cluny)
National Museum of the Middle Ages
Paris, October, 2018

Sunday, February 10, 2019

"Job" Opening at Baltimore Sun

Well, here's a job that I'm not sure I could recommend: working a as freelance music critic for the Baltimore Sun.

Copied and pasted from the web page I linked to:
The Baltimore Sun seeks a freelance critic to review the broad array of classical performances in the Baltimore region. These can include, but are not limited to, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Shriver Hall Concert Series, Baltimore Choral Arts Society, Baltimore Concert Opera and the Peabody Institute. We are keen to reflect the diversity of the classical community in the Baltimore area. 
Plan, in concert with an editor, a schedule of reviews that encompasses the variety within the Baltimore region’s classical scene Write with accuracy, knowledge, speed, flair and an accessible voiceMeet deadlinesEngage with and grow a network of followers on social media. Qualifications 
Three years of critical experience at a journalistic organizationExcellent writing skills Proven ability to build an audience via social mediaFamiliarity with and interest in Baltimore-area classical organizationsThe Baltimore Sun is committed to building a diverse correspondent network that reflects the people it covers and the audience it serves. Candidates are encouraged to highlight new perspectives they can bring to our team.

This is apparently a full-time music critic's job and requires three years of experience at a critic; however, you'll be paid as a freelancer, presumably by the article, and you'll get benefits just like a freelancer, which is to say, none. I have no idea how many freelancers there are who live close enough to Baltimore to be familiar with the scene - and who have either employment that takes care of health insurance or a spouse whose health insurance will keep them covered.

I'm also disturbed by that bit about "Proven ability to build an audience via social media." I mean, I suppose I could sorta demonstrate this, given my 1500 Twitter followers, but I'm not Alex Ross and neither is any other working critic: Alex has north of 100,000 followers, Anne Midgette of the Washington Post has 22,500, Anthony Tommasini of the NY Times has 7262, Zachary Woolfe, the most visible Times critic, has 9683, and James Jorden of Parterre Box has 3,197 (that was a shock; I figured he'd turn up in the 25,000 or higher range).

Honestly, I think that this part of the job is the job of the Sun's social media department. I certainly wouldn't make it a job requirement or expect any freelancer to have a huge following.

This is all related to something Tim Mangan, former critic of the Orange County Register, formerly in-house writer for the Pacific Sympony, wrote about last year: the hobbification of criticism, where it's something done on the side rather than a full-time profession, owing to the decline of print and on-line newspapers willing to pay for criticism. It is a real shame that the Sun is going down this path.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

San Francisco Opera: Casting Updates for Summer, 2019 Operas

Announced in my absence, updates to all three of the summer operas. Coincidentally, this dropped during the second intermission of Rusalka at the Opéra Bastille Thursday.

In Orlando, to absolute no one's surprise, the brilliant young countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen will sing Medoro, replacing the recently-indicted David Daniels.

In Rusalka, bass Kristinn Sigmundsson will sing Vodnik (Water Spirit), replacing the previously-announced Ferruccio Furlanetto, who has decided not to add the role to his repertory. (Applause for artists making such a decision with so much notice to the company for which they had planned to sing.)

In Carmen, Michelle Merrill will conduct the June 20, 2019 performance. Jame Gaffigan conducts all other performances.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Museum Mondays

The beautiful Art Nouveau cabinet above contains storage for the four instruments of a string quartet, plus their music. I'm sorry the photo isn't better; I didn't have the dSLR with me that day and this is what I got, shooting too fast, with my phone cam.

This is one of the pairs of matching double music stands. I love the sinuous curves of the base and the grain of the wood. I think it's maple but can't swear to it.

Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Paris, October, 2018

Friday, February 01, 2019

Sanford Sylvan

I'm so sad to read that baritone Sanford Sylvan died earlier this week, much too young at 65. He was, for decades, a significant figure in the Boston, and American, musical scene, singing in Peter Sellars' famous productions of the Mozart-da Ponte operas, singing Lieder and Bach cantatas, creating the roles of Chou En Lai in Nixon in China and Leon Klinghoffer in The Death of Klinghoffer.

I think that I saw him live only once, during my senior year of college. I spent a good part of that year studying Schubert with Joshua Rifkin, first in a class on the song cycles, then in a private study of three unfinished symphonies by the composer. During that snowy winter, Sylvan gave a recital of Die Schöne Müllerin at a church in the Back Bay somewhere. I went to see the performance, which I'm pretty sure was with his long-time collaborator David Breitman.

I remember it as a wonderful recital, and I also remember, vividly, that after the bows Sylvan and some men who were in the audience hugged each other, and he kissed one of them on the lips.

I was a young and barely out queer at the time and it was the first time I'd seen two men kissing. In 1979-80, this was a rare thing. For context, the first gay pride march I went to, that spring, had perhaps 5,000 nervous marchers, carrying handmade signs, versus 125,000 attendees at this past year's, which I assume, like SF's parade, has plenty of social and corporate support. Being gay was way more likely then to get you fired, abused, denied housing or job or medical care than it is today (and discrimination against LGBTIA folk is still a big problem).

Sylvan was so brave to kiss another man in public back then, and he came out publicly as gay in the 1990s, when almost no classical music world figures were out. This week's tributes are rightly remembering the grace of his singing and the beauty of his voice, his kindness to others, and his bravery. He will be very greatly missed as a musician and a human.


Friday Photo

Terminal 1, Charles de Gaulle
Paris, October, 2018

Friday, January 25, 2019

Gala at Royal Opera de Chateau de Versailles

Royal Opera, Versailles

If you happen to find yourself in Paris and environs at the end of March, 2019, there's what looks like a lovely gala dinner / benefit for the Royal Opera of the Chateau of Versailles.


March 31, 2019

6 pm: Champagne reception in the Crusades Room

7 pm: Ballet at the Royal Opera - Marie-Antoinette
World Creation - Commissioned by the Royal Opera

Choreographed by Thierry Malandin Malandin
Ballet Biarritz
Euskadi Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mélanie Levy-Thiebault

8.30 pm: Grand Dinner in the Gallery of Great Battles

Tickets are 1,000 Euros to 10,000 Euros

For further details:

+33 (0)1 30 83 70 92

Compare and Contrast 37

San Francisco Symphony has a program this week of R. Strauss's Don Juan, Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony, and Lutoslawki's Cello Concerto, in its SFS premiere. There was some difference of opinion.
  • Joshua Kosman, Chron. "On Thursday, Jan. 24, Lutoslawski’s Cello Concerto from 1970 — a work of extraordinary wit, invention, theatrical vibrancy and expressive weight — finally took its place in the San Francisco Symphony’s repertoire. It got a magnificent performance featuring Johannes Moser as soloist and led with panache by the orchestra’s resident conductor, Christian Reif."
  • Kalimac. "This work is one of that peculiar subset of high modernist effluvia that seems to have been composed in dead serious earnestness but which comes across as goofy, even funny, because it's so pretentiously ridiculous. It begins with the cellist playing a D over again about twenty times, switching to some noodling, then going back to the D until interrupted by a loud blat from a trumpet. First laugh from the audience. More followed as the orchestra kept trying futilely to influence the soloist's behavior and they otherwise interacted like ships sailing past each other in the night. Mostly the orchestra played very loudly, while the cellist, interjecting between its outbursts, gave off a soapy, unresonant, and frankly unpleasant tone. For an encore, he played a Bach movement in the same grotty style, feh.

    "Insert here my unusual uncomprehending rant about why do they program such ugly, nasty stuff on the same program with such great music as the Prokofiev and Strauss. Surely it wasn't because they thought the Lutoslawski was funny."

Friday Photo

Boxes of plums
We bought a box; the plums were tiny and very sweet.
Seen outside a grocery store on the Rue St. Dominique.

Rose nougat, seen in a candy store on the Isle St. Louis

Box of assorted apples
Seen on the Boulevard Auguste Blanqui
I wish I'd bought a few.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Cast Change (Iolanta)

From the Met:

Alexey Dolgov will sing Vaudémont in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta in tonight’s season premiere performance, replacing Matthew Polenzani, who is ill. 
Russian tenor Alexey Dolgov adds a new role to his repertory as Vaudémont. His first Met performance was as Edgardo in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor during the company’s 2011 tour to Japan followed by mainstage performances as Cassio in Verdi’s Otello and Lensky in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Upcoming and recent performances include the title role in Massenet’s Werther at the Israeli Opera, Lensky at Washington National Opera, and Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at Seattle Opera and the Bavarian State Opera. He reprised Cassio earlier this season at the Met.
The cast for Iolanta includes Sonya Yoncheva in the title role, Alexey Markov as Robert, Elchin Azizov as Ibn-Hakia, and Vitalij Kowaljow as René. Henrik Nánási conducts.
Performances of the double bill of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle run through February 14, 2019.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Analyzing the SFO Season

War Memorial Opera House
Photo by Lisa Hirch

First, an addition to my earlier article: the SFO communications department. tells me that they will  send out a press release in early February with casting updates for the summer season. I'm not sure whether this will be limited to the replacement for David Daniels, but surely that singer will be included. Second, come the spring, there will be announcements about developing artistic matters. This could include the mystery commission ("exciting female composer") and perhaps any others that are in the works.

Over at Parterre Box, this has been termed a boring season, a contribution to SFO competing with Lyric Opera to be the most boring opera company. Well, I don't know about that! For an eight-opera season, it's damn good. Taking a closer look:
  • Verdi opera not heard here in more than 30 years.
  • French opera not heard here in more than 30 years.
  • German opera not heard here in 16 years.
  • English opera not heard here in 15 years.
  • Revival of a Baroque opera production, nearly unheard of, after several years.
  • Revival of a Puccini opera not heard here in 13 years.
  • New opera co-commissioned by the company.
  • Desperately needed new production of a great opera, with an intriguing Konzept.
I mean, the closest thing to overplayed here is Nozze, which I admittedly did not see in its last two bring-ups. I'm not going to complain too too much.

I have some areas of concern. The casting includes a lot of debuting artists, and there will undoubtedly be some misses among the hits. But here's a singer cancellation record that worries me: 

2015 SF Troyens - sang half the performances
2015 SFe Rigoletto - withdraws from half, then all, of the performances (note that rehearsal period overlapped with Troyens performances)

(can't easily find 2016 & 17 info)

2018 BayStaats Vepres - cancels  most performances (March, illness)
2018 Met Romeo - cancels (illness) (April)
2018 Paris Huguenots - cancels ten days before opening (illness)
2019 Paris Troyens - withdraws from 4 of 7 (illness), then remaining 3 (family)

That's what I know about Bryan Hymel's record of cancellations in SF and elsewhere. I do hope he'll stay well and will be able to sing opening night.

I see from reading Steven Winn and Joshua Kosman's reports on the season that Matthew Shilvock gave us similar comments during our respective interviews. (That's one of the functions of a communications department: they help you figure out possible and likely question and the answers.) I wrote about my questions in order of priority, which is why I covered the music director situation first; that seems to me to be a very big ongoing issue. SFS hired Esa-Pekka Salonen mighty fast, especially for a conductor who nobody thought was available. I understand the opera's caution; Nicola Luisotti was basically hired on the strength of La forza del destino, and, well, everybody had high hopes, but I certainly found him a disappointment over the long haul. 

Given the conductors who are returning next season whom I'd consider to be in the running, it might be that SFO 1) wants to see them more than once 2) wants to see them in more than one operatic repertory. So we have Gaffigan (Carmen, Ernani), Renes (Nixon, Billy Budd), Franklin (Turandot, Hansel, Adler program), and Nanasi (Elektra, Nozze). Moulds, conducting two Handel operas, is a specialist. I'm not sure whether Christie is in the running, although maybe everyone is.

Also, regarding my interview, let me make explicit what is stated less than baldly in the interview:
  • There isn't enough money for a longer season at current quality levels.
  • There isn't enough money to have Opera Lab programming because main stage quality can't be compromised.
The budget for next year is not yet approved, but it will be around what it has been for the last few years. The company loves its donors, and is working to find more, but clearly any changes to the budget, length of season, etc. will be in the long run, if at all. This is especially sad with respect to Opera Lab, which was launched with high hopes for alternative performances, Baroque performance, and, well, innovation.

Lastly, I'm glad that there are a whole bunch of Black singers in leading roles this season; both Nozze and Ernani have two Black singers in leading roles. This is part of the diversity we need in opera in America. But the company has other problems: it's an all-white-male composers season and seven of the eight are dead; additionally, it's an all-male conductors season and an all-male directors season. That is going in the wrong direction.

San Francisco Opera 97th Season, 2019-20

Edward Parks as Steve Jobs
Photo: Ken Howard / Santa Fe Opera

San Francisco Opera today announced its 97th season, which opens on September 6, 2019. Like 2018-19, next season will have eight operas, still down from the 9 or 10 that the company has performed recently, and far down from the 11 to 13 staged at the turn of the 21st century.

The company remains without a music director heading into 2019-20, and in an interview, General Director Matthew Shilvock noted that they're "still in a very exciting period of discovery and exploration. We're still getting to know new conductors, with three new ones this season and reacquainting ourselves with Lawrence Renes, who conducted 2012's Nixon in China. I believe that a [potential] music director has to go through the full rehearsal and production cycle, as well the audience engagement process. The music director does a lot to set the musical values of the company."

Asked about the possibility of the retirement or departure of orchestral principals, who would typically be hired by the music director and a musician committee, Shilvock noted that the company is working closely with the orchestra on the protocols for such an eventuality, should it take place before the appointment of the next music director. As for the length of the season, he said that while the company regularly explores how to lengthen the season, it's most important to maintain the artistic quality that San Francisco Opera audiences expect, rather than try for greater quantity.

Of the eight productions in 2019-21, six are new to SFO, with two revivals. The season cannily balances the season across a wide chronological span, from Baroque opera, through Mozart, 19th century German and Italian works, and into the 20th and 21st centuries.

Edward Parks as Steve Jobs
Photo: Ken Howard / Santa Fe Opera

At the 21st century end of that range, the season includes an eagerly-awaited San Francisco Opera co-production, Mason Bates' The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, which premiered in Santa Fe in 2017 and focuses on the life of the Silicon valley icon and Apple founder. SFO will use the Santa Fe Opera production, with its original cast and conductor.

Shilvock said that Bates and librettist Mark Campbell have made some changes, expanding and deepening the role of Laurene Powell Jobs. These changes will be heard for the first time at the upcoming Seattle Opera production. "It's very exciting for us, as a company, to be involved in the process of developing a new work in it formative years," said Shilvock. "We're planning some exciting events to go with the production, and we think it will be a great entry point to opera with members of the tech community. It explores the stresses of competition and the tension between work and family, and our hope is that people will see the opera a not just a biography, but reflective of the community."

2014 production of Partenope
Photo: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

The two revivals are Olivier Tambosi's 2006 production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut, which stars Liannna Haroutounian in the title role and Brian Jagde as her lover Des Grieux, former music director Nicola Luisotti conducting, and Christopher Alden's production of Handel's Partenope, first seen here in 2014. Daniela Mack and Alek Shrader remain from the original cast, with soprano Louise Alder making her company in the title role. Countetenors Franco Fagioli and Jakub Józef Orlinski also make company debuts. The recent Adler Fellow Hadleigh Adams rounds out the cast. Christopher Moulds conducts; he will also conduct this season's Orlando.

Bryan Hymel

The season opens with Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, an opera not seen at SFO in 31 years. It will star Bryan Hymel (last seen as Enée in Les Troyens) and Nadine Sierra as Shakespeare's lovers, with Lucas Meachem as Mercutio and James Creswell as Frian Lawrence. Former Adler Fellows (and husband and wife) Pene Pati and Amina Edris sing the lovers inthe final performance. Yves Abel return to the podium.

Billy Budd
Photo: Alastair Muir

The fall season continues with the return of Britten's Billy Budd, in a production from Glyndbourne Opera that stars debuting baritone John Chest as Billy, tenor William Burden as Captain Vere, and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn as Claggart, with Renes conducting. Matthew Shilvock has commented in the past about the importance of staging 20th c. classics, including the operas of Benjamin Britten, and this is the first fruit of that commitment.

Michael Sumuel, Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro

Jeanine de Bique, Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro

An exciting new production of The Marriage of Figaro will also be featured in the fall season. Directed by Michael Cavanaugh (Nixon, Lucia di Lammermoor, Susannah), it will be the first of a planned series of new productions of the three great Mozart-da Ponte operas, with Cosi fan Tutte and Don Giovanni to follow. In Cavanaugh's staging, the three operas will be moved to a mansion located in the United States, and Cosi and Don Giovanni will be relocated in time.  Michael Sumuel returns to the company as Figaro, with debuting soprano Jeanine De Bique, a native of Trinidad, as Susanna. Henrik Nánási will conduct.

Le Nozze di Figaro
Production design by Erhard Rom

Asked about the possibility of intersectional interpretation of the works, since Figaro will star two Black singers, Shilvock remarked that"as we worked through the new productions with Cavanaugh, the idea of transporting the revolutionary fervor from [18th century Europe to the revolution fervor of America at that time made a lot of sense. The exploration of racial tensions isn't a requirement, but the casting will help explore the development of race relations in the United States. It will be a powerful way to help audiences engage with the opera."

Hansel and Gretel
Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera / Royal Opera

The fall season closes with a new co-production, with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, of Englebert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, starring Sasha Cooke and Heidi Stober as the siblings and Michaela Martens and Alfred Walker as their parents, with Robert Brubaker as the Witch. This production has already been seen in London.

Partenope and The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs will be performed during the summer of 2020, as will a new production of Verdi's early opera Ernani. Last seen here in 1984, the Lyric  Opera of Chicago production will star Russell Thomas, making his role debut as Ernani, and debuting soprano Michelle Bradley as Elivra. Simone Piazzola and Christian Van Horn round out the cast, with James Gaffigan conducting.

The season does not include any productions at the Taube Atrium Theater. In response to this questiion, Shilvock said that the entire Wilsey Center "has been transformative for the company, by bringing together so many functions under one roof, transforming communications among the different groups, and giving us a new and important space for orchestra rehearsals when the opera house pit can't be used. The Center is in active and regular use by the company, but it's expensive to put on performances in the Atrium Theater, and main stage performance quality takes priority. We don't have current plans for productions there because of the financial challenges of adding new programming elements."

In closing, Shilvock remarked that he's very excited about the debuting singers, such as sopranos Louise Alder and Jennifer Davis [the Countess in Nozze] and about the many role debuts as well, including Thomas as Ernani and Bryan Hymel as Romeo. "Singers are very appreciative of the welcoming nature of our audience, and so they are happy to take on new roles for us. I'm proud of the number of debut we have this season and of the opportunities we give to these singers."
Season summary:

  • Romeo et Juliette, Gounod, with Bryan Hymel (Romeo), Nadine Sierra (Juliette), Lucas Meachem (Mercutio), James Creswell (Friar Lawrence), conducted by Yves Abel. Opéra de Monte Carlo / Teatro Carlo Felice co-production directed by Jean-Louis Grinda. Pene Pati and Amina Edris sing the title roles for one performance. September 6 to October 1, 2019.
  • Billy Budd, Britten, with John Chest (Billy), William Burden (Vere), Christian Van Horn (Claggert), conducted by Lawrence Renes. Glyndbourne Opera production directed by Michael Grandage. September 7 to 22, 2019.
  • Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart, with Michael Sumuel (Figaro), Jeanine De Bique (Susanna), Levente Molnár* (Count Almaviva), Jennifer Davis** (Countess Almaviva), Serena Malfi* (Cherubino). Conducted by Henrik Nanasi. New production directed by Michael Cavanaugh. October 11 to November 1, 2019.
  • Manon Lescaut, Puccini. Lianna Haroutounian (Manon Lescaut), Brian Jagde (Des Grieux), Anthony Clark Evans (Lescaut), Eric Halvorson (Geronte). Conducted by Nicola Luisotti. Production directed by Olivier Tambosi, seen in San Francisco in 2006. November 8 to 26, 2019.
  • Hansel and Gretel, Humperdinck. Sasha Cooke (Hansel), Heidi Stober (Gretel), Robert Brubaker (Witch), Michaela Martens (Gertrude), Alfred Walker (Peter). Conducted by Christopher Franklin. Performed in English. Directed and production designed by Antony McDonald. Co-production of San Francisco Opera and Royal Opera, Covent Garden. November 15 to December 7, 2019.
  • Ernani, Verdi. Russell Thomas (Ernani), Michelle Bradley (Elvira), Simone Piazzola (Don Carlo), Christian Van Horn (Don Ruy Gomez de Silva). Conducted by James Gaffigan, directed by Jose Maria Condemi. Lyric Opera of Chicago production. June 7 to July 2, 2020.
  • Partenope, Handel. Louise Alder (Partenope), Daniela Mack (Rosmira), Franco Fagioli (Arsace), Jakub Jozef Orlinsky (Armindo), Alek Shrader (Emilio), Hadleigh Adams (Ormonte). Conducted by Christopher Moulds. English National Opera and Opera Australia production by Christopher Alden; revival directed by Ray Rallo. Last seen in SF in 2014. June 12-27, 2020.
  • The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, Bates. Edward Parks (Steve Jobs), Sasha Cooke (Laurene Powell Jobs), Garrett Sorenson (Woz), Wei Wu (Kobun Chino Otagawa). Conducted by Michael Christie. Directed by Kevin Newberry. Commissioned by San Francisco Opera, The Santa Fe Opera and Seattle Opera with support from Cal Performances and co-produced with Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. San Francisco Opera premiere. June 20 to July 3, 2020.