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.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Cancellations, Here and There

A couple of high-profile cancellations, one in SF and the other NY:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Leif Ove Andsnes has had to cancel all of his upcoming United States tour performances this month because he is suffering an injury to his elbow. As a result, his January 22 piano recital at Davies Symphony Hall is cancelled.   
The following options are available for those who have already purchased tickets: 

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. 

And on the East Coast:

ARTIST AND PROGRAM CHANGE: Thomas Dausgaard To Replace Zubin Mehta in His NY Philharmonic Debut

Nielsen’s Helios Overture
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with Stephen Hough
Schumann’s Symphony No. 2

February 14–16, 2019

Thomas Dausgaard — chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony and Swedish Chamber Orchestras, who becomes music director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra next season — will replace Zubin Mehta, who has withdrawn, in the New York Philharmonic concerts February 14–16, 2019, marking Mr. Dausgaard’s Philharmonic debut. The program will feature Nielsen’s Helios Overture, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with Stephen Hough as soloist, and Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 (replacing Webern’s Passacaglia, Op. 1, and Concerto for Nine Instruments, and Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, Great). 

[Too bad that the Webern pieces are no longer on this program. I believe Mehta was just on the West Coast conducting the LA Philharmonic. I am mildly surprised that the NY Philharmonic press release doesn't mention that Mehta is a former music director of the NYPO.]

Museum Mondays

Musée d'Orsay
Paris, 2018

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Sometimes I Don't Know What to Say.

Email received today from San Francisco Opera about upcoming educational programs leaves me scratching my head!

First, there's this:
For children ages 3–6. 
Journey through Engelbert Humperdinck’s delightful children’s opera Hansel and Gretel and meet new characters, learn music and play games along the way. In this workshop, we’ll explore music, rhythm, visual arts and movement. These workshops for families are designed to foster social-emotional development, increased language and fine-gross motor skills.
Now, I loved Hansel und Gretel as much as anyone; I think it's a great and underrated opera. But calling it a "delightful children's opera" means deliberately ignoring the fact that this is an opera in which:

  1. The children are going hungry at the beginning of the opera.
  2. Their mother flies into a rage at them over spilled milk.
  3. Their mother sends them out to forage for berries in woods known to be inhabited by a dangerous personage (the Witch).
  4. The Witch has already imprisoned a large children's chorus worth of kids.
  5. The Witch tries to kill them.

I mean, I think there is a lot of humor in the opera, but it is very dark-toned. I can easily imagine it terrifying a 3 to 6 year old.

Then, there's our old friend, Carmen for Families, and, well, it features an Army deserter who has abandoned his presumed fiancée, smuggling, a wild woman who does what she will sexually, and murder. This is for age 6 and up, of course!

Cast Changes, Opéra National de Paris


Bryan Hymel withdrew from the first several performances of Les Troyens, which will be sung by Brandon Jovanovich.

Now (January 3, 2019):
  • Elīna Garanča has withdrawn from Les Troyens, in which she was to sing Didon. Ekaterina Semenchuk replaces her. Update, January 10: This is owing to illness.
  • To sing Didon, Semenchuk has withdrawn from Rusalka, in which she was to sing Jezibaba. She is replaced by Michelle De Young.
Apparently I will never see Garanča: she was scheduled to sing Charlotte in Werther at San Francisco Opera some years ago, but canceled in order to make a European concert tour, which resulted in a complaint against her filed with AGMA.

Now (January 10, 2019 update): Brandon Jovanovich will sing Enée in all performances of Les Troyens. Bryan Hymel's withdrawal is owing to family reasons.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Met Aida Cast Change: Antonenko Out

From the Met Press Office:

Jorge de León will sing Radamès in the February 28, March 4, and March 7 performances of Verdi’s Aida, replacing Aleksandrs Antonenko.
Spanish tenor Jorge de León made his company debut as Radamès in 2017, a role he had previously sung at Vienna State Opera, La Scala, and Deutsche Oper Berlin. Recent performances include Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca at Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg State Opera, and New National Theatre Tokyo; des Grieux in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and the title role of Giordano’s Andrea Chenier at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona; and Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at Teatro Real in Madrid. This season he sings Pinkerton at Vienna State Opera and in Barcelona; des Grieux in Hamburg; and Turiddu in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Canio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci at Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa.
The cast for Aida on February 28, March 4, and March 7 includes Sondra Radvanovsky as Aida, Olesya Petrova as Amneris, Quinn Kelsey as Amonasro, Štefan Kocán as Ramfis, and Soloman Howard as the King. Plácido Domingo conducts.
Performances of Aida began on September 26, 2018 and run through March 7, 2019.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Now Playing at the Met

The Met rang in the new year with a new-to-them production of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, which has co-producers as follows:
Co-Production of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona; Wiener Staatsoper; San Francisco Opera; and L’Opéra National de Paris
Yeah, that doesn't include the Met, but whatever. I've had this opera and production listed in my Operatic Future Seasons page for I don't know how long, but originally I thought it might star Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna, so, yeah, a while ago.

The current cast includes Anna Netrebko (not seen at SFO since 2009), Piotr Beczala (seen regularly), Anita Rachvelishvili (seen here as Carmen in 2011), and Maurizio Muraro. I would be fine with this cast! 

I mean, it's not exactly a deep opera, and I rather suspect that it falls into the same category as Andrea Chenier and Cyrano de Bergerac: very pretty, mostly forgettable music. Still! It was once a repertory staple and so I'd like to see it -- although I'd rather see La Gioconda a lot more.