Monday, August 03, 2020

Recordings of Note: Shapero and Smyth

I've gotten notices about a couple of important new recordings.

1. Today, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) releases a CD of orchestral music by Harold Shapero:

Works: Sinfonia in C Minor (1948), Credo for Orchestra (1955), Partita in C for Piano and Small Orchestra (1960), On Green Mountain for Jazz Ensemble (1957), Serenade in D for String Orchestra (1945)

Performers: Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), Vivian Choi (piano), led by Gil Rose (conductor)

2. Chandos is releasing Dame Ethel Smyth's The Prison on August 7; James Blachly conducts the Experiential Orchestra and Chorus, with soprano Sarah Brailey and bass-baritone Dashon Burton. This is the world premiere recording. 

Press releases for both are after the jump.

Museum Mondays

Greek statuary: feet, dolphin
Musée du Louvre
October, 2018
Paris, France

Friday, July 31, 2020

Variola Major

Over on Twitter the other day, I saw someone who should have known better call Larry Brilliant "the man who cured smallpox." 

This is wrong on multiple counts.
  • There's no cure for smallpox. If a person was exposed to it, being vaccinated within a couple of days of the exposure had a good chance of preventing smallpox. But the treatments for smallpox were supportive, not curative. You would keep the patient hydrated and comfortable, apply whatever cream would provide relief for the sores, and the like. It was 2018 before there was an FDA-approved anti-viral that might be effective in treating smallpox.
  • Larry Brilliant was involved from 1973 to 1976 in the effort to eradicate smallpox through an enormous, worldwide vaccination effort. That effort started in 1959, when Brilliant was 15 years old, and lasted until 1979. The last naturally occurring case of the illness was in 1977, and in 1980 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the disease effectively extinct. (Small stocks remain at the CDC and somewhere in Russia, I believe.) You can read about the WHO effort at the CDC web site. (Which should have mentioned that there was inoculation in China long before Edward Jenner, sigh, probably starting in the 16th c.)
So, Brilliant was active for several years only of a concerted 20-year effort to finally stamp out smallpox. 
Americans really want to have a hero to look up to, but in this case, it's a mistake. All credit to Brilliant for his years of service, but eradicating smallpox was a group effort that thousands of people participated in. From the CDC web site, a note about the last case of smallpox in the wild:
Three-year-old Rahima Banu, who is the last known person to have had naturally acquired smallpox, or variola major, in the world, with her mother in Bangladesh. Her case was reported to the local Smallpox Eradication Program team by an 8-year-old girl named Bilkisunnessa, who was paid 250 Taka reward for her diligence.
That exemplifies what went into the eradication of smallpox. Local teams and ordinary people and epidemiologists all played their part. No single individual should get more credit than they deserve.

Friday Photo

Oakland Dimond District
March, 2020

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Rolling My Eyes

So, there's a fawning Maureen Dowd article about Renée Fleming posted at The NY Times web site this morning. When I read it this morning, having seen the link elsewhere on the internet, I saw this:

Leaving aside the gushing - I don't find Fleming either wholesome or sensual - there's that "fellow soprano Susan Graham." a mezzo-soprano.

I sent in a correction notice! I might not have been the only person to do this, and the Times has updated the article, to this:

That...isn't any more correct than their first take. I have sent another correction, this time with suggested wording, since they're incapable of getting this correct. I don't know if it's Dowd or someone deep in editorial who seems unwilling to get this right, but jeez it is annoying.

UPDATE: It's finally correct.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The First Cancellation of 2021

Cruise Ship Seen from the Bay Bridge
April, 2019
(Not the real JoCo Cruise ship, but the closest I could come in my personal photo collection.)
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

It's not even a performance. It's the annual JoCo cruise, which puts about 2,000 science fiction writers and fans on a Caribbean cruise for music, food, and other sorts of fun. The company web page describes it as a "nerdy summer camp at sea", "a writer's workshop", "a music and comedy fest" and so on.

Anyway, the JoCo Cruise for 2021 has now been postponed to 2022. 

Warlikowski on a Certain Type of Fan

Found in the extremely interesting NY Times profile of director Krzysztof Warlikowski:
In the interview, Mr. Warlikowski focused his ire more on a certain subset of star-struck audience members. “The worst public in the opera are these obsessed gays,” he said. “All these rich guys with nothing to do in their life, just following Anna Netrebko or Jonas Kaufmann on all continents. This is not a real audience for me.” 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Very Belated Museum Monday

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

Monday, July 20, 2020

Don't Do This: LOL Version

A small technical writing conference whose mailing list I'm on because I attended it a couple of years back is holding this year's conference virtually, as you might expect. I received an email from them today that left me laughing. I sent them the following reply, which I think is self-explanatory:
LOL you put out an email about a conference without including the dates!
They mention that it's about a month away, dates.

There is a link in the email Announcing Full Schedule, and it links to the conference's web site. I clicked through and sent another email:

The page you click through to for the schedule doesn't include either the schedule or the [conference] dates!!

This is hilariously poor communication for a technical writing conference, I must say.
'Nuff said. The person or people who wrote and proofread the email should be professionally ashamed.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Opera America Commissions

Some excellent news about works in development that have received support from Opera America:

Beth Morrison Projects (Brooklyn, NY) for In Our Daughter’s Eyes by Du Yun 

Boston Lyric Opera (Boston, MA) for The Desert Inn (working title) by Ellen Reid 

Guerilla Opera (Haverhill, MA) for HER:alive/un/dead: a media opera by Emily Koh 

HERE (New York, NY) for A Practical Breviary: Terce by Heather Christian 

Houston Grand Opera (Houston, TX) for Turn and Burn, a Rodeo Opera by Nell Shaw Cohen 

Opera on Tap (Brooklyn, NY) for Joan of the City by Kamala Sankaram 

Opera Orlando (Orlando, FL) for The Secret River by Stella C. Y. Sung 

Opera Philadelphia (Philadelphia, PA) for The Listeners by Missy Mazzoli 

The American Opera Project (Brooklyn, NY) for Precipice by Rima Fand 

The rest of the press release is after the cut. I'll just say that I'd love to see every one of these.

Belated Friday Photo

Tomatoes and Sunflowers Attempting to Escape Over a Fence (not mine)
Oakland, CA
July, 2020

Monday, July 13, 2020

Museum Mondays

Portrait of Marcel Proust
Jacques-Émil Blanche
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
October, 2018

Friday, July 10, 2020

Friday Photo

Black Lives Matter
Fruitvale Triptych
July, 2020
(Click to enlarge; the column width is too narrow to display the three photos side-by-side, alas)

Monday, July 06, 2020

Museum Mondays

Fountain and Mural
Marciano Foundation Museum, Los Angeles
(sadly closed)
June, 2019

Friday, July 03, 2020

This is Quite a Tell.

The Philadelphia Orchestra announced a new appointment last month, and hoo boy, the self-tell:
(Philadelphia, June 16, 2020)—The Philadelphia Orchestra is pleased to announce the appointment of Nicole Jordan as principal librarian beginning in the 2020–21 season. The position will bring her back to Philadelphia, where she was raised and began her career as The Philadelphia Orchestra’s library fellow from 2008 to 2011. Jordan will be the first African-American woman to join the Orchestra as a full-time member.
Uhhhhh and the situation isn't so different elsewhere. I would be interested to know when each US professional orchestra hired its first full-time Black member, man or woman. When did Philly hire the first African-American man, for example? 

Friday Photo

Clock near the Conciergie, Paris
February, 2019

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Upcoming Streams at San Francisco Opera

Janáček’s "The Makropulos Case" with Karita Mattila as Emilia Marty 

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Well. San Francisco Opera will have two superb productions streaming in July:

July 18, 2020: La Cenerentola (Cinderella), Rossini

Cast:  French soprano Karine Deshayes as Angelica (Cenerentola) opposite American tenor René Barbera as her Prince Charming, Don Ramiro. The cast includes baritone Efraín Solís as Dandini, baritone Carlos Chausson as Don Magnifico, bass-baritone Christian Van Horn as Alidoro and soprano Maria Valdes and mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde as Angelica’s stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, respectively. Jesús López-Cobos conducts.

(Regular readers and friends of mine know I'm not a big fan of the Rossini comedies, but for this cast....Deshayes was a wonderful Urbain in the Paris Huguenots, René Barbera is one of the great bel canto tenors of our time, and Efraín Solís stole the show as Golaud in the WEO Pelleas two seasons ago. So I'll be watching!)

July 25, 2020: Vec Makropulos (The Makropulos Case)Janáček

Cast:  Finnish soprano Karita Mattila in her role debut as the enigmatic, renowned singer Emilia Marty. The late Jiří Bělohlávek conducts this 1926 Czech masterpiece full of “restless, sharp-edged, brilliantly scored music” (San Francisco Classical Voice). The cast also features Slovak tenor Miro Dvorsky as Albert Gregor, German bass-baritone Gerd Grochowski as Baron Jaroslav Prus and America bass-baritone Dale Travis as Dr. Kolenatý. 

(Karita Karita Karita. Bělohlávek was superb; the whole cast was excellent, and this was the perfect role for Mattila.)

Monday, June 29, 2020

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sexual Abuse, Classical Music Edition, Part ???

Here are some links that've been floating around open browser tabs for too damn long.
You can look up all of the allegations against Domingo, which came from 20 women who'd worked with him at various opera companies. A least one was a dancer and the rest were singers. I have privately heard some stuff about his behavior - warnings given to singers along the lines of don't be alone with him, don't let him in your dressing room alone, etc. This would have been the whisper network doing its job.

In this NY Times article, we find LAO claiming the following:
Los Angeles Opera, however, said its investigation had “found no evidence that Mr. Domingo ever engaged in a quid pro quo or retaliated against any woman by not casting or otherwise hiring her at L.A. Opera, especially since casting and other hiring decisions are complex, performance-specific and determined by multiple people.” 
Here's an NPR article that quotes the Met saying this:
We take accusations of sexual harassment and abuse of power with extreme seriousness. We will await the results of the investigation into Plácido Domingo's behavior as head of the Los Angeles Opera before making any final decisions about Mr. Domingo's ultimate future at the Met. It should be noted that during his career at the Met as a guest artist, Mr. Domingo has never been in a position to influence casting decisions for anyone other than himself.
A couple of comments:

1. The Met was absolutely craven not to make its own investigation.

2. Re LAO's hiring claim: Yeah, they're complicated, but as General Manager and a big star, Domingo would certainly have had influence on casting. I'd love to see the basis of the claim that there was never any retaliation or quid pro quo.

3. Re the Met, hahahahahahahaha. Of course he was. You don't have to be part of the Met's administration to have influence. It's easy to imagine a conversation between, say, Levine and Domingo in which Domingo says "Oh, if you're thinking about casting for [opera], I recently worked with [soprano] / heard [soprano] elsewhere, and she just wouldn't be right for that role. Have you considered [some other soprano]?" And somehow, [some other soprano] gets the job. I mean, I have heard of at least one singer, a singer who was never GM of even one opera company, putting their foot down about a particular piece of casting and getting their way, not at the Met, and that singer was never a star on level of Domingo.

As you know, San Francisco Opera got out ahead of this by canceling a planned concert celebrating Domingo as soon as the news broke. This suggests a couple of things to me: the company wanted to do the right thing, and perhaps they knew of credible allegations from women who'd worked with Domingo at SFO. Also, ahem, Opera Magazine's "We've heard that..." column mentioned that SFO would open the 2020-21 season with Macbeth, which turned into Rigoletto by the time of the season announcement. One might wonder who was cast in the title role of the Scottish opera.

Ojai Virtual Festival

Libbey Bowl and audience, 2019 Ojai Festival, photo by Annelies van der Vegt

Libbey Bowl and audience
Ojai Festival, 2019
Photo by Annelies van der Vegt, courtesey of Ojai Festival

The other week, the Ojai Festival had a virtual festival, and various talks and musical excerpts are on line for us to hear and see

Friday, June 26, 2020

Thursday, June 25, 2020

SF Performances, Really?

SF Performances home page, with 2020-21 season announcement link and dates to subscribe or buy single tickets for that season.

Screen shot of SF Performances home page

San Francisco Performances is simultaneously asking for donations and bravely (?) acting as though there is going to be a full 2020-21 season, including the fall, in which no performances are cancelled.

I'd just like to know what SFP knows that San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet, Cal Performances, New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, and the Metropolitan, to name a few organizations, don't know.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Ten Years Ago

Davies Symphony Hall

Ten years ago, I was thinking about who might be the next music director of the San Francisco Symphony. You can read the whole post at the link, but there's this, in which I have crossed off the names of the now-deceased and highlighted the name of our music director designate:
It's easier to make a list of the unavailable than of the available. Not: Muti, Abbado, Gilbert, Levine, Nezhet-Seguin, Dudamel, Salonen (sob), Jurowski, C. Davis, A. Davis, Haitink, Mackerras (double sob), Barenboim, Nelsons, Rattle, Runnicles (sobbing even more)
People we don't want: FW-M (busy with contracts in Vienna and Cleveland, anyway), Mehta, Previn, Schwarz, Ashkenazy, Maazel, Masur. :)
Been there/done that/don't come back except as a guest: Ozawa, de Waart, Blomstedt.
Probably not: Simone Young
Wish We Could: Le formidable Boulez (say it with a French accent), nearly 85 and with regular guest gigs in Chicago and Cleveland
I would look to the frozen north, and I don't mean Canada). One of the Baltic states, Scandinavia, Finland. There's someone there, maybe someone we know: Osmo Vanska? Sakari Oramu? Where are Neeme Jarvi and Mariss Janssons working? How about Marek Janowski? Eschenbach? Dohnanyi? But the latter two are both 70-ish. So is Frubeck de Burgos.
Favorite from the frozen north: Susanna Malkki, who is Finnish, female, young, and made a big splash in NY at Mostly Mozart a year or two ago.
Of course, I was in the camp of "there's no way Salonen will take this job" right up to the moment I saw the announcement.

I note that this post was my first mention of Susanna Mälkki, and also that Blomstedt, while looking a bit frailer as time passes, is still conducting very fine programs here at almost-93 (his birthday is July 11).

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Rubin Institute

Rubin Institute of Music Criticism panel of writers, consisting of eight men and two women, all white-presenting, mostly middle-aged or older

Rubin Panel

This year, especially, the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism panel is way too homogenous: eight white-presenting men and two white-presenting women; eight from the east coast, one from the west, one bicoastal. I'd be curious about the minimum age of the participants. At this historical moment, it's not a good look. I'm seeing a lot of good discussions about white supremacy in classical music on Twitter, and, well.....

I hope that those who run the Rubin Institute are thinking about this, and trying to figure out how to broaden the panel in various ways. I mean, I can certainly think of a few folks who would be great to have on this panel.

Friday, June 19, 2020


Lincoln Center Plaza Fountain

Received from the Metropolitan Opera, a company that still hasn't performed a work by a Black person and has performed two works by women, a century apart:
In honor of Juneteenth, we are showcasing some of the exceptional African American artists who have thrilled audiences and made invaluable contributions to the Met’s legacy since Marian Anderson first broke the company’s color line in 1955. Don’t miss the Nightly Opera Stream of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, featuring the great Leontyne Price (pictured above) in one of her signature roles, available until tomorrow at 6:30PM EDT. You can also enjoy an audio compilation and a collection of video selections on our streaming service, Met Opera on Demand, until next Friday, June 26, as well as an interview with Price from the documentary The Opera House
I also note that, browsing through the gallery of Met Orchestra musicians, there are just two Black-presenting players.

Do better, Met.

Friday Photo

33 Rue du Champs de Mars
Paris, France
October, 2018

This fabulous building is tall and on a narrow street; I didn't have quite the right lens with me to give a good sense of the facade. More detailed photos on my Flickr pages.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Looking Forward

War Memorial Opera House (left) and Veterans Building (right)

San Francisco Performances and San Francisco Ballet haven't announced's inevitable.

Also.....the Los Angeles Philharmonic and LA Opera, too.

The Shape of Things to Come: SFS Cancels

Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

As I said the other day, when San Francisco Opera cancelled its fall season, "there's just no way for a big organization, with a big house and big orchestra and big staff, to perform safely this fall." We now have the inevitable documents from San Francisco Symphony cancelling their fall season.

Documents, plural, because as a subscriber, I got a very nice in-advance-of-the-public announcement email, followed by the press release an hour or so later.

I'm just so sad about this. We're losing months of Esa-Pekka Salonen's first season, with some fabulously rich programs never to be heard.
  • Bluebeard's Castle / Bartok Piano Concerto No. 2
  • Rudolph Buchbinder in Beethoven piano concertos
  • Chick Corea/Joshua Weilerstein (Walker / Gershwn / Sibelius)
  • MTT/Mahler 1
  • MTT/Beethoven Missa Solemnis
  • Giancarlo Guerrero (Tower / Price / Wolfe)
Unlike SFO, SFS has reached a "shared sacrifice plan that includes temporary pay reductions for all employees earning more than $75,000 annually." That's the right way to do this. Negotiate first, cancel later. Don't leave the people who work for the organization hanging.

I'm sorry to see that there will be some jobs cut, though.

Below the cut, you'll find the to-our-donors email and the press release.

SF Girls Chorus & Voices of Music in Dido and Aeneas

Screencap from the video described in this article

Received a couple of weeks ago:
The San Francisco Girls Chorus, San Francisco Early Music Society, and Voices of Music invite you to join us for our 4K ultra high definition video premiere of Purcell's Opera Dido and Aeneas, streamed live, and FREE, on the Voices of Music YouTube channel, linked here:
From the award winning performance at the Berkeley Early Music Festival, June, 2018, this concert won the San Francisco Classical Voice "Best of the Bay" award in three categories: Best opera performance, best choral performance and best Early Music performance.
The San Francisco Girls Chorus directed by Valérie Sainte-Agathe; Voices of Music directed by Hanneke van Proosdij and David Tayler.
Dramatis Personae:     Mindy Ella Chu as Dido, Queen of Carthage     Jesse Blumberg as Aeneas     Emma Powell as Belinda     Nia Spaulding as the 2nd Woman     Calla Cra-Caskey as the Sorceress     Lola Miller-Henline as the Spirit of the Sorceress (Mercury)     Allegra Kelly as the Sailor     Audrey Johnson as the First Witch     Marie Johnson as the Second Witch     Caroline Sloan as the Third Witch     Isabel Yang as the Fourth Witch
The performance venue was First Congregational Church in Berkeley.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Shape of Things to Come: Cal Performances Cancels

Hertz Hall Organ
UC Berkeley Campus
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

I haven't gotten a press release or patron announcement yet, but Joshua Kosman did and he reports on the announcement in the Chron. They're cancelling all in-person performances through the end of the year.

Upcoming at the Elbphilharmonie

Some interesting concerts to be streamed at the Elbphilharmonie, currently the conductorial home of Alan Gilbert. I believe the times are local, so count appropriately for your location,

Klaus Mäkelä and Alan Gilbert conduct the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra (June 17th and 26th). The artist for the »Blind Date« show (June 24thhas still not been revealed.

Hamburg, 16 June 2020: As long as the audience is not allowed to come into the concert halls of the Elbphilharmonie, the Elbphilharmonie will come to the audience. Three new broadcasts of concerts from the Grand Hall will take place over the next few days, in front of empty tiers, but from the core of the musicians’ hearts. The NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra performs in a Corona-reduced line-up tomorrow, June 17th, with music by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Lindberg and Schönberg (Pekka Kuusisto, violin)conducted by the 24-year-old Finn Klaus Mäkelä, an up and coming star on the podium. On June 26th, the orchestra plays works by Adès, Shostakovich and Beethoven. Alan Gilbert, chief conductor of the orchestra, is on the podiumIgor Levit is piano soloist.
On June 24th, the Elbphilharmonie presents its popular »Blind Date« series for the first time online. The performing artist remains a secret until the first bars sound. Enjoy the surprise!

The programme:

Wednesday, 17th June 2020 at 8.15pm (MET)
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra / Klaus Mäkelä / Pekka Kuusisto
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy String Symphony No. 10
Magnus Lindberg Concert for Violin and Orchestra No. 1
Arnold Schönberg Transfigured Night (Revised version for String Orchestra)

Wednesday, 24th June 2020 at 8pm (MET)
Blind Date
Surprise Artist

Friday, 26th June 2020 at 8pm (MET)
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra / Alan Gilbert / Igor Levit
Thomas Adès Chamber Symphony
Dmitri Schostakowitsch Concerto for Piano No. 1
Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 4

All streams can be found here:

Streaming Next at San Francisco Opera

War Memorial Opera House Interior
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Up next in the SF Opera streaming series; all performances start at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on the date indicated. They remain available to the public until 11:59 p.m. the following day; if you're a subscriber, you can log in to the SFO web site and watch the videos there.

No Elektra.....yet....but this is an interesting group. I was shocked at how much I liked Manon. I remember the Salome as sluggishly conducted, but I'll definitely watch. I missed Susannah live, because I'd caught an especially nasty bug that year and was sick for something like six weeks. (My partner inconveniently broke her ankle a couple of weeks into my being sick, sigh. Fun times.) But Patricia Racette and Brandon Jovanovich are a proven pairing at SFO, so you bet I'll watch this.

Salome — June 20

The 2009 presentation of Richard Strauss’ Salome is a co-production with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Opéra de Montréal directed and choreographed by Séan Curran with production designs by Bruno Schwengl and lighting by Christopher Maravich. Strauss’ 1905 one-act opera, featuring Hedwig Lachmann’s German translation of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play as the text, is best known for its shocking, intense situations based on Biblical literature and the composer’s extraordinary score, including the sensual “Dance of the Seven Veils.” German dramatic soprano Nadja Michael portrays the title role and bass-baritone Greer Grimsley is the object of her desire, Jokanaan (John the Baptist). The cast also stars tenor Kim Begley as Herod, mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura as Herodias and tenor Garrett Sorenson as Narraboth. San Francisco Opera’s former Music Director Nicola Luisotti leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Salome is performed in German with English subtitles and has an approximate running time of 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Manon — June 27

San Francisco Opera’s most recent staging of Jules Massenet’s Manon in 2017, a new co-production with Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre and the Israeli Opera, features the role debuts of soprano Ellie Dehn as Manon and tenor Michael Fabiano as Chevalier des Grieux. Opera News proclaims Fabiano’s portrayal of Manon’s lover “a powerhouse vocal performance.” The opera’s libretto, by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille based on the novel by Abbé Prévost, tells the story of a young woman whose plans to enter a convent are interrupted by her falling in love with des Grieux and attempting to evade the schemes of Guillot (Robert Brubaker). With stage direction and costume designs by Vincent Boussard, the production’s creative team also includes set designer Vincent Lemaire and lighting designer Gary Marder. French conductor Patrick Fournillier “[leads] the orchestra in a rigorous rendition” of Massenet’s popular 1884 work (San Francisco Classical Voice).  Baritone David Pershall is Manon’s cousin Lescaut, bass James Creswell is Chevalier des Grieux’s father, Comte des Grieux, and baritone Timothy Mix is De Brétigny. The San Francisco Opera Chorus is prepared by Chorus Director Ian Robertson. Manon is performed in French with English subtitles and has an approximate running time of 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Susannah — July 4

Set in New Hope Valley, Tennessee, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah is one of the most frequently performed 20th-century works in the American operatic repertoire. Floyd’s libretto, loosely based on the story “Susannah and the Elders” from the biblical Apocrypha, centers on an innocent, teenage girl who is falsely accused as a sinner by her church community. This “brilliant,” “magnificent” (San Francisco Chronicle) 2014 Company premiere is a San Francisco Opera co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Houston Grand Opera. Director Michael Cavanagh directs the cast starring soprano Patricia Racette in the title role; tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Susannah’s brother, Sam Polk; bass Raymond Aceto as the villain, Reverend Olin Blitch; tenor James Kryshak as Little Bat and mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook as Little Bat’s mother, Mrs. McLean. In her Company debut, Karen Kamensek conducts the cast, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus “with superb musical direction” (The Mercury News). The production features set designs by Erhard Rom, costumes by Michael Yeargan, lighting designs by Gary Marder, choreography by Lawrence Pech and fight direction by Dave Maier. Susannah is performed in English with English subtitles and has an approximate running time of 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Shape of Things to Come: San Francisco Opera Cancels Fall Season

War Memorial Opera House, SF
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Sigh. You knew this was coming, right?

After the Met's cancellation, after the LOC cancellation, and after my own little poll, it seemed inevitable that San Francisco Opera would do the same, and now they have. There's just no way for a big organization, with a big house and big orchestra and big staff, to perform safely this fall.

The press release, which is long, is after the cut. The short version: we have to cancel the fall season, we expect to be back for the scheduled April and May performances, the postponement of the seat replacement project might open up more performing opportunities, we'll continue with streaming opera and online performances. We plan to reschedule Fidelio, Cosi fan tutte,  and The Handmaid's Tale.

Alarmingly, the press release has nothing about what's happening with the company's administrative staff, orchestra, chorus, stage pros, and backstage pros. From Joshua Kosman's article:
The cancellation is expected to cost the company $20 million in lost revenue during the coming fiscal year — $10 million in contributed income and $10 million in lost ticket sales — on an annual budget of about $72.5 million, Shilvock said. He added that the company would begin discussions soon with the labor unions representing the company’s performers and technical crews.
And from Janos Gereben's:
Shilvock responded to questions from SF Classical Voice about the lack of specifics in SF Opera’s announcement about salaries, contracts, and staff cutbacks, saying, “All that is being discussed in conversations that begin now.” He did not offer a timeframe for when that information will become available.
At a video-conference staff meeting earlier today, SF Opera employees heard the news about the cancellation but were not told about their future. This approach to the fall season is in contrast to Shilvock’s statement to SF Classical Voice at the time of his cancellation of the summer season in April, when he pledged “full compensation and benefits for employees through the current May 3 shelter-in-place period.”
Oooh. I would not have said a word about cancelling the performances before actually having negotiated with the unions and employees. This is an unforced error.


The Shape of Things to Come: Lyric Opera of Chicago Cancels Fall Performances

Back of the Civic Opera Building
View from Chicago River
November, 2016
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Another fall performance season is canceled in light of the obvious difficulty of safe performances: Lyric Opera of Chicago's season. This would have included the U.S. premiere of George Benhamin's Lessons in Love and Violence, the ROH premiere of which was broadcast in 2018.

One can only wonder which season will be canceled next.

Their email:

As a valued part of Lyric’s audience, we wanted to inform you that Lyric Opera of Chicago’s performances from September through December 2020 have been canceled as a result of public health policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have come to this decision based on the best information currently available. In this uncertain environment, we must put the safety of our guests, artists, and company first, respecting the policies implemented by the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois. As we move through our state’s five-phase plan of reopening, performing arts companies on Lyric’s scale are still slated to be part of the final phase. Operating on anything close to a normal basis until that phase is reached is simply not possible.

Canceling the opening months of the season — which included the operas Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, Lessons in Love and Violence, Tosca, and Attila — is heartbreaking. Our staff continues to work on the productions and special events scheduled from January through June of 2021, which we expect to proceed as planned. The previously announced renovation project for the Ardis Krainik Theatre, including new seats and improved sightlines, is also proceeding under stringent safety and health protocols.

We are so very sorry to be sharing this news — and we have never been more grateful to all of the members of the Lyric community. Live performances will return. In the meantime, we’ll continue to be in touch, not only through our regular emails and social media channels but as we share our plans for exciting new artistic activities we’ll be bringing to you through the fall. We all need music in our lives, now more than ever, and here at Lyric, we will be working hard to make sure the music continues.


Anthony Freud
General Director, President & CEO
The Women’s Board Endowed Chair

I note two items: their general director's title is less unwieldy than that of Matthew Shilvock, and they've got their seat replacement project scheduled so that it can proceed.