Friday, January 31, 2020

The Secret Life of Scenic Elements

The 1998 Seattle production of Tristan und Isolde, by Francesca Zambello, had an astonishingly beautiful Act II, in which Jane Eaglen and Ben Heppner were set afloat in the night sky during the love duet. Here's a screen shot showing the set after King Marke and his men show up; Michelle De Young, who sang Brangäne, is on top of the glass hut:

This production was done once in Seattle and once in Chicago, also with Heppner and Eaglen, in maybe 2001. It was supposed to be staged by San Francisco Opera in 2006, but the company wound up using David Hockney's production instead. (My bet: the Seattle production would have cost too much to fit to the War Memorial Opera House stage, or maybe it was not in good enough condition. Seattle Opera used a different production for their most recent staging as well.)

Here's a screen shot I took from the promotional video for the upcoming Lyric Opera of Chicago Ring; the scenic element in the middle must be Valkyrie Rock and the scene must be Siegfried Act III:

(Yes, I am debating a trip to Chicago in the spring....)

Friday Photo

Citroen Deux Cheveaux in the wild.
Paris, October, 2018

Thursday, January 30, 2020

SFO Summer Season Cast Change: Eun Sun Kim conducts Ernani

Eun Sun Kim, SFO Opera Music Director Designate
Photo: Nikolaj Lund

James Gaffigan has withdrawn from his June engagement conducting Verdi's Ernani at San Francisco Opera, "for family reasons." Replacing him: Music Director Designate Eun Sun Kim!

I was a lot more impressed with Kim's Rusalka than with Gaffigan's Carmen last June, so this is just fine with me. I see no other updates in the press release on the summer season.

Regarding Ernani, it's a terrific piece, with pre-echoes of Don Carlo. SFO hasn't performed it in 30 years or so, so go see it while you can. I've seen it once, in an overly-polite performance 16 years ago at ENO, and I suspect this will be less polite, in a good way.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Terfel Breaks a Leg, Out of Met Dutchman

Well, not exactly: bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, in Bilbao, Spain to sing the Dutchman in Der fliegende Hollander, fell and broke his ankle in three places a couple of days ago. He has withdrawn from a scheduled concert at Lyric Opera of Chicago and from the upcoming Met production of Der fliegende Hollander. Terfel is back in Wales recuperating and will be having surgery on the ankle. The Met has announced this, but they're still determining who will sing the title role*.

It's a high-profile production, directed by François Girard, who was responsible for 2013 Met Parsifal, and it will be broadcast in the HD series.

* There's always that famous baritenor Placido Domi.....oh wait.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Friday, January 24, 2020

Perahia Cancels

Pianist Murray Perahia is canceling his entire North American Tour, for medical reasons. At present, the pianist isn't offering any further details. He says:
To my North American fans, it is with regret that I have to cancel my upcoming recitals for medical reasons. I hope to be able to return before too long and thank you for your continued support.
The cancelation includes his scheduled March 10 appearance at Davies Symphony Hall in SF. According to the press release, ticket holders have the following options:

  • Exchange your tickets for a gift certificate, which can be used at any time.
  • Donate your tickets, and receive a tax deduction for the total ticket value.
  • Receive a refund for the value of the ticket.

If you need assistance with your ticket, contact the Box Office by phone at 415-864-6000, email at, or in person at the Davies Symphony Hall Box Office, on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street in San Francisco. We apologize for the inconvenience.

*Ticket exchanges into other concerts are subject to availability. If you are exchanging into a more expensive section, for a premium or more expensive concert, you will be charged the difference in price. Any special offers used for the initial purchase will not apply to exchanges. Payment must be made at the time of the exchange.  

Friday Photo

Mushrooms, Paris
October, 2018

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

San Francisco Opera, 2020-21

San Francisco Opera announced the 2020-21 season today. Some of the news was already out there, owing to giveaway biographies, news items in Opera Magazine, and the announcement of Eun Sun Kim as the incoming music director.

Here's the short version, shamelessly copied from Joshua Kosman's Chronicle article on the season.

FIDELIO (Ludwig van Beethoven) Sept. 12-Oct. 1. Elza van den Heever, Simon O’Neill, Falk Struckmann, Eric Owens, Alfred Walker. Eun Sun Kim, conductor; Matthew Ozawa, director; Alexander V. Nichols, set and projection designer; Jessica Jahn, costume designer; Jax Messenger, lighting designer; Ian Robertson, chorus director.

RIGOLETTO (Giuseppe Verdi) Sept. 13-Oct. 4. George Gagnidze, Nina Minasyan, Pene Pati, Zanda Svede, Alfred Walker, Reginald Smith, Jr. Sir Mark Elder, conductor; Mark Lamos, production; Jose Maria Condemi, revival director; Michael Yeargan, set designer; Constance Hoffman, costume designer; Justin Partier, lighting designer; Lawrence Pech, choreographer; Ian Robertson, chorus director.

COSÌ FAN TUTTE (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) Oct. 6-28. Jennifer Davis, Irene Roberts, Frederic Antoun, John Chest, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Hera Hyesang Park. Speranza Scappucci, conductor; Michael Cavanagh, director; Erhard Rom, set designer; Constance Hoffman, costume designer; Jane Cox, lighting designer; Ian Robertson, chorus director.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE (Poul Ruders) Oct. 29-Nov. 22. Sasha Cooke, Michaela Martens, Sarah Cambidge, James Creswell, Abigail Levis, Katrina Galka, Rhoslyn Jones, Nicole Birkland, Sara Couden, Brenton Ryan, Matthew DiBattista. Thomas Søndergård, conductor; John Fulljames, production; Chloe Lamford, set designer; Christina Cunningham, costume designer; Fabiana Piccioli, lighting designer; Will Duke, projection designer; Ian Robertson, chorus director.

LA BOHÈME (Giacomo Puccini) Nov. 15-Dec. 6. Maria Agresta/Aurelia Florian, Michael Fabiano/Arturo Chacón-Cruz, Amina Edris/Janai Brugger, Artur Rucinski/Anthony Clark Evans, Soloman Howard, Dale Travis. Nicola Luisotti, conductor; John Caird, production; Shawna Lucey, revival director; David Farley, production designer; Michael James Clark, lighting designer; Ian Robertson, chorus director.

THE BARBER OF SEVILLE (Gioachino Rossini) April 25-May 16, 2021. Lucas Meachem, Daniela Mack, Stephanie Lauricella, Levy Sekgapane, Lawrence Brownlee, Maurizio Muraro, Simon Lim, Catherine Cook. Roderick Cox, conductor; Emilio Sagi, director; Llorenç Corbella, set designer; Pepa Ojanguren, costume designer; Gary Marder, original lighting designer; Ian Robertson, chorus director.

DER ZWERG (Alexander Zemlinsky) April 27-May 15, 2021. Clay Hilley, Heidi Stober, Sarah Cambidge. Henrik Nánási, conductor; Darko Tresnjak, director; Ralph Funicello, set designer; Linda Cho, costume designer; David Weiner, original lighting designer; Ian Robertson, chorus director.

If you're counting or mentally tracking this on a calendar, you'll have noticed two oddities:
  • There are only seven operas.
  • The two operas in 2021 run from April 25 to May 16 only.
The season is shrinking to seven for this year only, and it's because of the seat replacement project, which starts in late May. Matthew Shilvock has assured various people that it really is a one-time deal. (Some of us remember not only nine- and ten-opera seasons, but twelve- and thirteen-opera seasons. Sigh.)

Not listed above:
  • The season opens on Friday, September 11, with a gala concert, conducted by Kim, with Pene Pati and Albina Shagimuratova, who is otherwise not appearing.
  • Opera in the Park moves to October and will star Sondra Radvanovsky, who is otherwise not appearing (alas).
  • Apparently substituting for the third summer opera is a concert of Verdi and Wagner arias that will be given three times, sung by Lianna Haroutounian and Irene Theorin. Okay, I'm there.
Of note:
  • Elza van den Heever (Fidelio) returns for the first time in more than ten years.
  • Der Zwerg is 85 minutes long and has no companion piece. C'mon, how hard would it have been to get a semi-staged Bluebeard's Castle or Erwartung on stage?
  • I love that Rigoletto production, but this is also the sixth bring-up since 1997-98. C'mon.
  • I can't tell you offhand how many times they're done Barber, because I haven't seen it since 1996.
  • And I can't tell you offhand how many times they've done much as I love it.
  • Jennifer Davis and Maria Agresta were both scheduled to make their SFO debuts in the past and both withdrew.
  • It looks as though the company is making an active effort to get more Black singers on stage and women in the pit, both good things.
  • I have to sigh at the fact that, really, the only adventurous programming is Der Zwerg and Handmaid's Tale

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"An opera by an exciting female composer", Coming Soon to an Opera House on Van Ness Avenue

Peter Sellars (who has nothing to do with Innocence) and Kaija Saariaho
Santa Fe, July, 2008
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

At San Francisco Opera's 2018 annual meeting, held in April that year, Matthew Shilvock mentioned a commission from "an exciting female composer." I reported on the meeting and listed a few exciting female composers in this blog post.

Now we know, thanks to the 2020 season announcement of the Aix-en-Provence Festival: it's Kaija Saariaho, and the new opera is called Innocence. Susanna Mälkki will conduct in France, and I hope here. The casting is pretty great.

The Aix Festival and SFO aren't the only commissioning organizations; the others are the Dutch National Opera, Finnish National Opera (of course), and the Royal Opera.

This was in Opera Magazine in the fall, and I listed the news on my Operatic Future Seasons page, but this is the first time I've mentioned it on the front page. Maybe there will be something in tomorrow's season announcement about the commission.

Note that the whole Aix opera schedule is stupendous: Wozzeck, Poppea, L'Orfeo, Cosi fan tutte, The Golden Cockerel.

Houston Grand Opera 2020-21

It's season announcement season! A tweet from Christine Goerke reminded me of HGO's announcement. Here's what they're doing:

  • Carmen; Eun Sun Kim/Isabel Leonard & Carolyn Sproule, Andrea Caré & Frederick Ballentine, Christian Purcell, Anita Hartig
  • Werther; Patrick Summers/Arturo Chacun-Cruz, Ana Maria Martinez, Joshua Hopkins
  • The Snowy Day, by Joel ThomPson & Andrea Davis Pinkney; Patrick Summers/Julia Bullock, Zoie Reams
  • Parsifal; Patrick Summers/Russell Thomas, Christine Goerke, Ryan McKinney, Kwongchul Youn, Andrea Silvestrelli, Andre Courville. (Okay, Silvestrelli as Klingsor, not Titurel...?). The HGO web site no longer says that this is a co-production. Noting that this is a co-production with San Francisco Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago.
  • Cinderella; Corrado Rovaris/Emily D'Angelo, Jack Swanson, Sean Michael Plumb, Patrick Carfizzi, Andre Courville
  • Breaking the Waves; Nicole Paiement/Lauren Snouffer, Alexander Elliott, Michelle Bradley, Zoie Reams, Nicholas Phan (Scottish Opera production)
  • The Sound of Music; Richard Bado/Jeanine De Bique, Michael Mayes, Katie Van Kooten, Daniel Belcher, Megan Marino.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

War Memorial Opera House Seat Replacement Project

Interior of the War Memorial Opera House
December, 2019
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet have just announced the schedule for completing the seat replacement project at the War Memorial Opera House, as well as other details.

Here's the very short version, direct quotes indicated by quotation marks, with the full press release below the cut.

  • The seats will be replaced from over 14 weeks between May and August 2021.
  • There will be more and better accessible seating.
  • The opera house will reopen on September 10 with San Francisco Opera’s 2021–22 season-opening gala. (The season-opening gala will be a new feature, starting with the 2020-21 season, if you weren't already aware of this.)
  • "San Francisco Opera’s summer season, typically running June into early July, will move to April 25–May 16, 2021 in the War Memorial Opera House." Details to follow in next week's s season announcement.
  • "The new seats, designed to reflect the aesthetics of the Opera House, will be wider, have greater leg room, be positioned at a more comfortable height, and will reflect the latest in ergonomic support. " (Do not ask me how they will wedge in greater leg room in the Grand Tier and Dress Circle, where the front-to-back measurement of each row is a limiting factor.)
  • "Sightlines to the stage from the Orchestra section will be improved by the new seat design and a subtle staggering of seats along the center aisle of the theater. "

Monday, January 13, 2020

Museum Mondays

Detail of a door with ironwork
French, 12th - 13th century
The placard for this door and another calls them rare survivals, because wood rots and iron corrodes.
Ooops. German, c. 1400
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
November, 2019

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Flutes, Several of Them, In Concert

There is a very cool concert next month at the Center for New Music, with an assortment of new music for multiple flutes in two ensembles, Areon Flutes and Siroko Duo:

Saturday, February 8, 2020; 8pm
Center for New Music, 55 Taylor St., San Francisco CA 94102
$15 General, $10 C4NM Members & Students 

Areon Flutes (Jill Heinke Moen, Kassey Plaha, and Meerenai Shim)
Siroko Duo (Victoria Hauk and Jessie Nucho)

Siroko Duo performs:
Speed of Darkness by Izabel Austin
Time and Place by Michael Kropf
Hughes of Sylvia by Chelsea Loew 

Areon Flutes performs:
Personal Space by Julie Barwick
Arboreous Incantations by Jane Rigler
We Live in a Bubble by Igor C. Silva

The Center for New Music is a great venue: intimate, easy to get to, concerts always very reasonably priced. 

And a lot of great new music is being written for flute, as you know if you've been following Claire Chase and her career and commissioning project.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Thursday, January 09, 2020

San Francisco Tape Music Festival 2020

The San Francisco Tape Music Festival is this weekend, and the programming looks great (yeah, I'm leaving their retro fonts in place):

Friday, January 10, 8:30pm
Saturday, January 11, 7:00pm
Saturday, January 11, 9:30pm
Sunday, January 12, 7:00pm

P R O G R A M 
Friday January 10, 2020 (8:30pm)
PIERRE SCHAEFFER - Étude aux casseroles [Pathétique] (1948)
PAULINE OLIVEROS - Poem of Change (1992)
BARRY TRUAX - The Garden of Sonic Delights (2016)
ROBERT NORMANDEAU - Tunnel azur (2016)
MAGGI PAYNE - Heat Shield (2018)
BRAN(...)POS - martian brine pool (2019)
CLIFF CARUTHERS - Cupido's Suitcase (2009)
MATTHEW BARNARD - Woche (with apologies to Ruttmann and Brock) (2011)
SANGWON LEE - Torturing Piano (2019)
:such: - Opaque Fragments (2017)
Saturday January 11, 2020 (7:00pm)
KEN NORDINE - Tick Tock Fugue (2011)
FRANCIS DHOMONT - Here and There (2003)
NATASHA BARRETT - Urban Melt in Park Palais Meran (2017)
THOM BLUM - To My Son Parker, Asleep in the Next Room (1996)
KRISTIN MILTNER - Mercey (2020)
FELIPE OTONDO - Irama (2012)
LEAH REID - Sk(etch) (2018)
DANIELLE SAVAGE - Schizo Phonia (2018)
FULYA UÇANOK - Assembly (2017)
Saturday January 11, 2020 (9:30pm)
TORU TAKEMITSU - Vocalism Ai (1956)
KENNETH ATCHLEY - bay sky hills fog (2019)
BRUCE BENNETT - Stretch (2001)
SAVANNAH AGGER - Undercurrents (2016)
LÉA BOUDREAU - Quatre machines pour sauver le monde (2019)
NICOLA GIANNINI - Eyes Draw Circles of Light (2019)
TROND LOSSIUS - Listening understood as inhabiting (2015)
Sunday January 12, 2020 (7:00pm)
a special 3-set concert of works for instruments and fixed media featuring sfSoundGroup
MARIO DAVIDOVSKY - Synchronisms #2 (1964)
  (for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and tape)
MARIO DAVIDOVSKY - Synchronisms #3 (1964)
  (for cello and tape)
KEN UENO - Ghosts of Ancient Hurricanes (2019 - world premiere commission by sfSound)
  (for 6 winds, percussion, throat singer, 8 megaphones, microtonal metal pipes, and 4-channel tape)
JONTY HARRISON - Force Fields (2006 - american premiere)
   (for chamber ensemble and 8-channel tape)
DENIS SMALLEY - Clarinet Threads (1985)
   (for clarinet and tape)
KYLE BRUCKMANN - Clutterfields (filthy quilt) (2019)
   (for oboe, bass clarinet, and laptop)
MATT INGALLS & SFSOUND - Blue Sedan (2020)
   (for closely-miced chamber ensemble, live processing, and tape)
Diane Grubbe, flutes
Kyle Bruckmann, oboe & english horn
Matt Ingalls, clarinets
John Ingle, saxophone, conductor
Tom Dambly, trumpet
Brendan Lai-Tong, trombone
Hadley McCarroll, piano
Kjell Nordeson, percussion
Benjamin Kreith, violin
Natalia Badziak, viola
Monica Scott, cello
Lisa Mezzacappa, bass
Ken Ueno, voice

Victoria Theatre
2961 16th Street
San Francisco

$20 general ($10 Sat 9:30 concert)
$10 balcony/underemployed
$50 fest pass (general seating all concerts)

advance ticket purchase
or at the door (cash only) the day of show
(box office opens one hour before showtime) 

(Be there or be square.)

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Three Tenors! (The Next Generation)

Pene Pati
Photo: Garth Badger

There's a fun concert coming up in a few weeks, at the Empress Theatre in Vallejo on Saturday, February 1, 2020. Tenors Pene PatiAlex Boyer, and Christopher Oglesby are giving a program of opera arias (and, one suspects, more, in the encore section). Pati is a graduate of the Adler Fellows program, in which Oglesby is currently a second-year fellow, while Boyer attended the Merola Opera program, all at San Francisco Opera.

Alex Boyer
Photo: Chris Ayers

More importantly, I have heard and been very impressed with all three! I think I first heard Boyer in West Edge Opera's legendary Lulu in 2015, as one of a fantastic cast, and he's been terrific in everything since, including Sam in Susannah last summer. Pati's performance as Romeo in the Gounod at SFO this past fall was a highlight of the season, as he sang with full-voiced splendor and artistry. Oglesby I've heard in smaller roles in which he sounded great; I'm looking forward to hearing him in a few bigger roles in the future.

Christopher Oglesby
Photo: Amy Livingston

Here's their program, which will conducted by Thomas Conlin, leading the Vallejo Festival Orchestra.
Giuseppe Verdi: Overture to La Forza del Destino
Giuseppe Verdi: “Celeste Aïda” from Aïda
Mr. Boyer
Giuseppe Verdi: “La donna è mobile” from Rigoletto                                                 Mr. Pati
Giuseppe Verdi:  “De’ miei bollenti spiriti” from La traviata                                    Mr. Oglesby
Giuseppe Verdi: “Di qella pira” from Il trovatore                                                        Mr. Boyer
Giacomo Puccini: Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut   
Giacomo Puccini: “Recondita armonia” from Tosca                                                        Mr. Pati
Giacomo Puccini: “E lucevan le stele” from Tosca                                                      Mr. Oglesby
Giacomo Puccini: “Che gelida manina” from La bohème                                             Mr. Boyer                 
Giacomo Puccini: “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot                                                      Mr. Pati

Pietro Mascagni: “Mamma, quel vino” from Cavalleria rusticana                            Mr. Oglesby
Amilcare Ponchielli: “Cielo e mar” from La Gioconda                                                  Mr. Pati
Gaetano Donizetti: “Una furtiva lagrima” from L’Elisir d’Amore                              Mr. Oglesby
Ruggero Leoncavallo: “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci                                               Mr. Boyer

Saturday, February 1, 2020 at 7:30 p.m
Empress Theater
330 Virginia Street
Vallejo, CA 93590

Reserved seating only: 
Tel: 707-552-2400

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Meet Dr. Linda Shaver-Gleason

I've been Twitter friends with musicologist Dr. Linda Shaver-Gleason for a couple of years. During the whole period and since before I met her, she has been a cancer patient. A few weeks ago, she decided to enter hospice care. Joshua Kosman wrote a lovely article about her for the SF Chronicle, and Will Robin interviewed her for the Log Journal of National Sawdust. Best of all, there's her blog, which I particularly encourage you to read.
Yes, it sucks that she is dying. Those who know her are hoping that her blog and planned book will continue after she's gone.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Museum Mondays

Glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly
Atrium of Victoria & Albert Museum, London
November, 2019

Friday, January 03, 2020

Michael Grebanier

Michael Grebanier, San Francisco Symphony's principal cello since 1977, died on December 19, 2019 at 82.

He had been in visibly frail health for some time, and was often helped on and off-stage by associate principal cello Peter Wyrick or assistant principal cello Amos Yang. He missed a portion of a recent season and had been on leave since the beginning of the 2019-20 season. Over the last couple of seasons, Wyrick and Yang played in the principal chair a fair number of times.

Grebanier was principal cello of the Pittsburgh Symphony for 14 years before joining SFS. He played in the FOG Trio with pianist Garrick Ohlsson and violinist Jorja Fleezanis. He studied at Curtis and won the Naumburg Competition at 19.

He is survived by his wife Sharon, a violinist in the orchestra, and two children.

No announcement for a principal cello is on the SFS audition page, so it seems that this opening will be left for incoming music director Esa-Pekka Salonen to fill.


Friday Photo

Harrod's, London
November, 2019

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Demand Alternatives

I've mentioned before that I consider anniversary-driven programming to be lazy programming; an easy way to provide structure for a season and, considering who gets celebrated, a way to avoid making difficult decisions about programming that might upset conservative donors. We're in the lead-up to the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, coming in December of this year, and so he is inescapable at US orchestras.

In the 2019-20 season, San Francisco Symphony has 7 programs featuring his works. We have to wait a couple of months to see what's up for 2020-21, where presumably incoming music director Esa-Pekka Salonen has had some input. Over at Philadelphia, they're programmed all of the symphonies and piano concertos, plus the violin concerto.

I seriously considered boycotting all programs featuring Beethoven, but two days later I accepted a review that includes the second piano concerto, so that went right out the window. But I'd urge everyone to consider it, in the interests of pressuring orchestras to use more imagination in their programming. I mean, in the last decade, SFS had a three-week Beethoven Festival and a two-week Beethoven and (Mason) Bates Festival. In the festival year, there were 25 Beethoven works performed!

SFS used to have composer-focussed seasons in which they'd have a two-week festival focussed on a living composer. Remember the George Benjamin year? I do! Why can't we have this kind of programming again? The more you play the top-ten composers, the fewer composers get to be heard. There's a tremendous amount of crowding-out with top-ten programming.

There will always be chances to hear Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, etc., etc. It's really time for classical music to stop with anniversary-driven programming.

Here are a few other commentators on the Beethoven anniversary year: