Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Update on Openings at San Francisco Symphony

Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Well, last year's auditions for principal flute at SFS did not result in an appointment. The first two flute positions were filled over the season by Linda Lukas, Catherine Payne, and many guest artists, including Tim Day (former principal flute), Robin McKee (former associate principal flute), Sebastian Jacot, Denis Bouriakov, Érik Gratton, and others. 

There's another round of auditions taking place this season. Resume submission was completed on September 12, with auditions to be held in November and February.

There are also auditions for principal harp, all in October.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Museum Mondays

Landscape photo, side on, of a porcelain tureen in the shape of a pig's head

Portrait orientation photo of a porcelain tureen in the form of a pig's head, snout forward

Porcelain tureen in the form of a pig's head on a platter
Palace of the Legion of Honor
September, 2022


Sunday, September 25, 2022

Thursday, September 22, 2022

SFS Appoints Matthew Spivey as CEO

Photo. A large concert hall exterior at night, brightly lit on all floors.

Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

This news broke yesterday, but it was a busy day for me and the announcement came right after the SFO cast change announcement.

Matthew Spivey is the new CEO of the San Francisco Symphony. He succeeds Mark Hanson, who left, 13 months ago, with little explanation. Spivey has been with SFS since 2015 and served as Chief Programming Officer, which is very much what it sounds like: he had a lot of responsibility for what you heard and for artistic planning from 2015 until now. He worked with both MTT and Esa-Pekka Salonen in that capacity. Spivey has been interim CEO since Hanson's departure. 

His promotion is similar to that of Chad Smith at the LA Phil: Smith was the extremely effective artistic administrator (the title might be different...) and after the orchestra's misadventure with Simon Woods, the Board wisely gave the CEO job to Smith. Previously, Spivey was an administrator at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, where Hanson is now CEO. 

The press release is after the jump and is worth reading in full. Spivey's appointment has put paid to my fantasy that the search committee took this long because they were hoping to grab Deborah Borda after she retires from the NY Phil. After all, she worked with Salonen before, right? But this turns out to have been much like NY City journalists who hoped that they'd land Salonen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Déjà Vu All Over Again, Orfeo ed Euridice Edition

War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building
Probably around 1932
Hand-colored postcard, Lisa Hirsch collection

First it was Julia Bullock, now it's Christina Gansch:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (September 21, 2022) — San Francisco Opera announced today a cast change for its upcoming new production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice (Orfeo ed Euridice), opening November 15. Soprano Meigui Zhang will make her role debut as Eurydice, replacing Christina Gansch who is expecting her second child and has withdrawn from the production.


Meigui Zhang made her Company debut this past summer as Dai Yu (“sung with brightly quivering intensity,” San Francisco Chronicle) in Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’s Dream of the Red Chamber. The fast-rising soprano is featured in San Francisco Opera’s award-winning video portrait series, In Song. Released in June 2022, In Song: Meigui Zhang features Zhang reconnecting with her family in Chengdu, China and performing Eva Dell'Acqua's "Villanelle," Mozart’s “Das Veilchen” (“The Violet”) and the Kazakh folk song "A Lovely Rose."


Though Zhang’s journey as an opera singer began in Chengdu and continued in Shanghai, she also has a strong foundation in San Francisco, where she was a Merola Opera Program participant in 2018. After Merola, Zhang was selected to join the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Development Program. This spring, she reprised Barbarina in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro at the Met and appeared as Thibault in that company’s new production of Verdi’s Don Carlos. Other recent credits include Pamina in Die Zauberflöte at the Verbier Festival, concert appearances with the Sichuan Symphony Orchestra on tour throughout China and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts.


Zhang joins the cast for Orpheus and Eurydice, which features countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński in his highly anticipated Company debut as Orpheus and soprano Nicole Heaston as Love (Amore).


San Francisco Opera’s new production of Gluck’s setting of the Orpheus myth presents the work in its original 1762 Viennese edition for the first time in Company history. Director Matthew Ozawa heads the creative team of set and projection designer Alexander V. Nichols, costume designer Jessica Jahn, lighting designer Yuki Nakase Link and choreographer Rena Butler in a production which traces Orpheus’ passage through the stages of grief at losing his beloved Eurydice. Artistic Director of the Irish Baroque Orchestra and founding Artistic Director of Ensemble Marsyas Peter Whelan makes his American operatic debut leading Gluck’s revolutionary score. Chorus Director John Keene prepares the Opera Chorus for the work’s exuberant and lamenting choruses.


The five performances of Orpheus and Eurydice are scheduled for November 15 (7:30 p.m.), 18 (7:30 p.m.), 20 (2 p.m.), 26 (7:30 p.m.); December 1 (7:30 p.m.), 2022. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Infinite Variety: Le Nozze di Figaro at Opera San José

What's the greatest opera ever written? This is a question that opera mavens love to debate. My own answer depends on which of my favorites I've seen most recently, which was lots of fun the summer I saw both Les Troyens and Tristan und Isolde. This week, though, it's Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), which Opera San José is performing in a splendid new production set in India and directed by Brad Dalton.

I had some worries about the setting when I saw the season announcement, because it seemed as though there might be some pitfalls. But this production works brilliantly and succeeds on every musical and theatrical level.

It's not necessarily obvious to modern audiences how differently the servants and nobility in Nozze would have been dressed and would have behaved toward one another, especially with the leveling effect of Mozart's great score. But these differences are critical to the plot, because class conflict and the privileges of the nobility are right at the heart of the opera. Having the Count, Countess, and Dr. Bartolo in European dress and the servant class (actually including Marcellina, hmm) in Indian clothing made the distinction extremely clear.

Zhengyi Bai as Basilio, Matthew Anchel as Dr. Bartolo, Tahanee Aluwihare as Marcellina, and Eugene Brancoveanu as Count Almaviva in Opera San José’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”  Act II finale.

Zhengyi Bai as Basilio, Matthew Anchel as Dr. Bartolo, Tahanee Aluwihare as Marcellina, and Eugene Brancoveanu as Count Almaviva in Opera San José’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Act 2 finale.
Photo by David Allen

Also, the production is absolutely gorgeous, a riot of color and pattern. The production includes dances based on Indian classical and folk dance, as well, and how I loved that! Claps and shouts of "hey!' added to the joyfulness of the scenes with dancing. It helps that several cast members are South Asian, too.

Dancers in Indian clothing, Marriage of Figaro finale

Finale, Le Nozze di Figaro, Opera San José
Photo by David Allen

And overall, the direction is just fantastic; every gesture tells, characters are carefully delineated, the comings and goings in the Act 2 and 4 finales are clear, the funny bits are pretty darned funny. There are two exceptions: I do think that there was some kind of timing error in the last-act scene where Figaro and Susanna finally figure out that all is well between them. And there's the perennial problem of how to stage "Contessa, perdono" so that the audience doesn't laugh at this very serious moment. Directors need to take more time to show just how embarrassed and flustered the Count is, to persuade the audience that it's not a funny bit.

Figaro (Efraín Solís) kicks up his heels to Count Almaviva (Eugene Brancoveanu) in Opera San Jose’s vibrant new production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” set in India.

Figaro (Efraín Solís) kicks up his heels to Count Almaviva (Eugene Brancoveanu) in Opera San Jose’s vibrant new production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” set in India. Figaro is in white, typical for the groom in a Hindu wedding. No white horse on stage, however!
Photo by David Allen.

I was super-impressed by conductor Viswa Subbaraman. He took brisk tempos and they all worked; the overture was extremely exciting and the tempos throughout suited the nature of the direction. (Joshua Kosman notes some disconnect between pit and stage; he was at the third performance, and the issues persisted into the fourth. Hmm.) He had a great team of singers to work with, by and large. Efraín Solís is a hilariously deadpan Figaro. Maya Kherani a charming and lovable Susanna, singing beautifully in solos and duets. They were a delightful couple! 

Maya Kherani is Susanna and Efraín Solís is Figaro in Opera San José’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”

Maya Kherani is Susanna and Efraín Solís is Figaro in Opera San José’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Act 1.
Photo by David Allen.

Eugene Brancoveneau's Count was really superb, never becoming a buffoon and strongly sun. Deepa Johnny was a hilarious Cherubino, getting in everyone's way, and she has a really lovely mezzo. 

Cherubino (Deepa Johnny) is disguised as a woman by Susanna (Maya Kherani) in Opera San José’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”

Cherubino (Deepa Johnny) is disguised as a woman by Susanna (Maya Kherani) in Opera San José’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” 
Photo by David Allen

Melissa Sonhdi has an exceptionally beautiful light soprano and made a delightful Barbarina. Matthew Anchel was a forceful Dr. Bartolo, and what a beautiful dark bass he has! Tahanee Aluwihare matched him as Marcellina and (again), they were a great pair. My only doubts are about Maria Natale's Countess. She has a big, vibrant voice, maybe too big for the role in the smallish California Theater. Her singing was so large-scale as to push the audience away, rather than draw them in to the Countess's sadness over the state of her marriage. She did scale down for the duet with Susanna.

Two performances remain of this great masterpiece, which you'll be lucky to see in an equally vibrant and lively production, on Friday, September 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, September 25 at 2 p.m. Be warned that the area around the theater is part of a pedestrian-only area on Sundays; you will not be able to drop passengers off at the theater. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Antony and Cleopatra: Media Round-Up

Amina Edris and Gerald Finley in the title roles of Antony and Cleopatra.
Act 2, before the Battle of Actium
Photo: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

John Adams's new opera, Antony and Cleopatra, opened the other day, and the reviews are rolling in. I expect this list to grow. Paywalls in many of these places.
Related: When the Star Cancels, Opera History is Made, by Lisa Hirsch; A Study of Power, by Angela Allen, Oregon Artswatch

Museum Mondays

Photograph. Detail of a Chinese Emperor's dragon robe. Rich embroidery in multiple colors on a gold background.
Detail of an Emperor's dragon robe
Qing dynasty, 18th c.
Palace of the Legion of Honor
Guo Pei exhibit
September, 2022


Friday, September 16, 2022

Jorja Fleezanis

Violinist and pedagogue Jorja Fleezanis died last weekend at only 70. She was associate concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony, then went on to be concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra for some 20 years. John Adams wrote his first violin concerto for her. She retired in 2009 after the death of her husband, the musicologist and program annotator Michael Steinberg, and began teaching at Indiana University.

David Allen's NY Times obituary has this choice bit in it:

Ms. Fleezanis at first looked likely to break barriers at the San Francisco Symphony, which she joined as a second violinist in 1980, becoming its associate concertmaster in 1981. Sharing the first stand with Raymond Kobler, she played so “splendidly,” the critic Robert Commanday wrote in The San Francisco Examiner in 1988, that she struck observers “as the stronger of the two, and often the real leader of the section.”

In a decision that Mr. Commanday described as “not very defensible,” the San Francisco Symphony’s music director, Herbert Blomstedt, stuck with his man, even after it became clear that the cost would be Ms. Fleezanis’s departure. She accepted the overtures of Mr. Blomstedt’s predecessor, Edo de Waart, who was eager to bring her to his new ensemble, the Minnesota Orchestra.

Right you were, Bob. (It took MTT a few years to dislodge Kobler and then a couple more to hire Alexander Barantschik, who remains the concertmaster of SFS.)

I heard Fleezanis in her associate concertmaster role in the 1980s, but I had virtually no awareness of who the individuals in the orchestra were or how important the upper seats of the violin section are. I heard her in chamber music once, a great performance of the Brahms piano quintet at Music@Menlo in 2005 in which she was the first violinist. The other players were Ian Swenson (2nd violin), Cynthia Phelps (viola), Ralph Kirschbaum (cello), and Wu Han (piano).

Friday Photo

Photo of a late 19th / early 20th c. building in Eureka, CA. It is ochre colored and rectangular. It has three storeys, with circular bays at the corners on the second and third floors, four window bays on the visible short side and six bays on the visible long side. All of the bays are on the second and third floors only.

Office and residential building
Eureka, CA
August, 2022


Thursday, September 15, 2022

Opera Parallèle 2022-23 Season

Opera Parallèle announced its oddly-number 2022-23 season, all performances of which seem to take place in 2023. There are just two works next year but they are goodies:

  • Everest: An Immersive Experience, by Joby Talbot with a libretto by Gene Scheer. During the earlier stage of the pandemic, OP created a video version of this. I never saw it, though I will try to see it in the near future. I loved Talbot's Path of Miracles, performed by Volti and ODC Dance in 2018. This opera is based on interviews and other accounts of the 1996 Mt. Everest climbing disaster covered by Jon Krakauer in Into Thin Air. Now it's being staged as a completely immersive experience at Z Space. Intruiging and well cast, with Sasha Cooke, Nathan Granner, Kevin Burdette, Hadleigh Adams, and more. February 3-12, 2023.
  • The Shining, by Paul Moravec with a libretto by Mark Campbell. Based on the Stephen King novel; a co-production with Hawai'i Opera Theatre and Opera Portland. June 2-4, 2023. Edward Parks, Kearstin Piper Brown, Aubrey Allicock, and others star. This one is at YBCA Theatre.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Friday, September 09, 2022

Monday, September 05, 2022

Museum Mondays

A photo of a Roman wall with alternating bands of stone/cement with thin red brick,. The wall has three segments. One segment starts at the left, then there's a corner and the short second segment is perpendicular to the first. A second corner close to the viewpoint, and the third segment is parallel to the first and runs off the right edge of the photo.

Roman-era wall
Musée National du Moyen Age
(Musée de Cluny)

Paris, October, 2018

Friday, September 02, 2022

Friday Photo


Photo. Detail of two window frames and the brickwork between and around the windows. The detailing is multicolored geometric vines and flowers.

Detail of Building Exterior
Nos. 21 and 23 Rue Froidevaux, Paris
October, 2018

Photo of a five-story building. The ground floor is plain sandstone, the upper stories are decorated brickwork. Each floor above the ground floor has two very large windows right in the center, reaching, very likely, from the floor to the ceiling. These are multipaned, handsome windows. Each floor might have an artist's studio on it. The other windows are normal size - maybe there are more than five floors to the left and right of the center section with the big windows.

Detail of Building Exterior
Nos. 21 and 23 Rue Froidevaux, Paris
October, 2018

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Disparate Health & Safety Requirements

At San Francisco Opera, policy updated August 25, 2022:

Updated August 25, 2022
All patrons aged 5 and older must show proof of full vaccination (defined as two weeks after your final shot), along with a matching photo ID. If bringing a child under the age of 5, who is not eligible for the vaccine, please call the Box Office to purchase tickets. Children under the age of 5 will be required to show proof of a negative "rapid" antigen test taken within one calendar day prior to entry or a negative PCR test taken within two calendar days prior to entry.

For information on how to get a vaccine, visit https://covid19.ca.gov/vaccines

All patrons must wear well-fitted masks that cover their nose, mouth, and chin when inside the facility unless they are actively eating or drinking. A non-vented N95 mask is strongly recommended as a well-fitted mask to provide maximum protection. A well-fitted mask does not include a scarf, ski mask, balaclava, bandana, turtleneck collar, single layer of fabric or any mask that has an unfiltered one-way exhaust valve. Audience members who fail to follow the Front of House safety protocols will be promptly removed from the performance venue.

At San Francisco Symphony:


The health and safety of our patrons, musicians, staff, and volunteers is our top priority. This page will be updated on an ongoing basis.

(Updated August 9, 2022)


Based on the advice of the San Francisco Symphony’s Health and Safety Task Force, a face covering is recommended but no longer required for entry into Davies Symphony Hall. There will be a limited number of KN95 or equivalent masks available at Davies Symphony Hall for those patrons that request them.  


Patrons 12 and older must show proof of full vaccination (electronic, photo, or paper copy). 

Patrons under age 12 must show proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test (PCR test taken within 2 days of event entry or an antigen [rapid] test taken within 1 day of event entry. See “Testing Requirements” below for more information. 

“Full vaccination” is defined as two weeks after completion of the two-dose regimen of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or other WHO authorized COVID-19 vaccine. At this time, proof of booster shots is not required.

The San Francisco Symphony requires full vaccination for all musicians, staff, and volunteers to participate in any Symphony-sponsored activities at Davies Symphony Hall, Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall, or any other locations of such activities.

You can guess that I'm a lot happier about SF Opera's mask-required policy, which will limit the spread of COVID if anyone in the WMOH is infected. Come ON, SFS, what are you thinking? You have many more programs and more opportunities to spread the coronavirus. Go back to requiring masking. It's better for us all. 

MTT on the East Coast

Photo of Michael TIlson Thomas. He is conducting, with a baton in his right hand, making a gesture with his left. He is a gray-haired, slender man with a smile on his face.

Michael Tilson Thomas

Photo by Brandon Patoc (c), 2019
Courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

MTT visits Massachusetts, and more articles get written and more interviews take place than usual, owing to the gravity of his glioblastoma diagnosis.