Friday, December 30, 2022

Thursday, December 29, 2022

2022

I haven't looked back in any systematic way at performances I saw in 2022, so this will be a little on the random side. Note that these lists aren't in any particular order.

On the good side....

  • John Adams returned to excellent operatic form with Antony and Cleopatra, thanks to his use of Shakespeare, Virgil, and the like for texts, and the involvement of the opera's dramaturg and director in creating the libretto. I also loved his most recent piano concert, Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?, superbly performed at SFS by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Vikingur Olafsson.
  • Le Nozze di Figaro at Opera San José, set in 19th c. colonial India, superbly staged, beautifully sung, and mostly well conducted.
  • Otello at Livermore Valley Opera: this was the single most convincing performance of the work that I have seen, owing to outstanding singers and rip-roaring conducting.
  • Ariane and Bluebeard and Coraline at West Edge Opera. I loved both these operas, and saw Ariane, a very great rarity, twice.
  • Dialogues of the Carmelites at SFO. Superbly sung all around, in a beautiful, and beautifully directed, production by Olivier Py. Media round-up.
  • Orpheus and Eurydice (Gluck) at SFO. A remarkably beautiful production with excellent singing and conducting. It looked and sounded better in the opera house than in the livestream.
  • La Belle et la Bête (Glass) at Opéra Parallèle.
  • Julia Bullock's recital, History's Persistent Voice, all new and recent works by Black women. Superb singing, gorgeous music.
  • Nikola Printz's recital, which traversed an enormous musical and emotional range. Looking forward to hearing Printz as an Adler Fellow!
  • Mirga G-T and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which I never wrote up. A superb orchestra superbly conducted.
  • Almost everything conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen at SFS.
  • Nathalie Stutzmann at SFS.
  • Simone Young at SFS (I think she was in 2022...)
  • No Love Allowed (more widely, Das Lebesverbot) at Pocket Opera.
  • Reiner Eudakis, the new principal cello at SFS.

On the not-so-good side....
  • Danny Elfman's new cello concerto at SFS (but there were boffo performances of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky on the same program, thanks to MTT). If you want to hear Elfman at his considerable best, the Netflix series Wednesday has a fantastic soundtrack.
  • Don Giovanni at SFO. The singing was first-class, the staging idea had promise that wasn't realized.
  • Eugene Onegin at SFO, marred by poor casting of the title role and Tatyana.
  • Mason Bates's piano concerto at San Francisco Symphony, which I did not like.
  • Lahav Shani and the Israel Philharmonic. Too loud and overbearing in general; Mahler's first symphony was incoherent and generally sounded the way people who don't get Mahler think he always sounds. I thought that Paul Ben-Haim's first was too loud and incoherent, then realized that the problem might have been the performance, not the work. Oh, well!
  • The number of open seats at SFS. They've now held their second round of auditions for principal flute, so watch who's playing with Salonen is in town.
  • The number of open seats in the SFO Orchestra.

Young Composers and Performers

You'll want to read a few other articles before you read what I have to say about this; I'm also taking this opportunity to ride a related hobby horse of mine.

So. There've been a couple of opportunities locally to hear works by Alma Deutscher, the talented 17-year-old whom Joshua Kosman interviewed in November. Her opera Cinderella is the opera she conducted las month, at Opera San José. I thought about going, but ultimately did not. I'm not sure whether I can sort out the reasons: I am not a fan of Rossini's famous operatic treatment of the story (La Cenerentola); Deutscher's opera is definitely geared toward young listeners, which I have absolutely no problem with, but it is a long schlep to San José; I am somewhat wary of music by widely-publicized young people. You might remember Jay Greenberg, the early-21st-century over-publicized prodigy, but have you heard any of his music lately?

I didn't blog about the Deutscher interview at the time it was published. For one thing, the composer has clearly had an unusually sheltered upbringing, one that was isolated by home schooling and perhaps by her own and her parents' inclination. It's not clear what range of music she was exposed to growing up. For another, now that she's living and studying in Vienna, she might be hearing a wider range than previously. (On second reading, I find myself wondering why the whole family moved to Vienna: I went off to college at 17 without being accompanied by my family. This is typical of middle-class Americans unless they're living at home during college.)

Lastly, it seems as though, with age and greater experience, some of the opinions she expresses in the interview could very well change! (I certainly remember saying a few things at 17 that I regret, in retrospect.)  I don't need to repeat her views and I don't feel any need to comment on them. I'm more curious about what she'll think (and compose) when she's 30 (or even 25).  And I read the interview with great appreciation of Joshua Kosman's respect and care for Deutscher and her views.

Alex Ross's article focuses on Klaus Mäkelä, the talented young (26) Finnish conductor who is now music director of the Oslo Philharmonic and the Orchestre de Paris and who will become the chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 2027. 

People, this is ridiculous. To start with, no conductor really needs to be leading more than one full-time orchestra. It's better for institutions to get as much attention as possible from one person. And there are many, many talented conductors who aren't getting an equal chance at full-time or more prestigious orchestras. (To be clear, I think that the dynamics are somewhat different when you're considering regional orchestras that give one or two concerts a month, versus full-time orchestras presenting four programs and up to 15 concerts/month. Esa-Pekka Salonen's job at SFS is different in scale from, say, the late Michael Morgan's at the Oakland Symphony.)

And, you know, I've heard Mäkelä. He is good, and from the TNY article and others I've read, he clearly has a great gift for working with orchestras. But he didn't stand out much from the wide range of excellent conductors we've had as guests at SFS in the last few years. Among the younger set, Krzysztof Urbański's programs were absolutely sensational, indicative of a truly huge talent. Mirga  Gržinytė-Tyla, who was in SF recently with the CBSO, was also exceptionally impressive, among the younger conductors. But the older hands were also great, with Nathalie Stutzmann and Simone Young making particularly good impressions and leaving me wanting to hear them again.

Did all of this rush to youth - if there is one - start with Gustavo Dudamel's appointment at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, succeeding Esa-Pekka Salonen? I know that Dudamel is popular; I think that he sells tickets; various friends who've heard him over time have varied opinions about his conducting. I did not like his guest appearance with SFS earlier this year. (And by the way, he's going to have two jobs himself soon, and they're 5,000 miles apart. The other is at the Paris Opera, even though....he doesn't have all that much opera experience. Maybe he really will follow Deborah Borda to NY, which will shorten his commute to Paris by 50%.)

Anyway, my conclusions are two. One, young musicians deserve the chance to mature without ridiculous expectations placed on them.  Two, there are lots of good reasons for conductors to stick with one job and some guest conducting. Gosh, these look so self-evident when stated like that....but apparently they're not.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

SFO at SFO

Hand-colored postcard of two Neo-classical buildings on Van Ness Ave., SF, with 1930s cars on the street

Hand-colored photo of the War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building
Collection of Lisa Hirsch


My article on the San Francisco Opera archive mentioned an exhibit of archival material at the San Francisco Airport Museum. It's in the Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Departures Level 2, Gallery 1D, through Aug. 13, 2023. Because I don't know whether I'll be at the airport between now and then - it depends on whether I go to Scotland in the spring, which in turn depends on work and COVID - I figured I probably would not get to see it. Now there's a press release from San Francisco Opera, and it turns out that there is a way to see it without flying: you can make an appointment by emailing curator@flysfo.com.

There's some very cool stuff at this exhibit!

Photos. On the left, a long costume with a white cotton underdress and a scale-armor breastplate. On the right, a silver helmet with feathered wings.

Kirsten Flagstad's Brünnhilde costume and winged helmet
Photos courtesy of SFO Museum


San Francisco, CA (December 20, 2022) — SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport recently unveiled a new exhibition in connection with San Francisco Opera’s centennial titled San Francisco Opera: A Centennial Celebration. The curated installation in the Harvey Milk Terminal 1 (located post-security in Departures Level 2) showcases the Company’s first century and the art of operatic stagecraft.

 

The exhibition, on view through August 13, 2023, captures San Francisco Opera’s rich history through a selection of costumes, stage props, set models, video and archival photographs from the collections of San Francisco Opera, the Museum of Performance + Design and the Metropolitan Opera Archives.

 

Costumes worn by operatic superstars who have graced San Francisco Opera’s stage during the past century are the focus of the presentation. Highlights include:

 

  • The cape and hat worn by famed Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette during San Francisco Opera’s inaugural 1923 season.
  • Legendary Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad’s Brünnhilde costume from Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre in the 1935 Company premiere of the composer’s four-opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung.
  • The military outfit worn by French soprano Lily Pons in Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment during the 1940s.
  • A dress from Massenet’s Manon worn by soprano and inaugural recipient of the Company’s Opera Medal, Dorothy Kirsten.
  • American soprano Leontyne Price’s costume from the 1981 production of Verdi’s Aida. An iconic interpreter of the title role, Price sang her first Aida with San Francisco Opera in 1957.

 

Stanley Drucker

The legendary clarinetist Stanley Drucker has died at 93. He was a member of the New York Philharmonic for an astounding 60 years.

  • Daniel J. Wakin, NY Times obituary
  • NY Philharmonic remembers Drucker: "The New York Philharmonic deeply mourns the passing of the legendary orchestral clarinetist Stanley Drucker, who joined the Philharmonic in 1948, at age 19, and was appointed Principal Clarinet by Leonard Bernstein in 1960. Over the course of his 60-year tenure he appeared in more than 10,200 concerts in 60 countries, with solo turns including 64 performances of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, and worked during the tenures of nine NY Phil Music Directors. Accolades on his retirement in 2009 included the Guinness World Record for “longest career as a clarinetist” and being named an Honorary Member of the New York Philharmonic. At the time, then Music Director Lorin Maazel said: “He stands alone in the world of clarinetists. His contribution to the orchestra and its fame is immeasurable.” The Philharmonic extends condolences to his wife, Naomi, and to his children and grandchildren."
  • NY Philharmonic slide show

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Belated Museum Mondays

Photograph. View of a stage from the rear of a theater. The theater is extremely ornate, with carved stone and wood, lavishly painted in many colors. There are rows of crystal chandeliers to the left and right. The curtain is lowered and it's also very ornate.

Opera House, Versailles
February, 2019


 

Pocket Opera 2023 season

Pocket Opera has a good 2023 season coming up:


DIE FLEDERMAUS

March 19 – Hillside Club

March 26 – Mountain View

April 2 – Legion of Honor


ALBERT HERRING

April 23 – Hillside Club

April 30 – Legion of Honor

May 7 – Mountain View


ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD

June 11 – Hillside Club

June 18 – Mountain View

June 25 – Legion of Honor


TOSCA

July 16 – Mountain View

July 23 – Hillside Club

July 30 – Legion of Honor 


Subscriptions of various types are currently available by phone or postal mail; on line sales open in January, 2023.

I had to travel to Los Angeles to see Albert Herring, which is not done much, and to London for Orpheus in the Underworld, so I especially recommend trying to see those two. (Why neither SFO nor the Met has ever done Orpheus in the Underworld remains a mystery to me; it is extremely funny. I bet it wouldn't be difficult to rent ENO's production, either.)

Monday, December 19, 2022

#MeToo at Juilliard

The other week, VAN Magazine published an important story by music journalist Sammy Sussman, about allegations of sexual improprieties at Juilliard School. These involved the late composer Christopher Rouse and current faculty member Robert Beaser, a former head of the composition department. There are also allegations of discrimination against women by composer John Corigliano. (Corigliano denies this.) Today, Michael Andor Brodeur reports in The Washington Post that Beaser is on leave, pending an investigation into his behavior, and also that hundreds of composers, performers, and artistic leaders have signed a petition asking Juilliard to investigate.

This kind of behavior is everywhere. If you know about sexual harassment, consider reporting it to a journalist, whether you're currently willing to go on the record or not. The more information that can be gathered, the more likely it is that this behavior will become public and investigations will result, whether the miscreant is punished or not.

Friday, December 16, 2022

WTF, BSO?

Surprising, well, shocking news from the Boston Symphony Orchestra: President and CEO Gail Samuel, who had only joined the orchestra 18 months ago, has resigned, as of January 3, 2023. Or maybe "resigned," since the press release gives no reason and Samuel has given no reason. Also leaving is Asadour Santourian, whom Samuels hired as VP for the Tanglewood Music Center & Learning. (H/T David Allen for finding the info about Santourian.)

What's shocking is that Samuel was a highly successful executive at the LA Philharmonic, serving under Deborah Borda, Simon Woods, and Chad Smith. After Woods left and Smith (also a highly successful exec) was appointing chief executive there, Samuel landed the BSO job upon Mark Volpe's retirement after 26 years. My money would be on "conflict with the board" as the reason for her departure, especially since Santourian is leaving simultaneously.

Jeffrey Dunn, a member of the orchestra's Board of Advisors (not the same as the Board of Trustees), has been appointed interim President and CEO.

Here's the press release about Samuel:

The Board of Trustees of the Boston Symphony Orchestra accepted the resignation of Gail Samuel, who announced today that she is stepping down as President and Chief Executive Officer.

Samuel joined the BSO in June 2021, as the organization was staging a decisive return from COVID-19 closures and cancellations during an unprecedented time in its history. Working closely with the Board, Samuel developed and implemented re-opening campaigns for each of the BSO's premier venues, Tanglewood and Symphony Hall, helping to usher in the return of live audiences and spectacular seasons of performance, with the orchestra achieving critical acclaim. During her tenure, she prioritized engaging broadly across the Boston community and making the BSO a more welcoming place for all, both on- and off-stage. These efforts included launching the Stephen and Susan Paine Resident Fellows, composers speaking from the stage about their works, a spring series of concerts around issues of social justice, and concerts outside of Symphony Hall. Simultaneously, she effectively stabilized the institution's operating budget and strengthened its financial standing.

"Gail came to the BSO as we were beginning to chart a critical course through the very consequential effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Barbara Hostetter, Chair, Board of Trustees, Boston Symphony Orchestra. "At a time when stabilizing the institution was of paramount priority, Gail was a steadying force. She also led the BSO through a vital turning point of generational change, setting in motion a creative vision that reflects the BSO's commitment to diversity. As a result of her expertise, broad lens and hard work, the BSO is well positioned to continue with this important progress. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I express my gratitude to Gail and our entire executive team."

"It was an honor to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra, one of the world's most celebrated orchestras, particularly during such a significant time in history," Samuel said. "When I arrived at the BSO, I was dedicated to re-opening Tanglewood and Symphony Hall, and to increasing creativity at the BSO by welcoming artists to our stages more broadly representing the rich diversity that exists in our city. After navigating the profoundly complicated re-opening matters and having successfully laid the groundwork for continued evolution at the BSO, I have decided to step down. The end of the season and Holiday Pops performances offer a natural time with limited disruption. I hold great pride in all that was accomplished during such a challenging time for the arts and culture sector. I am confident that the work I have done and the tools we put in place will enable future growth and diversity and enrich the BSO's rich legacy of artistry. I am grateful to the Board of Trustees, the Boston arts and cultural community, and the BSO's players and staff for the opportunity to positively impact this wonderful institution."

Samuel's tenure will conclude on January 3, 2023. She has graciously agreed to provide transition assistance and consulting to the Board as it seeks a successor. The Board of Trustees will discuss plans to begin a search for a new President and Chief Executive Officer at their January 2023 board meeting.

Press (Fanto's report in the Berkshire Eagle, is far and away the most complete, and quotes Dunn using the phrase "music is a universal language that lifts us up", so oy):


Friday Photo


Mendocino Botanical Gardens
Fort Bragg, CA
August, 2022





 

Thursday, December 08, 2022

For Harold Shapero Fans


Harold Shapero and the Electronic Music Studio's Buchla
Photo in the Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections at Brandeis University
(I'm happy to give photo credit, but there's no credit on the web site. There's an excellent change that Ralph Norman took this photo, though.)


Upcoming, a concert I wish I could attend. Harold Shapero died in May, 2013.

Harold Shapero Tribute Concert featuring his late works:
Bagatelles for solo piano
The Whittier Songs - settings of abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier's poems
Essex Chamber Music Players (ecmp.org)

Sunday, April 30, 2023
4:00 PM
Temple Emanuel of Andover
7 Haggetts Pond Road, Andover, MA 01810
Admission is free, donations are accepted

Monday, December 05, 2022

Digging Into the San Francisco Opera Archive


War Memorial Opera House
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

In October, I interviewed Barbara Rominski, Director of Archive for San Francisco Opera, about the Archive itself. I had such fun interviewing her, learning more about what archivists do, and hearing about what's in the archive. 

Here's the article that resulted. We talked for three hours, so a lot of information didn't make it into the article, alas. 

 

Streaming the First Century, Session 4

Hand-colored postcard of two Neo-classical buildings on Van Ness Ave., SF, with 1930s cars on the street

War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building
Van Ness Ave., SF
Hand-colored photo-postcard from the author's collection

The fourth session of Streaming the First Century was posted earlier today on SF Opera's web site. The new performance items are:

Salome (1974) by Richard Strauss. Austrian diva Leonie Rysanek is Salome in one of the most entrancing performances of her long, distinguished career. This preserved San Francisco Opera broadcast, conducted by Otmar Suitner, also features legendary Wagnerian soprano Astrid Varnay as Herodias. Writer Paul Thomason introduces this audio memento, recalling Rysanek’s unique onstage presence and her special connection with audiences in San Francisco.

 

Die tote Stadt (2008) by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The heart and soul of Korngold’s resplendent score come to life in this 2008 performance featuring Torsten Kerl, Emily Magee and Lucas Meachem under the assured leadership of then Music Director Sir Donald Runnicles. Writer Larry Rothe introduces this compelling work, which after decades of neglect, is being rediscovered by music lovers.

 

Excerpts: An only-in-San-Francisco cast of operatic legends assembled for Wagner’s Die Walküre (1936); Kurt Herbert Adler conducts a brisk account of Mozart’s Così fan tutte (1960); Amy Shuard and Regina Resnik bring frightening intensity to Strauss’ Elektra (1966) and Gwyneth Jones is definitive as Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio (1978), a performance that also introduced Sheri Greenawald to San Francisco Opera audiences.

 




Museum Mondays

Photo of a door. The door itself is medieval or Renaissance, German, and made of wood. It's elaborately carved, with rosettes carved vertically, a goat's head, vegetation, and more. It is set within a carved stone surround that includes a green man (maybe) and fluted columns on either side. It's set in a wall and the floor in front of it is elaborately geometric, in white and a light red.

Door
Bavarian National Museum
August, 2015
I don't know whether the flooring is modern.

 

Sunday, December 04, 2022

The Future is Now


Close of the Adler Fellows concert
Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera
December 2, 2022

I made it to the annual Adler Fellow songfest the other night, after having missed the 2019 iteration. (I cannot even remember whether there was a 2021 concert. There definitely wasn't one in 2020.) As always, there was a lot of great singing from the Fellows.

The big news is the truly spectacular performances from sopranos Esther Tonea and Mikayla Sager, separately and together. They each had their own showcase: Tonea sang Liù in the stretch of Turandot that runs from "Tanto amore segreto" through to the end of "Tu che di gel sei cinta". Tonea, who won the Met Opera competition in May,  has a rich voice of great breadth - hear her is like having a wall of sound coming at you and surrounding you. She has a marvelously smooth legato and a great high register; she can float her sound gloriously and always maintains a beautiful line. It's a very big voice, and it'll be interesting to see what roles she takes in the future.


Mikayla Sager and Esther Tonea at "The Future Is Now: Adlers in Concert."
Photo: Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera
Duet from Bianca e Fernando

Sager was equally impressive with a voice of a very different style: dark, focussed, vibrant, and, like Tonea, with wonderful control and a great line. She sang Desdemona's scene from Act IV of Verdi's Otello, and it was as good as I've heard. The high soft phrases were glorious, as were Desdemona's outbursts - and everything in between.

Together, they sang a duet from Bellini's Bianca e Fernando, and it was lovely, but I thought that the lion's share of the music went to Tonea, because Sager's character is an attendant, and ya know, they get interjections and sometimes more. I would have given them one of the Norma duets! Yes, Adalgisa is a soprano role! At intermission, chatting with a friend, neither of us could recall have heard Sager before, but it turned out that we had: as an attendant to Nicole Car, for probably three measures, in last June's Verdi concert. Well, I bet we'll be hearing a lot more from her.

We also heard great work from sopranos Anne-Marie MacIntosh and Elisa Sunshine. MacIntosh opened the concert with a flashy aria from Handel's Scipione, and did it proud, with great runs and terrific trills.  She returned with a few of Turandot's lines in Esther Tonea's big scene, then as Antonia, again really beautifully, in a chunk of Les Contes d'Hoffmann. (Fashion report: my favorite dress of the evening was MacIntosh's off-the-shoulder, very sculptural, red number in the first half of the program. Sorry, no photo!)


Stefan Egerstrom and Anne-Marie MacIntosh with Eun Sun Kim and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra at "The Future Is Now: Adlers in Concert."
Photo: Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera

Sunshine, along with mezzo Gabrielle Beteag and bass Stefan Egerstrom, performed the singing lesson scene from La Fille du Regiment, and they were, individually and as a group, hilarious. Sunshine got to have a lot of fun, taking off her shoes at one point (and I think subsequently hitting someone with a shoe), interpolating recognizable bits of arias into the singing lesson, and generally have a great time. Again, I ask: why not more comic opera?! Especially when you've got a singer as vocally and dramatically gifted as Sunshine around.


Stefan Egerstrom and Elisa Sunshine in "The Future Is Now: Adlers in Concert."
Photo: Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera


Sunshine got to show off her other side as well, with a fine rendition of the "Lied der Lulu" from the eponymous opera. 

I think that Beteag got the short end of the stick among the women on this program: her big moment was from Menotti's The Medium. She was fine, but...there's better music, she's a fine singer (and was very funny as the Marquise in the trio with Sunshine and Egerstrom), and I'd like to hear her in better music.

Among the men, Egerstrom gave a tremendous performance in Hunding's solo "Ich weiss ein wildes Geschlecht" from Die Walküre. He has a gorgeous dark bass, and, well, second-guessing everyone, I'd've given him Wotan's farewell if it's not too high for him. I like bass Wotans.

Timothy Murray sang Billy Budd's long scene from that opera, where Billy has been sentenced to death and is musing about about various things. He was good, but better diction would have been nice. Props to Stephanie McNab for some great piccolo playing in the scene.

Tenors Victor Cardamone and Edward Graves were very good in the duet "Ah! vieni, nel tuo sangue!" from Rossini's Otello (which bears little resemblance to Shakespeare's play!), a vocal battle between rivals for Desdemona's hand. (See what I mean?) They are both high tenors with flicker vibratos and good facility in fioriture. Unusually, this made me want to see the work in full, and I am not much of a Rossini fan.

Eun Sun Kim conducted; everything sounded great though I would have liked more schmaltz and rubato in the opening overture to Die Fledermaus.



Friday, December 02, 2022

Friday Photo


Two types of wading birds on a muddy shore
Tall white birds in front, fussing
Shorter white and black birds in back, walking
Arcata, CA
August, 2022