Friday, June 30, 2023

Monday, June 26, 2023

Museum Mondays

John Singer Sargent
From Sargent and Spain show
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, CA
May, 2023


Friday, June 23, 2023

Belated Museum Mondays

Portrait of Manuel Garcia (1805-1906)
John Singer Sargent
Painted in honor of the singer's 100th birthday in 1905
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, CA
May, 2023


Friday Photo

Ennis House, Los Angeles
Detail from street side
April, 2023


Thursday, June 22, 2023

More Saariaho

Kaija Saariaho and librettist Amin Maalouf
Adriana Mater Symposium
Santa Fe, July 2008
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Amid all the sadness about Kaija Saariaho's death were many reports of her kindness and generosity to others, particularly other composers and performers. I want to also note that it's not everyone who has their adult children as artistic collaborators, but Saaiaho did. Her son Aleksi Barrière worked on translations for Innocence and her daughter Aliisa Neige Barrière is a conductor and violinist who was assistant conductor for the SFS bring-up of Adriana Mater. 

Joshua Barone's review of Adriana mentions that there will be a recording based on the performances, which fills a gap in recordings of Saariaho's works.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

El último sueño de Frida y Diego

Gabriela Lena Frank (composer) and Nilo Cruz (librettist)'s
 El último sueño de Frida y Diego
Photo by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SF Opera

San Francisco Opera's last presentation of the centennial season was Gabriela Lena Frank (composer) and Nilo Cruz (librettist)'s El último sueño de Frida y Diego, which has proven to be a big hit, and with good reason. The music is wonderful, the libretto is excellent, the performers terrific. It was only scheduled for five performances, and considering that the remaining performances are more or less sold out, I expect the company wishes they'd scheduled a couple more.

I filed my review very late and it wasn't published at SFCV until Monday. I was surprised to hear that Joshua Kosman's review, published on line the day after the premiere, didn't make it into print until today. Whatever, if you can get a ticket, go see it. 

My only regret about my review is that I didn't mention that the opera has some pretty funny moments in it, and I should have gushed more over the amazing performance by Yaritza Véliz.


Yaritza Véliz as Catrina and Daniela Mack as Frida Kahlo
 in Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz's "El último sueño de Frida y Diego."
Photo by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SF Opera

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Adriana Mater at San Francisco Symphony


Nicholas Phan, Fleur Barron, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Axelle Fanyo, Christopher Purves
Cast and Conductor of Adriana Mater
June 8, 2023
Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

San Francisco Symphony performed a semi-staged version of Kaija Saariaho's second opera, Adriana Mater, the other week. It was quite an emotional occasion: Esa-Pekka Salonen had known Saariaho since they were in school together. Peter Sellars, who directed, had known her since the 1990s. 

My editor was sitting close enough that he could see that the cast and Salonen were in tears when Adriana was over. Nicholas Phan said on Twitter than the experience of learning and performing the opera had been life-changing. 

Peter Sellars and Kaija Saariaho
Adriana Mater Symposium
Santa Fe, July 26, 2008
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

JoAnn Falletta Profile


JoAnn Falletta
Photo: David Adam Beloff

I interviewed conductor JoAnn Falletta recently and wrote a long profile of her and her career for SFCV. Our discussion was delightful and ran close to 90 minutes. 

She's had a distinguished career with many highlights: music director of the Virginia Symphony, Ulster Philharmonic, Women's Philharmonic (which did so much important work), Long Beach Symphony, and of course the Buffalo Philharmonic. She's made a huge number of recordings, many of unusual repertory.

Falletta was recently awarded the 2023 Eroica Award for Outstanding Service in Music, by MOLA: An Association of Music Performance Librarians. You can read the full details here and also see Falletta's acceptance on YouTube.

AND, lastly, WBFO, an NPR affiliate, recently interviewed Falletta for their Mindful Music show. Give it a listen, and hear what this thoughtful and generous musician has to say.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Friday Photo

Photo of an enormous house with complex massing in the Los Feliz Hills. Below and around it are a number of smaller, but still large houses.

Ennis House
Photographed from the parking lot of Hollyhock House.
Both houses were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

This photo gives you a clear idea of the immense scale of Ennis House. The two-story white house just below the main massing of Ennis House is Richard Neutra's Wirin House. Grateful thanks to the friend who tipped me off to Hollyhock House as a good photographic vantage point and who also identified Wirin House.


Monday, June 12, 2023

Museum Mondays

Majorcan Fisherman, detail.
John Singer Sargant, 1908
Palace of the Legion of Honor, SF
May, 2023


Sunday, June 11, 2023

Madama Butterfly, San Francisco Opera

Butterfly's Entrance
Photo by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

I feel like every time I see or read about Puccini's Madama Butterfly at San Francisco Opera, a new production is involved. I remember four or five over the last 30 years, which is something, considering that I haven't even seen the opera in fifteen years.

I took myself to the new SFO production, a co-production with Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation, Semperoper Dresden, and Det Kongelige Teater, Copenhagen, for a few reasons: I was skeptical about the concept behind the production and I actively wanted to hear music director Eun Sun Kim and the singers.

Weeeelllll. I wound up feeling that I might as well have stayed home, which you can read as I could have swapped my ticket for yet another performance of Die Frau ohne Schatten, an opera I don't get to see every three years. Kim was fine, and the singers were fine, except that there was no chemistry at all between soprano Karah Son and tenor Michael Fabiano, and Son sang well but without any special insights, either musically or dramatically. The other primary singers were also fine: perennial baritone Lucas Meachem and the excellent mezzo Hyona Kim. The latter was fantastic in Dream of the Red Chamber and I'd like to see her in more leading roles. Also notable was Kidon Choi's Prince Yamadori; he's got a great voice and commands the stage.

The production....well...the concept is that young Trouble, age around two in the opera, has grown up and discovered what happened to Cio-Cio-San. He reads some letters and goes back in time (I guess?) where he observes everything that happened between Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San. That means that he is pretty much always on stage.

This just does not work. His presence is distracting and doesn't add a thing to the main narrative. Amon Miyamoto's direction in general lacks insight and doesn't have much to say. I think that Kate Pinkerton was on stage a lot more than usual.

I found the production cheap looking: it has about two pieces of furniture and some curtains that fly around the stage and act as the screen for some projections. And that horse statue that Prince Yamadori rides in on? I started laughing because I would have sworn it was recycled from Francesca Zambello's Luisa Miller. It's not - I checked production photos - but the concept certainly is. I have no idea what would have been wrong with having him just walk on stage or be carried in a sedan chair, but what do I know? He was dressed in a Western-style military uniform, so maybe that was it.

Seen from above - I was in the dress circle - it was mighty dull. It looks better in production photos than it looked from the dress circle. Compare with last year's Orpheus ed Eurydice, which was spare but absolutely gorgeous and wonderful to look at. I admit to one minor exception: I loved the dress worn by Mikayla Sager as the young Kate.

The other thing I scratched my head about was Cio-Cio-San's knee-length dress? slip? that she's wearing through a lot of Acts 2 and 3. What the actual: I am not an expert in women's turn-of-the-20th-century undergarments, but I know enough that the outfit registered as wrong.

I'll probably go another 15 years before I see Butterfly again. I'm sorry to have missed Liana Haroutounian in the title role, but the December, 2007 noon matinee with Patricia Racette and Brandon Jovanovich, cond. Donald Runnicles, was one of the greatest performances I have ever seen of anything. I dug up Joshua Kosman's review and was relieved to see that I hadn't misremembered it.

Lastly, no amount of concept is going to fix the awfulness of the libretto: child sex trafficking (she's FIFTEEN and it's clear from the libretto that he BUYS her); fake marriage; abandonment; stealing the kid. What, you think he'll have a rough time in Japan? It's 1904! He's going to have a terrible time in American, too, and possibly get locked up in the 1940s.

Updated 7/23/23

Friday, June 09, 2023

Friday Photo

Photo of a two-toned concrete block wall on a hill enclosing an enormous house with complex massing, also made of concrete blocks.

Street Side of Ennis House
Los Angeles, CA
April, 2023
For scale, the red car is a Toyota Camry.


Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Die Frau ohne Schatten at San Francisco Opera

Johan Reuter (Barak) and Nina Stemme (Dyer's Wife)
Die Frau ohne Schatten, Act 3
Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

Die Frau ohne Schatten opened on Sunday at SFO, some thirty-four years after its last performance on the War Memorial Stage. The performance was a triumph for all involved, especially Donald Runnicles, conducting the score for the first time (I was so surprised when I learned this), and the orchestra. They played absolutely magnificently, and you know, this isn't a work that they play every day. By and large the singers are also great. I have a quibble or two but not many.

The company used Karl Böhm's cuts "as sanctioned by the composer" and I'm trying to get some more details on that. I can tell you that in Act 3, some of Barak and his Wife's wanderings around the Temple are trimmed and also the Empress's long speech before she finally refuses to take the Wife's shadow. There are cuts in Act 2 as well, but I can't be very specific about them.

Camilla Nylund (Empress) and David Butt Philip (Emperor)
Die Frau ohne Schatten, Act 3
Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

This is....a problem child of an opera, with extraordinarily beautiful music wedded to a maddening libretto laden with symbolism and full of apparent pro-natalist views and links between full humanity and fertility. I have one friend calling the opera garbage and another defending it (it's all about transformation! Well, yeah, but also babies! Babies! BABIES!). I am myself somewhere in between. I'd like to have a talk with Hofmannsthal, which is not happening, but I'm not throwing out anything this freaking gorgeous.

And it is! There is very little in opera that's this consistently beautiful. I saw the dress rehearsal and the first performance; I have a subscription ticket and likely I will go to at least one more performance. It is that good and who knows? It might be another 34 years before SFO stages Frau.

Here are the reviews that I have seen; no link to mine because it'll be in the August issue of Opera News

Monday, June 05, 2023

The Shining at Opera Parallèle

Robert Wesley Mason (Jack Torrance), Kearstin Piper Brown (Wendy Torrance)
 and company members.
Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy of Opera Parallèle

My review of Opera Parallèle's new production of Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell's The Shining, in a new orchestration and based on Stephen King's novel, is now published at SFCV. Here's my media round-up.

Mueum Monday

Detail of "Mosquito Nets"
A watercolor depicting John Singer Sargent's sister and a female friend
in black dresses on a red sofa under black mosquito netting
Palace of the Legion of Honor
May, 2023


Friday, June 02, 2023

Kaija Saariaho

Kaija Saariaho and librettist/poet Amin Maalouf
Santa Fe, July, 2008
Photo by Lisa Hirsch
They're listening intently to Peter Sellars (not shown)

Terrible news this morning: the great Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho has died, age 70, of glioblastoma diagnosed in 2021. This explains why her daughter represented her at an event a couple of months ago, where she was awarded an important title by the president of Finland.

She was among the best and most important composers of her generation, perhaps best known in the U.S. for her operas. Adriana Mater had its U.S. premiere at Santa Fe Opera in 2008; some years later, the Met produced L'amor de Loin, her first opera. Her most recent opera, Innocence, is coming to San Francisco Opera next year and to the Met in a future season. Both companies are co-commissioners.

I heard a number of her chamber works in 2007, when they were performed at Disney Hall in LA as part of the Sibelius Unbound Festival; I reviewed Adriana the following year.

She was important to so many; to other composers, to many critics, and of course to her friends and family. Deepest condolences to her family; her husband and children issued the following statement this morning:

We are crushed to announce that Kaija Saariaho has passed this morning. She slept away peacefully in her own bed, at home in Paris. As her family, we are issuing this as our solestatement, and request the peace of our time of mourning be respected. 
In February 2021, Kaija was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer, found from the onset to be uncurable and lethal. With characteristically strong determination, she fought daily to both slow its growth and live fully. The multiplying tumors did not affect her cognitive faculties until the terminal phase of her illness; they were located in the area controlling her motor skills on the right side of her body, which led to growing difficulties in walking and talking, in turn exacerbated by ensuing falls and broken bones. Kaija's appearances in a wheelchair or walking with a cane have prompted many questions, to which she answered elusively: following her physician's advice, she kept her illness a private matter, in order to maintain a positive mindset and keep the focus on her work. Her case should however help raise awareness concerning the nature and detection of brain tumors. It should also highlight the plight of immunocompromised individuals: twice Kaija has contracted Covid in public events where insufficient measures were taken, if at all, to protect the most fragile among us. Her experience as a wheelchair user also made her more aware of the inadequacy of many locations she visited, including cultural venues. All of this she would now want publicized. She also hoped that, through the experimental treatment protocols she underwent at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, she could, on a small scale, help advance research on conditions such as hers. 
Kaija, who was born in 1952 in Helsinki, Finland, died prematurely at the age of 70, but lived a full life. Her early trajectory brought her from the avant-garde music circles of Finland to the European stage between Freiburg, Darmstadt and Paris, giving her the opportunity to contribute to the golden age of computer music, and later integrate a new understanding of harmony and psychoacoustics into the tradition of modern orchestra and opera writing. She achieved universal recognition among her peers and both public and critical success, all while never ceasing to challenge herself to explore new directions. 
During the time of her illness, Kaija had the joy of being surrounded by a close circle of faithful friends and collaborators, and even of expanding it. She was involved in many new productions of her music, and in the premiere performances of her latest works: the Saarikoski Songs, the chamber music piece Semafor, the orchestra work Vista, the madrigal Reconnaissance, the re-creation of her first music theatre piece Study for Life, and her acclaimed last opera Innocence. She also did not relent in her commitment to teaching and passing the torch. One of her last endeavors was to lead the jury of an organ composition contest she initiated for the inauguration of the Helsinki Music Centre's new organ, an instrument she helped fund.
The final months of Kaija's life were devoted to the completion of her trumpet concerto. HUSH, which will be premiered in Helsinki on August 24* by Verneri Pohjola, with Susanna Mälkki conducting the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Kaija is survived by all of us who loved her and were blessed with her relentless generosity and insightful artistic support. But more importantly, we will all be survived by the bold, sensitive, exploratory music she has created, termed a classic of this century already in her lifetime. 

Jean-Baptiste Barrière, composer and multimedia artist, her husband; Aleksi Barrière, writer and director, her son; Alisa Neige Barrière, conductor and violinist, her daughter 


Friday Photo


Photo of a gravestone; gray, upright granite, engraved Jewish star. Text  reads "That's all, folks. Mel Blanc Man of 1000 Voices Beloved husband and father. 1908-1989." The gravestone has small stones on it that people have left - a Jewish tradition.

At the grave of Mel Blanc
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Los Angeles, CA
April, 2023