Sunday, March 24, 2024


In my in-box, information from two California music festivals.

  • La Jolla Music Festival, music director Inon Barnatan. Of approximately 60 works performed, two are by women of color and one by a Black man. So, 1/20th. Pretty sure one of the works by a woman is one movement of a larger piece.
  • Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, music director Cristian Măcelaru, 15 composers featured, 7 are women. I can't quite tell what the story is for two of the concerts (Greg Smith: VIBE and In concert with Phillipe Quint), but of the 14 works listed, 7 are by women. Because of my uncertainty about those two concerts, I think this isn't quite 50/50 but it's so much closer to parity, and the works composed by women are all substantial. We're not seeing token 12 minute curtain-raisers here. Go, Cabrillo! (Me, I am particularly interested in Helen Grime's violin concerto, performed by Leila! Josefowicz!)

San Francisco Opera 2024-25

War Memorial Opera House
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

[This blog post was already overdue and about 1/3 written when the Salonen announcement landed, and that's been distracting me for the last 10 days or so.]

San Francisco Opera announced its 2024-25 season on February 20, roughly a month after its typical announcement date, as in, the third week of January. The season announced is shockingly short, which makes me wonder whether the extra month was spent cutting the season from eight operas to six. To do this, you'd have to contact all of the artists involved, and very likely reschedule them or pay a cancellation fee built into the contracts.

A six-opera season feels like some kind bellwether, and not a good one, for the company. It's been at eight operas for a number of years, and that was a reduction from ten, and that was a reduction from twelve or thirteen back in the 1980s. Six operas feels like a huge reduction in ambition and scope, because it's a 25% reduction over the last many seasons. (With the archive still offline, I can't easily check when the reduction from 10 to 8 happened.) 

I find the reduction especially sad coming after the centennial season and the 101st season, where the company produced five new operas out of sixteen, drew in new audiences (particularly with Omar and Frida y Diego), and had some great concerts as well. The upcoming season does include two one-off concerts and Opera in the Park, but the two concerts absolutely don't make up for losing two operas. Beethoven's 9th will take much less rehearsal time than an opera requires and there's no staging or scenery involved, no juggle of schedules and locations and coaching and the orchestra.

I chatted with Matthew Shilvock before the season announcement and asked what was going on. I should have been more precise in my questions; what I heard about the length of the season wasn't specific to SFO's financial situation. He provided general information about music org finances; the reduction over decades in the percentage of income from ticket sales, issues in the financial model; and so on.

The reduction seems strange to me because the company is in good financial condition, as far as can be told from their 990 forms. It is true that on the most recent 990, the size of the endowment is down from its peak, but it's also considerably higher than it was before the pandemic. And from watching my own 401Ks, I would bet that the SFO endowment has gone up from the period covered by the most recent. 990, which was filed last summer. I mean, do I get better investment advice than SFO? I doubt it.

Here are some numbers from the last three 990 forms:

FY Ending July 2020 (filed 2021)

Net Income
Net Assets

Endowment: $244.7 million

FY Ending July 2021 (filed 2022)
Net Income
Net Assets

Endowment $312 million

FY Ending July 2022 (filed 2023)
Net Income
Net Assets

Endowment $281.2 million

This is not the picture of a company on the brink. As I noted, it's likely that the next 990 - look for it in maybe August - will show the endowment and net assets back up. But the endowment is still tens of millions up from where it had been, even in the most recent 990.

I asked about the cutback, and, as noted, Shilvock's comments did not get very specific about the company's finances. I believe that when an organization that appears to be in perfectly good financial health makes these kinds of cuts, it should show its work. That is, provide as much detail as possible about the finances and the reasoning behind the cuts. 

Shilvock did mention long-term trends in the arts in the United States. Only 16% of revenue comes from ticket sales, down from 60% in the 1960s. That means gigantic fundraising efforts are necessary (he didn't say this, but clearly it's part of what goes on, so if you're wondering why orchestras and opera companies have big development departments....). I was somewhat alarmed by his comment that "something fundamental needs to change about how the American arts work." There is no reason to expect an increase in government funding, given that one of the major parties looks on the arts with more than suspicion. And given how Arts Council England is gutting the English National Opera and other arts organizations in the UK, we need to keep that risk in mind as well. What the government gives, they can take away.

When I talk with people about arts funding, folks in the Bay Area often mention tech money, that is, all the people who have gotten rich, sometimes obscenely rich, from IPOs and running extremely successful companies. Shilvock made the point that everybody is different and has different interests. They need to be approached and brought in over a long period of time. It's a delicate process.  Said Shilvock, "We have some new relationships in this post-pandemic era. It takes time to build those relationships, up to a decade before people reach their full philanthropic potential."

SFO is starting to have some success. Of the people who are clearly big donors, which we know because they are season or production sponsors, I call to your attention Dr. and Mrs. William Coughran. Bill Coughran was an important, high-ranking VP or SVP at Google for many years. It's great to see his name associated with SFO. Will more tech folks follow? I can't say, obviously. Of the younger generation, it's common to see donations to health care research and organizations: Sergey Brin and Parkinson's; Mark Benioff and children's hospitals; Mark Zuckerberg & Priscilla Chan, SF General.

So I worry about "something fundamental needs to change about how the American arts work." Does that mean breaking unions to reduce performer pay? That would be a disastrous turn of events, a huge step backward for large opera companies and symphony orchestras. (I point here to events across Grove St., where SFS management has bungled things so badly that they made major artistic cuts and now they're losing their music director.)

All that said, Shilvock is excited about the future. He said that it's "a transitional moment for the art form, making sure that the financial model will sustain the company. It’s important to reconcile the financial model but we have to also sustain the artistic goals." He mentioned these four points:

  • The company must keep producing "transporting emotional experiences" and remember "the power of the art form to create all-consuming experiences." They have to maintain the level of artistry.
  • They must keep building repertory with new works and productions, connecting to the deeper arc of humanity, and connection to communities.
  • They must sustain creative excellence and the caliber of the arts in SF. 
  • They must keep pushing boundaries. "We can’t retreat, we must keep things moving forward.  We have initiatives like the encounters, out of the box, livestreams."

I asked that can be done to get back to eight operas. He said that the board and management are working together to figure out the future." My questions are what they’re asking themselves. He is optimistic about finding a way forward.  He also mentioned that what they're doing goes beyond  "...the work on stage, to how we frame it with the company and with the audiences. People living with a mass shooting day in and day out. Kaija [Saariaho, composer of Innocence] talked with the company about what it was like to live with it for three years while she composed the opera."

All of that said, the season is smaller and less adventurous than either of the last two seasons. It does have Tristan und Isolde, not seen here since Donald Runnicles last conducted it, in 2007; Un ballo in maschera, not seen for a decade; Idomeneo; and Poul Ruders' The Handmaid's Tale, based on Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel of the same name. The casting throughout the season is strong and attractive, enough so that I'll have to see both casts in La bohème. (Fortunately it's one of my favorite operas.) The new productions all look attractive.

Season casting is below the cut.

Birds & Balls at Opera Parallèle

The ever-adventurous Opera Parallèle is presenting a delightful-looking double bill called Birds & Balls in a few weeks.  The Birds are finches, in David T. Little and Royce Vavrek's Vinkensport, or The Finch Opera. The press release describes Vinkensport this way:
[It's about] the obscure 400-year-old Flemish folk sport of professional Finch-sitting, where the contestants battle it out to see who has the most melodious bird. As they compete for the greatest number of “susk-e-wiets” over the course of an hour, the motivations and secrets of the finches’ trainers are revealed, as is their complex relationship to their birds, the sport, and themselves. 
The Balls balls, as in the famous tennis match in which Billy Jean King soundly defeated Bobby Riggs:

Balls is a multimedia opera dramatizing the famed 1973 tennis game between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, a live television event which was viewed by 90-million people worldwide and which last year commemorated its 50-year anniversary. The famous match, in which Billie Jean King triumphed over Bobby Riggs, changed not only the perception and treatment of women in sports, but significantly advanced the women’s rights movement. 

Vinkensport was commissioned by soprano Dawn Upshaw for the Graduate Vocal Arts Program at Bard College. Balls was workshopped in 2017 at The Industry in LA, but in an incomplete form.

The production stars an array of terrific singers, including (but not limited to) Tiffany Austin, Daniel Cilli, Nathan Granner, Nikola Printz, Chad Somers, Chung-Wai Soong, and Shawnette Sulker. Nicole Paiement conducts, Brian Staufenbiel directs.


  • Friday, April 5, 2024 7.30 PM
  • Saturday, April 6, 2 PM & 7.30 PM
  • Sunday, April 7, 2 PM

Ticket prices: $40 – $185 for April 5 & 7 performances; $50 – $205 for April 6 performance.
Buy tickets at the SFJAZZ web site.

Venue: SFJAZZ Center’s Miner Auditorium, San Francisco 201 Franklin St., between Fell and Linden.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

21V: Reclaiming Radical

21V is a newish chorus, now in its third season and directed by Martín Benvenuto. It's an unusual group in that all of its choristers, of all genders, sing in the soprano or alto range. Here's what they have to say about their upcoming program, Reclaiming Radical:

In this case, reimagining with us the word “radical” at its roots: fundamental, foundational, indispensable.
Benvenuto says: “The idea for this program stemmed from a desire to free “radical” from its pejorative, ideologically fortified shackles, to recapture its positive and, well, radical connotations. John Stuart Mill in the 1830s famously stated: ‘Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion, adoption.’ Why are we inclined to see movements as extreme at first rather than as essentially foundational to our humanity?”

Here's the program, which looks great:

  • undanceable -- David Lang
  • Elements -- Katerina Gimon
    • I. Air
    • II. Fire
  • Truth Tones -- Trevor Weston
  • Two Partsongs -- Chris Castro (world premiere)
    • De Otoño
    • Choir of Spirits from Faust
  • My Dearest Ruth -- Stacy Garrop (world premiere, treble edition)
  • When the Dust Settles -- Mari Esabel Valverde
  • We Are the Storm -- Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate
  • Earth Song -- Frank Ticheli

21V is presenting this program twice:

  • Friday, April 5, 2024 at 8:00 p.m. Old Mission Dolores • 320 Dolores St, San Francisco, CA 94110
  • Saturday, April 6, 2024 at 4:00 p.m. (pre-panel discussion at 3:00 p.m.) Berkeley Hillside Club • 2286 Cedar St, Berkeley, CA 94709

TICKETS: $30 or Choose Your Own Price (in person); $20 Livestream (online)


Friday, March 22, 2024

Friday Photo

Plane over San Francisco Bay
Taken from Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary, Alameda
December, 2022


Thursday, March 21, 2024

Boston Symphony Scriabin

Found in a press release from the BSO:

The first of these (April 4–6) is a program inspired by color: it opens with Anna Clyne’s Color Field, inspired in part by the vibrancy of a Mark Rothko painting, and concludes with Alexander Scriabin’s epic Prometheus, Poem of Fire, for piano, color organ, chorus, and orchestra. Scriabin’s spectacular vision for a color organ, which bathes the performance space in colored light corresponding to the music played, will be actualized for the first time in Symphony Hall by Tony-award winning lighting designer Justin Townsend in collaboration with researcher and musicologist Anna Gawboy, Ph.D. Esteemed pianist Yefim Bronfman and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus join to bring this synesthetic work to life. Also on the program are Franz Liszt's symphonic poem Prometheus, providing an additional musical interpretation of the Greek myth, and Richard Wagner’s ecstatic Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, a work suffused with the sensual and one that helped expand ideas of musical time. 

So,  a color organ of some kind but no scents.

Note that this is part of a festival that also includes some Messiaen (Turangalila with Yuja Wang taking the piano part; Quartet for the End of Time with Garrick Ohlsson) and a bunch of other interesting works.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Bohème Out of the Box

San Francisco Opera's Bohème Out of the Box is back. This is a mobile, miniature version of Puccini's evergreen opera La Bohème that travels around the Bay Area and gives 75 minute performances of the opera with piano accompaniment. 

I'm hoping that one of these days it'll be performed in Oakland, but maybe they haven't got a suitable location lined up.

Here are the details:



Bohème Out of the Box runs approximately 75 minutes with no intermission and features piano accompaniment. Performed by San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows and guest artists in Italian with English narration. Live English supertitles will be available on personal mobile devices.


Bohème Out of the Box is a free event. Registration at is encouraged but not required.


Admission/seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Food and beverages will be available for purchase at many of the locations or nearby, and audiences are welcome to bring their own food and beverages to enjoy during the shows.


Casting and schedule subject to change. Additional event information will be announced at a later date. For more information, including directions, parking, public transit and event updates, visit


PLEASE NOTE:  In the event of rain and inclement weather, these outdoor performances may be cancelled or delayed. Register at to receive updates via email or follow @sfopera on social media.


FREE FIRST ACT WORKSHOPS:  Families with young children are invited to participate in free First Act Workshops 45 minutes before showtime at all Bohème Out of the Box performances. Explore Puccini’s La Bohème and get to know the passionate artists in the story. Bring along a favorite stuffed-animal friend and dance to “Musetta’s Waltz,” one of the most famous melodies in all of opera.




Saturday, April 13, 2024 at 2 p.m. – Bohème Out of the Box

Sunday, April 14, 2024 at 2 p.m. – Bohème Out of the Box

Washington Park, 850 Burlingame Avenue, Burlingame


Washington Park is a vibrant center for Burlingame recreation, boasting a beautiful and recently renovated Community Center. Nestled in the center of the Bay Area’s Peninsula region, the outdoor Bohème Out of the Box performances will take place steps away from a Caltrain stop and Burlingame Avenue, with its many shops and eateries. Chairs will be provided at the parking lot performance location (available on a first-come, first-served basis), and audiences are welcome to bring their own seating. Food and beverages will be available for purchase onsite. This event is presented in partnership with the Burlingame Parks and Recreation Department.




Saturday, April 20, 2024 at 2 p.m. – Bohème Out of the Box

Sunday, April 21, 2024 at 2 p.m. – Bohème Out of the Box

Radium Runway, 2151 Ferry Point, Alameda


In partnership with the City of Alameda and RADIUM Presents, an initiative to establish a performing arts center in Alameda catering to the needs of the local East Bay arts community, Bohème Out of the Box will be performed at Radium Runway, a short walk from the Seaplane Ferry Terminal. With the San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge as the backdrop, seating will be on the concrete taxiway, covered with an artificial lawn. Audiences are encouraged to bring blankets or low camp chairs (a limited number of folding chairs will be available on a first-come, first-served basis). Food and beverages will be available for purchase onsite. 




Thursday, June 27, 2024 at 1 p.m. – Bohème Out of the Box

The performance will take place at the intersection of Solano Avenue and Evelyn Avenue, Albany


Bohème Out of the Box makes a lunchtime visit to perform along Albany’s charming Solano Avenue, full of restaurants and local businesses. Audiences are encouraged to purchase lunch at one of the local restaurants and join us in the closed street intersection for a unique lunchtime experience (chairs will be provided on a first-come, first served basis). This event is presented in partnership with the City of Albany.




Saturday, June 29, 2024 at 1 p.m. – Bohème Out of the Box

Saturday, June 29, 2024 at 3:30 p.m. – SF Opera Out of the Box: Adler Fellows in Concert

Kennedy Park Amphitheater, 1333 Decoto Road, Union City


The beautiful park amphitheater in Charles F. Kennedy Park is the setting for two performances: a 1 p.m. performance of Bohème Out of the Box and at 3:30 p.m., SF Opera Out of the Box: Adler Fellows in Concert, a free one-hour concert of popular opera arias and duets performed by Adler Fellows, San Francisco Opera’s resident artists. Seating will be on the gently sloping hills of the outdoor amphitheater. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. The venue is walking distance from Union City BART. This event is presented in partnership with the City of Union City.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

They're Not the Same.

Your toothbrush subscription and a subscription to, say, the San Francisco Symphony.

Over at the S.F. Chronicle, Joshua Kosman interviewed Aubrey Bergauer, who has published a book about  how arts organizations can succeed in the current climate.

Bergauer is smart and practical; she made an enormous impact on the California Symphony, where she was executive director from 2014 to 2019. But in this interview she says the following, which I disagree with:

“So much of our lives as consumers is based on a membership economy, things like Netflix and Amazon. My toothbrush literally gets delivered to my door on subscription. As I was researching the book, I found that 20 percent of all global credit card transactions go toward a subscription or membership.

“And yet in the arts, we’re told that the subscription model doesn’t work! These two things just don’t compute.”

I'd say that there is a significant difference between an object that arrives at your door (or in your smart TV) on a particular schedule and an experience where you have to be at a particular location at the correct time.

My Peet's subscription (don't look at me that way; you can no longer get Garuda Blend in the stores) arrives on my front porch roughly once a month, but the date and time of day vary. That's okay! I mostly care about whether, if we're about to run out, we need to change the delivery date or get a pound of beans elsewhere. I don't have to be there to sign for the delivery. If it came at 2 a.m., that would be fine.

In other words, once it's set up, it's a passive process. I can make changes to suit my convenience, but the coffee will get there every month regardless.

But my San Francisco Symphony subscription places a lot of responsibility on me. I have to be at Davies Symphony Hall, in my seat, on most Fridays at 7:30 p.m. I can exchange for another date, to be sure, but that'll cost me $15. (Yes, I find this incredibly annoying and I'm sure Bergauer has something to say about these damned fees.) The difference is that I must be active about this: get to the scheduled concert at the right time* and place, and if I can't make the date, swap the ticket or donate it back.

Look at this this way:

  • Toothbrush subscription: Your toothbrush magically appears on your doorstep! Once it's set up, you don't need to do much.
  • Orchestra subscription: You have to dress, leave your house, and get yourself to the concert venue, which can take from ten minutes, if you live around the block, to a lot more, if, say, you live in the East Bay.
One issue Bergauer doesn't address: generational differences. There's a general belief, and it might be the truth, that younger people want more flexibility and spontaneity in their activities than older generations, who were willing to commit to subscriptions. This is in part because there is so much to choose from. It is absolutely the truth that the percentage of income to arts orgs from ticket sales has declined radically since the 1960s. Matthew Shilvock, general director of SF Opera, has recently quoted 60% down to 16%. I should have asked about the change in percentage of subscribers, but it's well known that there's been a big decline there as well.

So: how do you get more people to subscribe? I'd love to know that.

* I've been tripped up at least once by accidentally getting a ticket to a Thursday matinee performance.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Belated Friday Photo

Aeonium arboreum closeup
Oakland, CA
March, 2024


Femenine at Stanford and Berkeley

Christopher Rountree leading Wild Up in Femenine at Bing Concert Hall, Stanford.
Photo by Matthew TW Huang, care of Stanford Live

Last month, I saw two performances at Bing Concert Hall, Stanford, of Julius Eastman's music, performed by Wild Up, the LA area new music group, and reviewed them for SFCV. They were both terrific, fascinating music beautifully performed. 

One of those performances was devoted exclusively to Femenine, and I got to see it again, last night at Zellerbach Playhouse, UC Berkeley, in a performance that was very, very different in personnel and style from the Stanford performance. Eastman's sparse notation for Femenine allows for considerable flexibility in performance, and means that no two performances are alike, based on both choice of instrumentation and the particular performers, plus there's a big improvisatory component to the work.

At the SFCV link, I've added nearly 500 words to my original review, detailing the differences. 

Monday, March 04, 2024

Museum Mondays

Crockery in cabinet on U-505
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
November, 2016


Saturday, March 02, 2024

Smell-o-Rama and the Seven Doors


Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco
7:15 pm, Friday, March 1, 2024
Photo by Lisa Hirsch
Click to enlarge.

Last night (and tonight and tomorrow afternoon) was a giant extravaganza at San Francisco Symphony: Scriabin's Prometheus: The Poem of Fire and Bartók's one-act opera Bluebeard's Castle. If you're familiar with the Bartók, you know that it's got a big orchestra, complete with organ, offstage brass, two harps, celeste, etc. 

Lemme tell you, the Scriabin orchestra was even bigger: more brass, more winds, a piano, and chorus in addition to the organ, celeste, two harps, and so on. SFS went all in with the Scriabin, including the equivalent of the color organ that he requests and the scents he wanted, provided by perfumer Mathilde Laurent of Cartier.

I'd written previously about this concert, a public service announcement for anyone who might worry about the scented half of the program. So did Tony Bravo, in the SF Chronicle, and Joshua Barone, in the NY Times (both gift links). This turned out to be a reasonable concern: my partner and a friend both decided against going because of allergies or sensitivity to odors. Bluebeard is the obvious concert closer and Prometheus is only about 20 minutes long, but from the patron comfort standpoint, it would have made sense to reverse the program order so audience members had the option of fleeing if the scents were irritating or worse. I suppose such potential audience members could have come late, but there was always the risk that the scents would linger. did it all go?

Kind of mixed! The music side of Prometheus was in excellent hands, between Salonen and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who is superb in general and certainly in some of the wilder reaches of the repertory. He was the pianist in Messiaen's Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine at SFS about a year ago, for example; this was one of MTT's rare forays into Messiaen.

I enjoyed the light show, which used spotlights, a giant ring of tubular lighting fixtures over the stage, and more of those fixtures upright around the stage. I don't know how the tubular fixtures work; they could change color, including gradually from one end to the other. Computers were certainly involved, and, well, maybe I should read the extensive program notes to see what types of lighting fixtures were used. I can tell you that my spectacularly strong eyeglass prescription meant that my lenses were able to split the fixtures into two different colors that appeared physically next to each other. That was weird.

While I enjoyed the light show, I also found it a distraction from the main event, that is, the music. And there was the anticipation of wondering what the scents would be like, what their effects would be, and when we were supposed to smell them.

Scent cannons, not to be confused with scene canons.
These were in the side boxes five rows ahead of me.

Scent cannons in the audience right terrace seating.
There were four in audience left terrace, plus a total of four in the orchestra-level boxes, two on each side.

Again, I should have read the program notes, which told you when in Prometheus the scent cannons would do their thing. But I didn't, leaving me to use my nose.

Now, I do not have the world's best nose. This is not the result of COVID; I didn't have the best nose, or even as good a nose as in my youth, before the pandemic. And I have never had a positive COVID test; while I was sick as a dog in December, 2023, tests on days 1, 3, and 5 were negative.

In any event, I don't have a particularly sensitive nose. At some point fairly early in Prometheus, I could sense a vaguely charcoaly, clay-like, earthy scent. From where I sat, and smelled, it was mild and inoffensive.

I think that the second scent was vaguely spicy; I don't have notes, but there was a point where I remember trying to tease out which spices I was smelling. Close to the end of Prometheus, the cannons truly went off,  opening up and spewing smoke that had a vaguely lemony scent.

That is, from where I sat, in Row T in the orchestra. I chatted for the first time with the fellow to my right, and he agreed that the scents were, well, underwhelming. A friend in the Loge asked me after the concert how much Lemon Pledge had gone into the last scent. Surely Mathilde Laurent would be horrified to hear this, that is, if she knows what Lemon Pledge is.

Yet another friend has told me that from where she sat, also in the Loge, the scents were in-your-face and unpleasant, the hall still reeked (her word) after the intermission, and the exposure to the particles made her eyes itch. Publicity for the program said that the scents were expected to disperse rapidly, but, well, it didn't work out that way.  

So, from my perspective, Smell-o-Rama was a bust. It's not good when a significant part of a performance has bad physical effects on people. The light show was fun, but between the lights and the aromatic suspense, I felt too distracted from the music, which was, to me, the most interesting part of the performance. I think the performance was swell (it's an odd work!), and sure, Scriabin wanted lights and scents, but unlike him, I'm not synesthetic. (If you are, tell me what your experience of the concert was! It was made for Scriabin, and you.) 

I would have liked to hear the music again! This would have been practical without the add-ons - Prometheus is all of 20 minutes long - but it is not to be, at least not this week. I here note that the only previous performances of Prometheus at SFS were in 1971, more than 50 years ago, and it was led by  Seiji Ozawa. I bet he was good, too.

Okay, on to the seven dwarves doors.

SFS has performed Bluebeard's Castle before, most recently in 2012. MTT conducted then, with Michelle DeYoung and Alan Held. DeYoung was back for this go-round, with bass-baritone Gerald Finley. It was semi-staged back then, with DeYoung and Held on a platform behind the orchestra. I remember it as being very good; I went twice and would have gone a third time if I hadn't been at a party in Palo Alto that day. I also remember that a native-Hungarian speaking friend told me that DeYoung's Hungarian was very good but Held's wasn't. And when the fifth door opened the production shone bright lights into the eyes of the audience, at least if you were in the orchestra.

What to say about Friday's performance? I was surprised by Salonen's conducting. The work started rather slowly, dark but with less ominous mystery than I would like. Less than Bartók would like, because there it is in the first measure: misterioso. The wind entry a few measures in starts with accented...64th notes (!), and they were too long. They are basically on-the-beat grace notes but sounded more like 16ths here. 

The performance felt strangely inert and without tension through sometime during the third or fourth door. (I was not taking notes, since I am not reviewing, but hoo boy do I wish I had been.) Anyway, yes, I was surprised, because this work would seem to be right in his wheelhouse. Well, he has surprised me before, with a Sacre du Printemps that didn't work for me and a lot of Beethoven that's been great.

It's possible that he was being considerate of the singers, making space for them to articulate the text, which both did extremely well. That said, I thought DeYoung was singing more carefully and with less freedom than I have heard from her in the past. Her voice is still big, still colorful, and still very well worth hearing. (For perspective, I first heard her in the 1998 Seattle Tristan und Isolde and most recently in 2019 as a fabulous Jezibaba in Paris, in Robert Carsen's amazing Rusalka production, a performance that also featured Karita Mattila as a jaw-dropping Foreign Princess, casually mopping the stage with Klaus Florian Vogt. Also jaw-dropping: DeYoung and the knife and her whole attitude.)

Finley was excellent and what surprised me is that his voice is smaller than I would have expected. "But you've seen him before, in opera!" I hear you exclaim. Yes, but both times were in works by John Adams, who requires amplification of singers. Those performances were in Doctor Atomic, 19 years ago, and 2022's Antony and Cleopatra. Finley withdrew from two other planned SFO appearances, in Sweeney Todd and Die Meistersinger, where he would not have been amplified.

There could have been more physical interaction between the singers, but they were placed on opposite sides of Salonen and both had scores in front of them. Despite not moving around a stage, DeYoung was physically expressive, with many gestures, turns of the head, looking at Finley, etc. He looked back at her but made much less of a physical impression.

Okay, well, let briefly address the fact that DeYoung is towering and Finley is not. To give you an idea of how tall she is, the top of her head was around where Salonen's was, and he was on a podium. Was she wearing heels? Maybe! She is very tall, regardless. So maybe there was some thought that putting the singers next to each other would be dramatically ineffective? Who knows.

Per previous, things did pick up around the third or fourth door. Yes, the fifth door was great, as you might have expected, though it might have been greater, or louder, with MTT; I think the organ was more prominent in 2012 than last night. The orchestra was gorgeously colorful throughout, with a lot of fantastic playing from the winds, harps, and percussion. I'm pretty sure that I saw Jacob Nissley and another percussionist playing the same xylophone at one point.

And in Bluebeard, the lighting wasn't at all distracting, because of the colorful score, the references to different colors in the text, and the fact that the lighting changes were all extremely appropriate. 

So, overall, an interesting evening at the symphony. I'd like to hear Prometheus again, and I'd like to hear a more dramatic rendition of Bluebeard. I wish I could get there again this weekend, since there are two more performances, but tonight I'm at the Kronos Quartet and tomorrow I'm at Left Coast for their Saariaho, Prokofiev, and Chew concert.

Friday, March 01, 2024