Friday, October 19, 2018

Paris Les Huguenots Media Round-Up

I'm finding a fair number of reviews of this opera and I'm behind in elaborating on my multi-opera Letter from Paris, so!



Friday Photo

Bayreische Staatsoper
Munich, Germany
August, 2015

You knew I'd have one of these, right?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Will He or Won't He?

I'm about ready to start a betting pool on whether tenor Bryan Hymel will sing any of his upcoming engagements. His cancelation history when I'm anywhere near by isn't good:
  • He sang half his scheduled performances of Les Troyens in San Francisco
  • He withdrew from the Santa Fe Opera Rigoletto that was scheduled immediately following Les Troyens. (He was signed up to rehearse the Duke while singing Enée - madness.)
  • He withdrew from the Paris Les Huguenots ten days before opening.
A friend who saw him earlier this year in I vespri siciliani said he was wonderful until he cracked a note, and after that, he struggled.

Figuring out what the issues are is not really possible unless you're one of Hymel's intimates (his teacher, his coach, his manager, his family). Is it nerves? Vocal problems? Voice changing, as voices do? Plain old audience members have no way to know.

My personal interest in this is a plan to attend Les Troyens in February, in Paris. I'm very curious who will sing the male lead.

Monday, October 15, 2018


I have no idea how that post from 2016 (or maybe 2017 - I believe I published it very very late) got pushed to the top of the blog. It was not deliberate.

Museum Mondays

Ceiling and Chandelier
Villa Stuck, Munich
August, 2015

Friday, October 12, 2018

A 70-Year Old, an 80-Year-Old, a Centenarian, and a 142-Year-Old Walk Into a Concert Hall.

And it doesn't matter that two of them are dead: these four are the face of new-ish music at San Francisco Symphony, based on the various documents comprising the 2016-17 season announcement.

It is really a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty season, and I do not say that because of the absence of P***** G**** from the schedule.

Let's start with the depressing half-empty part; a second post will cover the good stuff.
  • No works composed by women are being performed this season.
  • No works by African American composers are being performed this season.
  • Two works by composers of color are being performed; both are from China, one is being played by a visiting orchestra from China.
  • Works by seven (7) living composers are being performed this year. They are John (Coolidge) Adams, Steve Reich, Bright Sheng, Robin Holloway, Andrew Norman, Qigang Chen, and M. Tilson Thomas.
Once again, John Adams, Lou Harrison, and Charles Ives are the American Mavericks, joined this year by Steve Reich, who turns 80. Of the works being performed, the most important two are the local premiere of JCA's The Gospel According to the Other Mary, which sounds like a masterpiece based on the audio I have heard, and the composer's second violin concerto, Scheherazade.2. Looks like only one Reich work has been announced; one program is entirely TBA.

There are three SFS co-commissions, the Overture to the new opera Dream of the Red Chamber, by Bright Sheng (co-commission with SF Opera - I'm totally confused by this); Europa and the Bull, by Robin Holloway; and Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind by M. Tilson Thomas.

The remaining works by living composers are Play, by Andrew Norman; Angegram, by MTT (it's a charming, and slight, curtain raiser);  Enchantments oubliés, by Qigang Chen, played by the China Phil; 

We don't, of course, know what will turn up on the SoundBox schedule, and it's common not to announce the chamber music series until closer to the fall. Only seven living composers are represented of the many whose orchestral works will be performed this season. Of them, Adams and Reich are now in the Grand Old Man category, and one is the music director of the orchestra.

So there you have it: a season almost entirely made up of music by dead white men. People, it is 2015. It is time for this orchestra to do a better job of performing music by women and people of color. It is time to do a better job of performing music by the rarely-heard rather than recycling Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikowsky, Mozart, Dvorak, Bach, and the rest of the top twenty-five or fifty composers. See Alex Ross's recent article and blog post on rarely-heard symphonists. Why not, for crying out loud? 

You could consider making an explicit commitment to performing works by women, African Americans, and other composers of color, which would give you the following incomplete list of composers to choose from:
Thea Musgrave, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Johanna Beyer, Kaija Saariaho, Joan Tower, Judith Weir, Nicola LeFanu, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Roxana Panufnik, Amy Beach, Elizabeth Maconchy, Unsuk Chin, Chen Yi, Sheila Silver, Chinnary Ung, Olly Wilson, Florence Price, George Walker, Ulysses Kay, William Grant Still, Anthony Braxton, Anthony Davis, Julius Eastman, Pamela Z, Ken Ueno, Lily Boulanger, Ethel Smyth, Cecile Chaminade, Vivian Fine, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Galina Ustvolskaya, Vítězslava Kaprálová, any of the hundreds of composers listed here and the hundreds of composers I've missed.
As usual, Los Angeles beats the heck out of SF in the new music category.

(Drafted the week of the season announcement, but I have had other priorities recently. Glass-half-full post to follow this week.)

Friday Photo

View into the Munich Residenz
Munich, Germany
August, 2015

Monday, October 08, 2018

Depressing Thought of the Day

On the steps of the Palais Garnier tonight, after seeing Berenice for the second time, I was thinking about what a terrific conductor Philippe Jordan is, on the basis of his Tristan and Berenice. There is no way he would give up a job like the one he has for San Francisco Symphony or San Francisco Opera, especially not the Opera. He is music director of the Opera National de Paris, with two opera houses that can simultaneously perform a total of four operas. This anniversary year for opera in Paris is special - that's how you get the budget to stage Les Huguenot and Les Troyens in the same season - but still. It is a great job.

Moreover, if you were a European working in Europe, would you want to work in the US just now, in a location that is a nine-hour flight from London, more from central Europe, given the political situation and our authoritarian-leaning president? I bet that you would not, unless you were already employed in the US and sticking around seemed better than looking for a job in Europe. So at the moment, I am betting on Americans for both of the gigs, not that I have any idea who those Americans might be.

Museum Mondays

Exterior Detail
Villa Stück, Munich
August, 2015

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Opera Tattling: Paris Opera Tristan and Berenice

The audience during Michael Jarrell's new opera, Berenice, was perfectly behaved in my vicinity.

For Tristan, it was a different matter. Some rustling of programs and coughing during the prelude, then, much worse:
  • The man in the row ahead of me and just to my right who silence, but did not turn off, his very large phone and who checked the time at least once during each act. Yes, it's a long opera, but you knew that when you bought the ticket, right? Get a watch if you really need to check the time during the performance.
  • The man two or three rows up and to my left who took photographs during the performance, at least one per act. Dude, ask the press office if you have an official use; if not, check the internet. But don't take photos during the performance. 
Both were well-dressed middle-aged men who should have known better.

Cast Changes: Santa Fe Opera, 2019

Received from SFeO:
Updates to the 2019 Season were also announced. Corinne Winters will sing the role of Leïla in The Pearl Fishers, replacing Lisette Oropesa, who will make her La Scala debut in the summer of 2019. Tracy Dahl will sing the role of Despina in Così fan tutte, replacing Rebecca Evans who has withdrawn for personal reasons. Maxine Braham (Choreographer/SFO debut) and Duane Schuler (Lighting Director) join the creative team of Jenůfa.
 In addition, the company had record-breaking ticket sales and fundraising this year.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Friday Photo

Kodak Signs
Munich, Germany
August 2015

You don't see these often in the US!

Monday, October 01, 2018

Friday, September 28, 2018

Friday Photo

Inexplicable Photo
Munich, Germany
August, 2015

I have no idea what this stuffed deer is doing on the roof.
I think it was on the building that contained the store with the green dirndls (see previous Friday Photo).

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Compare and Contrast 36: Met Opening Night Samson and Dalila

An amusing, sort of, group of reviews:
  • Anne Midgette, Washington Post
  • Anthony Tommasini, NY Times. He's kinda cranky, and this caught my eye in particular: "But the production weighed it down. Given Mr. Gelb’s determination to make opera relevant, one might think that this, of all works — it’s set, after all, in Gaza — would scream for an updated concept." C'mon, Tony - that's The Death of Klinghoffer, and you know what happened when the Met produced that opera.
  • Justin Davidson, NY Mag / Vulture. The one I wish I'd written.
  • Christopher Corwin, Parterre Box

Russia House, I Mean Stravinsky Festival

When the 2018-19 season for SFS was announced earlier this year, there was an awful lot of sighing, whimpering, and eye-rolling among my friends, because the season opened with a Stravinsky Festival. This is the second or third of them since MTT has been the music director here, and of course they're important because you just never hear Stravinsky's music.

Okay, I could just barely type that without falling under my desk laughing. Stravinsky is one of the composers you hear most often at SFS; MTT is a great conductor of Russian music in general, and after nearly 25 years with him, the orchestra is a sleek, colorful machine when it plays the ballets and everything else Igor wrote.

But I was reminded by Rebecca Mead's wonderful New Yorker profile of George Benjamin that SFS used to be an orchestra that programmed recent music and focussed on specific living composers who weren't John Adams and Mason Bates: not that long ago, Benjamin was composer in residence here, and the orchestra and its individual players did several performances of Benjamin's music. I attended a couple of those programs and reviewed one.

It is really sad that some combination of pressure from the orchestra's administration and/or board and MTT's current preferences has resulted in pretty conservative programming for a once-adventurous orchestra. This year's eye-rolling wasn't all about the Stravinsky fest; it was about the season in general. I'm sort-of interested in a fair number of the programs, but it's not until MGT is here doing Sibelius (and, unfortunately, Tchaikovsky) that there's much that excites me. (And after that....oh, the season-end L'enfant et les sortileges.)

And it seems as though I'm not the only person who'd like to hear less Stravinsky: both last weekend and this, I got offers from SFS of $15 tickets, undercutting even Goldstar. (That's on top of my looking into tickets to hear Yuja Wang play Ravel and blanching when I saw that the cheapest seats in the house were $99, up in the second tier. I gave it a pass; I wouldn't pay that much, plus the second half of the program was a work I dislike pretty intensely.)

Maybe try playing music people haven't heard so many times, eh?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Honeck Extends Pittsburgh Symphony Contract

Manfred Honeck has extended his contract with the Pittsburgh Symphony through the 2021-22 season. If you live in the Bay Area, this means you can scratch him off the list of candidates to be the next music director of the San Francisco Symphony, because MTT's last season is 2019-20.

Museum Mondays

Exterior Detail (Drain Spout?)
Villa Stück, Munich
August, 2015

I visited Villa Stück thanks to a comment here back in 2015 from 
Alex Ross, referring to the "daft Villa Stück." It is a
wonderful and indeed slightly daft house museum. I took
the wrong damn camera and many of my photos are too
dark to be worth posting, although....perhaps they are
editable in Flickr.

Big thanks to Alex for the pointer!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Berkeley Symphony Season Opening

Berkeley Symphony is in for an exciting year or two as they search for a new music director; the last time this happened, the programs were really interesting (okay, this is usually the case with Berkeley Symphony) and the range of conducting equally interesting.

Their season opener is in about two weeks. I wish I could be there, but I'll be, well, far away. Their date is between my performances of Tristan und Isolde and the new opera Bérénice.

Otherwise, I'd be eager to see this:

Thursday, October 4, 2018, 7p – HIGDON & RAVEL
Zellerbach Hall, 101 Zellerbach Way, Berkeley

Berkeley Symphony
Ming Luke, Guest Conductor
Benjamin Beilman, Violin
Dimitri Shostakovich: Festive Overture, Op. 96
Jennifer Higdon: Violin Concerto
Anna Clyne: Night Ferry
Maurice Ravel: La Valse

Friday Photo

German Fashion
Munich, Germany
August, 2015

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Cast Changes: Les Huguenots at the Opéra National de Paris

The upcoming revival of Les Huguenots at the Opéra National de Paris has now had two cast changes, and, well, yeah, they're the singers you just might have expected to cancel.

Diana Damrau was original cast as Marguerite de Valois, a role that Joan Sutherland sang in her prime. Damrau withdrew a few months ago, to be replaced by Lisette Oropesa. This puts me at Martha Argerich cancelation levels with Damrau; I saw her as Fiakermilli in Arabella in 2004 and in that well-traveled Laurent Pelly Daughter of the Regiment in SF with Juan Diego Flores. She cancelled Lucia in SF a few years ago, and now there's this. I've also heard suspicions voiced that she might withdraw from the incoming Traviata at the Met.

This week, it's tenor Bryan Hymel, cast as Raoul, who has withdrawn, to be replaced by Yosep Kang. Hymel was in SF in 2015 for Les Troyens and sang three of the six performances, replaced by Corey Bix for the other three. It might be easier to find a substitute Tristan than Raoul, because there aren't many singers with Raoul in their repertory. Meyerbeer was the most popular opera composer of the 19th century, but with few performances of his works these days, there aren't singers who can just pull roles from his operas out of their back pockets.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Sunday, September 16, 2018

NY Philharmonic Fires Two Players

Not exactly, but that's what they are trying to do, according to a story in the Times by Michael Cooper: principal oboist Liang Wang and associate principal trumpet player Matthew Muckey have both been placed on unpaid leaves of absence. The orchestra plans to dismiss them and there are discussions going on with the musicians' union.

The reason for both dismissals is unspecified misconduct. From the story:
The orchestra said in a terse statement only that after it had received reports that the two players had “engaged in misconduct,” it retained Barbara S. Jones, an attorney at Bracewell and a former federal judge, to investigate. An orchestra official said the investigation took five months.
“Following the investigation, the Philharmonic advised the musicians that their employment was terminated,” the orchestra said in the statement. “At the request of their union, the Philharmonic delayed the implementation of the termination and placed the musicians on an unpaid leave of absence pending the union’s review of the matter.”
The players’ union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, said in a brief statement only that it was “aware of and currently looking into this matter.”

Runnicles and Luisotti

I did a summing up the other month of Nicola Luisotti's career at San Francisco Opera, but I omitted something I'd consider important: a summary of the composers he performed at SF. Just for the heck of it, I'm including Donald Runnicles for contrast:

Runnicles: 101 productions of operas by Wagner, Rossini, Mussorgsky, R. Strauss, Verdi Beethoven, Mozart, Puccini, Gluck, Susa, Bizet, Wallace, Britten, Debussy, Janacek, Humperdinck, Berlioz, Messiaen, Busoni, Shostakovich, Thompson, Tchaikovski, Adams, J. Strauss, Stravinsky, and Korngold.

Luisotti: 36 productions of operas by Verdi, Puccini, R. Strauss (Salome), Bizet, Wagner (Lohengrin), Boito, Bellini, Tutino (Two Women), Giordano (Andrea Chenier).

Runnicles was here for many more years, including part of the Mansouri era, which featured a lot of Russian opera, and the Rosenberg era, which was the most adventurous ever. Luisotti was here for most of Gockley and the early Shilvock era only, and as we know, David Gockley really want to restore endangered Italian opera to its full glory, so a music director whose talents lay 95% in that area was perhaps just right for him.

Still, you can see whose talents are the broader.

Roberto Devereux at San Francisco Opera

Russell Thomas in the title role of Roberto Devereux
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera is currently presenting Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, for the first time since 1979. It's one of the so-called Tudor Queen Trilogy operas, although the three operas were not written as a group and were not connected in Donizetti's mind. (The others? Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda.)

I am not a big Donizetti fan, and in fact I've walked out of more of his operas - two - than those of any other composer: La Favorite, which got an ugly production and mediocre singing, and L'Elisir d'Amore, because I was there mostly for Ramon Vargas and he didn't sing that night. In retrospect, perhaps I should I have stayed for Alek Shrader, who is a good singer whom I have enjoyed a lot since then, in Partenope, Alcina, and Albert Herring.

In any event, while I'm not much of Donizetti fan, I am a fan of good singing, and the casting for Roberto Devereux could hardly be better, with tenor Russell Thomas in the title role, Sondra Radvanovsky as Elizabeth I, and Jamie Barton as Sara, Duchess of Nottingham. If that trio sounds familiar, they made a splendid team four years ago in Norma, which had the drama of Thomas joining the cast after the run had already started. Artur Rucinsky, who made his SFO debut last year as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, was to have sung the Duke of Nottingham; he unfortunately had to withdraw a few weeks ago owing to injuries he suffered in a bicycle accident. Adler Fellow Andrew Manea replaced him.

I'm not going to say a whole lot about the production and direction, because I was very tired Friday night, to the point of feeling like I was coming down with a cold, and I mostly let the opera wash pleasantly over me, without a lot of analysis. I am neutral about placing the action in the Globe Theater, which is hung on an alleged rumor that Elizabeth appeared anonymously in one of Shakespeare's plays, apparently A Midsummer Night's Dream, as we're told during the overture.

The Glob Theatre
No. actually, it's Russell Thomas (Devereux) and Jamie Barton (Sara, Duchess of Nottingham)
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Who knows? Certainly not me, but that explains this photo, which I thought must somehow be the last scene setting of Falstaff when I saw it in a trailer or ad or something:

This set is flown in for about 45 seconds during the overture. Pretty, though!
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

I thought the direction, by Stephen Lawless, okay - I mean, there's nothing awful but also nothing great.The libretto just doesn't give the director that much to work with. There aren't many confrontations or big crowd scenes; in those confrontations that take place, the musical pacing doesn't invite what you might think of as action. It's a pretty weak libretto! So there was a lot of standing and singing, and mostly that's okay with me, given the thin plotting and the fact that I really don't care about what's happening on stage.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Queen Elizabeth 1
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The leading trio of Radvanovsky, Barton, and Thomas really could not be improved upon. They were even better than in 2014! In that Norma, I felt that Radvanovsky, who was marvelous technically, nonetheless sounded as though some of the spectacular effects she could pull off were just that: effects that weren't well-integrated dramatically or in the vocal line. There was none of that here after she was thoroughly warmed up (her entrance was a little bumpy), just a steady stream of magnificent singing, with every phrase utterly musical and sincere and integrated into the whole. Similarly, she really lived the role, most especially during her long last-act scene, with Elizabeth staggering around the stage in a nightgown, without her wig, and looking very much her age.

Russell Thomas in the title role of Roberto Devereux
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Thomas's career has really taken off in the last four or five years, I feel. He is being hired regularly, for leading roles, by major companies, and rightly so. He's got a beautiful, burnished tenor voice and he's an excellent actor - also a handsome man, which never hurts! Among current tenors singing dramatic roles, how many have Donizetti and Wagner, Bellini and heavy Verdi, in their repertory and sing them all so well?? He sang with even more subtlety and emotional range as Devereux than as Pollione.

Jamie Barton as Sara, Duchess of Nottingham
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Jamie Barton remains one of the great singers of her generation, a mezzo with easy high and low notes, a huge range, and the same versatility as Thomas: by July, 2019, we'll have heard her in SF in Bellini, Donizetti, Dvorak, and Wagner. She sang gorgeously and acted very well as Sara, a role that really could have used more direction. I would have liked to be more convinced that she just couldn't get out fast enough to save the life of Devereux. (Elizabeth may have a crush on him, but it's Sara he really loves, and vice versa; she is under her husband's thumb and maybe we need even more evidence of this.)

Blood on his hands: Andrew Manea as the Duke of Nottingham.
Implies he personally tore Devereux's head off. I say: not likely.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Andrew Manea, as the villain of the piece, the Duke of Nottingham, isn't quite ready to be singing leading roles at the international level. He sounded wooly and without much vocal core for most of the opera, with his voice firming up toward the end. His acting was good enough.

Riccardo Frizza conducted and was very good, with the music moving well and always sounding beautiful without becoming repetitive or oom-pah-pah-ish. I will say that the chorus sounded weirdly under-rehearsed and tentative, and that is very unusual.

I hope that Radvanovsky, Thomas, and Barton will be back in future seasons, and perhaps in Verdi (Il Corsaro, folks!).

Other writers, who all got more out of the setting and its implications than I did: