Mystery score

Mystery score

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

United States Comes to Its Senses

In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 minutes off the American coast.
It took long enough. Cuba has never been a threat to the US in any way. (That was the Soviet Union with the missiles.) 

Monday, December 15, 2014

When You're a Very Big Company... have a very big number of cast change announcements. The Met press office tells us:

  • Johannes Martin Kränzle is sick and won't be singing Beckmesser in Wednesday's Meistersinger. Martin Gantner steps into the role, and Ryan McKinney sings Kothner, the role Gantner was to sing.
  • Lusa Salsi will sing Enrico in all performances of the upcoming run of Lucia di Lammermoor, replacing Fabio Capitanucci, who has withdrawn for personal reasons. The performances are scheduled for March and April, 2015.

Winter is Coming....

...and with it, season announcement season for 2015 summer music festivals and the 2015-16 season. I know this, because San Francisco Opera just emailed subscribers to say that we would have our subscription packages on January 13, 2015. Season information will be released to the press for publication on January 8.

I also know of another company that will have an exciting season announcement at some point.

Janis Martin

From San Francisco Opera comes news that mezzo Janis Martin has died, age 75, of unknown causes. She was in the Merola Program in 1958 and '59, and sang with SFO from 1960 to 1990. Her roles ranged from small parts in her debut year to Elektra, Bruennhilde, Senta, Marie, Ortrud, Brangaene, Meg Page, Marina, Suzuki, the Composer, and Sieglinde. Her Met career lasted from 1962 to 1997 and embraced a similar wide range of roles.

Irene Dalis

The mezzo-soprano, who sang at San Francisco Opera from 1958 to 1973 and at the Met from 1957 to 1976, has died at 89 following a short illness. (Chron obituary by Joshua Kosman.) She had retired a year or two ago from Opera San Jose, which she founded 30 years ago and had led very ably. Her roles included Princess Eboli, Kundry, Amneris, Zita (Gianni Schicchi), the Nurse (Frau), Herodias, Klytemnestra, Azucena, Brangaene, Ortrud, and other dramatic soprano roles.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Torture by Any Other Name

Found in the NY Times, which has extensive reporting on the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA interrogations after 9/11:
WASHINGTON — John O. Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, defended the agency’s use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation tactics on Thursday, sidestepping questions about whether agency operatives tortured anyone.
Mr. Brennan, responding to an excoriating Senate report detailing years of brutal interrogation tactics in secret C.I.A. prisons, criticized only those officers who he said went “outside the bounds” of the guidelines established by the Justice Department. Those guidelines allowed for waterboarding, a week of sleep deprivation, shackling prisoners in painful positions, dousing them with water, and locking them in coffin-like boxes.
“I will leave to others how they might want to label those activities,” Mr. Brennan said.
Dude, if you would BOTHER TO READ INTERNATIONAL LAW, you'd find that those "guidelines" allowed what everybody else in the world considers to be torture. 

He then goes on to hope that we'll move past this debate. Fuck you: everybody who participated in or ordered this stuff should go to jail.

SFS Concert (December 11, 2014) Canceled on Account of Rain

The rain is worse in SF than in Oakland, I think:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / December 11, 2014


SAN FRANCISCO, CA (December 11, 2014) – The San Francisco Symphonyconcert with Burt Bacharach scheduled for 7:30 pm tonight at Davies Symphony Hall has been cancelled due to severe weather conditions.
Refunds and exchanges can be made beginning tomorrowTuesday, December 12 after 10:00 am by contacting the San Francisco Symphony Patron Services office at415-864-6000.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

West Edge Opera Medium-Rare

Following an excellent summer season, which I swear I will eventually blog, the always-enterprising West Edge Opera has a winter/fall season of rarities coming up, this year with two performances each, so I expect to be able to attend.

They note:

Each show is performed first as a 1pm matinée at the Rossmoor Event Center in Walnut Creek, and a few days later as an 8pm evening performance at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley. For performances at Rossmoor only, you can buy tickets to the three-opera series and save the cost of the on-line fee.
  • Rossini’s Zelmira February 15 & 17, 2015
  • Donizetti’s Poliuto March 28 & April 1, 2015
  • Verdi’s I due Foscari May 3 & 4, 2015

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Cough. Cough. Cough.

Owing to the continuing illness of Ludovic Tezier, Quinn Kelsey will be taking on Giorgio Germont in the Met's La Traviata on  December 22, 27 matinee, 30, January 7 and 10, in addition to the already-announced December 11, 16, and 19. Best wishes, again, to Mr. Tezier.

Monday, December 08, 2014

It's Izotov!

Eugene Izotov
Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Eugene Izotov has been appointed principal oboe of San Francisco Symphony, beginning with the 2015-16 season. He is leaving Chicago, where is currently principal, to accept this job. His previous positions were principal oboe of the Met orchestra and associate principal of SFS. (Yes, he is a returnee, and not the only one in the orchestra.) He succeeds the late William Bennett.

Here's a prediction: Jonathan Fischer will stay in Houston, where he was appointed principal oboe during the 2012-13 season, opening up the associate principal chair of SFS. (Another nod here to acting associate oboe Chris Gaudi, who subbed for Fischer during 2012-13, then stepped up to acting principal after Bennett died. He has done a fine job at both spots.)

Updated: I removed a really embarrassing error, in which I mistook Erik Behr for Izotov in Susanna Malkki's program. Behr did sound darned good, but I misidentified him.

Suzuki and O'Connor: Now on the Times Front Page!

The story has been up for a couple of days, but this morning it is on the front page. Excellent work by Michael Cooper makes Mark O'Connor look less than great; among other things, the violinist and pedagogue Alice Schoenfeld, who has taught at USC for more than 50 years, remembers her teacher Karl Klingler mentioning Suzuki to her.

P. S. Headline writer, go to your room without supper.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

And in that Other Opera with the Tubercular Soprano...

Quinn Kelsey will sing Giorgio Germont in the first three performances of La Traviata, substituting for Ludovic Tézier, who is sick. Marina Rebekah sings Violetta and Stephen Costello Alfredo Germont.

And the Answer is.....

One of the two originally-scheduled tenors, plus four tenors subbing in for the other of the originals. Note: One of the subs is also subbing for a sub (Demuro in for Castronovo on November 24).

Ramon Vargas has withdrawn from the rest of his scheduled appearances in the Met's La Boheme. Francesco Demuro and Michael Fabiano (currently in robust good health in San Francisco) will take the remaining performances not already accounted for, Demuro on December 1 and 5, Fabiano on December 10 and 13.

So let's add this up. Vargas was originally scheduled for November 14, 20, 24, 28, December 1, 5, 10, 13, Jean-Francois Borras for January 15, 19, 24.

  • Ramon Vargas: 0
  • Bryan Hymel: November 14, 20, 
  • Charles Castronovo: November 28
  • Francesco Demuro: November 24, December 1, 5
  • Michael Fabiano: December 10, 13
  • Jean-Francois Borras: January 15, 19, 24, presumptively
I wish Borras the very best of health!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Conductor Changes, LAPO, SFS

Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie has withdrawn from all of his conducting commitments through the first half of 2015. He's being treated for a lymphoma that was diagnosed over the summer.

In Los Angeles, Trevor Pinnock replaces Labadie on December 19, 20, and 21, and will conduct the following all-Mozart program, with soprano Miah Persson singing the vocal selections:

Overture to La clemenza di Tito
“Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben” from Zaide
“Dove sono i bei momenti” from Le nozze di Figaro
Piano Concerto No. 9, K. 271
“Ch’io mi scordi di te—Non temer, amato bene,” K. 505
Symphony No. 39, K. 543

In San Francisco, Paul Goodwin will conduct SFS on January 29-31, with soprano Lydia Teuscher:

J.S. Bach                     Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
"Al desio, di chi t'adora," K.577 from Le nozze di Figaro, K.492
Mozart                          "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben" from Zaide, K.344(336b)
J.S. Bach                     Cantata No. 202, Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten (Wedding Cantata)
Mozart                          Symphony No. 31 in D major, K.297(300a), Paris

I'm very sorry to hear of Labadie's illness and wish him the easiest possible time during treatment and a swift and full recovery.

How Many Tenors Does it Take to Sing Rodolfo?

In San Francisco, two (so far) for 13 performances: Michael Fabiano and Giorgio Berrugi.

At the Met, they'll let us know at the end of the run: Charles Castronovo, who was scheduled to sing tonight and November 28, is ill. Perhaps he has whatever has knocked Ramon Vargas out. Francesco Demuro, who was supposed to make his Met debut singing Alfredo next month, will make his debut tonight as Rodolfo instead.

(Demuo has appeared here in Rigoletto, Cosi fan tutte, and Falstaff. He was best in Cosi, and I sure hope Frizza keeps the orchestra down for him.)

This Just Makes Me Want to Curse Loudly.

Found in yet another Times story about the ongoing GM ignition fiasco:
Ms. Anderson, 21 at the time of the crash, suffered serious injuries, including a lacerated liver. But the guilt surrounding her own survival and her boyfriend’s death, for which she was prosecuted on an intoxicated manslaughter charge, because of the trace amount of Xanax in her system, caused her more enduring pain, she said. 
Until this year, she wrestled with questions about her role in Mr. Erickson’s death. The police trooper who investigated the accident had deduced that Ms. Anderson was intoxicated before her drug test results came back. His police report referred to the seemingly inexplicable circumstances of the accident, her history of recreational drug use, “witness testimony and Anderson’s behavior at the scene,” which was disoriented and emotional. 
She pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in October 2007, five months after G.M. had conducted an internal review of the case and quietly ruled its car was to blame. She served five years probation and paid more than $10,000 in fines and restitution. 
G.M. did not disclose its culpability when federal safety regulators asked about the cause of the crash in a so-called death inquiry. Instead, in June 2007, the automaker wrote to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it had not assessed the cause of the crash when, in fact, it had: A G.M. engineer had ruled just a month earlier that power to the vehicle had most likely shut off.
In other words, GM, knowing its car had caused a fatal accident, let one of the victims plead guilty to criminally negligent homicide and suffer for ten years over the accident and the death of her then-boyfriend. The suffering, in this case, included tremendous guilt and significant problems in nursing school admissions because Ms. Anderson had a wholly undeserved criminal record.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


About Suzuki: see the comment from Daniel Wolf on my original posting and see this article about Mark O'Connor's remarks about Suzuki. See Elaine Fine's comments on her blog. I should have kept my damn mouth shut, given the reasonable doubts about O'Connor and his motives.

About the Chetham's and RNCM sex abuse scandals: Nicholas Smith sentenced to prison, Duncan McTier admits abuse. Lots more details about RNCM at The Guardian.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

So You Think We Have Problems with Congress.

I'm reading Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers:  How Europe Went to War in 1914, and hoo boy, am I ever learning a lot. First, the 65 pages on Serbian history in the decades before the war were riveting; now I have started the long chapter on the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Empire had two Parliaments. The Budapest Parliament consisted almost entirely of ethnic, Magyar-speaking Hungarians, and the eastern part of the empire had a policy of ruthless suppression of other languages and linguistic minorities. In the western Parliament, which met in Vienna, well, things were different:
Nowhere were the frictions generated by nationalist politics more in evidence than in the [western] parliament, which met from 1883 in a handsome neo-classical building on Vienna's Ringstrasse. In this 516-seat  legislature, the largest in Europe, the familiar spectrum of party-political ideological diversity was cross-cut by national affiliations producing a panoply of splinter groups and grouplets. Among the thirty-odd parties that held mandates after the 1907 elections, for example, were twenty-eight Czech Agrarians, eighteen Young Czechs (Radical nationalism), seventeen Czech Conservatives, seven Old Czechs (moderate nationalists), two Czech-Progressives (Realist tendency), one 'wild' (independent) Czech and nine Czech National Socialists. The Poles, the Germans, the Italians and even the Slovenes and the Ruthenes were similarly divided along ideological lines.
Since there was no official language in [the western region] (by contrast with the Kingdom of Hungary), there was no single official language of parliamentary procedure. German, Czech, Polish, Ruthenian, Croat, Serbian, Slovenian, Italian, Romanian and Russian were all permitted. But no interpreters were provided, and there was no facility for recording or monitoring the content of speeches that were not in German, unless the deputy in question himself chose to supply the house with translated text of his speech. Deputies from even the most insignificant factions could thus block unwelcome initiatives by delivering long speeches in a languages that only a handful of their colleagues understood. Whether they were actually addressing the issues raised by the current motions, or simply reciting long poems in their own national idiom, was difficult to ascertain. The Czechs in particular were renowned for the baroque extravagance of their filibustering. The [Vienna] parliament became a celebrated tourist attraction, especially in winter, when Viennese pleasure-seekers crowded into the heated visitors' galleries. By contrast with the city's theatres and opera houses, a Berlin journalist wrily observed, entry to parliamentary sessions was free.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Guess I was Wrong About That

Here I am, on Monday, March 13, 2013:
 [Jorge Mario Bergolio] is from the same mold as Cardinal Rat, and yes, we will be going through this again in 10 years or so.
Whoops! No, not really from the same mold as the Pope Emeritus at all, and I hope Pope Francis will live to a very ripe old age.

The Future is Now: Adler Fellows' Concert

The annual event, from the press release:

Tickets for The Future is Now: Adler Fellows Gala Concert are priced from $30 to $65 and may be purchased at or by calling the San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330. $15 Student Rush tickets are available on the day of the performance with valid ID (subject to availability).

The Scottish Rite Masonic Center is located at 2850 19th Avenue in San Francisco. For more public transportation information, visit and

Featuring the 2014 Adler Fellows
Stephen Lord, Conductor
San Francisco Opera Orchestra

Thursday, November 4, 2014; 7:30 p.m.
Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 2850 19th Avenue, San Francisco

The planned program (subject to change!) is:

La Clemenza di Tito
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Pelléas et Mélisande
Claude Debussy
“Ah, ah, tout va bien”
Maria Valdes, soprano
Philippe Sly, baritone

Ariadne auf Naxos
Richard Strauss
“Es gibt ein Reich”
Erin Johnson, soprano

The Rake’s Progress
Igor Stravinsky
“No word from Tom”
Maria Valdes, soprano

I Lombardi
Guiseppe Verdi
“Non fu sogno”
Jacqueline Piccolino, soprano

Georges Bizet
“Parle-moi de ma mère!”
Julie Adams, soprano
A.J. Glueckert, tenor

“C’est toi! C’est moi”
Zanda Švēde, mezzo-soprano
A.J. Glueckert, tenor
tutti Adler Fellows

Samson et Dalila
Camille Saint-Saëns“Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix”
Zanda Švēde, mezzo-soprano

George Frideric Handel
“Tirannia gli diede il regno”
Efraín Solís, baritone

Dom Sébastien
Gaetano Donizetti
“Sur le sable d’Afrique,” “O Lisbonne, o mie patrie!”
Efraín Solís, baritone

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“D’Oreste, d’Ajace”
Erin Johnson, soprano

Così fan tutte 
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo”
Hadleigh Adams, baritone

Antonín Dvořák“Pisen Rusalky O Mesiku” (Song of the Moon)
Jacqueline Piccolino, soprano

Les Pêcheurs de Perles 
Georges Bizet
“L’orage s’est calmé” 
Hadleigh Adams, baritone

Worth a Look

Found on the Web:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cough, Cough: Vargas Out Again

Ramon Vargas is still sick - hey, in Boheme, it's the soprano who has the lung problems - and will miss several more performances of the Met Boheme. He is expected to return to the stage on December 1.

Bryan Hymel (Nov. 20) and Charles Castronovo (Nov. 24 and 28) will sing Rodolfo in his absence.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Special Classes at Berkeley Dan Zan Ryu

I am currently planning to schedule the following special classes at Berkeley Dan Zan Ryu during the first half of 2015.
All classes will be at Studio 12, Sawtooth Building Bay 1, 2525 8th St., Berkeley, CA. This is immediately south of Dwight Way.
If you'd like more information about either of these classes, send me email ( or call my dojo voicemail (510-842-NAGE).

Women's Self-Defense

You'll learn alertness, awareness, & avoidance; practical defenses against common attacks; basic kicks and strikes. Suitable for women age 14 and up.

Dates: 6 Saturdays, January 17 to February 21, 2015
Times: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Cost: $125 + short-term AJJF membership. No one turned away for lack of funds. Class must have a minimum of six participants registered to go forward.

(If these dates & times don't work for you, I can schedule a class if you have six or more women who'd like to enroll.)

Safe Rolling & Falling
The basics of safe rolling & falling for people who don't study martial arts. Open to all.

Dates: 10 Saturdays, March 28 to May 30, 2015 (Memorial Day to be discussed)
Times: 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Cost: $200 + short-term AJJF membership. No one turned away for lack of funds. Class size maximum of 8.

Please feel free to send this information to any friends or family who might be interested.

I am Not the Intended Audience.

Well, I had been looking forward to the San Francisco Symphony's SoundBox series, which will take place in a smaller space in Davies than the main concert hall. The inaugural concert, some details of which may be found at this web site, is on Saturday, December 13, 2014. (That's 12/13/14, just for fun.)

Unfortunately, the concert starts at 9 p.m., a pretty clear signal that these programs aren't aimed at people like me. Not that I wouldn't love all of the music, some of which is old, some new, but that is a tough start time. Yeah, I know, if it were Tristan I'd be at the opera house until 11:30. But I think I'm more likely to be found at the International Orange Chorale program - all new music - that night. It starts at 7:30 and it's a short drive away.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tosca at San Francisco Opera

Long-time readers of this blog know that I have some antipathy toward Tosca, largely because I want to slap the title character silly at multiple points during the opera, but perhaps secondarily because it has not been well-conducted all that often during the last decade or so. I offer as evidence my write-ups of the runs with Patricia Racette and Adrianne Pieczonka. There's a passing remark elsewhere about weak conducting in the November, 2004 run (Jobin/Vaness, Dvorsky, Delevan), but no full review. I remember almost nothing about the 1997-98 run, conducted by Nello Santi, other than that James Morris just couldn't get the nasty on for Scarpia and that Carol Vaness looked a lot better than she sounded.

It's been on my don't-need-to-see-for-a-while list since I saw Racette in it, because she was so charming and dramatically convincing in the part, so I did not expect to see this year's revival: same production, same Cavaradossi (Brian Jagde, whom I didn't like at all in 2012), same Scarpia (Mark Delevan). I went into San Francisco last Saturday assuming I'd pick up a rush ticket to see SFS (S.Adams, Prokofiev, Ravel)....but I was urged to come over to the opera house to see debuting soprano Lianna Haroutounian, and Jon Finck, of SFO, very kindly offered me a seat while doing the urging. So, what the heck, I went.

The bad news first, just to get it out of the way: Riccardo Frizza is a dab hand at bel canto, and I'd liked him a great deal in his previous SFO appearances, in which he conducted Lucrezia Borgia and I Capuletti e i Montecchi. But Puccini is hard, with a deeply layered orchestra and rhythmic/metrical complexities galore. Just take a look at the first page of La Boheme if you don't believe me.

I'd have to see him again in Tosca to tell you exactly what went wrong and where, but Frizza led the worst-conducted Puccini opera I have ever heard. The performance had almost no drive or dramatic tension, and this is an opera with a ton of excitement and drama. It wasn't a matter of tempo; the performance took about the same amount of time that Tosca usually takes. It was more a matter of emphasis and phrasing. Unlike the last run - conducted very well by Nicola Luisotti - Act II felt shockingly lifeless, despite the torture scene and despite the great scene with Tosca and Scarpia.

But there's plenty of good news: Lianna Haroutounian is the real deal, a terrific singer with a beautiful voice. This was her role debut, and while I think she's got a ways to go in working into the part - her characterization was a bit one-dimensional compared to Patricia Racette's -  this was a wonderfully sung and reasonably convincing assumption. Haroutounian has a big, colorful voice, great legato, and sterling control; every note sounded strongly and was sung with a beautiful line. Joshua Kosman was effusive about her in his review, and he was absolutely right, though at the last performance there was a bit of shrillness at the very top of her range.

She was decently partnered by Brian Jagde, much improved from his last appearance as Cavaradossi and yet still somehow lacking. His voice is much better integrated and handled the tessitura more cleanly than two years ago, when there was a lot of audible gear-changing and some very square phrasing. The big moments were big, but this opera has intimate moments as well, and those were lacking in, well, intimacy. "Recondita armonia" ought to have lilt and charm; I grant you that Jagde didn't get much help from Frizza, but the color of his voice and ability to deliver a bit of a smile in the tone are up to the tenor. And "E lucevan le stelle" (which dragged interminably) wasn't nearly as despairing as I'd like to hear it.

(If you're wondering how it should be done, look no further than the meltingly beautiful performance of Giuseppe di Stefano on the great, great, great Victor de Sabata recording, which fully lives up to its enormous reputation after sixty years. It is absolutely indispensable for anyone who gives a damn about Italian opera.)

Mark Delevan remains a deeply sadistic and threatening Scarpia, although his voice continues to lose the edge it had more than a decade ago when he sang the Dutchman at SFS.

And a long Rubin Institute aside: I heard part of Anne Midgette's pre-performance talk on Tosca, and am sorry I didn't hear the whole thing. I got there on the late side, and her talk got cut short by a few minutes, so she didn't get to say everything she had to say. She played an excerpt of Franco Correlli exhibiting his magnificent sound and lung power; impressive, but I wish I'd asked her about the conductor, because he was terrible. I gotta say that I also think what Correlli did called attention to himself rather than the music, and I wish he hadn't.

All that aside, she said some interesting things about the opera, one of which I wish more directors realized: when that last act curtain goes up, Tosca and Cavaradossi are both in a state of exhaustion because they've been awake for around 24 hours, during which one of them was tortured and the other committed murder. I think they are in slightly different states; Cavaradossi is on the verge of collapse, between the torture and anticipation of his execution, while Tosca has been preparing for their departure from Rome and is exhausted but running on adrenaline. I hope to see a production some day that takes note of this.

I nabbed poor Anne between when she got kicked off the podium and when the performance started, and subjected her to a few of my pet theories about the opera. Well, actually, I started by agreeing with her about one point she made: that Puccini was completely deliberate in how he composed one particular section, I believe when Mario is realizing that the "fake" execution is going to be real. Anne noted in her talk that her husband disagrees about this, but he is completely wrong: I dare you to find a bar of Puccini after 1895 when he isn't completely in control of the emotional content of what he is writing. (Okay, Turandot, I know, I know, but you know it would have been different if he'd lived, right?)

I do think that the compactness of the opera, as opposed to the sprawling Sardou play from which it is drawn, acts against making Tosca completely believable. The play makes it very clear that she is an innocent, a child of nature, someone motivated by her emotions and with no concept of politics. Face it: anyone with a little worldly knowledge would understand that Cavaradossi is a dead man from the moment Scarpia's men round him up, regardless of whatever deal Scarpia seems willing to make. He  is a sadist and he enjoys not only the anticipation of getting into Tosca's panties, but knowing that he won't be making good on the deal.

It's very much up to the soprano to bring out not only Tosca's emotionalism - the easy part - but her worldly naivete, and hoo boy, that is a very difficult assignment.

Anne and I also chatted a bit about Joe Kerman's notorious characterization of Tosca as a "shabby little shocker." It's been a great jumping-off point for all kinds of writing and speaking about the opera, among other reasons because it is pretty obvious that Kerman had little liking for the work and that he didn't understand what Puccini was doing at the point in the opera that he was describing. I think it is too bad that the phrase is what the general public associates with Kerman, because he was an important musicologist who did great work in a number of areas - and I think he wrote that line when he was in his mid-20s. Look, we all said a few dumb things in our 20s. I didn't even like Puccini at that age; I was close to 40 before I got the message. I have no idea whether Kerman changed his mind about Tosca as he aged, or whether he had more sympathy for Puccini in general, but it is certainly possible.

Tattling: SF Opera Boheme

Why I fled my dress circle seat, paid for by me, at intermission:
  • To the lady to my immediate left: I know that the seats are tiny and there's no room, but please try not to elbow your neighbors every ten minutes or so. I know that I was not slopping over into your space. Please keep your elbow out of mine.
  • To the ladies behind me: if you need to chat after the music starts, I can recommend any number of fine recordings of La Boheme for you to chat the privacy of your living rooms.
I fled to orchestra standing room, and a friend very kindly offered me his unfilled companion seat, but Boheme is not that long, and yes, I would have stood rather than deal with more audience misbehavior.

I have had different people to my left throughout the season, and this is the first trouble I have had with that spot, but I'm pretty sure the ladies behind me were there at a different opera, also chatting away. They did not respond to being shushed, either. Next time, perhaps I will inform an usher, or leave an anonymous note, or something. I admit that I should have politely said something to the woman on my left about her elbow.

Not exactly an aside: the seating at the opera house is awful in every section. In the balcony and dress circle, the seats are tiny and the leg room absurd. In the orchestra, the seats are about an inch from the ground and vary in size. San Francisco Ballet told Janos Gereben a while back that they were fund-raising to replace the seating, and I cannot wait, though if the number of seats is to be preserved, I don't know how they can improve things other than by raising the seat height in the orchestra.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

That Was a Tough One.

My review of Curlew River is posted at SFCV. I filed it about 13 hours late; not that I think anyone noticed, but in theory I should have filed by 9:30 p.m. last night.

Usually I don't have problems getting my thoughts together about a music-dramatic work, but this was particularly tough. I can't point to very much that was wrong with what I saw, but it felt as though it just sat there. It didn't move me at all, and it's a potentially deeply moving story.

I was not alone in this, either; I've now seen a number of reports saying that some viewers were bored. Not me; I've wanted to see this for decades and I think it is a gorgeous piece. I missed the 1990s productions at Theater Artaud, both of which starred Chanticleer, and what must have been a Merola production in 1995 (San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, Patrick Summers conducting - right?).

This would have been a good performance to turn the Rubin Fellows loose on. It's more recent than anything else they reviewed, for one thing. For another, it's not like very much in the Western canon.

I had to consciously make sure I was reviewing the performance in front of me, rather than the one I have in my head: it is just not Ian Bostridge's fault that he isn't Peter Pears, whose voice haunts Curlew River as much as it haunts any other work by Britten. Bostridge sang impressively - his voice is much bigger than I'd expected. He is also odd looking in a Benedict Cumberbatch-ish way; he towered over the rest of the cast, he is obviously very thin, and his face is...just slightly off. I would like to hear him again. He is a very good singer.

A friend asked me what would have made the performance more satisfying, and here's what I said, more or less:
The questions are whether it works better as theater of the mind than theater on the stage; whether I caught a weaker performance than the ones that got raves in NYC and at the Barbican;  whether there is a pacing or staging problem in this production that smothers the catharsis in the piece; whether it's more effective done with the masks and Noh-like movement style.
I think Britten runs hot and cold. Some of his music absolutely kills me - Les Illuminations, the Serenade, Turn of the Screw, Peter Grimes, some of his chamber and orchestral music - and some of it really does leave me totally cold. I have seen two different productions of Billy Budd and at the end of both evenings I was mostly enraged by the libretto. I recognize that the score has a lot of great music, but I just can't connect with the plot and what happens in it at all.
I also got nowhere with Grimes when SFO did it in the late 20th century (although obviously others loved it, reading reviews from back then), but the SFS production in June was fantastic, one of the greatest things I've ever seen, with a shattering performance by Stuart Skelton as Grimes. Now I know what Grimes is about.
I want to say that I am perfectly fine with directors staging Curlew River conventionally, rather than following the strict instructions in the score. See Google Image Search for lots of photos of productions of Curlew River, many of them so evocative I want to be magically transported to the performances in question.

My review omits something significant; there was a fleeting moment this morning when I meant to add it, but....the singers' diction was pretty good at the start, then deteriorated badly after about fifteen or twenty minutes. I missed a lot of what was sung, and there were no supertitles. This was undoubtedly a major barrier for anyone in the hall who didn't know Curlew River already.

I also neglected to mention where that moment of catharsis is, the one that should be the big dramatic moment in Curlew River: it's when the ghost of the dead boy appears and sings along with the chorus, and the Madwoman, calmed, becomes a Mother. This is the miracle, and it's the moment that the work is moving toward.

I expect there will be more; John Marcher and I sat together, for one, and I know Patrick Vaz attended as well.

Also a Little Embarrassing

But not blind.

Licia Albanese's ability to put one over about her age has continued after her death. In the company's annual round-up of family members we've lost, San Francisco Opera's pocket obituary for the great soprano gives her birth year as 1913. Only if she lied on her naturalization papers!