San Francisco Symphony presenting Hitchcock's Vertigo with the score being played live by the orchestra this Friday and Saturday. We spoke to SF Symphony's Associate Director of Artistic Planning Richard Lonsdorf, who programmed the film series.
There have often been silent films with the scores played live around Halloween for some years, but The San Francisco Symphony film series started in 2013-14, was it with the Hitchcock film week? How did this come about?
The film series came about for a few reasons, first and foremost out of a desire to find new audiences and bring some more multimedia elements to the symphony experience. Around this time, many of the independent producers we work with were beginning to develop symphonic film projects, so it seemed possible to put a stake in the ground around films with orchestra as an "evergreen" project. There were a critical mass of Hitchcock titles back in 2013, so that was a great place to start. Hitchcock was also famous for making the music a central character in his narratives, which comes off beautifully in this context. The available titles have only grown since then, so it's an exciting project every year to whittle them down into the ones we select for our audiences.
What is the place of a film series like this in the larger scope of the San Francisco Symphony season? Is it meant to draw a different audience than the typical classical music concert goer?
We do hope to find new audiences with this series, and so far, it seems we have! The way I see it, for people who are unfamiliar with symphonic repertoire, connecting our wonderful orchestra to a beloved film with a great score is a perfect "first step" for someone to come and see us. We know they'll come away with a great experience and a familiarity with what a visit to the Symphony entails, which leads to less of a "threshold fear" about visiting us in the future.
Are there specific reasons you are revisiting Vertigo beyond the obvious fact that it is set in San Francisco?
Its San Francisco setting is the main reason it's coming back so soon! It's also one of the best film scores of all time and a great film overall, but much like we revisit favorite classical masterworks from time to time, I think it's appropriate to have a few local favorite films reappear. I'm certainly excited to see and hear it again!
Are there particular technical challenges with having the Symphony play with a film that isn't silent and usually isn't accompanied by a live orchestra?
There's a lot of technical wizardry involved in scrubbing the soundtrack from the film print so that we are just left with the dialogue and sound effects, and honestly, I'm far from the best person to articulate exactly how that is achieved! But once you have a "clean" print, there are a series of visual signals the conductor follows on a special screen by the podium (you can watch for these during the performances), in addition to a "click track" (or metronome pulse) in the ears of all the players for certain projects. These technologies were all developed to help synchronize the orchestra with the film and are in fact very similar to how films scores are recorded in the studio as well.
It's delightful that Kim Novak is going to be at Davies for a pre-concert conversation with Steven Winn. How did you convince her to speak before the presentation?
She approached us, actually! She doesn't live too far from the Bay Area, and so she got in touch about attending the screenings (the second performance falls on her birthday). Our conversation evolved into sharing some of her experiences with our audiences, and Steven Winn is the perfect moderator for that conversation. We all think it will be great fun and an exciting opportunity to hear from a legendary actress about an iconic film.
Adelaide Boedecker, Sarasota, Florida
Sarah Cambidge, Vancouver, Canada
Teresa Castillo, Denver, Colorado
Yelena Dyachek, Vinnytsya, Ukraine
Mary Evelyn Hangley, Long Beach, New York
Shannon Jennings, Orlando, Florida
Jana McIntyre, Santa Barbara, California
Tara Curtis, Kansas City, Missouri
Chelsey Geeting, Portland, Maine
Taylor Raven, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Alexandra Schenck, Long Beach, California
Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Brooklyn, New York
Isaac Frishman, Omaha, Nebraska
Josh Lovell, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Brian Michael Moore, Cincinnati, Ohio
Amitai Pati, Auckland, New Zealand
Boris Van Druff, Olean, New York
Kyle van Schoonhoven, Lockport, New York
Andrew G. Manea, Troy, Michigan
Nicholas Boragno, Newport Beach, California
Cody Quattlebaum, Ellicott City, Maryland
Josh Quinn, Tampa, Florida
Matthew Anchel, New York, New York
Jonathan Brandani, Lucca, Italy
John Elam, Cleburne, Texas
Noah Palmer, Baltimore, Maryland
SNicolò Sbuelz, Udine, Italy
Jennifer Szeto, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Apprentice Stage Director
Aria Umezawa, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Schwabacher Summer Concert at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is on Thursday, July 7. The free outdoor afternoon Schwabacher will be held at Yerba Buena Gardens on Saturday, July 9.
The Merola artists perform Conrad Susa's Transformations on Thursday, July 21 and Saturday, July 23 and Mozart's Così fan tutte on Thursday, August 4 and Saturday, August 6. All of these operas are to be performed at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
The season ends with the participants singing in the annual Merola Grand Finale on Saturday, August 20 at the War Memorial Opera House.
September 17- October 16 2016: Macbeth
October 19-23 2016: Ted Hearne's The Source
October 29-31 2016: Nosferatu with score from Matthew Aucoin
November 5-27 2016: Akhnaten
December 2-5 2016 Bernstein's Wonderful Town (semi-staged)
January 28- February 19 2017: The Abduction from the Seraglio
February 18- March 19 2017: Salome
March 25- April 8 2017: The Tales of Hoffmann
April 22- May 13 2017: Tosca
June 15-18 2017: Kamala Sankaram's Thumbprint
September 9-30 2016: Andrea Chénier
September 10-29 2016: Dream of the Red Chamber
September 28- October 15 2016: Don Pasquale
October 14-29 2016: The Makropulos Case
November 5- December 6 2016: Aida
November 6- December 4 2016: Madama Butterfly
May 31- July 1 2017: Rigoletto
June 4-30 2017: Don Giovanni
June 10-July 2 2017: La Bohème
David Gockley announced the next season at San Francisco Opera today. Lawrence Brownlee has an SF Opera debut in Don Pasquale. Nadja Michael stars in Makropulos. Ildebrando D'Arcangelo sings the title role of Don Giovanni next year and Marc Minkowski conducts.
Ted Hearne's The Source and Poulenc's La Voix Humane will be performed at the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater next year in February and March.
* Tattling *
There was a fair amount of inappropriate laughter at the Gordon Getty piece, but this was more about staging than music. Also the use of "Eddie" to refer to Poe struck some as amusing. Many people around me seemed clearly bored, the man next to me in Row J Seat 7 nearly fell asleep.
The double bill of The Fall of the House of Usher at San Francisco Opera is unspeakably dull.
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Ellie Dehn (pictured left) replaces Nadine Sierra as Micaëla in the first cast of San Francisco Opera's Carmen, which opens May 27, 2016. Tenor Maxim Aksenov makes his War Memorial Opera House debut in the alternate cast as Don José replacing Riccardo Massi. Both Sierra and Massi are withdrawing for personal reasons. Jordi Bernàcer will replace conductor Carlo Montanaro for the final performance on July 3.
Soprano Ana María Martínez sings the role of Elisabetta di Valois in SF Opera's Don Carlo, replacing Krassimira Stoyanova who has cancelled because of "ongoing health concerns that prevent her from traveling long distances." Bass-baritone Ferruccio Furlanetto will sing the role of King Philip II in the final performance of Don Carlo on June 29, in lieu of René Pape who has a scheduling conflict. As planned, Mr. Pape will sing the first five performances on June 12, 15, 18, 21 and 24.
* Notes *
A revival of Emilio Sagi's busy production of Il barbiere di Siviglia (Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) returned to San Francisco Opera after only two years. The proceedings last night did not come into focus until the finale of Act I, but the result was a definitive success, unlike much of what has gone on this season.
The director this time around is Roy Rallo, but the production was fairly close to Sagi's original work. One such subtle change was the guitar in the serenade was given to someone in the orchestra pit rather than being played by Almaviva. Llorenc Corbella's set is great for changing the scenes but it is hard to tell what is inside and what is outside, it is a platform with a few walls on the left side of the stage. Objects and people can enter and exit from under the platform, but this often felt a bit random, as during Don Basilio's La Calunnia aria, when a white curtain noisily appears under the platform and is blown across the right side of the stage. The main part of the set is also quite white, as are many of the costumes, so the end, which has lots of bright shawls, mylar balloons, cotton candy, confetti, and firework projections, is a happy contrast.
Maestro Giuseppe Finzi had the lively orchestra going at a fast clip and there were times were rather loud, especially during Act I. It was difficult to hear "Largo al factotum," even though Lucas Meachem (Figaro) ordinarily has a strapping sound. Meachem occasionally sounded out of breath, but he is a fine actor and is funny. Daniela Mack is a cheeky, charming Rosina. Her voice is not to my taste for some reason, something about her vibrato and the resonances of her sound, but she is competent and again, acts well. René Barbera is a wonderful Almaviva, his bright voice has a beautiful consistency from top to bottom. His coloratura is gorgeous.
Everyone sang nicely together, and the ensembles were a joy. The supporting cast is solid. Alessandro Corbelli is always impressive as Doctor Bartolo, his patter is excellent. Catherine Cook is a delight as Berta, as is Andrea Silvestrelli as Don Basilio.
* Tattling *
The balcony was full for the night before Thanksgiving performance. There was some talking from old and young alike, but the audience seemed engaged and interested.
* Notes *
Let's not beat around the bush on this one, San Francisco Opera's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is very long and not for the faint of heart. Maestro Mark Elder's style is glacial, and while every single beautiful note is heard, it seemed tough on both the orchestra and the singers. Coupled with the attractive but tame production, it can make for a monotonous evening despite the gorgeous singing.
The exceedingly slow tempi are stately and Elder certainly had control of the orchestra. Playing that unhurriedly does seem to wear on the musicians though, and there was an obvious mistake by the oboe player in Act II and a painful brass blooper in Act III. Quite a surprise, given the oboist normally plays very beautifully and in this piece, the brass did really well otherwise. The singers got ahead of the orchestra, which is a distinct rarity.
The production by David McVicar is mild. The action happens under a fancy vaulted ceiling the whole time, with other elements to change the scenes. The switch from Hans Sachs' house in Act III Scene 1 to the festival banks of the River Pegnitz (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) in Scene 2 was wonderfully quiet. The costumes look like pretty cast-offs from a film adapted from Jane Austen, so it seems the setting is updated a few centuries. The choreography of the chorus in the first two acts is a bit on the silly side, and doesn't quite match the music or the setting. All that said, the production did not get in the way of Wagner's opera. It could have been funnier though.
The cast has a lot to recommend it. The bright tones of Sasha Cooke (Magdelena) and Alek Shrader (David) cut through the orchestration. Cooke has a particularly lovely voice, and one only wanted to hear more of her, the role being relatively small. As Eva, Rachel Willis-Sørensen has a cold, piercing sound but isn't nearly as grating or scary as some Wagnerian sopranos.
I really loved Martin Gantner as Beckmesser, his characterization is spot on and his voice has such pretty resonances. Brandon Jovanovich cuts a bold figure as Walther von Stolzing, he was fighting a cold during the first performance, which wasn't announced until before Act III. He almost lost it at the end of his big Act I aria, but managed to keep it together. He sounded tentative in the final act, but did sing the whole role.
James Rutherford is an impressive Hans Sachs, his voice has much vigor. He might sound a touch youthful for the role but he gave an imposing and solid performance.
* Tattling *
There was hardly anyone in the last rows of the balcony, and it was easy to see the stage from standing room. Someone a few rows ahead of the very back of the house had her flashlight on for the beginning of the opera, but her companion slapped her hand and insisted she put it away.
Some of the house staff was at the back of the balcony listening to the end of the opera, but one of their walkie-talkies sounded and they hurried away before they could hear the finale.
Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera in the Veterans Building's fourth floor and basement opens February 28, 2016. The 300 seat theater named for Dianne and Tad Taube will host the Schwabacher Debut Recital Series, three performances from the newly formed producing division of the San Francisco Opera called SF Opera Lab, two concerts of chamber works played by SF Opera Orchestra musicians, and Deborah Voigt's one woman show Voigt Lessons.
SF Opera Lab's first season features Schubert's Winterreise performed by baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser with 24 short films by William Kentridge, Ana Sokolović's a cappella chamber opera for six women Svadba–Wedding, and The Triplets of Belleville with live musical accompaniment by Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville with composer-conductor Benoît Charest.