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February 2008

Opera Pacific's 2008-2009 Season

October 22- November 1 2008: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
January 21-31 2009: The Grapes of Wrath
March 21-29 2009: Salomé

Opera Pacific's next season features a West Coast premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon's The Grapes of Wrath, which had its first performances last year at the Minnesota Opera. Deborah Voigt will sing Salomé, for me, this might be something worth going home to hear.

Season Brochure [PDF] | Opera Pacific Site

La Loge News

LalogeA version of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's La Loge (1874) is going on auction at Sotheby's next Tuesday. A larger likeness of Nini and Edmond in a Paris Opera box exists at the at the Courtauld Gallery in London. Interestingly, a special exhibit there entitled "Renoir at the Theatre: Looking at La Loge" begins February 21 and runs until May 25, and they are hoping whomever purchases the small painting will lend it.

I have no memory of this picture at all, though I was at the Courtauld in 1999. The gallery is pleasingly tiny, but it is quite likely I did not even go into the Impressionism and Post-Impressionism rooms. What I remember best is the very fierce looking Fra Angelico Magdalene, flanking an Imago Pietatis.

Should you decide to go, do note that there is a £5 admission fee for adults, but that this covers the special exhibit.

The Times Article | La Loge at the Courtauld Gallery

The Minnesota Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 20 2008: Il Trovatore
November 1 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
January 24 2009: Faust
February 28 2009: The Adventures of Pinocchio
April 11 2009: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

The Minnesota Opera's next season includes a U.S. premiere of Jonathan Dove's The Adventures of Pinocchio, some Mariinsky stars, and Paul Groves as Faust.

Star Tribune Article | The Minnesota Opera Site

Musicophilia Review

* Notes *
As an adolescent my two boyhood heroes were most certainly
Václav Havel and Oliver Sacks. It was around that time that I tried, in vain, to find a copy of Zahradní slavnost at my public library. It is just as well, I did not understand the play when I read it as an undergraduate. The library did, however, have Oliver Sacks' Awakenings, which I probably did not understand that well either, but made quite an impression on my young mind.

Sacks' latest book, entitled Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, is in the same engaging style as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (which, incidentally, was made into an opera) and An Anthropologist on Mars. Like the previous books, Musicophilia goes through several case studies of neurological conditions that involve music, including musical hallucinations, synesthesia and music, and musician's dystonia. However, the scope of this new book is broader, not only discussing pathologies, their disadvantages and surprising advantages, but also covers music and the human brain generally.

While organized into four major parts, at times I felt Sacks jumped around a bit. For example, Chapter 16 deals with aphasia and music therapy, but Chapter 17 abruptly goes into a short case study on dyskinesia. Nonetheless, on the whole, the book is both entertaining and instructive. I am particularly fond of the chapter on musical savants.

* Tattling *
I was disappointed the index did not include "opera," so for your amusement and consideration, I made my own entry:

     Freud and Mozart operas, 292

     Challenger, Melanie 281-282

     musical imagery involving, 241-242

     Das Rheingold, 282-283
     Dido and Aeneas, 284, 301
     Jenufa, 34-35
     La Traviata, 11, 79
     Orpheus in the Underworld, 241
     Tannhäuser, 75
     Turandot, 326
     William Tell, 103

     savantism involving, 151-152, 239

     Jenkins, Florence Foster, 100
     Tucker, Richard, 320
     Lenhoff, Gloria, 325-327

Also, I noted that the index had an entry for "Japanese speakers, see tonal languages," but the pages referred to had information on Chinese and Vietnamese speakers and absolute pitch.

Lyric Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 27- October 31 2008: Manon
October 6- November 4 2008: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
November 7-30 2008: Lulu
November 18- December 19 2008: Porgy and Bess
December 13 2008- January 29 2009: Madama Butterfly
January 19- February 28 2009: Tristan und Isolde
February 14- March 27 2009: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
March 2-28 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Lyric Opera of Chicago announced their 2008-2009 season this morning. Natalie Dessay will be singing Manon, Nathan Gunn will be Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de Perles, William Burden is Alwa in Lulu, Patricia Racette sings Butterfly, and Dolora Zajick stars in Cavalleria. The Tristan und Isolde production is the Hockney one from Los Angeles, which is being performed this season, and was at San Francisco last season. Deborah Voigt will be singing Isolde with Clifton Forbis as Tristan. Juha Uusitalo is having his Lyric Opera debut as Kurwenal. Francesca Zambello's production Porgy and Bess from Washington National Opera is also coming to San Francisco, and was performed in Los Angeles last year.

Press Release [PDF] | Lyric Opera Site

Opera in Turkmenistan

Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov, the self-styled Turkmenbashi ("Head of all Turkmens"), ruled Turkmenistan from October 27, 1990 until his death on December 21, 2006. During his reign Niyazov changed the names for months and days, closed libraries, and designed a national theme park. He also banned the ballet, circus, and opera in 2001. Thankfully, a few days ago, President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has rescinded the ban, at least for the circus and opera.

Reuters Article | New York Times Article

Portland Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 26- October 4 2008: La Traviata
November 7-15 2008: Fidelio
February 6-14 2009: The Turn of the Screw
March 13-21 2009:
La Calisto
May 8-16 2009: Rigoletto

Francesco Cavalli's La Calisto looks like one of the only Baroque options for opera on the West Coast next season.

2008-2009 Portland Opera Site

La Traviata at Lyric Opera

Chicagolatraviata* Notes *
Every performance of La Traviata has been sold-out at Lyric Opera of Chicago this January. I was unconvinced I could finagle a ticket for yesterday's matinée, as
craigslist only had people who wanted tickets and Lyric Opera does not have standing room. Yesterday the Lyric Opera site still had the warning "Individual tickets will not be available for the January performances of La traviata due to subscriber purchases and exchanges," but did say to call about tickets for the day's performance. It turned out I could not buy a ticket on the telephone, as I am not a subscriber, so I did go down to the box office in person and did not have a problem getting a ticket.

Renée Fleming seemed to be the reason for the sold-out performances, as she has not sung in an opera at Lyric for 5 years. Personally, I had found Ms. Fleming rather overrated, her intonation was poor as Rodelinda and she seemed distant as Tatiana. Also, I thought it a bit ambitious for someone to take on such a vast array of roles, it seems unlikely for anyone to be able to sing both Baroque and Romantic music really well, at least, in the same part of her career. In Act I of La Traviata, Fleming had a few wobbles, but sang "Ah, fors' è lui" beautifully until she inverted herself on the couch. I did not like her rendition of "Sempre libera," her arrpegios were unclear.

The second half, however, was nearly perfect. Matthew Polenzani (Alfredo) sang "De' miei bollenti spiriti" with great tenderness. There were a few times the orchestra overwhelmed him, but on the whole he gave a good performance. Thomas Hampson acted and sang the role of Giorgio Germont quite convincingly, the body-language in his refusal to embrace Violetta was particularly good. His aria "Di Provenza il mar" was one of the best of the performance.

Back to Ms. Fleming, she seemed much more engaged in this role than the others I had heard her in, her voice was laden with emotion, but still was perfectly in tune. Her acting was also fine, going from flirty minx to dying martyr in three acts without missing a beat.

The chorus was good save for a few seconds when the men were just slightly off from the orchestra in Act II Scene 2. The tambourine playing by some female choral members, in the same scene, was not confident. I am not sure why singers are made to do percussion, one would never make percussionists sing.

Desmond Heeley's set and costumes were traditional through and through. Fleming looked prettier in the light green dress of Act II Scene 2 than in the red velvet in Act I. The scene change in Act II took people by surprise, and an usher had to yell into the crowd that it was not an intermission. Also, I believe something went awry in the lighting of Act II Scene 1, when Germont is singing about how Violetta is still young and beautiful. A light in the garden background turned off and on a few times.

* Tattling *
The first balcony is preferable to the ground floor, the sound is better and the way the seats are arranged is such that one's view remains unobstructed by others. I noticed the dress of the audience was as relaxed as in San Francisco, I saw evening gowns and heels, but jeans and sneakers too. A woman in front of me clipped and filed one of her nails before the performance, which I have never seen before.

Audience members were noiser toward the beginning, a woman behind me pointed out the dancers to someone else rather loudly. For the most part, people only whispered, though some female adolescents did make a good deal of noise getting out their gum during the music. Apparently one of these girls knew the couple of older Russian ladies next to her, and was offered some chocolates during the second intermission. In order to eat the chocolates, she took out her gum, placed it on her finger to save it, ate the chocolate, and then put the gum back into her mouth. It was strangely endearing and horrifying at the same time.

Doctor Atomic at Lyric Opera

Dratomicchicago* Notes *
Doctor Atomic had its last performance this season at Lyric Opera of Chicago yesterday. The first half of the opera seemed much like what audiences saw in San Francisco two years ago, besides a few minor changes in the libretto and a soprano as Kitty Oppenheimer, instead of a mezzo. I had been warned that Act II was rather different, but looking at the synopsis, it certainly did not look like it would be a change in plot. Indeed, it was not, though the roles of Kitty and Pasqualita were expanded, there was more furniture, the crib was not under the bomb, and some of the choreography was changed. Even with the revisions, Act I was stronger than Act II, especially since the aria at the end of the first act, "Batter my heart, three person'd God," is particularly good. In Act II, the chorus singing "At the sight of this, your Shape stupendous" made an impression, though I find the use of the text from the Bhagavad Gita a bit boggling.

For the first half, the singing was somewhat hard for me to hear unless the singers were downstage, but I believe this was mostly due to my location in the house, off to the right and on the ground floor. When I moved toward the center after intermission, the sound improved. Richard Paul Fink was recovering from a cold, but sang Teller quite audibly and acted well. I especially love his line "The only saviors are the ham sandwiches and hot coffee," which Fink delivered with a certain archness. Jessica Rivera was convincing as Kitty Oppenheimer, though I found her voice more pleasant in her lower range. Meredith Arwady sang Pasqualita beautifully, the contralto sounded perfectly in control. Gerald Finley remained very much in the character of Oppenheimer.

The choreography annoyed me much more this time around. It was often too literal and inelegant. Oppenheimer practically mimed John Donne's words in "Batter my heart, three person'd God."

The sound coming out of the speakers at the back of the ground level was deafening, I wish I had known it would be so loud, for I would have chosen different seats or brought ear plugs. When I left the opera house I felt that strange sensation of not being able to hear exactly normally, feeling like a membrane has grown over one's ear canal.

* Tattling *
Civic Opera House is the coldest one I have been to, at least as far as the ground floor lobby is concerned. However, the colorful style is quite charming.

The pre-opera lecture was by the librettist himself, the flamboyant Peter Sellars. He discussed the Greek origins of opera, the texts used in Doctor Atomic, the history of the characters, and a rundown of what would happen during the performance. He warned the audience that "Act II is something you will really hate. It is incomprehensible and too long. Opera is the last thing in America that is too long and you can't do anything about it."

The person sitting next to me arrived only a little before the curtain rose. Somehow he placed his coat on half of my backrest, and seemed utterly bewildered that a person was sitting in his coat's seat when he saw me on it at the end of Act I. The person in front of me had his elbow almost on my knee, and when he finally moved it, it was to draw his companion to him so that their heads completely blocked my view of the stage. Said companion had bathed in perfume, and I was apparently allergic to it, as I had to suppress sniffles and coughs until I could get fresh air during intermission. Thankfully the people on my other side left after intermission, so I was able to escape both coat and perfume.

The couple behind me had never been to the opera before and had been expecting something "more like Les Mis." The young man expressed disappointment in opera as a form, he thought there would be "songs" instead of "sing-talking." I was overcome with glee at this, and wanted to tell him that Doctor Atomic is not a paragon exemplar of opera, but was able to control myself. Perhaps they thought since the opera was in English that somehow it would be "opera-lite."


ChicagorembrandtThis is my first time in Chicago, in fact, my first time to the Midwest. Other than when we visited my aunt and uncle in New Mexico, in my childhood, we rarely left California. There was the time we went to Cape Canaveral to see a space shuttle launch, a school trip to Washington D.C., a tour of gardens in Washington State and British Colombia, and a Hawai'ian vacation, in which I sullenly listened to my CD player the whole time.

Since then I've done a bit more travel, going on study abroad in Bayreuth, which wasted on me, as I did not care for Wagner at the time. At least, I was able to wander around and see significant Rembrandt or Dürer collections. So I did manage to get to half a dozen Western European capitals, though I also went to Prague, as it was nearby.

I did not make it to New York until after college. I certainly was impressed by the Metropolitan Opera, detailing this in my rather embarrassing reviews of Le Nozze di Figaro and War and Peace.

At any rate, I am presently in Chicago, and am colder than I have been in years. I had forgotten how -14 C hurts the face. Yesterday I ventured over to The Art Institute of Chicago, with the sole purpose of seeing their Old Man in a Gorget and Black Cap, circa 1631. This oil on panel is 83.1 centimeters high and 75.7 centimeters long. This tronie is all one could want of an early Rembrandt: fanciful dress, strong composition, nobility of character, beautifully rendered textures, and a stately palette. None of Pieter Lastman's lurid floridness remains.

The painting is from the same period as the portrait of Joris de Caulerii at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. There are many familiar elements in the Chicago painting, for one, the model appears more than once in Rembrandt's work, for instance, Scholar in His Study, 1634 in Prague. The gorget is the same as the one in the Nuremberg self-portrait, the slashed black beret shows up in the Scene of the Prodigal Son in the Tavern in Dresden, the chain is worn by Rembrandt in his circa 1630-1631 self-portrait now in Liverpool.

As I sat in Gallery 208, I could hear the tour guide speaking on some 14th century anonymous paintings of female saints from the Netherlands and South Germany in the next room. I heard him explain the legend of St. Ursula and the attributes of Mary Magdalene. I was curious to hear what he would say about Rembrandt, but the tour simply walked through the room to another gallery entirely. I found A Lady Reading (Saint Mary Magdalene), circa 1520/40 to be more to my liking than the Triptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints, 1505/15, though the plants and birds of the latter are lovely.

I only made a cursory tour of the rest of the museum and would especially like to look at the classical art and The Ayala Altarpiece more carefully. It is quite a collection. Even I was taken aback by the large number of Monet wheatstack paintings, they look like muffins to me and this is just so pleasing. Back home we only have the one at the Getty.

The only exhibition I saw was Girls on the Verge: Portraits of Adolescence, which made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Rineke Dijkstra's photographs of girls in bathing suits were particularly unsettling.

Gossip on SF Opera's 2009-2010 Season

It is early to speculate, but gossip has been flying around about San Francisco Opera productions beyond the 2008-2009 season that was just announced.

Starting with the press release [PDF], Peter Grimes will be performed in 2009-2010, conducted by Donald Runnicles. He'll also return for the presentation of whole Ring, which I heard will not be done until 2011, because of scheduling conflicts. Nina Stemme shall be singing Sieglinde, and the SF Chronicle says that Torsten Kerl is being considered for Siegfried.

La Fanciulla del West was supposed to be in the 2006-2007 season, but was replaced by Die Fledermaus. The Chronicle reported that Fanciulla is slated for 2009-2010, Salvatore Licitra will sing Dick Johnson/Ramerrez. I heard a rumor that Deborah Voigt will be singing Minnie.

Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick will be at San Francisco Opera some time after its premiere in the Spring of 2010.

Other unsubstantiated possibilities include Il Trovatore with Sondra Radvanovsky, Stephanie Blythe, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Marco Berti; Il Trittico with Patricia Racette and Paolo Gavenelli; The Makropoulos Case with Karita Mattila; and Salomé with Nadja Michael.