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February 2012
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April 2012

SFCM's Così fan tutte

Cosi fan tutte* Notes *
San Francisco Conservatory of Music's spring opera this year is Così fan tutte (Sergio González, Kate Allen, Julie Adams, and Efraín Solís pictured left in Act I, photograph by Betsy Kershner), which opened at Cowell Theater last night. The orchestra was lead by the resident conductor of San Francisco Opera, Giuseppe Finzi, who kept the students together despite the challenges of the space. The tempi were rapid, perhaps even somewhat rushed, but the playing approached a certain crispness not usually heard in Cowell, as the pit is not ideal.

The singers were all quite game, acting and singing with exuberance. Randall Bunnell (Don Alfonso) sounded light and fresh. Sergio González may have sung the role of Ferrando rather gingerly at times, but made it all the way through the piece without a problem. Efraín Solís sang Guglielmo with richness and volume. Julie Adams (Fiordiligi) has lovely high notes, though her low ones lack the same pleasant resonances. Kate Allen (Dorabella) has a strong, pretty voice. Soprano Maya Kherani was a charming, engaging Despina, and really hammed it up as the Doctor and the Notary.

The production, directed by Heather Mathews, is frothy and silly. Perhaps this is most appropriate for students, but it did not leave much room for the characters to develop. The set involves various arches, pillars, and such that could be turned around or pulled here and there to change the scenes. There were a lot of whimsical details, such as apparent trios of winged jelly donuts atop each of the two arches. The choreography was similarly cute. The chorus did have some trouble marching on beat for "Bella vita militar," but otherwise the movements and gestures all read well.

* Tattling *
There was some sort of frilly painted piece of wood at the beginning of Act II, Scene 1 that I was not able to make sense of, at first it seemed like a bed, but then Despina walked behind it. Perhaps it was a bathtub? In any case, I didn't understand why Fiordiligi and Dorabella would be wearing shoes in either a bed or a bathtub.

Adlers to sing Love/Hate at ODC Theater

Adlers 4It seems to be the season for contemporary opera in San Francisco, as Erling Wold's Certitude and Joy and David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion had both opened last week. San Francisco Opera Center and ODC Theater are also presenting a world premiere of Love/Hate. This chamber opera, by composer Jack Perla and librettist Rob Bailis, will be performed three times between April 12 and 15. The performances will feature soprano Marina Harris, mezzo-soprano Laura Krumm (pictured left, photograph by Laura Kudritzky), tenor Thomas Glenn, and baritone Ao Li.

Production Site | San Francisco Opera Center

Bayerische Staatsoper's 2012-2013 Season

September 23 2012- June 29 2013: Tannhäuser
September 30- October 30 2012: Fidelio
October 7 2012- July 24 2013: Tosca
October 27 2012- July 21 2013: Babylon
October 28- November 4 2012: Dialogues des Carmélites
November 5-16 2012: Rusalka
November 11 2012- July 3 2013: Lohengrin
November 22- December 1 2012: Turandot
November 24- December 8 2012: Die Zauberflöte
December 6 2012- July 20 2013: La bohème
December 15 2012- July 24 2013: Rigoletto
December 16-22 2012: Hänsel und Gretel (1965 Production)
December 23 2012- January 4 2013: Aida
January 31 2012: Die Fledermaus
January 5- July 13 2013: Das Rheingold
January 6- July 14 2013: Die Walküre
January 9- July 15 2013: Siegfried
January 10-20 2013: Lucrezia Borgia
January 13- July 18 2013: Götterdämmerung
January 14-19 2013: Madama Butterfly
January 29- February 6 2013: Carmen
February 9-16 2013: Il barbiere di Siviglia
February 13- July 30 2013: Boris Godunow
February 18-24 2013: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
March 3- July 11 2013: Tristan und Isolde
March 6-16 2013: Jenufa
March 17- July 10 2013: Ariadne auf Naxos
March 24- April 4 2013: Hänsel und Gretel (New Production)
March 28- July 31 2013: Parsifal
March 31- July 16 2013: Otello
April 14- June 28 2013: Der fliegende Holländer
April 30- May 4 2013: L'elisir d'amore
May 3-12 2013: Don Giovanni
May 3-9 2013: Elegie für junge Liebende
May 5- July 29 2013: Macbeth
May 18- July 23 2013: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
May 20- July 9 2013: La Traviata
June 3- July 12 2013: Simon Boccanegra
June 27- July 8 2013: Il Trovatore
July 6 2013: Falstaff
July 23-27 2013: Written on Skin
July 25-28 2013: Don Carlo

The 2012-2013 season for Bayerische Staatsoper was announced on March 12, 2012.

Official Site | 2012-2013 Premieres

James Gaffigan named Principal Guest Conductor of Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

GaffiganJames Gaffigan has been named Principal Guest Conductor of the Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne (Gürzenich-Orchester Köln), starting with the 2012-2013 season. Gaffigan is currently the Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. He was the Associate Conductor of San Francisco Symphony from 2006 to 2009.

James Gaffigan's Official Site | Gürzenich-Orchester Köln's Official Site

Dawn Harms conducts Symphony Parnassus

Timthumb* Notes *
The amateur musicians of Symphony Parnassus barely all fit on the stage of San Francisco Conservatory of Music's Concert Hall yesterday afternoon. The performance began with Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. The playing was not entirely clear but was quite hearty. Before the Der Rosenkavalier Suite and excerpts from that opera, conductor Dawn Harms announced that Frederica von Stade would not being singing, due to a medical emergency in the family. Soprano Melody Moore (Marschallin) had gamely offered to sing von Stade's part in "Ist ein Traum / Spür' nur dich" with Nadine Sierra (Sophie). Both have lovely voices, and Moore did pretty well with Octavian. Concertmaster Robin Mayforth and the rest of the orchestra sounded robust and flowed nicely.

There was much to sort out before Clarice Assad's "SCATTERED," a concerto for scat singing, piano, and orchestra. A piano had to be brought on stage, as did an extensive drum set. The microphone set up for Assad was not operational, so another was used. Unfortunately this new one did not fit in the given stand, and someone had to simply hold it for Assad, since her hands were not free for most of the first movement. The piece did have a lot of appeal, Assad's playing and singing were strong, as was Keita Ogawa's percussion. The orchestra played with spirit.

The second half of the program consisted of Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 (1930), known as quite appropriately as "Romantic." The playing was very pretty. Harms accidently threw her baton in between the violas and celli at one point in the second movement, but recovered quickly. Despite not going as expected, the performance was endearing.

* Tattling *
The audience was occasionally restless, and there was light talking at certain moments.

The Little Match Girl Passion at SF Lyric Opera

Little-match-girl-passion-sf-lyric-opera* Notes *
San Francisco Lyric Opera returned after a hiatus of more than two years with a performance of David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion at ODC Theater last night. The new incarnation of this ensemble is sleek and fresh. Lang's piece is scored for four voices and half a dozen percussive instruments, but it is the singers that are meant to play the drums or bells. A conductor is necessary in this case, and Barnaby Palmer kept the music mostly together. The singers were lightly amplified and sounded ethereal. They did well with the simple percussion, but it did not seem like second nature to them to be playing and singing.

It is always a pleasure to hear Eugene Brancoveanu, though his part was not extensive in this piece. Tenor Eric Maggay Tuan's voice was pretty and clear. Celeste Winant (alto) had the most prominent vocal role, and sang with beauty. Soprano Ann Moss sang gracefully and blended nicely with Winant.

The production, designed by Frédéric Boulay (of Ensemble Parallèle) and directed by E.E. "Chip" Grant IV (of Urban Opera), is unflinching and effective. It was striking how unlike this was from SF Lyric Opera's cute, slightly musty fare in years past. The black and white video projections interspersed with purple lighting were tasteful. Anastazia Louise's choreography was eerie, enhanced by her white painted face and limbs, and her white, ragged costume. Her complete commitment to every movement was evident.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet, only a few whispers were heard near the beginning of the piece. Despite being threatened to be "hunted down like a bird dog" if one's cellular phone rang, one electronic tone was heard as the singers sang "God have mercy."

Spring For Music Blog Contest

Cupcake-trovatoreThe Spring For Music festival in New York is holding an arts blogger challenge that involves answering various questions on a weekly basis for a month. Though I am not much for competition or contests, this seems fairly harmless and the possibilities for the earnest and absurd are promising. The first question posed, apparently due today, is "New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?" My initial reaction to this query is simply that it seems somewhat broad and also rather loaded.

New York City has a population upwards of eight million inhabitants, the most populous in North America. It has more than twice the number of people than the next largest metropolis, Los Angeles. It would be very odd indeed if New York were not the center of arts and culture, given this alone. With so many people packed into 321 square miles, even the sheer number of people whose deictic center is New York is impressive.

Even if one were to argue that New York is not the cultural capital of the United States, it seems difficult to back up the claim of another single place. Let us just take opera companies as an example. The Metropolitan Opera held 289 performances in 2009 and had total operating expenses of $266,400,000. In contrast, San Francisco Opera (which has made claims to being the second biggest opera company in North America) held about 89 performances and had an annual operating budget of $67,806,615 in Fiscal Year 2009.

It is interesting to note, however, that the Met's 2008-2009 report highlights the debuts of three famous directors, namely Robert Lepage, David McVicar, and Penny Woolcock. Perhaps it doesn't signify much, but both Lepage and McVicar had productions (The Rake's Progress and Don Giovanni, respectively) at San Francisco Opera before 2008. McVicar's Il Trovatore (pictured above in a cupcake rendering) debuted at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2006, was performed at the Met in 2008, and came to San Francisco in 2009. It is also funny that the Woolcock production was of Doctor Atomic, the opera itself having premiered in San Francisco.

Another strange fact about the cultural power of New York is that it seems not to have imposed its dialect on the rest of the country. Standard American English is based on accents of the Midwest (that is, away from New York), while British Received Pronunciation is comes from the south of England and Standard French is more or less Parisian.

To be clear, these are just asides. New York City is home to unrivaled arts and cultural organizations, drawing in tons of people from everywhere as tourists or residents. It is rather bizarre to take the time to muse on something so self-evident, but I suppose a little navel-gazing never hurt anyone.

Erling Wold's Certitude and Joy

Certitude-and-joy* Notes *
Erling Wold's chamber opera Certitude and Joy opened at Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco this evening. The piece involves several pairs, these being two actors, two dancers, two singers, and two pianists. The action, directed by Jim Cave, took place on and around a small, beautifully-constructed pier in the middle of the theater. The work certainly had a lot going on, every moment seemed filled with sound and movement.

It seemed like a lot of words since the actors (Bob Ernst and Talya Patrick; the latter pictured above, photograph by David Papas) and even dancers (Kerry Mehling and Travis Rowland) all spoke, sang, or vocalized at various times. Soprano Laura Bohn and baritone Jo Vincent Parks sang well in the small space and were not overwhelming. The ZOFO duet, which includes Keisuke Nakagoshi and Eva-Maria Zimmerman, played intently and with vigor.

The effect of all this was rather novel and strangely alien. The narrative concerns LaShaun Harris, the young woman who threw her three children into the Bay in 2005. Though she seems quite pitiful, she is not a particularly sympathetic individual. One did appreciate the interlaying of the Abraham and Isaac story, which is obviously relevant. There were also some arresting visuals employing leaps, lifts, falls, and fabric.

* Tattling *
The audience was engaged and attentive. No inappropriate behavior was noted.

Dawn Harms Interview

Dawn-harmsDawn Harms is conducting Symphony Parnassus in a spring concert this weekend with guest artist Frederica von Stade at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Harms also plays violin in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and is Associate Concertmaster of New Century Chamber Orchestra. She spoke with The Opera Tattler on March 19, 2012.

How did you come to be a violinist?
My parents always wanted a violinist in the family. My sister played cello, my brother played viola, and my mother was a voice teacher. I still remember a lot of the etudes and exercises she taught me. She was my accompanist when I was growing up too.

So you are from a musical family! I heard that one of your cousins is Tom Waits, is that true?
Yes, our mothers are sisters. Tom is a great guy. I've played on three of his albums. He'll often tell me that my playing is too sweet, and that I should play more like a child, rough it up more. He really loves the weirdest sounds!

How did you start playing for the opera?
I was in a string quartet in Amarillo, Texas, and that's only 4 hours away from Santa Fe Opera, so I auditioned and played there for 5 summers. The atmosphere there is really something.

How did you meet Frederica von Stade?
It was actually in Santa Fe, and because of recycling. It was early in the morning after a party, and I was recycling some bottles. I happened to see Flicka and introduced myself. She was and is so gracious and down-to-earth.

When did you come to San Francisco?
San Francisco Opera had an opening for the principal violist. I auditioned, and actually, I didn't get the position, the current principal, Carla Maria Rodrigues, did. She couldn't start right away though, so I played principal viola for one season, and then switched to violin.

What appeals to you about opera?
Who doesn't love drama? My favorite operas are Der Rosenkavalier and Peter Grimes. I tend toward the more dramatic. I'm a Puccini freak and also I love Jake Heggie's music.

How is working with other string players different than working with singers?
Playing a string instrument is similar to singing. It is an analogy I use with my students at Stanford, and I have them sing phrases. It helps them connect to the music and emote. The bow is like a vocal cord.

How did you start conducting?
I studied conducting in 2008 at Aspen, for an intensive 9 weeks. It was great to conduct such a fantastic orchestra.

What do you like about conducting?
A lot of people think conducting is about power and egotism, but I would say it is a bit more like dance. It is expressing music through movement, and the whole orchestra becomes your instrument.

Tell me about Symphony Parnassus.
It is a community orchestra made up of doctors, health care workers, and students from UCSF. People have to pay dues in order to join, and they are there for the love of the music. They are very devoted, rehearsing every Monday night after a full day of work.

A Celebration of Bay Area Music at UUSF


* Notes *
Clarinetist Brenden Guy presented a genial afternoon of Bay Area music at First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Francisco on Sunday. The performance began with David Conte's rather lyrical Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1978), played by Guy and pianist Miles Graber. Valinor Winds played Nicholas Pavkovic's Eight Figments (2010), whose movements all sounded just as they were named. John Adams' China Gates were introduced and played by pianist Sarah Cahill, who brought the original score, but only used it toward the end of the piece. Before intermission came Joseph Stillwell's Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano (2012). Guy, violinist Kevin Rogers, cellist Erin Wang, and pianist Aaron Pike played the piece with exuberance.

The second half of the program started with Aaron Pike's Child's Play (2011), played by Rogers, Guy, and Pike. This seemed like fun to perform. Barnaby Palmer conducted Rogers, cellist Michelle Kwon, flutist Sasha Launer, Guy, and Graber in Dan Becker's Chaos Theory-inspired S.T.I.C. (1995). This was followed by Rogers playing Nigun - No. 2 from Baal Shem Suite by Bloch, accompanied by Graber. The piece was startling in contrast with the other more recent music, but was performed beautifully. The concert ended with Conte's Sextet (1999, arranged 2011), which the composer introduced. He explained that he initially had wanted Palmer to conduct this as well, as there are 100 meter changes in this 8 minute piece. However, Conte found that the way the musicians listened to one another made a maestro unnecessary.

* Tattling *
Because the American Mavericks concert at 2pm last Sunday ran until 4:15pm, it was a challenge for me and Axel Feldheim to run to this concert. We did make it exactly at 4:30pm.

The audience was rather silent. The acoustic this space made the piano sound slightly muddy.

American Mavericks: Monk, Reich, Foss, & Del Tredici


* Notes * 
The American Mavericks Festival at San Francisco Symphony had one last performance yesterday before heading on tour. The chamber music program included pieces by Steve Reich, Meredith Monk (pictured left), Lukas Foss, and David Del Tredici. The afternoon began with Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood (1973), which was played by Jack Van Geem, Raymond Froehlich, David Herbert, Tom Hemphill, and James Lee Wyatt III. These five musicians used claves of varying sizes to hit out various patterns. One person would start and then the others would join in one by one. It seemed simultaneously very simple and very complex, and the effect was meditative and pleasing.

The second piece that followed was newest by nearly forty years, in fact this was the first performance of Monk's Realm Variations (2012). The instrumentalists included Catherine Payne, piccolo; Nadja Tichman, violin; Adam Smyla, viola; Bruce Roberts, horn; Stephen Paulson, bassoon; Steve Sánchez, contrabass clarinet and B-flat clarinet; and Jieyin Wu, harp. Payne was featured, along with the voices of Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble. Monk's alto is distinctive, and was easily picked out from the other five voices. The music has an elemental quality to it, at times serene, and at others rather strident.

After the intermission came Foss' Echoi, which included the talents of Jeremy Denk, piano; Jack Van Geem, percussion; Carey Bell, clarinet; and Peter Wyrick, cello. The music was seemed rather fun to play, and third movement was perhaps most amusing. Denk plays in a showy manner, but it suited the piece just fine.

The final work was Del Tredici's Syzygy, scored for 21 musicians, including a soprano. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the two contrast-filled songs, settings of poems by James Joyce. Kiera Duffy's voice seemed icy and hard, the amplification made her sound a bit harsh. Nicole Cash's horn playing was rather warm and round.

There was a lot of talking, and many people were sternly hushed. The woman in front of me in W 19 loudly asked both the people around her if the Reich "was good." Perhaps if she had bothered to listen, she could have formed her own opinion.

Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions 2012


The 2012 winners (pictured left, photograph by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions are soprano Janai Brugger; mezzo-soprano Margaret Mezzacappa; countertenor Andrey Nemzer; tenor Matthew Grill; and baritone Anthony Clark Evans. Brugger is currently a young artist in the Domingo-Thorton program at Los Angeles Opera.

Official Site

SF Opera Annual Meeting 2012


* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Annual Meeting for 2012 was held Thursday afternoon at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco. Board of Directors President George H. Hume, CFO Michael Simpson, and General Director David Gockley all spoke. The outlook this year is better, though the company did run a deficit again, donations are up and they expect to break even in 2013. The most interesting plan we heard about was the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, which is to be built on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building in the War Memorial complex. This will provide space to house most of the opera's operations including the costume shop, space for rehearsals, and a small performance venue. There will also be room to house an archive of San Francisco Opera's recordings on various media.

Four Adlers performed: soprano Marina Harris; mezzo sopranos Laura Krumm and Renée Rapier; and pianist Robert Mollicone. Rapier sang "All' afflitto" from Roberto Devereux , Harris sang "Einsam in trüben Tagen," from Lohengrin, and Krumm sang "Quis fais-tu, blanche tourterelle" from Roméo et Juliette.

* Tattling *
Somehow I managed to spill ink all over both my hands at the very beginning of the meeting. The people next to me offered me tissues and wipes. Three mobile phones rang at different points during the proceedings.

Opéra National de Paris' 2012-2013 Season

September 7- October 3 2012: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
September 8-27 2012: Capriccio
September 15- October 25 2012: Le Nozze di Figaro
October 10-30 2012: The Rake's Progress
October 15- November 11 2012: La Fille du régiment
October 23- November 20 2012: Tosca
November 22 2012- March 25 2013: La Cenerentola
December 4-29 2012: Carmen
January 22- February 9 2013: Khovanshchina
January 23- February 13 2013: Le Nain / L'Enfant et les sortilèges
January 29- February 12 2013: Das Rheingold
February 17- March 10 2013: Die Walküre
February 27- March 24 2013: Falstaff
March 21- April 15 2013: Siefried
April 14- May 6 2013: Hänsel et Gretel
May 2-31 2013: La Gioconda
May 21- June 16 2013: Götterdämmerung
May 23- June 18 2013: Giulio Cesare
June 18-26 2013: Der Ring des Nibelungen

Official Site | 2012-2013 Season

PBO's 2012-2013 Season

October 5-7 2012: Purcell's Come Ye Sons of Art & Dioclesian
November 7-11 2012: Emanuel Ax plays Beethoven
December 8-9 2012: Masaaki Suzuki conducts Händel's Messiah
December 13-16 2012: Masaaki Suzuki conducts Bach
January 12-16 2013: Four Seasons Tour
February 13-17 2013: Haydn, J.C. Bach, Mozart
March 15-20 2013: Rachel Podger, violin and leader
April 10-14 2013: Händel's Teseo

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's 2012-2013 season was announced on 13 March 2012. PBO will tour Carmel, La Jolla, and Palo Alto with a program that includes Vivaldi's Le quattro stagioni.

Official Site