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ABS Performs Alexander's Feast

Abs-alexanders-feast-2016* Notes *
American Bach Soloists gave a splendid performance of the fittingly titled Alexander's Feast, or The Power of Music yesterday afternoon in San Francisco. The oratorio by Händel is adapted from John Dryden's ode for Saint Cecilia's Day of the same name.

ABS was played with the composer's Concerto in B-Flat Major for Harp after the second recitative and Concerto Grosso in C Major before Part Two. The harp concerto was especially impressive. Maria Christina Cleary played the triple harp with a fearless and sparkling intensity.

Maestro Jeffrey Thomas kept the proceedings clean and neat. Only the horns had a brief misstep in the middle of the first half, but regained their footing as far as intonation is concerned. The chorus sounded robust and cohesive.

Tenor Aaron Sheehan sounded bright and had some incredible breath control as was evidenced by his first air, "Happy, Happy, happy Pair!" He was fittingly strident in "War, he sung, is Toil and trouble." I also liked soprano Anna Gorbachyova, who has an icy, resonant sound. Baritone William Sharp could be gravelly and thin in his lower register but was otherwise fine.

* Tattling *
The rows and seats in the balcony of St. Mark's were unmarked because of a problem with a printer, leading to a fair amount of confusion that was resolved by a helpful usher.

Beeps and rings were heard during both halves of the performance.

Atrium Theater's Inaugural Event

Sfoperalab-qa* Notes *
SF Opera Lab held the first event at the new Taube Atrium Theater last night. The evening was open to certain San Francisco Opera donors but involved having to call the box office to reserve tickets, as the space only has 299 seats.

The theater is part of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, which consolidates SF Opera's operations on the fourth floor and basement of the Veterans Building. The space, which originally housed SFMOMA, includes an education studio that can also be used as a rehearsal venue, a costume studio, the San Francisco Opera Archive, exhibition galleries, and administrative offices. The opera moved in two weeks ago, though not everything is quite done, there has been painting and such in the interim.

The performance ended up being a salon curated by members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, part of SF Opera Lab's ChamberWORKS series. The intimate setting had a casual feel, performers addressed the audience and introduced many of the pieces. There was no printed program, instead titles were projected over digital wallpapers from the Cooper Hewitt.

The performance started with cellist Thalia Moore playing Vivaldi's Sonata No. 6 in B flat major, RV 46 accompanied by Adler Fellow Ronny Michael Greenberg on harpsichord who were joined by flutist Stephanie McNab, percussionist Rick Kvistad, and mezzo-soprano Adler Zanda Švēde, who sang a setting of ten Shakespeare sonnets to music by Pauls Miervaldis Dambis. Dambis seems to have a penchant for the Renaissance, hence the harpsichord rather than the piano.

Greenberg did shift to playing piano, and one of the highlights of the evening was certainly Robert Muczynski's Sonata for Flute and Piano Op. 14. Played with verve by Stephanie McNab, Greenberg's playing was crisp and supportive. We also got to hear a piece of Kvistad's called "Blues for Wilsey," in which the percussionist plays a drum set along with the other musicians playing their respective instruments. Greenberg played piano in this and McNab played both flute and piccolo.

The performance was capped by the Habanera and Seguidilla from Bizet's Carmen, accompaniment arranged for vibes, cello, flute, and piano by Peter Grunberg. Švēde is brilliant, getting the emotional import of all the words through her voice. She made her entrance through the audience, and it was a testament to how great the Meyer Sound system is, because it sounded nicely balanced -- not too loud or dry.

* Tattling *
The audience was extremely focused and quiet. It was fun hearing the musicians speak, especially Kvistad, who joked the more he studied music, the less notes he was allowed to play, especially at the opera, where he must be the highest paid musician per note.

The theater can get rather warm, and the controls to the AC system have apparently not been handed over to the opera yet, as we learned from the Q&A with the performers and Elkhanah Pulitzer, Director of Programming for the SF Opera Lab (pictured above). Also, one of the lenses of the projection system needs replacement, most of the images were pretty blurry.

West Bay Opera's Eugene Onegin

Wbo-onegin-2016* Notes *
My review of West Bay Opera's Eugene Onegin is up on San Francisco Classical Voice.

* Tattling *
The Lucie Stern Community Center was secured for much of the performance on Sunday because Hillary Clinton was having an event there while the opera was going on. The general director of West Bay Opera joked that he had asked Hillary for a "Secretary of Opera" if she wins the election.

Opera Parallèle's Champion

Champion-058_pub* Notes *
Champion: An Opera in Jazz had an impressive opening last night in San Francisco. As always, Opera Parallèle, which co-produced the 2013 work with SFJAZZ, gave an impeccable performance as far as playing, singing, and production values. Based on the life of bisexual boxer Emile Griffith, Terence Blanchard's music has much to recommend it, but it is hardly a perfect work and the libretto from Michael Cristofer can sound trite.

The piece shifts from different time periods, so there are three singers that play Emile Griffith, often even at the same time as the character remembers his past. All of the singers are very compelling. Bass Arthur Woodley is Griffith as an elderly man suffering from dementia, his voice is warm and rich, and his performance is sympathetic and haunting. Bass-baritone Kenneth Kellogg as Griffith in his prime has a lighter sound, but is no less convincing. Sharing the role of Little Emile with Evan Holloway, Moses Abrahamson sounded utterly angelic.

Everyone else was fantastic as well, including the twelve person chorus that played paraders, reporters, and boxing fans. Standouts included Robert Orth as Emile's trainer Howie Albert and Karen Slack as his mother Emelda Griffith. The way both of these singers wholly embodied their characters was completely convincing.

Maestra Nicole Paiement seamlessly conducted a small orchestra of twenty-six and a jazz trio. The music has some wonderful percussion, and the upbeat ensembles were particularly good, including a trio from Kellogg, Slack and Orth in Act I. The drama is weirdly static perhaps because we are seeing much of the action through a main character that clearly has brain disease. The pacing could be sluggish, making the opera, which is only 145 minutes of music, feel long, perhaps because some of the words did not sit well with the vocal lines.

Director Brian Staufenbiel has created a characteristically stylish production, using layered platforms and screens to dazzling effect. The video projections took us through the ten scenes without being overwhelming, cheesy, or confusing.

* Tattling * 
There was a small child (apparently a student of percussion) in the audience two rows ahead of me (Row H Seat 18 or thereabouts) that managed to be quiet the entire opera.

Met Opera's 2016-17 Season

Metropolitan_Opera_House_At_Lincoln_Center_2September 26- October 27 2016 : Tristan und Isolde
September 27 2016- May 11 2017: Don Giovanni
September 28 2016- January 14 2017: La Bohème
October 4-29 2016: L'Italiana in Algeri
October 18- November 12 2016: Guillaume Tell
October 28- November 17 2016: Jenufa
November 5 2016- April 20 2017: Aida
November 14- December 10 2016: Manon Lescaut
December 1-29 2016: L'Amour de Loin
December 5-28 2016: Salome
December 12 2016- January 7 2017: Nabucco
December 20 2016- January 5 2017: The Magic Flute
December 31 2016- March 18 2017: Roméo et Juliette
January 9-February 11 2017: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
January 20-April 27 2017: Rigoletto
February 2- March 2 2017: Rusalka
February 10-28 2017: Il Puritani
February 16- March 9 2017: Werther
February 24- April 14 2017: La Traviata
March 6-25 2017: Idomeneo
March 16- April 8 2017: Fidelio
March 30- April 22 2017: Eugene Onegin
April 13- May 13 2017: Der Rosenkavalier
April 25- May 12 2017: Der Fliegende Holländer
May 2-13 2017: Cyrano de Bergerac

The Met announced the 2016-2017 season today. There will be 225 performances of 26 operas, including six new productions. The new productions are Tristan und Isolde, Guillaume Tell, L'Amour de Loin, Roméo et Juliette, Rusalka, and Der Rosenkavalier.

Online 2016-2017 Brochure | Official Site

SF Symphony Vertigo Preview

Vertigo_movie-screenSan 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.

Merola's 59th Season Participants

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

Apprentice Coaches
Jonathan Brandani, Lucca, Italy
John Elam, Cleburne, Texas
Noah Palmer, Baltimore, Maryland
Nicolò 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.

Official Site | Press Releases