Monday, January 15, 2018

West Edge Opera: Snapshot

Received this week:

BERKELEY, CA, January 8, 2018:  WEST EDGE OPERA'S SNAPSHOT presents excerpts from new, previously unproduced operas by West Coast composers and librettists February 24 and 25, 2018. Inaugurated in 2017, the program is the first of its kind in the Bay Area and is a collaboration with Earplay, New Chamber Music Ensemble.

Performances will take place:

Saturday February 24, 2018  
Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall, 
2288 Fulton St, 
Berkeley, CA 94704  

Sunday February 25, 2018 
Taube Atrium Theater, 
401 Van Ness Ave, 
San Francisco, CA 94102. 

Both venues are ideally suited to the intimate yet expansive demands of Snapshot and are conveniently close to BART. General admission tickets go on sale January 5 and will be available online at westedgeopera.org or by phone at 510-841-1903. Tickets are $40 each.

This year's Snapshot promises to showcase a diverse group of local and national artists in new works by West Coast composers, Cyril Deaconoff, Larry London, Brian Rosen, Katherine Saxon, and Erling Wold.
The Last Tycoon, music by Cyril Deaconoff and libretto adapted by David Yezzi, is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished novel of the same name. The Russian born American composer, conductor, pianist, and organist Deaconoff (born Kirill Dyachkov), attended Gnesine State Music College and is a graduate of the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory (Composition and Choral Conducting). His recent work String Quartet No. 1 was selected by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra for their concert of contemporary music entitled Valley Voices. He has received commissions from the Vallejo Choral Society and the Arts Council Silicon Valley. In November 2011, West Bay opera in Palo Alto presented a workshop of The Last Tycoon.

Dynamo, music by Larry London and libretto by William Smock, features brief, crucial scenes from the professional and family life of Thomas A. Edison. London did his undergraduate work at Harvard and earned a Master's degree in composition at Mills College. He studied with Darius Milhaud, Terry Riley, and Lou Harrison. His compositions have been performed at the Aspen and Cabrillo Music Festivals, by the Oakland Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony chamber series. London has contributed as a composer, arranger, or performer to over fifty films. He composed the music for Isamu Noguchi: Stones and Paper, an American Masters documentary film, recognized as Best Portrait at the Montreal International Festival of Films in 1998. He wrote music for Joann Sfar Draws from Memory, a documentary film for KQED Public Television in 2012.

Death of a Playboy, music and libretto by Brian Rosen, revolves around a heated private discussion that threatens to disrupt Hugh Hefner's funeral. Rosen is a San Francisco based composer/performer specializing in works that marry music and theater. Brian studied music composition at Interlochen Arts Academy and computer science at Princeton University. He moved to the Bay Area in 1993 to join Pixar Animation Studios for their first full length film, Toy Story and remains on staff as a software engineer, technical director, and occasional voice talent. Brian has written and arranged for the a cappella ensemble The Richter Scales, completed a commissioned operatic adaptation of Alice in Wonderland for Cinnabar Opera Theater, and composed a string quarted premiered and recorded in 2010. He recently received a grant from the American Comnposer's Forum for the premiere of his song cycle A Brief History of Love and Poetry.

In 452 Jamestown Place, music and libretto by Katherine Saxon, a young woman terrifies her boyfriend with outbursts from multiple personalities. Saxon has writen a wide variety of music that ranges from large-scale choral works to intricate chamber music. Her music has been performed at the Atlantic Music Festival, NACUSA events (regional and national), the Bowdoin International Music Festival, and the UCSB Primavera Festival. Her work Speed and Perfection received the first prize in the San Francisco Choral Artists' 2012 New Voices Competition.

She Who is Alive, music by Erling Wold and libretto by Robert Harris, features the warlord of a futuristic empire as he gives a dissident female scientist prisoner the third degree. Wold is an eclectic composer who has been called, "the Eric Satie of Berkeley surrealists/minimalist electro-art rock," by the Village Voice. His chamber works have been presented in San Francisco and Santa Cruz by New Music Works and by the San Francisco Conservatory New Music Ensemble. He was a resident artist at ODC Theater, who presented his opera Sub Pontio Pilato, an historical fantasy on the death and remembrance of Pontius Pilate, a chamber opera based on William Borroughs' early autobiographical novel Queer, and his critically acclaimed work A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, based on the Max Ernst collage novel.

Performers featured in Snapshot include sopranos Heidi Moss and Julia Hathaway; mezzo-soprano Molly Mahoney; tenors J. Raymond Meyers, Jacob Thompson, and Darron Flagg; and baritone Jason Sarten.
Snapshot will utilize the unique spaces at the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall and the Taube Atrium Theater at the Wilsey Center for Opera. Odd Fellows Hall is a high-ceilinged neoclassical space designed by James W. Plachek in 1925. The hall is a ceremonial space with iconic stained-glass details and a skylight that was painted black during WWII and never restored. The Taube Atrium Theater in the historic Veteran's Building at the heart of San Francisco's Civic Center reflects the soaring classicism of the Odd Fellows Hall, but with a renewed contemporary sensibility. Restored for San Francisco opera's new Wilsey Center for Opera, the space is electronically optimized for acoustic music with a Meyer Sound Constellation system.

Museum Mondays

Traminer Altarpiece Detail
Bavarian National Museum, Munich
August, 2015

Sunday, January 14, 2018


I've been posted here and there on the internet about the Levine and Dutoit sexual abuse cases. I've gotten some comments about process and the swift ending of careers in the cases of both the conductors. Herein some thoughts on process.

There was an article in the Washington Post a couple of weeks back about a sexual harassment case in a completely different part of the public world, but it's awfully similar in some ways to what happened with Dutoit, different in other ways that bear on Dutoit.

The case in question is that of Judge Alex Kozinski. Some features of the situation:
  • Kozinski has a long history of questionable behavior.
  • Multiple women attesting to this.
  • Incidents took place over decades.
  • There's a whisper network of women warning each other about him.
  • These women generally told friends and family what had happened contemporaneously with the harassment.
  • Non-denial denials: "In an initial statement to The Post, Kozinski said he would 'never intentionally do anything to offend anyone and it is regrettable that a handful have been offended by something I may have said or done.'"
  • The federal judiciary has a procedure for dealing with this stuff, and a judge asked Chief Justice Roberts to appoint a an investigator. Kozinsky resigned (retired) a few days later.
Kozinski was not reported earlier in part because clerking is a big stepping stone in a lawyer's career and women he'd behaved inappropriately with were concerned about the effects of complaining on their careers. That's also a feature of the Dutoit case, where the conductor could hire or not hire soloists, and it's a feature of other music business harassment cases, I expect - nobody knows how many unreported harassers there are.

Also regarding Dutoit, with several of these orchestras, he resigned ahead of being fired. What I understand is that music director contracts almost always have "morals clauses," which govern how the MD is to behave, including not making the orchestra look bad. Guest conductor contracts can contain clauses setting forth circumstances under which an orchestra can fire the conductor. I would expect that some of these do cover the conductor's behavior. So that is part of the process: Dutoit signed contracts knowing what they contained and what the expectations are.

It is difficult to set a procedure for how to handle incidents that are far in the past. There's the question of whether behavior is unacceptable or illegal. There are statutes of limitations that come into play, but an organization that has someone under contract is also not obliged to ignore reports of past bad behavior, especially when there are reports from unrelated people and the incidents took place over decades. The fact that Dutoit withdrew from some engagements is telling, also: if these incidents never happened, he is free to hire a lawyer and take action against the accusers. He is apparently not doing this and his denials are of the sort "something happened and they're interpreting it differently from me."

Earlier this week, another six women came forward about their past experiences with Dutoit. He is alleged to have raped one of these women. Several of the women went on the record, though not the rape victim. Anne Sophie Schmidt, a now-retired opera singer, says that Dutoit never hired her again after she refused him.

Dutoit's behavior hasn't been a secret. Back in 1995, journalist Natasha Gauthier reported on this; nobody denied it and no orchestras did anything about it. The Philadelphia Orchestra passed over him twice as a potential music director because of his reputation for "extreme flirtatiousness" (and what a euphemism / lie that is).

The problem isn't that abusers such as Levine and Dutoit are losing their careers because of a lack of process. The problem is that musical organizations didn't have processes in place to protect musicians and other members of their organizations.

Here's an example: Fiona Allan, who says that Dutoit assaulted her at Tanglewood, was told the following by the BSO's manager:  "Before you see maestro, I need to tell you something,” she recalled the manager saying. “Look, we advise, we’ve had some complaints, and I wouldn’t go in there alone." That was the BSO's process! What bullshit! This was in 1997, 20 years ago, when Allan was an intern at Tanglewood. So if you see the BSO claiming that they never knew about Dutoit, well, they are lying. And if the BSO knew, other orchestras knew also.

If you work at a big company, and you find evidence that an accountant - or the CFO - has embezzled a couple of million dollars, you fire that person right away, before the charges are filed or the trial is held. You can't keep someone like that around. And nobody would complain about "lack of process."

This is no different. Don't tell me all about how Dutoit and Levine's careers were destroyed because of lack of process. Their own actions destroyed their careers. It's too bad that didn't happen decades ago, before they had the chance to damage their victims' lives and careers.

Friday, January 12, 2018

It's That Time of Year

Everybody is sick in NYC:
Alexey Lavrov will perform the role of Silvio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci on the Saturday January 13 matinee performance, replacing Alessio Arduini, who is ill. This performance of Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci will be heard live over Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network. Alexey Lavrov previously sang the role of Silvio in Pagliacci at the Met in 2016 and has also sung the role at Opernhaus Zürich. This season Lavrov has sung the role of Ping in Puccini’s Turandot at the Met, and is scheduled to perform as Schaunard in Puccini’s La Bohème in February, a part he sang with the company last year. A graduate of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, Lavrov made his company debut in 2013 as the Herald in Verdi’s Otello and has since appeared as Dr. Malatesta in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Schaunard in Puccini’s La Bohème, Count Dominik in Strauss’ Arabella, the Huntsman in Dvořák’s Rusalka, and Yamadori in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The performances of Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci are conducted by Nicola Luisotti and star Roberto Alagna, Ekaterina Semenchuk, George Gagnidze, Željko Lučić, and Aleksandra Kurzak. Remaining performances are on January 17, 20 (matinee), 25 and 29, and February 1, 2018.

Friday Photo

Westminster Abbey
May, 2014

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Il Trovatore Cast Change, Met

Received from the Met:
Jennifer Rowley will sing the role of Leonora in all performances of the Met’s production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore opening January 22, replacing the originally scheduled Maria Agresta, who is ill. Rowley has previously sung the role of Leonora with Théâtre de Caen, Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, and Opéra de Lille. She made her Met debut as Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème in 2014, and last year received critical acclaim making her role debut at short notice as Roxane in Alfano’s Cyrano de BergeracTomorrow night she is scheduled to sing the title role in the Met’s new production of Puccini’s Tosca, a part she has also sung with New Orleans Opera and Dresden’s Sächsische Staatsoper. Her other performances include the title role in Barber’sVanessa with Toledo Opera and as Musetta in La Bohème at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. Sir David McVicar’s production of Il Trovatore, led by Marco Armiliatowill also feature Yonghoon Lee as Manrico, and Anita Rachvelishvili as Azucena. Quinn Kelsey and Luca Salsi will share the role of Count di Luna, with Štefan Kocán and Kwangchul Youn both singing the role of Ferrando. For one performance on February 6, Dolora Zajick will sing the role of Azucena.
 Performances of Il Trovatore at the Met are on January 22, 26, 30, Feb 3 (matinee), 6, 9, 12 and 15, 2018.
Maria Agresta withdrew from SFO Turandot performances in September, 2017 owing to illness. Hoping this isn't one serious illness.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

And the Harder to Evaluate (2017 in Review)

I inadvertently omitted a couple of items about last year: West Edge Opera's overall season and San Francisco Opera's summer offerings.

For the last few years, West Edge Opera has generally had snappily performed, entertainingly directed operas during its summer season. This past year was an odd one: Thomas's Hamlet, Martin y Soler's The Chastity Tree, and Larsen's Frankenstein.

I've already commented that Frankenstein was a well-performed train wreck; in general, composers should not write their own librettos, unless they happen to be named Wagner, Berlioz, Berg, and sometimes Adamo. Larsen's literary abilities are not in that class. She is a fine composer, as I know because I have heard some of her other music. But usually it's a good idea to hire a pro to write your libretto. (ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME JOHN ADAMS????)

As for Hamlet, it has some good music and some good opportunities for scenery chewing. The staging was pretty good. The singing was outstanding: Edward Nelson as Hamlet, Emma McNairy as Ophelia, Susanne Mentzer as Gertrude, and Philip Skinner as Claudius. But unlike other reviewers, I just could not get to the mental point of regarding the opera as anything other than a crappy version of the Shakespeare play.

The Chastity Tree is a great rarity and a work of a type that really should be heard more: a good opera by a barely-known, but successful, contemporary of Mozart's. You need context to tell why the greats are great! The performance was great fun, the music sparkling, the performers lovely (and weirdly dressed).

Summer at SFO was...not what I'd hoped for. Rigoletto, with the fabulous Michael Yeargen sets making yet another appearance, was supposedly revised in some way from previous bring ups, but darned if I could see how. Nicola Luisotti was in good form; Quinn Kelsey was a terrific jester, Pene Pati, with a lovely voice, has not quite got his own style yet, and Nino Machaidze, making her debut at SFO, was weak. She's not a bad singer by any means, but largely because of her vocal character - dark, mature, perhaps a little too vibrant - she was not remotely convincing as Rigoletto's innocent young daughter.

I've already written about La Bohemenothing to add, though i will restate that it was an undistinguished bring-up.

And oh, that Don Giovanni: where on earth did the production come from? It was just ghastly looking; a nearly blank stage with mirrors going up and down behind the singers, and the occasional property showing up to sort-of-define the space as something particular. And because the "international version" was used, everybody got every last one of their arias, and the effect was of a badly-staged opera seria, with singers coming on, singing for ten minutes, and wandering off. There was little sign of direction.

The singing was pretty good, though....I thought Ana Maria Martinez miscast and Stanislas de Barbeyrac okay, not great. There were complaints about Erin Wall's audibility, but I could hear her just fine in Balcony Circle. Best of all was really Marc Minkowski's sharply brisk conducting. I hope he'll be back.


From the Met:
Ekaterina Semenchuk, already scheduled to sing the role of Santuzza in the first three performances of the current season of Mascagni’sCavalleria Rusticana, will now sing at all the performances, replacing Eva-Maria Westbroek, who is ill. Westbroek had been scheduled to sing later in the season from January 20 to February 1, 2018. Russian mezzo-soprano Semenchuk made her Met role debut as Santuzza this week. Earlier this season, she was a soloist during the Met’s concert performances of Verdi’s Requiem, and her other credits with the company have included Princess Marina in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Olga in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Pauline in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, and her company debut as Sonya in Prokofiev’s War and Peace. The performances of Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci will be conducted by Nicola Luisotti and star Roberto Alagna, George Gagnidze, Željko Lučić, and Aleksandra Kurzak. Remaining performances are on January 13 (matinee), 17, 20 (matinee), 25 and 29, and February 1, 2018. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Replacement Report

Orchestras are announcing who will replace Charles Dutoit in upcoming concerts:

  • Royal Philharmonic in San Francisco: Thierry Fischer, programs unchanged, Jan. 28 & 29
  • New York Philharmonic: Joshua Weilerstein, program unchanged, Jan. 17-20

Museum Mondays

Traminer Altarpiece Detail
Bavarian National Museum, Munich
August, 2015

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Year in Review

This was one very weird year, in so many ways. Personally, it was pretty good! My job went reasonably well, and I have the best colleagues possible in Cloud Networking Docs and generally in Cloud Docs. The only task left with my mother's estate is filing one final tax return. I did not travel as much as I would have liked to, although....Los Angeles for opera; Seattle twice for work within a one month period; NY twice, once for my mom's unveiling, my aunt Ida's unveiling, and my uncle Irving's 99th birthday party, and, ten weeks later, Irv's funeral (sigh, but he had a good long run...); once to Hawaii (not the best vacation ever for various reasons); and once to Santa Fe for opera.

Musically, I will forever remember 2017 as the year Mason Bates wrote a better opera than John Adams. At no point before the dress rehearsal of Girls of the Golden West would I have expected this, and in fact, I would have laughed at the notion.

Boy, was I wrong. While my review of GGW was not as vitriolic as Joshua Kosman's, he and I and nearly everyone else are in agreement about the weaknesses of the opera; in fact, I'm willing to bet that even reviewers who on balance liked it agree about what the weaknesses are. And everybody loved the performers, too.

That said, while Bates's The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs has obvious weaknesses (see my review for details), the music is inventive, energetic, and consistently engaging. I'm looking forward to seeing it again in SF! And wondering about the casting, since Seattle announced an almost completely new cast for their bring-up. My bet: Brian Mulligan or maybe Quinn Kelsey as Steve.

Some of the big musical highlights of 2017:

  • Nixon in China at the LA Phil. Conducted by John Adams himself, gorgeously directed by Elkhana Pulitzer, and with a terrific cast, Nixon remains one of the great 20th c. additions to the operatic repertory.
  • Salome at the LA Opera. A revival of an old and well-traveled Peter Hall staging and somewhat looking its age, but also with some wonderful touches. An excellent cast, led by the surprisingly convincing, and very brave, Patricia Racette. You wouldn't have thought this was her role, but her combination of musicality and total dramatic commitment makes up for the fact that her voice isn't exactly the right type or size. Beautiful and supportive conducting from James Conlon helped a lot, I am sure. The supporting cast was very fine, with Isaacha Savage a magnificent Narraboth and Alan Glassman a lyrical and convincing Herod. Savage is the real dramatic tenor deal and I look forward to seeing him in leading roles. This performance also made me a fan of the opera after decades of casually loathing it, which is why I now have five recordings of it floating around. Read Alex Ross's wonderful Gramophone roundup for recommendations.
  • Das Rheingold at the NY Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert's last subscription appearance as music director of the orchestra. An excellent cast, although....I found Eric Owens a little recessed for Wotan. Jamie Barton as Fricka, Russell Thomas a real WOW as a lyrical and straightforward Loge, and Christopher Purves as the best Alberich I have seen (and I include a great performance by Richard Paul Fink at Seattle in 2001). I note that with Morris Robinson's Fasolt, this was the first non-Porgy opera I've seen with more than one African American singer! And how on earth did they get the great Stephen Milling as Fafner? Gilbert was excellent, and, by the way, there were six harps on stage, although That Hall being what it was, they weren't very audible in the upper reaches.
  • Das Lied von der Erde with the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Esa-Pekka Salonen, Stuart Skelton, and Karen Cargill delivering greatness all around.
  • Alcina and The Golden Cockerell at Santa Fe, in addition to Steve Jobs. I hope to write up both productions in greater detail.
  • Elektra at San Francisco was in the HOLY MOTHER OF GOD category, with Christine Goerke's haunted and fabulous Elektra leading the way in an absorbing, if slightly wayward, Keith Warner production set in a museum. Adrianne Pieczonka, Michaela Martens, and Alfred Walker rounded out a tremendous cast; Henrik Nanasi conducted; all my friends saw this multiple times and I only wish I'd gone to the Wednesday performance I missed.
  • Manon at SFO. Okay, I'll never be a huge fan of the piece, but the sparkling production and excellent singing by Ellie Dehn and Michael Fabiano made this the second-biggest pleasant surprise of the year for me, after Steve Jobs.
  • Turandot at SFO, Nina Stemme, Brian Jagde, Leah Crocetto, debuting conductor Christopher Franklin gave the best performance of this I've seen. I've got a detailed review about half done.
  • Claire Chase's amazing four-hour flute recital, the first fruits of her 23 year commissioning project, Density 2036. Greatest recital I've ever seen? The review was not easy to write because you run out of superlatives pretty fast.
  • Merola triple bill of La Serva Padrona, Savitri, and The Bear. Peter Kazaras's direction left a good deal to be desired, but the singing and execution did not.
  • Krzysztof Urbańsk's two programs at San Francisco Symphony were simply astonishing.
And some lowlights:
  • Girls of the Golden West. I've already said plenty about this.
  • Berlioz Requiem at SFS, with Charles Dutoit giving an uncharacteristically weak performance.
  • Frankenstein at West Edge Opera. A well-performed train wreck of an opera.
Important news:
  • MTT to retire as music director of SFS in three years. Wow. I mean, I have had a lot of complaints about the degree of dead-white-guy programming, but the orchestra is in great shape and it's been a wonderful partnership. Enormous shoes to fill, etc. 
  • James Levine, finally, after forty years of rumors.
  • Charles Dutoit, and since his behavior was in the newspapers 22 years ago, it's not even rumors.
  • Waiting for about 30 other shoes to drop.