Saturday, June 25, 2016


This is Anna Netrebko at the Wiener Staatsoper singing Manon Lescaut.  I saw this production in 2007 and wrote about it here.  I even mentioned Anna. 

Jonas Kaufmann performed both parts in Das Lied von der Erde on Thursday, but I haven't been able to find a film of it.  I've never heard of anyone doing this.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Gramophone Hall of Fame 2016

We have moved into a new phase of the Hall of Fame--half of the new inductees are people I have never heard of.

*** New in 2016
● Eugene ORMANDY conductor (2016-d)  ***
● Yevgeny MRAVINSKY conductor (2016-d)  ***
● Friedrich GULDA pianist (2016-d)  ***
● Gustav LEONHARDT harpsicordist and conductor (2016-d) ***
● Jon VICKERS tenor (2016-d) *** 
Trevor PINNOCK harpsicordist and conductor (2016-a)  ***
Gundula Janowitz soprano (2016-r) ***
● Dame Emma KIRBY soprano (2016-a) ***
● Anne Sophie von OTTER mezzo-soprano (2016-a) *** 
● Grigory SOKOLOV pianist (2016-a)  ***


Laca, Kostelnička, Jenůfa

Conductor: Jiří Bělohlávek
Director: Olivier Tambosi
Production: Frank Philipp Schlössmann

Jenůfa, Kostelnička's stepdaughter:  Malin Byström*, soprano
Kostelnička Buryjovka:  Karita Mattila, soprano
Laca Klemeň, cousin of Jenůfa:  William Burden, tenor
Steva Buryja, cousin of Jenůfa: Scott Quinn*, tenor
Grandmother Buryjovka, Kostelnička's mother: Jill Grove, contralto

Jenůfa (yeh-NEW-fuh) by Leoš Janáček currently running at the San Francisco Opera will never be the same for me.  There are like rocks in this production.  We decided this must be symbolism, but I don't really do symbolism.

Jenůfa is about the lives of women as seen from the perspective of those who love them.  Because Kostelnička married a leader in the church, when he died she retained her position of leadership in the community.  After Jenůfa's baby is born, Kostelnička mentions that she has christened him.  That means she has that authority.  Grandmother Buryjovka had two sons, both of whom were married twice, and  Kostelnička is the only one from the second generation who remains alive and the only one without a child of her own.  Though she is only her stepmother, Kostelnička loves Jenůfa and wishes her to have a good life, one as good as hers has been.  All that happens arises out of this motive.

Jenůfa is a cheerful, beautiful young woman who is loved by both Laca and Steva.  Steva is a drunk and a layabout who has gotten Jenůfa pregnant, but who also inherits the mill from grandmother when she dies.  Laca is lonely and rejected.  Crucial to the plot is the fact that Laca accidentally cuts Jenůfa in the face.  In our production this was made to look particularly ugly.

When Kostelnička finds out that Jenůfa is pregnant, she knows that she must act to save this situation.  She tells Steva that he must marry Jenůfa, and he responds that he is engaged to the mayor's daughter.  He won't marry Jenůfa because she is now disfigured.  Steva knows that he is the father of Jenůfa's baby and still rejects her.

Kostelnička in the dead of winter takes the baby out and shoves it down through a hole in the ice.  She feels that without a baby Jenůfa has a better chance in life.  Instead Jenůfa is saved by the almost miraculous transformation of Laca who truly loves her.

I enjoyed the voices, including the two wonderful tenors.  These two men, Laca and Steva, look and sound close enough alike to actually be brothers.

But it is the women that give this particular performance its great power.  Important is the contrast in power between the characters of the sweet but weak Jenůfa and the strong and controlling Kostelnička.   Malin Byström acts and sings beautifully, but is the astounding strength of Karita Mattila that carries the opera to its great heights.  She has always been one of the great singing actresses of opera, but here she has topped herself.  It is these moments when the art form of opera shows itself to us to be the greatest of all, that it towers over the emotional heights and depths of everything else without presenting the material in a sordid way.

The tension built all the way to the end due to the masterful conducting of Jiří Bělohlávek.  There was some unusual orchestration.

In my heart David Gockley retires with this wonderful performance.  I don't know what the rocks mean, and I don't care, but my heart has been penetrated.  Thank you.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Netrebko's Elsa

From a Facebook comment on an Anna Netrebko post from the Sächsische Zeitung:

"Mr. Thielemann, probably on only three occasions was the Semperoper interesting for the international media: at the reopening in 1985, during the flood in 2002 and now, when Anna Netrebko sang her first Wagnerian role - are you satisfied?

- Yes, very. Anna Netrebko wanted to make her first Wagner with me, and I have proposed Dresden as a suitable location. Where else to hear "Lohengrin" because it indeed originated here. The orchestra has played so beautifully, the choir sang so beautifully, the soloists were top class. This "Lohengrin" with Anna Netrebko as Elsa was a stroke of luck - for us, for the house, for the audience. Guests came from around the world, the final applause after the fourth night lasted for half an hour. When do we have that?

The Russian has sung in German outstandingly well - are you surprised?

- I was generally surprised by how she threw herself at the role. I would not have thought it possible that the singer between the performances comes to me of her own volition to rehearse again, study further and iron out things. Such meticulousness made me very happy. And since we made four recordings, there is a version worthy of release. Whether it will be released, depends on our tests.

Are there any other plans to have the superstar soprano again in Dresden?

- Yes, there are some productions that I would like to study with her. Because of that, I now also have her phone number, it's preferable to discuss some things directly. But that will not be easy. She is much in demand and is committed for years in advance. To Dresden Elsa she dedicated one whole month and did not sing anything else. This unconditional will has also delighted me."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Scene from Manon

This is probably the best opera film that ever existed. Spoken by one who loves theater best. It was performed at the Gockley Gala and was almost this good. Almost.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Gockley Gala 2016

This is the set for last night's David Gockley Gala celebrating the retirement of the current San Francisco Opera Intendant at the end of the current season.  Most of Gockley's opera management career took place in Houston, and the Gala was specifically designed to celebrate his entire career.  Gockley was general director of the Houston Grand Opera from 1972 to 2006, and then became the general director of the San Francisco Opera up to the end of the current season.

Overture from Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin, conducted by John DeMain.  1/4

Many people were introduced at this point in the program.  The masters of ceremony were Frederica von Stade and Thomas Hampson.  We were reminded that Gockley had commissioned Heart of a Soldier for him.  Gockley commissioned about 45 new operas.  I wish I could actually remember how many.

"News" from Nixon in China, John Adams, Edward Nelson, baritone, conducted by John DeMain.  Nixon had its premiere at the Houston Grand in 1987 and may be Gockley's best new opera.  It repeated in 2012 in San Francisco.

"Song to the Moon" from Rusalka, Antonin Dvorak, Renée Fleming, soprano, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek.  2/4  This opera played at the San Francisco Opera starring Renée Fleming in 1995 with Charles Mackerras conducting.  Perhaps Renée also sang it in Houston.  I remember that I was sitting in the orchestra and looked up to see Renée singing from the top of a tree.

"La Tempeste" from Giulio Cesare, GF Handel, Heidi Stober, soprano, conducted by Patrick Summers.  3/4  This opera last played in San Francisco in 2002.

"Ain't it a pretty night" from Susannah, Carlisle Floyd, Ana María Martínez, soprano, conducted by John DeMain. This opera last played in San Francisco in 2014 and starred Patricia Racette.

"I got plenty o' Nuttin'" from Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin, Eric Owens, bass-baritone, conducted by John DeMain.  This opera last played in San Francisco in 2009 with Eric as Porgy.  I loved it.

"Quando le sere al placido" from Luisa Miller, Giuseppe Verdi, Michael Fabiano, tenor, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.  4/4

"Tanti affetti" from La donna del lago, Gioachino Rossini, Daniela Mack, mezzo -soprano, conducted by Patrick Summers.

Act I finale from Die Walküre, Richard Wagner, Karita Mattila, soprano, Simon O’Neill, tenor, conducted by Patrick Summers.

Final trio from Der Rosenkavalier, Richard Strauss, Renée Fleming, soprano, Nadine Sierra, soprano, Sasha Cook, mezzo-soprano, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek.  Sasha stood in for an ailing Susan Graham, but nevertheless the trio was wonderful.

After the trio Renée Fleming, on the occasion of her 25th anniversary with the San Francisco Opera, received the San Francisco Opera Medal.


People who appeared on film on the screen at the center of the stage to express their respect for David Gockley included Joyce DiDonato, Placido Domingo (a fellow opera producer), and Cecilia Bartoli (now also an opera producer) who sang the starring roles in Barber of Seville and La Cenerentola with David early in her career.  It was nice to see her.  She was busy receiving the Polar Prize in Sweden.

"Nessum dorma" from Turandot, Giacomo Puccini, Brian Jagde, tenor, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.  He aced this.

"Son io spirito" from Mefistofele, Arrigo Boito, René Pape, bass, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.  Pape who is in town for Don Carlo is the only person on the program whose career was not significantly influenced by Gockley.  Apparently, at the end of the aria there was supposed to be whistling which didn't work.  Other people got this while I completely missed it.  In this opera the devil whistles.  So instead René made funny gestures.

"Bill" from Show Boat, Jerome Kern, Patricia Racette, soprano, conducted by John DeMain.  Patricia whistled before her song.  Someone in the audience gave her a wolf whistle.  Lots of laughter.  The song was nice.

"Sull'aria... che soave zeffiretto" from Le nozze di Figaro, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Renée Fleming, Heidi Stober, sopranos, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.  Renée sings this on YouTube with Cecilia Bartoli.

"Voi lo sapete" from Cavalleria rusticana, Pietro Mascagni, Dolora Zajick, mezzo -soprano, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.  Dolora walks on water.

Intermezzo from Two Women, Marco Tutino, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.  This opera premiered in San Francisco in 2015.

"N'est-ce plus ma main?" from Manon, Jules Massenet, Nadine Sierra, soprano, Michael Fabiano, tenor, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.  This is the seduction scene from Manon and ended with a lot of smooching.

"I can smell the sea air" from A Streetcar Named Desire, André Previn, Renée Fleming, soprano, conducted by Patrick Summers.  I'm going to have to reconsider this.  This opera was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera and premiered with Renée Fleming in 1998 where the composer conducted.  I have a film of it somewhere.

"Ah!  Je vais mourir... Adieu, fiere cite" from Les Troyens, Sasha Cook, mezzo-soprano, conducted by Patrick Summers.  Sasha did a very respectable job with this in spite of the last minute fill in.  This opera was one of the highlights of David Gockley's tenure here.

Talking, followed by the ending.

"Make our garden grow" from Candide, Leonard Bernstein, Brian Jagde, Catherine Cook, Adler fellows, conducted by John DeMain. 

This was an extraordinary gala uniquely tailored for the man being honored. At the end of the program it was announced that David Gockley would continue his affiliation with the title General Director Emeritus.

As far as I know, there is no archive for the Houston Grand Opera.  Perhaps they could consider creating one.

See also here and here.  I went overboard with this, but I was interested in Gockley's relationship to the repertoire.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

News about streaming

The Bayerische Staatsoper will now live stream all 5 of my requests:  Sergej Prokofjew Der feurige Engel, or The Fiery Angel,  Richard Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg starring Jonas Kaufmann,  Jaques Fromental Halévy La Juive with Kristine Opolais and Roberto Alagna, Jean-Philippe Rameau Les Indes galantes, and Giuseppe Verdi Un ballo in maschera. Fiery Angel and ballo in maschera have already streamed, but now all three of my remaining requests, including Les Indes galantes, will stream in the next six weeks.

Joyce DiDonato has cancelled her appearance at Salzburg in Otto Nicolai's il Templario with Juan Diego Flórez.  She said it doesn't suit her voice.  I might still want to see this stream.  Salzburg has still not announced what will stream.

The Royal Opera is now occasionally live streaming operas, insight lectures about operas, ballets, etc.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Late Late Show

Ailyn Perez and Luca Pisaroni with James Corden.  In case you missed it.  I think we've decided this is from Elixir of Love.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Goodbye to David Gockley

These are some of my favorite productions during David Gockley's tenure at the San Francisco Opera.

Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans with Dolora Zajick SFO was playing in San Francisco in 2006 when I happened to be there, and was simply magnificent.  I don't know why it isn't done more often.  Perhaps you need Dolora Zajick.  She's waving her banner just as I read about.


This is a Shakespeare year.  400 years ago William Shakespeare died.  To help in celebrating this event I bought a copy of BBC History with Shakespeare's face on the cover.  The above is the only picture of Shakespeare that we know comes from the period, so I substituted it for the one in the article which is similar.

In it was a fascinating four-way interview where the magazine interviewed Michael Dobson, Paul Edmondson, Laurie Maguire and Rene Weis under the title Shakespeare:  The Historians View.  This is cool stuff.  When I was young, it was constantly argued that William Shakespeare cannot possibly have written what he is supposed to have written.  Where did he learn all that history?  Answer--he read Plutarch the same as I did.  Duh.  That never seemed to satisfy anyone then.

What I used to ask myself that they never seemed to ask was where did all those upper class guys learn so much about the theater?  I don't think they would have been allowed to hang out there.  Yes, the language is wonderful, but the miracle of Shakespeare is how well it plays.  So imagine how pleased I was to find these historians absolutely reject the "who was Shakespeare really?" arguments.  Shakespeare was really Shakespeare.  He was even famous while he was alive.

Something I wouldn't have thought of came up.  The sixteenth century into the early seventeenth is the era when it became interesting to translate the Bible into English and that this influenced the language of Shakespeare.  Fascinating.