Sunday, November 17, 2019

Revival of The King and I

Kelli O'Hara as Anna Leonowens
Ken Watanabe as King of Siam
Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang

Directed by Bartlett Sher

From the perspective of 2019 Rogers and Hammerstein's The King and I seems very different.  Is this cultural appropriation?  We have cute oriental children, a king that goes barefoot, bowing while curling up on the floor, etc. etc. and so forth.  Who knows what the true reality is? The English conquered the world and never reconsidered their own values. 

The musical is based on the memoirs of Anna Harriette Leonowens which were published after the American civil war, while Uncle Ton's Cabin was still well known.  This novel is a topic in Anna's lessons with the children.  They notice that this contradicts what their father has taught.

Anna does not come as a conqueror.  She is hired to teach the children and receives a salary.  She teaches English ideas.  But that is why the king has hired her.  He wants to find a place in this world filled with European conquerors.  He wants to appear to them to be civilized, perhaps realizing that they are filled with cultural prejudices.  It's best to just go with it.

Kelli O'Hara projects the classy but not too classy tone of Anna.  She sings sweetly and does a nice waltz.  I wasn't too sure about Ken Watanabe at first, but he won me over.  Tuptim's lover was a beautiful young man who was not that great as a singer.  Sorry.  Ken sang the king's songs resulting in melodies I don't think I've ever really heard before. 

It ran on television.  It's worth a look.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Authentic Die Fledermaus

Orlofsky and Adele

Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus comes from the Wiener Staatsoper and streams on OperaVision. Catch it while you can.

Conductor Franz Welser-Möst
Director Otto Schenk

Gabriel von Eisenstein Kurt Streit
Rosalinde Michaela Kaune
Frank Alfred Šramek
Prinz Orlofsky Zoryana
Kushpler Alfred Rainer Trost
Dr. Falke Markus Eiche
Dr. Blind Peter Simonischek
Adele Daniela Fally

This is as authentic a production of this the most famous of German operettas that you are likely to see, both theatrically and musically.   This is the most I have liked Franz Welser-Möst.  Of course, the orchestra he is conducting could play this in their sleep, but nevertheless it was stylistically quite wonderful.

The cast were all unfamiliar to me but were filled with joy and great comic intensity.  Who wouldn't want to go to a party where everyone was having this much fun.  Es lebe Champaigne der Erste.  We get all the old jokes.  The Viennese understand this better than anyone else.

Salzburg 2020

The Salzburg Festival of 2020 has been announced.  This year is the 100 anniversary of the festival, so there will be much celebrating.


  • Richard Strauss ELEKTRA

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart DON GIOVANNI

  • Giacomo Puccini TOSCA (Netrebko, Eyvazov, Tézier)

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE

  • Luigi Nono INTOLLERANZA 1960

  • Gaetano Donizetti DON PASQUALE (Cecilia Bartoli)

  • Modest Mussorgski BORIS GODUNOW (Ildar Abdrazakov) 

  • Giuseppe Verdi I VESPRI SICILIANI (Plácido Domingo)

  • Morton Feldman NEITHER

  • Händel / Mozart DER MESSIAS (Mozart's arrangement of Handel's Messiah orchestrated for an orchestra of his time and translated into German.  The San Francisco Symphony performed this when I was in the chorus.  At Salzburg it will be staged.)

There will be a distinguished selection of plays in German.


  • OUVERTURE SPIRITUELLE Pax (Britten War Requiem begins a series of concerts.)

  • WIENER PHILHARMONIKER (Five concerts, including Wesendonck Lieder w. Garanca).


  • BEETHOVEN-ZYKLUS (8 concerts of piano sonatas.)

  • Still life — Zeit mit FELDMAN

  • MOMENTS MUSICAUX (5 concerts with surprise contents)

  • KAMMERKONZERTE (7 concerts, 3 Beethoven)

  • LIEDERABENDE (Christian Gerhaher, Matthias Goerne, Benjamin Bernheim, Sonya Yoncheva)

  • SOLISTENKONZERTE (11 distinguished concerts.)







Time to completely overdo.  This is the festival to top all festivals, even their own.  They are proud to proclaim the presence of Placido Domingo.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Mozart at the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera

Our conductor for this all Mozart program was Michael Christie.  In our all Mozart program at the
Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera I didn't notice that he used a baton.  He has won a Grammy.  This concert took place in Fremont Presbyterian and was split into two concerts. 

The program began with Mozart's Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter."  The program did not list the movements, as I believe is still traditional.  I admit that Mozart's symphonies are more standardized than other composers, but I still like seeing the movements.  This was good but not thrilling.  Mr. Christie's tempos are a bit fast IMHO.

We were treated to semi-staged opera scenes from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and Le nozze di Figaro.   These were remarkably well coordinated since neither the conductor nor the singers could see one another.  The following cast listings are made up by me, since nothing in the program lists these.

Ellie Dehn, soprano -- Despina in Cosi, Susanna in Nozze.
Jana McIntyre, soprano -- Fiordili in Cosi, Marcellina in Nozze.
Julie Miller, mezzo-soprano -- Dorabella, in Cosi, Countess in Nozze.
Michael Day, tenor -- Ferrando in Cosi, Basilio in Nozze.
Benjamin Taylor, baritone -- Guglielmo in Cosi, Count Almaviva in Nozze.
James Hayden, bass-baritone --     ,  Figaro in Nozze.
Scott Levin, bass-baritone -- Don Alfonso in Cosi, Gardener in Nozze.

The singers all wore standard concert attire except Doctor Despina.

Act I Finale to Cosi fan tutte begins when the two lovers in their disguises pretend to take poison.  Robitussin is Doctor Despina's cure.  The supertitles were loosely translated for laughs. 

Act II Finale to Le nozze di Figaro begins just before Susanna steps out of the Countess's wardrobe instead of the expected Cherubino.  This is an excellent place to begin since you cannot have a Cherubino without a costume of some kind.

These are two of Mozart's magnificent ensemble scenes in opera.  He comes in an era when most opera consisted of a series of arias with perhaps a duet here or there.  Amazing ensembles are a treat, and these were beautifully sung with a real sense of ensemble.  The two sisters in Cosi were especially beautiful together.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Marin Alsop to Vienna

Marin Alsop who has been conducting in Baltimore since I lived in Maryland, is off to Vienna to conduct The Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.  She is the first female conductor for this orchestra.  Good luck.

Friday, November 01, 2019


I have introduced a new label:  #MoD.  This is short for Metropolitan Opera on Demand.  Please select it from the filters list to read reviews of HD transmissions from the Met.  Met on Demand has both audio and video files.  I have focused almost entirely on the video files.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Manon with Lisette Oropesa

Conductor...............Maurizio Benini
Production..............Laurent Pelly

Manon...................Lisette Oropesa
Des Grieux..............Michael Fabiano
Lescaut.................Artur Rucinski
Count des Grieux...Kwangchul Youn
Guillot.................Carlo Bosi
Brétigny................Brett Polegato
Poussette...............Jacqueline Echols
Javotte.................Laura Krumm
Rosette.................Maya Lahyani

Nadine Sierra.....hostess

I love knowing things.  I can't help it.  In this performance of Massenet's Manon from the Metropolitan Opera in HD I noticed for the first time that there was quite a bit of melodrama.  This does not mean corny, overacted soap operas, but instead refers to spoken dialog with orchestral accompaniment instead of recitative or spoken dialog.  Since the orchestra never stops playing, it is easy to overlook that occasionally the actors are speaking.  Then I read that Manon was a mainstay of the Opéra-Comique in Paris after it premiered in 1884.  The original novel is from 1731.  The only problem with the opera is that it is too long.

I didn't realize it has been already 7 years since this production debuted.   The basketball is still there, but there have been hints that it is supposed to be a hot air balloon.  Hot air balloons are not precisely spherical.  Enough.  Please read the other review for more discussion of the production.

I have only seen Artur Rucinski before in Lucia with Lisette from Madrid.  He is very attractive on camera and sings beautifully.

But the performance belonged to Manon and her Des Grieux who received much loud shouting in their bows.  This is a great opera for Michael Fabiano, suiting both his voice and his personality to a T.  You believe in his love.  He made the initial pickup very believable.  More Michael please.

Lisette Oropesa precisely embodies the 15 year old innocent who arrives on the train on her way to the convent.  It is impossible to picture this lively, passionate and curious girl cut off completely from life.  Des Grieux has only good intentions toward her and she towards him.  When she learns that Des Grieux's father intends to kidnap him, she knows she must make other plans.  Lisette is physically trained and fully capable of the physical requirements of the staging.  She ran up and down stairs, fell down and was dragged about, all while singing strongly.

I don't see the diabolical Manon, the evil Manon.  I see only someone who wants to enjoy her life, to have fun while she is still young.  Everyone seems to work against this.  Lisette Oropesa changes as the opera progresses to acquire less innocence and more sophistication.  This is an opera for our time, because she is destroyed by a rich old man.  Her cheers were well deserved.

I still don't see the bed in the sanctuary.  This is bogus.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Bassarids

In honor of World Opera Day I have chosen to watch Henze's The Bassarids from the Komische Oper Berlin.  It both is and is supposed to be in English.

Conductor Vladimir Jurowski
Director Barrie Kosky

Dionysus, god-- Sean Panikkar, tenor
Pentheus, present king-- Günter Papendell, baritone
Cadmos, founder and former king-- Jens Larsen, bass
Tiresias, old blind prophet-- Ivan Turšić , tenor
Captain of the Royal Guard-- Tom Erik Lie, baritone
Agave, daughter of Cadmos-- Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, mezzo
Autonoe, daughter of Cadmos-- Vera-Lotte Böcker, soprano
Beroe, old slave-- Margarita Nekrasova, contralto

I've never actually seen an opera by Henze, so this seemed suitable.  We are in Thebes.  Semele is buried here, and a flame is kept burning for her.  While opera purports to be based on Greek theater, the plots generally come from other ancient sources.  This however is based on Euripides.  Imagine that.  It turns out to be a revenge opera.

The plot is hard to follow, at least at first.  Dionysus wishes to be worshiped, but the new young King Pentheus thinks this is childish.  Everyone runs off to the mountains when they hear Dionysus is coming.  Pentheus puts out the flame of Semele.  The king opposes the revelry that happens on the mountain and swears not to eat, drink or lie with women.  But then he has never been there, and knows nothing of what happens.

What makes this hard to follow is that we are not given much in the way of visual clues.  Tiresias must be identified by the fact that he wears dark glasses.  Everything else is the usual black and white regie costuming.  In the photo above the people in vivid outfits are ballet.  When Pentheus asks who leads the singing and dancing, a beautiful black man in a black suit stands up. This is my first time to see Sean Panikkar, an American.  He brings true expression to this angular modernist music.

To entertain themselves the Thebans perform The Judgement of Calliope.  This is the myth of Adonis.  Don't make me explain it.  And suddenly they're tearing off their clothes and running off.

We are immediately back to Pentheus and Dionysus fighting.  Dionysus persuades Pentheus to dress up like a woman.  He's having trouble with the high heels.  Dionysus uses his god power to control Pentheus.

Komische Oper Berlin is the right context for this work.  It is a small theater with a portion of the stage in front of the orchestra.  The pit is too small, so parts of the orchestra are at the sides of the stage. The music is like background music to a movie.  If viewed in this way, it works well.  It gets very intense to the end.  It ends with some beautiful music for Agave who kills her son while under the influence of Dionysus.  It is a kind of universal tragedy.  I thought worshiping Dionysus would be more fun.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

West Edge Will Be Just as Edgy in 2020

This is the publicity for the 2020 season of West Edge opera:
 Leoš Janáček’s  Katya Kabanova
 Elizabeth Cree, by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell
 Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabolo

August 6, 2019

West Edge Opera’s Mark Streshinsky | Credit: Mark Mayfield
While West Edge Opera has your attention, as their season rolls out, the company has announced next year’s season. No surprise, it’s just as ambitious as this year’s season. The festival opens a week earlier, July 25, 2020, instead of the first week in August and, just as with the current productions, you will have to wait for Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky to do location scouting to discover where the shows will be held, so stay tuned.
Carrie Hennessey takes the title role in Wes Edge Opera's 2020 production of Leoš Janáček’s Katya KabanovaAs usual, there is no sign of a top 50 opera anywhere, which is why some of us regard WEO so highly. However, there is a lot of great music in the works: the 2020 festival opens with Leoš Janáček’s brilliant, realistic drama Katya Kabanova with soprano Carrie Hennessy in the title role. This is a show that will challenge the company on a number of levels, but WEO has waded into these waters before, producing Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 2016. If they succeed, it will be one of the highlights of the Bay Area’s musical year.
The contemporary opera that the company always offers will be Elizabeth Cree, by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell, based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd and premiered by Opera Philadelphia in 2017. The opera is the third collaboration by Puts and Campbell, following Silent Night (2012) and The Manchurian Candidate (2015). Despite the fact that the opera is about a grisly murder, it is, the authors insist, darkly comic, and Puts believed it was his best theater work up to that time. His tonal idiom and command of period style should work well in this tale of a music hall singer of the 1890s who is accused of murdering her surgeon husband.
Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabolo (1667), from the anything-goes Venetian opera houses of the 17th century is the third show of the season. The tale of a perverse and depraved Roman emperor, it almost feels like a modern show (an operatic Caligula, maybe) and in fact it never got its Venetian premiere, but not because it was too risqué. (It was replaced by an opera on the same subject by a different composer.) Maybe it was that Cavalli was too old-fashioned at the time, but in the 21st century, audiences have come around to Cavalli. The show has major productions at Theatre de la Monnaie (Belgium, 2004), the Aspen Festival (2007), Gotham Chamber Opera (NY, 2013), and Paris Opera (2016/17). Not bad for a modern opera. The West Edge production will star countertenor Randall Scotting in the title role, a part he can only hope leaves him clothed most of the time.
Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sacramento Philharmonic opens Season

Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera with Andrew Grams, conducting, opened their 2019-2020 season last night in Memorial Auditorium with:

WAGNER Tannhäuser March
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto
  • Allegro molto appassionato
  • Andante
  • Allegretto non troppio; Allegro molto vivace
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"
  • Adagio-Allegro non troppo
  • Allegro con grazia
  • Allegro molto vivace
  • Adagio lamentoso
TCHAIKOVSKY Prelude to Eugene Onegin as an encore.

Maestro Grams opened the season last year, too.  He is entertaining, and brings a lot of enthusiasm to his performances. William Hagen was the solo violinist for the Mendelssohn violin concerto.  I don't think I've had this much fun listening to Mendelssohn before.  Grams and Hagen made a great match.

Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony is very long and ends quietly.  This is confusing for the audience.  One would rather clap at the end of the first or third movements.  The conductor should signal that he is finished, but he didn't.  This is a very beautiful and wide ranging symphony which is wonderful to hear.

It was good to see Maestro Grams again.