Sunday, June 30, 2013

Annotated Interview with Robert Tannenbaum

Q&A with Robert Tannenbaum, of merged Sacramento Philharmonic, Opera

By Edward Ortiz
Published: Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5AANDE Last Modified: Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013 - 7:29 am

The next two years will be crucial ones for the recently merged Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera. Steering that merged organization, known as the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, will be the job of new General Director Robert Tannenbaum. A former director of the cultural division at the Esterhazy Foundation in Austria, Tannenbaum, 56, signed a two-year contract to lead the SRPAA, which will operate on a $1.8 million budget in 2013-14. We asked Tannenbaum about his plans for the new organization and his take on the social contract between the arts and the public.

What kind of programming excites you? 

My personal tastes tend to be pretty eclectic. I like things like (Russian composer Alexander) Scriabin.

What kind of programming should audiences expect? 

My feeling is that the orchestra and the opera are both in a place where they're trying to develop a new, stable base, financially and artistically. It just feels to me that we need to be in a phase of good old-fashioned consolidation – which means sticking to tried-and-true repertoire.

What kind of repertoire? 

We're talking about the great traditional repertoire – Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart and Schubert. I think it's important this coming season to be more conservative in our programming and go for the pieces everyone knows and loves.

How will you capture the interest of new audiences? 

That's the whole idea of separating the mainstage programming and our satellite series. I really want to use the satellite series to go far deeper into uncharted territory than the mainstage season. One of the things I've been talking about with (Music Director) Michael Morgan is looking for cutting edge California contemporary composers. Also, I just did a program in Austria that I loved. We were working with contemporary composers out of the Middle East. There is a wonderful core of young composers coming out of Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

[I think I agree with this.  I very seldom attend Philharmonic concerts because I am not interested in the programming.  I personally prefer a mix of traditional stuff and American modern.  I don't want to listen to pop music on an orchestra concert.  I won't comment on middle eastern composers.]

What about on the opera side?

It's exactly the same as what I said about the symphonic side. I love what we call the top 15 operas. I'd love to be able to expand beyond that, but at this point I feel the responsibility to do the traditional operas that everyone wants to see – but do them in a way that our traditional audience and a new audience will get something from.

I understand you're keen on a company constructing its own sets. 

A big part of the malaise that American regional opera finds itself in today has to do with the availability of sets. We're saddled by what's out there to rent – and a lot of that material is very dusty. We're talking sets that were designed in the 1970s and '80s.

So you'd like to see a different aesthetic, set-wise? 

I'd like to find a way to do traditional opera with a modern, aesthetic eye. We don't necessarily have to revert to the era of chandeliers and velvet drapes.

So what is that aesthetic grounded in? 

It's what I call the best of an American straight-theater aesthetic. If you go to straight theater, you get to see quite a bit of excellent modern design with aesthetically clean lines, and costumes, and have it all stick to the traditional spaces of the story. That is why I picked "Il Trovatore" for my first opera.

[My problem with Il Trovatore is how hard it is to sing.  If I like the singing, I will like the opera.  I like it very much that he is suggesting modernizing the sets without apologizing for this.]

How does that opera fit in with that aesthetic? 

Unlike operas like a "La Bohème," which is very clearly set architecturally, "Il Trovatore" is not that limiting. It's an opera about internal social structures and societal conflicts. It can be done with simple scenic elements and projections that will evoke traditional staging, without spending that much money.

I understand you're interested in having sets built in Sacramento. 

I'm talking with Sacramento State University to develop an opera production project that will work for us and the university. When I first came here I met with the CSUS dean of arts and letters, Edward Inch, and we started brainstorming. I've sent them a proposal that I call my "opera design for the 20th century" project. They were very interested. This would be interdepartmental and involve opera, music and theater departments.

[I enthusiastically support this.  Get everyone working in the same direction.]

What are you thinking in that realm? 

Young designers are not learning how to design opera. If you go to school and get an MFA in costume or set design, you learn how to design musicals and you learn how to design straight theater but you do not learn how to design opera, because people do not do new operas. So I'd like to work with the educational community to teach them how to dramaturgically analyze and design opera, and have opera productions that we can use at the Sacramento Opera.

Would the sets create a revenue stream for the company? 

That is definitely part of the project – creating these productions of traditional repertoire operas that can be done in multiuse venue community theaters like ours. This should, within five years, create an excellent revenue stream.

What will be your approach to fundraising? 

When organizations are living from hand to mouth, it's very tempting to focus on what I call the "I've fallen and I can't get up" strategy of fundraising. I don't think that message is compelling to anyone. It's not a message that has a future. So what I've started to do is connect my fundraising to specific symphonic, operatic and educational projects that will give my donors value for their dollars.

Did your time in Europe influence your view about the arts? 

One of the things I've really enjoyed about working in Europe is that European society and cities know that cultural offerings are a part of what makes a city strong. Therefore, a city and a region are responsible for helping those things survive and prosper.

Like a social contract between the arts and a community?

There are many things that we pay for as part of a civic contract that we don't give a second thought to, and I feel that the performing arts need to be part of that social contract. In the American performing arts we tend to have this way of looking at entertainment as "if you guys like it and can pay for it, go ahead and do it." That does not work for recreational activities – whether it's a Madonna concert or a basketball game or a symphony orchestra. But for some reason, people tend to focus on the performing arts as "you guys have to pay your own way." No one in modern Western society pays their own way for recreation or culture through ticket sales.

Should the arts be funded the way they are in Europe? 

I'm not lobbying for funding the arts the way the arts are funded in Europe. I'm lobbying for the concept that the arts are a part of what makes a city strong, and therefore it's a civic responsibility. That is the thing I feel most strongly about that I'm bringing back with me from Europe.

[His ideas are interesting.  He has my support.]

Call The Bee'sEdward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz..
© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Il Trovatore from Munich

Sorry, original film is gone. Here is a tantalizing taste of the Il Trovatore from Munich that streams July 5.  This one is the trailer, but has some nice singing examples.

Anja Harteros grows on me.  The Verdi Wagner year is her year.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cosi fan tutte

Doctor Despina

Fiordiligi:  Ellie Dehn
Dorabella:  Christel Lötzsch *
Despina:  Susannah Biller
Ferrando:  Francesco Demuro
Guglielmo:  Philippe Sly *
Don Alfonso:  Marco Vinco

Conductor:  Nicola Luisotti
Production:  John Cox

Oh how we wish they were all like that.  We are speaking of the San Francisco Opera's current production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.  Things we wish were always this good:

1.  The maestro.  Nicola Luisotti may be my favorite by now.  Such wonderful musical ensemble for a Mozart opera can only trace back to the maestro.  Phrasing that just wouldn't quit.  Ensemble singing.  Ensemble playing.  More, please.

2.  Theorbo.  Just kidding.  We don't always need to see a theorbo in Mozart.  For my son--the continuo was 2 harpsichords, cello and theorbo.  Dr. Gossett once informed me that figured bass continued into his period, something I had not known.  In Rossini, and maybe possibly Mozart, it should really be a piano.

3.  The very flashy Despina of Susannah Biller.  This is my fourth encounter with Ms Biller, including her very professional outing as Daisy in The Great Gatsby and her Nanetta in Falstaff in Portland.  She showed very dynamic singing and looked adorable as the notary.

4.  Guys who actually looked like they were sufficiently in disguise not to be recognized.  This was a first.

5.  Guys who were still cute in and out of their disguises.

6.  Sisters who harmonized like they really were sisters.

7.  Gorgeous sets and costumes.

There must be something I didn't like.  There was one gorgeous number after another--the only real excuse for presenting this opera.  But in the end the guys choose war over love.

As we left the theater, the War Memorial and City Hall were lit up in rainbow colors to celebrate the Supreme Court decisions.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Poor Hoffmann

Conductor; Patrick Fournillier
Director & Costume Designer; Laurent Pelly

Hoffmann Matthew Polenzani
The Muse/Nicklausse Angela Brower
Lindorf Christian Van Horn
Luther Hadleigh Adams
Olympia Hye Jung Lee
Antonia Natalie Dessay
Crespel James Creswell
Dr. Miracle Christian Van Horn
Voice of Antonia's Mother Margaret Mezzacappa
Giulietta Irene Roberts
Schlemil Hadleigh Adams
Dapertutto Christian Van Horn
Stella Jacqueline Piccolino

Poor Hoffmann, our hero in Jacques Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann currently in rotation at the San Francisco Opera.  He has this muse/tormentor who follows him around and messes up all his relationships with women.  On the way he kills a couple of people and loses his reflection.  I would think that not having a reflection would make shaving difficult.  It's still an incredibly fun opera.

I don't know what to think of the staging.  All that black and gray is pretty depressing.  In the Venetian scene we were relieved to see some green on the stage.  However, I felt that this constantly moving and changing set, literally constantly moving in parts of the Giulietta scene, made the action absolutely clear in this complex drama.

The singing was much better in the actual performance than it had been in the rehearsal.  I knew this and did not comment about the performances.  Matthew Polenzani was our desolate, drunken poet who charms women with his words.  I liked him a lot.  He spent a lot of his time lying drunk on the floor but managed to remain lovable in spite of it.

I enjoyed Natalie Dessay's performance of Antonia. Above is a film from Barcelona of Natalie as Antonia in our production with a different tenor. Natalie has announced her retirement from opera, and this is her next to last appearance. We are grateful to have seen her and hope that someday she will return.

The constant villain sung by Christian Van Horn was a very dark, sinister version.

Angela Brower as Nicklausse was also excellent.  A double was used to facilitate the quick changes from her female muse attire to her male student.  This worked well.

Natalie made a very low bow in front of Patrick Fournillier, the capable French conductor.   It was fun even the second time.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Jamie Takes it All

At last there are films of Jamie's final at Cardiff Singer of the World.  This is so you can see what the fuss is about.

Jamie Barton has taken everything at Cardiff Singer of the World.  Listen here for a sample.  My entire acquaintance with her and enthusiasm for her singing came from her appearance at the Richard Tucker Gala.  I can't help being partial to mezzos because they always sing pieces I used to sing. Also, can it be a coincidence that she sings all this British music?  I think not.  Here is Purcell arranged by Britten.  These two clips are from her final competition performance.

In other news, we know from Norman Lebrecht that Jonas Kaufmann has switched labels from Decca to Sony and will soon release a Verdi album at Sony.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Jamie wins the Song Prize

Here are the five finalists at the Cardiff Singer of the World contest:  Jamie Barton, USA; Olena Tokar, Ukraine; Marko Mimica, Croatia; Teresa Romano, Italy, and Daniela Mack, Argentina.

I know that Jamie Barton won the song prize because she posted it on Facebook.  Congratulations.

Daniela Mack is a former Adler Fellow and will sing Rosina next season at the San Francisco Opera.  She won the fourth night.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

Conductor; Michael Christie
Director; Kevin Newbury

Mary Magdalene; Sasha Cooke*
Simon; Hadleigh Adams*
Tamar; Marina Harris*
Yeshua; (Jesus) Nathan Gunn*
Miriam; Maria Kanyova*
Peter; William Burden*

I'm going to try to write about Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene opera which had its world premiere last night at the San Francisco Opera.  It's not going to be easy.

The premise of this opera seems to be, "What if Jesus were an ordinary person with an ordinary life?"  What if his life were like a soap opera with people hurling accusations back and forth?  What if people shouted "bastard" at him in the street?  And most important:  what if he were obsessed with sex like all other men his age?

My brain immediately leaps to the next question, "Why would I care?"  If Jesus is just an ordinary person, why write an opera about him?  The content of his ministry--the Kingdom of God--was completely missing from the opera.  This Jesus was pretty lame.  "Nothing good ever came out of Nazareth."

I like reading all these relatively recently discovered gospels, too.  My mind formed a different picture.  What would be interesting to me about Mary as a disciple would be her interactions with the other disciples, her intellectual relationship to Jesus.  We only see Peter with whom she is constantly arguing.  Peter wants to overthrow the Romans, something I don't recall from any of the source materials.  It would take a lot more than 12 disciples to overthrow the Romans.

In our opera Jesus comes with an already existing wife named Tamar.  This is what makes Mary a prostitute. I liked the way he called her "Magdalene," and she would say back "Nazarene." I liked that Jesus' brothers appear with his mother.  I did not like the reference that the Romans turned Jesus over to the Jews for execution.  Crucifixion is a Roman method of execution, not a Jewish one.  He doesn't rise from the dead.  One could go on and on, but this seems like enough theological arguing.

Citations telling what book a sentence came from appeared on the supertitles.  The screen must be moved back up on to the proscenium.  When it hangs down below the proscenium, the lighting from the stage makes the titles very difficult to read.  This is the most trouble I have ever had reading supertitles in this very wordy opera.  [I notice the curtain was behind the supertitles in Cosi.  This worked much better.]

Sasha Cooke made her SFO debut as Mary Magdalene.  She was seen previously as Oppenheimer's wife in Doctor Atomic from the Met.  A very fine singer, she makes it all seem quite lyrical.

William Burden as Peter was very powerful and dynamic.  He would be by far the more logical person to crucify.  Nathan Gunn as Jesus was wimpy.  Maria Kanyova as Miriam, Jesus' mother, was also very assertive.  Only the two main characters seemed to be far more passive than was desirable.

At the end I was fascinated by a strange sound from the orchestra.  I sit where I can see down into the orchestra, where I saw two people bowing with violin bows on the blocks on a marimba.  How do people think of these things?

The music improved in the second act, but not enough.

Footnote from Wikipedia: Mark Adamo's 2013 opera The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is based largely on the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of John. The libretto also includes quotes from the Gospel of Thomas, Pistis Sophia and the Gospel of Philip.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Things I Notice about Norma

In Sumi Jo Cecilia Bartoli has chosen a partner in the famous duets who shares her leggiero technique. The effect is pleasing. The duet singing is quite romantic and not at all the showing off that normally characterizes just about everything in this opera. Sumi Jo as Adalgisa also restores the traditional voicing of opera: the older woman, Norma, has the darker voice.

The entire opera seems to be about the opera. This is why I want to see it for myself in Salzburg. The plot of Norma is very intense and emotional, but this intensity is always blunted by the almost absolute focus on vocal technique that it usually receives. With the heavy orchestra and focus on divas Norma is just too hard.

I like the thin blunt sound of the orchestra. The emotions come through with so much clarity.  If I were to pick something for this sound to resemble, I would have to say Rossini.

The Bartoli colors are present in abundance. Even after all these years she never ceases to surprise and amaze. This is her Norma, the one she wanted, a joy from start to finish. Critics of her "Casta diva" complain that she doesn't find the long phrase. The problem with her long phrase is that it covers the entire song. Listen again.

It is simply a complete reimagining of the opera.

Friday, June 14, 2013

New Album

Everyone is making a fuss over this album cover for Anna's new album for excess Photoshopping.  It isn't quite a Photoshop Disaster.

I think she looks like someone from a 40s movie.  Maybe Hedy Lamarr.

Perish the thought that I would link to La Cieca, but he has taken this to its logical conclusion in his Facebook account.

Also perish the thought that we should worry about the music, but she will sing

The sleepwalking scene from Macbeth
Something from Giovanna d’Arco
Elena from I Vespri Siciliani,
Elisabetta from Don Carlo
Leonora from Il trovatore

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Salzburg Festival lets Pereira go early to La Scala

At first we had this announcement that Alexander Pereira would take over at La Scala in 2015.  This after doing only two seasons at Salzburg.  He's hardly left Zurich and already he's off to La Scala.  I couldn't help wondering what would happen with Salzburg.

So now the other shoe has dropped.  Salzburg fired him

Cecilia Bartoli's post in Salzburg happened because of her relationship to Pereira.  So what now?

Stupid Review

I find I must comment.  The SF Guardian actually called the Olympia in Hoffmann "tightly-wound," intending that to be a criticism.  You have to be kidding.

Monday, June 10, 2013

List of Baroque Operas

Here is a list from Gramophone magazine of the 10 best Baroque operas.

Rameau Hippolyte et Aricie *
Handel Giulio Cesare in Egitto *
Purcell Dido and Aeneas *
Charpentier Médée *
Monteverdi L'incoronazione di Poppea *
Purcell The Fairy Queen *
Vinci Artaserse *
Monteverdi L'Orfeo *
Vivaldi Orlando furioso *
Lully Thésée

I may never have heard an opera by Lully.  The asterisks refer to operas I have blogged about.  In addition to these I have blogged about...

Friday, June 07, 2013

Lost Copy of La Cenerentola

I am cataloging my opera video collection, and hidden out of view on the same tape as Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire I found Cecilia Bartoli's performance in the Metropolitan Opera production of La Cenerentola in 1997.  I am doing Cecilia right now, so it seems suitable to write something about it.  It is important to know that this is the first time La Cenerentola played at the Met.

I don't know what I could have been thinking when I wrote of the performance by Elina Garanča here that I had probably never seen the production before.  I must surely have seen this tape of it. 

Angelina: Cecilia Bartoli
Prince Ramiro:  Ramón Vargas
Dandini:  Alessandro Corbelli
Don Magnifico:  Simone Alaimo
Clorinda:   Joyce Guyer
Tisbe:  Wendy White
Alidoro:   Michele Pertusi

I had also almost forgotten the dynamo Bartoli.  Where Elina goes cautiously up and down the stairs on the wedding cake, Cecilia runs up and down them with complete abandon.  Her father hits her and throws her around the stage.  The whole production makes a remarkably different impression than it does with Elina.

The cast is superb.  Alessandro Corbelli made his Met debut as Dandini, and never have I seen such a perfect Dandini.  It's almost a shame that he can't sing Dandini and Don Magnifico in the same production.  Vargas has gone on from being the magnificent Rossini tenor he is here.  He and Cecilia make a well-matched couple.  And Michele Pertusi, looking very young, is the definitive Alidoro, even having golden wings (Alidoro means golden wings.)

A book was written about this.  Cecilia wows with her wonderful singing and great charm.  Questo cor piu mio non e.

You can watch this streamed from the Metropolitan Opera on Demand.

Brief summary of Houston Cenerentola

Angelina: Cecilia Bartoli
Prince Ramiro:  Raul Gimenez 
Dandini:  Alessandro Corbelli
Don Magnifico:  Enzo Dara
Clorinda:   Laura Knoop  
Tisbe:  Jill Grove 
Alidoro:   Michele Pertusi

I also have a tape of the Houston performance a couple of years earlier in 1995.  This production was filmed to preserve the production which originated in Bologna.  If you love Cecilia, she is better here.  If you love old fashioned productions, this is for you.  Corbelli and Pertusi are better at the Met.  I'm glad I don't have to choose.

In my collection is also a version with Ann Murray. Now I must say I am Cenerentolaed out.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Dress of Tales of Hoffmann

Matthew Polenzani; Natalie Dessay; Christian van Horn

This was a version of the opera Les Conte d'Hoffmann by Offenbach that I have probably never seen.  It is called in the program "Performing edition based on the integral edition of the opera by Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck."  According to Wikipedia, this is a recent version which was successfully produced in Lyon and Hamburg.  It is supposed to reflect Offenbach's original music.

The acts are in the standard order:

Act I:  Prologue--Luther's Tavern in Nuremberg.
Act II:  Spalanzani's house (Olympia)
Act III:  Crespel's house in Munich (Antonia)
Act IV:  Giulietta's Palace in Venice (Giulietta)
Act V:  Epilogue--Luther's Tavern (Stella)

The Met reversed acts iv and iii.  In San Francisco we have French spoken dialogue, all relatively well done, while I have only ever heard recitative before.  This makes the opera shorter.

There was dialog about a violin I don't remember hearing before in the Antonia act.  Hoffmann stabs ...spoiler.  Maybe this whole entry is a spoiler, so don't read it.

Never mind.  This is perhaps the busiest staging I have ever seen.  Pieces of the set are constantly moving from place to place even while the scene is progressing.  In some of the scenes the only color on the set is the marks to tell where the pieces of set go--a different color for each scene, no doubt.

Olympia is fun.  At first she is raised into the air over and over, then released from her gadget, she skates around the stage like a mysterious hover craft.  Hy Jung Lee handles everything wonderfully.

It would appear this is another musicology incident.  Make up your own mind.  I hope those who love this opera are happy with anything that has changed.  Matthew Polenzani will be wonderful.  The opera opens Wednesday.