Sunday, August 31, 2014

Church of Chatter

They called it the Church of Beethoven because every Sunday morning they have a concert at The Kosmos at 1715 5th street.    The space doesn't really look like a church.  There was a coffee shop on one side.

I went for the program.

"At the River" (1916) by Charles Ives, an arrangement for violin and piano of one of Ives' songs.  (I sang this in college.)  It's one of those pieces where Ives changes a hymn into something unexpected.

Chaconne (1998) from The Red Violin by John Corigliano.  This was a very enjoyable selection in neo-romantic style from the sound track of the movie.  I have no idea if it followed the Baroque form for chaconne.  I wasn't paying enough attention.

Poet Bill Nevins, who teaches at UNM, read selections from his recently published book Heartbreak Ridge.

Two minutes of silence.

Sonata No 2 for Violin and Piano (1919) by Charles Ives.
I    Autumn:  Adagio maestoso - Allegro moderato
II   In the Barn:  Presto - Allegro moderato
III  The Revival:  Largo - Allegretto

The artists were David Felberg, violin, and Pamela Viktoria Pyle, piano.  They were both enthusiastic players of this excellent exciting music.  I have loved the work of Charles Ives for many years, and found the intensity of their playing transformative.  It should never be less than this.  David managed to break a few bow strings even.

Coffee, poetry, music, silence.  And no chatter during the playing.  As I always do, I tried to start up a conversation, but it didn't work this time.  Try this if you are ever in Albuquerque.

Friday, August 29, 2014


Chatter is an odd name for a chamber orchestra, but there you are. Perhaps in Albuquerque this is not odd. They used to be called the Church of Beethoven, but did not wish to be called "The ensemble that used to be called the Church of Beethoven" when they lost rights to the name.

Chatter gave a concert in the Albuquerque Art Museum last night in the same space as a Christo exhibit. When I was in New York for The Gates, I loved it, but Christo as just photographs and drawings is less than spectacular. Maybe it's for nostalgia. It turned out to be an excellent performance space: no echo, easy to hear, not too loud. Even the synthesizer wasn't too loud.

A synthesizer in Mahler 4? We heard it in an arrangement for chamber ensemble done in 2007 by Klaus Simon. This was in turn based on a similar arrangement by Arnold Schoenberg which undoubtedly did not include synthesizer. This arrangement seriously reduces the strings and winds to one player per section. I sat behind the piano and synthesizer.

It was lovely but different. Mahler loves to make interesting sounds with combinations of winds and percussion. The interesting sounds were still there, but the much smaller string section moved the sound ideal from late Romantic closer to the sound ideal of Schoenberg. Transparency of texture is a feature of this style. Synthesizer fills in some of the thinning of texture when it becomes excessive but the wind players predominate. The soprano was Hannah Stephens. I enjoyed the whole performance.

The program notes seemed to be taken as is from Wikipedia, except when they were explaining that Mahler was forbidden by the Nazis, they left out that this was because Mahler was Jewish. It can't have been for anything about the music.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Der Rosenkavalier

Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier usually looks like this:

This is the time of Mozart who as a child played for the Empress Maria Theresa.  Or perhaps we should say it used to look like this.

Now in the Strauss year this year in Malmö, Sweden, it looks like this:

With vivid colors that suggest but do not evoke a period. Nothing really looks like this. 

At Glyndebourne it looks like this:

Instead of Faninal's home we are at his factory, it seems.

And finally at Salzburg we have this:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What a Day!

This picture of Jonas Kaufmann and Cecilia Bartoli in a bikini singing under water all in one day.  My cup runneth over.   I think this picture has something to do with Andrea Chénier.  Opera is just too much fun.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Congrats @HeldenMomm! #HELPMANNS Best Female Performer (#Opera) winner for her role in #Elektra.  This tweet means that Christine Goerke won Best Female Performer in an Opera in the Helpmann Awards (Australian) for singing Elektra.

As of today, all but one of the main unions has reached a tentative agreement at the Metropolitan.  I'm glad Mr. Gelb has decided to follow my suggestions.

Stoyanova has withdrawn from Ballo at the San Francisco Opera because of recent surgery.   She is replaced by Julianna Di Giacomo.  She starts in 4:30.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

St. Petersburg

The cover from Cecilia's new album.  She sounds fabulous and looks about 23.

FYI:  "Dear all, the beautiful cover photo of Cecilia Bartoli was taken by Uli Weber and the costumes were designed by Agostino Cavalca. Please know that no real fur was used in the production of 'St Petersburg'."

sexy picture

We are always on the lookout for sexy pictures and offer this one of Dmitri Hvorostovsky on vacation.  I just read that Russians don't like tattoos. Hmmm.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Il Trovatore from Salzburg

Conductor:  Daniele Gatti
Production:  Alvis Hermanis

Leonora:  Anna Netrebko
Azucena:  Marie-Nicole Lemieux
Manrico:  Francesco Meli
Count di Luna:  Plácido Domingo

Il Trovatore from Salzburg started earlier in the morning than I expected, and I missed the first half.  I'll have to pay more attention in the future.  I listened to the audio of the first half.

I think the way this looks is amazing, but it does not meet my requirement that the staging should explain the plot.  This staging explains nothing and is maybe as senseless as the Bayerische Staatsoper version here.  The stream also had no subtitles.  So memory has to do all the explaining.

We're in a museum with spectacular European art works, and the characters are people who work for the museum.  They switch into and back out of period costumes.  Perhaps the staging explains that Leonora and her adventures exist only in the mind of A. Netrebko (someone pointed out that the name tag on her blue suit says "A. Netrebko.")   I found it mildly amusing that while the tragedy is playing out, there might be art lovers sitting on the benches.

Netrebko and Domingo both premiered in these roles in Berlin last season.  They are both stage creatures who bring a lot of theatrical energy to their roles.  I love Anna and find that she almost achieves the greatness here that she desires and will do so in the future.  She occasionally diminuendos unnecessarily and loses a bit of control.  Her trill has very much improved.  Her voice, which is spectacular in this repertoire, is more beautiful than Callas, Radvanovsky or even Harteros, but she does not quite conquer it physically.  

Placido.  Well, he's my age and I am generally astounded that he sounds as good as he does.  He is doing a better job of sounding like a baritone these days.  He was supposed to be old in Nabucco, but di Luna is supposed to be an age similar to Manrico.  It doesn't work.  He uses his voice to great theatrical effect, but the sound is that of an old man.

In the bows Gatti was vigorously shaking the hand of Francesco Meli, a real, honest to god Italian tenor.  Others have said he was blah, but I'm not sure he doesn't just seem so in comparison to Netrebko and Domingo, basically the definition of not blah.  He's young.  I found him promising.
I missed the best parts of Marie-Nicole Lemieux.

I must mention that brightly colored nail polish was part of the costuming.  I'm happy to see Netrebko is still climbing on the furniture.

Post Script.  I'm incredibly picky here.  This is actually amazing.  Watch it on now.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

From the Bastille Day Concert

I love to watch people rehearsing. For me this is better than the concert.  FYI: the picture on the back of her jacket is of herself as #73 in the top 99 from Ask Men.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

West Edge Summer Festival

Hydrogen Jukebox  

The Cast

Soprano 1:  Sara Duchovnay
Soprano 2:  Molly Mahoney
Mezzo:  Nicole Takesono
Tenor:  Jonathan Blalock
Baritone:  Efrain Solis
Bass:  Kenneth Kellogg
Narrator:  Howard Swain

Conductor:  David Möschler

Where to begin?  This "opera," Hydrogen Jukebox, by Philip Glass on words by Allen Ginsberg was presented by West Edge Opera at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley.  When I used to visit this part of Berkeley, this was a BART parking lot.  They have replaced about half of it with this building, a center for people with disabilities.  They can go directly from the Ashby BART station into the basement of the building. 

The picture above shows the entire cast.  The Narrator, an actor who does not sing, is the guy in the center.  The stage for this production was on the south end of the large space and was quite tiny, with ladders going to the next floor.  At one point the invisible conductor climbed down one of these ladders and played the piano.

I was interested in these words by Glass:

"For me there are two considerations in setting text to music. There are the words themselves, which need to be set in the most natural way. With Allen's poetry I was most intent on respecting the music that was already in the words. Then there is the musical environment into which the words are set. In the poem Aunt Rose, for example, I used a 5/8 rhythm — a kind of lopsided rhythm — 1-2, 1-2-3. I heard the rhythm from the description of her toot: it's a picture of someone who walks with a limp. That's the only specific relation of the music to the words."

The result of this approach for my ears was a piece where the words dominated the music.  It also made for a very repetitive rhythmic feeling because Ginsberg's poetry tends to use a stagnant rhythmic pattern.  (Ok.  Pile on.)  I know.  Glass is always repetitive--he calls it "repetitive structures"--, but this is the only time it has actually seemed monotonous to me.  Maybe he's simply too respectful of the honored poet.

The opera uses 20 poems or fragments of poems on virtually any subject.  In one Jaweh and Allah are warring, a concept I loved.  Another deals with Aunt Rose.  Another is about smoking grass--very timely, don't you think?  There were homosexual and heterosexual couples.  Uncle Sam makes an appearance.  A flag is held up but carefully refolded and placed in a box.  It reminds you that there were once liberals in America.  I was astounded by how timely it all was even though the opera was from 1990 and many of the poems from much earlier.  I expected to be more shocked by this.  The world has changed a lot.

There was no real plot or characters.  The words were so dense and complicated that ones eyes were preoccupied with reading them with little time left for watching the action.

It's wonderful how Glass will make an opera out of anything.  Appomattox is still the most boring.

The End of the Affair 

The Cast

Sarah Miles:  Carrie Hennessey
Maurice Bendrix, her boyfriend:  Keith Phares
Henry Miles, her husband:  Philip Skinner
Mrs. Bertram, her mother:  Donna Olson
Mr. Parkis, detective:  Mark Hernandez
Lance, his son:  Ben Miller
Richard Smythe:  Michael Jankosky

Conductor:  Jonathan Khuner

The End of the Affair by Jake Heggie (2007 version) was staged at the north end of the large space.  This work is far more of a conventional opera with characters and a story, and takes place near the end of WWII in London.  It is based on a story by Graham Greene.

The plot is about an event and how it affects everyone involved.  Maurice and Sarah are in bed making love when a bomb strikes.  Maurice gets up to warn people about the bomb when another bomb causes a building to fall on him.   It's a bit like the movie Little Dorrit where the same story is told from two different perspectives.

At the beginning we see the story from Maurice's perspective.  The bomb strikes, he gets up, and Sarah leaves him with no explanation.  He spends the next 18 months trying to understand this, and ultimately hires a detective.  At the end of act 1 we see the incident portrayed from Maurice's point of view, and we fade to black.

The detective has stolen Sarah's diary, and Maurice reads the story from Sarah's side for the first time.  The building falls, Sarah sees Maurice and assumes he is dead.  She prays, "God, I will give him up if you will only let him live."  To her he is dead and then comes back to life.  She has summoned and received a miracle.  How can she not do what she has promised?

There is very much of a Catholic overlay to this story.  Mother makes a point of telling us that she had Sarah baptized Catholic when she was 2.  In the Catholic world miracles continue on to today.  God has chosen to bless Sarah with a miracle, and then when she dies others are also blessed.  Lance is cured of his disease, and Smythe loses his birth mark.  Parts of this sound pretty dubious to me from a religious perspective, but Pope Paul VI approved, so who am I to complain?

West Edge successfully invoked the mysterious mysticism of the plot.  Scenes of WWII bombed London are projected on the back.  Throughout the first act Sarah appears as a sexual fantasy object whom Maurice meets when he is thinking of her.  Her mysterious, haunting presence permeates every scene even when she has no lines.  She walks like a benign ghost over the stage.  For me the staging was marvelously effective.

Sarah gives herself to God.

All of the singing and acting was marvelous, especially Carrie Hennessey, Keith Phares, Philip Skinner, and Donna Olson.

Well done.  The music is 21st century romanticism.

I apologize for not making it to La Boheme.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Salzburg Don Giovanni

Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach

Donna Anna:  Lenneke Ruiten
Donna Elvira:  Anett Fritsch
Zerlina:  Valentina Nafornita
Don Giovanni:  Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Leporello:  Luca Pisaroni
Il Commendatore:  Tomasz Konieczny
Don Ottavio:  Andrew Staples
Masetto:  Alessio Arduini

Lots of goodies are streaming from Salzburg on this year.  I don't know how you tell if they are charging, but if you start it running and it doesn't stop, that means it's free. 

Right now I am watching Don Giovanni.  They all appear to be in a hotel together with the characters staying in different rooms.  One of the groups of guests is getting married:  Zerlina and Masetto.   Donna Elvira comes in with her suitcase.  She is checking in.  What a great idea.  Two of the women, Zerlina and Donna Elvira, are wearing modern wedding dresses.  Donna Elvira has just come from marrying Don Giovanni, I imagine.  For me this absolutely works.

You see there's always a problem with this opera that every little bit seems to be in a different place.  So we end up with 10 or 12 sets, like the Met checkerboard.  So why not put the opera in an environment where the set stays the same and the people occupying it change?  I think the designer must be someone who spends a lot of time in hotels.

This Leporello just seems to follow DG around and goose all the same girls.  He isn't viewing his master with alarm--he's trying to get in on the action.  This reduces the complexity of his character.  

Recitative is on the piano.

One problem is that the girls are all about the same age and build, making them difficult to tell apart as their costumes change.

In the second half our newlyweds do a mostly striptease in the lobby.  When I'm up wandering around in a hotel at night, I put on a lot more than these girls.  Now they are placing a bust of the Commendatore in the lobby.  This is actually fascinating.  For my requirement that the production needs to explain the plot it is aces.  Our Giovanni and Leporello are quite the pair, more interesting together than apart.  This is the first time I've thought that Giovanni was actually the main character.  I usually feel that he is upstaged by Leporello and the girls.  Excellent.  Congratulations.  It's only suitable that it should be at Salzburg.

They poison the Don.  Donna Elvira becomes a nun.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera scrap fall season because of financial problems

From the Bee

Published: Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 - 10:23 pm
For the first time in its 17-year history, the Sacramento Philharmonic will not present any concerts during the fall season, and it remains unclear whether its musicians will return to the stage in the spring of 2015.
The Sacramento Opera has also decided not to stage performances in the fall.
The decision follows months of financial uncertainty for the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, the organization formed last year when the philharmonic merged with the Sacramento Opera.
Laurie Nelson, president of the alliance, said the board opted in June to cancel the fall season in order to give the organization a “hiatus” so it can reorganize. She said the alliance will work on establishing a sustainable financial plan, restructuring its board of directors and defining the arts groups’ relevance to the city.
This fall, Sacramento will be the only U.S. city of comparable size without an active symphony orchestra.
Both the Sacramento Opera and Sacramento Philharmonic have seen steep declines in their operating budgets since the start of the recession. Both have been on the verge of closure. Although ticket sales have remained relatively stable, the groups have not met their fundraising goals.
At the end of the 2011-12 season, the orchestra made an appeal to the community for emergency funds to deal with a $150,000 budget shortfall.
During the appeal, the orchestra released a statement saying its budget was comparable to orchestras in smaller cities such as Amarillo, Texas; Erie, Pa,; and Wheeling, W.Va.
All of those orchestras have announced full concert seasons for 2014-15.
Although last year’s merger was supposed to strengthen both the opera and the philharmonic, it hasn’t had that effect. The two groups’ combined budgets totaled more than $2 million before the merger. At this point, the alliance has just $131,000 in the bank for 2014-2015, Nelson said.
In January, the organization received a $500,000 gift from the Joyce and Jim Teel Family Foundation, just before it was to appeal to the city for a $350,000 forgivable loan. The Teel gift allowed the alliance to forgo the loan, with most of the gift used to pay for the Sacramento Opera’s production of “Il Trovatore.”
“We really gave this a lot of thought as a board,” Nelson said of the decision to scrap the fall season. “We could have done another season, like we did last year, and struggle along and end up the year with no money in the bank. Instead, we decided to take a pause and really give some consideration to how to build a foundation for the future.”
The decision was greeted with dismay by Larry Gardner, president of American Federation of Musicians Local 12.
“We’re certainly shocked and dismayed that an organization that has had consistent budgets above $1 million annually would suddenly be reduced to one of approximately $130,000,” Gardner said.
“This has been frustrating – very frustrating – for the musicians,” Gardner said.
The financial troubles at the SRPAA are no rarity in the arts; many orchestras and opera companies have severely pruned their seasons, and some have closed altogether.
However, Sacramento seems to be a special case, Gardner said.
“The orchestra is the only one of its size and in a city the size of Sacramento in the Central Valley that will not present in the fall,” Gardner said.
He noted that smaller orchestras in smaller cities such as the Fresno Philharmonic and Modesto Philharmonic are presenting full seasons in 2014-15 after cutting back on offerings directly after the recession.
“Those orchestras have turned a corner,” said Gardner.
“When you look at the skyline in Sacramento and then look at Modesto or Fresno’s, you begin to wonder, ‘What’s going on in Sacramento?’ ” Gardner said. “It sure looks like there is money in Sacramento, but it doesn’t seem to be going to the orchestra or opera company.”
Nelson said bankruptcy is not a likely option if no workable solutions are found.
“That is not in the cards at this point in time,” said Nelson. “If that were to occur, it would be such a blow to this community and the art form. I think it would take years for us to get back to being able to offer something to the community.”
Nelson said the success of the hiatus will depend on two factors: whether new board members can be brought on, and to what extent it is established that the community wants to support the orchestra and opera company.
She called the current SRPAA board “too small and overworked.”
She said the SRPAA is looking for long-term financial commitments from new board members. “Instead of a one-time commitment we will respectfully ask donors to give for three years so we have a foundation to build upon.” Nelson said.
Contributions from individuals will be key, given the region’s less-than-stellar reputation for philanthropic giving to the arts and lack of corporate philanthropy.
The challenges at the SRPAA are also compounded by an absence of long-term leadership. General director Rob Tannenbaum left that role in July, only one year into his tenure.
Nelson said some of the problems stemmed from the fact that when both organizations merged they discovered that only 7 percent of their audiences overlapped.
“We had a steep learning curve,” said Nelson. “We had some challenges figuring what direction we wanted to go.”
At present, the only concert likely to happen is a May 2015 event that will be produced in a partnership between the orchestra and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, said Julian Dixon, principal tuba with the philharmonic and its head of community outreach.
That partnership, called “Link Up!” is in its fifth year and involves orchestra musicians working with students in the region’s schools on music curriculum. The culmination is a May concert with students performing alongside orchestral musicians.
For Dixon, that effort is a bright spot in a sea of uncertainty. The absence of fall concerts and the expectation of a deeply reduced spring concert slate means he will have to scramble to make ends meet.
“It’s a definite blow,” Dixon said. “The challenge is, when we get so reduced, how can we rebound?”
Nonetheless, Dixon remains optimistic that the philharmonic can recover.
“Sacramento is looking at the big picture right now. We’re bringing the arena to downtown, and we have the railyards, and there seems to be a buzz around the arts,” Dixon said. “We have to position our organization around that big picture.”

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Dudamel's Verdi Requiem

At the Hollywood Bowl with soloists Julianna Di Giacomo, Michelle DeYoung, Vittorio Grigolo and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo.  They wailed.  I loved Dudamel's slow tempos that left room for the soloists' to phrase those wonderful Verdi lines.  In Verdi the line is everything.  It was a bit chaotic but very moving.

Mu Phi Awards

My fraternity Mu Phi Epsilon gave out four performance awards at the convention this year.

Joyce DiDonato who is a member.  She sent her regrets since she is on tour in South America.

The Metropolitan Opera.  Maybe they thought they could use the good will.

The amazing Audra McDonald, not a member, who automatically wins every award.

Jake Heggie.  Heggie's award was accompanied by performances of pieces by him.  By now there are lots to choose from.