Saturday, November 25, 2017

Alma Deutscher

This opera will soon appear on

Alma Deutscher isn't singing, she's composing.  She's 12.  These are songs from her opera Cinderella which plays in San Jose in December. It's sold out. Her harmonic sense is very pleasing. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Nadine Sierra is negotiating for her first album.  More later.

She has finished making this recording.  We will look for it to be released.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1962 - 2017)

Unfortunately this time it is real.  Dmitri Hvorostovsky has died in hospice in London.  He was my favorite.  I saw him live in San Francisco and London and adored him.  We will miss you.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

West Edge

I apologize for my post yesterday.  I received a notification from West Edge Opera that the 2018 festival would be held at Fort Point, or so I thought.  Someone informed me that it was in fact Ford Point.  Well I have heard of Fort Point but was ignorant of Ford Point.  The venue is Craneway Conference Center, Harbour Way South, Richmond, CA.  It has actual bathrooms, and we may assume that noisy celebrations will not be occurring at the same time.  If the performance space looks anything like the above, it should be perfect.

Take 580 west toward Point Richmond, exit at Harbour Way and go south.

Sunday, November 19, 2017


This was a really busy weekend for me.  I went to 4 performances in 3 days.

  1. Manon in San Francisco on Thursday

  2. Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill at Sac State on Friday

  3. The Exterminating Angel on Saturday morning

  4. Sacramento Philharmonic on Saturday night
So if my reviews seem scattered, that's my excuse.  Berlin to Broadway was a student offering that made of Kurt Weill's songs a sort of biography by presenting 25 different songs in chronological order.  Some were familiar, some were not.  I love Weill and found this fun.  Everything was sung in English, including this one.

I reviewed Manon.  It's hard to direct opera because there are usually so many people on the stage.  It needs to be easy to pick out the main characters and to show how they relate to one another.

I ended up with ambiguity in my reaction to The Exterminating Angel.  I think the content is fascinating.  An HD performance is directed on two levels:  the listed stage director and the camera director.  The first might well have shown who each character is and who they came in with while the camera director might have cut too many people out of the picture to leave much meaning.

I liked the idea of it more than the reality.  I did not like the super high notes--highest ever heard on the stage of the Metropolitan.  Maybe you never heard it because it's hideous.  Get rid of that and I'll think it over.  The ending I liked. This gives an idea.

The Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera presented a concert of Gioachino Rossini and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart called "A Night at the Opera."  There was singing by Alyssa Martin, mezzo soprano, and Steven LaBrie, baritone.   They sang bits from Barber of Seville, Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Rossini was represented by an arrangement by Benjamin Britten called Soirées musicales.  Mozart was represented by the Prague Symphony.  The philharmonic is playing well now. The guest conductor was Sameer Patel.  I would have preferred more singing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Exterminating Angel

Conductor...............Thomas Adès
Production..............Tom Cairns

Edmundo De Nobile, host.......Joseph Kaiser
Lucía De Nobile, hostess......Amanda Echalaz

Leticia Maynar, guest of honor... Audrey Luna
Leonora Palma, flirts with Doctor Conde.....Alice Coote
Silvia De Ávila, sister of Francisco.........Sally Matthews
Francisco De Ávila, countertenor, brother of Silvia......Iestyn Davies
Blanca Delgado, pianist......Christine Rice
Alberto Roc, conductor.............Rod Gilfry
Beatriz, engaged to Eduardo..........Sophie Bevan
Eduardo, engaged to Beatriz..........David Portillo
Raúl Yebenes, explorer............Frédéric Antoun
Colonel Álvaro Gómez, Lucia's lover....David Adam Moore
Señor Russell...........Kevin Burdette
Doctor Carlos Conde.....John Tomlinson

Julio, stays behind.....Christian Van Horn
Lucas...................John Irvin
Enrique.................Ian Koziara
Pablo...................Paul Corona
Meni....................Mary Dunleavy
Camila..................Catherine Cook
Servant.................Andrea Coleman
Servant.................Marc Persing

Padre Sansón............Jeff Mattsey
Yoli, child.................Lucas Mann

The Metropolitan Opera live streamed The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès. The opera is based on the 1962 film by Luis Buñuel which I have never seen.  In the 60s there was a global movement in art movies of which this is a representative.

I didn't prepare for this opera, and that turned out to be fortuitous.  When the ending came, I was pleasingly surprised.  Many of the cast were in the premiere at Salzburg in 2016.

Some guests have been to a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor and are invited to an after party.  One of the guests, Leticia, performed Lucia in the opera.  Right away the servants begin to flee.  No explanation is offered.  Then after the dinner the guests find they cannot leave.  Again no explanation is offered.

Apparently Adès has been obsessed with this subject for some years and finally received permission.  He is a composer in the modernist style with screeching sopranos and jumpy melodic lines.  I don't find it particularly attractive.  I did enjoy seeing and hearing the Ondes Martenot which was shown in closeup being played.  There was a lot of drumming.  At times it seemed like a comedy.  It wasn't as grotesque as I had imagined.

Over the course of the opera Russell and Beatriz die.  The guests dig a hole in the floor and water comes up.  The brother and sister seem to be romantically attracted to each other.  An unknown amount of time passes.  There were live sheep at the beginning which were eaten when everyone was starving.  There was someone hovering in the air above one of the women who might have been the exterminating angel himself.

For no apparent reason everyone decided to repeat exactly what they did when they arrived, and this seemed to break the spell.  They could then leave as though nothing had happened.

This is supposed to be a great opera but there are far too many characters.  It did make me curious to see the movie.  Alice Coote thought it was a parable on life which is also entirely without explanation.  We are here.  We cannot leave.  We don't know why.  Forgive me if I have misquoted her intentions.

I am not likely to ever be a fan of Thomas Adès.  For me opera is about singing which never became interesting.  People admire his orchestration and that is both the virtue and the fault of this piece.  Instead of composing for singers, he has simply orchestrated them.  At least in The Tempest there was the charming music for Ariel, but I heard nothing here that I would wish to ever hear again.  I would advise any high soprano to refuse any offers to sing this.  It can't possibly be good for your voice.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Manon at the San Francisco Opera

Conductor: Patrick Fournillier
Director: Vincent Boussard

Manon Lescaut: Ellie Dehn
Chevalier des Grieux: Michael Fabiano
Lescaut: David Pershall
Comte des Grieux: James Creswell
Guillot de Morfontaine:  Robert Brubaker
De Brétigny:  Timothy Mix
Poussette:  Monica Dewey *
Javotte:  Laura Krumm
Rosette:  Renée Rapier

Last night was the fourth performance of Massenet's Manon at the San Francisco Opera.

I find it helpful to contrast the plot of this opera with Puccini's Manon Lescaut.  To begin Massenet's heroine arrives in town on the "coach" on her way to the convent.  In our production she looks like Eliza Doolittle.  Puccini is similar.  In Puccini Lescaut is Manon's brother while in Massenet he is her cousin.  In both versions there are rich old men who want Manon.  In our production virtually all the characters are introduced in the first act but no effort was made to clarify who they were and how they relate to the story.  There was just a lot of meaningless milling around until Manon and des Grieux arrive.

In Massenet we see des Grieux and Manon living together and see that their separation was caused by the elder des Grieux kidnapping of his son.  In Puccini we go immediately to Manon living with one of the two old men as the result of her brother's dealings.  And when she attempts to escape her keeper, he has her arrested and shipped to America.

Massenet focuses on the relationship between des Grieux and Manon, a much more romantic and appealing approach.  After des Grieux's departure, Manon takes up with one of the old men.  The staging of Manon's gavotte is the highlight of the production.  She is seen high above the stage holding a large bunch of balloons and then floats down to the floor.  Fun.  I was worried she would have to sing from the flies, an acoustic dead spot.

When des Grieux is kidnapped by his father, he goes into the religious life and orates on the meaning of life.  This allows for the sexiest scene in all of opera:  the scene at Saint-Sulpice.  Manon has not forgotten des Grieux and goes to the church to seduce him away from his religious calling.  She succeeds.  "Isn't this my hand?"

The couple get involved in gambling and are arrested for cheating.  They have created their own fate, far less depressing than Puccini where they both die in Louisiana.

This performance was saved by music.  Our lovely French conductor kept the action moving and supported our romantic pair.  Ellie Dehn handled well all the changes of style of her role and sounded lovely.  Michael was intense and exciting as always.  His voice fills our house with ease.  Together they made a very romantic couple and brought the audience to applause over and over.  I loved it.

Monday, November 13, 2017


Olga Borodina.  My favorite for this.  This is her favorite music.  You can tell.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thaïs on the Radio

Conductor: Emmanuel Villaume
Production: John Cox

Thaïs:  Ailyn Pérez
Nicias: Jean-François Borras
Athanaël: Gerald Finley
Palémon: David Pittsinger

Because I am an admirer of Ailyn Pérez, I am listening to the Saturday radio broadcast of Jules Massenet's Thaïs.  This production debuted with Renée Fleming in an HD simulcast, so I can still visualize the sets to a limited extent.  Ailyn begins the opera in the blond wig seen below.

Towards the end her hair gets shorter and rattier.  I've been following Ailyn Pérez since almost the beginning of the blog, and I am a fan.  This is a perfect role for her.  Finley is also very good.  The applause was enthusiastic.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

From the New York times.

Anna Netrebko Will Star in Three Met-Bolshoi Productions


Anna Netrebko Credit Maxim Shipenkov/European Pressphoto Agency

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Film of Cecilia

This is fun.  Cecilia is walking through Salzburg and says that when she is in Europe, she feels at home.  Then we see her with her husband, Oliver Widmer.  Doesn't she look great.  He is carrying the bags and calls her, "Herr Bartoli."  This will be because of the beard for Ariodante.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Opera on DVD

These DVDs fill in some enormous gaps in Metropolitan Opera on demand video listings.  There are, of course, many more than what I'm showing.  I generally prefer to recommend currently or recently active performers.


The Met is woefully lacking in this area. I like:
L’Incoronazione di Poppea Monteverdi 2008 with Danielle de Niese
Dido and Aeneas Purcell Dido and Aeneas with Sarah Connolly
Giulio Cesare Handel Cecilia's Salzburg version 
Orlando Furioso Vivaldi Marie-Nicole Lemieux
Artaserse Vinci Artaserse with 5 Countertenors
Partenope Handel YouTube from San Francisco
Semele Handel Zurich Cecilia
Theodora Handel Theodora from Glyndebourne

I will need to do additional research to find the best version of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, a very significant opera.  But the Danielle de Niese L’Incoronazione di Poppea is a fine Monteverdi example.

Two star Cecilia Bartoli, one from Zurich, Semele, and one from Salzburg, Giulio Cesare.  Operas chosen for the modern productions are Partenope and Theodora.  A modern production can improve a Baroque opera.


Orphée et Eurydice Gluck Vesseliina Kasarova
Don Giovanni Mozart Bartoli Zurich

The Met on demand has covered this genre, but I will keep searching for examples to add here.    The Gluck shown above is a wonderful performance of the Berlioz arrangement made for Pauline Viardot.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Cultural Appropriation

According to Wikipedia:

Cultural appropriation is a concept in sociology, dealing with the adoption of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture.  

I would like to suggest that this is nonsense.  So according to this idea, the following things are bad:
  • All jazz because either white people appropriated African-American rhythms or African-Americans appropriated western harmonic tradition.  You pick.  Jazz is worth whatever cultures were offended in inventing the genre.
  • The Beatles because they appropriated American rock and roll.
  • All of European harmonic tradition because the continentals appropriated the triad from the British.
  • Opera because it appropriated the idea of sung drama from the Greeks.  This particular appropriation was deliberate and self-conscious.
The truth of the matter is that most of the greatest advances in human history came about because of the blending of ideas from different cultures.  Speaking as an American, we have no culture. So what are we supposed to do?  Stay indoors with a blanket over our heads?

Interesting and thought provoking art objects are the goal, and this can often be achieved by juxtaposing one culture against another.  I created a list of operas here which I was considering discussing from the point of view of this concept, but why bother.  I'd rather follow the tradition, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

Small post script:  The resulting imitation never precisely duplicates the original, and the differences are what makes it art.

Thursday, November 02, 2017


Anna Netrebko in “Il Trovatore” by Verdi at the Vienna state Opera