Tuesday, September 18, 2018

American Bach Soloists 2018-19

22-Oct-18 D 7:00 Bach Brandenburgs ABS Davis Community Church
18-Feb-19 D 7:00 Favorite Bach Camtatas ABS Davis Community Church
25-Mar-19 D 7:00 Matthew Passion ABS Davis Community Church
6-May-19 D 7:00 Bach Brandenburgs ABS Davis Community Church

These are the American Bach Soloists concerts in Davis.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

We were discussing the current queen of opera Sondra Radvanovsky, and I suggested we sing "God Save the Queen" when she came out for her bow, forgetting entirely that the opera starts with that same tune.  I am speaking of the current production of Roberto Devereux from the San Francisco Opera, a wonderful performance of a less than entirely wonderful opera. 

Conductor: Riccardo Frizza
Director: Stephen Lawless

Elisabetta (Elizabeth I): Sondra Radvanovsky
Roberto Devereux, Earl of Essex: Russell Thomas
Sara: Jamie Barton
Duke of Nottingham: Andrew Manea [Adler]
Lord Cecil: Amitai Pati [Adler]
Walter Raleigh: Christian Pursell [Adler]

This opera is questionable from a plot perspective.  The above listed characters are all members of the British upper class.  It is fairly easy to describe the relationship aspects of the story.

Elizabeth and Roberto have a secret relationship.  Since Nottingham knows nothing about it, we may assume that this is truly secret.  Then before leaving England to lead a war in Ireland, Robert starts a love relationship with Sara, a young woman in the court.  Robert goes off to war, and while he is away, Sara's father dies.  An upper class woman cannot be left free in the world, so Elizabeth arranges a marriage for her with the Duke of Nottingham.  No one is aware that she is in love with Essex.

Essex returns from war where he has been unsuccessful to find that Sara is married.  Meanwhile Elizabeth hopes that he still loves her.  An emotional mess ensues, the kind of emotional mess that can only happen in an Italian opera.  Long ago Elizabeth gave Robert a ring which he was to send to her if he was ever in danger.

Robert goes to see Sara.  So why isn't he locked up in the Tower of London?  She gives him a love token which her husband recognizes.  

The part of the plot that makes no sense is the political part.  In real life Essex is supposed to have tried to overthrow the queen, which would make nonsense of her part in the emotional, operatic plot.  So the charges are trivial and relate to him being overly merciful toward the Irish.  So he is executed for no apparent reason.  The ring doesn't arrive in time. It's even more complicated that what I have described.

This is Queen Elizabeth's most vulnerable moment, and it happens in her old age.  She died in her 69th year.  It is mysteriously wonderful how Sondra Radvanovsky fits this role.  She is tall and regal, and has a large, commanding voice.  You believe that she is the absolute monarch who has fallen in love in her old age.  It is difficult to imagine any other soprano bring this role to such spectacular heights.  She should sing it in your city, too.

The production which comes from Canada made the complex plot very clear, clearer than the recent Met production.  Sondra's supporting singers, primarily Russell Thomas, Jamie Barton and Andrew Manea rose almost to her magnificence.  I don't think this is a great opera, though it is leading the path to Verdi, but it is a great opera for Sondra Radvanovsky.  Brava.

Thursday, August 23, 2018


I know from German sources that Jonas Kaufmann has broken his toe.  I know that he has appeared in a concert performance of Die Walkuere, sitting when he was not singing.  How bad this is and how long it will last I don't know.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Poppea from Salzburg

William Christie (conductor) with his ensemble Les Arts Florissants
Jan Lauwers (stage director)

Sonya Yoncheva | Soprano (Poppea)
Kate Lindsey | Mezzo-soprano (Nerone)
Stéphanie d'Oustrac | Mezzo-soprano (Ottavia)
Carlo Vistoli | Countertenor (Ottone)
Renato Dolcini | Baritone (Seneca)
Ana Quintans | Soprano (Virtù / Drusilla)
Marcel Beekman | Tenor (Nutrice / Famigliare I)
Dominique Visse | Countertenor (Arnalta, nurse)
Lea Desandre | Mezzo-soprano (Amore / Valletto)
Tamara Banješević | Soprano (Fortuna / Damigella)
Claire Debono | Soprano (Pallade / Venere)

Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea (1643) comes early in the era of Venetian opera, which included women, normal men and castrati in the cast.  It was commercial theater, so the casts were kept small to save money.  I guess 11 people were all, a much smaller bunch than our cast.  They handled this by casting everyone in many roles.  I deliberately stopped the list at 11.  I am here to see the first three ladies:  Sonya Yoncheva, Kate Lindsey and Stéphanie d'Oustrac, all people I like.  Our girls sang pretty much in their standard operatic voices.  I have only seen Yoncheva in Verdi and Puccini, so I was surprised this worked so well.

This opens with a prologue by the gods Virtue, Fortune and Love arguing who is more important.  Part of the orchestra is on the stage in this scene.  Then they move to in front, though the space could hardly be called a pit.  Throughout the entire opera the stage is cluttered with dancers in unidentifiable costumes.  They seem intended to represent something, but we are not told what.

There is partial nudity and foreplay, which I consider progress in the subject of sex in opera.  Yoncheva can do anything, but by the end of the opera the music began to sound repetitive and uninteresting.  3 hours is too long.  It did not lure me from the version with Alice Coote and Danielle de Niese.  There are lots of DVDs to choose from, and I have not seen all of them.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Perhaps my perspective on this subject is different from other people’s because when I was young we owned a turntable that played 33 rpm, 45 rpm and 78 rpm records.  I thought this was cool and tried playing records at the wrong speeds.  The most revealing experiment came when playing 45s at 33 rpm.  We had quite a few of these.

At 45 rpm every singer sounded mostly the same as the others.  At 33 rpm all had slow, very annoying vibratos except Patti Page—Tennessee Waltz—who it seems had no vibrato.  At the slower speed she sounded like a normal baritone.  I concluded from this experiment that singers all have vibratos, with certain exceptions, and that a well-produced vibrato wasn’t actually heard by the listener.  If you’re hearing it, something is wrong.  These were not opera singers.

It turned out when I arrived at vocal pedagogy school that there existed a whole book on this subject which I cannot find on Amazon.  There is a different one if you're interested.  Scientific instruments were applied to a large repertoire of opera recordings and the results displayed on graphs.  These are called sonograms.  The unavoidable conclusion was that all famous opera singers have a vibrato, that it is present all of the time on virtually every note they sing, even when they are sliding or moving from one pitch to another.  The human brain integrates this into a single note.  The vast majority of people do not hear this pitch fluctuation.  This vibrato is about a half step wide and very regular in its pulse.  You don’t have to wonder—you can see it on the chart.  

Here is an article from 1929:   By adding the component of modern technology they verified this conclusion at 95% of all opera singer notes.  The public likes a vibrato.  “It can not be just happenstance that vibratos are not only admitted, but required, in opera.”

To sound like a trill the vibrato needs to extend to about a whole step when the brain no longer integrates it into a single pitch.  Trills must be carefully and painstakingly taught because it is not natural.

Things can go wrong with this process.  A vibrato can be too slow which translates into a wobble.  It can also be too fast or irregular.  You will not get famous in opera if there is something wrong with your vibrato.

People seem to imagine that what they are hearing is what they are getting.  It isn't.

In my time in pedagogy school I observed quite a number of famous voice teachers at IU, and I don't remember any of them referring directly to vibrato.  I think an adult singer naturally develops a vibrato without being taught it.  They are taught to support the breath from low in the abdomen, and perhaps this is the feature of a skilled singer that creates the natural, even vibrato.

In the past I said:

In case you didn't know, the average opera singer has a vibrato that causes the pitch to waver for about a half step, or the distance between c and c# if you don't know what a half step is.  It wavers half of this pitch above and the other half below the intended pitch.  Listeners generally imagine the pitch to be somewhere in the middle of the wavering sound.  It is only your imagination that makes this a precise pitch.  So making comments about the singer being sharp for the whole aria may only indicate that your ear is interpreting the vibrato sharp.  Is she sharp?  Yes.  Is the exact same note also flat?  Yes.  Some singers push energy to the upper part of the vibrato or the lower part.  Pitch wavering is the same but energy is unbalanced.  Maybe your ear hears this as sharp or flat.  They aren't giving up their vibratos.  10/8/17

P.S.  Here is an excellent illustration.

The term tremolo can also refer to an ornament that is unrelated to vibrato.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Gondoliers

Conductor:  Anne-Marie Endres
Director:  Robert Vann

Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers, presented last night in Sacramento, is a new one for me.  Robert Vann, the director and portrayer of Luiz, pointed out that it is produced less often than other G&S works because it is a big show with a large cast.  The ladies announce that they are four and twenty when obviously there are only twelve of them.  No one minds this.

The plot is also complex.

From Spain

Duke:  Mike Baad
Duchess:  Kathryn Peperkorn
Casilda, their daughter:  Tiffany Patterson
Luiz, attendant (or where is he from?):  Robert Vann

From Venice

The Grand Inquisitor:  Tim Power
Marco Palmieri, Venetian Gondolier (tenor):  Anthony Tavianini
Gianetta, Contadina, his girl friend/wife (soprano):  Carley Neill
Giuseppe Palmieri, Venetian Gondolier (baritone):  Charlie Baad
Tessa, Contadina, his girl friend/wife (mezzo-soprano):  Paige Kelly
Misc. girls and gondoliers

From Barataria

Inez, the King's Foster-mother (contralto):  Karen Lyman

Here is an actual gondolier posing for this picture.  Isn't he dreamy?

Our gondoliers wore shirts very much like this.  The red and white striped shirts are to distinguish the two gondoliers the girls are fussing over.  Our opera did not include any gondolas.

Plot:  There are gondoliers and there are girls chasing after them.  However, only two of the gondoliers seem to hold interest--the Palmieri brothers.  It is fascinating how much they resemble the gondolier in the photograph.  The Palmieri brothers tell us they are only honorary gondoliers.

They are blindfolded and select.  The other girls pair up with the remaining gondoliers and everyone gets married.

The Duke, Duchess and their daughter Casilda from Spain show up looking for the Prince of Barataria, the man Casilda married when she was very young.  A young man named Luiz accompanies them carrying a snare drum, presumably to announce the arrival of the Duke and Duchess.  Luiz and Casilda have fallen in love.  The King of Barataria has died, and the new king must be found.  The Grand Inquisitor tells them the new king is one of the Palmieri brothers, but he doesn't know which.  The brothers decide to rule jointly.

Inez is found and tells who is the new King.  To produce the required happy ending only one of the characters can be the King of Barataria.  You must guess.

This was lively and entertaining and included no hit tunes whatsoever, unusual for a G&S opera.  It was well attended.

I want to thank Debbie Baad for the correct cast member names for the performance I saw on Friday.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Queen of Spades from Salzburg

Mariss Jansons, Conductor
Hans Nenfels, Director

Brandon Jovanovich, Hermann
Vladislav Sulimsky, Count Tomski / Plutus
Igor Golovatenko, Prince Jelezki
Evgenia Muraveva, Liza
Oksana Volkova, Polina / Daphnis
Hanna Schwarz, Countess
Stanislav Trofimov, Surin
Gleb Peryazev, Narumov
Margarita Nekrasova, Gouverness
Julia Suleymanova, Chloe

We called it Pique Dame.  This version of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades on Medici.tv from Salzburg was conducted by Mariss Jansons, the same man who brought us the version from the Netherlands here.

The period is set in the libretto because it says Catherine the Great makes an entrance in the party scene.  Here she is a giant skeleton, so make up your own mind.  For me this production is standard minimalism.  It works like no minimalism I have seen before.  The giant skeleton is the only thing that could be called an inexplicable nonsense, a feature of many modern productions, but it gets over quickly and goes back to the standard plot.  There's no minor character dressed up like Tchaikovsky to distract you from the opera.  There's just the opera.  What a concept.

We watch with no translation and don't mind at all.  Instead of the usual Hermann who stands around like a stick of wood, we have the brilliant physicality of Brandon Jovanovich in this role.  His costume makes him stand out from the crowd and his passion dominates the action.  I realized that I have been waiting for him.

It was lovely to see Hanna Schwarz as the old Countess.  Hermann points a gun at her, and she dies of fright before she can tell him the three cards.  Later she returns as a ghost and tells him the cards:  three, seven, ace.  He plays them and loses on the third card.  Just now I realized for the first time that the ghost of the Countess lies.  The third card was the Queen of Spades.  Well.  I guess I'm slow.

This played without any intermissions and for me without any warning.  Musically it was very beautiful.  Thank you.  I can recommend this version with added translation.  Without translation listen for "dri karti," three cards in Russian.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Bartoli Rossini box

This is the cover of the Cecilia Bartoli Rossini box recently announced from Decca.  It contains everything Rossini she has released, including both CDs and DVDs, plus a few unreleased items. Navigate to Amazon for the complete contents.  It's available for pre-order and will be available on October 5.  I was wishing for a new DVD because I already have everything in the box.  As you know, these are all excellent recordings.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Vanessa from Glyndebourne

Conductor:  Jakub Hrůša
Director:  Keith Warner

Erika:  Virginie Verrez
Vanessa:  Emma Bell
Anatol: Edgaras Montvidas
The Old Baroness:  Rosalind Plowright
The Old Doctor:  Donnie Ray Albert

Samuel Barber's Vanessa comes to us from Glyndebourne.  So why is it never produced here?  I saw live in Berkeley a semi-staged version, but have never seen it live fully staged.  The libretto says 1905 in a "northern country," but the presence of short skirts means we must be later than that.  One of the choices for staging an opera is to choose the era of composition, 1958, which seems to be what we have here.  Cardigans.  In this scenario Vanessa began waiting in 1938.  When Anatol appears, he is wearing a WWII style army uniform.  The northern country is suggested through the presence of many blond women.  Constant smoking also suggests a certain era.

The production cannot exactly be explained.  There are giant mirrors which are moved about, but one is never quite sure if the things behind the mirror are reflections, imaginary events or views into another room.  It creates an atmosphere of mystery and perhaps dread.
At the beginning all three women--Vanessa, Erika and the Baroness--are impatiently awaiting the arrival of Anatol who has sent a letter telling of his arrival.  He is late, but there is a snow storm. Erika sings "Must the winter come so soon," the only known piece from this work.  He arrives, and Vanessa pours out her heart to him, thinking he is her old lover of 20 years ago.  She turns and sees that it isn't he at all.  She is mortified and escapes.

Our Anatol is something of a cad.  He is here because all his life he has heard of the beautiful Vanessa and wants to see her for himself.  But if left alone with another woman, he flirts with her.  He flirts with Erika and says, “I am Dmitri the pretender. Be my Marina.”  These two names represent characters from Boris Godunov.  She falls for this, and they spend the night together.  In the complex blocking an additional flirtation with one of the maids is added.

It is important to note that he first asks Erika to marry him, and only when she refuses does he ask Vanessa.  The singing is heavy and intensely operatic.

The production adds detail and atmosphere without obscuring the plot.  It ends with a beautiful ensemble.  Thank you.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Emerging Stars 2018 Winner

We have a winner for the emerging star from the 2017-18 season at the San Francisco Opera.  I have arranged them in alphabetical order by last name and have included a credit from last season.

Paul Appleby Girls of the Golden West Met debut yes

Atalla Ayan La Traviata, Alfredo Germont Met debut yes  *Winner

J'Nai Bridges Girls of the Golden West no Met

Julia Bullock: Girls of the Golden West no Met

Ellie Dehn Met debut yes Here are her SFO credits:

  •  Le Nozze di Figaro Countess Almaviva 
  •  Don Giovanni Donna Anna 
  •  Così fan tutte Fiordiligi 
  •  La Bohème Musetta 
  •  Carmen Micaëla 
  •  Manon Manon Lescaut 17-18 

Aurelia Florian no Met La Traviata Violetta

Soloman Howard Turandot Met debut yes

Hye Jung Lee: Girls of the Golden West, Nixon in China

Elliot Madore Girls of the Golden West Met debut yes

Ryan McKinny Girls of the Golden West Met debut yes

Ronnita Miller The Ring 

David Pershall Met debut yes Manon

Davóne Tines Girls of the Golden West no Met

Monday, August 06, 2018

Lohengrin from Bayreuth -- the Blue Lohengrin

Conductor:  Christian Thielemann
Production:  Yuval Sharon

King Heinrich:  Georg Zeppenfeld
Lohengrin:  Piotr Beczala
Elsa von Brabant:  Anja Harteros
Friedrich von Telramund:  Tomasz Konieczny
Ortrud:  Waltraud Meier
Heerrufer:  Egils Silins

The complete Lohengrin from Bayreuth has been posted on YouTube.  Piotr replaced Roberto Alagna in the title role, probably because Christian Thielemann had worked with him in his debut in the role in Dresden.  Piotr is quite successful in this role.  Lohengrin doesn't take on the Heldentenor tone seen in later Wagner.  Anja Harteros is making her Bayreuth debut here.  In her interview she says that Thielemann never does anything the same way twice.

At the beginning of the opera Elsa is already bound as a prisoner.  You will note please that the wings some of the characters wear only appear on the ruling classes.  King Heinrich has them, as do Friedrich and Ortrud, and of course Elsa.  This makes them symbols of position?  When the duel begins, the fighters fly up into the air, which makes the ropes defining the fighting ring irrelevant.  Lohengrin steals Friedrich's wings and is awarded his own set to adorn his costume when he wins the battle.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Friday, July 27, 2018

S&M Lohengrin

This Lohengrin from Bayreuth turns out to be the S&M version.  Enjoy.

They both have blue hair.  Here's another one with more bondage.  In the first act Elsa has wings.

Here's another.   Piotr Beczała is Lohengrin, Anja Harteros is Elsa, and Waltraud Meier is Ortrud.

You get to make up your own narrative.  This is the first time I have thought Lohengrin ended as it should.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Demon

Conductor: Mikhail Tatarnikov
Director: Dmitry Bertman

Demon: Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Tamara: soprano Asmik Grigorian
Angel: countertenor Vadim Volkov
Tamara's nurse: contralto Larisa Kostyuk
Prince Sinodal, Tamara's betrothed: tenor Vasily Efimov

In the semi-staged performance of Anton Rubinstein's The Demon from Russia we have Dima singing gloriously. There appear to be no subtitles. You may look up the plot in Wikipedia, of course. I watched it on YouTube:

Two weeks ago I did not know this work existed.  The music is not very adventuresome but inspires some wonderful singing by this cast.   The idea here is that someone can be condemned for loving inappropriately.  You would want this for Dmitri.   YouTube includes some other versions, including one with Kristine Opolais.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


Anja Harteros has announced that she will no longer perform outside of Europe.  She likes to sleep in her own bed.  She was already performing in Europe most of the time.  If I want to see her live, I will have to travel.  She makes a great impression over the internet.

In other important news baritone Philippe Sly is doing a Klezmer version of Schubert's Winterreise.  I don't make this stuff up.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Eugene Onegin Rerun

Conductor...............Valery Gergiev
Production..............Robert Carsen

Eugene Onegin..Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Tatiana...............Renée Fleming
Lensky................Ramón Vargas
Olga....................Elena Zaremba
Prince Gremin....Sergei Aleksashkin

Yesterday I attended the rerun of  Eugene Onegin from the Metropolitan Opera.  This opera has been broadcast live into theaters from the Met on three different occasions with three different men in the title role:  Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Mariusz Kwiecien and Peter Mattei.  Because he recently died, the version with Dmitri Hvorostovsky was chosen for re broadcast.  Apparently some theaters decided to show whatever version they had on hand instead of the advertised version.  I'm glad that didn't happen to me because I was there for Dima.  When he steps out onto the stage, he is so beautiful you might want to consider falling in love, too.  This may be his greatest recorded performance.

The production by Robert Carsen is also very easy to love.  Locales are merely suggested rather than depicted.

And another thing to consider is that it is conducted by the great Russian conductor Valery Gergiev.  It was a joy.   If they played something else in your town, complain to Fathom Events.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Dresden Amen

I've been complaining about Richard Wagner and the Dresden Amen for years.

In 2005 I said:

"If you don’t mind all that constant modulating, Wagner is wonderful. Except for Parsifal, of course. His use of the borrowed theme of the Dresden Amen which he repeats ad nauseum, always in its original borrowed harmonization, cannot be considered thematic development in any sense. It’s a mistake, a serious lapse in judgment, maybe even a sign of senility. The emperor has no clothes."

The Dresden Amen also appears in Tannhäuser.

In 2012 I said:

"I have been trying to explain it.  I was raised on wonderful Baptist hymns like "Rock of Ages," and when professional concerns led me to participate in the music of other religions, I was forced to become aware of the tradition of adding an "amen" to the end of hymns.  Usually this was a simple plagal cadence, but sometimes it was that most corny and cloying of musical phrases--the Dresden Amen.  Just thinking about it now makes me shudder."

So I decided for no particular reason to look into this.  The man who wrote the Dresden Amen died a little over a decade before Wagner was born.  Wikipedia shows it notated here.  It turns out I should really cut him some slack.  It turns out he was raised in Dresden and was a Kapellmeister in Dresden from 1842 to 1849.  So he's allowed to have the same sentimental attachment to it that I have for things from my own childhood. 

I have only one final comment.  It is absolutely not possible that it showed up accidentally in either of the operas in which it appears.  Maybe it's supposed to make you think of church or god or something.  Apologies.

Sunday, July 08, 2018


Musikalische Leitung Kirill Petrenko
Inszenierung Pierre Audi

Amfortas Christian Gerhaher
Titurel Bálint Szabó
Gurnemanz René Pape
Parsifal Jonas Kaufmann
Klingsor Wolfgang Koch
Kundry Nina Stemme

I was overdosed on television, so I waited until the second act to see Wagner's Parsifal from Munich.  The opera started off with the most discussed part of the staging, the fat suits.  Nina was not required to wear a fat suit.  Nor was Jonas.  But I did recognize Golda Schultz.  Most of the Dresden Amens which I always dislike are in Act I, so this turned out to be a good decision for me.

Many people commented that they loved the production, but I felt it explained nothing.  I liked very much the collapsing wall effect, but that was pretty much it.  No subtitles and a production that explains nothing didn't work for me.  Too many things were not portrayed, such as Parsifal baptizing Kundry.

The biggest applause, as always in Munich, was for Kirill Petrenko.  I'm not sure I want to write any more about this.  As a listening experience, it was fabulous.  Such wonderful singing and conducting.  It was an especially good role for Nina Stemme.  I loved her blond wig.  Thank you.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Lucia from Madrid

Conductor : Daniel Oren
Director : David Alden

Lucia : Lisette Oropesa
Edgardo : Javier Camarena
Enrico Ashton : Artur Rucinski
Raimondo Bidebent : Roberto Tagliavini
Lord Arturo Bucklaw : Yijie Shi
Alisa : Marina Pinchuk
Normanno : Alejandro del Cerro

I've never actually seen a live bis in an opera before (they do them all the time in concerts in Italy, usually of something you'd rather not hear again).  When I realized what it was, I burst into tears.  And an ensemble, the sextet, on top of it.  I'm seriously loving this.  Everyone is a shit except Lucia.  She's already pretty insane before the mad scene.   We had a glass harmonica.

I am speaking, of course, of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor streamed live from Teatro Real Madrid.  The set is like your high school gym.  There's a radiator.  I think the theme is "you'd go nuts too if everyone you knew was this awful."  We're doing a play within a play.  At the end of the mad scene the chorus claps very slowly.  It's not at all like the loud shouting from the real audience.  The production does nothing to explain the opera but focuses entirely on the atmosphere.

The singing and for me also the acting were very good.  I love Lisette, but she will need to stay light in this role.  I came for Lisette and Javier, two of my favorites of the young singers, and they did not disappoint.  Javier wears a kilt in this, a first for me.

Lisette has also performed the ROH Lucia which I reviewed with Diana Damrau.  This version will be available on OperaVision for a while.  If you missed the live stream, watch it now.

I have to add a comment.  Lisette's physical training gives her a kind of absolute control over the phrase.  It's stunning.

Thursday, July 05, 2018


Sondra Radvanovsky got a bis last night at the Paris Opera in Il Trovatore for "D'amor sull'ali rosee." This is the first bis for a woman in the history of the Opera Bastille. Bis means encore. Encores are back but they are almost always tenors.  Congratulations are in order.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Iolanta / Perséphone

Conductor:  Teodor Currentzis
Production:  Peter Sellars

These two operas -- Tchaikovsky's Iolanta (1892) and Stravinsky's Perséphone (1934) -- were presented together at Teatro Real in 2012.  Both were staged by Peter Sellars.  I am considering this as the end of my Peter Sellars project.


René, King of Provence, bass, Dmitry Ulianov
Robert, Duke of Burgundy, baritone, Alexej Markov
Count Vaudémont, a Burgundian knight, tenor, Pavel Cernoch
Ibn-Hakia, a Moorish physician, baritone, Willard White
Alméric, armor-bearer to King René, tenor, Vasily Efimov
Bertrand, doorkeeper of the castle, bass, Pavel Kudinov
Iolanta, blind daughter of King René, soprano, Ekaterina Scherbachenko
Marta, Bertrand's wife, Iolanta's nursemaid, contralto, Ekaterina Semenchuk
Brigitta, Iolanta's friend, soprano, Irina Churilova
Laura, Iolanta's friend, mezzo-soprano, Letitia Singleton

Iolanta is a fairy tale sung in Russian.  It was not brought to its full effect in its semi-realistic setting at the Met in 2015.  The magic was missing.  We are presented here with abstractions.  Door frames are topped with mysterious dark objects that sometimes suggest birds.  Instead of a film, we have still pictures.  Iolanta carries a cane, as the blind often do.  Her own chamber music group accompanies her.  I think we may presume they are singing the original text rather than the Soviet approved one.

28 minutes in we have movement just in time for the wonder of Willard White.  I find this abstraction very beautiful, but when they sing of roses, no roses appear.  I like the soprano very much, but the tenor could be better.  This is Sellars' area of expertise.  He isn't here to provide you with pretty scenery.  He's here to provide you with a spiritual experience.


Eumolphe, tenor, Paul Groves
Perséphone Speaker, Dominique Blanc
Perséphone dancer, Sam Sathya
Demetra, dancer, Chumvan Sodhachivy
Pluton, dancer, Khon Chansythyka
Mercure, Démophoon, dancer, Nam Narim

Perséphone is a Greek myth about the underworld, here sung in French.  We are in the same set as the previous work, and visually the two are similar.  There is a tenor, a speaker, a chorus and dancers from Cambodia but no choreographer.  The director seems to have collaborated with the dancers.  The music is serene for Stravinsky.

A line caught my eye:  "never chase after what your eyes gaze on too lovingly."  The story of my life.

The pairing of these two works is genius.  The entire thing is a meditation on beauty.  Life is beautiful.  Love it more.  Do not go into the darkness never to return.  Open your heart to beauty.  Thank you, Peter.

Since I am counting this as the end, I repeat the score card here.  It omits works where Sellars is the librettist.

Score card:

Great things:  Mozart La Clemenza di TitoHandel Theodora, Bach Matthew Passion, Iolanta / Perséphone
Hits:  Saariaho L'Amour de LoinMozart Don Giovanni, Nixon (1st)
So so: Mozart Figaro, Giulio Cesare
Misses:Vivaldi Griselda, Adams The Death of KlinghofferNixon (2nd)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Il Trovatore Rerun

Conductor:  Marco Armiliato
Production:  David McVicar

Leonora:  Anna Netrebko (soprano)
Azucena:  Dolora Zajick (mezzo-soprano)
Manrico:  Yonghoon Lee (tenor)
di Luna:  Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)
Ferrando:  Štefan Kocán (bass)

This is the performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore where Dmitri Hvorostovsky steps forward and is showered with white roses from the orchestra.  Since he originally sang this Met Live in HD performance, he has died.  I cried in the theater today.  Everything is simply wonderful.  It plays again in the evening so be sure to see it.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Die sieben Todsünden

Die sieben Todsünden [Seven Deadly Sins], 1993, by Kurt Weill with text by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Peter Sellars, represents the intersection of two of my obsessions:  Weill and Sellars.  One will probably run out soon, but the other is forever.  This work is called a ballet with song.

Conductor:  Kent Nagano
Director: Peter Sellars
Choreographer:  Donald Byrd

Anna I     soprano, Teresa Stratas
Anna II dancer, Nora Kimball
Brother baritone, Frank Kelley
Mother bass, Peter Rose
Father first tenor, Howard Haskin
Brother second tenor, Herbert Perry

A:  Prolog  Anna I sings, she is from Louisiana.
1:  Sloth    Family sing.
2:  Pride (Memphis)   Anna I sings, Anna II dances.
3:  Anger (Los Angeles) Family sings, Anna I and II are arrested.
4:  Gluttony  (Philadelphia)  She writes her family.  One of the guys is wearing an As jacket.
5:  Lust  (Boston) They are hooking, Anna II has a pimp and gives him her money.  Strife.
6:  Avarice  (Baltimore) She's a celebrity?  Golf.  Family sing.
7:  Envy  (San Francisco)  Anna sings.  Wrath is kindled by injustice.  Definitely San Francisco.
Z:  Epilog  They're home, but they don't look happy.

This is fun, the music is nicely played and sung but one grows tired of the endless closeups which seem always too close.  One might wish to see it in a theater.  I get the impression this was originally performed as a ballet in Lyon 6 years earlier.  I might have preferred that.  Faces without context don't make a story.  I will need to see other versions.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Giulio Cesare alla PS

Forgive me.  I approach everything from the perspective of obsession and am watching Peter Sellars' take on Handel's Giulio Cesare from 1993.  There is no indication of a live audience.  Jeffrey Gall is Caesar, my fourth countertenor experience in this role.  He has a brighter sound than Scholl, Daniels or Fagioli.  His coloratura is impressive.  One of the firsts for me here is Lorraine Hunt en travisti as Sesto.  I would not have gone in quest of Peter Sellars if it weren't for the hidden treasures of Lorraine.

Tolomeo, Cleopatra's brother, is sung by Drew Minter, Cleopatra is Susan Larson and Cornelia is Mary Westbrook-Geha.  My point of departure for the role of Cleopatra is Cecilia Bartoli, and Susan Larson sounds nothing like her.  I don't know how much of this I can watch.

I am mentally reviewing the versions of this opera that I have seen and can only conclude that it is regarded as a comedy.  In Zurich the Egyptians wear striped boxers.  In Salzburg Cleopatra rides a rocket.  At the Met we have wandered into a Bollywood movie.  It's hard to take any of these seriously.

This one is also not serious.  Caesar is president of the United States, apparently, due to seal of the President on the podium.  Tolomeo most resembles a punk teenager.  We have begun to notice that Peter Sellars' version of Regietheater moves every opera to somewhere American.  This is what he knows, so this is what he does.  The first person who appears representing Tolomeo and delivering Pompey's head is dressed a bit like Fidel Castro.  This at least is serious.

Caesar and Ptolemy are negotiating, and after a while Caesar starts throwing cups and felt tipped markers at Ptolemy.  Caesar has a lot more pens in his pockets and he throws them.  Then he opens the water bottles, spills water all around, and exits smiling.  He's always smiling.  Sellars seems to have anticipated our current administration.

By now I am used to the musical quality of the Bartoli GC.  Perhaps I am spoiled forever.

In Act II both Ptolemy and Achilla are harassing Cornelia.  They are laying it on pretty heavy.  So far she just frowns.  Ptolemy wraps her in a garden hose.  Sesto plans to accompany his mother into Ptolemy's harem where he can exact his revenge.  I am watching this for curiosity.  It isn't redeeming itself.  Only Lorraine is outstanding.  She waves her machine gun around menacingly.

They go with comedy all the way to the end.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


I apologize for not making it to the final two operas of The Ring in San Francisco.  I haven't been feeling well.

I am continuing my investigation of Peter Sellars.  It turns out that two of my unwatched DVDs are directed by him:  Weill's Seven Deadly Sins and the DVD with Tchaikovsky's Iolanta and Stravinsky's Perséphone.  This will give me an excuse to watch them.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Die Walküre

Conductor Donald Runnicles
Director Francesca Zambello

Brünnhilde, Wotan's daughter:  Iréne Theorin
Wotan:  Greer Grimsley
Fricka: Jamie Barton
Sieglinde, Hunding's wife:  Karita Mattila
Siegmund, Sieglinde's lost brother:  Brandon Jovanovich
Hunding:  Raymond Aceto
Siegrune, Valkyrie:   Laura Krumm
Grimgerde, Valkyrie:  Renée Rapier
Ortlinde, Valkyrie:  Sarah Cambidge
Gerhilde, Valkyrie:  Julie Adams
Rossweisse, Valkyrie:  Lauren McNeese
Schwertleite, Valkyrie:  Nicole Birkland
Helmwige, Valkyrie:  Melissa Citro
Waltraute, Valkyrie:  Renée Tatum

I have always considered Die Walküre my favorite part of the Ring.  Some scenes are the best part of the Ring while others are just endless talking.  As the years have passed, I increasingly see Wotan's long winded explanation to Brünnhilde as a self serving excuse for his screw ups.

But the opening scene is a joyous occasion.  Karita Mattila and Brandon Jovanovich are marvelous as the twins reuniting after a long separation.  I think modern audiences feel that a woman who never wanted to marry in the first place is fully justified in running off with an attractive almost stranger.  "Du bist der Lenz" is a gorgeous love song well sung here by our Siegmund.  Ok, I'm happy with him as a heldentenor.  They made a great pair.  The staging for this scene is excellent.  Except one minute there's no tree and the next minute there it is.

I enjoyed very much Iréne Theorin's entrance in act II.  Her "toi-jo-to-hos" were impressive.  This was followed by the spectacular tantrum of Jamie Barton's Fricka.  She is very put off by the twins thing.  Wotan drones on but completely messes up.  What is his "will" supposed to make of the fact that first he tells her to make Siegmund win the battle, then completely reverses himself to please Fricka.  She knows what his true will is and does that.

Then we have a scene under a freeway like a modern homeless couple.  Or another opera seen recently.  Sieglinde is having difficulties.  Here occurs the scene where Brünnhilde fulfills the Valkyrie's main role--she offers him eternity in Valhalla.  He refuses because Sieglinde will not be there.

The battle between Siegmund and Hunding has Brünnhilde fighting for Siegmund and Wotan against him.  Wotan wins, but Brünnhilde spirits Sieglinde away to save her unborn child.

I thought all these scenes went very well.  The highlight of this production is the Valkyries flying in on a wire with their heroes.  This is a piece of fun.  Brünnhilde walks in like a sensible person but has no hero.  Then follows the greatest scene in all the Ring:  Wotan's farewell.  He makes her into a mere human as punishment.  The music is very beautiful and was well sung by Greer Grimsley.

The quality of the singing is very high.  The staging sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.

A small additional comment:  at every possible opportunity the audience gave the orchestra and maestro Runnicles a huge ovation.  He was very popular here.

Das Rheingold

Conductor Donald Runnicles
Director Francesca Zambello

Wotan, head god:  Greer Grimsley
Loge, god of fire:  Štefan Margita
Alberich, Nibelung: Falk Struckmann*
Fricka, Wotan's wife:  Jamie Barton
Erda, goddess of the earth, Ronnita Miller
Mime, Alberich's brother: David Cangelosi
Fasolt, giant: Andrea Silvestrelli
Fafner, giant: Raymond Aceto
Donner, god of thunder: Brian Mulligan
Froh, god:  Brandon Jovanovich
Freia, goddess of the apples;  Julie Adams
Woglinde, Rhinemaiden:  Stacey Tappan
Wellgunde, Rhinemaiden:  Lauren McNeese
Flosshilde, Rhinemaiden:  Renée Tatum

One wishes for Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen to be significant.  The teeming Rhine surging in the orchestra in the orchestral intro to Das Rheingold signals something deep.

So tourists on a cruise ship was a bit disconcerting the last time I saw this.  But the lighting is transformed, the pastels are gone and every orchestral transition includes projections of water and landscapes.

As always, Donald Runnicles is the man you want for Wagner.  For the epic poem he is the one.  Remember he was great in Les Troyens as well.

And what an incredible cast.  Big Wagnerian voices are everywhere.  Falk Struckman, our Alberich, was the only SFO debut.  The force of his portrayal makes Alberich the main character here.  He convinced in his transition from lover to tycoon to reprobate.  We realize what he does not--his loss of the Ring only affects his self confidence, not his authority.

Štefan Margita's Loge was also outstanding.  He lords it over Wotan at every turn.  Only Wotan seems not to notice. 

My reaction to this whole opera is that when a voice dominates the ensemble, that character dominates the narrative.  That's why it comes out different each time.

Das Rheingold exists only to set the stage for the next three operas.  The Rhinemaidens have lost their gold and their charm; Alberich has lost his authority and love; Fafner has killed his brother but gained the ring, a trinket he has no idea how to use; and Wotan has his Walhalla and his Fricka.  Only Erda sees tragedy coming.

The changes to the production promise significant events to follow, not just fun on a cruise ship.

Monday, June 04, 2018


I never know how things are until after I do them.  So now I have posted my PS essay and find that there is much more to know before forming permanent conclusions.

And already I find there is a Giulio Cesare production by him which also has Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.  I have ordered it and will report.  By now virtually everything by Lorraine is published.

Then they tell me that in 1992 he directed Saint François d'Assise at the Salzburg Festival with Dawn Upshaw.  I am fascinated.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Peter Sellars --- Extended

Over the life of this blog I have been trying to figure out the director Peter Sellars, and after all these years I want to try to do a full essay on him.  It turns out there are two of him:  Peter Sellars the opera director and Peter Sellars the librettist.  He has directed other things not opera, but this discussion will limit itself to Peter Sellars in the classical music world.  He is America's foremost representative of the Regietheater movement.

To briefly review, the principles of Regietheater involve:
  • moving the action to another time period, including costumes which usually look modern
  • more sex than strictly necessary
  • creating an interpretation that emphasizes modern day issues.

Peter Sellars the Regisseur of other people's operas

I am attempting to reconstruct my own experience of his work and find this hard going for the operas staged before the beginning of this blog.  I now believe that my experience of his stagings began with the 1987 PBS presentation of John Adams' Nixon in China with Alice Goodman as the librettist.  I especially enjoyed the comic Henry Kissinger.  Who knew Nixon was funny?  I liked Madame Mao's aria, the play within a play and the portrayal of Pat Nixon.  I enjoyed its proximity to real life.  The time frame is not changed because it's already modern.   (film)

It might be important to remember that as an undergraduate he did a puppet version of The Ring.

My next experience with the work of Peter Sellars the opera director probably dated from his 1990 filming of the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy which played on PBS.  In the Sellars' Don Giovanni we are among the American urban lower class in the 60s.  People shoot drugs and sniff cocaine.  You may and probably should view this herehere, and here.  I should probably watch it again myself for Lorraine Hunt Lieberson as Donna Elvira if nothing else.  Leporello and the Don are played by twin brothers.  At the time it was very shocking and caused an enormous stink.  But isn't that the problem with Don Giovanni?  That it just isn't shocking enough.  The other two operas in the trilogy were not nearly this shocking.  

So I did.  You should too.  Lorraine is fabulous, but what else could she be?  The filming is a bit heavy on the close ups but otherwise completely brilliant.  When these guys act like they will kill one another, you believe them.  Every scene rings true.  How often does that happen?  There is a lot of kissing and snuggling but no fake sex.  The hero strips down to his briefs a couple of times.  At the end, after the Don has descended to hell, it appears that the sun has begun to rise.  This is actually more timely today than when it was originally done.  (film)

I attended a performance of Adams' The Death of Klinghofferlibretto by Alice Goodman at San Francisco Opera in 1992, shortly after its premier.  When the opera was withdrawn from the HD season in 2014 for political reasons, I discussed it in the blog.  It was trying to be even handed about a terrorist attack, which I found difficult.  One side are terrorists, the other tourists.  What's even about that?  The direction by Sellars was not remarkable. (live)

L'Amour de Loin ("Love from afar,") (2000) Music by Kaija Saariaho, seen later in 2005 on a DVD from Finland, was also directed by Sellars with a kind of mysterious simplicity.  I simply wanted to see and hear this work.  A shallow pond of water representing the Mediterranean Sea covered the stage, and on each side was a winding metal staircase.  On the left staircase was Dawn Upshaw in France, and on the right was Gerald Finley in Lebanon.  A messenger in a boat brings their communications back and forth.  I found everything about this fascinating, including the music and the fabulous singing stars.  The story comes from the mythical past, but everything here seems modern.  It was a deep and wonderful experience.  (film)

In 2011 the Metropolitan Opera revived Adams' Nixon in China and kept the original director, Peter Sellars, making his Met debut.  This new Met version ended with enhancements bordering on pornography.  I didn't see the point.  The Met also used some of the same singers who were then older.  I still prefer the Houston version.  (HD)

My next encounter with Sellars wearing only his director hat was Vivaldi's Griselda at Santa Fe.  I also attended his lecture here and agreed with him that Griselda is a terrible opera.  The most notable thing here was that the always smiling Isabel Leonard never smiled once.  They look rather like people from the 60s.  I don't know if this opera could be saved.  How about staging it like Platée with a man in the title character?  (live)

After all these years of hearing about but always missing it, I came upon Peter Sellars direction of  Bach's Saint Matthew Passion from Berlin.  A religious work became a ritual, an aspect of religion that cannot be disparaged, at least not by me.  I was deeply moved by this enhancement to a long loved work.  The wonderful musical performance also helped.  A glimmer of light began to appear. (film)

Then in 2017 came Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito from Salzburg.  This story about ancient Rome became a modern racial encounter.  The encounter was emphasized through the use of cast members who belonged to the suggested races.  Sellars added some other music (which he also did in Griselda) from a mass by Mozart to enhance the sad parts.  I found this entire production profoundly beautiful.  Two home runs in a row.  How was I to explain this?  It made me think that he is actually capable of the truly profound and should work harder.  As usual, the costumes are modern.  I saw as never before that this was an opera about forgiveness and reconciliation.  It may possibly be Mozart's greatest opera.  (film)

I followed my curiosity over to an easily available film of Handel's Theodora from Glyndebourne in 1996.  Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Dawn Upshaw are also in this.  It turned out to be a much earlier example of his true gift:  the portrayal of large, significant issues.  This is an oratorio with a story rather than an opera, and consists of a lot of very beautiful music suitably staged in modern settings.  I recommend it.  (film)

Can I write about stagings I have not seen?  After his wildly popular, at least in Europe, Mozart-da Ponte trilogy, he staged Saint François d'Assise by Olivier Messiaen at Salzburg in 1992.  There's a film about this but not of it.  He says,  "Anything that finally matters doesn't appear in the plot synopsis.  So this history of staging the plot synopsis is one of the things that has made opera so intellectually inert and dull and expressively limited.  And opera becomes incredibly expressive just as soon as you forget about the story and try and stage the music."  I would go with a statement that said:  what does this opera express?  Stage that.

Don Giovanni expresses exploitative sexuality; Nixon is just people out of their context; Klinghoffer expresses that terrorists are people, too; L'Amour is about love conquering all; Griselda is about men treating women badly, or maybe it's just about singing; Matthew Passion is about the life and death of Jesus; Clemenza is about forgiveness; Theodora is about the life and death of a Christian; Saint François is basically the same with vastly more complex music.  Clearly the staging works best where the message is clearest.  You may feel free to hate my simplified summaries.

This vision statement I quoted above may explain everything.  I think if you are staging an existing opera, you need to focus on enhancing its musical expression within the delineated characters.  But generally when you are composing an opera, the libretto is usually slightly ahead of the music.  There must be a vision of the opera before the composer can write it.  That's my idea anyway.

Score card:

Great things:  Mozart La Clemenza di TitoHandel TheodoraBach Matthew PassionIolanta / Perséphone
Hits:  Saariaho L'Amour de LoinMozart Don Giovanni, Nixon (1st)
So so: Mozart Figaro, Giulio Cesare
Misses:Vivaldi Griselda, Adams The Death of KlinghofferNixon (2nd)

This is an excellent record for any director.  I will add to this list where I can.  Next is Giulio Cesare.  Clearly he follows the first rule of Regietheater:  everyone will wear post WWII clothing.  Stuff you can buy in a department store or thrift store.  They will look like people you know.  This is key.

There is one thing that he does that I can think of no one else who does.  Claus Guth took all the spoken dialog out of Fidelio and replaced it with groans and sound effects, but he left the music alone.  We are living in the era of reconstructing old scores to accurately represent their eras and original condition.  Doctor Gossett called this a critical edition.  Peter Sellars consistently changes the score, sometimes adding from somewhere else, sometimes cutting sections, in order to reflect his vision.  Academicians will object to this, especially the adding part.

Peter Sellars the Librettist and regisseur of his own operas

Which brings us to the other Peter Sellars, the librettist.  After the stink that surrounded The Death of Klinghoffer, Alice Goodman abandoned her career as an opera librettist, or it abandoned her.  Her libretto for Nixon in China was very successful, but no one was willing to forgive Klinghoffer.  She began working on Doctor Atomic with Adams, but withdrew after a while.  Adams was used to working with Peter Sellars by then, and he took over the task of librettist.

As a librettist, it is not possible to add or subtract from the score or the original theatrical concept because one is the person creating it.  One may do what one wishes.

The John Adams/Peter Sellars operas are El Nino (2000), Doctor Atomic (2005), and Girls of the Golden West (2017).

I began blogging about his direction with the premier of John Adams' Doctor Atomic at the San Francisco Opera in 2005 where Sellars wore both librettist and director hats.  Some of the work was done by Alice Goodman, but she bailed somewhere around mid way.  Perhaps around the beginning of Act II.  Added to this trio of collaborators was the boss Pamela Rosenberg who thought of it as a Faust play.  I think it is this mish mash of influences that muddies the plot here.

Other people's ideas about Faust seem to be different from my own.  It's true that Faust was an intellectual, a scientist, but his soul was clearly not threatened by this fact.  It was threatened by the fact that in old age he began to regret wasting his life with serious efforts instead of having fun.  The devil immediately pops in to offer other activities that might attract his attention.  In short:  science is the good path, seducing women and debauchery is the path to hell.  Please, Faust, take one of these and love it.  Wearing lab coats is irrelevant.  But this is a side issue.  Apparently Rosenberg did not win the argument.

For me the production was a bomb hanging in the air, a bomb which looked nothing like the photos of the bombs that were dropped on Japan.  Contrary to my comments, the bomb used in the production looked just like the experimental version of the bomb that was exploded in New Mexico.  I ranted, "I attended Peter Sellars' lecture before Doctor Atomic where he enthusiastically raved over what a great opera it is and what a great production he had invented. I don't care if the opera sells when you're talking about it. I don't care if part of it came from John Donne. I only care if it plays while I'm watching it. Do the characters matter? Does the drama draw me in?  Or is it all BS?"  I got carried away.   (live)

In the first half people came out and spoke to the air.  The first part of the opera was OK if somewhat static, but the entire second half was empty.  We waited and waited, and there wasn’t even an explosion at the end.  This was supposed to represent time moving slower and faster, but remember I am the person who never reads the program before.  If that's what it means, show me.

My next encounter was with a film of another John Adams work:  El Nino (2000)also with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Dawn Upshaw, which I reviewed in 2006.  I couldn't stand how the film switched constantly from filming the performers and showing still pictures of other people.  I rejected it for its film direction, but it is also a work where Peter Sellars wears both librettist and director hats.  I really wanted to see this but could not stand looking at it.  A live performance would probably have been easier to deal with.  Even a split screen would have been better.  I offer no opinion of the work itself. (film)

Doctor Atomic was significantly changed when it played at the Metropolitan Opera in 2008.  This version was directed by Penny Woodcock.  The empty act II was filled out with action.  So here Sellars wore only the librettist hat.  I am still unclear about the meaning of this opera.  What does it mean that a man reads John Donne who searches for God while simultaneously developing the largest bomb ever seen on earth, a bomb destined to kill thousands in Japan.  This is the story I wanted to see and did not.  I wanted to see the conflict of good and evil.

This season I saw in San Francisco Girls of the Golden West .  The text is yet again assembled around a structure provided by letters of Louise Clappe with the pen name Dame Shirley.  There are many other sources.  I was again missing a sense of clear narrative, though this doesn't seem to have been fatal.  Dame Shirley is telling stories about her experiences during the gold rush, which is a kind of narrative.

If there are other operas by John Adams on librettos by Peter Sellars, I have not seen or reviewed them.  I didn't get the impression from anything I have read or heard about these works that Peter Sellars actually wrote any of the words sung from the stage.  I believe he only selects and assembles them.  So if you get the impression that no one is speaking to anyone else, it's because the words came from something written down by people not named Peter Sellars and never attempts to simulate conversation.  Glass successfully writes operas in Sanskrit and ancient Egyptian and still does not make you feel lost without a sense of narrative.

What does this opera express?  Then include structures and text that accomplish that.

You may also have noticed that the narrative never quite gels.  An Oratorio like Messiah can be assembled, but no staging is implied.  Assembling a text in English, generally the language of the audience, made up of literary texts never intended to represent conversation or action is a problem.  No amount of moving people around is going to make up for the fact that the words were never intended to be theater.  For me this requires that the action be absolutely clear.

Clearly Mr. Sellars' operas haven't given me the sense of genius that his work on other people's operas have.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Life Ball 2018

This is Jonas Kaufmann in costume for the Life Ball in Vienna, an annual AIDS charity.  Papa Jonas?  Extensive research reveals that the theme of Life Ball this year is The Sound of Music.  Everyone seems to be pondering a Parsifal as Life Ball Sound of Music production.

I cannot resist adding this second picture posted by the artist.

"About to marry @ConchitaWurst and Herbert Föttinger. 💍💕 @lifeball" This is only fun if you know who Conchita Wurst is.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Jonas Kaufmann: "I was sexually harassed"

From Der Tagesspiegel we have:

Jonas Kaufmann: „Ich wurde sexuell belästigt“

Jonas Kaufmann berichtet über sexuelle Nötigung. Am Anfang seiner Karriere wurde ihm ein Konzert angeboten - Bedingung: eine Gegenleistung. 
Jonas Kaufmann reports sexual coercion. At the beginning of his career he was offered a concert - condition: a consideration.

Tenor Jonas Kaufmann ist zu Beginn seiner Karriere sexuell belästigt worden. Auch Männer seien davor nicht gefeit, sagte der 48-Jährige der Mailänder Tageszeitung „Corriere della Sera“ mit Blick auf die MeToo-Debatte. „Ich kenne die Situation gut, als ich jung war, ist es mir auch passiert. Ich stand am Anfang meiner Karriere, als mir ein Manager ein Konzert anbot, eine fantastische Gelegenheit. 
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann was sexually harassed at the beginning of his career. "Even men are not immune to it," said the 48-year-old in the Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera with a view to the MeToo debate. "I know the situation well, when I was young, it happened to me too. At the beginning of my career, when a manager offered me a concert, it was a fantastic opportunity.

Im Gegenzug hätte ich aber mit ihm in die Sauna gehen müssen. Das war ein sehr expliziter Tausch. Ich hatte Angst und habe Nein gesagt.“ Sexuelle Erpressung sei „grauenhaft“, so Kaufmann. „Man muss den Mut haben, sie aufzudecken.“ Der Klassikstar beklagte aber auch, dass in den USA ein Mann nicht mehr allein mit einer Frau in einem Raum sein könne, ohne dass eine Kamera laufe. „Die Gefahr, der Belästigung beschuldigt zu werden, ist zu groß.“ dpa 
"In return, I would have had to go to the sauna with him. That was a very explicit exchange. I was scared and said no."  Sexual blackmail was "horrible," according to Kaufmann. "You have to have the courage to uncover them."  But the classic star also complained that in the US, a man can no longer be alone with a woman in a room without a camera running. "The danger of being accused of harassment is too great."

The machine translated this just fine.  I adjusted the punctuation.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Opera Parallèle 2018-2019 Season

Opera Parallèle has announced their  2018-2019 Season.

In the Penal Colony (2000) by Philip Glass with a libretto by Rudolph Wurlitzer based on the story by Franz Kafka.  This is a new production in collaboration with the Day and Nights Festival which takes place in Carmel, California, October 5-7, 2018.  We'll have to work this one out.  A later performance in San Francisco?  This is all men, but I would still like to see it.  Nicole Paiement will conduct, and the director is Brian Staufenbiel.

The Little Prince (2003) by Rachel Portman in the Marines Memorial Theater in San Francisco, December 7-9, 2018.  Nicole Paiement will conduct, and the director is Brian Staufenbiel.  This is with the San Francisco Girls Chorus and may be regarded as a December family performance.

Today it Rains (2019) by Laura Kaminsky in Z-Space in San Francisco, March 28-31, 2019.  Nicole Paiement will conduct, and the director is Brian Staufenbiel.  This is a world premier based on an event in the life of the painter Georgia O'Keeffe.  I have seen this composer's work and am most interested in this opera.

Xochitl and the Flowers (2016) (pronouced so-tcheel) by Christopher Pratorius-Gomez at 544 Capp St, San Francisco, May 18-19-2019.  Originally created in 2016 with the Alvarado Elementary School, it is about immigration.  Very timely.  Martha Salazar will conduct.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Saturday, May 26, 2018

George Benjamin's Lessons in Love and Violence

?, Mortimer, son, Isabel, daughter, ?

George Benjamin | Conductor, Composer
Martin Crimp | Libretto
Katie Mitchell | Stage director

Stéphane Degout: King
Barbara Hannigan: Isabel, King's wife
Gyula Orendt: Gaveston, King's lover/Stranger
Peter Hoare: Mortimer, a courtier
Samuel Boden: Boy/Young King
Jennifer France: Witness 1/Singer 1/Woman 1
Krisztina Szabó: Witness 2/Singer 2/Woman 2
Andri Björn Robertsson: Witness 3/Madman

This is a free live stream from the Royal Opera House in London of George Benjamin's Lessons in Love and Violence.  It's an historical plot about King Edward II (25 April 1284 – 21 September 1327) who was deposed in a manner similar to what is shown here.

Friday, May 25, 2018


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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Singers for the Ring

Shortly The Ring of Richard Wagner will begin at the San Francisco Opera.  These are some of the main singers.

Wotan and The Wanderer: Greer Grimsley.  On a good day he can be fabulous. 

 Alberich: Falk Struckmann*  He was our Iago with Botha and Fleming.

Fricka, Waltraute, and Second Norn:  Jamie Barton.  She was our Adalgisa in Norma with Sondra Radvanovsky.  She will have some quick changes.

Brünnhilde:  Iréne Theorin, our replacement.  She'll do fine.

Sieglinde: Karita Mattila.  She appears frequently at both the Met and in San Francisco.  I've loved her since her fabulous Fidelio.

Siegfried: Daniel Brenna*.  He played Alwa in the Met Lulu.  He comes in toward the end.

Siegmund and Froh:  Brandon Jovanovich.  He was here recently in Meistersinger, but this example is the best I've ever heard him sing.  Perhaps he should change Fach.

The list goes on and on.  Maybe more later.