Sunday, January 28, 2018

Classical Grammy Winners and Nominations 2018

The Grammys were awarded today, January 28, 2018.  The usual standard of awarding to modern repertoire was followed.  Barbara Hannigan, Daniel Trifonov, Jennifer Higdon


Best Orchestral Performance

(Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra.)
• Concertos For Orchestra
      Louis Langrée, conductor (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)
• Copland: Symphony No. 3; Three Latin American Sketches
      Leonard Slatkin, conductor (Detroit Symphony Orchestra)
• Debussy: Images; Jeux & La Plus Que Lente
      Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
• Mahler: Symphony No. 5
      Osmo Vänskä, conductor (Minnesota Orchestra)
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio  WINNER
      Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)  

Russian Festival Part II

Mei-Ann Chen

The Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera presented Part II of its Russian Festival last night.  See here for Part I.

Mikhail Glinka's Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila (1840) began the program.  Conductor, Mei-Ann Chen conducted from memory.

Sergei Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto (1909) followed with Andrew von Oeyen on the solo piano.  He was our pianist from last week and is very exciting.  Chen used a score on this one.  This is the concerto I heard in Berlin in 2016.

After the concert our pianist mentioned Sibyl Sanderson, an opera singer from Sacramento and Massenet's inspiration for Thais.  To honor her Andrew played a piano arrangement of The Meditation from Thais.  Beautifully.

Last came Modest Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) in an orchestral arrangement by Ravel.

Russian music is lots of fun.  Our festival stuck strictly to Romantic and Neo-romantic works and covered the main highlights.  Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich did not make appearances.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Tosca in HD

Conductor...............Emmanuel Villaume
Production..............David McVicar

Tosca...................Sonya Yoncheva
Cavaradossi........Vittorio Grigolo
Scarpia.................Željko Lučić

Now wasn't that interesting.  I'm talking about the new McVicar production of Puccini's Tosca in HD from the Metropolitan Opera.  It was originally supposed to star Jonas Kaufmann, Kristine Opolais and Bryn Terfel, and its conductor would have been Andris Nelsons.  So everyone is completely different.  And now I'm going to be frank:  I don't think anyone from the original cast could have improved on today's spectacular performance.  So thank you all for finding something else to do today.  Emmanuel Villaume replaced James Levine in turn and did well.

First of all let's talk about the production which is a replacement for the unpopular Bondy production, which in turn replaced Franco Zeffirelli.  Act I is remarkably similar to Zeffirelli.  It takes place in a church in Rome which anyone may visit.  Act II takes place in the Palazzo Farnese in Rome which is now the French embassy and cannot be casually visited.  Unfortunately for me, my collection of books includes a photo collection of Palazzo Farnese.  This means I know exactly what it actually looks like.  None of these productions even remotely resemble it, but perhaps an exact portrayal would be distracting.  The McVicar is like Palazzo Farnese seen by someone extremely near sighted.

The third act shows us the roof of the Castel Sant'Angelo pretty much as it actually is.  Why try to improve on perfection?  For me all three of these sets, though large and difficult to assemble, functioned well as background for our story.  It's traditional and fuddy duddy, but for me it works.

Which brings us to our singers.  Scarpia is the slimiest of slimy villain baritones, and Zeljko Lucic knows how to turn on his dark side.  His voice is also good.

Vittorio Grigolo as Cavaradossi is right in his element.  His beautiful Italian overacting seems like it was made for Tosca.  You believe in his passion for his beloved as never before.  I enjoyed all three of his arias, but especially "O dolci mani."  [Oh sweet hands.]

While interviewing Sonya Yoncheva, Isabel Leonard exclaimed, "You are very brave!"  In this performance series Sonya made her debut as Tosca.  That means she has never performed Tosca before.  A debut in a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera and on the HD series.  Yes.  Very brave indeed.  I have heard her only a few times, and this seems the role that most suits her dark voice.  You will have noticed by now that I love best the dark voices.  For my ears her sound most resembles Callas of anyone I have heard.  Today she was simply glorious.  Viva Yoncheva.  I added her name to the singers list at the left.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Die Walküre

Conductor:  Kirill Petrenko
Production:  Andreas Kriegenburg

Siegmund:  Simon O'Neill
Hunding:  Ain Anger [Ain Anger is bae. I stole this]
Wotan:  John Lundgren
Sieglinde:  Anja Kampe
Brünnhilde:  Nina Stemme
Fricka:  Ekaterina Gubanova

Die Walküre streamed from the Bayerische Staatsoper today.  Somehow I thought it was tomorrow and missed the first part.  I'm watching it on demand.  This is my favorite Wagner.

The first thing we notice is the stage is full of thin young women from the ballet.  They seem to be mostly set dressing.  When the sword theme plays, they shine small palm lights on the sword in the tree.  The director says they represent a context.

The second thing we notice is that while Ain Anger is beautiful to hear and see, in his role as Hunding he is a pig.  He dries his hands on his wife's dress.

I would describe this production as rural minimalism.  Without the ballet women it might get too dull.  Above you see the dead who are brought to Valhalla hanging on poles.  Perhaps that's who the girls are--the paradise maidens.  This production is making me smile.

I love this opera, more than any other Wagner.  The singing from Munich is glorious.  I love that the story is about love.  I like Tristan, but this grabs me more.  Kirill Petrenko wins again with the most applause.  Perhaps my operatic soul is German.

There is lots of shouting.  This is as it should be.

Post Script.  I always love Nina Stemme best, but it is curious to see her drinking from a plastic bottle of water and then rolling it into the wings.  Anja Kampe was outstanding as Sieglinde.

John Lundgren as Wotan was powerful and godlike with a wonderful low register.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Russian Festival at Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera

Last night at the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera we were treated to three major pieces from Russian repertoire conducted by Case Scaglione.

Mussorgsky – Night on Bald Mountain in the arrangement by Rimsky-Korsakov began the concert.  This is supposed to be a witches Sabbath or in short a tone poem.  The Community Center Theater has changed the concert acoustical padding at the back of the stage.  When you combine this with brasses which all point directly out at the audience, you get very loud brasses, particularly in this piece.  Otherwise it's a lot of fun.

I'm going to pause for a second to say that Berlioz traveled to Russia and gave concerts.  He may be said to be the father of the Russian school.  If you listen, you can hear how this might be true.  The orchestral flamboyance in almost all Russian repertoire is the main indication of his influence.

Tchaikovsky– Piano Concerto No. 1 with Andrew von Oeyen, piano, seen above.  He is a lovely, energetic young man with just the right enthusiasm for this piece.  The first movement is so long that the audience thought it might be the end.  The piano, orchestral balance was excellent.

Rachmaninoff – Symphonic Dances.  This is supposed to be Rachmaninoff's last composition.  I have probably never heard it before.  Dances are normally named after a dance, but here they used the usual tempo markings as names.  The first one is called "non allegro" which made me laugh.  One doesn't generally ask what something isn't.  It seemed beautiful but completely unstructured.

This is a difficult program which I found well played.  It was sold out.  The second half is next week.

Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera 2018-2019

Part of Saturday night's concert was the announcement of next season's concerts.


Saturday, October 20, 2018
Andrew Grams conducts:
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
Schumann Symphony #4.

Saturday, November 17, 2018
Opera Favorites
Christoph Campestrini will conduct selections from operas by Puccini, Bizet and Verdi.
Soprano Toni Marie Palmertree (someone we have heard before), Tenor Dimitri Pittas.
The concert ends with the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet excerpts.

Saturday, January 19, 2019
Beethoven Festival:
These two concerts recreate the "monster concert" in 1808.
Jeffrey Kahane conductor and pianist.
Symphony #6 "Pastoral"
"Ah Perfido" (concert aria)
Piano Concerto #4

Saturday, January 26, 2019
Beethoven Festival: 
These two concerts recreate the "monster concert" in 1808.
Jeffrey Kahane conductor and pianist.
Symphony #5
Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus from Mass in C
Choral Fantasy  (love this)

Saturday, February 23, 2019
Rhapsody in Blue
David Alan Miller conducts, Kevin Cole, piano
Loren Loiacono Sleep Furiously
Gershwin An American in Paris
Steven Stucky Concerto for Orchestra #2
Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

Saturday, April 13, 2019
Michael Christie will conduct
Verdi's Rigoletto
Cast to be announced


Saturday, November 24, 2018 (Thanksgiving Weekend)
Music of Journey
Symphonic Tribute The Sacramento Philharmonic, backed by a full rock band. Martin Herman, conductor

Saturday, March 2, 2019
Best of Broadway
Stuart Chavez conductor
Broadway hits.

Saturday, April 27, 2019
Star Wars
Stuart Chavez conductor
Music by John Williams

Friday, January 19, 2018

Klimt at the Legion of Honor

At the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco is currently an exhibition of Klimt paintings. Above is The Virgin, a strange painting with I counted 6 heads.  I presume the named person is the one with two arms in the center.

I love this landscape.  All of his styles are very attractive.

This last example is a copy of a section from the Beethoven Frieze.  I visited this in Vienna when I went there in 2007, and I was pleased to have recognized it.  It is near the opera house, so when you go to Vienna to see the opera, be sure to drop by.  It's an entire room with paintings up high on the wall.  That's what makes it a frieze.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Opera House

The Opera House is officially a movie about building the new Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center.  Unofficially it is about the youth of Leontyne Price.  She's the best part.


San Francisco Opera 2018 -- 2019

Today next season's schedule for the San Francisco Opera has appeared.  It has shrunk to 8 operas.  This say new productions, but most of them come from other companies.  We are now working without a music director, so you should regard most of this conductors as auditioning.

We start with the fall series.

Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci

Music by Pietro Mascagni / Ruggero Leoncavallo
September 7–30, 2018
Conductor:  Daniele Callegari*
An Opéra Royal de Wallonie (Liège) production by Jose Cura

Cast for Cavalleria:
Turiddu: Roberto Aronica
Santuzza Ekaterina Semenchuk
Alfio Dimitri Platanias *
Lola Laura Krumm
Mamma Lucia Jill Grove

Cast for Pagliacci:
Canio Marco Berti
Nedda Lianna Haroutounian
Tonio Dimitri Platanias *

Roberto Devereux

Music by Gaetano Donizetti
September 8–27, 2018
Conductor:  Riccardo Frizza
A Canadian Opera Company production directed by:  Stephen Lawless

This features the excellent cast:
Elisabetta (Elizabeth I) Sondra Radvanovsky
Roberto Devereux Russell Thomas
Sara Jamie Barton


Music by Giacomo Puccini
October 3–30, 2018
Conductor:  Leo Hussain*
A San Francisco Opera production premiere directed by:  Shawna Lucey

Floria Tosca: Carmen Giannattasio
Mario Cavaradossi: Brian Jagde
Baron Scarpia: Scott Hendricks


Music by Richard Strauss
October 16–November 3, 2018
Conductor:  Marc Albrecht*
A co-production of the Santa Fe Opera, Minnesota Opera and Canadian Opera Company:  Tim Albery*

Arabella Ellie Dehn
Zdenka Heidi Stober
Matteo Daniel Johansson *
Mandryka Brian Mulligan

It's a Wonderful Life

Music by Jake Heggie
November 17–December 9, 2018
Conductor:  Patrick Summers
West Coast Premiere:  Leonard Foglia

George Bailey: William Burden
Clara: Golda Schultz *1
Clara Kearstin Piper Brown *2

There are three operas for the summer series.


Music by George Bizet
June 5–29, 2019
Conductor:  James Gaffigan
Francesca Zambello production from Opera Australia.

This features the excellent cast:
Carmen J'Nai Bridges
Don José Matthew Polenzani welcome back Matthew.
Micaëla Anita Hartig *


Music by George Frideric Handel
June 9–27, 2019
Conductor:  Christopher Moulds*
A production of Scottish Opera directed by:  Harry Fehr*

Orlando Sasha Cooke
Angelica Heidi Stober
Dorinda Christina Gansch *
Medoro Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen
Zoroastro Christian Van Horn


Music by Antonín Dvořák
June 16–28, 2019
Conductor:  Eun Sun Kim*  (A woman conductor from South Korea)
A production of Lyric Opera of Chicago:  David McVicar

Rusalka Rachel Willis‐Sørensen
The Prince Brandon Jovanovich
Vodník (Water Gnome) Kristinn Sigmundsson
Ježibaba Jamie Barton  (worth the ticket just for this)

Only one of these is actually a new production so I changed the information.  They're just new to us.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Carrie Hennessey Puccini Recital

Just when you thought Carrie Hennessey had already done the most impossible recital you could imagine, she does something even more impossible:  Thirteen Puccini arias.  This was accompanied by Jason Sherbundy on the piano, played with the lid all the way up.  The recital is titled To Live and Die for Love, the Heroines of Puccini.

'O mio babbino caro' from Gianni Schicchi. This is Lauretta, and after declaring in this aria that she will jump off the Ponte Vecchio if she cannot have her true love, lives happily ever after.

'Signore, ascolta' from Turandot followed by 'Tu che di gel sei cinta' from Turandot. In the opera these are sung by Liu who commits suicide to keep Calaf's name secret.

'Senza mamma' from Suor Angelica. She finds that her child has died and commits suicide.  Then the pianist played the Intermezzo from Suor Angelica.

We then were treated to three arias from La Bohème. 'Si, mi chiamano Mimi,' followed by 'Donde lieta uscì.'  These are sung by Mimi who dies of natural causes at the end of the opera.  'Quando me'n vo,' which is sung by Musetta who does not die.  Carrie wandered up and down the aisles trying to seduce us.  I think she was successful.


'Chi il bel sogno di Doretta' from La Rondine.  Doretta is not a character in the opera, and in her aria she only falls in love..

'Un bel di' from Madama Butterfly followed by 'Tu, tu piccolo Iddio' also from Madama Butterfly. Cio-Cio-san commits suicide using the Japanese ritual.

'Vissi d'arte' from Tosca.  Is it necessary to explain this?  She leaps off the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome.

Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut came next.  The recital ended with two arias from Manon Lescaut:  'In Quelle Trin Morbide' and 'Sola Perduta, Abbandonata.'  Just before she dies in the desert of Louisiana Manon sings "I don't want to die."  There is, of course, no desert in Louisiana.

Carrie sings big and continued to sing big all the way to the end.  There was no encore and the pianist did all of the talking.  It is difficult to imagine doing something this difficult.  Tristan?  She is a lirico-spinto and avoided the dramatic roles of the ice queen and Minnie.

Carrie has followers who shout and scream.  This is fun.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Die Fledermaus from Glyndebourne

Prince Orlofsky, Herr von Eisenstein
Conductor:  Vladimir Jurowski
Director:  Stephen Lawless

Gabriel von Eisenstein tenor/baritone Thomas Allen
Rosalinde, Eisenstein's wife soprano Pamela Armstrong
Adele, Rosalinde's maid soprano Lyubov Petrova
Alfred, a singer teacher tenor Pär Lindskog
Dr Falke, a notary baritone Håkan Hagegård
Dr Blind, a lawyer tenor Ragnar Ulfung
Frank, a prison governor baritone Artur Horn
Prince Orlofsky mezzo-soprano (en travesti) Malena Ernman

I'm always on the lookout for a good Die Fledermaus in German, and I have found one from Glyndebourne 2003.  The deutsche Ausprache [German diction] is excellent.  It is for a long time commonplace to change the book for Fledermaus.  If you see 3 of them from 3 different places, the story will use 3 different versions of the spoken dialog, and I don't mean because it was translated.  In this version they talk quite a lot, thus the importance of good diction, but they skip the part in act I where Dr Falke personally invites Rosalinde to Orlofsky's party.

This is truly an outstanding cast.  Thomas Allen is perfect for Eisenstein, both as singer and as actor.  He is both affectionate and a bit indifferent toward his wife.  There is a joke where he pretends to be a tenor by tuning his wife's piano down.  He knows she prefers tenors.  I like the Rosalinde very much.  The dialog makes clear that Rosalinde and Alfred were former colleagues in the musical theater.

It is mentioned more than once that Prince Orlofsky is 18 and bored.  Bored is nothing new, but I don't recall hearing how old he is.  And Malena Ernman may be the greatest of all cross-dressers.  Why did I not mention her in my cross-dressing discussion?  Partly because I haven't seen her that much.  She doesn't make it to the west coast.  Did you know she sings Olympia and Queen of the night?  I certainly didn't.  She enjoys very much the theatrical side of opera.  She goes around patting the men on the butt.  Genial.  She ornaments the final verse of "Chacun a son gout."  I don't recall ever seeing that.

The stage rotates to show the entertainment.  Doctor Falke reveals many things to Rosalinde about her husband, all of which she forgives, until he tells her that he is actually not a tenor.  Then she threatens to murder him.  Herr and Frau Eisenstein go immediately to the watch seduction which she already knows all about.  "You may remove my mask tomorrow at breakfast."  He answers "Morgen habe ich andere Sorgen."  [Tomorrow I have other problems.]  One of my favorite lines.  Tomorrow he will be in jail.  She steals his watch and leaves. The watch scene is reasonably amusing.

Now comes the Csárdás.  This is the wrong order but works fine.  "Brüderlein und Schwesterlein" for Falke and chorus is a personal favorite.  There's a guy taking photographs.  Oops.

On to the jail.  Frosch's long pantomime is cut.  All proceeds exactly as it should except Orlofsky removes his disguise and shows Malena Ernman.  I smile and sing along.  "Und mein Schlafrock?"  "Requisite."  [And my dressing gown?  Properties.]  In this version everyone is part of the revenge set up, which explains a lot.  A good English translation of the title would be Revenge of the Bat.  I do love it so.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Operas in Germany

This is the repertoire of my two seasons at the Ulmer Theater 1975-77.

Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro $Susanna
Rossini  La Cenerentola
Lortzing  Der Wildschütz   UT only
Flotow Martha $Martha    UT only
Gounod Faust $Marguerite
Verdi La forza del destino *
Smetana The Bartered Bride $Mařenka  (mama)
Strauss II Die Fledermaus $Rosalinde
Millöcker Gasparone $Carlotta  UT only
Tchaikovsky The Queen of Spades *  (Pauline)
Zeller Der Vogelhändler  $Electress   UT only
Humperdinck Hänsel und Gretel $Hänsel
Strauss Salome  (page)
Puccini La Fanciulla del West * [current Met production]
Kálmán Gräfin Mariza      UT only
Loewe My Fair Lady  (maid)
Honegger Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher [Joan of Arc at the stake]

*  directed by Giancarlo del Monaco

Six of these are works that I have never seen since then.  I truly loved Martha and think it should be performed more often.  All were performed in German except the arias in Figaro.

I wrote about my life there in A Day in the Life.  Some comments about our directors can be found here.  I also wrote a brief essay about a colleague from those days.  $ is for Ursula who was a lyric soprano, followed by the roles she performed.  In parentheses are the roles I performed.  She was the star.