Saturday, March 30, 2019

Fanciulla from Munich

Conductor: James Gaffigan
Production: Andreas Dresen

Minnie: Anja Kampe
Jack Rance: John Lundgren
Dick Johnson: Brandon Jovanovich
Nick: Kevin Conners
Ashby: Bálint Szabó
Sonora: Tim Kuypers

This is Puccini's La Fanciulla del West live streamed from the Bayerische Staatsoper.  I confess I love this opera very much.  This is the most Wagnerian of any Puccini opera.  There is lots of big singing and orchestration, but very little of what we would call arias.  At the end Dick Johnson sings a short aria just before they are about to hang him.  We are told Caruso insisted on this.

The production could also be counted as regie, but at least there are no balloons.  After proceeding in a more or less contemporary look, it just suddenly ends.  The curtain goes down with Minnie and Dick standing in front of it.  We proceed with the bows.  There were also no horses.  I missed them.

It looked consistently rough and drab.  The point of the story is that we are in an entirely masculine environment with only one woman:  Minnie.  There is an Indian woman who keeps house, but she doesn't come to the saloon.  So the time displacement didn't bother me since nothing definite was suggested.

This time the Sheriff Jack Rance is ugly and nasty.  This changes the dynamic.  It's no wonder Minnie rejects him. Dick would be more handsome with less facial hair.  This Minnie is the woman for all seasons.  She teaches the bible, cheats at cards, shoots, fantasizes a long term love, etc.  She projects toughness and treats each man as he deserves.

This piece is very hard to sing but worked successfully almost all of the time.  I enjoyed it. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Garrick Ohlsson in Sacramento

Last night at Sacramento State University we had a treat when the pianist Garrick Ohlsson performed an all Brahms program for us.  This is my interpretation.  Please remember I am far from being deeply informed on the subjects of piano repertoire and technique.

Three things.

Brahms was interested in maintaining and developing the forms of the classical masters.  In this category we find the piano Sonata in F-sharp Minor Op.2 (1853).  This is the standard four-movement form developed by Mozart and Beethoven.

Another classical form that Brahms continued was the theme and variations, here represented by Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 (1861).

The Romantics Chopin and Schumann were both born in 1810 and were perhaps his strongest influences.  Brahms was born in 1833, a generation later.  The rest of our program was filled primarily with character pieces, primarily Intermezzi (1893, 1892).  The character piece, a one movement piece with no strict form, was developed by the romantics.

Are we sufficiently educated?  There were no program notes, so I am trying to fill in a bit.

The biggest hit of the evening was the variations and fugue at the end.  Brahms seemed to like alternating hands with a few overlapping notes to create a characteristic texture.  After a rousing standing ovation, Garrick played an encore by Chopin which seemed to show this same texture.  I'm glad I stayed all the way to the end.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

American Bach Soloists Matthew Passion

And last night I drove to Davis in the rain to see Bach's Saint Matthew Passion sung in German.  For the beautiful work of the American Bach Soloists led by Jeffrey Thomas this is a short trip.

In my youth I performed a lot of Bach, including the "Erbarme dich" from this work.  I very much admired the performance of mezzo-soprano Agnes Vojtko who sang it here.  The entire piece lies in my heart like a buried treasure.

A performance of this monumental, life altering work rises and falls with the evangelist, here Guy Cutting, and the singer who performs Jesus, here William Sharp, both excellent in their roles.

With American Bach Soloists there are no weaknesses.  The original instruments orchestra lists the makers of all the instruments below the players' names.  The concert mistress Elizabeth Blumenstock plays a Guarneri.  The style is perfection, and how can anyone resist the tiny booming chorus.

Thank you.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Sacramento Choral Society does Brahms

This is an interesting week for me.  Last night the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra presented the Brahms Requiem, a piece I dearly love, at the Community Center Theater.  Monday night is the Saint Matthew Passion by Bach, my other favorite choral work. a/>

Donald Kendrick is the music director.  Here is the program with comments.

Serenade for Strings by Edward Elgar (1892).

This is a lovely piece in three movements for strings only.  They played it well.  The chorus sat behind but did not participate.

Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1911).

Trevor Scheunemann, baritone, was the excellent soloist.  This piece includes parts for chorus and winds.  I regret that I was less impressed with the work by the wind sections.  I have long been a fan of Ralph Vaughan Williams whose greatest contribution to western civilization is the Anglican/Episcopalian hymnal.  These pieces were new for me and were in Williams' usual English post-romantic style.  I liked them very much. 

Ein Deutsches Requiem by Johannes Brahms (1868)

Again Trevor Scheunemann was the baritone soloist, and Carrie Hennessey sang the soprano solo.
  1. Selig sind, die da Leid tragen
  2. Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras
  3. Herr, lehre doch mich (baritone)
  4. Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen
  5. Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (soprano)
  6. Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (baritone)
  7. Selig sind die Toten
Brahms' Requiem is not related to any mass liturgy, either Catholic or Lutheran, but is instead a set of biblical texts about death from Luther's translation.  The title comes from Brahms himself.

This lives deep in my memory and was performed here with devotion.  The orchestra was less than ideal.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera 2019-2020

This is the official announcement.  It isn't completely working to paste this, but you should get the idea.

2019-2020 Season
The City is the Stage

The Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera is the capitol region's proud success storyplaying to sold out houses all season. The coming 2019-20 season will be especially excitingLook for your renewal packet coming in the mail this week.

As the Community Center Theater is being renovated for your comfort, all of Sacramento will become the Philharmonic's stage. Three venues have been selected
— showcasing music programmed specifically to the acoustic of each. In the coming year, you'll have the opportunity to experience music in:
MEMORIAL AUDITORIUM where Sacramento's first orchestra appeared, will resound with Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Gershwin and the season's opera to be announced this fall.
FREMONT PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH with its grand and powerful organ, will thunder in Saint-Saëns' roaring "Organ Symphony," plus symphonies of Beethoven and Mozart.
CATHEDRAL OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT downtown Sacramento's jewel, will cradle Faure's tender Requiem, and intimate works of Vaughn-Williams and Thomas Tallis.
And your season concludes with the return to the renovated Sacramento Community Center Theater in Fall of 2020.

The deadline to renew is Saturday, April 27, 2019

Remember, by renewing now, you are assuring that you will be
the first to be seated in the renovated hall!

Ways to Renew:
  1. Mail in your renewal form (watch your mailbox for the renewal packet)
  2. Call the SP&O Box Office at 916-476-5975, Monday-Friday 10am-2pm
  3. Visit the SP&O Box Office in person, Monday-Friday 10am-2pm
  4. NEW! Click the button below to renew online
Season at a Glance
The 2019-2020 season is generously underwritten by Nancy McRae Fisher.
Saturday, October 19, 2019
Andrew Grams, conductor
William Hagen, violin

WAGNER "Tannhäuser" March
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"

Friday, November 8, 2019
Saturday, November 9, 2019

Michael Christie, conductor

MOZART Operatic Finales from "Cosí fan tutte", "The Magic Flute", "The Marriage of Figaro"
MOZART Symphony No. 41, "Jupiter"

Saturday, February 1, 2020
Christopher Rountree, conductor

GERSHWIN Second Rhapsody
TIAN Transcend Commission for 150th Anniversary of Transcontinental Railroad
TCHAIKOVSKY 1812 Overture

Friday, February 14, 2020
Saturday, February 15, 2020

Douglas Boyd, conductor

VAUGHN-WILLIAMS Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
TALLIS Psalm Tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter
FAURE Requiem

Friday, March 13, 2020
Saturday, March 14, 2020

Robert Moody, conductor
James Jones, organ

Organ Recital with James Jones
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4
SAINT-SAËNS Symphony No. 3, "Organ Symphony"

Saturday, April 25, 2020
Christoph Campestrini, conductor

Opera to be announced in Fall 2019


Friday, March 15, 2019

Juditha Triumphans

Conductor: Andrea Marcon
Orchestra: La Cetra Barockorchester Basel 
Director: Floris Visser

Juditha, contralto, a Bethulian widow: Gaëlle Arquez
Holofernes, contralto, Assyrian general: Teresa Iervolino
Vagaus, soprano, eunuch, Holofernes's squire: Vasilisa Berzhanskaya
Ozias, contralto, high priest of Bethulia: Francesca Ascioti
Abra, soprano, Juditha's handmaid: Polly Leech
Jewish virgin: Gloria Giurgola

Vivaldi's Juditha Triumphans (Judith Triumphs) was streamed from the Dutch National Opera on Operavision.  My usual source book says this was an oratorio in Latin, here performed in Italian and staged as an opera.  Interesting.  The story is from the book of Judith from the apocrypha, as it is called by protestants.  All of the singers are female, including the chorus, because Vivaldi taught at a girls' school.  There do seem to be quite a few male supers, many in NAZI uniforms, and occasionally they sing with the chorus of soldiers.  Holofernes and his troops are Assyrian while the people in mufti are Jews from Bethulia.  The timing of the original performance in Venice suggests that it is translated into an oratorio about the Turks invading Corfu in 1716.  So 3 time periods.
  • Book of Judith old testament era
  • Oratorio by Vivaldi 1716 not staged.
  • WWII Nazis 1940s for the staging.
The orchestration is astounding.  The same reference says: "The string orchestra is augmented by timpani, 2 trumpets, mandolino, 4 theorbos, 5 lyra viols (viols), 1 viola d'amore, 2 recorders, 2 chalumeaux (soprano) [ancestor of the clarinet], 2 oboes, organ."   I am hearing harpsichord.  Impressive.  It sounds much thicker than your average Baroque Italian orchestra.  In general Baroque scores don't show full orchestration, but to know more about these things, I would have to consult a Vivaldi specialist.

To begin we have the famous painting of Judith Beheading Holofernes (oops.  spoiler alert) by Caravaggio c. 1598.  People are shot.  Judith tries to persuade Holofernes that his power would be enhanced by clemency.

Structurally this is a Neapolitan opera with one florid da capo aria after another.  Maybe an opera would have more recitative.  The Assyrians are a bit creepy.  At about 1:40 the above painting is unveiled.  They are Nazis, so perhaps they are looting it.  This gives her the idea?  Yes.  She chops off his head.  At the end we are transported back to Venice, Judith regrets her deed and tears up the Caravaggio painting.

Musically this is a triumph.  The sounds are varied and fascinating.  We are hearing the real thing.  Vivaldi vocal music is seriously neglected by everyone except Cecilia Bartoli.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Lawrence Brownlee and Eric Owens

Lawrence Brownlee and Eric Owens came to visit at Mondavi to perform arias, spirituals, pop songs and whatever else they wanted.  They brought Myra Huang to accompany them on the piano.  She skillfully navigated the range of musical styles on this concert.  The whole concert was performed with the lid all the way up which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't.

The program was divided into two parts:  the operatic repertoire they are famous for and spirituals, pop songs, and gospel songs.  We'll begin with the classical.  The house lights remained up for this part.

Larry and Eric are at opposite ends of the male operatic voices.  Eric is a bass-baritone while Larry soars high above almost everyone in the coloratura tenor category.  Eric does Wagner and Gershwin while Larry does Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti.  There isn't a lot of overlap in their repertoire.

To represent his usual stuff Larry brought us:
  • Il mio tesoro from Mozart's Don Giovanni
  • Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti's Elixir of love
  • Ah mes amis from Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment
This pretty much covers it.  The Donizetti arias are the main ones that receive encores these days, and he gave encore worthy performances.

"Una furtiva lagrima" came after they sang a duet from the same opera where the baritone conman sells the tenor a bottle of wine as a supposed love potion, "Voglio dire."  This is more fun when it's acted.

Eric sang
  • Se vuol ballare from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro
  • Infelice! E tuo crevedi from Verdi's Ernani
  • Le veau d'or from Gounod's Faust
They finished with "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Pearl Fishers, one of the greatest male duets in the repertoire.  I enjoyed all of this, but Larry in his high tessitura more successfully soared over the piano.

The lights went down for part 2.  The rest of the program started with spirituals such as Marian Anderson used to sing.  I thought of her when they performed a duet of "He's got the whole world in his hands."  This was her trademark song.  Eric excelled in "Deep River."

I didn't know all of the pop songs, but Eric Owens singing "Some enchanted evening" was wonderful.  The selection was puzzling.

They finished with two gospel songs.
  • I don't feel no ways tired
  • Every time I feel the spirit
It seemed like a concert as co-biography.  There was an encore but my memory has failed me.

It was a pleasure.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Joyce on

This is sort of bizarre.  Who would think of such a thing?  We all started out with a small blue book called Classic Italian Songs.  It came in different keys.  I got my first copy in a high school voice class where we sang, yes, "Caro mio ben."  I very quickly graduated to choir.

I haven't wandered too far off the subject.  Joyce DiDonato is singing them with a jazz ensemble backup.  They are originally scored for figured bass.  You knew that.  So why can't a jazz ensemble realize a figured bass as well as the next person?  This is in New York.

Now she's added one of those tango accordions to her ensemble.  She wanders off to other songs after a while.  It's fun.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

La Fille du Regiment

Conductor..................Enrique Mazzola
Production.................Laurent Pelly

Marie......................Pretty Yende
Tonio......................Javier Camarena
Marquise of Berkenfield....Stephanie Blythe
Sergeant Sulpice...........Maurizio Muraro
Hortentius.................Paul Corona
Duchesse of Krakentorp.....Kathleen Turner

Today's HD from the Met is Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment, a revival of the Laurent Pelly production.  I didn't think this was possible, but it was even more fun than with Natalie Dessay.

Tonio is a Tyrolean, and Marie is a found child raised by a regiment of the French army invading Tyrol.  Marie does laundry and peels potatoes.  She also wanders off into a neighboring village where she meets Tonio.  Pretty Yende does the best job ever of seeming to be a young woman raised by a troop of soldiers.  She swears, though I noticed they didn't translate this.

This was also an historic occasion:  we had the first bis (encore) in any HD performance.   Of course this was for Javier Camarena's performance of "Ah mes amis" with the famous 9 high Cs.  So with a bis that makes 18 high Cs.  Dare we say it?  He is the new king of the high Cs.

This is such a marvelous cast with gorgeous singing and lively acting that swept us along.  We laughed and cried and rejoiced when aunt/mother allows Marie and Tonio to wed.  Wonderful.

I missed the sprouted potato found with Marie's souvenirs in previous performances.