Saturday, February 29, 2020

Agrippina in HD


Conductor...............Harry Bicket
Production..............David McVicar

Agrippina.............Joyce DiDonato
Nerone, her son.........Kate Lindsey
Claudio, her husband the emperor.....Matthew Rose 
Poppea, her rival..........Brenda Rae
Ottone..................Iestyn Davies (countertenor)
Narciso.................Nicholas Tamagna (countertenor)
Pallante................Duncan Rock
Deborah Voigt announced that Handel's Agrippina, 1709, was the oldest opera ever presented at the Met.  As I mentioned after the last time I saw it, it was composed for Venice early in the era of Neapolitan opera.  That means lots and lots of da capo arias and a happy ending.  What is more Venice than Naples is the mixing of comic and serious elements.  The Venetians weren't fussy about that stuff.

This is the most I have enjoyed a Baroque opera maybe ever.  This is regie, of course.  The clothes are modern with lots of WWII military uniforms.  There is a bar scene where all the characters seem to meet by accident.  Maybe it's on the frequently mentioned Campidoglio. When Rome conquers England, they return with Elizabeth II's crown.  One of the scenes showed the ceiling of the Pantheon which brought some character to the mostly abstract sets.

What makes this a great opera is the well designed plot.  No matter how difficult the complexities are for our heroine, she conquers them all.

I was going to say there is no hit tune until Nerone sang "Come nembo" while snorting cocaine.  This is known because Bartoli recorded it.  The most unusual thing about this production is the staging of the character Nerone.  I think we are to presume that he is a very athletic, well-tattooed juvenile delinquent.  He loves his mother and acts up continuously.  Kate Lindsey said she had to train for this role.  We believe her.  Her rendition of "Come nembo" was excellent.

The music was always excellent, but no one topped the magnificent Joyce DiDonato who created a wonderful, perfectly believable evil character and topped it with gorgeous singing.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Imani Winds

My alma mater presented a woodwind quintet called Imani Winds.  A woodwind quintet is a traditional ensemble with exactly the makeup of players you see illustrated.  And yes, a French horn is not a woodwind.  There is composed repertoire for this ensemble, but mostly they played arrangements.  The members left to right are:  Mark Dover, Brandon Patrick George, Monica Ellis, Jeff Scott and Toyin Spellman-Diaz. 

This concert had a theme:  The Beauty of Strife.  Artworks that came to us through war and political conflict.

Nkosi si di Leli by Enoch Mankayi Sontonga, arranged by Valerie Coleman is the South African National Anthem.  There is no note for this interesting piece because we all are familiar with the strife in South Africa.

Le Tombeau de Couperin [the tomb of Couperin] by Maurice Ravel is arranged by Mason Jones from the orchestral version of this piece.  Ravel is responding to the deaths of his friends in WWI by attempting to create a French suite such as Couperin might have written.  We heard 4 of the movements.

Quartet No 8 by Shostakovich is arranged from a string quartet by Mark Popkin.  We heard 5 movements.  It was explained from the stage that this work has a unifying theme.  Just as Bach wrote a piece using his name as a theme [BbACB], Shostakovich made a theme of his initials DSch [DEbCB] which appears through the work.  This work was composed from his reaction to the bombing of Dresden in WWII.

"Gift of Life" from Wanderings by Derek Bermel is concerned with conflict and cultural merging in Jerusalem.  It has a certain Klezmer quality.

Traditional Spirituals arranged by Valerie Coleman is "Steal Away" and "Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit" arranged for woodwind quintet.  We all know that these come from the period of American slavery, but what I didn't know was that they sometimes contained instructions on how to find the underground railroad leading to freedom.

Wapango by Paquito D'Rivera is originally for woodwind quintet and is a Mexican dance by a composer from Cuba.

I have listed this all out because of what a wonderful program it was.  Classical recitals are seldom this lively and fascinating.  We ended with an unknown encore with singing, including a little audience participation singing.  I loved it all.  I tried to find out what Imani means but failed.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Bayerische Staatsoper 2019-20 plus stream selections

The pandemic has changed much of this.

The first list is premiers.  Only one is a world premier.  The rest are production premiers.  I would like to see all of them, even the opera studio.  You can see that I almost got my wish.  The only one I didn't get is the one I wanted most.  Can we please have tote Stadt?  Please?  It plays more in the summer.  You can see I got my wish finally.  See performance calendar for dates.

++ = selected for streaming


pre Korngold:  Die tote Stadt ++ Jonas Kaufmann, Marlis Petersen
pre Abrahamsen: The Snow Queen ++ Barbara Hannigan, Peter Rose
pre Bartok: Duke Bluebeard's Castle ++ Nina Stemme, John Lundgren
pre Verdi: I Masnadieri ++ Diana Damrau, Charles Castronovo
pre Abramovic:7 Deaths of Maria Callas++ 7 different women-world premier
pre Rameau: Castor et Pollux ++ ? don't know these people
pre Verdi: Falstaff++ Wolfgang Koch, Okka von der Dammerau
pre Thomas: Mignon Opera studio

 Here is the rest of the opera repertoire.  Dates in front signify when this opera was streamed before.


Beethoven:  Fidelio:  Adrianne Pieczonka, GĂĽnther Groissböck, Klaus Florian Vogt

Berg:  Wozzeck: ++ Christian Gerhaher

Bizet:  Carmen Matthew Polenzani
2015 Donizetti:  L’elisir d’amore: Pretty Yende, Mariusz Kwiecien, Ambrogio Maestri
2015 Donizetti:  Lucia di Lammermoor Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena, Quinn Kelsey

Gluck:  Alceste Dorothea Röschmann,

Haydn:  Orlando Paladino Mathias Vidal, Tara Erraught

Humperdinck:  Hänsel und Gretel:  Tara Erraught

Johann StrauĂź:   Die Fledermaus: 
2019 Krenek:  Karl V. Bo Skovhus

Mozart:  Cosi fan Tutte Tara Erraught

Mozart:  Die Zauberfloete Pavol Breslik

Mozart:  Don Giovanni Erwin Schrott, Luca Pisaroni, Carmen Giannattasio

Mussorgsky:  Boris Godunow:  Dimitry Ulyanov

Offenbach:  Les Contes d’Hoffmann Michael Spyres

Puccini:  La bohème: 
 2019 Puccini:  La fanciulla del West Anja Kampe, Brandon Jovanovich

Puccini:  Tosca:  Anja Harteros

Puccini:  Turandot:  Anna Netrebko, Yusif Eyvazov

Rossini:  Guillaume Tell:  Gerald Finley, Michael Spyres

Rossini:  Il barbiere di Siviglia

Rossini:  La Cenerentola Teresa Iervolino
2019 Smetana:  Die Verkaufte Braut

Strauss:  Salome Marlis Petersen, Wolfgang Koch

Strauss:  Die sweigsame Frau

Tchaikovsky:  Eugen Onegin: Pavol Breslik

Verdi:  Don Carlo Charles Castronovo, Ludovic TĂ©zier, Ildar Abdrazakov, Anja Harteros
2013 Verdi:  Il Trovatore Anja Harteros

Verdi:  Nabucco:  Placido Domingo, Liudmyla Monastyrska
2018 Verdi:  Otello:  Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros

Verdi:  Rigoletto:  Ludovic Tezier, Erin Morley

Verdi:  La traviata:  multiple

Wagner:  Der fliegende Holländer:  Michael Volle
2018 Wagner:  Die Meistersinger von NĂĽrnberg:  Wolfgang Koch, Jonas Kaufmann, 

Wagner:  Lohengrin:  Klaus Florian Vogt, Anja Harteros
2018 Wagner:  Parsifal:  Anja Kampe

I would like to see Netrebko's Turandot and anything with Anja Harteros.  We have been promised over and over Die Meistersinger with Jonas Kaufmann.  Could we finally see it, please?

Monday, February 17, 2020

Plaisir d'amour

This weekend someone sang this. It is very much a favorite, perhaps because it's me.

Joan Baez

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

Victoria de los Angeles (definitely of the angels)  My favorite.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Spiritual Sacramento Philharmonic

The latest performance of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera took place in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, a beautifully decorated space with the usual resonance found in large churches.  They did an excellent job of selecting repertoire that would withstand the echoes.

Our conductor was Douglas Boyd, a former oboist from the UK.  I enjoyed his work.

The concert began with Ralph Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for post-romantic orchestra.  I am a great admirer of Vaughan Williams and was pleased to hear that they succeeded in developing the color and phrasing to make the piece soar.  With him it's all in how you perform him.  A British conductor performs a British work.

This was followed by a complete contrast:  Psalm Tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter, a piece for a cappella choir by Thomas Tallis.  One of the psalm tunes is the theme from the previous piece.  These are short pieces in English which one might expect to hear in an Anglican church.  Tallis composed for both Catholic and Protestant churches during the Tudor period in England.

We finished by combining the resources of both of the previous pieces to present the Gabriel FaurĂ© Requiem.  In addition we enjoyed soloists baritone Timothy Murray, Liisa Davila soprano and Dan Flanagan violin.

FaurĂ© worked as an organist in a church in Paris, and would have heard his Requiem in circumstances very much like this.  This was the highlight of the program.  I especially enjoyed "Pie Jesu" sung by Ms. Davila.

It was a very unusual program for a symphonic orchestra such as ours.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sacramento Music

I have recently attended a couple of concerts in Sacramento by groups I have not seen before.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to get out of town, so I am trying to know more about the place where I live.

Carlos & Brennen are a duo consisting of Brennen Milton on clarinet and Carlos M. Fuentes on piano.  For their recent concert at Crocker Art Museum they added soprano Robin Fisher.  Concerts at Crocker involve associating the repertoire to the current exhibits which in this case are landscapes.  When instrumental groups add a singer, they must track down repertoire for this specific combination.  So they needed pieces for clarinet, piano and soprano which illustrate the outdoors. For this concert we heard:

O Lady Moon by Alan Hovhaness, an American composer.  In this piece a cat and a rat are carrying a barrel of sake over Mount Fuji.

Coty by Quincy Hilliard, from Mississippi.  Daybreak, Sunset, Dance.  This is for only clarinet and piano.  The composer said it reminded him of his home.

Hirtenlied by Giacomo Meyerbeer.  Meyerbeer is most famous as a French opera composer, but this song is in German and translates to Shepherd Song.  The whole trio perform.  Again we are outdoors.

Three Vocalises by Ralph Vaughn Williams.  Prelude, Scherzo, Quasi menuetto.  This features only the soprano and clarinet and has no words.

Silentium Amoris by Carlos McMillan Fuentes, our pianist.  Seduction, Infatuation, Silentium Amoris.  The first two movements are instrumental and the third is the full trio on a poem by Oscar Wilde.

I very much enjoyed the variety of repertoire in this concert.  I'm always ready for something new.  Our clarinetist played from a score on a tablet (iPad?) with a foot pedal to turn pages.  I have a complaint:  they provided a sheet with English texts but did not provide sufficient light to be able to read it.  AND they specifically requested that people not use flashlights.

Sinfonia Spirituosa, a new group directed by Lorna Peters, harpsichord, performed at Clara.  This concert while all from the Baroque, was also varied.

Six movements from the Suite "La Bizarre" by Georg Philipp Telemann.  Overture, Gavotte en Rondeau, Sarabande, Fantasie, Minuet I and II, Rossignol.

Passamezzo and Gagliarda for Two Violins and Continuo by Johann Vierdanck.  I had never heard of this composer, but he was a student of Heinrich SchĂĽtz and died young.  For continuo we expected the usual cello and harpsichord, but got only the cello part.  This was very pleasing.

Chaconne in G Minor by Henry Purcell for the full ensemble.  The members of the ensemble varied quite a lot.  Then suddenly came "Curtain Tune on a Ground" from Timon of Athens.  Our version was very uptempo and jazzy sounding.  "Where am I?"  I love Henry Purcell best.

From the tragedie lyrique "Les Boreades" by Jean-Philippe Rameau.  Entree de Polimnie, Gavotte pour les heures et les zephirs, Minuet I and II, Contredanse en rondeau.

Sinfonia Spirituosa in D Major by Telemann.  Spirituoso, Largo, Vivace.  This is the group's theme music.

They are new and in only their second season.  It interests me how much is going on in the provincial city of Sacramento.  I wish them good luck.  If I have a complaint, it is the constant tuning.  This may be necessary with period instruments.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Judith live from Munich

Conductor Oksana Lyniv
Production Katie Mitchell

Duke Bluebeard John Lundgren
Judith Nina Stemme

Judith:  Concerto for Orchestra in five movements / Duke Bluebeard's Castle by BĂ©la BartĂłk streamed from Munich.

And now for something completely different.  Bluebeard is now a full length opera.  All the music is by Bartok, and I loved him more than ever.  We begin with a silent movie accompanied by the Bartok concerto for orchestra, where Detective Nina investigates a stalker who kidnaps women off the streets.  We have cell phones, cameras, computers, all the modern devices of criminology.  We have Bluebeard vaping.  This is followed immediately by the opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle.  She tracks him down and frees his three prisoner wives.  I was surprised at how well the story fit this treatment.  It explains why she so aggressively insists on seeing all of the rooms.

I loved it.  When was an opera this exciting?  Except for Bluebeard himself, it was an all female production with a female conductor and director.  He gets it in the end.

I was completely drawn in to this concept and was happy to see the woman triumph in the end.  This could be the new wave.  I need to look into this.  It will be available on demand for the next month.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

San Francisco Opera 2020-21 First half cancelled

Only the 2021 performances will actually be performed.
  • Beethoven's Fidelio  Sept 12, 2020 -- Oct 1, 2020  This is for the Beethoven year and stars Elza van den Heever as Leonora and Eric Owens as rocco. Our new maestra Eun Sun Kim will conduct.  This is a new production.  I would like to see Elza in this role.
  • Verdi's Rigoletto Sept 14 -- Oct 4.  For me this is too soon.  We saw Quinn Kelsey triumph in this production in 2017, and I don't think Rigoletto is that good.  Rigoletto is George Gagnidze, Gilda is Nina Minasyan and The Duke of Mantua is Pene Pati.
  • Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte  Oct 6, 2020 -- Oct 28.  This is a new production by Michael Cavanagh, part 2 of the new Da Ponte series which began last fall with Nozze di Figaro.  I liked part 1 very much so curiosity is working.  There is a swimming pool, so perhaps the singers will all look good in swimming suits.  Speranza Scappucci will conduct.
  • Poul Ruders' The Handmaid's Tale Oct 29 -- Nov 22.  This opera premiered in 2000 in Copenhagen, and it comes with a violence warning.  It will star Sasha Cooke who has recently drawn our attention.
  • Puccini's La Bohème  Nov 15 -- Dec 6, of course.   Nicola Luisotti, our former maestro whom I liked very much, will conduct.  There are two casts for this, so you must choose your favorites.
  • Rossini's Barber of Seville  April 25 -- May 16, 2021.  Almaviva and Rosina are double cast, so choose your favorites.  I am very happy to see the return of Larry Brownlee, a personal favorite.  Last time I went to both casts, but probably not this time.
  • Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg [The dwarf] April 27 -- May 15, 2021.  I've never seen this.  Naturally it comes in a new production.  Heidi Stober will appear here.  The conductor is Henrik Nánási.
  • A Celebration of Verdi & Wagner, Concert May 2, 6, 8, 2021.  The conductor is Henrik Nánási, and the singers are Lianna Haroutounian and IrĂ©ne Theorin, both excellent.  There is no mention of which pieces they will sing.

Evgeny Nikitin to replace Sir Bryn

Evgeny Nikitin will replace Sir Bryn Terfel in Wagner's Der Fliegende Hollände from the Met in HD on March 14.  He appears in featured roles at Bayreuth, Bayerische Staatsoper and the Metropolitan. Sir Bryn suffered a very serious injury to his ankle which required surgery.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Metropolitan Opera in HD for 2019-2020 - Cast changes

Agrippina by Handel (February 29), At last we will get to hear Joyce DiDonato sing a significant Baroque role.
  • Conductor Harry Bicket 
  • Production Sir David McVicar--New
  • Agrippina Joyce DiDonato 
  • Poppea Brenda Rae 
  • Nerone Kate Lindsey 
  • Ottone Iestyn Davies 
  • Claudio Matthew Rose 

Der Fliegende Holländer by Wagner (March 14).  I think this is new to HD.
  • Conductor Valery Gergiev 
  • Production François Girard--New
  • Senta Anja Kampe
  • Mary Mihoko Fujimura 
  • Erik Sergey Skorokhodov 
  • Steuermann David Portillo 
  • Holländer Evgeny Nikitin, replacing Sir Bryn
  • Daland Franz-Josef Selig

Tosca by Puccini (April 11),  This is for Netrebko, of course.
  • Conductor Bertrand de Billy 
  • Production Sir David McVicar
  • Tosca Anna Netrebko
  • Cavaradossi Brian Jagde
  • Scarpia Michael Volle 

Maria Stuarda by Donizetti (May 9)  This is the third David McVicar production in this list.
  • Conductor Maurizio Benini 
  • Production Sir David McVicar
  • Maria Stuarda Diana Damrau
  • Elisabetta Jamie Barton
  • Leicester Stephen Costello
  • Cecil Andrzej Filonczyk 

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Sacramento Philharmonic 1812 Overture

Christopher Rountree was our conductor for last night's Sacramento Philharmonic performance at the Memorial Auditorium.  The pieces were:

Selections from Aaron Copland's Rodeo.  We heard Buckaroo Holiday, Corral Nocturne, Saturday Night Waltz and Hoe Down.  It's surprising that one seldom hears much from Copland.  The pieces on the program all seemed to form a whole.

George Gershwin's Second Rhapsody.  The first Rhapsody (in Blue) is so famous that it is a surprise to hear this completely unfamiliar one.  The style is similar but the themes are new.  This is basically a piano concerto with the fine pianist Orion Weiss. 

Zhou Tian's Transcend.  Movements:  Pulse, Promise and Done.  his piece was commissioned by the Reno Philharmonic, Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera plus other orchestras, and had its world premiere April 27, 2019 in Reno, NV.  It commemorates the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.  Interesting program note:  the rhythm of Done is based on the rhythm of DONE in Morse Code.  I found it enjoyable and showing a strong sense of how to compose for a classical orchestra.  It fit well on a program with Copland and Gershwin.

Hint for the conductor.  There's a trick to holding up your baton between movements that discourages the audience from clapping.  Perhaps the custom of remaining silent between movements is dying out.

Peter Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.  This piece shows a Russian perspective and commemorates their successful defense of the invasion of Napoleon.  It's not an overture to anything, but follows the trend established by Berlioz to call a stand alone piece for orchestra an overture.  It is famous because it is scored for cannon which fires repeatedly toward the end.  We were spared an actual cannon.  The drum resembled a cannon heard at a distance.

The pieces were well chosen to go with one another.  There was an excellent crowd.

Porgy and Bess in HD

Conductor...............David Robertson
Production..............James Robinson
Choreographer.........Camille A. Brown

Porgy...................Eric Owens
Bess....................Angel Blue
Sporting Life.......Frederick Ballentine
Crown.................Alfred Walker
Clara...................Golda Schultz
Jake....................Donovan Singletary
Serena.................Latonia Moore
Maria..................Denyce Graves

Host...................Audra McDonald

Saturday we were treated to a live in HD transmission of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.  This was a wonderful experience.  It was announced that Eric Owens had a cold, but we loved him anyway. They have spared no expense in assembling the above cast.

It was a new production shared with the ENO and some other companies.  Rooms are outlined in transparent beams, allowing for private spaces when needed and open spaces for the larger crowd scenes.  Porgy wears a brace like he had polio, a reasonable explanation for his crippling.  The only aspect of the production anyone seemed to mind was the choice to portray Clara and Jake's child as a babe in arms, a tiny, always sleeping babe in arms.  The current trend in opera is to eliminate any children without dialog and replace them with puppets, robots, or maybe inert blobs of cloth.  This reduces rehearsal time.  The baby doesn't grow with the passage of time.  It wasn't terrible, but it was a distraction.

All the supporting groups were in top form.  The great Met orchestra played Gershwin in perfect style.  One comment about the chorus said, "They're doing the Verdi Requiem."  Big singing.  We go to the opera to hear big singing, and we got it here.  The ballet was choreographed to suggest what might have been happening in this place and time.

The singing was incredible, including Eric.  But the thing that set this Porgy apart from all others was the drama.  The individual characters came to life.  The director and the actors themselves get the credit for this.  Opera is so dense and complicated, and this certainly includes Porgy and Bess, that the development of complete personalities is often left by the wayside.  We loved them all.

The extremely high quality was maintained in the interviews by Audra McDonald.  She was a friend to all.

Thank you for bringing us such a magnificent Porgy and Bess