Music News: May 14, 2013
French coloratura Natalie Dessay will be all around town next month. She will sing Antonia in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann at San Francisco Opera, June 5-July 6 (for news of the production, see next item).
Her Becoming Traviata will be screened beginning June 14 in Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema and Shattuck Cinemas, Dessay to appear in person after some of the shows on June 15 and 16 to participate in Q&A sessions; for more specific information, check the Landmark web site closer to the date.
It's been six years since Dessay's San Francisco Opera debut, and only appearance here, in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor. Since then, she has gone from triumph to triumph as one of today's greatest singer-actors.
Philippe Béziat’s film is an exceptional and memorable documentary of rehearsals and preparations for the Aix en Provence Festival production of La traviata, stage director Jean-François Sivadier and musical director Louis Langrée working with soloists and chorus, as Dessay "becomes Traviata."
Without sets or costumes, the entire opera unfolds through the rehearsal process, with some extraordinary visual and psychological closeups of the artists (Merola veteran Charles Castronovo is Alfredo) as they work on music and drama. They are not preforming, but practicing their craft, and it's a different kind of impact on the viewer, but just as powerful as an actual production — or even more so.
n the long, fascinating line of backstage documentaries, Becoming Traviata has a special quality of providing insight into the creative process.
Charlie Cockey, who saw it in Europe, says "It's more than a rehearsal film, more than an opera film; it's a film that presents parallel development of the rehearsal process and the opera itself — a stroke of genius. It's surprising that it's never been attempted thus before; one of those things that was so simple it evaded everybody until now."
Cast changes were made in the San Francisco Opera Tales of Hoffmann on Monday: Alice Coote withdrew from the production, to be replaced by Angela Brower, making her San Francisco Opera debut as Nicklausse; Merolina and now Adler Fellow Jacqueline Piccolino is replacing Jennifer Cherest as Stella.
Brower, a former ensemble member of the Bavarian State Opera, comes fresh from her success in the role there last season, opposite Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazón. The performance was broadcast on European television and captured for DVD; here she is, singing "C'est l'amour, l'amour vainqueur" as Nicklausse.
With Dessay as Antonia and Piccolino as Stella, the opera's quartet of heroines is completed by Hye Jung Lee's Olympia, the Merola alumna, who made her San Francisco Opera debut as Madame Mao in Nixon in China; and mezzo Irene Roberts as Giulietta, who is making both her Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco debuts this season.
Why four singers for the four manifestations of Hoffmann's dreams and nightmares? That's just one of the many, many debates raging on about the Offenbach opera. Michael Kaye, whose edition, with Jean-Christophe Keck, serves as the basis on the San Francisco production directed by Laurent Pelly, strongly prefers casting one singer, as Offenbach intended, and blames the practice of multiple casting on the assignment of Giulietta to a mezzo. His point is supported by Dessay:
I may be wrong about this, but as far as I know, Natalie has never sung all of the four Hoffmann heroines. One of the major reasons for that was that opera companies cast their productions many years in advance and the casting directors of those numerous productions already had contracts with mezzo-sopranos to sing Giulietta. Unfortunately, that practice still continues.
The producers of the Alagna, Nagano Erato recording wanted Natalie to sing Giulietta, but at that time she had an exclusive contract with EMI, which prevented it. There was a plan for her to record Giulietta's coloratura aria on an EMI recital, but that was never realized. It was certainly her intention to sing all four roles in the Pelly production in Lausanne, but she was forced to cancel and the heroines were sung by Mireille Delunsch. Earlier this year she was announced to sing all four in the concert performances of our edition at the Salle Pleyel, but she cancelled and was replaced by Sonya Yoncheva.
When I showed Richard Bonynge copies of Offenbach's manuscripts he was particularly fascinated with the pages that contain the multiple versions of Giulietta's aria (one with a high D and the other more difficult with high E flat). Reflecting on his wonderful recording with Dame Joan and Domingo, Bonynge said "Well, I cut too much, didn't I?" How wonderful it would have been if Joan and Beverly [Sills] could have sung it. When I showed the manuscripts to Beverly, she gulped and said "pity its too late for me to do it."
As to why the differentiation between editions involved in the San Francisco production, Kaye says:
Our integral edition is not a performing version. The first two volumes display the way Offenbach delivered his opera to the Opéra-Comique. The supplements contain the authentic variants for each of the acts. Volume 3 contains my reconstruction of the opera in the version that Léon Carvalho and Ernest Guiraud produced for the world première of the opera at the Opéra-Comique, along with the later apocryphal additions by others. It’s quite a lot to study, but the rewards are great.
Thanks to Arte Live Web, you can see the entire two-hour opening gala last week of the $700 million Mariinsky 2 Theater, Valery Gergiev both feted and conducting the concert on his 60th birthday. Streaming may be stop-and-go — it was for me on DSL, with 10 Mbps — so good luck! Free registration may help things along.
In the audience: President Putin, seated next to Maya Plisetskaya. Putin and Gergiev go all the way back to the days when St. Petersburg was Leningrad, Putin the city's deputy mayor, Gergiev just starting under the guidance of Yuri Temirkanov.
On the stage: a sensational program performed by stars of the present and of the future. There are some young Russian singers and those not quite well known in the West who are jawdropping good.
The hall itself is fascinating, but relatively sedate compared to what it might have been, as described by Louise Levene in The Telegraph.
The original proposal, a fashionably outrageous structure by Biblioteque Nationale designer Dominique Perrault, ran into budgetary and constructional difficulties. Perrault's 'golden potato' was abandoned and the Canadian architect Jack Diamond was called in to complete the project with his trademark blend of limestone, blonde wood, and plate glass.
Most 21st-century theaters occupy their sites like an alien landing, crouching on their footprint like crumpled tin cans or great glass eggs but Diamond has no time for that sort of attention-seeking: 'Architecture should be strong but we don't want to hit you in the eye. We have enough of those buildings in the world now; it's like a joke: Next time you hear it it's not so funny.' Gergiev had been especially impressed by the exemplary acoustics and no-nonsense functionality of other Diamond theatres like the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.
Great sound, near-perfect sightlines and high technology were clearly the great conductor's priorities but Mariinsky 2 needed to be more than a machine for music-making. St Petersburg's harmonious proportions and almost organic building style can make any modern structure seem like an act of vandalism — even today brand-new apartment blocks are clad in a faux nineteenth century manner. Jack Diamond was given the full tour and made keenly conscious of the need to respect 'probably the most beautiful city in the world'.
Although he resisted pressure to conceal his ultra modern theatrical machine behind a baroque or neo classical facade, he made far more fuss of the old building than his predecessor, ensuring that the public spaces and rehearsal rooms and the breathtaking rooftop amphitheater all had glorious views of the old Mariinsky. Even the interior walls were scumbled to match the parent building's pistachio paintwork.
Lining the lobbies with back-lit panels of honey onyx mimics the imperial largesse of the Tsar's Amber Room at Tsarkoe Seloe and the auditorium even boasts a VIP area to parallel the Tsar's box complete with private entrance and private sitting room. Such arrangements seem calculatedly presidential but at Thursday's gala Mr. Putin chose to demonstrate the 'democratic' vibe that characterises the new building by descending from the stage after his speech, glad-handing his way through the stalls and taking his seat in the fourteenth row.
Marin Music Chest continues its 80-year tradition of supporting promising young musicians when it presents the annual Young Artists Concert at 5 p.m. on May 19, in the Mill Valley Mt. Tamalpais United Methodist Church. Admission is free, donations are solicited for the program.
The concert features five of 2013 Marin Music Chest's 2013 scholarship winners — Laura Arthur (soprano), Hayaka Komatsu (viola), Katarina Lee (piano), Kuni Migimatsu (piano), and Max Norman (clarinet).
The hope is for these youngsters is that they will follow in the footsteps of past Marin Music Chest scholarship award winners, who went on to professional careers, including the late Jean Maguire Mitchell, scholarship winner in 1938, then performing with the San Francisco Symphony for 35 years. Or Joe Allessi Jr., who won his Marin Music Chest honors in 1975, and is currently principal trombonist with the New York Philharmonic, and a member of the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music.
Other Marin Music Chest alumni include Joanna Berman, retired principal ballerina who performed with the San Francisco Ballet for 19 years; Mark Jordan, concertmaster for Modesto Symphony for more than 25 years and associate concertmaster at Marin Symphony for 10 years; and cellist Hai Ye Ni, who made her professional debut at Lincoln Center's Alice Tulley Hall in 1991 and her New York Philharmonic debut in 2003. She is principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a sought-after soloist and chamber musician.
During May, the de Young Museum showcases the work-in-progress of multi-disciplinary dance artist Lenora Lee as part of the museum’s Artist Fellows Program. A San Francisco native who is deeply rooted in the Asian American communities of San Francisco and New York City, Lee has been creating narrative, interdisciplinary dance pieces that give voice to the experiences of Asian Americans.
For some 15 years, Lee has worked as a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director. She has a BA in dance from UCLA, her experience includes being a Japanese taiko drumming performer with the San Francisco ensemble Genryu Arts; knowledge of karate from Enshin Karate, South San Francisco Dojo; and training in Chinese forms with Kei Lun Martial Arts. She has also pursued private study in dance composition, contact improvisation, Afro-Brazilian dance, modern dance, and ballet, among other disciplines.
Lee's current projects are The Escape and Rescued Memories: New York Stories, companion dance and multimedia pieces inspired by the stories of Chinese women immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century. The pieces feature media design by Olivia Ting; music by Francis Wong, text by poet Genny Lim; lighting by Patty-Ann Farrell; and videography directed by Tatsu Aoki and filmed by Ben Estabrook, Eric Koziol, and Heath Orchard. Dealing with the social history of Chinese in America, the 20th-century women’s movement, and the refuge that Chinatown’s Cameron House provided, Lee’s work additionally addresses issues including child labor and human trafficking.
Lee’s works-in-progress in the Kimball Education Gallery can be viewed, free of charge, Wednesdays through Sundays from 1-5 p.m., and Fridays until 8:45 p.m. The residence will conclude with a reception at 6 p.m. May 31 in the Kimball Education Gallery; and there will be two world premiere performances in the museum at 7 p.m. on Nov. 8 and 9.
The ongoing labor crisis in Minneapolis keeps deepening and becoming more of a complete stalemate by the day. Last week, the administration announced further cancelations of concerts, through June 2, which means the entire season is lost. The musicians were locked out by management on Oct. 1, after the players had rejected a proposal for a 32 percent cut in base pay and declined to offer a counterproposal.
Serious orchestra labor crises have been resolved elsewhere — San Francisco Symphony has just reached a new contract, the Detroit Symphony players’ strike of 2010 and the Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy filing of 2011 are now mostly bad memories, although problems remain. The Minnesota Orchestra is in danger of falling apart: players have dispersed to jobs or freelance gigs elsewhere, principals — even concertmaster Erin Keefe — are considering offers from elsewhere.
Osmo Vänskä, who has taken the orchestra to new levels of excellence in the decade since he became music director, is now saying that he may be forced to resign his position.
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