Music News: Nov. 6, 2012
At the last performance of the triumphant run of Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick in the War Memorial on Friday night, something unprecedented happened in the history of opera.
As the composer made his final curtain call, to great ovation, the cast presented him with Captain Ahab's wooden leg, signed by the whole company. How do you find space for some 100 signatures on a pegleg? Probably by excluding John Hancock types.
Heggie appeared "giddy with joy," according to one report. The opera was very successful in Dallas and elsewhere, but this reception, in his hometown, apparently meant a great deal to him.
San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley, who brought both Moby-Dick and John Adams' Nixon in China "home" to the city, after performances elsewhere, has been a champion of both composers for a long time:
How wonderful to be involved with these superb Bay Area opera composers. John and Jake are very different personalities and their styles derive from different traditions. Their work resonates strongly with the public, which is what it's all about.
Besides presenting their works, Gockley also commissioned or co-commissioned these operas:
- Heggie's Moby-Dick, 2012, with Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, Calgary Opera, and State Opera of South Australia
- Heggie's Three Decembers (also known as Last Acts), 2008, with Houston Grand Opera and Cal Performances
- Heggie's The End of the Affair, 2003, with Houston Grand Opera, Madison Opera, and Opera Pacific
- Adams's Nixon in China, 1987, Houston Grand Opera, with Brooklyn Academy of Music and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Y'all know My Fair Lady and Brigadoon, but what about another Burton Lane-Alan Jay Lerner musical, Carmelina? Drawing a blank? No wonder: This 1979 Broadway failure (that closed after 17 performances) is getting its West Coast premiere at age 33.
Don't be hasty in sneering at short runs. The greatest of them all, Stephen Sondheim, knows all about that. The 1964 Anyone Can Whistle lasted one week; his first musical, Saturday Night, written in 1954, remained unproduced until an Off-Broadway premiere in 1997.
But back to Carmelina, now at Eureka Theater, being produced by — who else? — 42nd Street Moon. Founder and Artistic Director Greg MacKellan explains:
Although it was based on a hit movie, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, its charming, lush musicality didn’t hold up in a season that included a wave of gritty new works including Sweeney Todd. The source film also served as the inspiration for Mamma Mia! in 1999.
Hailed by Clive Barnes as Lane’s best score since Finian’s Rainbow, the show has only been revived for two concert presentations at the York Theatre in New York City. The show has never been seen outside New York since its initial run, marking this as both its first post-Broadway full production and its West Coast premiere. MacKellan directs the production and Dave Dobrusky is musical director.
The story is about Carmelina Campbell, an Italian woman posing as the widow of a non-existent soldier. The year is 1962, and she is faced with the return of three American GIs who liberated San Forino in World War II. Having been romantically involved with each, Carmelina knows that one of them is the father of her teenage daughter Gia, but she’s not sure which. You know the rest of it from Mamma Mia!.
In the title role: Caroline Altman, known to 42nd Street Moon regulars from Nymph Errant, Goodtime Charley, and Three Sisters. The cast includes Darlene Popovic, Bill Farhner, and as the three GIs: Will Springhorn Jr., Trevor Faust Marcom, Rudy Guerrero.
Today's national elections will have an impact on the arts, and the matter has been considered by Americans for the Arts Action Fund, the political wing of a national service organization for the nonprofit arts. This is the group's checklist of the presidential candidates' arts policy positions, as reported in The Los Angeles Times:
In a list of seven yes-or-no questions, mainly pertaining to funding of various grant-making agencies and initiatives that support arts education and arts volunteering, Democrats Barack Obama and Joseph Biden had six yes and one no answers; Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, four no and three unknown.
Several questions concerned the funding of federal cultural agencies and the independent Corporation for Public Broadcasting. One asks whether the candidates would resist cutting tax deductions for charitable giving, often regarded as an important incentive for donations to nonprofit arts groups.
Also on the checklist is whether the candidates' party platforms specifically pledge support for the arts and arts education — a yes for the Democrats and a no for the GOP, which the Action Fund says is silent on that question.
The one no for the Democratic ticket was for Obama's proposal to reduce the charitable tax deduction for people who earn more than $250,000 from 35 percent to 28 percent of their gifts' value.
A Romney spokeswoman told The Los Angeles Times recently that Romney does not advocate eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but would reduce them by half (maybe Big Bird would have his feathers plucked but Ernie would be left unbothered?).
According to his campaign website, Romney envisions $600 million a year in savings from cuts to those three agencies and to federal support for the Legal Services Corporation, which funds representation in civil matters for people who can't afford a lawyer. The arts checklist's compilers tagged Romney with two no answers for that proposal — one for the NEA and NEH cuts combined and one for the public broadcasting cut.
Another no for Romney was for proposing an aggregate ceiling on combined federal tax deductions for all purposes, including mortgages as well as charity — which Americans for the Arts Action Fund thinks would hurt deductions for the arts. The fourth was for the GOP platform's lack of a pledge of support for the arts and arts education.
This Saturday, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., it's open house in the War Memorial, 301 Van Ness Ave. at Grove St., offering onstage musical and technical demonstrations, family activities, and screening of Carmen for Families - The Movie.
Celebrating the company's 90th anniversary, the event is free to the public, with all ages welcome. There will be guided tours through the historic Opera House, which opened 80 years ago. Demonstrations will showcase aspects of the current productions of Puccini’s Tosca and Wagner’s Lohengrin.
Excerpts from the two operas will be presented at 11:35 a.m. and 1:05 p.m., Nicola Luisotti will conduct the Opera Orchestra and Chorus, featuring soprano Melody Moore and tenor Brian Jagde. Technical demonstrations at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. will show aspects of set-building and lighting elements.
Also scheduled: costume displays and musical performances by three San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows. There will be a drawing for exclusive backstage tour on the day of the Open House.
"This anniversary is a testament to the extraordinary talents of all of the artists and individuals onstage and behind the scenes who have contributed to this company’s storied history," said General Director David Gockley. "Please join us as we showcase the many facets of this great opera company and this beautiful opera house."
Tickets are not required for the open house, but those registering online will be entered in a drawing to win four tickets to the company's co-production with Cal Performances of The Secret Garden, a family opera to be performed in March.
War Memorial Opera House food and refreshment concessions, as well as the San Francisco Opera Shop, will be open. For information, see www.sfopera.com/openhouse or call (415) 864-3330.
An ensemble of young, but already acclaimed Czech musicians returns to Herbst Theater on Nov. 13 with the intent to keep conquering San Francisco Performances audiences.
Prague's Pavel Haas String Quartet made a big splash here last year at its debut. With large, commanding tone, vibrant energy, and palpable passion, the quartet presented a memorable calling card. Recent appearances in Scotland, Germany, and Canada all received enthusiastic reviews.
Formed only 10 years ago, the Pavel Haas was named in honor of the Czech Jewish composer who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp, leaving behind important compositions, including three string quartets. Almost immediately, the quartet started winning awards and international competitions, going on a tour of 40 concerts on three continents.
Signing an exclusive recording contract with Supraphon, the Pavel Haas Quartet issued CDs of Janácek's and Prokofiev's works, receiving special recognition of its Dvorák CD last year, including a Gramophone Award and Recording of the Year.
Of the Dvorák CD, Michelle Dulak Thomson wrote in SFCV:
The Pavel Haas Quartet plays the absolute living heck out of [the G-Major Quartet Op. 106]. You'd have to hear other performances to know how good this one is. There is, for example, a strange interlocking ostinato between the viola and cello early in the Scherzo. It always sounds like two dogs fighting over a bone — except here, where for once you can hear it as a substratum and pay attention to the violins dueling over it.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg has hailed the quartet's work, writing that "From the softest details to passages of exuberant virtuosity, they revealed the concentration, unity, and expansive expressivity that are hallmarks of their art."
At the Herbst concert, two major German classical works bracket a gem of Czech chamber music, Janácek's 1923 Quartet No. 1, named the "Kreutzer Sonata," in reference to Tolstoy's novella and the inspiration for the book, Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 9, also known as the Kreutzer Sonata.
Thwarted passion is at the heart of the Janácek, the older, married composer's yearning for a young (and also married) woman, Kamila Stösslová. (Janácek Quartet No. 2, "Intimate Letters," is the musical depiction of the love letters he wrote to Stösslová.)
The program opens with Brahms' 1873 Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2, one of the composer's most lyrical and amiable works, with a tempestuous dance finale.
Beethoven's mighty 1826 Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130/133 takes up the second half of the concert. Running about 50 minutes — twice the length of some works in the genre — it consists of five moments and the concluding Grosse Fuge, a complex, difficult fugue, famous for its extreme technical demands and unrelentingly introspective nature.
The great Italian master of music drama, Giacomo Puccini, created only one comic opera, Gianni Schicchi, and it is a hoot. (La Rondine has some comic elements, but it's not a laugh-fest.) With the popular aria "O mio babbino caro" and beautiful music throughout, Schicchi is a delight every way.
Written in 1918, the opera goes back to Dante's medieval story about a Florentine family's conspiracy to change the will of the rich merchant Buoso Donati by hiring a man to impersonate the dead man.
San Francisco Conservatory's Opera Theatre is presenting the opera in two free performances this week, at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10 and 2 p.m. Nov. 11. It is staged by Heather Mathews, who especially enjoys working on Schicchi because it is "so wonderfully funny and the music so rich and glorious."
To support the very purpose of the opera workshop, which she says is "to understand how to develop an entire character musically and dramatically from start to finish," Mathews moved the setting from the 13th century to a more contemporary time, "allowing our students a chance to identify a little more with these characters."
For baritone Efrain Solis, singing the title role, it's a significant step up from his first opera experience, also Schicchi, but playing one of the family members, in the chorus.
"It's a blast being on a different side of the action. This is an ensemble piece and every character has a unique personality and that makes it more fun for me when reacting to each character as the plot thickens. I especially enjoy playing with the writing of the will and changing things up so that everyone stays on their toes."
Mezzo-soprano Amber Rose Johnson, who has other Puccini operas under the belt already, believes "it is also perfect for anyone new to opera. The story is very accessible and moves at an exciting pace. I have a seven-year-old niece and I wish she lived in the state so that I could bring her! It's really perfect for all ages."
In the role of Simone, the magistrate who comes up with the idea of hiring an impersonator, bass Chris Filipowicz finds the work "a barrelful of laughs," enjoying the work with Mathews.
"She's taken a unique spin on the piece, and it only enhances the comedy, the romanticism, and the reality inherent in the opera. Audiences will be able to relate to the story and enjoy it all the more."
Curt Pajer conducts the performances, piano accompaniment is by Ron Valentino on Saturday, Darryl Cooper on Sunday.
High-definition transmissions live to local movie theaters from the Metropolitan Opera and major opera houses in Europe are the new normal for enjoying the genre.
The current seventh season of Met: Live in HD is showing in 1,900 theaters in 60 countries. Live showing are on Saturday, beginning at 9:55 a.m. Pacific time for most operas; encore presentations are on Wednesday afternoons 18 days after the live exhibitions.
The next event in the Met series is the Nov. 10 screening of Thomas Adès' The Tempest, with the composer conducting his opera based on Shakespeare's play.
Instead of the island setting of the play, Canadian director Robert Lepage, responsible for the Met's recent Wagner Ring, has placed the production in the interior of 18th-century La Scala opera house in this staging.
The New York Times music critic Anthony Tomassini called the work "one of the most inspired, audacious and personal operas to have come along in years." Martin Berheimer, in The Financial Times, was more restrained: "The sprawling Tempest ensemble performed with rare virtuosity predicated on virtue. Adès’ orchestral magnitude and Meredith Oakes’ first clever, eventually cloying rhymes probably precluded verbal clarity. Fortunately, text projections at the base of the set minimized the problem, reinforcing mime over matter."
Next up is La Clemenza di Tito, written by Mozart in 1791, the last year of his life. It is a dramatic opera about intrigue and political struggle in ancient Rome. Giuseppe Filianoti sings the title role, the production also features mezzo Elina Garanca as Sesto (a role originally written for a castrato) amd soprano Barbara Frittoli as Vitellia.
Verdi's 1859 Un Ballo in Maschera follows, in director David Alden’s dreamlike setting for a story of jealousy and vengeance. Marcelo Álvarez stars as the conflicted king; Sondra Radvanovsky is Amelia, the object of his secret passion; and Dmitri Hvorostovsky is her suspicious husband. Stephanie Blythe sings the role of the fortune-teller Ulrica.
Another Verdi, the 1871 Aida, features Liudmyla Monastyrska, a new, young Ukrainian star, as the enslaved Ethiopian princess; Radamès is sung by Roberto Alagna, Egyptian princess Amneris by Olga Borodina.
One of the Met season's most awaited productions is Berlioz's mighty 1858 drama about the Trojan War, Les Troyens, a 5 1/2-hour epic. Two San Francisco Opera Merola/Adler veterans, Deborah Voigt and Susan Graham, sing leading roles, along with Marcello Giordani and Dwayne Croft. Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi leads the large-scale musical forces.
Local movie theaters participating include Century 9 San Francisco Centre, San Francisco Cinearts Empire 3, and Daly City 20. The schedule:
- The Tempest, 9:55 a.m. Nov. 10; 6:30 p.m. Nov. 28
- La Clemenza di Tito, 9:55 a.m. Dec. 1; 6:30 p.m. Dec. 19
- Un Ballo di Maschera, 9:55 a.m. Dec. 8; 6:30 p.m. Jan. 9
- Aida, 9:55 a.m. Dec. 15; 6:30 p.m. Jan. 16
- Les Troyens, 9 a.m. Jan. 5; 6:30 p.m. Jan. 23
Tickets are $22-$24 Saturdays; $20-$22 Wednesdays. For information: (415) 538-8422 (for Century 9), for online purchase.
It's not easy to make your mark in the difficult world of classical dance when just across the Golden Gate Bridge there is the big, famous, San Francisco Ballet, vacuuming — as it were — talent, funds, and audiences from the outlands. But Marin Ballet, at 50, can sing (and perchance dance) "I'm Still Here!" from Follies.
Founded by Leona Norman and now under the artistic leadership of Cynthia Lucas, the company will celebrate the important anniversary with completion of a renovation project, a reunion performance, and a new Nutcracker by Julia Adam, whose Night and numerous other works have made a big impression on audiences in many cities.
Marin Ballet launched many careers, including those of San Francisco Ballet's Joanna Berman, Alexandra McCullagh, and Shane Wuerthner; Boston Ballet's John Lam; Smuin Ballet's Olivia Ramsay and Robin Cornwell; Zurich Ballet's Thomas Kendall; Robert Moses' Kin's Josie Garthwaite Sadan; and choreographer Edwaard Liang.
Last week, the $1.3 million renovation of the company's San Rafael facility was completed, as plans are made for a theater to be added in the future.
Adam's Nutcracker will be performed Dec. 8-9, in the Marin Veterans' Memorial Auditorium. Joining more than 200 Marin Ballet dancers, ages 8-18, will be such guest artists as Memphis Ballet's Travis Bradley and Diablo Ballet's Robert Dekkers.
Marin Ballet's 50th Anniversary Reunion Performance is scheduled at the College of Marin, on April 13, with works from the company archives, including ballets by Ronn Guidi and Julia Adam, as well as new works by Robert Dekkers, Casey Thorne, and Yury Yanowsky.
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