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News Briefs

March 13, 2001

By Janos Gereben

New-Opera Madness in Opera-Mad Bay Area

The excellent male soprano Randall Wong has taken the rare exotic tradition of anthropomorphizing kitchen utensils to new heights (I hope — I haven't had the good fortune of actually hearing this). The Z Space Studio, in SF, will host the world premiere of Wong's Household Opera on March 23.

The work is set in a Victorian toy theater built by Wong. The characters are all miniature versions of common household appliances, with an alarm clock and a toaster in the leading roles. "The lovers are menaced by an evil eggbeater in an epic journey that takes them through fire and water, to heaven and to hell, all the while dodging a band of malevolent condiments." As for the music, Wong expresses his gratitude for the "posthumous cooperation of Jacopo Peri, Claudio Monteverdi, Barbara Strozzi, G. F. Handel, W. A. Mozart, Franz Schubert, Eric Satie, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, and Alban Berg." Nothing like a contemporary opera built solidly on the past.

The work was developed through a Wattis Residency, with three workshop performances hosted at the Z Space last year. Wong composed and arranged the opera, adapted existing texts, and wrote additional Italian doggerel, he sings the roles of the Toaster and Mustard and plays the harp and one of the toy pianos, and he designed and built the production himself. "The tiny sets are constructed of wood, paper, gauze, cellophane, and a scavenged sparkly cocktail dress." Perhaps the fiery finale has to do with the toaster getting turned on while wearing that dress. We have to see the work to be certain. To study the libretto, see www.mbed.com/fibo/hop/lib1.html.

* The incoming administration at San Francisco Opera is paying dearly for changing its mind about previous contracts signed by Lotfi Mansouri. Buyout costs include $140,000 to Franz Hawlata for not singing Barak and Osmin, $100,000 to Deborah Voigt for a change of plans for her, and $300,000 to Andre Previn and librettist Colin Graham for canceling Silk, Previn's next opera. And there are several others. Strange as all this may seem, contract buyouts in the world of jet-setting opera are quite frequent and, with the change at the top, fairly inevitable. An unfortunate aspect of all these financial dealings at SFO is that the major contributor whose pledge enabled Pamela Rosenberg to pay for such buyout expenses, apparently changed his mind. If so, the company's general budget may have to bear the impact.

* Hector Armienta's River of Women/Rio de Mujeres will have its world premiere May 10–13 in the Theater Artaud, San Francisco. Scott Parkman conducts, Josemaria Condemi is director. The opera is set in San Antonio in the 1930s. It tells the story of a woman trying to escape her poor rural life. For information, call (415) 386-7038 or see www.musictheatercollective.org.

* Not exactly new, but a West Coast premiere nevertheless, Cavalli's 1651 La Calisto is the San Francisco Opera Center's next Showcase for young voices, April 27 through May 6, in Fort Mason's Cowell Theater. Conducted by Gary Thor Wedow of the New York City Opera and staged by SFO Center director Richard Harrell, La Calisto features a cast of Adler Fellows and Merola Program veterans, including Saundra DeAthos, Suzanne Ramo, Twyla Robinson, Elena Bocharova, Kathryn Chambers, Katia Escalera, Lisa van der Ploeg, Brian Anderson, Kyu Won Han, Philip Horst, Kwang Shik Pang, and Mathew Trevino.

* Erling Wold's chamber opera Queer, based on William Burroughs' autobiographical novel, will have its premiere April 11–22 in the ODC Theater, 17th Street at Shotwell in San Francisco. Deirdre McClure conducts, Jim Cave is stage director. The libretto is by Wold and John Morace. For information, call (415) 863-9834 or see www.odcdance.org/theater.

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Burton–Redgrave "Wagner" Online

The 10-hour Tony Palmer "Wagner," with Richard Burton as the composer and Vanessa Redgrave as Cosima, is available in 50-minute segments as free streaming video on the nonprofit La Scena Musicale Online — http://www.scena.org/webcast/webcast.asp — in English or French. The film is fun, and so is the writing . . . without meaning to be: "I think I'll do away with myself." — "Not until you've heard my piano arrangement for your Meistersinger!" or "Richard, you hack away and hack away. You're always in a turmoil. Why can't you be happy in Dresden?" — "What about my ideas for a national theater in Germany? You mock me for my seriousness!" Poor Burton. He just kept it up for 10 hours. No wonder he became very ill. For the Centennial Verdi Gala, Met broadcasts, other live and recorded music and theater events, see Scena or www.onlineclassics.com.

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Youth Shall Be Served

Jeffrey Kahane's Santa Rosa Symphony performs free concerts for 3,100 grade school students from 40 schools in Sonoma County on March 22, featuring SFS Youth Orchestra principal cellist David Requiro as soloist in the Dvorák Cello Concerto. On April 7, Semyon Lohss conducts the SRS Youth Orchestra in performances for audiences of kindergarten to third grade students. All concerts take place in the Luther Burbank Center. For information, call (707) 546-7097 or see www.santarosasymphony.com.

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Contemporary Choices for 30th birthday

The SF Contemporary Music Players organization celebrates its 30th anniversary with a concert at 8 p.m., Monday, March 26, at Yerba Buena Center, featuring works by Stephen Mackey, Pablo Ortiz, Ellen Harrison, and Kui Dong. Founding music director Jean-Louis LeRoux returns to conduct the concert. For information, call (510) 978-ARTS.

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Christian vs. the Bayreuth Lion, and Cleveland Too

Christian Franz — the stocky Bavarian in his mid-30s whose Tristan at the Berlin Staatsoper was one of the true pleasures of a November trip — is up for the title role of Siegfried in Bayreuth this summer in his debut there.

I am certain of a Franz breakthrough with the Festspiele appearance, not only because of his great musicianship and fabulously clear diction, but also in view of the "opposition." Incredibly, the Götterdämmerung Siegfried is still Wolfgang Schmidt — a tired old lion if ever there was one. (Robert Dean Smith is the Siegmund.) Franz will sing Tristan again in Berlin next October–November and then Siegfried in a Berlin Ring, conducted by Simone Young. Will Franz make his U.S .debut in San Francisco? At the Met? Nope, Chicago got him — where, coincidentally, a certain Berlin conductor, by the name of Barenboim, often hangs his hat.

You can hear Siegfried in the summer of 2002 . . . in Cleveland. Christoph von Dohnanyi's last appearance there as the orchestra's music director (Franz Welser-Moest is taking over) will be on the podium of Severance Hall in a concert presentation of the opera. Stig Andersen sings the title role, Jane Eaglen is Brünnhilde, Robert Hale is the Wanderer. The rest of the cast: Heidi Grant Murphy, Anna Larsson, Peter Bronder, Alfred Reiter.

Speaking of tenors, NAXOS' upcoming release of a 1931 La Scala Andrea Chenier provides a fine opportunity to hear Luigi Marini (1884–1942), as "interesting" a tenor as you're likely to hear. Even if the voice turns pinched at times and he consistently attacks the high notes with more abandon than his voice can support, it is a heroic and impressive performance. Here's a great Maddalena — the 23-year-old Lina Bruna-Rasa, singing with both youthful passion and the security of a veteran. Carlo Galeffi's Gerard and Salvatore Baccaloni in a couple of small roles are well worth the price of the album.

The mystery conductor (adequate and consistent, not much more) is Lorenzo Molajoli, who, according to Paul Campion's notes, was known only for his recordings — apparently he conducted no live performances, and there is no biographical data available. Campion questions if Molajoli was his real name and wonders what the man might have been trying to conceal. It is possible, of course, that at a time before our worship of the Fifteen Minutes Syndrome, some folks might have been uninterested in publicity. At any rate, Grove II has only a single reference to Molajoli, but that's Emma, known only for being Rosetta Pampanini's teacher. I wonder if Emma conducted as Lorenzo at a time when the Vienna Rule against women in the orchestra (and especially on the podium) held sway everywhere.

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Öçal with the Kronos

Turkish singer and darbuka (finger drum) virtuoso Burhan Öçal is crossing the Bay Bridge, from Cal Performances concerts last weekend to an appearance with the Kronos Quartet at a concert on Friday, March 16 in the Yerba Buena Center. The program also includes works by Michael Gordon, Enrique Rangel, M. Venado de Campo, Margarita Lecuona, and P. Q. Phan. The following night, March 17, the Kronos' guest artist will be Terry Riley, whose works will be performed alongside music by Charles Mingus and Peteris Vasks. For information, call (416) 731-3533 or see www.kronosquartet.org.

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New Passions on CD, at Oregon Bach Festival

Haenssler Classic will publish all four new Passions, premiering next year in Stuttgart. The Helmuth Rilling–Stuttgart Bachakademie project — marking the 250th anniversary of Bach's death — includes Osvaldo Golijov's La Pasión Según San Marcos (based on the Gospel According to St. Mark), which received its U.S. premiere in Boston last month.

Golijov's work will also open next year's Oregon Bach Festival, where Rilling has been music director since the beginning of the festival in 1970. The Haenssler series will be published beginning next month, with Wolfgang Rihm's Deus Passus (based on St. Luke), conducted by Rilling, with Juliana Banse, Iris Vermillion, Cornelia Kallisch, Christoph Pregardien, and Andreas Schmidt.

Next, the Golijov, conducted by Maria Guinand, of the Venezuelan Bach Academy (who will be on the podium again in Eugene next year), with the Schola Cantorum de Caracas; then Sofia Gubaidulina's Strasti po Ioannu (St. John's Passion), with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra and Choir; and finally, Tan Dun's Water Passion after St. Matthew, conducted by the composer.

Another Rilling–Haenssler project, the commissioned Penderecki Credo, which received a Grammy Award this year, will be reprised in Eugene next year, to close the 2002 Oregon Bach Festival, which begins with the Golijov Passion. This year's Oregon Bach "bookends" will have the Verdi Messa per Rossini opening the festival and the Verdi Requiem closing it.

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Three by the Trio

The Peabody Trio presents three Sunday morning concerts surveying the piano trio literature, from Haydn to Shulamit Ran, which is to say, covering a lot of ground. Violist Paul Yarbrough and clarinetist Charles Neidich join Peabody members Violaine Melancon, Natasha Brofsky, and Set Knopp to vary the programs with quartets by Mozart and Messiaen. For information, call (415) 392-4400 or see www.SFPerformances.org.

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(Janos Gereben is arts editor of the Post Newspaper Group and technology editor for www.the451.com. Contact him at [email protected]).

©2001 Janos Gereben, all rights reserved