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Music News: Aug. 19, 2014

August 19, 2014

Met Contract Situation Looking Up

August 19, 2014

The music to continue: Met Chorus in Act 2 of <em>Trovatore</em> Photo by Ken Howard/The Metropolitan OperaGoing even beyond the extended deadline for a lockout at midnight, Metropolitan Opera management reached tentative contract agreements in the early hours of Monday with Musicians' Union Local 802, representing the orchestra, and AGMA, which negotiates for individual singers and dancers and the Met Chorus. The announcement means negotiators broke a deadlock that jeopardized both the fall season and the future of the country's oldest and largest opera company.

Talks with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 1 resume today, and negotiations with other unions will follow. Barring the emergence of a major problem, and with union ratification, the crisis should be settled. No information about terms has been released, but The New York Times reported on Tuesday compromises from both sides:

The unions representing the orchestra and chorus recognized the financial fragility of the opera house and agreed to their first pay cut in decades, while management abandoned its toughest demands and agreed to make significant reductions of its own, with independent oversight.

At the time of the Met threat of a lockout, management proposed cutting pay by 17 percent, saying that the opera was facing “one of the biggest financial challenges in its 131-year history” — a combination of declining box office income and rising labor costs that have left the Met dependent on record-breaking fund-raising and heavy spending from its endowment.

The unions resisted, countering that management could find savings elsewhere in a budget that has grown steeply in recent years, hitting $327 million in 2013. They have called for scaling back some of the initiatives undertaken since Peter Gelb became the Met’s general manager in 2006, especially his decision to increase the number of new productions each year.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].

Ladies Nights at the Opera

August 19, 2014

Heroines and divas galore dominate the San Francisco Opera's 2014-2015 season, the company's 92nd, beginning Sept. 5.

Largely by coincidence, five of the fall season's seven titles are names of heroines: Bellini's Norma, Floyd's Susannah, Handel's Partenope, Puccini's Tosca, and Rossini's Cinderella. The other two — with heroines of their own — are Verdi's A Masked Ball and Puccini's La bohème.

<em>Susannah</em>'s (all-male) production team: Michael Cavanagh (stage director), David Gockley, and Erhard Rom (set designer)Asked if there is something thematic going on here, SFO Director of Artistic and Music Planning Greg Henkel replied:

Opera is full of heroines, and this season in particular is evidence of that. When casting this season, we had to take into account the number of strong female leading roles that would be represented. Iconic roles as diverse as Norma and Ceneretola, Partenope, Tosca and Mimi require women who are unique, exceptional singers and gifted actresses. I personally am very pleased to be presenting so many of today’s generation of leading ladies on our stage.

Those leading ladies include Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma, Patricia Racette as Susannah, Julianna Di Giacomo (replacing Krassimira Stoyanova) as Amelia and Heidi Stober as Oscar in A Masked Ball, Danielle de Niese as Partenope, Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca, Karine Deshayes as Cinderella, and Alexia Voulgaridou and Leah Crocetto as Mimi in La bohème.

One way to prepare for the season is to attend SFO's Overture Workshops Monday nights in the Opera House's fifth floor Chorus Room:

  • Sept. 8, Kip Cranna, "Opera is a Story: From Text to Dialogue to Music"
  • Sept. 15, Zanda Švede, "Performing: What's It Like to be a Musician?"
  • Sept. 22, Production Department staff members, "Production Elements: What Does It Look Like?"
  • Sept. 29, Jose Maria Condemi, "Putting it All Together: The Director's Vision"

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].

Free Mill Valley Concert Series to Begin 15th Season

August 19, 2014

Mill Valley Philharmonic in ActionLaurie Cohen, founder and director of the Mill Valley Philharmonic, which has been giving free concerts in several Mill Valley locations, says:

What keeps our orchestra afloat are the fine amateur musicians who play their hearts out; the generous audiences who donate to keep MVP playing free concerts; the foundations businesses who see our value as an organization that engages community; an incredibly hard-working board.

Even on the conductor's podium, Cohen finds it hard to believe how long the enterprise has been sustained:

We began as such a small group and have grown to such a large one, and one that is so appreciated by our communities. I don't like to think of us, at 15, as being in our adolescence, but then again, wasn't it Stravinsky who said that it takes 100 years to build an orchestra?

We're going to have a bang-up season to celebrate our 15th, including a gala on the easy-to-remember date of 3/15/15.

The season:

  • Nov. 7 and 8 (Mt. Tamalpais United Methodist Church, Mill Valley), Nov. 9 (Osher Marin JCC Kanbar Center, San Rafael), Russian Festival: Rimsky-Korsakov, Russian Easter Festival Overture; Glazunov, Saxophone Concerto (with Kevin Stewart); Balakirev, In Bohemia; Prokofiev, Lieutenant Kijé Suite. (Attendance at the Marin JCC on Nov. 9 requires free ticket reservations, which will be available at beginning in October.)
  • March 14: Beethoven, Symphony No. 5
  • March 15: Anniversary gala
  • June 5, 6 7, Voice and Orchestra: Program to be announced.
  • Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].

    When PUSH Comes to Fest

    August 19, 2014

    Katie Wong, PUSH resident choreographer Photos by Anna Marie PanlilioThe PUSH Dance Company, under the direction of Raissa Simpson, is mixing modern, ballet, hip-hop, ethnic, and multi-disciplinary works for its inaugural season of PUSHfest, Sept. 19-21.

    The festival, in ODC Theater, features 14 mid-career and emerging choreographers in two programs. The announcement of the festival says its purpose is:

    … to mix a diverse and culturally relevant entity that is carefully curated by a professional panel made up of artists and presenters. Part of the success of PUSH is its commitment to building community and engaging diverse audiences from different walks of life.

    The lineup includes well-known Bay Area choreographers Randee Paufve and Hope Mohr; and traveling artists range from Los Angeles based Project 21 Dance to Kansas City based choreographer Chadi El-Khoury. Artistic Director Raissa Simpson will restage the audience favorite Point Shipyard Point, a dance installation which premiered in the spring at the Museum of the African Diaspora. PUSH will also premiere a new work by Resident Choreographer Katerina Wong.

    Program A, at 8 p.m. Sept. 19 and 4 p.m. Sept. 21: Raissa Simpson, Randee Paufve, Anandha Ray, Natasha Adorlee Johnson, Martha Zepeda, and Sept. 19 only, Sarah Bush.

    Program B, at 8 p.m. Sept. 20 and 7 p.m. Sept. 21: Katerina Wong, Hope Mohr (Sept. 21 only), Chadi El-Khoury, Tanya Chianese, Ashley Gayle, Maura Townsend, Jamie Wright, Jetta Martin; also Point Shipyard Project and premiere by Katerina Wong.

    Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].

    Former Soldier Now a Promising Opera Director

    August 19, 2014

    Omer Ben-Seadia Photo by Dottie StoverOmer Ben-Seadia's judicious and effective direction of the Merola Grand Finale on Saturday marked a burgeoning talent in an artist with an unusual background, including military service. When asked about possible challenge from peers when she directed opera at the Cincinnati Conservary, she quipped that there's never any question about who's in charge, "that’s where my Israeli army experience comes in.”

    But word from singers in San Francisco is that in her work, she is far from a drill sargeant. James Darrah, whom Ben-Seadia assisted in the direction of Don Giovanni, praised her and said of the Finale: "I'm glad to hear she did well with what's quite a difficult assignment." Jose Maria Condemi, director of the Merola's A Streetcar Named Desire, said: "I gladly concurred with James' assessment on Omer. She is a talented young director whom I have just engaged to direct Italiana in Algeri at my company, Opera Santa Barbara.

    This Spring, as she completed her studies in Cincinnati, Ben-Seadia was profiled in

    “To actually do the thing you’re supposed to be doing is such a great adventure,” she says.

    It’s been more than a decade since a CCM grad student staged a large-scale production in one of CCM’s main venues. Since beginning the artist diploma program in 2012, Ben-Seadia has worked on more than a dozen projects with CCM, Cincinnati Opera, the Vocal Arts Ensemble and the Cincinnati Boy Choir, in addition to her tenure on the staff of the New Israeli Opera in her native Tel Aviv.

    ... Born into a family of actors and writers, Ben-Seadia grew up in Tel Aviv, where her mother is an actor and her father writes, directs and performs fringe theater. When Ben-Seadia was 15, she was tapped by a youth theater company and when the New Israeli Opera cast her in a non-singing role in Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, she says she was smitten. “In opera, I found this enormous repertoire that allows for extraordinary expression that can’t be put into words,” she says.

    Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].

    Licia Albanese (1909-2014)

    August 19, 2014

    Licia Albanese receiving the Medal of Honor for the Arts from President ClintonAmong the best-loved, most-respected singers of the last century, Licia Albanese died on Friday, at age 105.

    In her long career, Albanese sang Cio-Cio-San at least 300 times and made two recordings with Arturo Toscanini, a great admirer of hers. Together, they recorded La traviata and, for the 50th anniversary of the opera's premiere, La bohème. That was her second La bohème; she recorded the first in Italy in 1938 with the great tenor Beniamino Gigli.

    In Manhattan, a lot of singers asked to take part in the celebration of her 100th birthday. And she was moved by this, demonstrating that behind her legendary talent there was always great feeling for the part and at the same time great humility. “I have never been a star," she said some years ago to a reporter from The San Francisco Chronicle. "Call me a very expressive singer.”

    New York has celebrated her as a legend on a par with Caruso, Gigli, and Toscanini, whose nephew Walfredo, for years served on the Licia Albanese Foundation.

    The New York Times obituary cites her participation in 400 Met productions, although it must have been 400 performances.

    San Francisco Opera Performance Archive lists her in 105 performances and two concerts, between 1941 (Micaëla) and 1961 (Butterfly). She sang one of her signature roles, Mimi in La bohème, from 1943 through 1959 with the company. Wikipedia has different figures:

    [Albanese] was also a mainstay at the San Francisco Opera where she sang between 1941 and 1961, performing 22 roles in 120 performances over 20 seasons, remaining in part because of her admiration for its famed director, Gaetano Merola. Throughout her career, she continued to perform widely. In recital, concert, and opera, she was heard throughout the country; she participated in benefits, entertained the troops, had her own weekly radio show, was a guest on other broadcasts and telecasts, and recorded frequently.

    Albanese came to San Francisco in the summer of 1972 for the special gala concert at Sigmund Stern Grove celebrating the 50th anniversary of the San Francisco Opera. Joining numerous colleagues who had sung with the company, Albanese sang the love duet from Madama Butterfly with tenor Frederick Jagel, accompanied by the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by longtime director Kurt Herbert Adler.

    Then, in 1973 she returned to San Francisco to participate in a special concert at the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park with Luciano Pavarotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, again conducted by Adler; this time the concert was televised live on KQED-TV. It was a cold, windy, overcast day and, at one point, Pavarotti took part of the long, heavy scarf he was wearing around his neck and shared it with Albanese.

    Even after a career spanning seven decades, Albanese continued to perform occasionally. After hearing her sing the national anthem during a Met opening, Stephen Sondheim and Thomas Z. Shepard cast her as operetta diva Heidi Schiller in Sondheim's Follies in concert with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall in 1985. During the 1987 spring season of the Theatre Under the Stars in Houston, Albanese starred in a stage revival of Follies, which was a great success.

    Don Levine, veteran opera fan and Albanese admirer, told SFCV:

    I knew Licia Albanese; I know Stephen De Maio (artistic director of both the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation and the Giulio Gari Foundation). Whatever the debate about the year of her birth, at that age, a few years don't matter much, and it still leaves Magda Olivero at 104 as probably the last survivor of the great generation diva's active in the mid 20th century.

    Licia lived a long and notable life. She was a kind and dear person in private. At any age, her loss is painful but we also weep for joy for all the love and artistry she passed over the footlights to countless opera lovers over a span of about 40 years — 70 if you count her very busy and fruitful retirement. God bless her.

    Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].

    Editing Composers

    August 19, 2014

    Heskin and NadalIn the announcement from Boosey & Hawkes about new top appointments, there is some interesting information about who is editing the works of composers whose names are well-known — while the editors toil in obscurity. Going counter to that unfortunate trend, here's explanation by Lisa Hirsch:

    Music editors' tasks are analogous to what print editors do, including making sure the manuscripts get from composer to print with a minimum number of errors, checking things like whether page-turns make sense for the first flute, investigating articulation, dynamics, and note-barring for older works where there might be differing sources, etc. It's hard work, really. Carter wrote his scores out by hand and his notation is complicated.

    At Boosey & Hawkes, the new head of the editorial department is Margaret F. Heskin, after the retirement of Randa Kirshbaum. David Nadal was promoted to managing editor.

    Heskin has been editing the music of John Adams, Béla Bartók, Alberto Ginastera, Osvaldo Golijov, Steve Reich, and Christopher Rouse. Nadal serves as editor for Oscar Bettison, Elliott Carter, Anna Clyne, David Del Tredici, Béla Fleck, Steven Mackey, Edgar Meyer, Meredith Monk, Ned Rorem, and Sean Shepherd.

    Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].

    Musical Chairs in S.F. Opera Administration

    August 19, 2014

    Kip CrannaThe San Francisco Opera's Director of Production, Greg Weber, will become Tulsa Opera's managing director in October. The search has begun to find his successor. He held the post in San Francisco since 2011, but as General Director David Gockley said:

    I had the wonderful pleasure of working with Greg at Houston Grand Opera in a similar position for 13 years and all those great qualities and business attributes he had there, he brought to San Francisco Opera: his complete professionalism, directness, creativity, and good cheer.

    Greg has been a skillful and resourceful manager in helping to produce high quality work despite often difficult and challenging financial constraints. He has been an outstanding leader with our many union colleagues, backstage crews, our departments of wig and make-up, costumes, wardrobe, scene construction, stage management, lighting, technical, and stage operations. He will be sincerely missed.

    Other changes come about as the consequence of Director of Music Operations Kip Cranna's retirement after overseeing many aspects of the company's work for almost four decades. His retirement is only partial, as Cranna assumes a part-time role of company dramaturg, which means, according to a company official, that "he will continue to midwife the company's world premieres, provide critical musicological support to all departments, and continue to evangelize SFO to Bay Area audiences through his public speaking engagements."

    Still, there is a kind of chain reaction: a new director of music operations, yet to be named, will have oversight for the orchestra, chorus and dance departments. Already announced: Greg Henkel, formerly director of artistic administration, has taken over a number of the music areas of the company under his new title of director of artistic and music planning. "There is also some shifting of positions reporting into the music/artistic division and they're also in the process of hiring a couple other positions," says the announcement. Looks like "it takes a village."

    Cranna's email response neatly summarizes the situation:

    I am recovering from hip surgery and will be out of the office until later in August. Note that I have retired from music adminstration and now act as dramaturg, dealing with educational and community outreach programs, commissions, and musicological support to the staff.

    For matters regarding the music staff, supertitles, cuts, scores, and pianos, please contact Greg Henkel.

    For matters regarding the orchestra, chorus, dancers, backstage music, union contracts,media, and season schedules, or general questions, please contact Matthew Shilvock.

    As Gockley said at the time of the announcement:

    It is with great admiration and respect that I share with you Kip Cranna's decision to retire. [The 2013 season opening] marked Kip's 35th opening night with the company, and there are few of us who can share the remarkable longevity and dedication that Kip has so selflessly given the Opera.

    Kip is a regular public face of the company, moderating panels, speaking to groups, generously lending his deep knowledge of the art-form with grace and humor. He has instilled passion for opera in generations of students, audiences and company members. His ability to juggle the plethora of competing factors in our master schedules — all done with little Post-it notes — is legendary. And the care and professionalism he brings to the areas under his purview — orchestra, chorus, dance corps, music staff, libraries, supertitles — is evident in the respect that we all have for his work and collegiality.

    Kip joined San Francisco Opera in 1979 and quickly assumed the leadership of the musical administration departments. With a PhD in musicology from Stanford, Kip became the de-facto musicologist for the company. His tenure has spanned five general directors and three music directors: If anyone understands the living, breathing, complex organism that is SFO, it is Kip. He has huge institutional memory and his office is a great repository of the company's recent past. In 2008, on the occasion of his 30th anniversary with the company, Kip was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal, the highest award the company bestows on an artistic professional.

    Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].

    Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].