Music News: Dec. 31, 2013
Music News is supported in part by Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C.
As always, probably going back three centuries, there are noises about: "Woe! Woe! Opera is dying ... or dead." As before, it ain't so.
Clearly, state-supported opera in economically troubled (but recovering) is undergoing crises of various degrees, but Elisabeth Braw's obituary for opera in Italy in Newsweek is obviously overdoing lamentations.
As for the sometimes equally lamented plight of opera in New York, we turned to a man who counts facts, not fears. Mark Schubin is backing up his faith in New York City as one of the great opera capitals of the world:
I've been listing every opera performed in New York City in 2013. It’s quite possible I’ve missed some performances, especially from the early part of the year; those would only make the numbers larger.
There are opera companies on the operas list that do not appear on the opera-companies list because they are either based outside New York City (e.g., Les Arts Florissants) or not normally in the business of presenting opera (e.g., Jewish Theological Seminary). Similarly, there are opera companies on the opera-companies list that are not on the operas list because, even though they are currently active (e.g. Empire Opera), they did not present an opera within the five boroughs of New York City during 2013. An appendix to the venues list offers some current large theatrical auditoriums previously used for opera in NYC but not in 2013.
Here are some of the statistics: In 2013 in New York City there were 804 performances of 243 productions of about 190 operas by 126 composers in 95 venues presented by 91 companies or combinations of companies. The "about" is because there were some very different versions of some of the operas (e.g., Mahagonny and a staged version of Mahagonny Songspiel).
Of the 365 days in 2013, there were only 50 on which it was not possible to see a live, in-person opera performance in New York City. January was best: on every day it was possible to attend a live, in-person opera performance. On some of those 50 days, there were recitals by opera singers, galas featuring segments of operas, libretto readings, operas just outside the borders of the city, and opera in cinemas.
In 2013 in NYC, there were operas presented that were first performed in every half century from about 1639 to date. Forty-six operas either premiered in 2013 or were performed while still in progress. Another 12 operas performed in NYC in 2013 (including one at the Met) premiered in 2011 or 2012. Twenty-four of New York City’s 92 active opera companies (and at least two New York City theatrical organizations that aren’t opera companies) are involved in developing new operas; and that doesn’t count the Jewish Theological Seminary’s involvement in developing a new opera performed in NYC in 2013.
It was possible in 2013 to spend a lot of money on a premium ticket to a NYC opera house. Or one could have been an elderly resident of an assisted-living facility, unable to get to an opera house, yet able to attend live opera performed in that same facility. Or one could have been unable to afford an opera ticket yet able to attend live opera performed without admission charge in a local public library. And, even at the Met, one could have spent as little as $20 for a subsidized ticket for a very good seat.
If anyone wants to share the whole thing, including this intro, with a single link, this one will take you to a web page with everything.
A New York Times article last weekend revealed some startling facts about the state of those laboring behind the curtain:
The stagehands of Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees bring some of New York City’s most glittering stage effects to life, from the auditoriums of Lincoln Center to the theaters of Broadway. But their work comes at a steep price, even at venues where they do little more than load in orchestras and set up music stands.
Those high costs were underscored by a stagehands walkout that forced the cancellation of this season’s opening night at Carnegie Hall and called attention to the hall’s five full-time stagehands’ total yearly compensation, an average of more than $400,000 each. An examination of tax records, contracts and other documents by The New York Times found that hefty stagehand salaries at many New York nonprofit performance institutions are more widespread than was previously known.
At nine top such institutions that have contracts with Local 1, stagehands make up 36 of the 98 most highly compensated employees, or about 37 percent. The average annual total salary and benefits of those highest-paid stagehands, at places from the Metropolitan Opera to the Roundabout Theater Company, is nearly $310,000, according to the nonprofits’ most recent tax filings.
Backstage workers can earn more than the onstage talent. Five stagehands at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center were each paid more in total compensation in 2011 than the highest-paid dancer at New York City Ballet, filings showed. And, in 2010, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark paid its stagehands a total of $138,000 a week, while the principals and members of the ensemble earned slightly less than $100,000 put together, according to documents submitted to the state attorney general’s office.
Inevitably, there are many responses to such provocative topic, but the Times apparently didn't entertain comments (we, at SFCV, assuredly do — please speak your mind), but a similar article at Forbes magazine had retorts galore, including this from stagehand John Motsinger:
Please go get a degree, at the very least, in this field before you talk about the nature of my profession or how difficult it is. WE don’t just push a piano, we are highly skilled electrician with years of focus specifically for lighting a stage. WE are carpenters than could build you a house but instead we create an entire world on stage every 4-6 weeks. We rig thousands of pounds objects to fly in and out safely, without hardhats being used. (One of the very few industries allowed to do that actually) Because we are that damn good. So please tell me about the electrician that sets up a touring 400 lighting instrument show every day for months so the band can do their show and why they aren’t of value. Trust me these men are not random guys of the street but rather masters of their crafts who have earned the position that they hold.
Hard to believe, Magik*Magik Orchestra is already/only 5-years-old. What looked at the beginning an ad-hoc group of young musicians getting together to perform some unusual repertory has become an Institution. They combine classical, rock, pop, and the kitchen sink in a mostly sensational mix. Now they are organizing a huge fifth-anniversary fundraising gala in the Fox Theater, Oakland, on Jan. 31.
The evening is called "When We Were Young" (yes, cute), and it is presented by Another Planet Entertainment and Noise Pop. Participating artists confirmed so far — more to come for sure — include:
Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers
How to Dress Well
The Lonely Forest
Maestro Michael Morgan
The Pacific Boychoir
For such an important fund-raiser, ticket prices are modest, from $29.50 to $45; there are some $300 VIP tickets as well.
Spearheaded by arranger Minna Choi, Magik*Magik has already been involved in more than 100 projects, including performing and recording the original film score for Looper (with Bruce Willis & Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the cast), composing arrangements and performing with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds in the Bill Graham Auditorium, and many others.
Formerly the Berkeley Opera, and now without its El Cerrito home, the West Edge Opera not only persists, it thrives in adversity. No space for a real production or an orchestra? Music Director Jonathan Khuner will be at the piano to accompany a few well-chosen singers in a series of concert performances of little-known works.
The venue is Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda, Berkeley, and the schedule calls for a civilized Sunday 3 p.m. curtain (even without a physical curtain) for all performances.
With a cutesy but promising title of "Opera Medium Rare (but well done)," the series starts on Jan. 19, with Rossini’s Elizabeth, Queen of England, Emma McNairy in the title role. Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro follows on March 30, and Verdi’s Aroldo concludes the series on May 4.
All three operas will be sung in Italian with English Supertitles. This series of concert performances is in addition to West Edge Opera’s mainstage season, which will be announced soon.
A new, fascinating documentary about Martha Argerich is made by her daughter, Stéphanie Argerich (the father is Stephen Kovacevich), and it's now available on Medici.tv in full or in an introductory free excerpt (with a c'mon-subscribe pitch).
The DVD of Bloody Daughter can be found on Amazon. From the description of the documentary:
The mother through the daughter’s eyes — a family portrait blending intimate conversations, agreements, and disagreements, and shred ties of sounds and blood. An intimate portrait of two musical giants.
This documentary has been filmed in several countries: Poland, where Martha Argerich chairs the judges of the International Chopin competition and gives several recitals with her close friend Nelson Freire; Japan, at the unique Argerich festival; the United Kingdom, where Stephen Kovacevich, the father of Stéphanie, lives; Belgium, where Martha and Stéphanie lived together for several years; Argentina, where Martha was born (in Buenos Aires); Switzerland, where Martha and Stéphanie are currently living; France, where the grandmother’s apartment still houses valuable treasures.
Made up of documentary sequences focusing on the two characters of Martha and Stephen in their everyday lives, in rehearsal and in performance, the film is largely given over to intimate conversations (filmed by Stephanie herself, alone or with one or other of her parents), delicious anecdotes, and a few scenes in which we will see the family reunited.