July 23, 2013
July 23, 2013
Were this a site to publish press releases, we'd wait for the slowly emerging official announcement from the Young Musicians Program, but if "news" is to be kept in the name of the column, there is no alternative to conveying this very bad news (otherwise confirmed): The YMP summer program has been canceled, and the organization's vital relationship with UC Berkeley has been altered, on the way to being completely severed.
The fact that "some members of the YMP Advisory Board" in April formed a new organization, the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, and just a month later they announced "taking over the administration and management of YMP," indicates internal politics at work.
In the 2012-2013 academic year, YMP enrolled 92 students aged 10 to 18, and just when it was time for the important summer session, the rug was pulled from under both the session and the program.
While acknowledging YMP's 45 years of "valuable public service to the community by providing high quality tutoring and musical education to low-income and disadvantaged youth," Gibor Basri, who holds the wondrous title of UC Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion, declared that "giving talented low-income youth in our community the opportunity to shine musically and academically would be better served by an independent organization that is small and agile."
How and why is YMP — heavily dependent on volunteer work by the likes of Frederica von Stade — not a "small and agile" organization are questions to be answered. Program director Daisy Newman deferred comment until after Aug. 31, when YMP will officially end operations.
YMP, originally founded within the university's Music Department in 1968 as a summer program for youth from Berkeley and surrounding communities, has expanded to a year-round program, featuring individual, group, orchestral, and choral instruction. Musical instruments and all other aspects of the program were provided at no cost to the students and their families.
Flicka and another famed dramatic soprano, Olivia Stapp, have participated in an impromptu summer session for 17 YMP singers organized voluntarily and gratis by YMP faculty member (and Sonos Founder/Director) Jim Meredith. On Sunday, they held a closing concert in Oakland, including scenes from West Side Story, Les Mis, The Barber of Seville, as well as various arias.
Says Meredith: "This group of 13-18 year olds is truly spectacular. You would not believe some of the voices, with descriptions from knowledgable people like: 'a young Victoria de los Angeles,' 'a Verdi baritone in the making'; four of them have been Pacific Musical Society competition winners."
Stapp, who directed the concert, says:
It is so inspiring for me to be with these young people. Their personal lives are beset with enormous difficulties, through no fault of their own. And yet, they bring all their talent and energy and immerse themselves with all their souls into the music at hand. They sing German, French, Italian, and Spanish lieder, play instruments in classical and jazz style, and do opera too!
Jim Meredith is a saint. He personally shepherds the students all the way through to college — helping with applications, preparing the auditions, and even bringing them to the various colleges all over the country. There is great work going on in this program, the vocal component is outstanding, and these kids are for real. Music is the magic door through they pass to get to the life they all deserve. Knowing these youngsters gives me hope for the world.
July 23, 2013
Love of opera is built on unforgettable peak moments over the years, usually experienced in the performances of big stars in major opera houses.
Last week, that moment came at the concert of young artists in a training program, singing in a school auditorium.
Meet Pene Pati. Of course you don't know the name — a 25-year-old stocky New Zealander from a Samoan family. Trust me: you will know him for years to come, and thrill to his voice of golden trumpet as the crowded house in San Francisco did on Thursday.
The 2013 Merola Opera Program's Schwabacher Summer Concert was a great bouquet of sensational performances. The venue, Everett Middle School, is surprisingly and happily satisfactory for acoustics and sightlines, never mind the Bayreuth-type seats of moderate discomfort.
With the San Francisco Opera Orchestra on stage, under the baton of Kevin Murphy, the evening was already sizzling with Alex DeSocio's broad, powerful baritone as Rodrigo in Don Carlo (and Pati as Carlo, but with little to sing, and the surprise yet to come).
Zanda Svede was the sparkling, deep-voiced Isabella in L'Italiana in Algeri, and the Latvian mezzo was restrained both in projecting her big voice and tastefully comic acting ... and then came the big moment.
Pati sang the final scene of Lucia di Lammermoor, the clear, soaring, effortless voice bringing to life Edgardo (even without an effort at acting), reminiscent of the young Giuseppe di Stefano, and wonderfully musical.
And then Pati took the final note, an open-throated, flawless, powerful high D that he held pure and solid, not in a show-off way, just a peak moment, which seemed to go on for minutes.
Whatever you can find of Pati online, such as a two-year-old "Recondita Armonia," cannot begin to convey where the voice is today, and there is no way to know where it will be when the Merola "training program" concludes next month.
And yet, there were more wonders to come: Svede's surging, velvety Beppe with Pati's lyrical Fritz in an Act 3 scene from L'Amico Fritz, and then Issachah Savage's Otello, powerful, moving, unfolding in the performance of the opera's entire closing scene.
There was Aviva Fortunata's solid Willow Song — against an extraordinary supporting ensemble of Svede (Emilia), Montano (Pati), Iago (De Socio), Matthew Newlin (Cassio), and Rhys Lloyd Talbot (Lodovico).
The concert was repeated Saturday in a free (and windy) outdoor performance at Yerba Buena Gardens. Your next chance to hear these and the other Merolini is in Le Nozze di Figaro on Aug. 1 and 3, and the season-closing Grand Finale on Aug. 17.
July 23, 2013
It might have been genetic engineering that produced the ultimate prototype of a ballerina, and named the result "Stella Abrera." In another laboratory, some heart and soul, warmth and grace were added, and there you have the young woman of Filipino ancestry from Southern California, one of the top stars of the American Ballet Theatre for the past decade.
No need for science fiction, Abrera and her ABT partner (and husband), Santa Cruz's Sascha Radetsky, were right there, front and center, shining brightest among the featured dancers Friday at Festival del Sole's Dede Wilsey Dance Series Ballet Gala.
Their bravura performances in the Pas d'Esclave from Le Corsaire (the explosive Petipa choreography staged by Anna-Marie Holmes) and affecting lyricism in a pas de deux from Antony Tudor's Leaves Are Fading were memorable. Both of them dance without posing or reaching for effect; they are like musicians who immerse themselves in the music.
Following closely was the Méditation from Frederick Ashton's Thaïs, staged by Bruce Sansom, and danced by Alexsandra Meijer and Tiit Helimets — principal dancers from Ballet San Jose and San Francisco Ballet, respectively.
Ballet San Jose dancers carried the burden of the evening's specialty, a couple of recovered excerpts from Michel Fokine's "lost" Paganini, to Rachmaninov's music, a rather awkward piece about the violinist (Damir Emric) playing his instrument, then not, having some unspecified but obviously agonizing problems, and eventually redeemed (somewhat) by Divine Genius (Amy Marie Briones) and eight — I counted them — Divine Spirits as the corps de ballet performed far from divinely. Keisuke Nakagoshi was the on-stage piano soloist.
San Jose dancers Junna Ige and Maykel Solas did well with the Wedding Pas de Deux from the Petipa-Gorsky Don Quixote, staged by Wes Chapman, but other dancers from the company were less impressive in a pas de deux from Giselle, the pas de cinq from Swan Lake, and especially a pas de deux from Giselle.
More successful was the pas de deux from the Bournonville-Flemming Flindt Toreador, the newly retired Maria Jacobs Yu giving an impressive swan song (quite without a lake), partered by fellow San Josean Alex Kramer.
Previous dance galas in the festival presented dancers from the Bolshoi, New York City Ballet, and numerous stars of Ballet Theater and San Francisco Ballet, in contrast with this evening's Ballet San Jose majority.
I have heard the Russian National Orchestra (which, name withstanding, is not Russia's national orchestra) many times, usually in a performance range between pretty good and very good. This time, they broke out of that array, sounding like a volunteer circus band in a small Siberian village. It was oompah-pah, crash! bang!! of harsh, building-shaking fortissimos. I understand that Minkus is not Debussy, but I firmly believe ballet music should still be musical.
The conductor, George Daughtery (also responsible for the production of the gala), usually performs far better, so I don't know what happened. Kudos to the dancers for overcoming — mostly — the orchestra's chokepoints.
The next night at the festival, Frederica von Stade came to the rescue, flying in on a private jet from an engagement in Bellingham, WA, to sing at the Far Niente Winery in Oakville, substituting for Jesse Norman, who had canceled the engagement. (Norman has also rescheduled her July 31 "American Songbook" concert with San Francisco Symphony to Aug. 9.)
July 23, 2013
Apologies, but by the time you read this Die Walküre at the Proms is nearly over, having started at 8 a.m. PDT. You should have heeded notices in previous columns. To look ahead, Friday's Siegfried will also start at 8 a.m. our time, and the world ends Sunday with Götterdämmerung (or, coming from London, The Twilight of the Gods).
And, here's something you won't see — or rather hear — in any opera house anywhere: On Saturday, the daylong break between Siegfriedand Götterdämmerung, BBC-3 will bring you live from the Royal Albert Hall Tristan und Isolde, that too waking you on the West Coast at 8 a.m.
Daniel Barenboim conducts the Ring, Semyon Bychkov leads Tristan. Lance Ryan sings the title role in Siegfried, with Nina Stemme's Brünnhilde, Terje Stensvold's Wanderer, and Peter Bronder's Mime. Peter Seiffert and Violeta Urmana head the Tristan cast; look out for Mihoko Fujimura'a Brangäne.
Meanwhile, Intermezzo carries AJ Goldmann's report from the Bayreuth dress rehearsal of Frank Castorf's new Ring there:
The curtain rose on a sleazy roadside inn along Route 66 called The Golden Motel. The stage swiveled to reveal a Texaco petrol station and a convenience store/bar. The flag and emblem of the Lone Star State put to rest any doubt about where we were supposed to be.
The Rhine Maidens lounged by the motel pool, drying their laundry and barbecuing. Alberich dove into the shallow water in speedos and cowboy boots to retrieve the gold, but not before munching on a bratwurst (he didn’t so much as eat it as spit the chunks out into the water) and squirting himself with yellow mustard.
Stick with the Proms; the pictures are better on the radio.
July 23, 2013
Sixty-five — the new 40 — is a splendid age, and it's a milestone that will be properly and festively marked by Mitchell Sardou Klein during the orchestra's LXV-th season, Oct. 25 through May 17, 2014.
The orchestra will have dual venues for the coming year, both splendid: Stanford's Bing Concert Hall and the newly renovated San Mateo Performing Arts Center. For Cupertino concerts, they return to Flint Center, not quite in the same category as the other two, but that's just my opinion.
Highlights of the season include world premieres of two commissioned works — one by Ron Miller for the opening program, and Jonathan Russell’s Double Concerto for Cello, Clarinet, and Orchestra on March 21-22.
There is an all-Bloch concert Nov. 22 and 24, and a Dave Brubeck tribute to Bay Area jazz great Taylor Eigsti Jan. 17-18.
The rich opening program on Oct. 25 offers the yet-unnamed Miller premiere, the Grieg Piano Concerto (with John O’Conor as soloist), the Brahms Academic Festival Overture and Walton's Crown Imperial; Handel's Zadok the Priestand Beethoven's Choral Fantasy with the Masterworks Chorale.
In addition to premieres, the five-program, 10-performance season features Klein’s signature mix of engaging works by composers ranging from Handel, Beethoven, and Brahms to Gershwin, Debussy, and Walton. Guest artists for the season include cellist Nathan Chan, clarinetist Jonathan Russell, baritone/cantor Stephen Saxon, and saxophonist Dayna Stevens.
Besides the Masterworks Chorale, the San Mateo High School Band, Stanford Symphonic Chorus and Youjin Lee, winner of the Irving M. Klein International String Competition, will also participate in the season.
July 23, 2013
The little engine of San Francisco Playhouse always could, but now it has gone into the world of thespian gigantism.
Before the first note of the Lerner and Loewe Camelot was heard at Friday's premiere, Playhouse already scored big. In the company's small, new theater on Post Street (this is the first season in the 250-seat venue that replaced the previous 99-seater), a wondrous scene greeted the audience.
Nina Ball's Broadway-worthy set featured ramparts here, a castle there, a gigantic tree on stage left. And then, on a screen taking up the entire upstage wall, there is live video of the band, later projections of scenery, and then and then: Those big, impressive sets turn to reveal new settings.
With such great toys, it would be understandable (and wrong) to use them all the time, but company manager and stage director Bill English knows better, and he uses the screen and the revolving sets judiciously, instead of going to town with them. Because of that, properly and joyously, the audience is treated to a bouquet of appealing performances from an excellent cast.
Just as English worked wonders with another Lerner and Loewe masterpiece, My Fair Lady, he is presenting his own gritty "Camelot meets Game of Thrones" version of the original Moss Hart production.
The director also imported his Henry Higgins — Johnny Moreno — as King Arthur, Eliza Doolittle — Monique Hafen — as Guenevere, and Alfred Doolittle — Charles Dean — as the scene-stealing Merlyn and Pelinore ... and the cast of an additional dozen for this Really Big Show.
Moreno and Hafen looked way too young for the My Fair Lady leads, but they were quite mahvellous, and as juvenile Arthur and Jenny, they are repeating their triumphs, both in acting and singing. Moreno sounds wonderful in "I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight," "Camelot," an almost whispered "How to Handle a Woman," as well as other songs, and duets.
Hafen's "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" is hilarious, "Then You May Take Me To The Fair" captivating, and "I Loved You Once in Silence" moving. To their credit, both provide exemplary diction, even against capricious amplification.
Sound is even a bigger problem when it comes to the band, led ably by Dave Dobrusky at the keyboard. There is a distinct separation between singers and accompaniment, the band's sound coming from a distance and a beat behind. Still, the performance is fine, so after a while the ear makes adjustment what seems to be a permanent echo.
Wilson Jermaine Heredia dazzles by making the cartoon character of Lancelot believable. Heredia and fight choreographer Miguel Martinez were awesome in Lancelot's sock-'em-rock 'em scene against three meanies and the subsequent "miracle" that wins over hearts (with disastrous consequences) and minds.
Heredia's "C'est Moi" and "If Ever I would Leave You" make a big impression from a singing actor (not a singer who acts). Steven Shear's choreography for the show works well with English's direction on the complex stage.
In another principal role, the latecomer villain Mordred, Paris Hunter Paul joins the honor list, with much virtual mustache-twirling and scary-funny belting out of "The Seven Deadly Virtues."
The company succeeds in bringing to life the musical's powerful romantic spirit, etched mem>orably against doubts, sadness, and resignation. The remarkable score for Camelot sounds deceptively simple, but it is a challenge, especially for a theater company whose main business is drama, not music. Playhouse meets the challenge with impressive panache.
July 23, 2013
Speaking of musicals, there is a good one coming up at Foothill Music Theatre about the S.F. Giants going to hell on the slow train — sorry! — just too depressed by the precipitious fall of the Champs and the 11-0 shutout by Cincinnati on Monday. At Foothill, really, it's the Richard Adler-Jerry Ross Damn Yankees, about making a deal with the devil to win the pennant. (Could it work for the Giants?)
The production, running July 26 — Aug. 18 in the Smithwick Theatre, is directed by Tom Gough, with music direction by Catherine Snider, and choreography by Katie O’Bryon.
The story, you will recall, follows middle-aged baseball fanatic Joe Boyd who trades his soul to the Devil for a chance to lead his favorite team to victory in the pennant race against the hated New York Yankees. Boyd becomes young baseball sensation Joe Hardy, who transforms the hapless Washington Senators into a winning team, only to realize the true worth of the life he's left behind. (Whatever that could be, against money and glory.)
Among the obstacles the Devil throws his way, is his comely protégé Lola, a sexy siren who is used to getting whatever she wants: "I always get what I aim for / And your heart'n soul is what I came for." Not great grammar, but scary-seductive enough.
The Foothill cast features Jeff Clarke as Mr. Applegate, Jen Wheatonfox as Lola, Dan Mitchell as Joe Hardy, and a large group of athletic thespians. A special attraction of Foothill productions is the orchestra. Says Snider, music director and conductor:
In an era of shrinking orchestra pits, it’s very important to us that we use local musicians and give our audiences the experience the show’s creators intended.
Our musicians are all Bay Area professionals. Some do have day jobs, ranging from Silicon Valley techie to music teacher. Others are full-time musicians.
We rehearse once on our own, and the next time we meet is for the sitzprobe with the actors, about two weeks before opening. That’s always a fun night for me as the conductor, because I can see the cast get re-energized when they hear the orchestra for the first time, and the orchestra gets excited about the gig they’ve taken on when they hear the high quality of the cast! I love working through the show with actors and band, making adjustments, cleaning up — it’s probably one of my most musically satisfying moments in the whole process. Then we bring the band in on the Tuesday of opening week.
Snider's comment on the music of Damn Yankees:
It beautifully captures the 1950s Broadway sound. Latin-flavored numbers were trendy at the time and are scattered throughout the show, as are the oh-so-cool jazz sounds that we associate with the ‘50s and Bob Fosse musicals. The songs that are most well-known from the show illustrate the versatility of the score: "Heart" (barbershop quartet), "Whatever Lola Wants" (Latin), and "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO" (hoedown).
This show calls for a robust reed section, with all the books doubling on saxes as well as the usual clarinets and flutes; you can best hear the reason for that in the Lola dance numbers, where the saxes have some really sexy jazz features.
July 23, 2013
Frederica von Stade and Maximilian Schell will host a gala at Vienna's historic Konzerthaus, featuring the Vienna Boys' Choir, Russell Watson, singers, orchestra, and ballet, to be shown on PBS early August. The concert was taped live on April 25, 2013. Check for local listings (and be ready for KQED-TV's programming at dawn's early light).
PBS says the program is "one of the most lavish song and dance gala concert specials ever produced for public television," and then lists the "international cast of top singing stars." It will feature sopranos Daniela Fally, Iva Milhanovic, and Alexandra Reinprecht; tenors Dmitry Korchak and Tilmann Unger; baritone, Daniel Serafin, "as well as many leading stars from the acclaimed Budapest Operetta Theater." If, like me, you don't know any of these "top singing stars," the show will provide an opportunity to make your acquaintance.
July 23, 2013
The 50 Essential Movie Musicals site is true to its name: It lists what is arguably the 50 best movie musicals, excluding obvious failures and including successful films, whether popular or not. Each listed film has the trailer and information with it.
Check it out, from All That Jazz to The Wizard of Oz, read the many comments, and then add what you think is missing.
July 23, 2013
On Friday, the Bavarian State Opera will stream live and free the 10th and final transmission of the season, beginning at 11 a.m. on the West Coast. It is Eurotrash Bad Boy Calixto Bieito’s production of Boris Godunov, with sets by Rebecca Ringst.
The cast features the young Ukrainian bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk in the title role, with Anatoli Kotscherga (Pimen), Gerhard Siegel (Schusjkij), and Sergey Skorokhodov (Grigorij Otrepjew). The Bayerisches Staatsorchester will be led by General Music Director Kent Nagano.
In The New York Times review of the production, George Loomis wrote:
In a plot alteration, six characters in the Bayerische Staatsoper’s new production of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov meet untimely deaths. The escape by Grigory, the Pretender, from the police as he flees an inn on the Lithuanian border is normally a challenge to stage, but when the woman Innkeeper (here a pushcart vendor) guns down both officers, Grigory has an easy time of it.
After rebuffing Boris, the Holy Fool, who embodies the conscience of Russia, is shot by a young girl. And while Boris’s life slips away in the final scene, Grigory, suddenly back in Moscow, snuffs out the lives of the czar’s son and daughter and their nurse.
In short, the director Calixto Bieito has not lost his appetite for violence. Its relevance here is presumably to suggest that forceful suppression of its people by an all-powerful government corrupts society generally. (The Innkeeper also whips her little girl, an event that, fortunately for the audience, takes place out of its sight range.)
The problem is universal. In the first scene the crowd, kept under wraps by armed guards, carries poster-pictures of Nicolas Sarkozy, George W. Bush, and other familiar faces. For Boris’ coronation everyone furiously waves the Russian flag, although when the ceremony is over they immediately look dejected and wander aimlessly off. It is a telling moment, that their enthusiasm was hardly genuine.