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Music News

July 6, 2010

Stay up to date with weekly classical music news from the Bay Area, across the US & around the World.

What After Wozzeck? Orphée, She Says

"It is not an easy task to choose an opera to follow Berg's Wozzeck," muses Nicole Paiement, whose Ensemble Parallèle is doing more for contemporary opera than any other organization in the area, no matter the size. (Berkeley Opera has a good record, but it cannot afford modern repertory only.)

By budget, personnel, or any other possible measuring stick, Parallèle is tiny, and yet it had a blockbuster production of Wozzeck earlier this year, and Lou Harrison's Young Caesar (final version) and Hi Kyung Kim's Rituel II before then. Nothing Butterfly-Carmen-Faust for this group!

With a staff of two (Founder/Artistic Director/Conductor Paiement and General Manager Jacques Desjardins), Parallèle has a resume of 125 performances, 12 recordings, 28 world premieres, 19 commissions, and 45 awards and grants — all in 20th- and 21st-century opera.

So what will Paiement do to follow the success of Wozzeck? The San Francisco premiere of Philip Glass' Orphée on Feb. 26 and 27, 2011, in Herbst Theatre.

Glass' chamber opera has a libretto drawn from Jean Cocteau's 1950 film Orphée, the filmmaker's surrealistic take on the myth of Orpheus. Cocteau sets the story in post–World War II France. The story focuses on the power of obsession, asking "what is art and love?"

Glass' interpretation of the film, composed in 1992, explores such basic existential questions and shows his affinity with French art. Says Paiement:

Like Wozzeck, Orphée is rarely done and we are thrilled to be the first to present this work to Bay Area audiences. But Glass' musical language is about as far as you can get from Berg's German esthetics, in that there are many elements that are quite French. As French is my first language, I am looking forward to working with our cast of singers in a language so near to my heart and, in addition, I have always been a great fan of Cocteau.
As in past productions, previews of the work with Paiement and Brian Staufenbiel will be presented closer to the performance dates. At these events, creative team leaders will discuss the works in a question-and-answer format, and cast members will provide musical excerpts.

In addition, during the rehearsal period of the opera, Ensemble Parallèle will hold a number of open rehearsals followed by Q & A sessions with the artists. As before, there will be an invitation-only, free preview performance for students throughout the Bay Area.

Director and production designer Brian Staufenbiel leads a creative team that includes lighting designer Matthew Antaky, video artist Austin Forbord, costumer Christine Crook, wig and makeup artist Jeanna Parham, and circus artist David Poznanter. Paiement conducts. More information is upcoming closer to the performances.

Cesare Siepi

Among the great opera singers of the past half century, Cesare Siepi was one of the most beloved. Born in Milan 87 years ago, the tall bass with the majestic voice died Monday in his Atlanta home. He leaves his wife of many years, former Metropolitan Opera dancer Louellen Sibley.

A star in the world's opera houses, including memorable performances in San Francisco, Siepi was also known to audiences of television audiences from a 1955 Ed Sullivan Show on through many appearances on that program, the Bell Telephone Hour, and NBC Television Opera Theater.

Pulitzer Prize–winning critic Martin Bernheimer, not usually given to unqualified praise, told Classical Voice, responding to news of Siepi's death:

He was one of the greatest singing actors I ever encountered. He had it all: a glorious, dark, resonant, wide-ranging bass; rare dramatic acuity; keen intelligence; an elegant aversion to exaggeration; innate dignity; virtuosity that never called attention to itself; and, yes, magnetic physical appeal.

He was equally effective as Philip II in Verdi's Don Carlos, Mozart's Figaro and Don Giovanni, Wagner's Gurnemanz, Rossini's Basilio, Gounod's Méphistophélès, and Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov (in English). Proud and sensitive, he left the Met in 1973 when Schuyler Chapin, then general manager, chose a younger rival, Justino Díaz, for the premiere of Verdi's Vespri Siciliani. The loss, of course, was ours.

In San Francisco, Siepi sang in 15 productions, and at three concerts, between 1954 and 1982, including Padre Guardiano in La Forza del Destino, and Don Basilio in the Barber of Seville. At the height of his career he sang here such signature roles as Don Giovanni and Méphistophélès in Faust.

San Francisco Opera broadcast producer Marilyn Mercur recalls Siepi's always enthusiastic participation in the company's work, on and off stage:

Siepi was Don Basilio in our 1982 radio broadcast of The Barber of Seville. That season, I wrote a series of humorous 60-second spots which were aired over KKHI. The one I wrote for Barber featured Siepi and Dale Duesing. I can still hear Siepi on the punch-line. Dale says something about "horsing around," and at the end, Siepi says, "Horsing around? What means horsing around?" He was a delight.
Siepi's international reputation was established in 1950, when he sang King Philip II in the Metropolitan Opera's season-opening production of Don Carlos. He remained principal bass at the Met for more than two decades.

He also starred in many Covent Garden and Vienna State Opera productions, and debuted at the Salzburg Festival in 1953, in a legendary production of Don Giovanni.

Among the many tributes on the Internet, here's a typical account:

I heard my first opera in 1964 at the age of 12. In 46 years of opera-going, Cesare Siepi was the greatest bass that I have heard and seen. ... Siepi was the bass with whom I heard most of the standard repertory first — Don Giovanni, Ramfis, Fiesco, Gurnemanz, Filippo II, Silva, Oroveso. ... I could go on. His voice is still my standard for the bass repertory.
Opera West's David Gregson writes:
Siepi thrilled me in the very first opera I ever saw live: Faust in 1955 with Jan Peerce, Licia Albanese, Cornell MacNeill, Margaret Roggero, conducted by Jean Morel and directed by Paul Hager. The venue was the Fox Theater, now Copley Symphony Hall, in San Diego. I still have the program. Siepi was fabulous.

BASOTI Programs

Some of the remaining programs of BASOTI, the Bay Area Summer Opera Institute:

- July 9, Opera and operetta scenes from Arabella, La clemenza di Tito, and Hansel and Gretel, others.

- July 10, Scenes from Die Fledermaus, The Magic Flute, Idomeneo, and Orfeo ed Euridice, others. July 9-10 in Santa Monica's School Church Hall, 5950 Geary Blvd., San Francisco.

- July 29, Scenes from Aida, Il trovatore, L’italiana in Algeri, The Merry Widow, and others. S.F. Conservatory of Music Sol H. Joseph Recital Hall, 50 Oak Street.

Three fully staged operas will be presented: The Magic Flute, July 22, 24-25, 30-31, and Aug. 1, in Magic Theater, Fort Mason Center; Suor Angelica, July 21, 23-24; and La Calisto, July 15-18 — both in the Conservatory of Music Recital Hall. Tickets for the operas are $35 adult, $20 senior/student.

The Institute's new artistic director is Yefim Maizel. BASOTI conductors are Matthias Kuntzsch, Alexander Katsman, Ryan Murray, and Jonathan Khuner. Opera directors are Martin Cox, Yefim Maizel, Mark Streshinsky, and David Oswald. Admission to all performances: $25 adult, $15 senior/student; tickets available at the door.

'Honda Tenor' Identified 

It took effort, but the outcome is a happy one. For a couple of weeks now, I've been trying to get information about singers in the new Honda commercial, an opera scene at first intriguing, then slowly becoming bothersome with endless and frequent repetition. Above all, I wanted to know who is the tenor portraying Mr. Opportunity, the Honda cartoon character in the commercial — some really impressive, solid high notes.

The advertising agency has now come through, and the answer to the tenor question is Jonathan Mack. I am sure Los Angeles audiences are familiar with him, wonder how many TV viewers from the area could identify the voice. Although there appears to be only one soprano in the ad, two have been identified in the scene: Danielle Matrow and Elin Carlson.

Next time the commercial comes up — and it will — you can ameliorate irritation-from-repetition by listening to the voices with the knowledge of their identity. You're welcome. Incidentally, Honda has had a variety of musical and operatic settings for commercials, and that's all to the good... up to a point, but not beyond the 40th repetition, on the same station, and often within the same program. When you have a good, effective ad, you don't need to hammer it into brains by force.

Festival Opera Lucia Casting

Some of the finest young singers from the Bay Area are featured in Festival Opera's Aug. 5-15 performances of Donizetti's Lucia de Lammermoor.

Angela Cadelago sings the title role, Thomas Glenn is Edgardo. Brian Leerhuber is Enrico, Kirk Eichelberger is Raimondo, Patrice Houston is Alisa.

Michael Morgan conducts, the production is directed by Mark Foehringer on Peter Crompton's set.

Your Berlin Season

The Berlin Philharmonic, now your next-door neighbor, is opening the 2010-2011 season on Aug. 27, with Simon Rattle conducting Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 and Mahler's Symphony No. 1. That concert and all others are available online both live and recorded at the Philharmonic's Digital Concert Hall.

Some of the highlights from the fall portion of the season:

- Sept. 12: Rattle conducts Berio's Coro for 40 Voices and Instruments and the complete Stravinsky Pulcinella ballet

- Sept. 18: Pierre Boulez conducts his ... explosante-fixe ..., and Stravinsky's Le Rossignol

- Oct. 2: Charles Mackerras conducts Martinu's "Fragments From Julietta" and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7

- Oct. 9: Eivind Gullberg Jensen conducts Gubaidulina's Offertorium (with Vadim Repin, violin), and Sibelius' Symphony No. 1

- Oct. 16: Andris Nelsons conducts Berg's Violin Concerto (Baiba Skride, soloist), and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8

Shankar, 90, Debuts His First Symphony

Sitar virtuoso and cult figure Ravi Shankar has turned to composing symphonies, and the London Philharmonic premiered his No. 1, written at age 90. Both Shankar and his daughter, Anoushka, participated in the performance, conducted by David Murphy.

"This was conceived entirely for the Western symphony orchestra, so I had to eliminate the traditional Indian instruments but transfer some of their spirit on to the Western instruments," Shankar told BBC radio. "I wrote it in Indian notation, which David Murphy, who is a student of mine and a wonderful conductor, has interpreted very well."

Each of the piece's four movements are based on different ragas. Said Murphy:

It now really does seem like a new "Indo-Classic" musical genre is being born. I believe it will be a very important musical journey in the next few years, bringing both musical cultures closer together whilst keeping the purity of both traditions intact.

Ring-ing Up a $6 Million Deficit

The $31 million Los Angeles Opera production of Wagner's Ring ended last week with a report of a $5.9 million deficit.

Stephen Rountree, the company's chief operating officer, said about $4 million of the shortfall came from the lean box office for the three full cycles, running from May 29 through June 26. For local Wagnerites, some deep discounts were made for tickets when many anticipated out-of-town visitors failed to show up.

San Francisco Opera is staging three cycles of the Ring next summer, and the box-office anticipation here is also heavily dependent on visitors — with a strong possibility that this production will draw much better than Los Angeles', which was strongly disliked by many critics and audience members.

Nagano's Auf Wiedersehen to Munich?

Several German newspapers report that former Berkeley Symphony Music Director (and part-time San Francisco resident) Kent Nagano's contract as music director of the Bavarian State Opera may not be renewed when it ends in 2013.

Why would something three years in the future be news? Because the politics determining the placement of European music directors works long-range. Nagano began his affiliation with Munich in 2006 when the top position at the opera was still open. In 2008, Nikolaus Bachler became Intendant, and reports speak of "a clash of personality and principles" between Nagano and Bachler.

As in his numerous previous positions (Lyon, Manchester, Berlin), Nagano is championing modern music, and he had surprise hits in Munich with Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland and other works, even while his conducting of Mozart, et al., also received audience approval.

Among those mentioned as possible successors for Nagano is Kirill Petrenko, believed to be favored by Bachler. Petrenko, however, had clashes with some of the stage directors in Munich, and he is scheduled to conduct the Bayreuth Ring from 2013 through the next four years. Bayreuth runs in August, which is also the time for Munich's own opera festival.

Nagano is currently in Canada, where he is music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Orchestral Job Openings Galore

Today's New York Times reports that with unemployment at 10 percent, the one job-growth area may be with the nation's major orchestras:
Next season the New York Philharmonic will have a rare 12 openings, or roughly 12 percent of its instrumental work force, thanks to a confluence of retirements, departures for better jobs and long-unfilled positions.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has 10 vacancies, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 9, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic 7.

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


[Disclaimer: I drive a Toyota, an old one that hasn't been recalled...yet...:)))]

Britt McColl, PR for Honda’s longtime ad agency, has now clarified the issue of two-women-one-role: Elin Carlson is the singer, Danielle Matrow is the actress playing the opera singer.

The composer channeling Verdi is Keith Horn.

The tenor, Jonathan Mack, was in the Merola Program class of 1979 - along with Evelyn de la Rosa, Kevin J. Langan, Patricia Schuman, Quade Winter, and a dozen others - few (none?) of whom sang in car commercials. I await corrections on that. [email protected].

The story in Musical America indicates that there was more than met the eye initially.

"In a letter to the media, Nagano writes, 'In view of the direction taken by cultural policy in Munich in the last few months—at the Staatstheater on Gärtnerplatz and at the Munich Philharmonic—and its consequences both for the reputation of these institutions and for the city itself, I have decided not to seek an extension of my contract. With this decision I hope to protect the Staatsoper from any harm which may result from a personality debate that could lead to internal tensions and conflicts.'"