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Music News: March 18, 2014

March 18, 2014

Merola Program Takes Streetcar

March 18, 2014

Iranian mezzo Shirin Eskandani, a Vancouver resident, is in the 2014 Merola Program For the first time since its San Francisco world premiere 16 years ago André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire will be seen here again this summer.

Back in 1998, the composer conducted the San Francisco Opera-commissioned work, with Renée Fleming, Elizabeth Futral, Rodney Gilfry, Anthony Dean Griffey, and Jay Hunter Morris in the cast. It has been performed in many venues, including Carnegie Hall last year.

The musical version of Tennessee Williams' drama is part of the 57th season of the Merola Opera Program, which runs June 2-Aug. 17. Streetcar will be staged in Everett Middle School on July 10 and 12. When first used last year, the venue received a favorable review: "With Herbst Theatre closed for renovation, this auditorium is a pleasant surprise, providing excellent acoustics and sightlines well above expectations, and definitely superior to another Merola venue, Fort Mason's Cowell Theater." (But be ready for some discomfort on typical school furniture that younger bodies tolerate better.)

The Merola Program, now regarded among the most important such curricula in the world, provides 12 weeks of intensive musical and performance training for 29 young artists from 10 countries. Besides the benefits to the participants — hundreds of whom in the past have gone on to professional careers, some as illustrious as those of Susan Graham (1987), Patricia Racette (1988), and Anna Netrebko (1996) — Merola benefits audiences hungry for opera in the summer doldrums.

New Merolina Karen Ho is the winner of the Renée Fleming Award from the Eastman School of Music Public events include master classes, the Schwabacher Summer Concert, the program-closing Grand Finale, and staged performances of Streetcar and Mozart's Don Giovanni. Contact the program for information about further access and benefits available to supporters of the self-financed program, which runs on an operating budget of $2.85 million.

From more than 900 applicants worldwide, the following artists were selected in regional auditions (including Casey Candebat, Sahar Nouri, and Rhys Lloyd Talbot who are returning for another year):

Julie Adams, Burbank, CA
Adelaide Boedecker, Sarasota, FL
Maria Fasciano, Niagara Falls, NY
Karen Chia-Ling Ho, Taipei, Taiwan
Yujin Kim, Deajeon, South Korea
Talya Lieberman, Forest Hills, NY
Amanda Woodbury, Dallas, TX

Sahar Nouri, who returns to Merola, was in Martin Katz's master class Photos by Kristen LokenEliza Bonet, Atlanta, GA
Shirin Eskandani, Vancouver, BC
Nian Wang, Nanjing, China

Casey Candebat, New Orleans, LA
Mingjie Lei, Hunan, China
Chong Wang, Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China
Benjamin Werley, Pittsburgh, PA

Gideon Dabi, Highland Park, NJ
Alexander Elliott, Florence, SC
Thomas Gunther, Muscatine, IA
Edward Nelson, Santa Clarita, CA

Matthew Stump, Goshen, IN
Rhys Lloyd Talbot, Cedar Falls, IA
Casey Candebat in Merola's <em>La finta giardiniera</em>  Szymon Wach, Lublin, Poland

Anthony Reed, Alexandria, MN
Scott Russell, Roanoke, VA

Apprentice Coaches:
Edoardo Barsotti, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy
Ronny Michael Greenberg, Montreal, Canada
Kirill Kuzmin, Moscow, Russia
Sahar Nouri, Tehran, Iran
Blair Salter, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

Apprentice Stage Director:
Omer Ben Seadia, Tel-Aviv, Israel

The Schwabacher Summer Concert will be held in Everett School on July 17, repeated on July 19 in a free outdoor performance in Yerba Buena Gardens. Don Giovanni has two Everett performances, on July 31 and Aug. 2. The Grand Finale will close the 2014 program in the Opera House on Aug. 16.

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

Merola Benefit Honors Mansouri


March 18, 2014

The Merola Opera Program's Spring Benefit Gala — on April 12 at the Fairmont Hotel — will honor the late San Francisco Opera General Director Lotfi Mansouri, who was a prominent supporter of both the Merola and the Adler programs.

The gala, "A Night in New Orleans," will run from 6 p.m. to midnight, with a formal dinner, a silent auction, and a concert by Adler Fellows. The program, curated by board member (and former board president) Patrick Wilken will feature Leah Crocetto, Nadine Sierra, Daniela Mack, René Barbera, and Alek Shrader, as well as conversations with Carol Vaness, Quinn Kelsey, Eric Owens, and John DeMain. For ticket information and purchase.

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

MTT, on SFS Tour, Mulls Long-Term Associations

March 18, 2014

MTT on European tour Michael Tilson Thomas said the following in an interview with Christopher Morley in the Birmingham Post as the San Francisco Symphony opened its European tour there on Friday:

Long-term musical relationships are very important to me. Next year is my 20th season as music director of the San Francisco Symphony. I founded and have led the Miami-based New World Symphony for over 25 years, and have worked with the London Symphony Orchestra for the past 40 years ...

With the San Francisco Symphony, I‘m very proud of the fact that, after almost 20 years of working with the orchestra, our relationship is the best it has been.

I’d say it’s unusual in the artistic world, in the performing arts world, that after such a long time, the people really have a greater affection and respect for one another than they did in the beginning. Part of what keeps it vibrant is our ability and desire to take risks.

From the very first concert I heard the [SFS] musicians play, I was aware of the daring spirit of the orchestra. That’s been at the center of our relationship. I continue to be excited and moved by the sheer brilliance, consistency, and elegance with which the orchestra is playing, week after week.

The San Francisco Symphony is a collection of musicians who reflect the city in which they reside. San Francisco is well known for its broad thinking and widely varied population. Our musicians’ sense of adventure in performance reflects that same expansive spirit.

Royal Festival HallThe program: Ives/Brant, "The Alcotts," from A Concord Symphony; John Adams, Absolute Jest (with the St. Lawrence String Quartet); and Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique. A review in the Telegraph, by Ivan Hewett, says:

Some music and some performers seem made for each other. So it is with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, their Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, and American music. Tilson Thomas has a taste for Americana at its boldest — he recently curated an entire John Cage Festival. But at this concert, the first of a three-date UK tour, he settled for that great radical Charles Ives at his most rural, and John Adams at his most European.

On Saturday, MTT/SFS performed the same program in London's Royal Festival Hall (and you can hear the whole concert for four more days on BBC-3). On Sunday, still in London, the program was Mahler's Third Symphony, with mezzo Sasha Cooke, the St. Paul Boys Choir, and the London Symphony Orchestra Chorus (on BBC-3, starting at 10:45).


Hopping over the Channel, the orchestra gave those two programs yesterday and today in Paris' Salle Pleye; if it's Thursday, it must be Geneva.

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

Cinderella Gets Another Carriage

March 18, 2014

Cinderella Photos from the Dutch National Ballet production The San Francisco Ballet's production of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella has true boffo box office for the second time, selling out the 3,146-seat War Memorial Opera House the second year for every single performance, even with 10 shows this season.

That's the bad news for those still without a ticket; here's the good new news: A performance has been added on March 21, and — at this writing — there are still seats for that.

Why the great popularity, even in face of some hefty prices? First, it's the attraction of spectacular full-length ballets; in fact, before last year's premiere, sight unseen, the entire run sold out. More importantly, the excellence of the work, the production, the music, the performances all justify what might have appeared mere hype.

This is a marvelously imaginative and entertaining ballet every way. Wheeldon’s new take on the ancient fairy tale soars on the wings of Prokofiev's appealingly dissonant and yearning score, played superbly by the Ballet Orchestra, under the baton of Martin West.

Exceptional dancing, a complex libretto by Craig Lucas, Daniel Brodie's projections, and Julian Crouch's magical scenery and costumes add up to a spectacle with substance, deserving rave reviews on the company's tour to New York's Lincoln Center last year.

Maria KochetkovaLong before Charles Perrault's 1697 treatment of the story, and the Grimm Brothers' subsequent fairy tales, there have been many instances of the legend about a girl's rags-to-riches journey, and the Wheeldon treatment imbues it with new characters, humor, and lyricism.

It's hard to imagine anyone who can become Cinderella as convincingly as Maria Kochetkova in the title role on the first night of the run, on March 11. At 30, Kochetkova combines the maturity and steely certainty of a prima ballerina in her prime with a willowy, ethereal presence of girlish purity, believably triumphing over adversity.

She was partnered convincingly with grace and elegance by Joan Boada. The Prince's sidekick/servant/friend was Taras Domitro, offering a funny character, whose speed and virtuoso dancing was breathtaking.

The stepsisters in this version are not the cruel caricatures of other versions, but are more human; and in case of Clementine — the one with glasses, in a side-splitting performance by Frances Chung — even showed some warmth. Edwina, the other stepsister, is less sympathetic, but as danced by Sasha De Sola, eminently impressive.

Even the usually pure-evil stepmother is different here, Shannon Rugani portraying brilliantly a bungling, confused drunk, both amusing and pitiable.

Nameless and their faces masked, the four Fates who protect and carry Cinderella, deserve credit: Gaetano Amico, Daniel Deivision-Oliveira, Steven Morse, and Luke Willis work long and hard, getting a difficult job done.

The cast is huge, and while the many minor roles get first-class treatment, the corps de ballet had some moments of less than crisp ensemble dancing.

The less said about the Crouch-Brodie stage magic the better, so that you may better enjoy the many surprises and moments of ooh's and aah's. Even if described in detail, the gigantic, "alive" tree — representing the spirit of Cinderella's mother — must be seen to be believed. What choreographer and designer do with grimacing portraits, a row of flying chairs, a carriage of living parts, and so on — they all demand in-person inspection.

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

'Dynamic Ticket Pricing'

March 18, 2014

Undercutting the opposition with $227 tickets At the high end of the ticket range for San Francisco Ballet — just as at many of the popular shows on Broadway — seats cost a ducal (or princely) amount, reaching above $300 (Metropolitan Opera Parterre center seats cost $460).

In order to balance the price of premium seats with the need to fill seats, arts organizations have experimented with various pricing models. The most successful, apparently, is "dynamic pricing." Patrick Healy writes in yesterday's New York Times:

How did The Lion King turn around its once-shaky fortunes and become the top-grossing show on Broadway in 2013, an unprecedented feat for long-running musicals, which usually cool after a few hot seasons?

Since 2011, the show’s producers, Disney Theatrical Productions, have been relying on a previously undisclosed computer algorithm to recommend the highest ticket prices that audiences would be likely to pay for each of the 1,700 seats at every performance. While other shows also employ this so-called dynamic pricing system, only Disney has reached the level of sophistication achieved in the airline and hotel industries by continually using its algorithm to calibrate prices based on demand and ticket purchasing patterns.

By charging $10 more here, $20 more there, The Lion King stunned Broadway at year’s end as the No. 1 earner for the first time since 2003, bumping off the champ, Wicked. And Disney even managed to do it by charging half as much for top tickets as some rivals. The algorithm, a software tool that draws on Lion King data for 11.5 million audience members so far, recommends prices for five different types of performances — peak dates like Christmas, off-peak dates like a weeknight in February, and periods in between.

To help keep audience demand strong, Disney has made a highly unusual choice among Broadway hits: limiting ticket prices to a maximum of $227 — far less than the top prices of other hit shows. The Lion King is widely believed to be selling far more seats for $227 than most Broadway shows sell at their top rates, a situation that bolsters its grosses.

The Public Relations Department of Cal Performances, which may be using some form of variable pricing, was asked for comment, but did not respond at the time of publication.

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

Flicka as the 90-Year-Old Heroine of New Opera

March 18, 2014

A Coffin in Egypt, a new opera by composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Leonard Foglia, stars Frederica von Stade in the Houston Grand Opera's world premiere.

Frederica von Stade in <em>A Coffin in Egypt</em> Photo Lynn Lane/<em>Houston Chronicle</em>Based on a play by Horton Foote, the one-act opera has 90-year-old Myrtle Bledsoe (von Stade) on stage nonstop for its 80-minute length. Through it all, writes Steven Brown in the Houston Chronicle:

Myrtle launches into a story that ranges through adultery, family tensions and killings, plus other sorrows only mentioned ... She ends that recollection with a confession that shows the power of the opera's text to sum up her feelings.

"What I miss about those seven glorious years is — me," she sings.

On Friday, von Stade made Myrtle's soul-searching hit home through her flair for bringing words alive, from scornfully spitting out the name of Hunter's mistress to lingering over the word "beauty" the way Myrtle's eyes must have lingered over the Texas prairie. Though her singing was always committed, it sometimes was only approximate in pitch; when the music was conversational, that wasn't a liability, but some of the big moments cried out for a steadiness and heft that von Stade didn't have.

Yet the music's momentum carried through those spots, and the impact was all the greater because von Stade cut such a compelling figure. As the 90-year-old Myrtle painting at her easel as the curtain rose, von Stade stood straight and resolute. But when memories brought back old emotions, von Stade made them show — smiling softly as Myrtle recalled long-ago admirers' compliments, turning stone-faced in a confrontation with Hunter, sinking to the floor when news reduced her to despair.

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

Tiburon Film Festival's Musical Offerings

March 18, 2014

From <em>Pussy Riot vs. Putin</em>, to be shown in Tiburon The 13th season of the interesting, burgeoning little festival in Tiburon will have more musical content than bigger brothers San Francisco International and the current CAAMFest.

Of especial interest is the free screening of El Rey on April 8 at 6 p.m. at the Bay Model in Sausalito. Stefan Lechner's documentary is about two young Austrian band members, who embark on a musical adventure through Latin America:

They meet local musicians, exchange songs and discover music that is more than just frivolous diversion. Through the eyes of our maverick musicians, we are exposed to some of the hardship and injustice people face each and every day. The Austrians experience how music transcends and uplifts during the road trip. Music can never be dispossessed, embrace life through music.

The cast includes Moises Mezta, Jesus Chavez, Armando Sepulde de Aroch, Raul Conde Peraza, Zapatistas of Magdalena de la Paz. The Bay Model location is worth a visit all by itself.

Among the festival's other offerings, April 10-18, shown at the Tiburon Playhouse Theater:

* The White Horse Inn, a feature musical from Germany

* Yozgat Blues, about a music teacher (and barber) in a small Turkish town

* Pussy Riot vs. Putin, a documentary with performances by the group so much in the news these days

* Several shorts with music as the subject, shown before other films

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

Eureka Symphony's First Executive Director

March 18, 2014

The Jane Hill, new ED Eureka Symphony, a 22-year-old community orchestra in Humboldt Country, has its first executive director: Board President Pam Cahill announced on Friday the appointment of Jane Hill, already serving in the part-time position since March 1.

Hill retired as executive director of the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra in 2007, and has since operated artSMART, a nonprofit consulting business. Her past arts leadership included co-founding Dell'Arte in the early 1970s, working as executive director of Opera Omaha in Nebraska, serving for nine months as interim executive director of the Stockton Symphony, and working with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson on his “For Arts' Sake” initiative.

"I've considered Humboldt County my home since 1971 and am delighted to be back,” Hill said. "It's very satisfying to be of service to a fine local classical music organization and to help build and sustain it as a vital resource for the region.”

Carol Jacobson is music director and conductor of the orchestra. The city has 27,000 residents, but the population of Greater Eureka, served by the orchestra, is 45,000, which makes it the largest West Coast city between San Francisco and Portland.

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

Choral Projects and Ragazzi Concert

March 18, 2014

Vance George, back on the podium Susan McMane, formerly of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and Vance George, Chorus Director Emeritus of the San Francisco Symphony, are moving forward, joining for a choral event.

Members of McMane's Young Women's Choral Projects of San Francisco and of the Ragazzi Boys' Chorus will give a pair of concerts on March 22 at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto; and on March 23 at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco.

From Joyce Keil's Ragazzi, tenors and basses constitute the Young Men's Ensemble, collaborating with the Young Women's Chorus, the combined choruses to be conducted by George. The program, with orchestral accompaniment, includes Giovanni Martini's "Domine adjuvandum me festina," Gabriel Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine, and Leonard Bernstein's "Make Our Garden Grow" from Candide, and "Somewhere," from West Side Story.

The boys will perform the spiritual "Wade in the Water," "Non vos relinquam orphans" by Donati, and a Dale Wood arrangement of the plainsong "Conditor Alme." The girls will present Hildegard von Bingen's "Karitas habundat," Bay Area composer Frank La Rocca's "Ave Maris Stella," Brahms' "Regina Coeli," and more.

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

Carneiro to Spoleto

March 18, 2014

Berkeley Symphony Music Director Joana Carneiro — also Principal Conductor of the Portugal National Symphony — makes her Spoleto Festival debut on May 28, conducting the Festival Orchestra in a program of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, John Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony, and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.

Staged highlights of this year's festival include Janácek's Kát'a Kabanová, Michael Nyman's Facing Goya, and Adams' El Nino.

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].