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But Bizet did much more than Carmen (and his Pearl Fishers does pop up often), Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci is just one of his 11 operas, and so on. What’s at work here is the popularity of one work, often at the expense of others.
The 1890 Cavalleria rusticana is what Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945) is known for, though he actually produced 16 other operas and operettas. His Iris is an especially fine example of an unjustly neglected opera, and the 1891 L’amico Fritz (Friend Fritz) — the subject of our sermon today — is a splendid piece, coming soon to your neighborhood.
One of two operas staged by and for the 2009 Merola Program participants, L’amico Fritz will be performed at Cowell Theater on July 24 and 26. (The other Merola production is Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Aug. 7 and 9.)
Unlike the blood-and-gore verisimo of Cavalleria rusticana, Mascagni’s second opera, L’amico Fritz, is a “lyric comedy,” closer to operetta than opera. It is based on the novel L’ami Fritz by Émile Erckmann and Pierre-Alexandre Chatrian, taking place in a French community of Jews. (Although this has nothing to do with the opera, it’s worth noting that the Judeo-Alsatian community has a thousand years’ history.)
The story opens with a bet (shades of Così fan tutte!) between landowner/bachelor Fritz Kobus (sung by tenor Nathaniel Peake), and his friend, Rabbi David (baritone Aleksey Bogdanov).
Fritz stakes his vineyard on the bet that he will never marry. What and why the rabbi puts up against that is unclear. Of course, we all know how all this will work out, so not to worry about details.
The wager is greatly handicapped by the presence of the beauteous Suzel (soprano Sara Gartland), daughter of one of his tenants. Three acts, some minor complications, some gorgeous music, and the “Cherry Duet” later — excuse the spoiler — then the couple unites and the rabbi returns the vineyard to Suzel as a wedding present.
Warren Jones conducts members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and the stage director of the black-box production is Nic Muni. Other Merolini in the cast are Yohan Yi, Eleazar Rodrìguez, Susannah Biller, and Maya Lahyani.
The opera’s one and only local main stage production goes all the way back to 1924, on a double bill with Gianni Schicchi. It had a remarkable cast: Tito Schipa, Giuseppe de Luca, and Thalia Sabanieva; Gaetano Merola himself conducted. In 1976, Spring Opera produced L’amico Fritz with Vinson Cole, Frederick Burchinal, and Leona Mitchell.More »
I meet with each of the contestants several times over the course of competition week, often driving them to and from events, to get an instrument repaired, sometimes just to get a milkshake or a burger between performances.
I'm amazed at the split and multiple lives they all lead — on one hand, skateboarding, playing video games, checking out the NBA finals, and text messaging their friends, doing everything that 15-23 year olds do. Talk can range from a favorite pair of sneakers to their pick for American Idol.
On the other hand, they are each consummate and oftentimes seasoned professional musicians, performing incredibly demanding works by Bach and Beethoven, interpreting the Klein commissioned works, and carefully preparing their next performances while keeping their ears tuned to each of the competitors' rounds.
That is Larry Chung's experience of the Irving M. Klein International String Competition, of which he has been executive director for the past 12 years. Says Competition Director Mitchell Sardou Klein:
This competition was inspired by my father, Irving M. Klein, the cellist of the Claremont Quartet, and a devoted and inspiring cello and chamber music pedagogue. When he died in 1984, many of his colleagues and I searched for a suitable memorial to continue his belief in service to young musicians. Knowing that the Irving Klein Competition has become a permanent and respected part of the musical world gives us great personal satisfaction.
The California Music Center and San Francisco State University's College of Creative Arts present the 24th annual competition, June 11-14, with public concerts on June 13-14 at SFSU's Knuth Hall; tickets range from $5 to $20.
From a field of 62 entrants from nine countries, eight semifinalists are now vying for solo and recital appearances, with cash prizes, ranging from $1,500 to $14,000, to be applied to their education expenses. They include San Francisco-born cellist Meta Weiss, 21, a student of Norman Fischer at Rice University in Houston; and violinist Eunice Kim, 17, from Daly City, who studies with Wei He at the S.F. Conservatory of Music, and is also a member of the Formerly Known As Classical ensemble.
The others are Jacqueline Choi, 22-year-old cellist from Old Tappan, N.J., who studies with Paul Katz at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston; SuJin Lee, 17-year-old cellist from South Korea, who studies with Paul Katz at the New England Conservatory; Vicki Powell, 20-year-old violist from Chicago, who studies with Roberto Diaz at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; So Jin Kim, 23-year-old violinist from South Korea, a student of Cho-Liang Lin at Rice University in Houston; Nikki Chooi, 19-year-old violinist from Victoria, Canada, student of Joseph Silverstein and Ida Kavafian at Curtis; Xiang Yu, 20-year-old violinist from Shanghai, China, studying with Donald Weilerstein at the New England Conservatory.
The jury for the competition includes members of the Alexander String Quartet, members of the Cypress String Quartet, Peter Gelfand, Marc Gottlieb, Alan Grishman, Joel Hoffman, Joshua Kosman, Patricia Taylor Lee, Jeffrey Miller, and Alice Schoenfeld.More about Irving M. Klein International String Competition »
There is something in Kenneithia Mitchell's voice that goes straight to the heart. Her debut this weekend in the title role of a sensational West Bay Opera Madama Butterfly impressed with a singularly mellow voice, effortless, brilliant phrasing. She disappears in the role, serves the music and drama, no ego showing or heard in the voice — a true artist, not a star-wannabe.
George, the emeritus director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, along with conductors David J. Xiques and Cyrus Ginwala, the school's singers, the Alexander String Quartet, pianist Roger Woodward, the University Chorus, tenor Brian Cheney, and organist Jonathan Dimmock will celebrate the great composer with a generous cross-section of his works on May 16 at Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light and on May 17 at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral.
But that's just the teaser for the "well-honored" part. The concerts are benefits for causes that would have warmed the cockles of young Felix's heart and moved him to say thanks in one of the four languages he spoke fluently (German, English, Italian, and Latin).
Proceeds from the first concert will benefit the St. Martin de Porres School choral program, and the second concert will benefit the Choir of Men and Boys at Grace Cathedral — two organizations that provide music education and performance opportunities to young people.
The program contains several of Mendelssohn’s undervalued, large-scale choral works, including several from his two oratorios, St. Paul (1836) and Elijah (1846). Also one of the composer’s early string symphonies, several keyboard works, and the magnificent String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor, Op. 80. Not leaving out Felix’s talented sister Fanny, the concert includes two works by her.
It’s no wonder that a choral master, like George, would love Mendelssohn, who contributed a good portion of the 19th-century’s best choral music to the repertory. During his quarter-century leadership of the SFS Chorus (1983-2006) and before, with Margaret Hillis' Chicago Symphony Chorus, George has championed Mendelssohn's music, along with a broad range of composers, from Bach to Sondheim. Under his baton, the SFS Chorus won four Grammy Awards, including Best Choral Album (for Brahms' A German Requiem and Orff's Carmina Burana), Classical Album of the Year, and the 2001 concert production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.
George is enchanted by Mendelssohn's childhood, his visit to Leipzig at age 12, spending time with the 73-year-old Goethe. "Every morning," George quotes Mendelssohn's diary, "I receive a kiss from the author of Faust. After dinner, I entertain with Bach fugues and improvisations. I saw where Bach worked and composed!"
A few years later, the Bach-Mendelssohn connection flowered, George says, "through Sarah Itzig Levy, a sister of Bella Salomon, Mendelssohn's maternal grandmother, Felix copying the then little-known St. Matthew Passion (can you imagine that!), and then another 'activist,' the actor Edward Devrient, sang the role of Jesus, and suddenly St. Matthew was — rightly — considered the greatest German art." Devrient has been quoted saying "It took an actor and a young Jew to return the greatest Christian music to the German people."More about SFSU School of Music and Dance »