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Another huge feather — Cyrano's famed plume, even — in Berkeley Opera's tiny cap, the double-bill of Béla Bartók's 1918 A Kékszakállú Herceg Vára (Bluebeard's Castle) and Maurice Ravel's 1925 L'Enfant et les sortilèges (The child and the magic spells) opened Saturday night at the Julia Morgan Theatre with a fabulous production and some kind of prestidigitation.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music's young artists went way back in time to present an opera three-and-a-half centuries old, last weekend in Fort Mason Center's Cowell Theater. Richard Harrell, director of the Conservatory's Opera Theater, has bravely (and judging by the results, wisely) selected Francesco Cavalli's 1643 L'Egisto, a sensation in its time, but virtually impossible to find performed today.
Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack comes from Buenos Aires, and her home is now in San Francisco, but her future is in the great opera houses and recital halls of the world. Her Schwabacher Debut Recital Sunday only confirmed what her Merola Program appearances last year — especially in the title role of La cenerentola — clearly indicated: She is a phenomenon.
It doesn't matter how much hype is swirling around conductor Gustavo Dudamel. He is the real deal, a great all-around young talent, who consistently delivers the goods, as his debut concerts with the San Francisco Symphony last week proved.
L'elisir d'amore (The elixir of love) is not only one of most melodious and rhythmically exciting works in all opera, it also testifies to its composer's defiant humanity. Gaetano Donizetti endured many personal tragedies, including the loss of his wife in a cholera epidemic in 1837, the deaths of all three of his children shortly after their births, and a horrible, debilitating disease, which caused his mental deterioration and death in 1848.
When Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld was first performed in Paris, in 1858, the famed critic Jules Noriac, of mighty Le Figaro, stammered with delight: "Unheard-of. Splendid. Outrageous. Graceful. Charming. Witty. Amusing. Successful. Perfect ..."
West Bay Opera's current production of Così fan tutte stands tall on the twin ramparts of Barbara Day Turner's rock-solid conducting of a fair-to-middling orchestra, and Douglas Nagel's vital, if risky, staging. Combined, they made for fine musical theater, if not quite dramma per musica.
If noble titles were given as rewards for excellence, the FOG Trio would be royalty. While "FOG" also indicates the trio's connections with San Francisco, the name is formed by the players' last names: F is for violinist Jorja Fleezanis (former San Francisco Symphony associate concertmaster), O is for world traveler/San Francisco resident pianist Garrick Ohlsson, G is for San Francisco Symphony principal cellist Michael Grebanier. W is for Wow.
A music teacher returned to his old school on Saturday night, three decades after writing his breakout piece there, and the brilliant concert that took place exceeded all expectations of such an occasion. More than a sentimental reunion or dutiful observance of the passage of time, this was a poignant and powerful musical lovefest, some of the teacher's finest and most complex music, performed with startling excellence by a new generation of students.
When the ghost of Jacob Marley first appears in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, practical, level-headed Ebenezer Scrooge suspects "an undigested bit of beef" at work, rather than a supernatural knocking at the door. Thursday night, in Davies Hall, I was searching my memory for any recent digestive mishap that might have caused my strange state of mind.
You haven't lived fully until hearing opera in a small Italian town — the smaller the better. Forget the niceties of production values and flawless performances; instead, you can revel in the most essential component of the genre: passion.
For those who can't (or won't) see the forest of an opera for the trees of performance minutiae, here's the word about the San Francisco Opera's new production of Wagner's Tannhäuser that opened on Tuesday night: Donald Runnicles' Opera Orchestra and Ian Robertson's Opera Chorus give a magnificent account of the music, which is among Wagner's most sweeping and bewitching.
Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is a big musical — large in passion and in production values. It originally opened in 1979 at one of Broadway's biggest theaters, in Harold Prince's hugely operatic production, and went on to be performed by opera companies as well as in theaters around the world. Come Christmas, it will be a big, expensive movie, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.
From Oakland, drive 40 miles south on 880, that overcrowded, dangerous highway, paved like hell, and not with good intentions. Then, 10 miles north of San Jose, hang a left on Auto Mall Parkway, in search of Ohlone College. You are now in Fremont, formerly rural, now a mixed industrial-residential city of 200,000, with the largest number of expatriate Afghanistanis in the U.S. But Fremont’s latest distinction is that it is home to America's newest opera company.
Can a simple story, deliberately lacking in operatic gestures, make a good play? Thornton Wilder's 1938 Our Town certainly did. It was a subtle, laid-back, and whimsical account of small-town America, more of an archetypal abstraction than practical reality. But can the same slow-moving, relaxed material be made into an opera, a genre whose essence is tension, conflict, and high emotions?