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Lisa Hirsch

Lisa Hirsch is a technical writer. She studied music at Brandeis and Stony Brook, and blogs about classical music and opera at Iron Tongue of Midnight.

Articles by this Author

Opera Review
June 19, 2011

Francesca Zambello’s powerful and explicitly feminist Ring Cycle is a magnificent achievement for her and the entire S.F. Opera organization.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
May 7, 2011

As the San Francisco Symphony preps for its European tour, its Mahler is heating up wonderfully.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
April 8, 2011

Osmo Vänskä leads the S.F. Symphony in an intense, doom-laden premiere by Thomas Larcher, aptly paired with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ evocative A London Symphony.

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CD Review
January 4, 2011

Magdalena Kožená has proven her mettle in music of the high Baroque, and in her 2010 CD, Lettere Amorose, she adds to her recorded repertory Italian love songs by the 17th-century composers, bringing a natural flair and easy virtuosity to the works, and a beautiful and distinctive sound.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
November 26, 2010

Johannes Brahms and Alban Berg, great Viennese masters, make a good pairing, and San Francisco Symphony brought them together for its Thanksgiving week concerts. The well-thought-out and well-executed program never quite caught fire.

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Opera Review
November 10, 2010

The Makropulos Case, Janáček’s penultimate opera and the last production of the San Francisco Opera's fall season, is a roaring triumph in nearly all ways, starting with a stunning performance by Karita Mattila in her role debut as Marty.

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Opera Review
October 30, 2010

Henry Purcell never wrote an opera titled The Witch of Endor, so the question arose as to what, exactly, Urban Opera would be performing over Halloween weekend. The answer turned out to be something equal in musical brilliance and theatrical flair to the company’s inaugural production.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
October 2, 2010

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have a long history of successful and seemingly idiomatic performances of French music, and thus Saturday’s program, advertised as “French Classics,” looked both appealing and promising.

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Choral Review
August 13, 2010

On Friday, Old First Concerts presented the premier concert by EUOUAE, a new chorus whose membership is drawn from many of the Bay Area’s professional and semiprofessional choirs. Formed and directed by Steven Sven Olbash, EUOUAE performed the rarely heard Messe de Tournai, a musical milestone in that the 14th-century Mass is the first-known complete polyphonic (multivoiced) Mass collected in a single manuscript.

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Opera Review
June 10, 2010

Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), the second opera of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, opened at San Francisco Opera on Thursday night with a thrilling, deeply moving performance that bodes extremely well for the full Ring to be presented in June 2011.

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Recital Review
March 16, 2010

The British composer Thomas Adès has been writing intricately structured and colorfully orchestrated music for nearly two decades now. Before he became a composer, though, he trained for a career as pianist, and he has the formidable technique and deep musicianship of a great player.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
March 4, 2010

New Century Chamber Orchestra’s current program, titled “Serenades and Dances,” bookends a pair of shorter, lighter works around a core of two large-scale mainstays of the standard repertory, Antonin Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings and Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. Big kudos are due Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, for her programming and musical leadership, because on Thursday, at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, all four works got top-notch, absorbing performances, with the Britten lifted to greatness by the brilliance of tenor Brian

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Chamber Music Review
January 17, 2010

The San Francisco Symphony Chamber Music concert on Sunday marked George Benjamin’s third and last appearance as the Phyllis C. Wattis Composer in Residence. He was represented on the program by two works, Viola, Viola; and Piano Figures. Both are superb additions to their respective repertories. (See SFCV’s recent feature on the composer.)

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Upcoming Concert
November 3, 2009
The award-winning, Princeton-based Brentano String Quartet has a proven ability to create unusual programs.This year, the quartet brings to Cal Performances a program of two lyrical masters of the quartet form, in which Franz Schubert's Quartettsatz, D. 703, and Quartet in G Major, D. 887, frame Benjamin Britten's Quartet No. 3.
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Upcoming Concert
September 28, 2009
When is an opera not an opera? When it’s the opening work in a grand entertainment for visiting royalty ... and when it’s performed with puppets rather than putting the singers on stage.

And that’s just what you can see next month when Magnificat Baroque, in collaboration with the Carter Family Marionettes, presents Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina (The liberation of Ruggiero from the island of Alcina) on Oct. 16, 17, and 18 in three venues.

In La liberazione, the wicked sorceress Alcina seduces the warrior Ruggiero, who dwells happily on Alcina’s island until finally the good sorceress Melissa shames him into returning to battle — and, incidentally, to his fiancée, the warrior maiden Bradamante. The plot comes from an episode in the epic Renaissance poem Orlando Furioso, by Ariosto, which is in turn based on the medieval French poem The Song of Roland.

That’s where the puppets come in.

The Carter Family Marionettes, who are providing the staging for La liberazione, perform in the Sicilian opera dei pupi tradition, a style that flourished in the 19th century, but that stretches back for centuries. Their puppets are large, and the puppeteers control them with iron rods. The entire repertory of opera dei pupi plays comes from The Song of Roland, so the puppets are a natural pairing with La liberazione.

“I’m especially excited to be working with the Carter Family again,” Magnificat Director Warren Stewart told SFCV. “We did some shows together in the 1990s, and they were tremendous fun. Hardly a concert has gone by since then when an audience member hasn’t come up to me to ask when we’ll do another puppet show. The Carters are great at connecting with the audience and already had a very funny and engaging production of La liberazione in their repertory.”

La liberazione is a particularly interesting project for us because of the circumstances of its creation,” Stewart continued. “We’ve done a great deal of music by women composers of the Baroque, and La liberazione, by Francesca Caccini, is the first opera composed by a woman. She was also the first woman to have a professional career as a court musician.

La liberazione was commissioned by Caccini’s employer, the Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria, who was a Hapsburg married to the Medici Duke. After he died, she ruled Tuscany for seven years as regent for her teenaged son. La liberazione was an occasional piece, written for performance during a state visit by Maria’s nephew Wladyslaw, the crown prince of Poland. It would have been the opening work of a long entertainment that included a horse ballet.

“Suzanne Cusick’s research suggests that the particular episode in Orlando Furioso was very likely chosen because of the two powerful women sorceresses, as part of a process of buttressing and normalizing female leadership within Tuscany.

“The music itself is absolutely gorgeous,” Stewart said. “For example, there’s a wonderful lament for Alcina, which she sings after Ruggiero leaves her. We have a wonderful countertenor, José Limos, singing Melissa, the good witch. The part is for either an alto or a high tenor, and we’ll have a male singer as a female character who transforms herself into a male character to liberate Ruggiero from the bad witch! Above all, this opera is fun

Puppets, gender-bending characters, and the first opera written by a woman — what more could you want?

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Feature Article
September 6, 2009

With autumn upon us, the Bay Area's classical music groups are tuning up for hundreds of intriguing events. San Francisco Classical Voice asked several of our critics and editors to comb through the performance announcements available to date and pick their favorite choices for September through December. We've put the season in chronological order for the convenience of music-lovers organizing their datebooks.

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Artist Spotlight
September 6, 2009

Soprano Patricia Racette is in town for an important role debut: She’s singing all three soprano leads in Puccini's Il trittico at San Francisco Opera, a feat only a few have tried. She took time out from rehearsals to talk about her career, her plans, and her life with mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton, her partner of many years.


Tell us about San Francisco Opera’s Merola and Adler programs and their importance in your career.

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CD Review
June 16, 2009
Over the last couple of decades, René Jacobs has assembled a catalog of recordings as a conductor, a major change from his earlier career as a famed countertenor. The bicentennial of Franz Josef Haydn’s death brings a happy pairing of composer and conductor, on a Harmonia Mundi disc featuring the symphonies No. 91 in E-flat Major and No. 92 in G Major, as well as a bravura performance of the dramatic “Scena di Berenice” by mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink.
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Chamber Music Review
April 23, 2009

Members of New York’s venerable Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center are spending April touring a program called American Voices. Thursday at Herbst Theatre, the centerpiece of the program, which spans the 18th to 21st centuries, was a new song cycle by Alan Louis Smith, Vignettes: Covered Wagon Woman.

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Chamber Music Review
March 8, 2009

On Sunday, at Hertz Hall, the Takács Quartet played the second of their two Berkeley concerts this season. As with the first concert, an eminent guest joined the quartet. This time, we were lucky enough to hear Peter Wyrick, associate principal cellist of the San Francisco Symphony. While the repertory for cello quintet is bigger than you might think, Wyrick's appearance signaled a performance of the greatest of them all, and indeed one of the greatest of all chamber works, Schubert's C-Major Quintet, D. 956.

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