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The size of the group, according to countertenor Justin Montigne, is ideal for a more democratic and collaborative approach than larger groups are able to provide. He adds, “There’s a certain critical mass you reach where you need to have a director, and we’re small enough and have, each of us, a depth of experience, so that we don’t need that. We can decide to do things by consensus and that’s very important to us. Also, just the intimacy of being able to hear a voice across the arc and pick out individuals and be singing with individuals as a group, I think at around 10 or 11 that goes away and you become a chorus; and we’re still a small ensemble. I think the intimacy of it is really special.”
The group has received many positive reviews in its short history and has released one live recording (a compilation of its first and second seasons). The group is scheduled to record its first studio album next summer. According to Montigne, this has been a year of clarifying the group’s vision. This includes keeping things very local (between their time singing with Chanticleer and other ensembles, these men have logged many hours on the road), keeping the music affordable (the price for the upcoming concerts is just $17), and making their music accessible (all concerts are available as free downloads on the group’s Web site).
Last year’s holiday concert featured music of France and Germany, and what Montigne calls “more quite-tranquil Christmas beauty,” so this year, the ensemble consciously chose to make the holiday concert a livelier, more toe-tapping experience. (Several of the numbers will call on the singers to become percussionists.) “I think the familiarity is there for people to need to have a few carols to hang their hats on, but there is also a lot of beautiful and unknown stuff that we can introduce people to,” Montigne says. Featuring traditional Western holiday music excludes a body of repertoire that Montigne thinks may have particular meaning to the Bay Area and its relatively large Latino population. The group is looking forward to the Sunday concert, which will take place in San Francisco’s Mission District.
The group’s founder, countertenor Jesse Antin, explains the format for the concert. “Rather than proceeding strictly chronologically, the concert treats the Christmas and Advent seasons liturgically, with sets of pieces (in different styles and from different periods) about the Annunciation (i.e., the appearance of the Angel Gabriel), the worship of the Virgin Mary, the birth of Jesus, the visit of the Shepherds and Magi, etc.”
The repertoire is probably as diverse a selection as you’ll find this season, as it includes pieces from Spain, Portugal, the Basque country, and Central and South America, as well as some Aztec and Mayan pieces. Christmas carols written in the U.S. (rather than simply American versions of English carols) will also be performed.
Whether it be Lauridsen’s arrangement of O Magnum Mysterium, Guerrero’s Virgen Sancta, or It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, it’s likely to be worth your time and effort to hear Clerestory either in Berkeley or in San Francisco, to see realized this small ensemble’s vision of a lively, intimate holiday concert.More about Clerestory »
This week Bay Area music lovers can look forward to two events featuring the music and scholarship of baritone Thomas Hampson. Tuesday evening, he will be joined at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music by curators from the Library of Congress to discuss their collaboration celebrating the history of American song. Wednesday he will perform a concert at Herbst Theatre with pianist Wolfram Rieger, titled “Song of America.” Hampson took time out from his preparations to discuss the project, the relationship between poetry and music, and his latest e-book download.
Christine Brewer is coming to town. Her upcoming recital for Cal Performances on Sept. 27 will feature the music of Berg, Strauss, and Britten, along with some old chestnuts favored by big-voiced sopranos of the last century. She was happy to be back home in St. Louis for a couple of weeks, as I caught up with her to chat about her life as world-class dramatic soprano, mother and ... Hootenanny hostess.
You started out singing in the chorus with Opera Theatre St. Louis. At what point did you feel that you had what it takes to be a soloist?
Raised in Sacramento, and an alumnus of both the Merola program at San Francisco Opera and the Resident Artist training program at Opera San José, bass Kirk Eichelberger now sings lead roles with opera companies throughout the U.S. He is currently in rehearsal to play Mephistopheles in Festival Opera’s production of Faust. I sat down with him to ask him about his career, his training, and how he likes playing the devil.
What did you learn as a resident artist at Opera San José and a graduate of Merola?
Stapp, renowned dramatic soprano and former artistic director of Festival Opera will direct the company’s first complete production this coming weekend. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro will be conducted by Jonathan Khuner, assistant conductor at the San Francisco Opera and well known to Berkeley audiences as the artistic director of Berkeley Opera. The production, with a chorus of eleven and a professional chamber orchestra of the same number will feature locally based soloists. The show will be costumed with a “makeshift set” according to Khuner, and will be a polished production, giving the essence of the opera but without the fancy trimmings.” Coming in at just under three hours, the show will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.
The cast features Julian Arsenault as Figaro and Aimee Puentes as Susanna. Nicolai Janitsky, who debuted this season with San Francisco Opera as Shchelkalov in Boris Godunov will sing the Count and Open Opera’s cofounder, Elizabeth Baker, also a student of Olivia Stapp, will sing Cherubino.
As St. Thomas tells it, the real impetus for the founding of this company was twofold. First to showcase the great talent of singers here in the bay area and second to provide opera free to the public in a time when attending opera is, for many, prohibitively expensive. Making use of talent from all over the bay area, the cast includes both students and professionals. Elliot Nguyen, who will sing Antonio and Taylor Thompson, who will sing Don Curzio, are past participants of the Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley, which provides training opportunities for young people from throughout the bay area. Also from that program is Kendra Dodd in the chorus. Another local connection some of the singers have is to the former program in Contra Costa County “Summersong.” For example, Adrien Roberts who will sing the Countess, came through Summersong, a former program for young singers run by Olivia Stapp and Lucy Beck. Julian Arsenault is also a former Summersong participant. Arsenault, who at the age of 20 will be reprising the role of Figaro which he performed recently at UCLA, is from Lafayette and well represents Open Opera’s dedication to featuring local talent.
St. Thomas says that it is Stapp’s dedication to excellence that inspired her to help found this company. She goes on to say that Baker works to craft the image of the company for the public, through the website, artwork, posters etc. and that Stapp works to set the company’s high artistic standards. St. Thomas, a former producer of television pieces for the Virginia Public schools as well as an accomplished singer, works to make it all happen.More »
Mills College caps off its Music Festival this Sunday with a concert celebrating the reopening of its beautifully restored concert hall and the 60th birthday of Music Department Chair, Fred Frith. The composer, improviser, and guitar pioneer discusses teaching, improvisation, and what fuels his creative fire.
I’ve heard that you say that some of your students are more qualified to teach composition than you are.
Fast becoming one of the world's leading lyric sopranos, Nicole Cabell talks about her upcoming concert at Hertz hall, her favorite music, and how she wears the mantle of "Singer of the World."
You came to the Bay Area to give a recital for Cal Performances at Hertz Hall in Berkeley on March 1. What did you sing?
The soprano and teacher discusses her upcoming concert of André Previn songs, her professorship at Salzburg’s Mozarteum, and life on the links.
You performed songs by André Previn in a San Francisco Performances recital at Herbst Theatre on Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. This was the U.S. premiere. Have the songs been premiered in Europe?
André came and played a concert for my voice class at the Mozarteum. So, the girls in my class sang these songs as a world premiere.