Classical Music Reviews
Every week, our professional critics attend concerts throughout the Bay Area to let you know what went well...and occasionally what didn't. Let their insights enrich your musical experiences, and feel free to share your own views!
Although regional opera companies fulfill an important role in the American musical landscape, too often their limited resources and ambition cause them to cut corners and deliver cheap, amateurish productions. This is especially true of companies that try to mount reduced versions of monumental grand operas. Tosca with a student string quintet, a chorus without tenors, an 80-year-old Tosca who also founded the company, an audience of fawning voice teachers in 1980s attired in pastel pantsuits — none of these is Tosca, at least not the opera that Puccini wrote.
Jonathan Khuner, Berkeley Opera's artistic director, has long wanted to strip Verdi's Aïda of ancient Egyptian spectacle. Stage director Yuval Sharon was interested in making the composer’s story relevant to our times. In the opening performance of Aïda Saturday at the Julia Morgan Theatre, their successful collaboration was, in large part, fundamentally true to Verdi. The chorus sang entirely offstage, functioning more as a Greek chorus than as an exotic display of priests, slaves, soldiers, and animals.
The sfSoundGroup continued to carve out an exciting niche for itself in its concert Sunday night at ODC Theater. Among all the area’s new-music ensembles, this group has evolved an aesthetic that most vividly brings to mind the Bay Area’s long history of experimentation and boundary-crossing. As usual, the group offered a mix of composition and improvisation, acoustic and electronic sound, local and international voices, and a strong sense of connection to the audience in ODC’s black-box setting.
Friday evening’s concert by the Russian National Orchestra at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville was filled with pleasant surprises. Programming at summer festivals tends to be conservative, seldom straying from reliably popular, crowd-pleasing repertoire.
You'd think that nothing could steal the thunder from the likes of Frederica von Stade, Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway, and the Russian National Orchestra. But Friday the 13th brought a decidedly unmusical close to Festival del Sole's opening night in Napa. That the potential fiasco was handled with copious amounts of charm and grace shone a much-deserved light on the evening's unjustifiably shadowed conductor, Stéphane Denève.
The current Festival del Sole in the Napa Valley took a stellar leap forward Saturday evening with both the talent it featured and the place in which that talent was showcased. The ever-impressive countertenor David Daniels, the dazzling young soprano Danielle de Niese, and the redoubtable Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra with Nicholas McGegan were the talent, while the imposing new Castello di Amorosa. a winery-cum-castle set amid the hills and vineyards of the upper Napa Valley near Calistoga, was the monumental site. It was a concert to be savored and long remembered.
Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola is a brilliant comic opera filled with both melancholy and satire. La Cenerentola is also a fairy-tale girl who bursts into the spotlight. And for San Francisco right now, Daniela Mack has become the Cinderella girl with the glass slippers. Never mind that when Rossini modernized Charles Perrault’s old version for his libretto, those slippers became matching bracelets. Mack, the vocal princess, is pure sparkle.
Another weekend in July brought yet another summer festival to a close, with the final concert on Sunday afternoon of the Green Music Festival at Sonoma State University, in Rohnert Park. Artistic Director Jeffrey Kahane balances this festival, now in its eighth year, with a blend of regularly returning performers and new guest artists. For last weekend's final chamber music event, Kahane himself took the bench at the piano, alongside festival favorites Chee-Yun (on violin), Jon Kimura Parker (piano), Alisa Weilerstein (cello), and Aloysia Friedmann (viola).
Sunday's matinee performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, a feature of the 70th anniversary season of the Carmel Bach Festival, memorialized Sandor Salgo. In doing so, Music Director Bruno Weil demonstrated a lack of insight into the great work's dramatic arch — the very insight Salgo was famous for during his long tenure at this festival's helm.