Friday, December 08, 2017

More on James Levine

So the Met has canceled all of James Levine's performances this season, while it investigates; Ravinia has "cut ties" with him; the BSO has issued a statement about its due diligence before they hired him as music director (but now it turns out - surprise! - they'd heard the rumors but "saw no cause for concern"); Levine himself has issues a statement.

Let's take a look at some of this. Here's the BSO statement, which they put on Twitter (click to enlarge):

"We followed our standard procedures and decided to hire him. Nobody complained!" Well, sure. He wasn't going to approach adult women, girls, or adult men, and he wasn't going to assault minors at Symphony Hall. And apparently the vetting process, at least as described here, didn't include asking a few grad students or opera fans about Levine. We would have clued them in.

Seriously, it is not credible that the Met and BSO didn't know about the rumors. I heard them around 1980-82 when I was a musicology grad student at Stony Brook, from housemates who hung around Lincoln Center. Terry Teachout heard the rumors in the 1970s when he was living in Kansas City, a good 1200 miles from Lincoln Center, according to his WSJ article. And a fellow on Twitter mentions hearing the rumors in 1995, when he lived in Los Angeles and was 15 years old.

But wait - the BSO had heard the rumors! Not only that, but this extremely moving and intense piece by Ben Miller makes it perfectly clear that the rumors reached far enough that members of the BSO itself warned their children against being alone with Levine because they knew he was a pederast.

It's just amazing what institutions can manage to ignore or forget when an important person is involved.

As to Levine's statement, shudder. (Link is to Michael Cooper's NY Times article.) It is the very essence of a non-denial denial, the statement of a person who doesn't see how wrong his actions were. This is what Cooper's article quotes:
“As understandably troubling as the accusations noted in recent press accounts are, they are unfounded,” he said in a written statement. “As anyone who truly knows me will attest, I have not lived my life as an oppressor or an aggressor.”
“I have devoted my energies to the development, growth, and nurturing of music and musicians all over the world — particularly with the Metropolitan Opera where my work has been the lifeblood and passion of my artistic imagination,” he said in the statement. “My fervent hope is that in time people will come to understand the truth, and I will be able to continue my work with full concentration and inspiration.”
The second paragraph is mostly filler: I have lived a life of artistic good, including my work with musicians! I couldn't have done anything wrong! That stuff about his hope that "people will come to understand the truth" is nauseating and goes with "the [accusations] are unfounded" in the first paragraph. This all boils down to: "Sure, there was sex, but it wasn't the way my victims say! I didn't harass them and moreover the truth is that they were into it."

Well, no, they weren't. Read their accounts of how it felt to them at the time and what the long-term psychological effects of the abuse were.

Here's what you need to keep in mind: the four men's accounts are very similar. It's also apparent that there was some kind of cult around young James Levine; he had a coterie of followers. And the four men's accounts close resemble accounts by people who've been sexually victimized by authority figures such as priests and music teachers. (See reporting on the Royal Northern College of Music and Chetham's scandals, for example, and everything about sexual abuse by priests.)

I doubt that Levine will work again. The police report and publicity have made him completely radioactive. But, you know, this should have happened long ago. He has conducted plenty of performances with young choristers; he has taught here and there; he's had plenty of opportunities.

What I expect to happen: Peter Gelb will be fired for having sat on the Lake Forest police report for a year with no attempt at independent verification or investigation because "Jim denied it all." (OF COURSE HE DID. WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?) Perhaps the Met board will lose a few members. More recent police reports or victim accounts will surface. Maybe there were payoffs. Perhaps we'll find out whether Diva X really did get an opening night in exchange for getting him out of jail. And possibly one of the reports will be about actions that still fall under the statute of limitations, and there will be a trial.

Friday Photo

Grave of Muzio Clementi
Westminster Abbey
May, 2014

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Girls of the Golden West, San Francisco Opera World Premiere

Davóne Tines (Ned Peters) and Julia Bullock (Dame Shirley)
Cory Weaver photo, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

It's December 9 and I've added John Masko and Patricia Wallinga to the list.

It's December 7 and I think I've got everything that will be published. If you spot someone else, let me know. Added today: Alex Ross, Hugh Canning, Batty Masetto, Michael Strickland.
I'm planning to read these all over the weekend and try to respond to a few comments in various reviews.

Further to Previous: Levine Replacements

The Met has announced who will conduct upcoming runs of Il Trovatore and Luisa Miller, replacing James Levine. Marco Armiliato gets Il Trovatore and Bertrand de Billy gets Luisa Miller.
Sir David McVicar’s production of Il Trovatore will feature Maria Agresta as Leonora, Yonghoon Lee as Manrico, and Anita Rachvelishvili as Azucena. Quinn Kelsey and Luca Salsi will share the role of Count di Luna, with Štefan Kocán and Kwangchul Youn both singing the role of Ferrando.
Performances of Il Trovatore are on January 22, 26, 30, Feb 3 (matinee), 6, 9, 12 and 15, 2018.
Elijah Moshinsky’s production of Luisa Miller features Sonya Yoncheva in the title role, with Plácido Domingo as her father. Piotr Beczała sings Rodolfo, with Olesya Petrova as Federica, Alexander Vinogradov as Count Walter, and Dmitry Belosselskiy as Wurm.
Performances of Luisa Miller are on March 29Apr 2, 6, 9, 14 (matinee), 18 and 21 (matinee), 2018. The April 14 matinee will be transmitted live as part of the Met’s Live in HD series, which reaches more than 2,000 movie theaters in 73 countries around the world.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Claire Chase: Density 2036 at Cal Performances

Space where the concert was held.

I was lucky enough to see the great flutist Claire Chase the other night at Cal Performances. The venue was the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and not in the theater where movies are shown. Instead, they used the stepped-down amphitheater right inside the building. Audience members with tickets could sit on the stairs; audience members without could stand and look down at the stage from the main-floor-level area.

It was one of those programs where, really, all you can do is gape, take notes, and come up with more and better superlatives, considering that Chase's performance was about as close to flawless as you can get. I mean, I didn't hear anything that sounded like an error or misstep, and she played for something like four and a half hours. It was an astonishing display of musicianship, technique, and sheer endurance.

I'd question just one decision she made about the program: her flutes were amplified for every piece she performed (21 in all), through a body mike. The venue was small and for most of the works, audibility would not have been a problem. Some of the pieces might well call for amplification, but I doubt that's the case for the pieces from before 2000 and certainly not for Varèse's Density 21.5. In some cases, the decision might have been made to make sure that the live flutes would be able to properly balance the recorded flutes and electronics. Fair enough, in those cases, but why for all of them?

As it happens, I've got a review of this concert in SFCV. I chatted with Louisa Spier from Cal Performances and heard that no SFCV reviewer was there, so partway through the marathon, I sent email reading "I'm at Claire Chase's program. Want a review? Signed, Former Flutist." They were happy to take one. Apparently the only other reviewer there was Joshua Kosman -- shocking, because, honestly, this was an extraordinary concert and I will fall over if it's not on both Joshua's and my best-of lists for 2017, or for the 2017-18 season.

Fortunately, since Chase is at the beginning of a 22-year-long commissioning program -- you read that right, twenty-two years -- you'll have a few more chances to hear her.

Nota bene: my word processor thinks both of these reviews are around 900 words.

Va, Tosca!

The Met announces most of the conductors who will take over the new Tosca from James Levine, who has been relieved of his duties following this weekend's news:
Emmanuel Villaume will conduct the Met’s new production of Puccini’s Tosca, on December 31, 2017, and January 3, 6, 9, 12, 23, and 27, 2018, replacing James Levine.
Maestro Villaume, who recently conducted Massenet’s Thaïs at the Met, is Music Director of the Dallas Opera and Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Prague Philharmonia. He made his Met debut in 2004 conducting Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, and his subsequent performances with the company have included Saint-Saëns’sSamson et Dalila, Bizet’s Carmen, Massenet’s Manon and Gounod’s  Roméo et Juliette.
Sir David McVicar’s new staging of Tosca opens on December 31, with Sonya Yoncheva as Tosca, Vittorio Grigolo as Cavaradossi, and Bryn Terfel as Scarpia. The January 27 matinee will be transmitted live as part of the Met’s Live in HD series, which reaches more than 2,000 movie theaters in 73 countries around the world.
Later performances on April 21, 26 and 30, and May 4, 8 and 12, 2018, will star Anna Netrebko in the title role opposite Marcelo Álvarez as Cavaradossi and Michael Volle and Željko Lučić sharing the role of Scarpia. The April and May performances will be conducted by Bertrand de Billy.
Gareth Morrell will conduct the performance on January 18, 2018. The conductor for the January 15 performance will be announced at a later date.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The AFM Weighs In

The musicians' union, Local 802, AFM, has a statement:
December 3, 2017– The Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802 AFM has released a statement on the allegations of sexual abuse on the part of Music Director Emeritus James Levine:
“We are horrified and sickened by the recently reported allegations of sexual abuse by Mr. Levine. The Metropolitan Opera has an obligation to all employees to provide a safe workplace free of sexual harassment and discrimination. Throughout history, artists have stood for our society’s values and priorities. As musicians of the MET Orchestra, Local 802 and members of labor unions, we have the power to bring about positive change. It is incumbent upon our community to decisively and immediately denounce actions of abuse, assault and sexual harassment.” — Tino Gagliardi, President, Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802, AFM
I'm really pretty sure that there were members of the union who'd heard about this.

Statement from the Metropolitan Opera Regarding James Levine (and an Update)

Received about 20 minutes while I was putting up a pot roast to braise:
The Metropolitan Opera announced today that it is suspending its relationship with James Levine, pending an investigation, following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct committed by Mr. Levine that took place from the 60's to the 80's, including the earlier part of his conducting career at the Met. 
Mr. Levine will not be involved in any Met activities, including conducting scheduled
performances at the Met this season. The Met has appointed Robert J. Cleary, former United States attorney and currently head of the investigations practice at Proskauer Rose, to lead a full and complete investigation into the relevant facts. 
“Based on these new reports, the Met has made the decision to act now, while we await the results of the investigation,” said Peter Gelb, Met General Manager, whose actions are fully supported by the leadership of the Met Board and its Executive Committee. “This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected.” 
There will be no further comments or statement regarding this issue from the Met at this time.
Multiple allegations from the 60s to the 80s? New reports? I must have missed something.

Here's the update, in a Times story from Michael Cooperthree two more men, with their names in the paper, have gone to the Met to say "this happened." The third is the man who filed the police report.

Not the First Public Classical Music Abuse Story in the US

Updated & more strongly worded 12/3/2017

So no, this isn't the first, as I was saying yesterday. There's the Johannes Somary case, which came out a few years ago, after his death. There've been stories about other figures in classical music for decades, including at least one prominent composer, now deceased. And there were the Chetham's and RNMC scandals in Great Britain a few years back.

But the NY Post story on James Levine is likely a surprise to very few: there've been rumors about him at least since I first heard them as a grad student back in 1980-81. And it will be no surprise that neither the Met nor Peter Gelb has responded to the report's questions about the story. (Here is Michael Cooper's NY Times story, released a few hours after that of the Post. It includes a brief statement from the Met, which is opening an investigation.)

By the way, if you have a story about someone, and you are unable to discuss it publicly, the Times has a tip hotline. Read information on how it works here. It is almost always possible to make an anonymous tip or talk to a reporter on deep background.


And now the Met and the BSO are telling us that they're shocked, shocked to hear about this. C'mon, people, this is total bullshit. If I heard about Levine in 1980-82, and a guy on Twitter heard it in Los Angeles in 1995 when he was 15 years old, there is no way that nobody on the Met Board of Directors or in management hadn't heard the stories. I mean, really: he wouldn't be abusing kids in the Met's orchestra pit, right?? Note the careful grooming of the man discussed in the Post story, whom Levine met for the first time when he was a boy of four (4) years.

The man at the center of the Post and Times reports isn't likely to be the only victim. And Levine isn't the only famous person you'll be hearing about in the next six months.

As I said to someone, or intended to say, a few weeks ago, if I were a journalist on this story, I'd be talking to the parents of Met Children's Chorus members right now. And I imagine there is enormous panic at Lincoln Center just now: how many donors, big or small, will keep giving to an institution that may have protected a child sex abuser for decades? If this is what happened, and if the company collapses, the Met will have sacrificed their entire staff for one person.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Ojai Festival News:

Artistic Director Thomas W. Morris will retire from the Ojai Festival after the 2019 festival, of which Barbara Hannigan will be the music director. He will have been Artistic Director for 16 years at that point. Press release after the cut.

Mariss Jansons' Foot Joins that of Andris Nelsons

In an interview in the Telegraph the other day, maestro Mariss Jansons put his foot in his mouth:
Hmm, well. Well I don’t want to give offense,” said Jansons, “and I am not against it, that would be very wrong. I understand the world has changed, and there is now no profession that can be confined to this or that gender. It’s a question of what one is used to. I grew up in a different world, and for me seeing a woman on the podium… well, let’s just say it’s not my cup of tea.
And now, in a statement released by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, he's attempting to walk it back, not too successfully:
Our chief conductor Mariss Jansons has asked us to publish the following statement of his: 
“In a recent interview with the British newspaper ‘The Telegraph’,  a quote from me was published which has provoked considerable attention in the media. I would like to respond to this with the following statement:
I come from a generation in which the conducting profession was almost exclusively reserved to men. Even today, many more men than women pursue conducting professionally. But it was undiplomatic, unnecessary and counterproductive for me to point out that I’m not yet accustomed to seeing women on the conducting platform. Every one of my female colleagues and every young woman wishing to become a conductor can be assured of my support, for we all work in pursuit of a common goal: to excite people for the art form we love so dearly – music.”
In the United States, a gaffe is defined as "when a politician accidentally tells the truth." That first, unguarded remark very likely represents what is in Jansons' heart. I hope that he is taking the opportunity to go see MGT, Susana Mälkki, Marin Alsop, and their peers so that seeing women on the podium can become his cup of tea.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Dmitri Hvorostovsky
care of his personal web site

The great baritone Dmiti Hvorostovsky died on November 21 at 55. He had announced in 2015 that he was being treated for brain cancer. He was able to make some opera and recital appearances after that, but the tumor affected his balance and that made opera much more difficult for him.

He appeared at San Francisco Opera six times, and I saw all of them, from 1996's Barbiere (Figaro) to the most recent staging of Il Trovatore (di Luna). I'm sorry that the only Russian role I saw him in was in The Tsar's Bride. I'm sure he was a fabulous Prince Andrew in War and Peace and Onegin, in the eponymous opera.

He had a most beautiful voice, perhaps a bit on the light side for Verdi, but he made those roles work for him anyway. RIP, and condolences to his family and loved ones.

San Francisco Opera 2018 Adler Fellows

SFO sent a press release announcing the 2018 Adler Fellows the other day. The opening of Girls of the Golden West naturally got a lot of attention, and now it's time to shine a light on these talented youngsters. From the press release:
The eight singers selected as 2018 Adler Fellows are sopranos Sarah Cambidge (Vancouver, B.C., Canada) and Natalie Image (Tsawwassen, B.C., Canada); mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon (Peachtree City, Georgia); Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen (Brooklyn, New York), who becomes the fourth countertenor to join the program after Brian Asawa, Gerald Thompson and Ryan Belongie; tenors Amitai Pati (Auckland, New Zealand) and Kyle van Schoonhoven (Lockport, New York); baritone Andrew G. Manea (Troy, Michigan); and bass-baritone Christian Pursell (Santa Cruz, California). Natalie Image, Ashley Dixon, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen and Christian Pursell are incoming first-year Adler FellowsSarah Cambidge, Amitai Pati, Kyle van Schoonhoven and Andrew G. Manea return as second-year fellows. All artists begin their fellowships in January 2018, except for Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen who begins in July 2018.
Director Aria Umezawa (Toronto, Canada) continues her fellowship for a second year. Umezawa will participate in all aspects of fellowship training, including dance classes, language classes and score studies. She will also work with the Adler Fellows on their audition repertory and participate in other San Francisco Opera Center activities. This December, she stages the Opera Center’s The Future Is Now concert showcasing the 2017 Adler Fellows performing with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra at the War Memorial Opera House.
The pianists selected for Apprentice Coach Fellowships are first-year fellow César Cañón (Bogotá, Colombia) and returning second-year fellow John Elam (Cleburne, Texas). The Adler Fellow apprentice coaches work closely with Mark Morash, Director of Musical Studies of the Opera Center, and John Churchwell, Head of Music Staff at San Francisco Opera. The coaches participate in the musical activities of both San Francisco Opera and the Opera Center, and they are involved in all aspects of the Adler Fellows’ training by acting as pianists for master classes, working with master coaches and preparing the Adler Fellows for concerts and mainstage roles.

Friday Photo

Parish Church and Graveyard, Battle (St. Mary the Virgin)
May, 2014

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Andris Nelsons, Further to Previous

The BSO released an update from Andris Nelsons on the matter of sexual harassment in the classical music world.  It's unfortunately a jpg or something; I can't find the text on the BSO web site's press section, but I will transcribe it below.

You can pretty much tell which sentence come directly from Legal and/or Public Relations:
During a recent interview with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on WGH's Boston Public Radio I did not express myself as clearly as I would have liked when asked about the issue of sexual harassment in the classical music world. In my own experience working in the classical music industry for many years, I myself have not seen overt examples of sexual misconduct in my day-to-day work life. That being said, this kind of offensive behavior, unfortunately, takes places in all fields, including, of course, the classical music industry. All of us in the field must remain constantly vigilant and fight against all types of inappropriate and hurtful behavior, and continue the essential work of creating a fair and safe work environment for all classical musicians. Though involvement in music and the arts can't cure all the ills of society, I do believe that the inspiration they provide has the potential to help us reflect at times on the better angels of our natures. Or more simply put by Beethoven -- the genius composer of the Ode to Joy symphony, considered the universal anthem of brotherly/sisterly love -- "Music can change the world."

I have to say, this is pretty awful. Fake Beethoven quote; "I've never seen it myself", which is so often a way to cast doubt on those who have, and which is most easily said by powerful men whom nobody IS going to harass, and nobody will harass another in front of; unwarranted belief in the inherent goodness of a musical style; citation of a work that has a wide variety of associations; "I didn't express myself as clearly as I would have liked." No, you didn't; it's pretty clear that you believed what you originally said and had to be talked down.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Andris Nelsons Puts His Foot in His Mouth, Bigtime

Headline in the Boston Globe:

Nelsons made this ridiculous claim last week, on Boston's public radio station. He missed the stories about Dale Clevenger, former principal horn of the CSO; he must have missed the much more recent stories about harassment at Berklee College of Music in Boston (not primarily a classical music school, but still). And apparently he wasn't paying attention during the part of the his training as a new manager at the BSO that covered sexual harassment law. (If that wasn't covered, it should have been.)

By now, the BSO legal department has probably got him in their office explaining that just by making that statement, he created an environment in the orchestra where anyone being sexually harassed might be afraid to come forward, since their music director has said that it's just not a problem in classical music. And perhaps Kristine Opalais has had a word or two with him as well.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Girls of the Golden West: Go See It!

If you read this blog, you know that next week San Francisco Opera will present the premiere run of performances of Girls of the Golden West, by John Adams, libretto by Peter Sellars, directed by Peter Sellars.

I have not seen it, I have heard only the short orchestra bit "Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance," I have seen the same public photos everyone else has, but I'm telling you, get a ticket and see this. It's not often that a great composer like Adams writes an opera, and lots of composers - I'm looking at you, Ludwig van - don't have the theatrical flair you need to write successful operas. So Adams is sitting in a particular sweet spot in musical history, along with, say, Mozart, Berg, Britten, Shostakovich, and a few others I could name who excelled in orchestra music, chamber music, and operas.

So get a ticket. I haven't read the libretto yet, haven't seen the staging, haven't heard a note of the music. There's likely to be some terrific music, even if, at the end of the night, you are scratching your head about one or another aspect of the opera.

Here are a couple of previews, by Georgia Rowe and Michael Cooper:

Friday Photo

Sunny assists me in studying for the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West
October, 2017

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Anxiety Dreams

Historically, I don't have a lot of nightmares or anxiety dreams, and the ones I have tend to be of the crumbling-teeth variety. The other day, though....

I woke up from a dream in which I had somehow been appointed to conduct the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West. And it was two weeks until the date, and nobody had provided me with the score.

I have basic conducting skills, it's true, but they are very basic and  they have deteriorated since grad school, when I was an assistant conductor of one of the choruses at Stony Brook and led sectional rehearsals of the Missa Solemnis. I led a rehearsal of a very tiny chorus doing comparatively uncomplicated music earlier this year, with no personal rehearsal of the pieces we worked on, and I could wing it fairly well. But there is no way I could conduct a John Adams opera without lengthy study. NO WAY, you hear me?

Realistically speaking, if Grant Gershon is not, for some reason, able to conduct, the most likely substitute is JCA himself. There can't be many people who know the score well enough to step in and conduct GGW.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Reading Russell Platt? If Not, You Should Be.

The New Yorker is lucky enough t have two first-class classical music writers on board. I'm sure you know Alex Ross's work, and his books, and I hope you're also reading writer, editor, and composer Russell Platt, whose short articles appear on line, but not in the printed New Yorker. If not, you can start here, and I'm sure you will like what you read.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Compare & Contrast 33: Gardiner in NY

John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir spent six months touring with the three surviving Monteverdi operas. They hit New York the other day; Justin Davidson and Anthony Tommasini were there, and wrote the following sharply different reviews; Alex Ross is less enthused than Tommasini, but still very complimentary to the performers, with none of Justin's snark and a lot of penetrating commentary about Monteverdi's greatness:
Long ago, A.C. Douglas was incredulous that I'd rank L'incoronazione di Poppea with Le Nozze di Figaro, but after seeing four productions, I'll stick with that assessment. It is among the very greatest of operas.

Updated on Saturday, Nov. 11, to add Alex Ross's review and my closing comment, then bumped to the top of the blog again.

Friday, November 10, 2017

WMOHAW Syndrome

That would be: War Memorial Opera House Acoustical Weirdness Syndrome. Everybody seems to suffer from it from time to time.

For example, here's a bit from my account of the Elektra prima, back in September of this year:

Okay, so my reservations are largely nonmusical. But I made a mistake: I swapped my Dress Circle seat for Orchestra M, nearly dead center, which is the perfect location for hearing the orchestra, but voices tend to be more recessed there than when you're up above them. And, goddamn it, the voice most affected by this was Christine Goerke's, presumably because of its placement, dark color, and the tessitura of the title role, which lies more in the low and middle ranges.
The other singers came over well, and I am kicking myself for relocating to the orchestra rather than Grand Tier....or staying in my subscription seat. So I feel that I can't make a fully-informed comment on her performance, and, well, this is a frustration. I've heard her live multiple times and I know perfectly well that she's got a very large and well-projected voice, and I also know about the vagaries of the acoustics of the War Memorial Opera House.
No reviewer complained of problems hearing Goerke. It was, no doubt, my seat.

Here's Joshua Kosman, who was sitting for Manon in the reviewer section in audience left, probably around row H-N:
That sense was not always easy to come by in the face of an on-again, off-again role debut by soprano Ellie Dehn as Manon, a performance that alternated almost minute by minute between splendid, pointedly vulnerable vocalism and recessive vagueness. Also not helpful were the visually barren, dramatically off-point production of director Vincent Boussard and set designer Vincent Lemaire, and the brusquely athletic musical direction of conductor Patrick Fournillier.
[paragraph praising Fabiano]
Dehn, meanwhile — a singer who has done excellent work here in not-quite-starring roles — flickered on and off unpredictably. Through much of Act 1 she sang so inaudibly that one might have thought she was “marking,” husbanding her vocal resources as singers do during rehearsals. 
For Manon, I was in my usual subscription seat, which is more or less dead center in the Dress Circle. I'm under the overhang, but just a bit. I heard every note Dehn sang. She was always perfectly audible, at every dynamic level.

Then there was Les Troyens. Both Greg Freed and I had issues hearing Anna Caterina Antonacci in the first performance, but up to a point, she came over perfectly well - Steven Winn, sitting three rows ahead of me, found her quite audible.

The fact is, the War Memorial Opera House has some dead spots, some live spots, some places with echoes. If you are too close to one of the walls in the orchestra section, yes, you hear the orchestra, especially, bouncing off the walls. I never comment on the balances in the works I review, because I know I'm not getting the best possible sound from the reviewer section.

Generally, the sound and balances are best from the center and above the floor, though the Orchestra section can be fabulous; the orchestra itself almost always sounds splendid from orchestra center, around row M to R. But Joshua's review of Manon and mine of Elektra certainly show the vagaries of the house.

Friday Photo

Yuppie beverages as far as the eye can see at Woodland Market near my office.
San Francisco, September, 2017
Kombucha in bottles to nitro cold brew in cans, via ginger-tumeric almond milk.
Nicely bottled, all very expensive. 
Compare with 79 cents for a half-pint of old-fashioned chocolate milk.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Post-Script: Manon and Don Carlo

Earlier today, the latest "Backstage with Matthew" email from San Francisco Opera dropped into my in-box. If you're not familiar with these, you should be: they are behind-the-scenes glimpses of life at an opera house, written by Matthew Shilvock, general director of SFO. (And, yes, I've heard him speak and seen enough of his tweets and chatted with him enough to be quite sure that he writes them himself....or it's someone who is extraordinarily good at channeling another person's style.)

Anyway, this edition, which will eventually appear on the company's blog, is all about the wig department, which raises a question: why on earth is Michael Fabiano going wigless these days?  This seems pretty darned ahistorical for the settings of both Manon and Don Carlo:

Michael Fabiano as Des Grieux in Manon
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

Michael Fabiano as Don Carlo; Marius Kwiecien as the Marquis of Posa
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

With those deep-set eyes of his, it just makes no sense; what he needs is a wig and make-up that brings out his eyes and gives his face and head more definition.

Manon, San Francisco Opera

Ellie Dehn (Manon)
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

There was a long period of time - probably around ten years - when I thought I didn't like Massenet. Then I heard Esclarmonde, his almost-Wagnerian magic opera, and also Werther, and thought that maybe the problem was that I didn't like Manon, the first Massenet opera I'd seen.

More recently, I listened to Pierre Monteux's Manon recording, with a Francophone cast except for Victoria de los Angeles, and realized that what I didn't like was the deadly conducting of Julius Rudel in SF Opera's 1998 revival of the opera. I checked Joshua Kosman's review recently, and it confirms my recollection (even at the time, I knew it wasn't good).

Saturday night, at the opening of SFO's new Manon, I mentioned Rudel to a couple of friends with long memories, and they both rolled their eyes and agreed with me. Too bad: Manon should have been a great part for Ruth Ann Swenson, and that night, it wasn't.

But times have changed, and a few changes of general director down the road, we've got a new Manon. David Gockley commissioned this production, which is a co-production with the Lithuanian National Opera and the Israel Opera and directed by Vincent Boussard. It is an improvement over 1998 in nearly every way, swapping a period production for a slightly racy cross-period design and costumes. (Cross-period to the point of dressing Reneé Rapier in a purple pants suit, no shirt, and matching purple bra.) The production was designed by Vincent Lemaire and lit, very beautifully, by Gary Marder. More about all of this later.

Ellie Dehn (Manon)
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

Best of all, the production has two terrific singers in the leads, and properly bubbling, frothy conducting from Patrick Fournillier, heard here previously in Cyrano de Bergerac and Tales of Hoffman. The orchestra sounded fabulous throughout, and Fournillier certainly knows the style needed to put over Manon in any believable way. (The plot, it is full of holes and character behavior that is not exactly strongly motivated. Tell us again why you've gotten religion and become an abbé after Manon apparently dumps you? and tell us why she didn't tell you about the planned kidnapping?)

Both Ellie Dehn, as Manon, and Michael Fabiano, as the Chevalier Des Grieux, were making their debuts in those roles, and neither disappointed. Dehn sounded absolutely gorgeous, with beautiful tone, spin, projection, truly impressive dynamic control, and pretty good French. She was also dramatically convincing as the pleasuring-loving Manon, just out to have a good time until her last-act demise.

Michael Fabiano (Des Grieux)
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

I'm a Fabiano fan, but initially I was a bit concerned. At his Act I entrance, his voice sounded darker and thicker than in his last local appearance, as Don Carlo in the June, 2016, production of the eponymous opera. It opened up during the first part of the opera, and by the end I wasn't worried at all, although I will note that for some soft high notes, he used what sounded like a slightly croony voix-mixte. His sound and his French are really too Italian for this particular opera; the vowels were open and coming from the back of his head when they should have been forward and pointed. The sound itself was beautiful, and big. Dramatically, he seems more comfortable on stage than he used to - and he was much better directed than in Don Carlo, where he and Ana María Martínez were left adrift on the stage. He was certainly the picture of youthful ardor, and, eventually, tortured denial.

James Creswell (Comte Des Grieux)
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

The smaller roles, and there are many, were mostly very well cast. James Creswell was a magnificent Comte Des Grieux, singing with plush tone and the very picture of chilly hauteur. I wanted to introduce him to Giorgio Germont; they'd make such a cute pair of nasty fathers, using essentially the same arguments to create chaos in their sons' lives. Creswell was in both Tales of Hoffmann and Mary Magdalene, but didn't make this kind of impression. More, please; such a beautiful voice.

Robert Brubaker was amusing as Guillot de Morfontaine (and his French is superb). I was not thrilled by David Pershall as Lescaut; next to Creswell and the other male singers, he sounded vocally unfocussed, though his acting was fine. 

See what "cross-period" means?
Hotel Transylvania scene

Robert Brubaker as Guillot de Morfontaine, dancer Rachel Little, Renée Rapier as Rosette, Monica Dewey as Pousette, and Laura Krumm as Javotte
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

The staging was something to see, making good use of a wall-like unit set that was used for a variety of entrances, including floating Manon in after she wanders around on its parapet. The stage was covered with a mirrored surface, which was a feature of several Mansouri-era productions. Somehow, this worked much better than those (Don Carlo, La Favorite, and others), because of the prevailing brightly colored costumes and saturated lighting. The combination of the mirrored floor and bright lighting sometimes bounced so much light into the house as the raise the light level in the audience significantly; I found myself wondering whether the lights in the chandelier were on.

The wall, topped by Parisian landmarks; 
Michael Fabiano (Des Grieux) and Ellie Dehn (Manon)
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

The staging worked, for the most part, though it certainly had a few oddities, including Manon's descent from the wall:

Wall, plus Ellie Dehn (Manon); Cours-la-Reine scene
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

Later in the scene, a cone of webbing descends from the flies and surrounds Manon, who runs out of it to go find Des Grieux at St. Sulpice. I have no idea what this was about. The floating balloons and packages are cute, though.

Wall, plus Ellie Dehn (Manon), plus cage o' webbing; Cours-la-Reine scene
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

See the color changes in that scene? Really, this was all very beautiful look at, and extremely effective. You hardly notice that there are hardly any props on stage. Here's Michael Fabiano in the St. Sulpice scene; note the steely gray of the wall:

Wall, plus Michael Fabiano (Des Grieux)
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

Not visible in any of the press photos: suspended Jesus looming over the stage at the top of the wall, with a completely black backdrop. That was a striking touch!

Here the lovers are reunited later in the scene:

Michael Fabiano (Des Grieux) and Ellie Dehn (Manon)
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

Mercifully, the press photos don't include the most ridiculous stage business I've seen in a while, falling into Department of Unintended Hilarity: the point where Fabiano rips open his cassock to show his great passion for Manon. The entire audience burst into laughter, which, I gotta say, really did break the mood. I have predicted that this will disappear before the end of the run.

The press photos also don't include the bit shortly after the photo above where Dehn and Fabiano re-enact the end of Act I of Die Walküre by rolling around on the floor together, which I suppose falls under Department of Sacrilege rather than Department of Inappropriate Sibling Love.

Ellie Dehn (Manon); Hotel Transylvania
Photo Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

You can't quite tell from the photo above, but between the cut of her dress and the way her hair is piled on top of her head, I'm absolutely certain that Dehn's look in this scene invoked a famous portrait of a notorious woman. She looked fabulous in the dress, too.

The final scene was beautifully staged, with the stage almost completely darkened and Dehn and Fabiano lit primarily from the side, focussing your attention tightly on them. There's a press photo of that scene, but you can't see much of the stage, alas.

All in all, I'd call this a very successful outing; it's good enough that I'm thinking of going back for more.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Speculation, Round 1

So, San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony are both looking for music directors. MTT will step down at the end of the 2019-20 season; Nicola Luisotti's last performance as music director of SFO was last month, but Matthew Shilvock has said that the search could take as long as two or three years, that is, out to 2019 or 2020.

So let's just assume for now that the two organizations' timelines are similar, although who knows who will handle various music director responsibilities absent an actual music director at SFO.

Now, a few years back, in 2010, Janos Gereben and I went through the exercise of speculating about who could possibly take MTT's place. The results are here.

Re-reading the article, the first thing I'm struck by is that several of our candidates have died or are otherwise unavailable: Claudio Abbado, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel are all gone; James Levine's health doesn't allow him to take a music directorship at this point.

Several of the younger conductors are still possible, notably Gaffigan and Bringuier. We can, I suppose, daydream about Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is living in LA again, but this seems beyond unlikely, although if they could get him....

But I think there are so many talented conductors out there that SFS is in an enviable position. The orchestra is in good financial shape and has a history of good management; the orchestra is playing at a very high level indeed. Music director of SFS is an attractive job; the kind of job that people with pretty good jobs would consider leaving to take. And there I'm thinking of conductors at good, not quite great, orchestras; Manfred Honeck and Pittsburgh, for example. Or Kryzstof Urbanski. But I don't think SFS could lure Osmo Vanska from Minnesota; he has made them a terrific orchestra and he is married to Erin Keefe, the concertmaster. That's a significant two-body problem right there.

Let's take a look at what's open and who is out there:

  • San Francisco Symphony! when MTT leaves at the end of 2019-20
  • BBC Philharmonic when Juanjo Mena leaves at the end of 2017-18
  • BBC National Orchestra of Wales when Thomas Søndergård leaves for his new job
  • Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich when Lionel Bringuier leaves at the end of 2017-18
  • Sarasota Orchestra after Anu Tali  leaves at the end of 2018-2019
  • Royal Opera, when Antonio Pappano leaves in 2020
  • Opera de Paris, when Philippe Jordan leaves in 2020
  • Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which Leonard Slatkin leaves at the close of the 2017-18 season.
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO). Rumor heard that James Gaffigan is under consideration for this post.
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Dresden Philharmonic: 2019 departure for Michael Sanderling
  • MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony: 2018 departure for Kristian Jarvi
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra: 2018 departure for Robin Ticciati
  • Orchestre National de Lyon: open now, with Leonard Slatkin's departure
  • Singapore Symphony: 2019 departure for Lan Shui
  • Vienna RSO: 2018 departure for Cornelius Meister
  • Toronto SO: 2018 departure for Peter Oundjian
  • Winnipeg SO: 2018 departure for Alexander Mickelthwate
  • Hamburg Symphony, following death of Sir Jeffrey Tate
  • Washington National Opera, departure of Philippe Auguin at conclusion of 2017-18 
  • San Francisco Opera, departure of Nicola Luisotti at conclusion of 2017-18
  • Opera North: open now, with Aleksandr Markovic's departure
  • Bavarian State Opera: with Kirill Petrenko going to Berlin and KP's Munich contract through 2021, it's sort of implied that he'll give up Munich
  • Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: 2017 is Stephen Lord's final season as MD
  • Sydney Symphony Orchestra: David Robertson will be leaving the SSO at the end of 2019. So he really will be without an orchestral home as of 1/1/2020.
  • Montreal Symphony Orchestra: Kent Nagano is leaving the OSM after 2019-2020. 

My take: the most prestigious openings coming up, in no particular order, are SFS, Royal Opera, Opera de Paris, Bavarian State Opera (Bayerische Staatsoper), San Francisco Opera. Not sure where Dallas, the Opera National de Lyon, and Montreal fall in here.

Conductors looking for jobs (that is, as of the near future, or now, they do not have a posting):
  • Lionel Bringuier
  • Juanjo Mena
  • Antonio Pappano
  • Ludovic Morlot
  • Sian Edwards
  • Jun Markl
  • Ingo Metzmacher
  • Bramwell Tovey
  • Jac van Steen
  • Mark Wigglesworth
  • Simone Young 
  • David Robertson
  • Peter Oundjian as of the end of 2017-18
  • Philippe Auguin
  • Kwame Ryan
  • Ilan Volkov
  • Aleksandr Markovic
  • Lothat Koenigs
  • Henrik Nanasi
  • Kent Nagano
  • Leonard Slatkin (73 and done with being an MD)
Who knows whether any of the above might work for SFS? Most of them don't have a track record of guest conducting at SFS; I think that only Robertson does, although Metzmacher has been through a couple of times, and maybe Tovey has as well.

The closed positions follow; a conductor who has been in a new job for not-that-long probably won't leave it very quickly.
  • Clarinetist Martin Frøst becomes chief conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra in 2019 when Thomas Dausgaard leaves for Seattle.
  • Thomas Zehetmair is going to the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra in 2019
  • Matthias Bamert is going to the Sapporo Symphony in 2018 
  • Lorenzo Viotti was named music director of the Gulbenkian Orchestra, as of 2018
  • Joana Mallwitz appointed GMD in Nuremberg, effective 2018
  • Philippe Jordan to the Vienna Staatsoper / VPO (Dominique Meyer not planning to appoint a WSO MD; his contract expires in 2020.)
  • Semyon! Bychkov! fills the vacancy at the Czech Philharmonic, following the death of Jiří Bělohlávek
  • Dennis Russell Davies becomes music director of the Brno Philharmonic, which had been open since 2015, as of the 2018-19 season.
  • Nicola Luisotti becoming an assistant music director at the Teatro Real, Madrid, 2018.
  • Seattle Symphony, where Thomas Dausgaard will succeed Ludovic Morlot; announced early October, 2016
  • Vancouver Symphony; Otto Tausk comes on in 2018
  • Orchestra Nationale de France; Emmanuel Krivine takes the post in 2017.
  • NDR Elbphilharmonie: Alan Gilbert becomes MD (or chief conductor) in the 2019-20 season.
  • St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Stéphane Denève to succeed David Robertson
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic; Jaap van Zweden's contract extended through summer of 2022
  • City of Birmingham SO; Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla appointed 2/4/2016, succeeding Andris Nelsons
  • New York Philharmonic; Jaap Van Zweden appointed, 1/27/16, succeeding Alan Gilbert
  • National Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda appointed, 1/4/2016, succeeding Christoph Eschenbach.
  • Leipzig Gewandhaus: Andris Nelsons appointed, 9/9/2015
  • LSO: Simon Rattle appointed, 3/2/2015
  • Orchestra de Paris: Daniel Harding, 6/11/2015
  • Berlin Philharmonic: Kirill Petrenko appointed, 6/22/2015
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard succeeds Donald Runnicles in September, 2016
I think the first thing to consider is who has been a successful and impressive guest conductor over a period of time with SFS. Here, the names that come to mind, immediately, are Osmo Vanska (not likely to leave Minnesota), Susanna Mälkki (chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic, principal guest conductor of the LAPO, has good relationships with many major orgs), Krysztof Urbanski, Vassily Petrenko (has been in a few times, I think), David Robertson (has been an excellent guest conductor for at least 12 or 15 years).  Is it remotely possible that Donald Runnicles might want to return to the Bay Area? Would James Conlon take SFS? He's a great conductor who has not had a music director job at one of the top US orchestras. Who else?

Okay, updated to include: Pablo Heras-Casado, who has given some terrific concerts with SFS.

There are a few people we haven't had here yet, among whom the first name in my mind is the prodigiously talented Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, aka MGT. I hope she'll be a guest at SFS some time, but she is just a couple of years into a prestigious appointment at the CBSO. I was mightily impressed with Ludovic Morlot when he conducted the BSO in SF during the centenary year, and they do seem to love him in Seattle.

Lastly, a friend saw a comment elsewhere that I consider about as ludicrous as it gets: that only Gustavo Dudamel would do. 

That is just silly. Not only are there plenty of equally good or better conductors around, but Dudamel has one of the best jobs in the world: the LA Phil is on an unusually sound financial footing owing to Hollywood Bowl income; it has had excellent management for decades; the orchestra is excellent and improving; they play the most diverse and interesting repertory around, and they perform in the greatest concert hall in the country. How on earth would SFS be an improvement for him?

Be Prepared to Donate

I'm a resident of California and I've had the pink organ donor dot on my driver's license for many years. This morning, I went through the DMV's online donor registration process as well, to make sure there wouldn't be any misunderstandings if I die in circumstances that would make me eligible to be an organ donor.

That's because I read Terry Teachout's blog posts this morning. When I read the first, a book review, I thought, wow, that must have been intense for Terry to read. Then I got to his second post, a coming-out of sorts, and knew why he'd written the review.

I registered because something bad happening to me could mean something good for another person. I have friends whose lives were transformed by receiving a donated organ. If you're able to donate (many cannot, for reasons of age, illness, or faith), please register.