Elektra

Elektra

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Marc Minkowski Profile in Early Music America

I interviewed conductor Marc Minkowski earlier this month for Early Music America's magazine. He's rehearsing Don Giovanni for San Francisco Opera, in what will be his SFO debut. It's his first visit to SF, so it's also his first local appearance. You can read the resulting profile here. Spoiler warning: contains horses as well as Mozart.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Bonus Friday Photo 2


Detail from a Pieta, LACMA
March, 2017

Bonus Friday Photo


Kauai, HI
April, 2017

Bonus photo because I ran a pair of photos twice this year.

Oakland Friday Photo


Crimini Mushrooms, Farmer Joe's Market


Productivity

William Baumol, an important economist,  died the other week at 95. You can read his NY Times obituary here. The Times is evidently not going to run the letter I sent them, so here's a blog post on the subject.

He is most famous in musical circles for Baumol's cost disease, which is explained in the obit as follows:
For example, he said, it takes exactly the same number of people and the same amount of time to play a Beethoven string quartet today as it did in, say, 1817. Yet the musicians who spent years studying and practicing — and still have to eat and live somewhere while doing that — cannot be paid the same as their 19th-century counterparts. Their wages, too, will rise, even though they are no more productive than their predecessors were. As a result, their work eventually becomes increasingly expensive compared with more efficiently produced goods.
That paragraph takes an extremely unsophisticated view of what musicians do. The violinist of 1817 had far fewer technical resources than the violinist of today, because of changes in how violin is taught, changes in expectations, and changes in the music professional violinists must be able to play today. The violinist of 1817 hadn't seen anything more difficult than Beethoven and Bach. The violinist of today has seen Paganini, Bartok, Wagner, Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Stravinsky, Berg, and many, many other composers who make great demands on a player's technique.

This has raised productivity in an extremely important way: the player of today can learn music much, much faster than the player of 1817. That is an increase in productivity. To provide on example, the orchestra for the first attempt at performing Tristan und Isolde had something like 50 or 60 rehearsals before everybody threw in the towel and declared the opera unperformable. Contrast that with the San Francisco Opera orchestra, which had the following rehearsals for the company's 1998 and 2006 productions of the opera:

2006 
12 hours orchestra readings (4 rehearsals)
9 hours sitzprobe (3 rehearsals)
7.5 hours staging (2 rehearsals)
Dress rehearsal (1 rehearsal)

33.5 hours rehearsal
10 rehearsals

1998 
10 hours orchestra reading (3 rehearsals)
3.5 hours sitz (1 rehearsal)
6.5 hours staging (2 rehearsals)
Dress (1 rehearsal)

25 hours of rehearsal
7 rehearsals

(Grateful thanks to Teresa Conception and SFO Orchestra Manager Tracy Davis for providing these details.)

It takes about three to four weeks to stage an opera these days, and.....can you recall the last time a work was declared unperformable after 70 rehearsals? No? That's because of increases in musician productivity - even though it still takes four players the same amount of time to perform a Beethoven quartet as it did 200 years ago.

Friday, May 12, 2017

An Already-Interesting Don Giovanni Gets Even More Interesting

San Francisco Opera's upcoming Don Giovanni production was already intriguing, between the debuts of Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Erin Wall, Stanislas de Barbeyrac, and conductor Marc Minkowski, and the return of Sarah Shafer, Ana Maria Martinez, Michael Sumuel, and Andrea Silvestrelli. Joshua Kosman had a cast-change article in the Chron last night and now I have the press release:
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (May 12, 2017) — San Francisco Opera’s 2017 Summer Season will include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the War Memorial Opera House beginning Sunday, June 4 through Friday, June 30 for eight performances. In a cast change announced today, Uruguayan bass-baritone Erwin Schrott and American bass Erik Anstine will sing the role of Leporello. Both artists are making their first appearances with San Francisco Opera and stepping in for previously scheduled bass Marco Vinco, who has withdrawn from the production for health reasons. Schrott is scheduled to sing the first six performances and Anstine the last two.
I did not much care for Marco Vinco's last appearance here, as Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte in a dispiriting performance of a great opera, so no regrets here, especially with Erwin Schrott coming in for most of the performances.

If you happen to check out my Cosi post, I should note that Ellie Dehn has proven to be a terrific singer in other roles; I loved her Musetta in the last Boheme and she was a standout in last year's Carmen. Maybe this particular role was just not a good fit. AND Claudia Mahnke, not so good in this Cosi, was a fabulous Fricka in 2015's Bayreuth Ring. Maybe they were done in by Luisotti? It is reasonable to expect that Marc Minkowski will be much better.

Oakland Friday Photo


May, 2016

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Santa Fe Opera, 2018

Santa Fe Opera announced its 2018 season today:

  • Candide, Bernstein, new production (Laurent Pelly), company premiere. Bicket/Rae, Shrader, Burdette, Schneiderman, Ott, Troxell.
  • Madama Butterfly, Puccini, revival. Bignamini; Kaduce/Martinez, Gluekert/Guerrero, Marino, Pallesen
  • Doctor Atomic, Adams & Sellars, new production, company premiere. Aucoin/McKinney, Bullock, Bliss, Arwady, Okulich, Mix
  • The Italian Girl in Algiers, Rossini, revival. Rovaris/Mack, Swanson, Conner, Hendrix, Verm
  • Ariadne auf Naxos, R. Strauss, new production. Gaffigan/Echalaz, Sledge, Morley, Majeski, Gilfrey
Most exciting, to me, is the new production of Doctor Atomic. I hope it won't be a duplicate of the SF production. After that, Ariadne. Might see Butterfly as it has been ten years. Candide, maybe, but there will be a good semi-staged version at SFS next season.

I Called It.

This past January, I ran a blog post speculating a bit about future San Francisco Opera productions. Here's part of what I said:

Santa Fe Opera has commissioned an opera by Mason Bates called The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. Bates is a popular guy in San Francisco, with SF Symphony commissions and a Beethoven/Bates Festival to his name, not to mention, a Grammy-nominated CD.
If I were the general director of a prominent opera company that is situated at the north end of Silicon Valley, in a city overrun with young (and not so young) nerds who work for companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, and, yes, Apple, and I had an interest in attracting more young, well-off audience members, well, I would be chatting with Santa Fe about doing the second bring-up of an opera about the loved and hated founder of Apple. Note: as announced, it also has a smallish cast, which, in these economic times, is always welcome.
As I noted at the time, I had and have absolutely no inside information about this, but I did call this one. Here's the press release I just got, announcing dates and also the news that SFO has signed on as a co-commissioner along with Santa Fe and Seattle. Co-produced with Indiana U and with support from Cal Performances, too.

I'd previously noted the small cast. One act with a prologue and 19 scenes sounds like the opera tops out at two hours, max, so, less rehearsal times, etc.

That bit about his confidant, Steve Wozniak?? Woz designed the first couple of Apple models and is also an iconic figure. And I spotted him in the audience at the Berlioz Requiem last week.

SAN FRANCISCO OPERA TO PRESENT THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS,

AN ELECTRO-ACOUSTIC OPERA BY MASON BATES
WITH A LIBRETTO BY MARK CAMPBELL
SCHEDULED FOR THE 2019–20 SEASON, WAR MEMORIAL OPERA HOUSE

NEW OPERA IS A CO-COMMISSION WITH SANTA FE OPERA AND SEATTLE OPERA,
WITH SUPPORT FROM CAL PERFORMANCES AND CO-PRODUCED WITH
INDIANA UNIVERSITY’S JACOBS SCHOOL OF MUSIC

SANTA FE OPERA TO GIVE THE WORLD PREMIERE JULY 22 – AUGUST 25, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (May 9, 2017) – San Francisco Opera today announced its participation as a co-commissioner of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs—the first full-length opera written by Bay Area composer Mason Bates and set to a libretto by Mark Campbell—joining Santa Fe Opera and Seattle Opera, with support from Cal Performances. The new work is a co-production with Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and will have its world premiere beginning July 22, 2017 at Santa Fe Opera. San Francisco Opera will present the Bay Area premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs during the Company’s 2019–20 repertory season at the War Memorial Opera House. Bates’ electro-acoustic opera is composed in one act and is comprised of a prologue and 19 scenes.

The creative team is led by director Kevin Newbury, who previously staged the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2013) and a new production of Norma (2014) for San Francisco Opera. In their Company debuts, the designers include scenic artist Victoria “Vita” Tzykun, costumes by Paul Carey, lighting by Japhy Weideman, projection design by London-based 59 Productions and choreography by Chloe Treat. Casting and conductor for San Francisco Opera’s presentation will be announced at a later date.

San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock said: “This is a profoundly moving new opera that I am excited to bring to Northern California audiences. Steve Jobs was an iconic figure in contemporary life whose genius has impacted the very way in which we engage with the world. But he was also a real person and a member of our immediate community. Mason’s new opera is a deeply layered, moving portrayal of a man grappling with the complex priorities of life, family and work. Like all great operas, I have been so impressed by how it speaks to the universality of the human condition. This is not just an opera about one man. It is an opera about all of us.”

Composer Mason Bates added, “Jobs’ search for inner peace is the story of the opera, which is about a man who learns to be human again.” Together, Bates and Mark Campbell have fashioned an opera that traces the development of Jobs’ spirituality through his relationships with five major figures in his life: his wife Laurene, his confidant Steve Wozniak, his girlfriend Chrisann, his spiritual advisor Kobun and his father Paul. The past informs the present along this deeply emotional journey, during which Steve Jobs never leaves the stage. Bates has established distinct musical idioms for each character and notes that “as they interact, their music will blend almost like on a DJ rig.”

According to scenic designer Victoria Tzykun: “The products and experiences that Steve Jobs dreamed up with his teams defied expectations and provided a sense of wonder. That sense of wonder is what is very important for us to capture in this production. In order to provide that for modern audiences, we are harnessing cutting-edge technology and fusing it with traditional stagecraft in a way that will create a world that has never yet been seen on an operatic stage: a visually minimal physical environment that can morph in an endless variety of ways through physical movement, video and light. The scenic units will glow from within and be projected on as they move about the stage, seamlessly blending the different mediums.”

Since its inception in 1923, San Francisco Opera has embodied a spirit of innovation. From the building of the iconic War Memorial Opera House in 1932 to the creation of the Merola Opera Program and Adler Fellowships, San Francisco Opera continues to be an industry leader in the opera world. The Company has also had a long history of presenting world and United States premieres including a new work by John Adams, Girls of the Golden West, scheduled to open November 21, 2017.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Hector, I Love You, But What Were You Thinking?

To SF Symphony last night for the second of three performances of Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts, better known as the Requiem, Op. 5, of Hector Berlioz.

James Keller's notes for the piece are a hoot, but the first thing that caught my eye is that these performances are being done in a reduced version by conductor Charles Dutoit, who is on the podium this week. Reduced, and yet:
4 flutes, 2 oboes and 2 English horns, 4 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 8 trombones (all offstage), 3 tubas, 8 timpani (some timpanists also play percussion), bass drum, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, tenor drum, and strings (16 1st violin, 14, 2nd violin, 12 violas, 10 cellos, 8 double basses), mixed chorus of 80 sopranos and altos, 60 tenors, 70 basses, and a tenor soloist. In addition, 4 brass ensembles positioned at the four points of the compass, consisting of N, 2 cornets, 2 trombones, and tuba, E 2 trumpets and 2 trombones, W 2 trumpets and 2 trombones, and S 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, and 2 tubas.
The score also gives instructions should a performance feature more players.

In any event, holy cow, this is a bizarre piece even by Berlioz's standards. Completed in 1837, the composer revised it in 1852 and in 1866-67, so evidently....well, I'm curious about the earlier versions and might check whether the first version has ever been recorded. I mean, I am making an assumption here, that only the last version is performed and recorded these days.

As I said, it is a rather bizarre work. It is quite long at about 80 minutes, and Berlioz makes compositional choices that, shall we say, are not the obvious ones. Your typical Dies Irae is a flamethrower; see Verdi, for example. Not this one, which is hushed and slow-ish, with Berlioz holding the fireworks for the Tuba Mirum and, perhaps, Symphonie Fantastique. The text-setting is awkward and so is the vocal phrasing. Last night was the first time in a long while that I really regretted not getting a recording in advance of a performance, because I'd never heard a note of the piece, and, well. I wish I'd had an idea of what was coming.

It has some fabulous moments, some very loud, as when everybody is going at once and the only way you know there are strings is that you can see them bowing furiously, and some very quiet, as in the closing Sanctus, and some in the middle (whichever movement it is where the strings and brass do nothing for an extended period and it's just the chorus and winds). But formally, well, it is messy and awkward, the composer's immense ambition somewhat exceeding his ability to create something unified. By Les Troyens, with a great dramatic libretto to hang his fabulous music on, he'd come a long way.

I must also say that the performance itself left something to be desired. The orchestra, normally a miracle of precision, had some off moments at the beginnings of phrases. The huge chorus, consisting of the SF Symphony Chorus, Young Women's Choral Projects of San Francisco (Susan McMane, dir.), and Golden Gate Men's Chorus (Joseph Piazza, dir.) sounded as though it needed to live with the work for a good deal longer, which is one way of saying they sounded underrehearsed. There was a general lack of confidence, heads were deep in scores much of the time, and the sopranos in particular had noticeable tuning problems in exposed phrases, of which, alas, there are many.

This piece is nothing like the other big choral works in the SFS Chorus's repertory; that's a group that could probably sing the Brahms or Verdi Requiems from memory and that does amazing work on shorter and less oddball works. But it's strange enough to make the Missa Solemnis sound easy, and that is saying something.

Other opinions:

  • Joshua Kosman, Chron, calls the performance anemic, and yeah, I'll go along with that. Surprising lack of energy for the number of people in the house. I found myself wondering at one point what Donald Runnicles would have done with it.