Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chicago, a summer of moving house...and more

I had such good resolutions this summer about writing my blog on a regular basis. Ah, well. That idea bit the dust...shall we say, the dust of packing boxes, as my family shook the dust off its collective feet to move and move and move again.

Because--you see--this was the summer of the move for me. Forget the summer of love. First to a hotel, then to a sublet (long story), then to a stay-cation that somehow involved moving, nonetheless, and then into our newest address in the Bay Area. It sounds simple on e-paper, but combined with other family moves, etc., we changed housing for ourselves or our kid nearly a half a dozen times in a six period--after which I collapsed with a bout of swine flu (no joke, but I got over it, thank goodness).

U-Haul loves us: they'd offer us a frequent flier account if they had one.

I generally like to move, but after this summer, I think I'll have to remember that move is a four-letter word.

Now I'm getting ready to go back to Deutschland in less than a week. I'm looking forward to being there again and hope against hope that my German hasn't faded from minimal to insubstantial or even a ghastly AWOL.

But in the meantime, I'd like to catch up a tiny bit on the Memorial to post-Labor Day belated blog.

First, Chicago: I went to the Classical Singer Convention that took place in Chicago this past May. Nicely put together: good presenters and guests. Here's a link of a tiny moment in the opening session: an early-morning rendition by some 200 or so unwarmed-up but trained singers: Danny Boy, with Sara Thomas and Mark Stoddard conducting, and Eric Trudel at the piano. Yes, my blurry and bleary face is in there somewhere, but it's hard to spot.

In between sessions, I played hooky with an old friend (who shall remain nameless unless she doesn't mind my putting her name here) and her boyfriend. I had a blast: walked through part of Millenium Park and saw Crown Fountain and the Bean (a.k.a. Cloud Gate). We went to the Jill and Julia show (Julia McSweeney and Jill Sobule): kind-spirited, autobiographical, gentle, curse-free and still-superb comedy and songs at the Lakeshore Theater. The next night we heard the very cool Tony Monaco Trio on the B-3 Hammond organ--and ate some fabulously fattening food. Wonderful. I even got to ride the famed Red Line. What a great town: what a great time (thank you, my friend)! I was only there a few days, but I definitely want to visit Chicago again.

Right before heading off to Chicago, I sang with Cabaret Opera in their Fresh Voices Festival. Much fun, lots of new and interesting music.

In June, I saw a terrific production at SF Opera of Porgy and Bess. It clicked on every level, great singing and acting; everyone did a wonderful job. Eric Owens inhabited the part of Porgy magnificently, both vocally and dramatically, depicting Porgy's growth as a character through the arc of the opera. Audiences in the Bay Area have seen him before in several pieces, including John Adams' Dr. Atomic and A Flowering Tree--both of which he did very well. But this...this was a breakthrough, a career performance by a very gifted singer.

Skipping mercifully over the rest of the summer (we all know what I did during most of it), we arrive at September and SFOpera's performance of Il Trittico (Puccini). It's a tryptich (hence the title), that moves from the dark and brooding melodrama of Il Tabarro (The Cloak) to the multiple-hanky tragedy of Suor Angelica (an opera beloved of every female-heavy opera school every built, as it has so many roles for women, much like Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites) and finally the manic Gianni Schicchi, the plot of which is based on a moment of Dante.

Nowadays, Schicchi and Suor get done a lot--often paired with other operas or occasionally with each other--but Tabarro, less so, as it's clearly the weak link. All three operas were very well done, but Schicchi was, in my opinion, the best. (I have a soft spot for Schicchi, having sung two of the roles in it. It's a comic gem, and despite the deservedly famous soprano chestnut, O mio babbino caro, quite modern in much of its writing, all things considering.) The set and costumes were excellent, all done up in black-and-white in a very successful visual concept. Every moment and character was comically chiseled, from the very opening notes and a strategically placed--or,should one say, held?--pillow. Paolo Gavanelli made a terrific Gianni Schicchi, Catherine Cook was--as always-- marvelous (in all three) and even the super who played the corpse of povero Buoso got applause at the end. The tour de force, though, was Patricia Racette, who sang all three parts--even rarer than a performance of all three operas in one evening--and was wonderful in all three. She seemed to have her tongue firmly in cheek as Lauretta who, in this performance, was a sweet young airhead--and as blonde as blonde can be.

Finally, I attended the opening of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra's 2009/2010 season. Until recently, the BSO was conducted by Kent Nagano, who stayed connected with the symphony for some 30 years, despite his jetsetting international career. When he finally decided to step down, the symphony mounted an extensive, two year search for his replacement and chose the talented young Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro. The BSO had offered a great price to new subscribers--both a savvy marketing strategy and a kind gesture in a bad economy--who were welcomed with an apricot rose and a note at their seats. The BSO played three pieces: John Adam's ingratiating The Chairman Dances, Gabriela Lena Frank's Peregrinos (which I was alone among most of my friends colleagues in really liking--I especially enjoyed the textural and timbral aspects of the piece), for the first half, and Bartok's beloved Concerto for Orchestra for the seond half. The Bartok is one of my many favorite 20th century pieces and it was well-played, in general, although it had its moments of mushiness and imprecision, and occasionally lacked the complete power and bite that I like to hear in certain parts of the piece. The Adams felt suitably dance-like and the Frank was nicely played. Carneiros was great: a crisp and expressive conductor who is also fun to watch.

And she wears a skirt! As an aside, it gave me such a warm feeling to watch and hear yet another talented woman conductor on the podium. The Bay Area has been gifted with a number of them over the years: JoAnn Falletta, Sara Jobin, J. Karla Lemon, and Martha Stoddard, to name just a few that I've known and heard.

All in all, the opening was a bit of a love-fest between a knowledgable Berkeley audience, Joana Carneiros, and the BSO, with Frank,their new creative director, and local treasure, Adams , on hand. An auspicious start to what will hopefully be a great partnership.


What I'm working on: audition repertory for Germany, natch. Although getting over a nasty cold.

What I'm reading: Mercedes Lackey's Phoenix series (a sequel to her Obsidian trilogy). Re-reading David Weber space novels on my Kindle (thanks, Mom!).
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