Wednesday, June 23, 2010

SF Opera's Spectacular Die Walkuere

Just a quick post tonight, as it's late...

RUN, do not walk, to go see one of SF Opera's last two performances this summer of Die Walkuere (#2 opera from the Ring of the Nibelung cycle by Wagner). This is a stellar performance, with glorious singing, marvelous acting, excellent playing, sensitive conducting, great sets, a terrific "concept"...My, oh my! Even fervent non-Wagnerians will find something to like here. The singers were uniformly terrific--including the ailing Nina Stemme, who sounded not at all impaired, despite the fact that she was suffering from a bronchial infection (announced before the opera began, to a chorus of sad groans).

This bodes well for next summer's Ring cycle. But in the meantime, there are two more opportunities left for this production, June 25 and 30...Tickets at

(This is not to say that the other summer opera I saw at SF Opera this June--Puccini's "spaghetti Western," i.e., La Fanciulla del West-- isn't good, as it is was, but rather that this is a Walkuere for the ages, one that's got every operatic element working.)

'Night all

Saturday, June 5, 2010

BFX 10--the 10th Berkeley Early Music Exhibition and Fringe Festival

After a short break-let, I'm on to the BFX, as promised...

June 6--tomorrow--is the start of BFX 10. With seven "mainstage" performances, loads (over 50) of Fringe concerts, and lectures/ demonstrations, BFX is an event-packed early music week that runs through June 13.

More a local affair than in previous years, the Early Music Festival still has much to interest attendees. You can check it out at the Berkeley Festival Blog, SFEMS (San Francisco Early Music Society) website, SFEMS (SF Early Music Society) website or even at the Festival's Facebook page.

My own contribution is a little lunchtime concert of Baroque Venetian music tomorrow as part of the Fringe (shameless plug moment coming up) at Trinity Chapel: June 7, 1 p.m., with the Vinaccesi Ensemble--tenor Jonathan Smucker and a wonderful continuo band--Amy Brodo, Baroque cello, Jonathan Davis, harpsichord, and Sarge Gerbode, archlute.

Entitled Involto il tristo core, the program festures well-known duets by Monteverdi, less-known gems by Strozzi, Caldara, and Castello, and unknown but quirkily wonderful cantatas by Vinaccesi.

WHERE: Trinity Chapel, 2320 Dana (betweeen Bancroft and Durant), Berkeley
WHAT: Involto il tristo core: Venetian Cantatas, Solos, & Duets
Tickets: $15 general, $10 sfems, students, seniors & disabled. No one turned away for lack of funds.

In other news, I've finished up reading and judging all the books sent me for the Sharp Writ Book Contest (originally associated with Mensa's SIGs, but now spun-off). The Finalists and winners are due to be announced in the next month or so. This is leaving me the opportunity to do some summer reading, such as the below...

What I'm reading: Just started "Have Mercy"
What I'm working on: see this post, plus two chamber pieces for Cabaret Opera's Tenth Festival of New Music coming up later in June, X in the Heart of Europe and America. More on this after BFX.
What I'm listening to: Have to decide which BFX concerts to go to--while in the midst of other much good music and so little time...

New Music and Mozart

Already June... 2010 is almost halfway over--and it seems like it just recently began...

Today's post is about Mozart's Clarinet Concerto (as promised), Emmeline at Cinnabar Theater, and my upcoming concert with the Vinaccesi Ensemble--part of BFX 10.

First, I heard a beautiful, precise rendition of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto a few weeks ago--performed by Kent Nagano and the Berkeley Symphony's Akademie performers--along with some spectacular singing by soprano Christine Brandes--the first time I've heard her live, although I have been hearing wonderful things about her for quite some time. The clarinetist of the Mozart and composer of the piece Brandes sang were one and the same, the gifted musician Joerg Widmann. A sparkling evening that included (as noted in my last post), one of my favorite pieces in the concerto literature.

More recently, I went to opening night of Cinnabar Theater's West Coast premiere of Emmeline, by Tobias Picker. Based on Judith Rossner's loose retelling of a real story, Emmeline is a dark tragedy that has opera written all over it... Picker wrote the piece for Santa Fe (where it was premiered in 1996, with Patricia Racette in the lead role); he was on hand for a fasinating Q&A session after Cinnabar's opening night, rounding out a great evening.

Plot summary: Set in a Puritan pre-Civil War New England, the piece mines a granite-like New England ethos to retell the Oedipus tale from Jocasta's point of view. Unbeknownst to the eponymous heroine, the man she falls in love with and marries as an adult spinster--after having gotten pregnant while barely a teenager and giving her baby up for adoption without ever having seen him once he is born (she lives for roughly 20 years thinking she had a girl child)--turns out to be her own son. In the aftermath of this revelation, she spends the rest of her life shunned by her community.

In today's world, Emmeline's seduction by the factory owner's roving son-in-law and her subsequent pregnancy might well have caused lurid headlines, TV talk-show appearances, a book deal, a sexual harassment suit, and an investigation for child-labor. Instead, in an earlier environment that was much harsher towards its young women, Emmeline was shuttled off to have her child in private.

Seduction, deceit, lies, tragedy due to a lack of direct communication: it's a tailor-made tale for opera.

Carrie Hennessey sang the title role, embodying Emmeline beautifully and the rest of the cast (Cary Ann Rosko; Melody Caspari; Kimberly Anderman; Robert Stafford; Brian Rosen, Eileen Morris; Will Hart Meyers, and others) supported her with marvelous characterizations. Nina Shumann's chamber orchestra played the reduced score with verve, as always.

The regular disclaimer moment: a large number of the singers as well as musicians in both of the previous two performances are friends and/ or acquaintance.

More on BFX shortly. All this blogging takes my breath away!