Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Pianist of Willesden Lane

While it's been a blink of an eye in occasional-blog land, time has passed in the "real" world, where it's been several months since I last posted. Since then, I've shared the friendly skies with about a half dozen airline  companies with varying levels of comfort, even though the Eastern European tour was postponed. (Why? Think government shutdown (see below) and you'll have a clue on that one.) And just last month, both the Vinaccesi Ensemble and the Jewish Music & Poetry Project  had wonderful performances, at SF Music Day, Live + Free and Cafe Europa, respectively. For Cafe Europa (and the tour) I'd been learning to sing in Hungarian, thanks to a patient Hungarian coach and native speakers.  In my so-called spare time, I've been studying Hungarian as well: what a beautiful language.

Now that's it's November, Thanksgiving is drawing nigh in a once-in-a-millenium confluence of Thanksgivukkah which makes it already time to work on holiday concerts. Amazing how 2013 has flown...

In the meantime I saw a fabulous production last night with some great family friends. It's a must-see.  So if you're in driving distance, buy tickets and run, do not walk, to the absolutely brilliant production at Berkeley Rep of The Pianist at Willesden Lane, a one-woman show narrated and performed by pianist Mona Golabek, based on the true
story of her mother (pianist Lisa Jura), who was saved by the grace of the Kindertransport before WWII. A moving performance and a work of art, now extended to January 5, 2014.

On to more contemporary and mundane matters: the U.S. government shut down. Yes, that affected yours truly.  The JMPP was to be in Eastern Europe in October for a tour sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and part of the Daniel Pearl World Music Days.  But due to the shutdown, we've been postponed. Latest word is maybe, maybe...hopefully maybe Fall 2014.  Keep your fingers crossed and we'll keep you posted.

Oh, and did I mention that my accomplished sister, law professor Robin Feldman, testified as an expert witness on patent trolls for the hearing by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations' this past Thursday, entitled "The Impact of Patent Assertion Entities on Innovation and the Economy?"

Am I proud of her, or what?  Check out her learned tome on the subject, if you're curious--Rethinking Patent Law--and her testimony, starting around 13:20 in the following clip: .Yes, that's her with the clear diction, cogent argument, and excellent delivery--not to mention the lovely sweater. Great job, Ms. Feldman!

Recently read: Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1, by Marissa Meyer).  Excellent.  Just when you think you've seen every twisted spin on retold fairy tales worth reading, a new one comes along that knocks your socks off.  As does this one.  It's based can guess, I'm sure.

What I'm reading: The Golden Dice: A Tale of Ancient Rome (by Elizabeth Storr, the sequel to her award-winning The Wedding Shroud - A Tale of Ancient Rome) and Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races.

What I'm listening to: Beethoven Sonatas (Moonlight, Op. 26, Op. 13, Op. 31, Waldstein), songs and arias by Rameau and Campra, lots of concerts by my busy friends, including the talented Michael S.

What I'm working on: other than Christmas concerts, lots of new music by Elena Ruehr, David Garner, and Kurt Erickson, for preview in January and premiere by the JMPP in April at Trinity Chamber Concerts; music by French Baroque composers for the Vinaccesi Ensemble's appearance at Noontime Concerts on Jan. 21 as part of Noontime's annual French Festival.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Lara's Gift and more

What a crazy, full week it has been!  First there was Sunday's wonderful Vinaccesi Ensemble concert at Congregation Netivot Shalom--thanks again to our fans, friends and the terrific folks at CNS--then I turned in the translation to another fabulous Thea Stilton graphic novel, the third in the series, tonight did the subtitles to help out Verismo Opera in their current production of Rigoletto, and went to the Merola Master Class taught by conductor John DeMain--all the while continuing to look for a car to replace my beloved 96 Audi A4 that someone smashed into :(, among myriad other things.

In the meantime, a shout-out and a small plug for my friend Annemarie O'Brien, who's YA novel Lara's Gift, just released by Knopf, has earned a starred Kirkus Review. Check out the trailer here! To celebrate the release of Lara's Gift, blogger and editor Deborah Halverson is giving away a free edit here.  Wondering what Deborah Halverson has to do with Annemarie and why she's doing this?  Well, check out that link and you'll get the full scoop ;).  Congrats and kudos, Annemarie!

And a few updates... The Vinaccesi Ensemble will next be at SF Music Day, Live + Free, Oct. 20, in a program of Latin American Baroque music.  Fun researching this new and interesting rep.  For instance, did you know that the first Latin American opera is from 1701?  And that there's a wealth of music from the continent in that period that seldom gets heard?  More later, but check out the recently updated website!

The Jewish Music & Poetry Project's next performance is at Noontime Concerts in SF on Sept. 10, in a program of Zemlinsky, Mendelssohn, Gershwin, and more.   This just two days after I join the The Handel Opera Project and a number of wonderful singers for a program of Mozart, Handel, and Bach, on Sept. 8 in Berkeley.  Check it out!

What I'm reading: Genie Wishes, Wolf Hall, hopefully Lara's Gift soon :)
What I'm listening to:  Fabulous songs from the '40's by Joseph Kosma; more songs by Zemlinsky; Verdi's Rigoletto (see above).
What I'm working on: Handel's Allor ch'io dissi addio for THOP, Zemlinsky, Wolf, and Garner, and Kosma, Vandor, and Justus for the JMPP's upcoming Eastern European tour--and more. Whew!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Comic Con!

No surprise: Comic Con was huge, huge, huge, and fun! 

Imagine 100,000 or so steam punk, graphic novel, comix, animation, sci fi/ fantasy and film folks flitting around in a--here's that word again--huge convention center...with costumes galore, give-away bags and swag at the ready, and you'll have a glimmer of a glimpse of the scene. Although I occasionally thought about posting on my occasional blog, there were so many panels to go to, booths to visit, books to investigate, new friends and colleagues to meet,  family to enjoy, and old friends and colleagues to say hello to, that I'm just starting to recover a week later.  Whew!  I need a vacation from my vacation ;).  Can't wait 'til next year!  

One of those new friends is actress Arlene Newman-van Asperen--snapshot of us above at the Papercutz booth--not too far from the Star Trek booth, for that matter. My spouse couldn't resist Enterprise pinky rings and I... well, an Emily the Strange messenger bag had my name on it after successfully singing its siren song to me.  Yes,indeedie, I have that fab bag slung across my shoulder with a water bottle stuck in the pocket.  And the cool thing is that Emily the Strange's booth had a giveaway and I won a great hoodie. Gotta love Comic Con ;).

And one of those old friends, below, is Jim Salicrup, at that same Papercutz booth. If you like graphic novels for kids, check out Papercutz' Ernest and Rebecca, Geronimo Stilton, Thea Stilton, Annoying Orange Smurfs, and more.  Over at NBM's booth for grown-ups, I bumped into some great new or at least new-to-me GNs on display: Persia Blues, Stargazing Dog, Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics.  Can't wait to read them, along with the books I brought back from San Diego.

Had some great meals in SD, too, especially at Craft and Commerce--a repeat visit from last year's end-of-the-Con, celebratory pre-flight meal. Yum! Highly recommended.

Back on earth, aka the Bay Area, I saw West Edge Opera's creepy production of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw. Based on the Henry James ghost story of the same name, the chamber opera uses a small cast and a reduced orchestra that becomes a palpable character in its own right, an instrumental Greek chorus that foreshadows and reflects upon the onstage drama.  (The regular disclaimer--many of the WEO folks are my friends and colleagues...)

One of the challenges in doing a horror story from another era has to do with changing sensibilities. Given the horrors we see on today's big screen, let alone the real life events shown so often on the small screen or in  newspapers, can a less-than-explicit but spooky little tale still speak to a modern audience? 

In a word, yes,  And Britten's setting grows increasingly gripping in the second act, as the story drives towards its chilling denouement.  

In the midst of everything else, the Vinaccesi Ensemble is in rehearsal with some great new northern-Italian Baroque repertory for our season finale in Berkeley on Sunday Aug.4 at 3 p.m. (1316 University Ave.).  Madrigals, canzonettas, and songs with Baroque guitar by Salamone Rossi, incomparable psalm settings by Benedetto Marcello--and a soupcon of Vinaccesi, natch.  Catch the musical worlds of Mantua (Rossi) and Venice (Marcello/ Vinaccesi) as they glide into the 21st century. Discounted advance tickets available.

What I'm reading: I've mostly been living in the land of YA, with.... Seraphina (a beautifully written, delightful and very relevant interspecies morality tale) Anna and the French Kiss (from a book exchange--wonderful to revisit Paris through its pages), and Veronica Roth's Divergent/ Insurgent dystopian pair--looking forward to the third of the series, Allegiant, due out in the fall.  Also reading some Joseph Roth, a grown up novelist :). 

What I'm working on and listening to: Britten, Rossi, Marcello, Handel for September, Joseph Kosma, Gershwin, Vandor, Justus, and Zemlinsky for September in SF and October in Eastern Europe, and Hugo Wolf for the future.  A busy time :)!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Two Shout-Outs and a Third Vinaccesi

Vinaccesi Ensemble in Santa Rosa at CAS on June 2

Today's post is a quick one, two, three, four...two shout-outs for friends and colleagues who are performing in the Bay Area over the the next week plus a third Vinaccesi concert and yet another shout-out.

First, pianist John Boyajy will be playing Debussy, Chopin, Bach, and Callaway at Old First Concerts on Friday June 7 at 8 p.m. (that's tomorrow, folks, and today by time you read this post, in all likelihood!).  Ticket link:

Second, on Thursday, June 13, at 7 p.m., mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich--who is in the Vinaccesi Ensemble with me--will be joined by violist Paul Yarborough (of the Alexander String Quartet) and pianist John Parr for "Songs of Voice and Viola," Lieder Alive's season closer, in a Liederabend of Brahms, Marx, Loeffler and more.  At Salle Pianos (1632C Market) in SF.  Three marvelous musicians performing seldom-heard gems. Ticket link:

And sandwiched between those two concerts, the Vinaccesi Ensemble returns to San Francisco on Tuesday, June 11 at 12:30, at Noontime Concerts (Old St. Mary's, 660 California St.), for the third our "Voices of Venice" series, this time a lunchtime version. Music by Vivaldi, Vinaccesi, Strozzi, Rossi, and Monteverdi. Read more about it in Classical Sonoma and see the program here.

Isn't the Bay Area great?!  Sooo many things to do, places to see, music to hear, people to be with...

What I'm reading: the second Andrea Camilleri book, The Terra-Cotta Dog, which arrived from the library last week. (The Berkeley Public Library is a jewel in the crown of the public library system.  I am a frequent visitor, a regular patron--and very grateful to my local librarians!)

What I'm listening to: Rossi, Vinaccesi, and more Italian Baroque music...can't shut off my internal sound track of these fabulous tunes.

What I'm working on: spurious Vivaldi, Rossi, Strozzi, and Hugo Wolf. a P.S., almost forgot about yet another colleague's concert(s) this weekend. The Vinaccesi Ensemble's own Adam Cockerham has a duo, Jarring Sounds.  You can hear them this weekend in Berkeley (Garden Gate Center at 8 on the 8th) and SF (Church of the Advent of Christ the King at 3 on the 9th).  Check out how they named their ensemble...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Vinaccesi Weekend

In the ever-so-infrequent land of my occasional blog, it's time for yet another quick and last-minute  announcement...for my Baroque group, the Vinaccesi Ensemble.  Our June series is in full swing, which in this case means concerts in Berkeley, Santa Rosa, and SF, plus a CD release celebration.  Here's the low down....

After our much-loved archlute player, Sarge Gerbode, decided to focus on the revisions to a new edition of his book on metapsychology, Beyond Psychology, we are thrilled to welcome a new and fabulous plucked instrument player (say that five times fast if you can), Adam Cockerham, who will be playing theorbo and Baroque guitar in our June concerts.   The rest of the group is the same as before: Kindra Scharich, mezzo, Jonathan Smucker, tenor, Kirk Eichelberger, bass, Hallie Pridham on Baroque cello, Susie Fong on harpsichord, et moi.  Welcome, Adam!

Adam recently earned his Master's degree from the SFCM, where he won the concerto competition with the Vivaldi Lute Concerto.  You can hear him play the slow movement from it this weekend.

Curious about the rest of the program? There's more Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Monteverdi, Strozzi and more... Check it out here.

And the schedule?

Voices of Venice, Saturday, June 1 8 p.m., Trinity Chamber Concerts, 2320 Dana St., Berkeley $15/10
Post-concert, come and join us for an hour of celebrating our new CD at the Musical Offering, 2430 Bancroft, Berkeley.  Food, beverages, CDs for signing and sale...should be fun ;)!

Voices of Venice, Sunday, June 2, 3:30 p.m., Creative Arts Series, 303 Stony Point Rd., Santa Rosa, $15.
Catch a podcast of our interview with the knowledgeable Charles Sepos on KRCB in Santa Rosa, on his program "Curtain Call" last week here.

And if only San Francisco will do for you, we'll be performing a shortened version of the program on Tuesday, June 11 at 12:30 p.m., at Noontime Concerts, a great series at Old St. Mary's Cathedral, 660 California St.

Hope one of those will work for my ever-patient blog readers who are in the region by the Bay.

What I'm reading: Vigilant by James Alan Gardner, sci fi.  This is a sequel to his Expendable and an interesting read. Also the second book by Andrea Camilleri in his popular and beautifully-written Inspector Montalbano (Sicilian) mystery detective series (translated by Stephen Sartarelli).

What I'm listening to: Are you kidding?  I can't get the music for this weekend's concerts out of my head!
What I'm studying: ditto. :)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A last-minute weekend thought here...

Don't feel like fighting the Bay--to-Breaker crowds in SD or at BFD in the South Bay?
Well,  then,  have I got an event for you: join the JMPP-the fabulous Dale Tsang-Hall on piano,  the wonderful Adaiha  MacAdam-Somer on cello,  and me-in San Jose , for "New, Forbidden,  and Forbidden," our season finale.  New music by David Garner, Laura Schwendinger , Elena Ruehr, Gabriela Lena Frank,  and Ruth Lomon. Forbidden and forgotten music by Edwin Frost,  Vitezslava Kapralova, and Alexander Zemlinsky. 3 p.m. 

Yet another shameless plug among many,  but hope to see some of you there:-)!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Two wonderful musicians: George Mesterhazy and Zheng Cao

In the universe of my very occasional blog, here's a very much belated post about a colleague and marvelous jazz pianist, plus a slightly less belated post about another wonderful musician and talented mezzo-soprano.

I met George Mesterhazy through a Mensa-musician friend, a trombone player named Herb Roselle who thought we'd enjoy knowing each other and talking music, and connected us.  Herb was right...and I had the pleasure and privilege of hearing George play live in San Francisco a couple of years ago.  Such a special player, arranger, and composer!

George passed away in his sleep in April 12, 2012 (yes, over a year ago: I'm embarrassingly delinquent in this post, with my apologies to all), and Herb has given me permission to post this clip of a soulful, lyrical Tennessee Waltz that he recorded when George let him put a digital recorder inside George's piano as he played.


Another inspiring, generous, and fabulous musician passed away this year on Feb. 12 after a long battle with cancer: mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao. Formerly an Adler Fellow and long associated with SF Opera, Zheng premiered Bonesetter's Daughter (operatic setting of the wonderful Amy Tan novel) and was beloved among audiences and colleagues for her passionate performances and warm, rich mezzo-soprano voice.  There's an open Facebook group as a memorial to her, Zheng Cao celebration, and a public memorial is planned on June 24 at 3 p.m.  Hear her warm, rich portrayal of "You'll never walk alone" in 2011.

Two beautiful stars in the musical firmament for us all to keep alive in our hearts.

What I'm listening to: Salamone Rossi's madrigals and canzonettas; Barbara Strozzi duets, especially "Begl' occhi"; Elena Ruehr, David Garner, and Laura Schwendinger, Ruth Lomon.
What I'm studying: Ruth Lomon, Viteslzava Kapralova, Gabriela Lena Frank,  Edwin Geist and David garner for the  upcoming JMPP concert (May 19, San Jose).
What I'm reading: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children; Job by Joseph Roth, The Time Keeper by Mitch Alboum, and Stoner by John Williams.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Just a short post today, as ...the excitement is mounting...because in just two days, Dale (Tsang-Hall), the fabulous pianist of the Jewish Music & Poetry Project, and I will perform the World Premiere of David Garner's Phoenix, to texts by poet Rose Auslaender.  Four short but powerful songs to four witty, ironic poems, focusing on exile and displacement, in a post-Holocaust context.  The concert is timed for this weekend in honor of Yom Hashoah.

The concert will also feature the West Coast premiere of Edwin Geist's 3 Lithuanian Songs and solo piano works by Jewish women composers , Gabriela Lena Frank, Elena Ruehr,  Laura Schwendinger, and Viteszlava Kapralova.  Other composers: Zemlinsky and Golijov.

On a more serious note, this is the concert for which we were received our most recent grant, from the Zellerbach Family Foundation, and for which we've been very grateful to our many supporters, who've helped us commission this piece from fabulous SF composer David Garner.

WHEN & WHERE:  FRIDAY, April 5 at 8:00 p.m. at Old First Concerts in San Francisco (corner of Sacramento and San Francisco).  Tickets: $17/ $14

Hope to see some of my readers there!

Incidentally, Dale and I had the honor and pleasure of joining David Garner's seminar in 20th century song at the SFCM.  Great students, smart, good questions, excellent comments.  We hope they enjoyed having us there as much as we enjoyed getting a chance to talk to them!

What I'm reading: The Lives of Things by Jose Saramago, recommended by a friend;
What I'm listening to: Garner and more Garner, Zemlinsky, Geist, Frank, Schwendinger, Ruehr, Kapralova, and Golijov.
What I'm working on: the same ;)!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Vinaccesi, CDs and Premieres

The Vinaccesi Ensemble at the Legion of Honor, at the end of our March 17, 2013, La Belle Vie concert.
L to R, Jonathan Smucker, Kindra Scharich, Susie Fong, Nanette McGuinness, Hallie Pridham.

Time for some more shameless plugs...

But first, for those inquiring minds who might want to know, the Vinaccesi Ensemble's concert was wonderful, with a large, generous audience, terrific presenters/ hosts (thank you, San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music and Legion of Honor!), a lovely space, and a wonderful harpsichord, courtesy of John Phillips.  A great time was had by all on both sides of the proscenium--not that there actually was a proscenium, mind you.  The picture above comes from a friend's iPhone, at the end of the concert.

And a quick note about a world premiere earlier this week, of Pulitzer-Prize winning and Grammy nominee Steven Stucky's The Stars and the Roses, beautifully performed by Noah Stewart and the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Joana Carneiro.  A shimmering three-song work (to poetry by the ever-wonderful Czeslaw Milosz) with transparent textures for the orchestra and lyrical writing for the glorious voice of the former Adler fellow. Stucky dedicated the piece to his about-to-be-wife, whom he charmingly told the audience he was flying off to marry after the concert: a sweet introduction to a lovely piece.

Back to the plugs...

Coming up this week, I've got two important events.  First, on April 1 (no fooling!), the Vinaccesi's premiere CD will be officially released on Centaur Records.  Benedetto Vinaccesi the Solo Cantatas contains all 8  extant solo cantatas by the group's namesake, that quirky, stylish and inventive Venetian composer.You can buy the CD from Centaur, directly from the ensemble, from Arkiv Music, etc. (Centaur CRC 3270).*

The CD includes the above musicians, plus bass Kirk Eichelberger and archlutenist Sarge Gerbode.

Hmmm, that's long enough for now.  Not to be tantalizing, but the next plug will come tomorrow or next day.  In the meantime, Happy Passover and Happy Easter to all.

What I'm reading: Sadly, I've now finished all the Martin Walker Inspector Bruno books that have been written thus far.  Hopefully there will be more soon.

What I'm listening to: Garner, Stucky, Erickson, Vinaccesi, Salamone Rossi, Elena Ruehr, and much more, natch!

*A blog with a footnote?  Could it be!  But every once in awhile, my erstwhile academic hackles rise again. and this is one of those moments: we couldn't have made the CD without our fantastic recording engineer, Michael Demeyer, nor without the help of a grant from the Musical Grant Program, which is administered by the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music and supported by the Heller Foundation, the Hewlette Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, and San Francisco Grants for the Arts.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pick of the Week!

Just a quick note to all: the Vinaccesi Ensemble's concert on Sunday March 17 at the Legion of Honor at noon (see this morning's post) has been chosen as Locaphonic's Weekly Pick.  Check it out and spread the word, please!

Vinaccesi Ensemble at the Legion of Honor

It's been an amazing 2013 thus far, with a plethora of fabulous musical events every weekend, so many of them performed by my wonderful colleagues.  So much good music, so little the risk of sounding too   wide-eyed and "gee whiz" about things, the Bay Area is such a wonderful place!

Today's post is a last-minute shameless--or should I say shameful?--plug for this Sunday's concert that my Baroque chamber group, the Vinaccesi Ensemble, will be performing: March 17 at noon at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.  It's part of the La Belle Vie 2013 series at the Legion of Honor, co-produced by the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music and accompanies the Legion's exhibit, the Royal Treasures from the Louvre: Louis XIV to Marie Antoinette, which has just been extended to March 31.

For this concert, Vinaccesi Ensemble (me, mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich, tenor Jonathan Smucker, Hallie Pridham, Baroque cello and gamba, and Susie Fong, harpsichord; our bass Kirk Eichelberger will be on the road and unable to join us) will feature music performed in Paris during the lifetimes of the Sun King and Marie Antoinette, that is, between 1630 and 1790, which will include pieces by Marais, Couperin, Rameau, Handel, de la Barre, Gluck, the young Mozart, and the ever popular Monsieur Anonyme, as well as a melody by the royal Sun King's father, Louis XIII. 

Susie Fong will perform on a newly-completed harpsichord based on a 1707 Nicholas Dumont instrument by renowned Berkeley harpsichord maker John Phillips, who will discuss the instrument during intermission and after the concert.

AND...equally exciting, the Vinaccesi Ensemble's new CD--due to be released on Centaur Records on April 1, no fooling!--has shipped and is available for purchase from the ensemble and at the concert.  Benedetto Vinaccesi: the Solo Cantatas has all 8 extant solo cantatas by the group's inventive and stylish Venetian namesake. (More on this in a future post perhaps?)

As a quick side note, the 28th Jewish Music Festival in Berkeley produced the world premiere of David Garner's Vilna Poems, with texts by renowned Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.  Garner's compositions are always moving and ever-lyrical, and this song cycle--beautifully performed by Lisa Delan, soprano, Kristin Pankonin, piano, David Krakauer, clarinet, and Matt Haimowitz, cello--is no exception.  You can hear Garner's radio interview with Sarah Cahill on KALW in which he talks about about this and others of his pieces (including the song cycle of his I'll be premiering in April, "Phoenix"--but more about that on a future post).  The second half of the program centered on a breathtaking performance of Messiaen's  ethereal--and timeless--Quartet for the End of Time, by Krakauer, Haimowitz, Kay Stern and Kathleen Tagg.

As a second quick side note, I have several more belated and overdue topics for my always-occasional and ever-delinquent blog.  Perhaps the month of March will be a good one for slightly more timely posting, or at least catching up?  Time will tell... but as we're enjoying an early, lovely spring here in Berkeley, hope--at least in this blogger's heart--springs eternal.

And as a third and final side note, March 14 was my birthday (as well as that of my niece and my stepsister--three Pi day birthdays shared with Albert Einstein in one fabulous family ;)) and I wanted to thank all my  wonderful friends who wished me a happy birthday today!

The regular disclaimer: I'm talking about friends and acquaintances in this post...

What I'm listening to: Strauss, Wolf, Garner, Geist, Handel, Gluck, Mozart, Lomon, Ruehr, Golijov, Gabriela Lena Frank, and much, much more. This is a busy month!
What I'm working on: all of the above.
What I'm reading: Martin Walker's Black Diamond (the third in his excellent Inspector Bruno series); Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realm series, and more....

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Fabulous Poppea

Just a quick note today:  run, don't walk, to see West Edge Opera's fabulous Poppea.  

There are only two more shows, Feb. 1 and Feb. 2., so time is of the essence!

With a period chamber ensemble stylishly conducted from one of two harpsichords by Music Source's Gilbert Martinez, WEO has another hit on its hands.  And with now-G.D. Mark Streshinsky at the helm, the company continues to make consistently brilliant artistic decisions in the pieces chosen, how they are updated, and how they are trimmed down.

For Poppea, WEO has pruned the excellent score (by musicologist and conductor Alan Curtis) to Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea into two roughly one-hour acts, and--a canny decision-- left the opera in the original Italian--Gott sei Dank.  This is one opera that I'd rather see in Italian any day.

The singing and acting is uniformly excellent--as the talent pool in the Bay  Area is wide and deep.  Perhaps one of the biggest strokes of genius was to cast the marvelous soprano Christine Brandes as Nerone (Nero).  With soprano Emma McNairy as Poppea, the red-hot onstage chemistry between the two sensually smolders as Poppea seduces her way to an empress' throne, aided and abetted by a hilarious cross-dressing Arnalta (Brian Thorsett)--who looks to do a mean mani-pedi.  Paul Thompson is suitably stoic as an end-of-life, emphysema-stricken Seneca (an interesting touch), and countertenor Ryan Belongie and soprano Tonia D'Amello present an appealing--and much more innocent--couple as foils to Nerone and Poppea.

WEO's productions continue to be don't-miss events.  You can help the company grow, as they've received an NEA matching grant.

Warnings and disclaimers: 1) don't take the younger kids, though--the bedroom scenes and video graphics are relatively explicit for opera; 2) .many of the folks here are friends and acquaintances.

What I'm reading:  Poetry by Ruth Stone, Connie Wanek, and Chana Bloch, Mercedes Lackey's Collegium Chronicles; the newest Thea Stilton Graphic Novel; James Alan Gardner's Expendable.

What I'm listening to and working on: Handel and Caldara cantatas, new music by S.F. composer David Garner (Phoenix, for the JMPP's premiere on April 5 at Old First Concerts), excerpts from Gluck's Orphee (the French 1774 version) for the Vinaccesi Ensemble's concert at the Legion of Honor in SF on March 17 and much, much more.  This is a busy, busy season--and I'm grateful!