Archive for the ‘david gockley’ Tag
I’m back for my annual musings on the finest SF/Bay Area live performances of the year (#whatiattended)! As always, there’s a very healthy dose of opera, musical theatre, and jazz here, so they are more than well represented. And, I’m well aware of some great shows I had to miss because of my budget, or other commitments, but alas…it’s still a scrumptious array. Reflecting on these is a favorite way I savor and reexperience them once again.
What were your favorite Bay Area performances of the year?
1) Champion, Opera Parallèle, SFJAZZ Center
This unique jazz opera by Terence Blanchard is about the life of world champion boxer Emile Griffith, including his struggle with trauma-related dementia. A deeply affecting, tragic story, with gay content that was very impactful on a personal level. It features a great score, which deserves to land on the stages of the top American opera companies. It was heading to the Kennedy Center next, so it at least also had that audience. Unfortunately, it’s up against Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird” (featuring Lawrence Brownlee), so I fear it’s doubtful two jazz/jazz-oriented operas can have major legs. But, I get ahead of myself. This evening (Feb. 27th) had a sense of event, with Tuck and Patti, and Terence Blanchard in the audience, and lingering in the lobby afterwards as well. And we had the good fortune there of briefly meeting the contemporary opera legend, baritone Robert Orth, who passionately played Howie Albert.
The opening scene was so alive it reached out and grabbed the audience. The orchestral palette was rich, with the percussion and bass real stand outs. The orchestral hand-clapping-as-percussion really resonated. Former Merolini Karen Slack lit up the stage as Emelda Griffith, as did Arthur Woodley as the elder Emile, who was devastatingly real. The Herman’s Hole/”pussy” scene, with its fluid sexual expression was compelling and confusing, reflecting his confusion and the surrounding culture. Victor Ryan Robertson as Benny ‘Kid’ Paret was also very touching, a great physical actor, with a pleasing lyric voice in the midst of all the dramatic voices. A couple of scenes featured an actual boxer/dancer/percussionist who moved onstage in an unstoppable fashion.
Some lighting/projection cues revealed glaring flaws, and a couple of voices sounded tired. Also, where we sat there were frequent challenging sight lines, but it was thrilling to experience this opera in a true hall to jazz.
2) Dolly Tour: Pure & Simple, Shoreline Pavilion (Mountain View)
Not much needs to be said about this legendary woman. There may be many great drag impersonators of her, but there is only 1 Dolly. Her mix of goodness, simplicity, and yet worldliness and acceptance seems to be without peer.
It was a lovely night out as well, reminding me of concerts of my youth at Riverbend in Cincinnati. My favorite songs/moments included “Little Sparrow/If I Had Wings,” “9 to 5,” and two vocal quartets: “I’ll Fly Away,” and “The Seeker,” which skewed more towards bluegrass. Also, “Coat of Many Colors” and her new single “Pure and Simple” were really lovely.
I was in some disbelief that she sang it all live. The nuance and tone was so fresh…as if she was 25 again. She offered many quotable moments. When inviting a handsome band member to the spotlight for a featured musical moment, she shared: “I said I was married I didn’t say I was blind.” Her costumes take a page from Elvis’ book…bell bottoms and sequins for days!
3) Cabaret, National Tour, Golden Gate Theatre
The Emcee, Randy Harrison surely brought in audience based on his Queer as Folk celebrity, but he exceeded my expectations on stage. He offered a more solid, robust voice and technique than I expected, and than most of this role previous exponents had. I also appreciated that he used his voice in a somewhat less caricature-y fashion. He expressed plenty of lithe, engaging movement as well.
Andrea Goss, a petite Sally Bowles, was fantastic, offering a gamine, pixie appeal. Her small-scale delivered a big presence and impression. My date, who has seen a dozen or so Cabaret productions put her in his top 3…the slew of past celebrity Sallys not holding up real great by comparison.
As is often the case with this show, the love story between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz tugged on many a heart string. The set design, and how it was used was engaging throughout, integrating the orchestra in an authentic way, true to the milieu.
Two years ago I began a journey into the fire…into San Francisco Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. That journey comes full circle (pun intended) this month.
It all started when I was invited to collaborate on the iconic brand image and identity for this Ring (with the fantastic design and marketing studio Mission-Minded). This alone was a dream come true. I had become an official Wagner-phile when I experienced SFO’s previous naturalistic production in 1999, with my dear operagoing friend Gil. (Watch the documentary Sing Faster for a great glimpse of that beloved production.)
The creative process began with a meeting with Director Francesca Zambello and General Director David Gockley, to discuss the particular approach of this new production (shared with ENO and WNO, but not yet performed in its entirety). The goal: to highlight the concept of destruction and rebirth, and portray a dose of the production’s modernity, including an accessible and familiar visual vernacular. (The production employs a trailer, projections of power lines and electrical towers, an office building board room, a stylish, contemporary bedroom…to mention just a few of these modern nods.)
The iconic image evolved in a direction that also took a tragic nod from 9/11, using the burning and fall of city skyscrapers to show the destruction of a civilization, parallel with that of nature (via a forest). Perched atop this, a reborn/renewed female visage…a triumphant Brünnhilde. The photo-illustration was made up of 15 or so separate images.
Telemarketing Sales Calls…Oh My!
As I continue to field a slew of these sorts of calls from all the big gun Bay Area performing arts companies (ie: San Francisco Opera, SF Ballet, and more), I am reminded how much my own entertainment purchasing habits have changed (not to mention that of the entire market), and how little interest I have in committing to a subscription for any of their seasons. No kidding (I swear on my own grave), I just got a call from the SFO about a subscription for the upcoming season, as I edited this post. Could I be any more topical!?
Being a graphic designer, and even myself having worked and working on some past and future SFO campaigns, I feel for the telemarketers…but in the heat of the moment it doesn’t make the disruption much easier to swallow.
I still laugh when I remember the technique my feisty grandmother touted for dealing with such calls. She said she would ask them to hold while she got the person they asked for (sometimes herself)…then she would set down the phone for a good long while, until they gave up.
Thanks for the Memories
Back in the mid-90s I enjoyed my one-and-only complete 12-part subscription to the SFO. This was back in the hey-day, when their seasons were really jam packed (unlike the current 9-part season). I also purchased a 6-part series one season shortly after. The year of my 12-part series, I enjoyed sharing in theme nights with operagoing friends, attending a french restaurant before Massenet, German before Strauss, and so on. But, that was sort of a one-season thrill, and lost momentum after 4 or 5 operas…perhaps a bit too tedious after a while.
I do remember feeling rather enslaved by the demands of the subscription schedule, having to go nearly every weekend in Nov./Dec., and wishing I also had time for other pleasures on-the-town (movies, dance, clubbin’). I’m an opera fanatic, but even in my experiencing of opera I like variety…sometimes cheaply from standing room or even a lucky student rush ticket, sometimes (rather expensively) from my favored Dress Circle section, sometimes from the stage (as a “Super”), and so on. I even enjoy attending the opera with different friends, to experiencing their varying perspectives and knowledge bases…some offering me new insight, some enjoying mine.
I am certain that subscriptions are the life-blood of performing arts orgs, and so part of me has felt guilty for not being a more faithful patron, as I’ve begun reveling in single ticket livin’. But, now that I freelance from home, and have my own design business, that guilt is washing away…clearly a sign ‘o the times.
I realize that companies are having to reinvent the way they engage their audiences too (ie: with complete design your own series, etc., which didn’t exist on this scale 5+ years ago). Extensive marketing surveys have become so common, it seems one hits about every six months. It is clear that these companies are trying to get a pulse on their changing audiences in a fast evolving and tight time. I actually enjoy giving my two-cents, and always hope it makes some sort of ripple, however small.
One of these surveys was conducted shortly before David Gockley signed on as General Director of SFO. One of the questions was, which operas would you most like to see. Thankfully, two of the operas on that list have been presented since: Porgy & Bess, and Die Todt Stadt (at the end of Pamela Rosenberg’s tenure).
What motivates my interests? I most want to see the oft ignored chestnuts that haven’t been mounted here in eons (or ever), and that I have yet to see LIVE in any venue. I also, of course, will try not to miss a production if the singers are first-rate (and deserved) “stars”, or if the production has been critically acclaimed or promises to be provoking and well suited to the work itself.
My Updated Wish-Lists
My submitted wish-list remains largely intact. Unless noted, I have not seen these works, and eagerly await my first encounter with them.:
Die Frau ohne Schatten (seen twice)
Così fan tutte (seen once)
Maria Stuarda / Lucrezia Borgia / Roberto Devereux
Dialogues des Carmélites
I Capuleti e I Montechi
Prodaná nevěsta (The Bartered Bride)
Die Schweigsame Frau
Another question in the Gockley survey was which singers we’d most like to see. (Sadly, Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson was on that list.) Here is my newly crafted list.:
• Heidi Melton
• Anne Schwanewilms
• Mlada Khudoley
• Alexandrina Pendatchanska
• Andreas Scholl
• Bernarda Fink
• Waltraud Meier
• Olga Borodina
• Jonas Kaufmann (Gockley has publicly stated his admiration of this singer, so hopefully it won’t be long!)
• Peter Seiffert
• Lawrence Brownlee (fortunately I’m seeing him in Semiramide at Caramoor)
• Réne Pape
• Vitaly Kowaljow
• Bryn Terfel
Thankfully, other likely wish-listees Nina Stemme, Ewa Podles, Stephanie Blythe, Juan Diego Florez, and Paolo Gavanelli are all appearing next season.
Auditions for the General Director
I sat in on this private San Francisco Opera, Merola Program event last night. It is billed as David Gockley’s first opportunity to hear the new batch of ’09 Merolini. I was lucky to be able to enjoy the acoustic and easy view from the boxes. The singers each walk out on the stage individually and sing a single aria of their choice. For 23 singers that was about a 2 hour parade of arias. However, given the level of talent Merola presents, it was highly enjoyable, and flew by.
Then, after a 15 minute or so intermission, once Gockley, Sheri Greenawald (Director), and the other musical staff have deliberated, they request back a handful of artists (8 this time) to sing an additional aria which the staff specifies. I imagine it’s to hear that singer in a different genre (ie: they first heard a soprano perform Wagner, and then requested Mozart for her second aria), as they will be casting them as comprimari and understudies in upcoming seasons.
As is always the case, this batch showed a great deal of promise, and also presented a few singers that seemed quite seasoned. (See the complete roster of singers and apprentice coaches below.) There are several singers in particular that are still lingering in my memory this morning, and for very good reason. They either have exceptional technique, or that X-Factor that may project them into a big career. All of the singers were enjoyable, and I hope all find some degree of fulfillment in a successful career.
The Big Picture
I hope the men are offered “Buying a Suit That Fits: 101”, as there were quite a few that didn’t present themselves in the best light. I understand that young artists normally don’t have expendable cash, but fashion is an important part of their image that can be a distraction if overlooked (3 snaps!). The women, not surprisingly held this bar higher. However, vocally, the scale tipped in the men’s favor, which is welcome, as male vocal talent of the highest level seems to generally be more scarce of late. Overall, the lyric sopranos and mezzos offered a greater dose of brightness than I like. This left me craving Merola ’08’s Joelle Harvey, who had perfectly controlled technique, never sang beyond her “column of sound” (as L. Price used to refer to it), and was an actress equal to her vocal abilities. Many of the singers rushed their phrasing, which was likely the result of the adrenaline that must be rushing in this rather unnerving setting, and singers are works-in-progress at this phase of their development, so for this they are forgiven!!! There must be something in the water in Iowa, as 3+ of the singers were from towns there (none I’d heard of): Agency, Royal, and Charles City.
The great surprise is that we were treated to five Wagner selections, all well performed, and most on a par with the pros. This is quite unusual at an event like this, which is more typically inhabited by a greater majority of lyric voices and rep. I applaud Merola for investing in these singers, and applaud these singers for harnessing such dramatic and rare instruments.
For me the most complete package of the night was Michael Sumuel, who sang “O! Du mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhauser. He was one of two performers that touched me on a deeper level (tears), the next singer noted being the second. He has a real generosity of spirit in his performing, welcoming the “audience” in with his open arms and heart. His breath support was astounding, and his tone dark and beautiful, like a young Willard White, with a touch of Simon Estes’ edge.
I was so pleased to discover a countertenor on the roster, and Ryan Belongie was not just a novelty item in this company. This is a major talent. He has the plumminess and musicality of David Daniels, but with the restraint and minimalism of Andreas Scholl. He sang “I know a bank” from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as Handel’s “Cara Sposa”. He was transfixing, and really knew how to create a sense of theatrical space around him (I could almost “see” the sets). He is a bit of a young Peter Sellars (the opera director) look-alike. One small gripe is that the fast “B” section of “Cara…” was not as masterful as the rest, but it is amazing to consider he moved on from the tenor fach not too long ago, as I understand.
Tenor Nathaniel Peake was one of three singers returning from the Merola ’08 roster. He matched last year’s “Salut demeure chaste et pure” with “Ah! lève-toi soleil!” from R&J. He is reminiscent of the great french tenor of past Georges Thill, and has phenomenal idiomatic french diction and technique, balancing the nasality with an open-throated tone. He offered the most perfect, finely spun, on-the-breath, diminuendo high A I may have ever heard, to top it off. We were rapt.
We had a true heldentenor in our presence, in the form of Gregory Carroll. Seeing Jane Eaglen noted as one of his teachers was heartening too. He sang “Meine liebe Schwan!” from Lohengrin, as well as “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci. He left me wanting nothing more vocally. He could hit the stage tomorrow in a Wagner opera and deliver the vocal goods. But, he will need to learn to engage his body more in portraying his characterizations.
The first of the two strongest offerings from the women came in the form of Israeli mezzo Maya Lahyani’s Werther aria. She is reminiscent of Tatiana Troyanos, in her passionate commitment as a tragedienne, and plummy tone. She had the X-Factor and offered the most unique and stylish look as well. Her list of teachers was very impressive, and have clearly rubbed off some of their greatness: Regine Crespin, Regina Resnik and Ruth Falcon. She did proove that she does not yet have bel canto chops in “Di tanti palpiti”, but I don’t feel that’s the rep where she will make her imprint.
And, Lori Guilbeau offered a glorious “Einsam in trüben tagen”, as well as a vocally large-scaled “Ah! Fuggi il traditor!”. She offered some parallels to Carroll (above), in that she has true Wagnerian chops, and a refulgent tone, but needs to hone her physicality to match her vocal goods…which will surely come with time. She possesses a head of gleaming white blonde hair that would make any Sieglinde jealous.
Other Excellent Offerings
Susannah Biller bested her first offering with a plangent “Ach, Ich Fühl’s”. Aleksey Bogdanov offered a very seasoned Iago aria, from Othello, with a James Morris-like villainous snarl and bite. It was nice to get some dramatic mezzo action in the form of Margaret Gawrysiak’s “Stride la Vampa”. Brian Jagde, a recent convert from baritone had a big, ringing voice, and equal swagger in “Recondita Armonia”. And, bass baritone Yohan Yi offered a very resonant technique, and confident delivery in Mephistopheles’ aria (“Tra la la la”).
I eagerly await the debuts of all the Merolini in the summer operas, and into the future! I will most certainly not miss their L’Amico Fritz, as it’s so rarely done, and features Mr. Peake, among others.
The Complete Roster: ’09 Merolini
Susannah Biller, Georgetown, Tennessee; Lara Ciekiewicz, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Kate Crist, Agency, Iowa; Sara Gartland, St. Paul, Minnesota; Lori Guilbeau, Golden Meadow, Louisiana
Margaret Gawrysiak, Geneseo, Illinois; Caitlin Mathes, Dayville, Connecticut; Ellie Jarrett, Dallas, Texas; Maya Lahyani, Hod-HaSharon, Israel
Suzanne Hendrix, Charles City, Iowa
Ryan Belongie, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
Eleazar Rodríguez, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico; Gregory Carroll, Des Moines, Washington; Brian Jadge, Piermont, New York; Alex Mansoori, Seattle, Washington; Nathaniel Peake, Humble, Texas
Aleksey Bogdanov, Odessa, Ukraine; John Chest, Greenville, South Carolina; Paul Scholten, Muskegon, Michigan; Michael Sumuel, Odessa, Texas
Yohan Yi, Pohang, The Republic of Korea
Evan Boyer, Louisville, Kentucky; Benjamin LeClair, Royal, Iowa
Keun-a Lee, Seoul, The Republic of Korea; Stephanie Rhodes, Alpine, Utah; Tamara Sanikidze, Tbilisi, The Republic of Georgia; Suzy Smith, Medicine Hat, Alberta; Miaomiao Wang, Lanzhou, Gansu, China
Apprentice Stage Director
Fernando Parra Bortí, Chihuahua, Mexico