Sunday, July 16, 2017

Steve Jobs, the Man, and Steve Jobs, the Opera

There's been some discussion about The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, the opera, on Twitter over the last couple of days, and about larger issues raised by the work. I was involved in the Twitter exchanges, and so were a bunch of folks I know.

I have to start this blog post with what would be disclaimers in a paid review, but they're not really that in a blog post. First, I work for one of Apple's competitors, Google. Second, I do not in any way speak for Google. Third, I've been a technical writer for 21 years, and anybody who works in high tech has opinions about both Apple and Steve. When I was looking around for a paid review of this piece, I gave some thought to whether these were disqualifying, without exactly reaching any conclusions. Let's just say, for now, that I'm semi-well-informed about Jobs and Apple. I have not seen the competing films about that came out a while back, one of which was partially filmed at the War Memorial Opera House. I have not read Walter Isaacson's giant biography, which was written with at least some cooperation from Jobs.

I have heard several of Mason Bates's pieces live, going back to "Rusty Air in Carolina" at Cabrillo more than ten years ago. He's a good composer, although I find it odd that with all the publicity about ELECTRONICA in his music, usually you can barely hear the electronic contributions in the wash of his orchestration. I do not have quite as high an opinion of him as some critics do, and I scratched my head over the Beethoven & Bates pairing at San Francisco Symphony a few years ago.

So, about Jobs. He was not, in fact, the greatest innovator of all time. Many or most of Apple's major technologies were invented elsewhere. Douglas Engelbart invented the mouse. Xerox PARC invented the graphical user interface. Sony invented the portable music player. Blackberry and Palm invented the smartphone, although I own that you could see the smartphone as an extension of the Newton, Apple's early, failed attempt at a PDA. I also note that Andy Rubin founded Android in 2003, four years before Apple released the iPhone.

Jobs was a brilliant marketer and a genius at recognizing and promoting great design, at least after a certain point. Those early Macs were, in fact, pretty damn ugly, and the GUI was primitive compared to what you can see now on just about any personal computer. By always charging premium prices and never licensing their operating system, Apple missed a chance in the 80s to make major inroads into corporate American, instead remaining the expensive boutique computer. But over time, Jobs began to demand, and get, extraordinary design for Apple products. Even the original iPod is rather a miracle of compact design, and the whole lineup of them got prettier and prettier. The current Mac laptops all look and feel great, and actually so does the iMac I'm writing this on.

One result of this is an extremely loyal fan base, people who will line up for the latest phone or computer coming out of Cupertino. I don't, personally, understand the near-cult around Apple products, but then, I am a value buyer who mostly doesn't want to pay top dollar for products such as cars or computers. That's why I'm driving a 2000 Accord, the fanciest car I've ever wanted. Hey, it will probably run for another five years! That's why I kept my last Windows computer, a Dell, going for nine years. I did replace it with an iMac, but that was for two reasons: by then, I'd switched to a Mac at work, and OS X looked and felt more like Windows XP than then-current versions of Windows did.

Sorry, I know that this probably sounds like a huge insult to a lot of Apple users invested in telling me how the Mac is soooo much more intuitive than Windows. As someone who used both for several years, all I can says is, no, it is not. And I can ask, when did YOU last use a Windows machine? The two OSs have been functionally equivalent for a very long time. It takes a few days to learn keystroke differences, and some time to get used to working with many of the bells and whistles, but the fact is that I've never used all the bells and whistles on a Windows machine or a Mac.

Let's say a bit about Steve Jobs, the man. From all reports, he was something of an asshole! The stories are legion! His treatment of his oldest daughter and her mother; his treatment of many Apple employees; the ways that Apple's extremely secretive internal culture reflected his personality and drive. There are plenty of articles about this and of course the bio.

So the thought of an opera about Steve Jobs automatically makes me a look a little side-eyed at the idea. The cast list didn't help: there are two women in it, his wife Laurene Powell Jobs and Chrisann Brennan, his daughter Lisa's mother. There's also Kobun Chino Otogawa, the Zen monk who married Laurene and Steve Jobs.

It is very hard to look at this cast list and not wonder, or worry, if we're going to get an opera about an asshole saved by the love of a good woman and the counsel of a good (Asian) religious figure. (For the Asian religious figure, let's just that my worry is that the opera might be getting into "magic Negro" territory, which would be bad.) We have seen this story before, or some version of it, in an awful lot of media: films, novels, plays, and I think a few operas too. In this case, it would be a rich, white-presenting asshole being saved by the love, etc. Contra Matthew Shilvock's statement - and yes, I know that as general director of SF Opera he has to say this stuff - this sure doesn't look like an opera for or about everybody. It looks like an opera for Apple / Jobs fans.

I have not, of course, seen the libretto. I don't know whether, or how it will address the influence of Jobs's personality on Apple or his poor treatment of many people in his life and at Apple. I am not a big fan of redemption stories, if that's what this turns out to be.

But my concerns here go way beyond "telling composers what operas to write," because Steve Jobs isn't a fictional character invented for this opera (although, I admit, Richard Nixon in you-know-what is at least partly a fictional character invented for the opera). His actions and life had real impact on the world and the people around him, from family members to employees of Apple. It's reasonable to be concerned or wonder about about how the opera is going to address all this stuff.

And I actually think it's okay to make the general statement that it would really good, and good for opera, if composers had more operas about women who aren't either victims or saviors, more operas with people of color in general, broader concerns; if there were more operas written by women and people of color. If you need only one example of why, compare and contrast the treatment of rape in Marco Tutino's La Ciociara and in Kaija Saariaho's Adriana Mater.

See also:

Friday, July 14, 2017

Want to be on the War Memorial Stage?

SF Opera is holding supernumerary auditions. They are on a Monday night when I am already committed or I'd consider auditioning for Elektra. Guess I will have to see it from the audience side.

Here's the supernumerary rehearsal & performance schedule for the fall.


No experience required – for information or to reserve an audition slot, email: supers@sfopera.com

SAN FRANCISCO (July 14, 2017) — Have you ever dreamed of being on the War Memorial Opera House stage? San Francisco Opera is looking for adult supernumeraries (extras) to appear in the Company’s upcoming Fall 2017 Season. An open audition will be held on Monday, July 31 beginning at 6 p.m. at the War Memorial Opera House. No previous experience is required and there is no fee to audition.

Supernumeraries, also known as supers, act as extras (in costume and make-up) on the stage in non-speaking, non-singing roles. Supers have the unparalleled opportunity to work alongside some of the most acclaimed artists in the world, and help bring San Francisco Opera’s dazzling, large-scale productions to life on the stage of the historic War Memorial Opera House. Supers are volunteers, however an honorarium is provided to those cast in productions. 

Supers will have the opportunity to rehearse and perform in one or more of San Francisco Opera’s fall season operas, including a visceral production of Richard Strauss’Elektra, Jules Massenet’s enchanting Manon, the highly anticipated world premiere of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West, and two repertory favorites, Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot and Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata.

WHAT:  Open audition for adults to appear as supernumeraries (extras) in San Francisco Opera’s 2017 Fall Season. Supers can be any age (adults only), shape or size. No previous experience required. These roles are non-speaking, non-singing and volunteer/unpaid (an honorarium is provided to those cast in a production).

WHEN:  Monday, July 31, 2017 beginning at 6:00 p.m.

WHERE:  War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA, 94102

Interested parties should contact supers@sfopera.com to receive more information and reserve a spot for this exciting opportunity!

La Circe, from Ars Minerva

San Francisco-based opera company Ars Minerva continues its series of 17th c. Venetian operas with a production of Ziani's La Circe in September. Here are the details:

“La Circe” is inspired by the adventures of Circe, the goddess and magician of Greek mythology made famous in Homer’s Odyssey and in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. After Ulysses escapes Circe’s clutches, the outraged enchantress remains on her island with a number of unlucky captives who fall victim to her resentment and manipulations. Dreadful potions, transformations, dancing Graces, Furies and other colorful agents of evil – alongside carnival-esque comic scenes – bring drama featuring laments, rage arias and drinking tunes.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles, the opera will be semi-staged by Céline Ricci and presented on September 8 and 9 at the ODC Theater in San Francisco. It will feature eight singers, an acrobat and an orchestra led by Derek Tam.

Circe - Céline Ricci
Andromaca - Kindra Scharich
Scilla - Aurélie Veruni
Egle - Jasmine Johnson
Glauco - Kyle Stegall
Pirro - Billy Sauerland
Gligorio - Jonathan Smucker
Custode / Tissandro / Creonte - Igor Vieira
Acrobat - Katherine Hutchinson

Conductor / Harpsichord - Derek Tam
Cello - Gretchen Claassen
Theorbo - Adam Cockerham
Violin - Laura Rubinstein-Salzedo
Violin - Nathalie Carducci
Viola - Addi Liu

Production Team
Director - Céline Ricci
Light Designer - Michael Davis
Projections Design - Patricia Nardi
English Translation – Joe McClinton

The ODC Theater
3153 17th Street, San Francisco, California
When: 7:30 p.m. September 8 and 7:30 p.m. September 9
Tickets: $86, $56 or $25 for students

Hunter at Opera Theater Unlimited

Opera Theater Unlimited is the small opera company that put on a thrilling production of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea last year. That production used street clothes, a few chairs, and maybe three additional props, with an orchestra of five. The beautiful singing, terrific playing, and alert direction gave this minimalist production huge impact in the tiny, 80-seat Exit Theater.

This year, the company is presenting a new opera, Hunter, by Joseph M. Colombo to a libretto by Caitlin Mullin. I'm not sure whether I'll be able to get there, but you might be able!

Performances are July 14, 15, 21, and 22, all at 8 p.m. at the EXIT Theater, 156 Eddy St., SF. This is pretty close to Powell St. BART, so you need not try to find parking downtown. Tickets are $15, $25, or $35.

San Francisco Friday Photo

Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
October, 2016

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

More of the Same: SFS in 2017-18

[I obviously started this back in March and never finished it. Here goes.]

San Francisco Symphony's 2017-18 season announcement came out today, and what can one say beyond headtable?

As I predicted, there's lots of Lenny.

It's white men all the way down, most of them dead, with the exception of one (1) work by Kaija Saariaho (Lanterna Magica), which just happens to be on the one (1) program conducted by a woman, Susanna Mälkki, and one (1) work by a composer with a Chinese name, which just happens to be on the program of the China National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra.

There are some living white guys in the new music category: Penderecki, Poznanski (coming with the Israel Philharmonic/Mehta), Salonen (on PH-C's program), Meyer (with St. Martin in the Fields), Wuorinen (that's a surprise, really), Norman (on Valcuha's program), Connesson (on Dèneve's program), and Dean (on Robertson's program). The thing is, these new works are all curtain-raisers, which you can tell because they're mostly the first work on programs with two big pieces.

Also, living male film music composers including Williams and Elfman.

There are plenty of concerts I'd like to see, such as Urbanski's program with the wonderful Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra, MTT's with Bartok 2nd piano concerto (Denk) and the Symphonie fantastique, not the mention Boris Godunov in concert and the two Ives symphonies. There's some Sibelius, too, and I almost never mind hearing his music. (Although - why not Nielsen?) And some Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

When I started this post in March, the LA Phil had just announced its genuinely astounding season, and SFS seemed just plain dreary and more of the same. With a little distance, it's much better than I'd thought; I was genuinely surprised at how many concerts I checked off as must-see or nice-to-see. Still, we are in the shadow of the orchestra to the south.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Voices Are Different

Ellie Dehn
Photo: Victoria Janashvili
Courtesy of San Francisco Opera

From San Francisco Opera comes news of a cast change, for the fall's Manon:
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (July 10, 2017) — San Francisco Opera today announced a cast change for Jules Massenet’s Manon, opening November 4 and running for six performances through November 22, 2017. American soprano Ellie Dehn will essay her role debut as Manon, one of the most enticing heroines of the French repertory, replacing Nadine Sierra who has withdrawn. Sierra said her decision to leave the production was “an extremely difficult one to make, but after considerable deliberation I realized the role was simply too heavy at this point in my vocal development.”
Ellie Dehn thrilled San Francisco Opera audiences earlier this summer as Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème in what the San Francisco Chronicle called a “sumptuous, sparkling turn as the sexually irresistible Musetta—her Act 2 rendition of the showpiece ‘Quando me’n vo’ was as joyous and witty as ever.” She joins a Manon cast, which also features star tenor Michael Fabiano in his highly anticipated role debut as Chevalier des Grieux, that returns this Belle Epoque gem to the Company’s repertory after a 19-year absence in a new production directed by Vincent Boussard and conducted by Massenet specialist Patrick Fournillier. Dehn is excited to add Manon to her repertory and has already made plans to visit Paris and the Church of Saint-Sulpice as part of her preparation. She said, "It's an honor to take on Manon for the wonderful audiences in San Francisco. I look forward to bringing this iconic role to life next season."
I hadn't thought of Manon as a heavy role relative to those Sierra has already sung (Nozze Countess, Lucia, upcoming Musetta), but I also see from her schedule that her next Nozze appearance is as Susanna, which is the role I would think a natural for her. Whatever; she and her teachers know her voice best and this kind of decision is up to them.

This cast change cheers me up, too! I liked Sierra a lot as Papagena, and thought her good, not great, as Lucia. But Ellie Dehn has been the high point of two of the three productions I've seen her in: a witty and scene-stealing Musetta, twice, and a smartly sung Micaela in Carmen. So I'm happy to see her get center stage as Manon.

Scene from Manon
Photo: Martynas Aleksa/Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre
Courtesy of San Francisco Opera

Return of the King

Received from the Met; notes in square brackets by me:
James Levine will conduct the Met’s new production of Puccini’s Tosca next season, replacing Andris Nelsons, who has withdrawn. [Possibly predictable after Kristine Opalais, his wife, left the production.]
Mr. Levine, who now holds the title of Music Director Emeritus, has a long history of conducting Tosca at the Met, including his very first Met performance in June 1971, when he led a cast of Grace Bumbry as Tosca and Franco Corelli as Cavaradossi. He conducted performances of Tosca with Bumbry, Plácido Domingo, and Tito Gobbi in the Met’s 1971-72 season, and more recently, Levine conducted the premiere of Luc Bondy's staging of the opera in September 2009, which the new production will replace.
In addition to leading the new David McVicar production of Tosca, Levine will conduct performances of Die Zauberflöte, Il Trovatore, Luisa Miller, and Verdi’s Requiem during the upcoming 2017-18 Met season.
The new staging of Tosca opens on December 31, starring Sonya Yoncheva as Tosca, Vittorio Grigolo as Cavaradossi, and Bryn Terfel as Scarpia. TheJanuary 27 matinee will be transmitted live as part of the Met’s Live in HD series, which reaches more than 2,000 movie theaters in 73 countries around the world. For further information, including casting by date, please visit www.metopera.org. [Sir Bryn is the only original major-cast member left: Jonas Kaufmann was replaced because he couldn't commit to the rehearsal period and full run; Opalais...withdrew....Nelsons withdrew.]

Friday, July 07, 2017

Cahill / Harrison

Pianist Sarah Cahill is on a continuing her Lou Harrison Centennial tour. Here's concert info, and for Bay Area residents, note the wealth of local programs, starting tonight and continuing through January, 2018:

Old First Concerts
Friday, July 7, 2017 at 8pm
Old First Church | 1751 Sacramento St. | San Francisco, CA
Information: www.oldfirstconcerts.org/product/cahill_july17

Stenberg/Cahill/Winant Trio at Mendocino Music Festival
Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 2:30pm
Preston Hall | 44867 Main Street | Mendocino, CA
Information: www.mendocinomusic.org

Flower Piano at San Francisco Botanical Garden
July 22, 2017 at 2pm in the Exhibition Garden
San Francisco Botanical Garden | Golden Gate Park | Ninth Ave. at Lincoln Way
Information: www.sfbotanicalgarden.org/flowerpiano  

Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Piano with Javanese Gamelan at MIT Sounding
October 12, 2017
ICA Boston | 25 Harbor Shore Drive | Boston, MA
Information: arts.mit.edu/events-visit/sound-series   

Lou Harrison’s Piano Concerto at San Jose State University
October 17, 2017
San Jose State University | Music Concert Hall | San Jose, CA
Information: www.sjsu.edu/music/current_students/degree_plans/ensembles/orchestra/

Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Piano with Javanese Gamelan at Cleveland Museum of Art
October 20, 2017
Cleveland Museum of Art | 11150 East Blvd. | Cleveland, OH
Information: www.clevelandart.org

Lou Harrison Centennial in Fukuoda
November 30, 2017
Fukuoka Arena Hall | 1-1-1 Tenjin, Chuo-ku | Fukuoka City

The New Music Conflagration
December 10, 2017
The St. Petersburg Main Library | 3745 9th Ave. North | St. Petersburg, FL
Information: www.thenewmusicconflagration.org

Ensemble New SRQ
December 11, 2017
First Congregational Church | 1031 South Euclid Avenue | Sarasota, FL
Information: www.ensemblenewsrq.org

Accidental Music Festival
December 14, 2017
The Timucua Arts White House | 2000 South Summerlin | Orlando, FL
Information: www.accidentalmusicfestival.com

San Francisco Performances PIVOT Series
January 24, 2018
A.C.T.’s Strand Theater | 1127 Market Street | San Francisco, CA
Information: www.sfperformances.org/performances/1718/Pivot.html

New Music Miami
March 28, 2018
CARTA Miami Beach Urban Studios | 420 Lincoln Road | Miami Beach, FL
Information: www.newmusicmiami.org