Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682)
Richard D'Oyly Carte (1844-1901)
Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Bing Crosby (1903-1977)
Sir William Glock (1908-2000)
Léopold Simoneau (1916-2006)
Pete Seeger (1919-2014)
James Brown (1933-2006)
Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012)

and

Niccol Machiavelli (1469-1527)
Jacob Riis (1849-1914)
May Sarton (1912-1995)
William Inge (1913-1973)
Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)

From the New Music Box:
On May 3, 1943, William Schumann received the very first Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Secular Cantata No. 2 - A Free Song, a work published by G. Schirmer and premiered by the Harvard Glee Club, the Radcliffe Choral Society, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky on March 26, 1943. (Despite this accolade, to date, there has never been a commercial recording of this composition.)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Mattaliano talks about Portland Opera's move to a summer season and the upcoming operas

Starting at the end of this week with performances of "The Magic Flute," Portland Opera is opening its season in the late spring and will finish in the first week of August. This is the first time that the company has tried to shift all of its productions to the months when sunshine can dominate the weather forecast. In order to know why Portland Opera has decided to make this big change, I visited the General Director, Christopher Mattaliano, who is in his 12th year at the helm of the company. Our conversion took place at his office at the Hampton Opera Center.

What’s going on with the move of the opera season to an all summer schedule?

Mattaliano: We did an analysis of a switch to late spring and summer and saw it as an opportunity to increase revenue by bringing more Broadway Series performances to the Keller through the fall, winter, and early spring. We get a lot of requests to use this building, Hampton Opera Center, which we own. We get requests to rent it for meetings and for rehearsal space because we have two huge studios downstairs.

We spent two or three years talking about these matters and did a lot of analysis and some strategic planning. There was the element of okay if we condense our season and move it to the summer months, what opportunities in terms of additional revenue will come as a result.

It seems that the Keller is constantly booked with musicals.

Mattaliano: We’ve always had a locked hold at the Keller for the Broadway Series, which is ours. The expansion of the Broadway Series has evolved into more dates and shows.

St. Louis Opera takes place during the summer. Are you trying to imitate them?

Mattaliano: We have some excellent examples of summer opera companies: St. Louis, Santa Fe, Glimmerglass, Cincinnati, Central City. We can learn how they market themselves, what their unique challenges are, what are their strengths and weaknesses. We did a fair amount of analyzing and confirm with our sister companies around the country.

We celebrated our 50th anniversary last year. But 12 opera companies have closed in the past 5 years, which included New York City Opera and Baltimore Opera. San Diego Opera went to the brink and then came back as an entirely different company. Opera Pacific, which was located in Orange County – one of the wealthiest county in the country - went belly up in 2008.

Portland Opera is a very stable company with a significant endowment. We own our building outright, we own the parking lot across the street, and we have significant rental income. We have a strong subscription base, but like all of the other companies, we took a hit when the economy tanked during the Great Recession. With the board, we started dreaming about the next five to ten years of this company. We also discussed how we can avoid making the mistakes that have gotten other companies into financial trouble. The biggest thing we saw was that the companies that got into financial trouble were the ones that refused to adjust to the change in audience behavior. Audience behavior has shifted dramatically in the past decade.

Michael Kaiser has written a lot about the state of the arts and the challenges we are facing. His latest book is called “Curtains?” and the key argument he makes is any opera, orchestra, theater company is competing with every opera, orchestra, theater company that is online. Why should I go should I go see Portland Opera’s production of “La boheme” and pay 50 to 150 dollars for a good seat when I can at home on my spectacular state of the art home theater system download performances from La Scala, Covent Garden, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Bolshoi, the Met for a few dollars and watch it when I want to in my pajamas with a glass of wine. So Kaiser says that unless you as an opera company start a real presence online, you are going to be obsolete within 30 years.

Kaiser explains how we are on our third generation of children who have not had an arts education. So more and more kids are growing up with no choir, band, jazz ensemble, in the schools. The entire gateway for these kids to the world is through their gadgets. He says that we now have kids who don’t even know what live arts are.

So in Portland Opera's planning sessions,we talked a lot about the future and audience behavior that has changed dramatically. People are nervous about what they do with their disposable income. The internet has provided so many more options for people’s entertainment – and they can get it when they want it.

But Portland Opera doesn't have the budget to stream productions online?

Mattaliano: That's correct. But I feel that we as human beings need to congregate and experience something live together as a community – whether we go to church together, or a piano recital, or opera. I think that the live experience is still far more satisfying than seeing a great performance on a DVD.

So we felt that if we are going to change, we will change big. That means that there will be some risk included. It seemed that the majority of opera companies that got into trouble refused to think about changing what they program and how they program. And if there was a financial gap, then they would go back to Mrs. Smith and ask for that additional 25 thousand dollars. And that was getting companies into trouble – relying on a very small pool of donors.

We looked at summer opera companies and found that they were the most consistently stable through the second economic downturn and there is little happening here in Portland during the summer in terms of classical music. There is Chamber Music Northwest, which is very successful, but that’s the major player. Other opera companies said to us, you own the landscape. It became more and more difficult for us to get our message across in the fall because that’s when everything starts happening. We feel that the city has become such a destination in recent years and the weather is so magnificent in the summer. We thought that a switch to the summer would be a chance to expand our audience and build packages for the weekend where people can see two operas. We will do that this year with ”Eugene Onegin” and “The Italian Girl in Algiers.”

You started shifting last year with "The Elixir of Love," which you did in the summer last year.

Mattaliano: And that went really well. But over the past couple of years, I’ve learned that change is tough. Regardless of whether it makes sense or not, people are resistant to change. So we have a lot of people sitting on the fence wondering what the hell Portland Opera is doing. It takes about three years for people to figure out what we are doing. People have to experience our productions during the summer to find out what it’s like.

With "Eugene Onegin" and "The Italian Girl in Algiers" you are doing more performances – seven for each.

Mattaliano:That gives people who have subscribed at the Keller a few more options for their seats.

The Keller has had problems for us, because it so huge with 3,200 seats. The Newmark has problems with the second balcony which is very steep and the orchestra pit is tiny. So we will try to focus on popular operas and musicals at the Keller and we have can use the Newmark to stretch ourselves artistically and take more risks. "Onegin" and "The Italian Girl" are not all that risky, but things will change next year – which I can’t tell you more about at this moment.

For the orchestra pit in the Newmark, what are you doing for "Onegin?"

Mattaliano: We are using a reduced orchestration which was done in England a few years ago and brought to Lincoln Center. I don’t know if you remember the Peter Brook “Carmen,” which did the opera in 90 minutes, but the orchestration in that production used 15 musicians and they got rid of the chorus numbers and he really focused on following the story that was in the Merimee novella. So this is a similar idea with Onegin that essentially the Pushkin story is an intimate piece that can be done with a chamber orchestra and without the big chorus scenes. We are setting it during the Gorbachev era, so it is the Russia of the 1980s. Kevin Newberry who directed our “Galileo” a few years ago returns to direct "Onegin."

For the Italian Girl in Algiers we are bringing in Christian Rath for the first time. I was blown away by his work in Verdi’s “King for a Day” at Glimmerglass a few years ago.

And you are directing Magic Flute

Mattaliano: I was the original assistant director of "The Magic Flute" that used the Sendak designs back in 1980 at Houston Grand Opera. I was the assistant to Frank Corsaro, who was my teacher and mentor. He got an offer from Houston Grand to do a new "Magic Flute." He loved reading Sendak’s book to his kid, and he got the idea of using Sendak’s ideas of light and dark and disturbing things but they are very joyful and playful at the same time. Corsaro saw this as a key into the world of "The Magic Flute." He contacted Sendak, who is a opera lover and a Mozart fanatic, and then convinced David Gockley who was the general director of Houston Grand, to do the opera with Sendak’s designs for scenery and costumes, even though Sendak had never designed for an opera before. That was an enormously successful production that was staged all over the country. I directed several of the revivals. But the sets were stored in Florida and destroyed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Because of very generous grants from Maurice Sendak Foundation, the Carol Franc Buck Foundation and form the Schnitzer CARE Foundation, we salvaged the costumes and purchased them, and we are having the sets totally rebuilt and repainted. So we are reviving that production.

Are you redoing the sets from old photographs?

Mattaliano: We are fortunate that the fellow, who did the original scenery paintings based on Sendak’s drawings, is still alive. His name is Neil Peter Jampolis, and he is the painter that Sendak chose when the Houston Grand Opera production was done. So Jampolis is taking the images and translating them into 3-dimensional designs and painting them to the full scale. This is a production that is very near and dear to my heart, and I have a personal connection with it. Portland Opera now owns it, and we think that it will provide us a lot of rental income in the years to come.

What kind of staging will be used for Sweeney Todd?

Mattaliano: I’m glad that you asked. When New York City Opera folded , we purchased this production from them. It’s essentially the original Broadway production. Hal Prince moved from theater to opera and adapted his original Broadway staging and scenery to the New York State Theater. We hired Albert Sherman,who was Hal Prince's assistant to help recreate the staging.

So this season, Portland Opera will be creating new productions for the Newmark Theater – that’s "The Italian Girl in Algiers" and "Eugene Onegin" – and using productions that we own – for "The Magic Flute" and "Sweeney Todd."

That's a huge undertaking. Break a leg!

Mattaliano: Thanks!

Today's Birthdays

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)
Jean‑Baptiste Barrière (1707-1747)
Lorenz Hart (1894-1943)
Alan Rawstorned (1905-1971)
Jean‑Marie Auberson (1920-2004)
Arnold Black (1923-2000)
Philippe Herreweghe (1947)
Valery Gergiev (1953)
Elliot Goldenthal (1954)

and

Jerome K Jerome (1859-1927)
Dr. Benjamin Spock (1904-1998)

From the New Music Box:
On May 2, 1984, Sunday in the Park With George, a musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine starring Many Patinkin as the painter Georges Seurat and Bernadette Peters as his mistress Dot, opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre. The work was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama the following year.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Sophia Dussek (1775-1831)
Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960)
Leo Sowerby (1895-1968)
Walter Susskind (1913-1980)
Gary Bertini (1927-2005)
Judy Collins (1939)

and

Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)
Joseph Heller (1923-1999)
Bobbie Ann Mason (1940)

And from The Writer's Almanac:
It was on this day in 1786 that Mozart's first great opera, The Marriage of Figaro, premiered in Vienna. It was based on a French play, and it tells the story of a single day in the palace of Count Almaviva. The count spends the day attempting to seduce Susanna, the young fiancée of the court valet, Figaro. Susanna and the Countess conspire to embarrass the count and expose his infidelity.

Lorenzo da Da Ponte wrote the libretto in six weeks and Mozart was paid 450 florins for his work, a comfortable sum at the time. He directed the first performance himself, seated at the keyboard. He had his detractors in Vienna, some of whom padded the theater with hecklers. They were no match for Mozart’s composition, though, and the performance inspired so many encores that Habsburg Emperor Joseph II was forced to issue a decree “to prevent the excessive durations of operas, without however prejudicing the fame often ought by opera singers.”

It was a light-hearted, comic opera, but the musicians and singers could hardly believe the quality of the music. One singer, an Irish tenor named Michael Kelly, later wrote: "I can still see Mozart, dressed in his red fur hat trimmed with gold, standing on the stage with the orchestra at the first rehearsal, beating time for the music. ... The players on the stage and in the orchestra were electrified. ... Had Mozart written nothing but this piece of music it alone would ... have stamped him as the greatest master of his art."

Johannes Brahms said, “In my opinion, each number of Figaro is a miracle; it is totally beyond me how anyone could create anything so perfect; nothing like it was ever done again, not even by Beethoven.”

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Oregon composers to travel to Cuba in musical exchange

Yesterday evening, during intermission of the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra concert, I ran in to composer David Bernstein, who is the founding president of Cascadia Composers. He told me that a group of eight members of Cascadia Composers will be traveling to Cuba in November to have their music presented there. Then in the following year, several Cuban composers will come to Portland to have their music presented here. How cool is that! To learn more and to help contribute to the effort to underwrite this unique exchange of composers, click on this Cuba Initiative gofundme site.

Today's Birthdays

Franz Lehár (1870-1948)
Louise Homer (1871-1947)
Frank Merrick (1886-1981)
Robert Shaw (1916-1999)
Günter Raphael (1903-1960)
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (1939)
Garcia Navarro (1940-2002)
Vladimir Tarnopolsky (1955)

and

Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967)
John Crowe Ransom (1888-1974)
Winfield Townley Scott (1910-1968)
Annie Dillard (1945)
Josip Novakovich (1955)

And from the New Music Box:

On April 30, 1932, the very first Yaddo Festival of Contemporary Music began in Saratoga Springs, NY. Works programmed that year included Aaron Copland's Piano Variations as well as piano works by Roger Sessions, Henry Brant, Vivian Fine and Roy Harris, songs by Charles Ives and Paul Bowles, string quartets by Marc Blitzstein and Louis Gruenberg, and a suite for unaccompanied flute by Wallingford Riegger.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Oregon Symphony's Russian program satisfies...ultimately.

Simone Lamsma
The Oregon Symphony played the final night of a Russian-heavy program at the Schnitz Monday evening, featuring Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1 in F minor  and Tchaikovsky's Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, featuring Dutch player Simone Lamsma as soloist.

The folks who were parking during the "parking overture" didn't miss much, unfortunately. Danish composer Carl Nielsen's Helios Overture was flat from the start, literally and emotionally. A sour start and continued pitch issues from the horns muddied what should have been a quivering, bracing opening, and the orchestra followed suit with an underwhelming delivery. Surprising, frankly, because this is the sort of thing at which the OSO usually excels.

Immediately following was the Shostakovich. This piece felt like it took a minute or two to get going, but because of its length it could afford an unfortunate if understandable 'warm-up' phase. With so many rapid-fire entrances and exits from so many sections, the orchestra had to be right on cue--constant attention to the conductor was key. They achieved this, and there were tasty treats from many sections and players, including second chair first violin...a solo executed with just the right blend of gusto and restraint.  The second movement featured brilliant switching between the principal themes as they were bandied about between the sections.

The opening of the Lento third movement featured an oboe solo floating gently like a bird soaring over a hushed sea of strings--lush and full bodied, the strings perfectly captured the mysterious spirit of the movement. The final movement closed in raging moments of brutal exclamations from the brass and percussion. Such rapidly and radically shifting moods throughout the piece required a steady and able hand, and resident conductor Paul Ghun Kim ably guided them through the treacherous course.

The second half consisted of the violin concerto, and Lamsma had the audience hooked right from the start. She opened with a fine, broad cantabile, featuring a rich lower range. Her technical brilliance was unmistakable from the start--she executed difficult chordal and scalar passages with exciting thoroughness and clarity. Her lengthy, spritely cadenza was intensely interesting, featuring daring harmonics and glissandi.

During the Finale: Allegro vivacissimo she played with a rapidfire saltando that seemed at times to throw down a friendly challenge to the orchestra: just try and keep up! My tongue is planted firmly in cheek when I say she was having far to much fun for a soloist in such a serious work.


Today's Birthdays

Thomas Beecham (1879-1961)
Wallingford Riegger (1885-1961)
Sir Malcom Sargent (1895-1967)
Edward "Duke" Ellington (1899-1974)
Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014)
Willie Nelson (1933)
Klaus Voormann (1938)
Leslie Howard (1948)
Eero Hämeenniemi (1951)
Gino Quilico (1955)

and

Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933)
William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951)
Robert Gottlieb (1931)
Yusef Komunyakaa (1947)

From the New Music Box:
On April 29, 1969, Duke Ellington was invited to the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom on his 70th birthday. At the event, U.S. President Richard Nixon played "Happy Birthday" on the piano accompanied by the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Paul Sacher (1906-1999)
Margaret Vardell Sandresky (1921)
Zubin Mehta (1936)
Jeffrey Tate (1943)
Nicola LeFanu (1947)
Elise Ross (1947)
Michael Daugherty (1954)

and

James Monroe (1758-1831)
Karl Kraus (1874-1936)
Robert Anderson (1917-2009)
Harper Lee (1926-2016)
Carolyn Forché (1950)

From the New Music Box:
On April 28, 2003, Apple Computer launched its iTunes Music Store and sold 1 million songs in its first week.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

PSU Opera camps it up with frothy fun-filled Fledermaus

Infectious energy combined with outstanding singing and acting to make the opening night performance (April 22nd) of “Die Fledermaus” by Portland State University Opera a veritable hit. The singing was uniformly outstanding (alles auf Englisch) and the acting had a natural and spontaneous quality that generated buckets of laughter from the audience at Lincoln Performance Hall. Director Brenda Nuckton deserved high praise for encouraging the principals to embrace the full silliness of the story without compromising any musicality. Ken Selden led a spry and spirited orchestra, which supported the entire enterprise with a generous layer of schmaltz.

Set in fin de siècle Vienna, “Die Fledermaus” is a farce in which a high-class gentleman (Dr. Falke) gets revenge on his old buddy Gabriel von Eisenstein by playing on his vanity. Falke also applies the same idea on Eisenstein’s wife, Rosalinde, their maid Adele, and the prison warden Frank, tricking them into assuming different identities at a ball hosted by the incredibly wealthy Prince Orlofsky. Among the many hilarious moments, the best of all involves Herr Eisenstein trying to seduce an Hungarian countess, who is actually his wife in disguise. The masks finally come off at the jailhouse where identities are revealed, and everyone laughs it off by blaming the champagne.

Saori Erickson charmed everyone as Rosalinde, singing superbly throughout the evening. But she also showed excellent acting chops: melting into the arms of her old flame Alfred one moment, banishing him from the house in the next, and then fanning the skirt of her dress as wide as possible to hide him from her husband. Darian Hutchinson’s Gabriel von Eisenstein was full of bluster and amiable conceit, blundering without hesitation into Dr. Falke’s elaborate plot.

As Dr. Falke, Justin Birchell conveyed the figure of a masterminded who knew how to mix fun with gravitas. Hannah Consenz sparkled in the role of Adele, generating tons of laughs while executing all of the difficult vocal gymnastics with ease.

Ethan Reviere’s Alfred pursued Rosalinde with ringing high notes, a carefree bravado, and preening charm. Grace Skinner cut a dashing Orlofsky, the Russian prince, but her demeanor was more bemused than bored; so it wasn’t a big deal when Orlofsky finally did laugh.

Adam Ramaley created a wonderfully likeable Frank, hamming things up delightfully when he returned to the prison in a disheveled state. Jonathan Green defended himself with moral rectitude as Dr. Blind, the lawyer, and Savannah Panah backup of Adele as her loyal sister Ida. Scott Parker made the most of his role as the drunk and loveable jailer, Frosch (which, btw, means Frog auf Deutsche). In his commentary on singing of imprisoned tenor Alfred, he said “You think that’s bad. You should’ve heard him when I was sober.”

The chorus, expertly prepared by Ben España, sang with gusto, and they deftly exchanged partners while singing during the dance that was choreographed by Alexandrous Ballard.

Artistic director Christine Meadows deserved high praise for finding just the right opera for these students. She also found an exceptional English adaptation that was written by Quade Winter. All of the singers got spoken lines that included a terrific zinger or two, such as when Alfred proclaimed “It’s too late for scruples,” while dining with Rosalinde. And Rosalinde, fuming at her husband philandering intentions, said that she would “qualify him for the Vienna Boys Choir.” The audience responded with lots of laughter and a standing ovation at the end of the performance.

Finally, it should be noted that this review only covers one cast of principals. The PSU Opera program is strong enough to field a second cast, and I have the feeling that they are as remarkably trained as the one I heard.

Today's Birthdays

Johann Adam Reinken (1623-1722
Friedrich von Flotow (1812-1883)
Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Nicolas Slonimsky (1894-1995)
Guido Cantelli (1920-1956)
Igor Oistrakh (1931)
Hamish Milne (1939)
Jon Deak (1943)
Christian Zacharias (1950)

and

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
Samuel Morse (1791-1872)
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)
Ludwig Bemelmans(1898-1962)
C(ecil) Day Lewis (1904-1972)
August Wilson (1945-2005)

And from the Writer's Almanac:
On this day in 1667, the poet John Milton (books by this author) sold the copyright for his masterpiece, Paradise Lost, for 10 pounds. Milton had championed the cause of Oliver Cromwell and the Parliament over the king during the English Civil War, and published a series of radical pamphlets in support of such things as Puritanism, freedom of the press, divorce on the basis of incompatibility, and the execution of King Charles I. With the overthrow of the monarchy and the creation of the Commonwealth, Milton was named Secretary of Foreign Tongues, and though he eventually lost his eyesight, he was able to carry out his duties with the help of aides like fellow poet Andrew Marvell.

When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Milton was imprisoned as a traitor and stripped of his property. He was soon released, but was now impoverished as well as completely blind, and he spent the rest of his life secluded in a cottage in Buckinghamshire. This is where he dictated Paradise Lost — an epic poem about the Fall of Man, with Satan as a kind of antihero — and its sequel, Paradise Regained, about the temptation of Christ.