Friday, April 18, 2014

Guest Announcement: The Fight for the San Diego Opera Continues

San Diego Opera Names Carol Lazier as Acting Board President
Board President Karen Cohn Resigns With 12 other Board Members
Company Closure date has been Deferred to May 19, 2014
During this time Company Will Solicit Donors to Fund Budget Proposed By Opera America
Meeting of the Members of the San Diego Opera Association to be Announced Shortly
SAN DIEGO – San Diego Opera announces Carol Lazier, the former Secretary of the Board, is now the acting President after President Karen Cohn resigned along with 12 other Directors in a board meeting that lasted over four hours.
At a duly convened meeting on April 17, 2014, by vote of the Directors constituting a majority of the required quorum for such meeting, the San Diego Opera Association deferred its previously announced April 29th date for closure of operations to at least May 19, 2014 to permit the reconstituted Board and the Special Committee led by Carol Lazier to explore opportunities to continue the Opera Association's mission.  A copy of the Resolution is attached. 
 Carol Lazier recently offered $1M to help the Company and Board members research and define ways to redirect the Company with new fundraising models, a new repertoire and production techniques, and new cost saving measures. 
“We have a devoted staff, an energized Association and a board newly focused on finding novel and fiscally responsible ways to present great opera to the City of San Diego.  I have been deeply encouraged by the outpouring of public support, and the genuine and enthusiastic participation by the San Diego Symphony, Opera America, and the opera world.  Together we can recreate San Diego Opera’s future.”
The Company, under her leadership, will now explore donor and fundraising options to prepare a 2015 season, the Company’s 50th, with advice from Opera America and outside experts.
A meeting of the Opera Association Members is being planned and details of that meeting will be announced shortly.
The Company, led by Ian Campbell, announced its closure last month which was originally scheduled to occur on April 14, 2014 after its final sold-out performance of Don Quixote. A vote by the board on March 31 delayed that closure by two-weeks until April 29, 2014. A vote yesterday extended this date to May 19, 2014.
Inquiries about the Resolution should be directed to Bruce S. Ross of Holland & Knight,, 213 896-2400. 
Inquiries for the press release should be directed to Edward Wilensky at San Diego Opera,, 619-232-7636

Friday, April 11, 2014

Don Quichotte (Don Quixote) at the San Diego Opera (8 Apr 2014)

My friend M and I went to San Diego Opera at the Civic Theater on Tuesday night to see a performance of Jules Massenet's Don Quichotte (Don Quixote), and were quite thrilled to see the place completely packed. There was hardly any seat left open even up on the balcony.

The staging is the same from the 2009 run and the title role is still spectacularly sung and acted by Italian basso Ferrucio Furlanetto, who brings just the sort of gravitas the character needs to draw sympathy rather than exasperation from the audience. If you can pick one artist to carry the show and make people want the opera company to survive the current abysmal mess that it is in, Furlanetto would be it. He is so at home with this role that he plays with it now rather than just coping.

Anke Vondung is quite a different Dulcinea than Denise Graves was in 2009. Not as much presence, perhaps, but quite fresher and more lyrical voice (at times a bit too 'lyrical' in the huge hall that is the Civic Theater, as she was easily overpowered by the orchestra). Eduardo Chama is a crowd pleaser as Sancho Panza and got the most (complimentary) whistles at the curtain call for keeping the show fun even to its tragic ending. I should say... I don't know why Simeon Esper is still singing a minor role like Juan. The dude has got a gorgeous voice (and quite a good look to boot)!

The chorus was a bit out of sync at the start but gelled up nicely thereafter.

I'm afraid I'm being a bit boring writing this up... It wasn't a care-free night at the opera like it used to be. People were taking photos and videos before and after the curtain and making jokes about how this could be the last opera they'd get to attend here in "America's Finest City"... and I got a bit depressed and also a bit conflicted about it. I'd like the opera to survive, of course, and for the many people I admire in the organization to get to keep their job. At the same time, I wouldn't like for it to survive with Ian and Ann Campbells heading it (and a real opera board shake up would be nice, too, starting with Karen Cohn, whose histrionics in print has really poisoned the pool of anyone that cares even a little bit about the San Diego Opera).

Typical staging at the SDO; traditional with period costume. This is from Tosca a few years back.
Mr Campbell had done a lot for the company, but his vision for it hasn't been jiving with what the popular audience wants for some time now. It's odd to read how him and Ms Cohn keep saying that 'grand opera' is the what people here wants, and yet at the same time they are both claiming that the chief reason for their attempt to shut down operation is 'declining audience attendance'. First off, the only works that could be confused with a 'grand opera' the SDO has staged since 2006 are Bizet's Carmen and Verdi' Aida. So, I suspect that when they say 'grand opera' here, what they really mean is ultra-traditional staging of staple opera as if they are museum pieces rather than living arts.

Just about the only minimalist staging of an opera at the SDO. Salome.
I know that I, for one, haven't been going to the opera much the last couple of years because the 'traditional staging all the time' thingy got pretty stuffy for me. The most entertaining show I had gone to there in recent years was Strauss' Salome... and that was due to the minimalist clutter-free staging as much as the stellar performance of the cast. And I was always dreaming of getting to, one day, see a low-coast minimalist conceptual Regietheater production like they do in Central Europe that makes people think about the story being told from the stage. A story that they can relate to despite of the opera's original setting. But there was no hope of that ever happening here while the likes of Mr Campbell and Ms Cohn are in charge. They want their 'grand opera' (bad use of the term notwithstanding) and they fault the audience for not liking their taste enough to pay to come to performances. For all they have done for the opera, the sudden manipulation of the opera board to force a shut down just because they couldn't make it work to their liking is selfish beyond belief, especially considering all the hard working loyal company staff and associated musicians who will soon be out of a job if the rest of the opera board can't come up with a way of saving the company.

And so, their dark cloud hang over the opera house and weighed down even Tuesday's good performance of Don Quixote... which I'll cite as the excuse for my lackluster not-much-of-a-review 'review'.. with apologies to the artists, who showed way more spunk than I do even though they are even more affected by this whole stinky thing!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Guest Announcement: Hausmann Quartet at SDSU Smith Recital Hall: April 8th, 2014.

'SDSU Artists in Residence Hausmann Quartet present Converge - Comedy & Dialogue: A dynamic interactive concert combining chamber music, comedy, and scholarly thought.

(San Diego, CA) – The Hausmann Quartet presents Converge, an inspiring and collaborative chamber concert series celebrating the intersection of music, art, literature and scholarly thought, on Tues., April 8 at 7:00 p.m. in Smith Recital Hall on the SDSU Campus. Converge is open to the public and is free of charge.

April’s Converge theme, Comedy and Dialogue, explores the engaging, communicative, playful and sometimes humorous qualities of musical dialogue in chamber music, and its parallels with improvisational acting. String quartet repertoire from Haydn, Bach and Kurtag, set against a comedic backdrop provided by special guests from SDSU’s School of Theatre, Television and Film and the improve comedy group lota Eta Pi, will encourage an evening of fun and surprises.

"As musicians we spend many of the most meaningful moments of our lives on stage, yet it can be easy to forget how much we have in common with the actors, comedians and artists who inhabit these same spaces” explains Alex Greenbaum, Hausmann Quartet cellist. “We are all stage performers, and we relish this opportunity to collaborate with our University colleagues from the world of comedy and drama."

Converge is presented by the acclaimed Hausmann Quartet, Isaac Allen, Guillaume Pirard, Angela Choong and Alex Greenbaum, Artists in Residence at San Diego State University.

More information, a map and downloadable directions and parking options can be found on the SDSU School of Music and Dance website at

Monday, March 24, 2014

Save the San Diego Opera (or at least make it do a proper operatic death scene before it goes)!

I'm embarrassingly not very 'on the ball' when it comes to covering the San Diego classical music & opera scene these days. By now many opera enthusiasts will have heard of and are profoundly surprised by the impending demise of the San Diego Opera, I think. The opera board voted to shut down the company at the end of this season, as Ian Campbell, the SDO's impresario put it, "we saw we faced an insurmountable financial hurdle going forward. -- We had a choice of winding down with dignity and grace, making every effort to fulfill our financial obligations, or inevitably entering bankruptcy, as have several other opera companies."

Madama Butterfly goes out in spurts of blood and chills....
It all seem very calm and rational and all that... but darn it, I'm an opera fan and this was way too calm for me for so final a matter. San Diego's only proper opera company quietly going out of business while so many fans and artists thought the company has been rebounding so well. Four full opera productions this year plus an all A-listers cast for the Verdi Requiem. Quite a far cry from the drastically reduced seasons since the 2008 recession! Honestly, if the company is going to give up the ghost, I say it should do a full operatic death scene with proper amount of wailing and trashing and milking of the high notes - a full opera-queens-worthy bloody pandemonium to make sure every citizen of this culture-starved city knows of its pending doom - before dropping the curtain and burning down the house (or something like that). At least then we audience members would know to try to do something to help...
Even Don Quixote does a proper operatic wailing before his demise...
So, if you're with me, please consider signing this petition to save the San Diego Opera (the least we opera queens can do is at least to try to make a scene, I guess). Better yet, buy a ticket and attend one or more of the upcoming Don Quixote or make a donation. A city of more than 1.3 million, and we can't support one proper opera house??? What is San Diego coming to!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Guest post: Vesselina Kasarova in Samson et Dalila in Cologne (Köln) 2014

My fellow opera enthusiast friend John Carnegie traveled to Cologne to see Vesselina Kasarova in Saint Saens' Samson et Dalila earlier this week and kindly agreed to share his impression in this guest blog post below. Thank you, John!

Samson et Dalila at the Oper Köln – 19th March 2014
(2nd performance of the current revival of the 2009 production)

The performance did not take place in the Opernhaus (which is currently a building site where a completely new theatre is being constructed in place of the demolished former one). Instead it took place in the temporary Musik Dom venue that the Oper is using: a prefabricated structure under a bright blue tent next to the railway station.  It is a soulless shed with indifferent acoustics but good sightlines that can only be accessed via some unpleasant urine-drenched tunnels running under the station. Perhaps due to this (and the notorious reputation of the production), the house was only 70% full.
Foto: Lefebvre
Tilman Knabe’s production - which is in contemporary costume with the Philistines as Nazi-like fascists and the Jews as (well) Jews - is determinedly designed to épater le bourgeoisie and some of le bourgeoisie were duly épated and exited noisily at the end of Act Two when Dalila cut off Samson’s penis rather than his hair. If the departees had stayed for Act Three, they would have become even more upset when a triumphantly smiling Dalila presided over a crowd of extras being stripped naked, raped and machine-gunned.

Actually (to my surprise) I thought that the production worked very well indeed and (although melodramatic) it animated and illuminated the opera far more than the somewhat decorous production in which Vesselina Kasarova first gave her Dalila a couple of years ago in Berlin. What was even more surprising was how Frau Kasarova entered completely into the spirit of this production. She has always struck me as a delightfully modest performer who (as one reviewer put it) has always seemed more attractive when playing men than when playing women. (Even her Venus in Tannhauser was relatively chaste.) Not on this revelatory occasion when she turned on what can only be described as the "the full Netrebko". 

Foto: Lefebvre
The production conceives of Dalila as a thoroughly evil high-class prostitute whose pimp is the High Priest. Languorously draping herself in suggestive poses across a bed while wearing very little in the way of clothing, Kasarova's Dalila was sensationally sexy - both visually (she must have been spending all of her free time recently at the gym) and (most importantly) vocally. Her Dalila in Berlin (while she was recovering from illness) had been somewhat tentative. Here all her vocal guns were in place and she smouldered and then soared through the part. What a frustration it is that she is spending most of her time doing concerts when (as with her Romeo in Munich when I last saw her live) she is clearly at her peak of her powers as an opera artist.

As for the rest of the cast, the other highlight was Samuel Youn (Bayreuth's current Dutchman) in magnificent voice as the High Priest. His scene with Kasarova at the start of Act Two was the vocal highlight of the evening. As Samson, Lance Ryan sadly displayed all the faults of an over-employed Heldentenor. Starting the evening with a fearsome wobble in his voice, he gradually became more secure as the evening progressed but his is not an attractive sound and his acting was half-hearted to say the least. In the pit, Antonino Fogliani (who conducted Kasarova's recent concert performances as Romeo in Oslo) did an excellent job of standing in at the last moment for an indisposed Claude Schnitszler. The chorus and orchestra gave a good account of themselves despite the difficult acoustics.
Foto: Lefebvre
Overall, a sensational (and sensationalist) evening.


My friend Yvette also attended the March 19th performance and wrote her impressions on her blog, along with sharing a wonderful backstage photo of Frau Kasarova smiling to all the fans that couldn't make it to the show.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Guest Announcement: SDSU Jazz Ensemble upcoming March 20th concert

SDSU Jazz Ensemble performs concert with acclaimed Los Angeles jazz saxophonist and composer, Kim Richmond

(San Diego, CA)The SDSU School of Music and Dance is pleased to present the acclaimed SDSU Jazz Ensemble in concert with special guest, jazz saxophonist Kim Richmond, on Thurs. Mar. 20, 7:00 p.m. in Smith Recital Hall.  Bill Yeager directs.

"Kim Richmond combines the very best of jazz with a more classical approach to composition” explains SDSU Director of Jazz Studies Bill Yeager.  “His sense of humor is also evident in his selections of 'Peanut Vendor' and 'Zipidy Doo Da' for the upcoming concert. He is a masterful jazz saxophonist and is on a world class level."

Kim Richmond is a Los Angeles based musician whose first love is jazz.  His primary jazz voice is the alto saxophone, and he also plays soprano, tenor, and baritone sax, as well as clarinet, bass clarinet and flute.  Richmond has been involved in nearly every facet of the professional music industry, both as a player and as a composer/arranger.  He’s been a member of the orchestras of Stan Kenton, Louis Bellson, Bob Florence, Hill Holman and Vinny Golia, among others.  Richmond’s own Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra is a workshop for his writing, conducting and leading, and his sextet ensemble is a platform for free-form expression and improvisation. 

Also an educator, Richmond taught for 12 years in the Jazz Studies department of USC and presently teaches in the Jazz Department of the California Institute of the Arts.  He presents numerous jazz camps and clinics every year, is on staff at the Jim Widner Summer Jazz Camps, and assists with the Northwoods Jazz Camp/Jazz Party.  Whatever his mode of expression, Richmond strives to express a uniquely original voice, combining his extensive experience with the new sounds of our evolving musical world. 

Tickets to the SDSU Jazz Ensemble with Kim Richmond are $15 general admission and $10 for students and seniors (60+).  Tickets can be purchased through the online box office or at the box office window one hour before performance.  More information, a map and downloadable directions and parking options can be found on the SDSU School of Music and Dance website at

The SDSU Jazz Ensemble is a program of the SDSU School of Music and Dance and appears as part of the School’s 2013-14 season of performing arts offerings.  The SDSU School of Music and Dance presents over 200 concerts, recitals and dance performances each year, many with free or affordable admission.   
Still to come this season is the SDSU Choirs and Orchestra in concert featuring Fauré’s Requiem on Sat. April 26 at 7:30 p.m.; the SDSU Wind Symphony and Symphonic Band in concert on Tues. May 6 at 7:00 p.m.; the University Dance Company on Fri. May 2 at 7:30 p.m., Sat. May 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday May 4 at 2:00 p.m.; and the Kiwanis Cinco de Mayo Concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion on Mon. May 5 at 5:00 p.m.
For up-to-the-minute news and information about all of the recitals and performances at the SDSU School of Music and Dance, visit the School’s calendar or connect on Facebook or Twitter.


The SDSU Jazz Studies Program has long been one of the premier jazz studies programs in the United States and regularly attracts the finest talent from the U.S. and abroad. The program offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in jazz studies and its three full-time jazz professors, Bill Yeager, Rick Helzer, and Richard Thompson, are complemented by the finest studio faculty available in the region.  The program is committed to turning out students who are competent, passionate, highly motivated and willing to take risks. From education to research, from performance to composition, students can create strong individual profiles to enhance their musical development. Through immersion in an environment of rigorous teaching, open inquiry, and deep exploration, students are encouraged to create works, performances, and ideas that have yet to be imagined.

Bill Yeager is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at SDSU, an active composer and arranger for both jazz and classical ensembles and is a well-known studio jazz and classical trombonist performing on hundreds of records, films, TV shows and commercials.  He has performed with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughn, Mel Torme and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few, and has toured throughout the world.  Before coming to San Diego, Bill was founder/director of the Los Angeles Jazz Workshop where he recorded three successful albums and received a Grammy nomination.  Since coming to SDSU, Yeager, along with Rick Helzer and Richard Thompson, have built one of the largest jazz programs in California. His groups have recorded six top-notch albums, won numerous competitions and performed throughout the US, Europe, Taiwan, Boliva and Mexico.


The study of music was an early area of concentration at San Diego State University. Among the first seven professors hired in 1898 when the university was chartered, one was a music professor.  By 1907 the Department of Music at San Diego State University began conferring degrees, and a commitment to excellence in artistic innovation was dedicated. The commitment fostered a long legacy of educational and musical leadership for the program.  Today it flourishes as the SDSU School of Music and Dance.  For more information visit

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Guest Posting: What The Construction of Jamul Casino Could Mean to Local Cycling

I average around 200 miles per week on my bicycle, riding in and out of the city of San Diego. Many of those miles are spent on Otay Lakes Rd, Honey Springs Rd, Lyons Valley Rd and bits of SR 94 in Jamul because they are often the shortest and least hilly way for me to take to go visit Black Jack the perpetually hungry donkey, the adorable Beacon Hill llamas, all sorts of cool mountain birds and flowers and a particularly adventurous and friendly pack of house dogs along Mother Grundy TT. 
The mostly shoulderless Otay Lakes Rd at lower lake.
These roads are mostly sleepy (the busiest of them all, SR 94, is still pretty sleepy compared to anything closer to the coast), but they are all quite unforgiving when anything happens. The more traffic on them, the more chance of things happening, however, and since there aren't many (and in some parts of Jamul, 'any') alternative routes to get to and through the area, when something like a crash or a fire or a stuck giant super semi-truck happens, it really causes problem both for the local residents who are just trying to get home from work (or work from home) and for passing-through traffic like me. 
SR94 east of Jamul Butte.
With the current (and apparently not-very-legal) construction of a casino off SR94 in Jamul that would increase traffic through it and the nearby feeder roads, I have been eying this project with alarm. So many previously cycling-friendly rural roads have been rendered nearly unridable post-construction of a casino (Pala Rd into Pala Mission, Valley Center Rd between N Lake Wohlford Rd and Hwy 76, Wildcat Canyon/Borona Rd, Dehesa Rd in Sycuan area). I wondered what can cyclists like me do about such a project... and so I decided to ask Kim Hamilton, a Deerhorn Valley resident and the editor of the Antlers, the area's newsletter, for a guest blog post on the subject. Here is her response:

A Chance For Cyclists And Drivers To Work Together
(...What A Concept!)
If you have ridden Otay Lakes Road or Rural 94 (Campo Rd) during the last couple of weeks, no doubt you have encountered large numbers of heavy-duty trucks plying the narrow roads. Double yellow lines are no deterrent to wide swings on tight (even blind) curves. In straight sections they push the 55 mph limit in a rush to dump off their tons of rock, dirt, and debris. And we’ve been told to expect this for the next 18 months.

Map of affected area.
The trucks are hauling excavated material from the Jamul Indian Reservation on Hwy 94 and Melody Rd (the Jamul terminus of Proctor Valley Rd). The tribe and their backers have launched a desperate attempt to construct a mega-sized Jamul Hollywood Casino on a tiny 4-acre parcel of disputed land. 
The problems for this big-city construction on this rural site are huge. Most serious for cyclists and drivers are the impacts on two-lane highway 94 (Campo Road) and rural feeder routes like Otay Lakes Rd. 

In a stark turnaround from normal protocol, Caltrans required no road safety improvements before it granted access to Hwy 94 for hundreds of daily trucks along two of the most popular and heavily used cycling routes in South and East County—part of the Great Western Loop that the Campagnolo Gran Fondo, the Olympic Training Center, and hundreds of cyclists use regularly.
One of the casino construction trucks was recently photographed having difficulties staying on the right side of the road on SR94 near Steele Canyon Rd. (Photo: James McElree)
Some history: Over the past two decades, four big-money corporations* bankrolled efforts to build a Jamul casino — to no avail. Tribal members collect monthly payments, but the legal, environmental, and safety issues are huge. The first three backers withdrew, losing millions in the process. The tribe itself is now more than $60 million in debt. A year ago Penn National Gaming came in with some (conditional) financing—and an in-your-face attitude. This is Penn’s first experience in California and they hope the Jamul’s proximity to San Diego might boost depreciating stock prices. So far Caltrans has made sure it hasn’t cost them much: a couple of flaggers and some caution signs. They approved the tribe’s Traffic Management Plan that included not one reference to cycling or cyclists. [*Lakes Entertainment, Station Casinos, Harrah’s Casinos, and Penn National Gaming]

So here lies an opportunity for drivers and cyclists to find some common ground—a chance to prove cyclists and rural drivers can co-exist and share the rural byways. The payoff could be in preserving access and improving safety for us all, and bolstering understanding that roads are for everyone. After all, they are shared public assets.

This Hollywood-themed Casino is no done-deal by a long stretch. San Diego County is suing Caltrans over their approval to allow hauling trucks such unrestricted access to Hwy 94, Otay Lakes Rd, and other feeders. The Jamul Action Committee (JAC) is filing a separate suit, and expects support from the Rural Fire District—with its concerns about increased crashes and a slowed response time to wildfire and medical emergencies. In fact the land itself, JAC argues, was never taken into “trust”— a vital pre-requisite for gambling, and upheld by recent Supreme and lower court decisions. That suit is due to be heard in federal court beginning March 28th.

I encourage the cycling community to stay informed and lend their voice and actions to this fight.  Rural roads are already the most dangerous in California, and Hwy 94 stands at the top of the list for fatalities and crashes. As the lawsuits wind their ways through the court system, it will take some organized action to keep the public informed. A mega project like this has no business being built without the space and infrastructure to keep roads safe. Period.

Here’s how the cycling community can help:
1) Register for email updates at: They won’t share your info with anyone else. 
2) Contact your county and state reps and share a cyclist’s perspective about Hwy 94 and Otay Lakes Roads would be impacted by casino traffic.
3) Consider joining together with rural drivers, pedestrians, and others to demonstrate the implications of thousands of trucks, cars, and buses added to Hwy 94.
4) Check out JAC’s Facebook Page:
This needs to be a shared fight with a positive outcome for all travelers, riders, and drivers.
Thank you for this opportunity to reach out.