Saturday, June 21, 2014

Guest announcement: San Diego Opera & Dallas Opera Co-Producing Heggie's Great Scott

Below is a guest announcement from the San Diego Opera:

            SAN FRANCISCO, JUNE 20, 2014 – The Dallas Opera proudly welcomes a co-producer, San Diego Opera, to the first major project in fourteen years by critically acclaimed American composer Jake Heggie (Moby-Dick) and Tony Award-winning playwright and librettist Terrence McNally (Master Class). 
            GREAT SCOTT will star world-renowned mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato in her eagerly anticipated Dallas Opera debut.  The world premiere performances in Dallas, with support from The Eugene McDermott Foundation, The Hoblitzelle Foundation and The Carol Franc Buck Foundation, will be staged by Broadway legend Jack O’Brien (former Artistic Director of San Diego’s Old Globe Theater) and conducted by one of the fastest-rising young artists at the podium today: Maestro Evan Rogister.
            GREAT SCOTT opens the Dallas Opera’s 2015-2016 Season with five performances scheduled from October 30, 2015 through November 15, 2015 in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.  Additional performances in San Diego will follow in the 2016-17 Season.
            Composer Jake Heggie shared the big news today in San Francisco at the Opening Session of OPERA America’s Opera Conference 2014.
            “I’m very honored and touched,” said Mr. Heggie, “to be a part of this magical, remarkable occasion.”  Word of San Diego Opera’s commitment to the piece was followed by the first public performance of an aria from GREAT SCOTT by acclaimed American lyric soprano Heidi Stober, a principal artist at Deutsche Oper Berlin and a sought-after guest artist in opera houses around the world.
            Previous co-commissions and co-productions by the two companies include the tremendously successful adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, brought to the opera stage in 2010 by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer and seen in Canada, San Francisco, Australia and, most recently, in Washington, D.C.; as well as an earlier world premiere production of Thérèse Raquin by composer Tobias Picker and Mr. Scheer.
            “For months now, the San Diego Opera saga has been the most closely watched story in the western opera world,” says Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny.  “It is incredibly gratifying to be able to welcome the company as a partner in this exhilarating project.  San Diego Opera’s involvement sends a powerful message to our industry—and the message is this: San Diego Opera is here to stay and planning for an exciting future!
            “We have tremendous confidence in the leadership exhibited by Carol Lazier and the San Diego Opera Board, as well as William Mason, the Company’s new artistic advisor, and we are certain that San Diego Opera will play a vital and productive role in bringing Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s original concept to life for the enjoyment of audiences everywhere.”
            “Jake Heggie is no stranger to San Diego Opera,” shares San Diego Opera Board President Carol Lazier. “After his wildly successful Moby-Dick in 2012, when we heard that Jake was working on a new opera we knew we had to be part of it. At its heart, Great Scott asks ‘What is worth fighting for?’ a question that resonates with us here in the San Diego community.
“This opera also gives us the opportunity to work again with The Dallas Opera, who have been champions for our continued survival since day one, offering advice and logistical support during these transitional times. They are a great partner to work with, having been co-producers on Moby-Dick, co-commissioners on Thérèse Raquin, and partners on productions of Madama Butterfly and Aida over the years. Our participation in Great Scott is a show of support for Jake and The Dallas Opera, a commitment to the future of great American opera, and a statement to let the world know that San Diego Opera is still here and we are not going anywhere.”
            “It is extremely gratifying to learn about this co-production of Jake and Terrence’s next opera,” wrote Marc A. Scorca, President and CEO of OPERA America.  “The collaboration of these artists promises to add another important work to the American opera repertoire.  It is equally exciting that The Dallas Opera and San Diego Opera will work together as co-producers of the piece, demonstrating that bold artistic plans that include new American operas can and should be part of a an opera company’s strategy for long-term success.”
            “What a triumph on every level,” said Jake Heggie.  “I couldn’t be more grateful to all parties involved.”
            “At the heart of GREAT SCOTT are big questions about artistic and personal sacrifice, picking our battles and the kind of cultural legacy we want to leave for the future, as well as our personal responsibility in that legacy.  How appropriate that the Dallas Opera and San Diego Opera—two companies that have recently triumphed over adversity—have now become two of the standard bearers in this challenging dialogue!  Loyal audiences, staffs and highly motivated leadership are embracing artistic collaborations to keep these companies vital—eyes on the horizon—as  they construct a future based on fresh ideas, new works and different perspectives.”
Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie have set GREAT SCOTT in "an important American city" that boasts a respected but struggling opera company and a thriving football team.  Arden Scott, the hometown girl who has become an international opera star, has returned to her roots to help save the company.  She has chosen not a standard classic or a new work, but a long-lost bel canto opera she recently discovered: Vittorio Bazzetti's Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii, which has been gathering dust ever since its composition in 1835.
By chance, the opera company is set to give the world premiere the same night the local football team, the Grizzlies, will play in their first Super Bowl across town—an event that will be telecast to 100 million viewers.  The owner of the team is married to the opera company's founder, Winnie Flato.  Success on the field is no less important than Arden's and Maestro Bazzetti's in the opera house.  No wonder Arden finds herself is in a state of personal crisis over the career and life she has chosen as every conceivable disaster seems to await the company.
With a large cast and chorus, two mad scenes, an erupting volcano and a difficult unknown score, will mere human resources be equal to the opera's inhuman demands?  And a defeat at the Super Bowl could be end of Winnie's opera company as well.
Heggie also remarked, “What an incredibly fun challenge for a composer!  To create the sounds of an American opera company as they rehearse a never-heard Italian bel canto opera—and to throw in a fight song for the local football team, as well.  I think this is a story we can all relate to!”
            Joyce DiDonato, “probably the most in-demand lyric coloratura mezzo in the world” (Opera News), will sing the title role of opera singer Arden Scott for the world premiere performances in Dallas.  Miss DiDonato triumphed in recent seasons in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Maria Stuarda, as well as in the Met’s 2011 world premiere of The Enchanted Island, prompting Anthony Tomassini of The New York Times to write, “She commanded the stage from her first showcase scene…singing with cool control, then bursting into fearless flights of passagework.” 
            Last spring, she dazzled audiences in London as Elena in La Donna del Lago at the Royal Opera House.  Michael Church of The Independent raved: “…words fail.  No other singer could match what this blonde bombshell from Kansas does, marrying coloratura with the serene liquidity of birdsong to an expressiveness of heart-stopping beauty.  Go, listen, and marvel.”
            Just weeks ago, Ms. Di Donato received an Honorary Doctorate from Juilliard where she also delivered the commencement address at the 109th Commencement Ceremony.  Additionally, Ms. DiDonato was instrumental in the early stages of the “Save San Diego Opera” campaign, encouraging her fans through social media to support the Company’s fight for survival.
            For additional information or to arrange interviews, please contact San Diego Opera Director of Public Relations Edward Wilensky at 619-384-7636 or Dallas Opera Director of Media and Public Relations Suzanne Calvin at 817-995-1687 on site in San Francisco.

About San Diego Opera:

San Diego Opera announced its 2015 season and 50th Anniversary on May 19, 2014, after nearly two months of careful deliberations and analysis since the Company announced it was going to close at the end of the 2014 season.  During this time, the Company launched a crowd funding campaign that resulted in an unprecedented $2.2 million in public donations, of which 48% were first time donors from 6 countries and 36 States. The outpouring of public support, the unified vision expressed by the company’s management, staff, partners and contractors, and the expert advice of Opera America and the many General Directors of U.S. opera companies who weighed in with encouragement, logistical assistance and statements of solidarity, led the Board of Directors, headed by Carol Lazier, to confidently rescind the original vote to close.  The Company appointed former Lyric Opera of Chicago General Director, William Mason, as Artistic Advisor last month and has begun a search for permanent leadership to lead the Company as it reinvents itself to better serve the diverse San Diego community.

About the Dallas Opera:
More than half-a-century of artistic excellence, technical innovation and community engagement have enabled The Dallas Opera to make a major contribution to the international cultural reputation of Dallas and add significantly to the economic impact of the performing arts across North Texas.  The Dallas Opera has presented a host of international stars in their American debuts, including Dame Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Jon Vickers, and Plácido Domingo, as well as designer-director Franco Zeffirelli.  A champion of new work, The Dallas Opera has presented the American premieres of five operas and additional world premieres.  Most recently, the company commissioned composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer to create a tremendously successful new opera based on Herman Melville’s 19th century novel “Moby-Dick,” as well as forthcoming new operas by British composer Joby Talbot (“Everest”), Heggie and Terrence McNally (“Great Scott”), and American composer Mark Adamo (“Young Santa Claus”), all slated to take centerstage in 2015.  The Dallas Opera has pioneered classical music simulcasts in North Texas at locations ranging from Klyde Warren Park to AT&T (formerly Cowboys) Stadium and continues to seek new ways to engage the entire community and bring the thrill of opera to people of all ages, educational levels and backgrounds.
San Diego Opera 2014-2015 International Season Performance Schedule

Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello in Recital
Balboa Theatre
Friday                   September 5, 2014            7:00pm

Stephanie Blythe and Craig Terry Presents We’ll Meet Again: The Songs of Kate Smith
Balboa Theatre
Thursday             December 11, 2014           7:00pm

La bohème
Giacomo Puccini
San Diego Civic Theatre
Saturday                             January 24, 2015                              7:00pm
Tuesday                              January 27, 2015                              7:00pm
Thursday             January 29, 2015                              7:00pm
Sunday                 February 1, 2015                              2:00pm
Don Giovanni
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
San Diego Civic Theatre
Saturday                             February 14, 2015             7:00pm
Tuesday                             February 17, 2015              7:00pm
Friday                   February 20, 2015             7:00pm
Sunday                February 22, 2015              2:00pm
Nixon in China
John Adams
San Diego Civic Theatre
Saturday                             March 14, 2015                 7:00pm
Tuesday                              March 17, 2015                 7:00pm
Friday                   March 20, 2015                 7:00pm
Sunday                 March 22, 2015                 2:00pm
50th Anniversary Gala Concert
Jacobs Music Center - Copley Symphony Hall
                              Saturday             April 18, 2015                  7:00pm
Sunday                 April 19, 2015                  2:00pm
El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished)
Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán / Leonard Foglia / José “Pepe” Martinez
San Diego Civic Theatre
Saturday                              April 25, 2015                 2:00pm
Saturday                               April 25, 2015                 7:00pm
Purchasing Tickets
Subscriptions range from $105 for a three-opera series to $1405 for a full season package (Orchestra level subscription and the 50th Gala Anniversary Concert at the Jacobs Music Center - Copley Symphony Hall, the two recitals, and the mariachi opera). Some Saturday and Sunday subscriptions are slightly higher. Subscriptions can be purchased by calling (619) 533-7000 or online at
For information about single tickets please visit Single ticket prices will be announced in the winter.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guest Posting: Vesselina Kasarova at the Whitsun Festival in Salzburg

Below is a guest posting courtesy of John Carnegie (who also supplied all the photos) after attending the Whitsun Festival in Salzburg on June 8th, 2014. Thanks very much, John!


Some people experience what is known as a “three Kleenex movie”. Vesselina Kasarova has just had a three frock evening in Salzburg.

Salzburg: that city with its curious concoction of culture and kitsch; in which the streets are paved with beggars studiously ignored by the penguin-suited culture vultures who stroll by them; in which (see below) the birthplace of its greatest son is situated above a Spar supermarket selling the ubiquitous over-priced Mozart Kugel sweets that typify the city’s avidity for art alongside its attempts to strip the tourist’s wallet of all its assets. Mozart famously couldn’t wait to flee the place. One wonders what his reaction would be to the contradictions on display there now.

For once though, Salzburg’s cultural focus was not on Mozart but a composer born a year after his death.  For the third year running, the city’s Pfingstfestspiele (Whitsun Festival) was being curated by Cecilia Bartoli and her chosen theme for 2014 was the music of Rossini. Packed houses were the order of the day as patrons stewed in the sweltering heat wave visited on the city. “Rossinissimo” (as the five day festival was called) covered a broad range of the composer’s oeuvre: comic and tragic opera, song, sacred music and not forgetting Rossini’s principal passion: food. The penultimate evening brought a host of stars to Salzburg – with two concerts at 5pm and 8pm including Frau Kasarova among the array.

The first of these was at the Mozarteum and featured Rossini’s final composition, the Petite Messe Solennelle, and the first of Frau Kasarova’s frocks for the evening: a demure dark brown number that allowed her to merge appropriately into the cast of this spare and sombre work in which individual talents are only occasionally allowed to emerge from the overall texture. Rossini gives his mezzo two stints in the sunlight and Kasarova seized these with aplomb. The first was a duet with the soprano in which Kasarova’s relish at being able to renew her alliance with her old sparring partner Eva Mei was evident. The second was the conclusion of the piece in which the mezzo rides over the chorus (in this case the superbly prepared Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia) in a celebratory Agnus Dei.

There were only two downsides to the concert. The first was the balance between the two pianos (the only instruments apart from a harmonium) and the voices. Although I was in the front row, I had the misfortune to be the pianos’ side and they at times overwhelmed the voices. (However, I think that the awkward balance was only emphasised by my particular seat. I sat further back in the same hall the next day for Joyce DiDonato’s recital and the way that the venue favours the instrument over the voice was still apparent.) The other downside was that one of the two pianists was also the conductor. Normally Antonio Pappano is one of the most considerate conductors to his soloists. Perhaps it was because of his over-exertions on a day on which he had already conducted Rossini’s Stabat mater but it was evident that Sir Tony had his head in the score rather than the score in his head. Oft times the soloists looked to him for guidance but they rarely got it. It was clearly a performance in which some of the individual parts (the chorus and the soloists) had done their own very careful preparation but the ensemble as a whole was under-rehearsed. Still, somehow it all came together reasonably well despite that.

After an hour’s break, it was time to move to the main venue of the Festival for its centrepiece: the Grosse Rossini-Gala. A galaxy of stars had been promised on the bill but a number of them (such as Agnes Baltsa, Teresa Berganza, Montserrat Caballé, Ildebrando d’Arcangelo and Erwin Schrott) didn’t turn up. Fortunately Juan Diego Flórez offered his services at the last minute and his duet from La Cenerentola with Cecilia Bartoli (the two of them appearing opposite each other for incredibly the first ever time) was one of the highlights of the evening. The desertion of so many singers meant that not only was the evening a soprano-free zone (not entirely inappropriate for Rossini) but there were in fact only two female singers onstage throughout the gala - being the two most famous Zurich-based mezzos. After a succession of male “opere buffe” pieces (which ranged from an excellently delivered and genuinely funny Don Magnifico from Carlos Chausson to an over-confident Ruggero Raimondi parting tempo from the orchestra throughout most of Basilio’s La calunnia despite the best efforts of the baton of the otherwise supreme Adam Fisher), the first half concluded with the Act I Finale from Il barbiere di Siviglia featuring Kasarova as Rosina in her second frock of the night: a sleek, silvery-cream number. As Bartoli was already dressed in jeans, apron and yellow “Marigold” washing-up gloves for Cenerentola, she took on the role of the servant Berta. Cue for much clowning between the two mezzos miming severe backache as they exited from their curtain calls.

So far, the programme had consisted entirely of such high jinks and this suited the majority of the audience who had obviously come just for a fun night out. At the astronomical ticket prices charged, only the financially unchallenged can afford most of the seats. Unfortunately, there is not necessarily a correlation between wealth and musical appreciation. The social snobbery on display did not have much to be snobbish about in regard to their cultural sensibility. The insensitive barrage of coughing throughout the purely orchestral numbers was only amplified by the excellent acoustics of the Grosses Festspielhaus; flash photography was taking place during the actual performances; most distracting of all was the woman in front of me who spent over half of the evening texting on her mobile phone. One wonders why she had bothered to come.

In this circus atmosphere, it was obvious that the minority of serious arias on show would prove a trial to this majority element in the audience. Frau Kasarova had the misfortune to be the purveyor of such a piece when – as the first aria after the interval – she delivered Arsace’s Eccomi al fine in Babilonia from Semiramide.  Entering in frock three of the night (a stunning scarlet number), she proceeded to surmount the varied vocal challenges of this virtuoso aria. My only criticism of her performance was that it featured more than usually a defect that has sadly become of late more evident in some of her performances: a very audible and distracting intake of breath between the musical phrases. That though was more than compensated by the accomplishment otherwise on display in this most demanding of musical showpieces. She received respectable applause afterwards but deserved much more.

Much more to the taste of this particular audience was the grandstanding of Javier Camarena. The new boy on the block of star tenors delivered Ramiro’s Si ritrovarlo io giusto from La Cenerentola with the kind of tooth-grinding vocal excesses that excited this audience into a standing ovation and a fulfilled demand for an even more excessive encore. The other standing ovation of the evening went to the veteran José Carreras – mostly, I suspect, occasioned by his fame. However, in his case, the standing ovation was richly deserved.  His voice may be slightly ragged round the edges compared to what it once was but his artistry is undiminished. He brought a laser-like focus to Giocondo’s aria from Rossini’s first opera La pietra del paragone.  It was a privilege to be present for this.

After that, all that remained was for the majority of the cast to wrap up the gala with the Act II Finale from Il barbiere di Siviglia with Kasarova and Bartoli back as Rosina and Berta accompanied by one Figaro, two Counts, two Bartolos and no less than three Basilios. It topped an evening that was mostly enjoyable but – with a different audience and perhaps with the presence of some of the no-show stars – might have been much more than that.

That’s Salzburg for you though. Its distinctly Disneyfied brand of tourism breeds an atmosphere in which a multiplicity of frocks seems more appreciated than artistry. Personally, I would have preferred the chance to employ more than one Kleenex."

Friday, June 6, 2014

It's a dog's town!

I'm reluctant to say it's a San Diego thing. For all I know it might be a California or even a West Coast thing... this taking your dogs out for a ride thingy. There are lots of pet dogs in Missouri, but they generally don't get to go out joy riding in a car or on a bike very often. Here in sunny San Diego, though, sometimes it seems like there's a dog or two sticking their head out of the window of every three or four car that pass you on the street... among other places:

This was a really discipline dog. He wasn't tied down or anything, but just stood there in the pickup enjoying Mission Trails and my weird looking cycling gang.
This pooch wasn't as discipline, I guess. His owner had a good grip on him as he fought to get more of him over the ledge.

Coconut the English bulldog usually rides in the passenger seat, tho when his mom is away he keeps her driver's seat nice and warm.
Some dogs get to enjoy good view without even leaving his pad!
Though leaving the pad seems like a nice idea to some...
People here even like to take their dog out for a walk on their bike.

Now this last one wasn't working out very well. So many things wrong with this picture!
Even with that many obviously bike-acquainted dogs in town, many of my fellow cyclists are still quite deadly afraid of running into dogs on some deserted roads in the country side, however. I understand some dogs are friendlier than others. I have been lucky and haven't been really chased by a leashless dog yet... mostly because I spot them early and don't really give them the chance. I actually love it when a dog comes over to say hello while I'm on a bike. They usually are just curious and want someone to play with... so the best thing to do is to stop and dismount with the bike in between you and the dog... and let him sniff a bit. Unless you're on a fast downhill chances are you won't be able to outrun the dog anyhow, so better not try to take of 'cause 9 out of 10 dogs will give chase if you do.
This pooch saw me coming, but he was having too much fun swimming after the elusive blue heron to come over.
This gang of three at the Red Gate Rd corner on Hwy 76 on the way to Palomar Mtn did come over for a bit, though. They were quite cool.
But not as cool as these four dogs from one of the houses on lower Mother Grundy Truck Trail in Jamul. They not only came over, but actually escorted me for 2 miles - nearly to the end of the road - and I ended up having to turn around rather than going on my own way in order to take them home. They just flat refused to go home on their own!
This handsome old dog from the house near the top of Camino del Aguilar also tried to escort me and my friends to the top of Starvation Mountain.
And this lovely little pitbull knew a dog-petter when she saw one! She was roaming around Bullard Rd near Alpine as I tried to find my way across the mountain to Crest.