Showing posts with label classical music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classical music. Show all posts

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Power of Beethoven's 9th and Following the Ninth documentary

Bing Concert Hall Opening Night, Stanford University - January 2013
There are few classical pieces of music that have been known to bring me to tears in my lifetime. These are compositions I know well enough, have a personal history with, and know some cultural history about. But they are also simply POWERFUL pieces of music and hold great emotional value, which is the main quality that has made them famous.

So when you experience them live, even this Agnostic says, there is nothing else to do but gaze upwards and bawl your eyes out knowing in your soul that music still exists in this world to make you feel everything all at once and you are ALIVE.

It also helps when you have just found out that one of your best friends is finally getting married and you've had a very difficult month and desperately trying to see silver linings :)

Verdis' Requiem is on this list, and so is Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.

On June 2nd, I had the opportunity to hear Beethoven's 9th in Bing Concert Hall, Stanford's brand new concert space. I have worked there for the last few months and have had the pleasure of spending some time in the new Hall, seeing folks like Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet, NY Polyphony and Steve Reich. The June 2 performance with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra was not only the last show of the season long Beethoven Project, but also the entire the year's season. So there was extra finality to it.

The last movement ("Ode to Joy") is the super famous movement: you know, the one with the melody. But I had forgotten that the first and second movements are so charged with anger, emotion and passion. I think I like those even better.

There are so many memorable little moments including the timpani getting to rock out, feeling a little manic as the mood changes from LARGE to tiny and then building up again. The creepy, crawlyness of the second movement. You want to conduct from your seat.

Beethoven wrote this last symphony when he was an old curmudgeonly deaf man. It made him so sad and mostly ANGRY to be deaf. This medical situation kept him from the music that he loved so dearly. And out of this anger and passion, he wrote an incredibly powerful and beloved piece of music. But even more, the last movement is about Joy, PURE JOY.

This is my favorite bit. Even in his depression and anger, he was still able to bring out the joy of living.

And even MORE, thanks to the documentary I found through kickstarter "Following the Ninth", which follows the 9th around the world and back through time. Where was this symphony used? How was it used? What does it mean to entire nations?

To the Japanese is a tradition like American's worship Handel's Messiah. Students played the 9th at Tiananmen square. It's been used to power rebellions in South America.

Watch the trailer for Following the Ninth here:


It is with great joy that I bawled my eyes out during this performance. Kudos to the Stanford Symphony Orchestra and conductor Jindong Cai for providing a beautiful performance.

Following the Ninth has started screening its way across the country. I implore music lovers to check out it when it comes to your town.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Singing the Berlioz Requiem at Davies Symphony Hall with 350 other musicians - a follow up

Robert Gurney conducts 250 singers - I'm right above his left hand. photo: Timothy Lee
I think it's safe to say that last Sunday, August 5th performing the Berlioz Requiem (and several other pieces) was one of the most exhilarating and exhausting musical experiences I've ever had. It's really special to pull off something so amazingly beautiful with 350 other people, with 1700 other people in attendance (check out the standing ovation).

Actually, I would have done it all just to hear the Richard Strauss Sprach Zarathustra, Fanfare (also known as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey), which we did, four times. THAT was one of the most thrilling things I've ever sat through.
You can only see twelve, but I promise there were thirteen timpanis. Photo by me.
Watch the video below. There were 13 timpani (kettledrums) and it was absolutely incredible to hear them all get pounded at once. And that major chord they hit at 1:06? Just goosebumps all over... from what wasn't all tingly already. What an absolutely thrill. I was so excited after the first run through at the dress rehearsal I literally raised the roof. I felt like such a huge dork, but I loved seeing all the smiles on everyone else's faces. 

350 people strong. Photo: Timothy Lee
Performing the Requiem was equally as thrilling, and totally exhausting. This piece is something like 80 minutes long, and the chorus sings for most of it. As an Alto 2, I got to sit down a couple times, but that's it. And I kept wondering how the folks twice my age were faring. I was physically sore to the core for the next couple of days.

The group of musicians we worked with are the Redwood Orchestra, also a group of volunteers, from the peninsula. They were fabulous and conductor Eric Kujawski was a pleasure to work with. We lovingly called him "The Dude" because of his likeness to Jeff Bridges in the Big Lebowski

From the first balcony. Photo: Elisabeth Wakcher
One blogger (one of the 80 choristers that joined us from New York) wrote about one of the funniest moments at the dress rehearsal, Kujawski called things to a halt, saying:
MORE! We need MORE! You, in the back row (of the percussion section), what are you doing standing there! Find something and hit it!!

Eric "The Dude" Kujawski - check out his shirt... photo: Timothy Lee
There's talk about going to Carnegie Hall next year. I'm on the list.

Cute photo of some of the Alto 2s. photo: John Martin

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jamie sings the Berlioz Requiem with 250 other people in Davies Symphony Hall

Next Sunday, August 5th at 3pm I will be performing one of the coolest pieces, the Berlioz Requiem, at Davies Symphony Hall with 250 other singers (San Francisco Lyric Chorus), the Redwood Symphony Orchestra and FOUR horn choirs.

The horn choirs are going to be placed in various corners of the hall, SURROUND SOUND.

I'm so excited about it.  It's going to be so kickass. Loud. Dramatic. So rock and roll.

Also on the program is that awesome Strauss piece appearing in 2001: A Space Odyssey, you know, the one with the monolith and the monkeys?

Read more about it here in my article

Tickets are $20-45

Listen to the "Dies Irae" movement from the Requiem, this is one of the more dramatic movements.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Joy in the Democratic Republic of Congo: the only all-black orchestra in the world

Do yourself a favor and watch this 60-Minutes piece about a community orchestra and choir in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the capitol city of Kinshasa.

Some of the musicians have formal training, most do not. The founding musicians started off sharing donated and restored instruments. Since then they have been able to accumulate enough instruments, one gentleman taught himself to make violins. The conductor, Armand Diangienda, is an ex-pilot who taught himself to play music.

Two tenors walk 90 minutes each way to rehearsals. If I decided to walk to my rehearsals, it would probably take 35 minutes and I wouldn't have to traverse a river.

In this video, these folks perform bits of Orff's Carmina Burana, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", and Verdi's Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Five Bay Area choirs to perform lost 40-part Renaissance Mass

It is no secret that the Bay Area loves its choirs. And it’s nice when we really get to flex our choral muscles.

This weekend, back in the Bay by popular demand, Cal Performances presents “The Polychoral Splendors of Renaissance Florence” Alessandro Striggio's Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno for 40 and 60 voices. The piece was last performed in 2008 at the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition. This mass is the largest known contrapuntal choral work in Western music.

UC Berkeley Musicology Professor Davitt Moroney spent twenty years looking for the 16th century manuscript and finally found it in 2005; it was miscataloged, filed under the wrong composer name and the wrong title.


Watch and Listen to UC Berkeley musicologist and conductor Davitt Moroney as he discusses this work.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why Symphonic Percussionists are Rockstars

I love the joke that percussionists wait around to hit things.

I've just come home from seeing the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform Mahler's 6th Symphony. Mahler pulls out all the stops for this piece, with something like a 100-person orchestra, including six percussionists.

I saw the San Francisco Symphony perform Verdi's Requiem a couple months ago, and the bass drummer stole much of my attention. This particular drummer hit the three climactic beats with two bass drums and then adjusted one drum to play the rest. He repeated the exact same procedure of tilting the drum and adjusting it each time that bit of the piece came around. Noticing the repetition of his process was fascinating. The movements were perfectly calculated.

Everyone in the hall had to be thinking that that guy is the coolest dude in the room. And that guy knew it. I figure, for a percussionist, it's the thrill of a lifetime. He's thinking, "yeah, I'm the badass that gets to play the bass drum in the Verdi Requiem. You're welcome."

Watching a world-class orchestra perform is watching lifetimes of practice, precision, timing and technique. And no one is so on display than a symphonic percussionist. They practice, practice, practice and then often hit something once, maybe twice (unless on timpani).

The photo above is an image I found online of a "hammer" used in Mahler's 6th Symphony. It is only played two times in the whole performance. The instrument I saw for this LA Phil performance (conducted by the 31-year-old Gustavo Dudamel, or as my Dad lovingly calls him, "Gus the Dude") was probably five feet tall and six feet wide, made out of simple, unfinished pine wood and had a giant whole in the middle of it. The mallet looked like something out of a Looney Toons cartoon. The percussionist (Perry Dreiman) had to walk up a couple of stairs to hit this thing.

There's also a moment in the last movement where five of the six percussionist bang the cymbals at the same time. The moments watching them prepare is exciting. I felt like a little kid waiting for this big bang, "Oh man! FIVE CYMBAL CRASHES!" And then it's over, and they move on to the next thing to hit, or wait for another 100 measures.

Two percussionists, including the same guy who played the hammer, also play off-stage bells. But I didn't realize what was going on. These guys kept exiting and entering stage, and I was thinking, "what the hell is going on here? This is so distracting!" But once I figured out what was going on could enjoy it as a super cool effect.

These guys have the best jobs.

(No offense to the rest of the orchestra, you guys are pretty fabulous yourselves, but you're not quite as amusing to watch way up in the balcony!)

Read about it from the source: the LA Phil blog.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review: 'Five Shakespeare Sonnets' by Rufus Wainwright with the SF Symphony

A lot has been said about Rufus Wainwright's Five Shakespeare Sonnets in collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony. I was not blown away, nor did I expect to be. While the orchestration was gorgeous, I would have welcomed more breathing time in the compositions. Shakespeare’s poetry came at the audience so quickly, they felt hurried. I would have liked some time between vocal lines to digest, and maybe a little break from Rufus' vocals.

Wainwright’s vocal timbre is a specific taste. You either like it or you don’t. He is one of the few vocalists that can pull off nasaled, and I was curious to see if it would work in a concert setting. It would be interesting to hear a classically trained vocalist attempt to perform these pieces as there were moments of strained higher notes. In popular music, this can commonplace and even artistic, but on the Davies Hall stage, it seemed a little strange. I'm still on the fence if I personally liked it or not.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Alice Dancing Under the Gallows" - Theresienstadt and the Power of Music

"Music is a religion, music is god."

Never have I heard words that were any truer (at least for me personally).

Alice Herz-Sommer will be 107 years old this November. She is the oldest living Holocaust surviver. She has her friends, she has her health and she plays piano everyday.

Alice lived in the Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II. Theresienstadt was used as a Nazi front to show the public the daily lives of prisoners. It was the only Nazi camp where children were kept with their parents and where artists were permitted and encouraged to create.

Read my post about a concert featuring some of the music composed in Theresienstadt

Even though many of these prisoners were starving, they kept on creating. Alice was one of these people.

Alice Dancing Under the Gallows is a film due to be finished next year. To follow its progress see its twitter and facebook pages.

I want to be like Alice when I grow up. Her love, hope and optimism are truly an inspiration.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The best place to sit for a symphony concert: the choral stalls/tier section

A photo taken in Davies Symphony Hall (for Mahler 8) a little further to the right from the spot I'm taking about. We were sitting where those kids are on the left. (Photo, Kristen Loken Anstey)

Who wouldn't want to see the conductor hit himself in the face with his baton?

Thoughts that passed through my head last night at Davies Symphony hall seeing Semyon Bychkov conduct Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin and Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini :
  • What does the pink post-it note in the conductor's Rachmaninoff say. ("Remember to queue violins?" "Turn off stove?")
  • That trumpet player is really hot.
  • What is that fidgety oboist smirking at now?
  • That timpani player is being really anal and working really hard to keep them in tune.
The best thing about these seats may not be the sound (I've been told that it's not so great, but I actually liked feeling like I was right in the action), but the visual aspect of the individuals on stage.

I think that's one of the things that's been taken away from the symphonic/orchestral experience for the audience. When you're sitting so far away, you can't SEE anything. I don't know about you, but I love this music and my mind still wanders when I'm listening to it: I get hit by the tired stick and I want to take a nap. But if my eyes as well as my ears are stimulated, it's WAY MORE INTERESTING and I stay more alert and focused on the performance.

And if you still get bored you can count the sleeping people out in the audience.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chanticleer sings of the earth and stars on "Out of This World" Bay Area Tour

The men of Chanticleer

On Sunday evening September 19th at 5pm, Chanticleer performed at the gorgeous San Francisco Conservatory of Music, about a block over from their Hayes Valley headquarter offices. It was the second concert in that space and the fourth concert on their “Out of This World” tour.

“Out of This World” features pieces across vocal musical history from Gregorian chant to Eric Clapton that speaks of the earth, stars, planets and the heavens. What is so brilliant about this programming is the variety of ways the celestial bodies are used in description and representation depending on the genre and era.

For example, the medieval compositions chosen sing of angels, Mary, Queen of the Heavens and the light of Jesus Christ while the Italian madrigals compare the “earthly” love of another human to that of the stars. Romantic poets describe inner heaven and modern compositions literally describe the earth from an orbiting spaceship, mechanical satellites and star clusters. Exploring how poets have perceived "outer space" in the last five hundred years is such a fun and interesting way to organize a concert of vocal music!


Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria" was not on this programme, but it's purdy:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Why Mendelssohn is making me angry (and a plug for the San Francisco Lyric Chorus concert)

Bach's polyphony has always pissed me off, and now I'm starting to hate Mendelssohn's too.

(Watch out, this post is going to be a little more personally aggressive than usual.)

I just got home from a San Francisco Lyric Chorus rehearsal and I am so agitated I don't know what to do with myself other than rant. The chorus is performing Duruflé's Requiem and Mendelssohn's Te Deum at Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco on August 21 and 22. (I will not be singing in this concert because I am in a friend's wedding.)

This is the movement "Sanctus" from Duruflé's Requiem. It's super purdy. I sang this movement in junior high and it just sparkles! (If that makes any sense..)

The Requiem is a commonly performed and beloved piece because of its absolute gorgeousness. Te Deum is not performed very often, and I think I have an idea why: IT'S HARD. Not only is it composed for double chorus (meaning there are eight parts: SATB times two) there are also soloists for each choir. On some pages there are 16 lines of music, so it's like reading a orchestral score. And the publisher of this particular score that we're using is very inconsistent and likes to change the organization of the score every two pages, so your part shows up in a different place every time you move to a different line.

But that's not even the worst part: the worst part is the chaos I feel while I'm singing the faster movements of Te Deum. The never ending lines of quarter and eighth notes make me crazy. Granted, we're still learning our parts, but today I just couldn't handle it. And I think I know why: this music is mirroring how I feel lately, CHAOS.

After this event for my friend Lissy is over (if you don't know, she has cancer and we're trying to find her a stem cell match) on Wednesday, I will hopefully feel better. But with all the other balls I have up in the air right now, the mental energy that I'm using trying to keep them all up there is making me a little nutty.

This is the last few movements of Te Deum. These people make it sound easy.

Back in 2000 when I was studying abroad in Sydney, I was lucky enough to get hooked into this performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor at the Sydney Opera House with a bunch of junior high kids and teachers. There must have been something like 400 people stumbling through Bach's polyphony. No one around me was singing the same thing, so I just sort of made my way through the notes trying to sight-sing and follow the conductor as best I could. I can't even imagine what that must have sounded like out there in the audience.

The experience made me insane and I've had a bad taste for that sort of composition since; and this Mendelssohn is hitting me a little too hard right now. Hopefully as we get more confident in our parts, it'll start to sound divine like those folks up in the video there.

Does anybody else feel this way about this kind of polyphony? I'm okay with Renaissance polyphony like Palestrina, in fact that is one of my favorite genres of choral music. Why do I feel this way about this specific kind of composition?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

With musicians like this, classical music will never die (unless it's from syphilis)

This poster is so super awesome, I've printed it out and posted it at my desk with the idea that it'll make me laugh every time I look at it.

There has been much discussion on how to keep classical music alive in the 21st century. Opera companies and symphonies are doing all they can to make performances more affordable and appealing to younger people. The movement has been called "Alt Classical."

There are many ways to keep the music alive; and I think humor, awesome dark humor is one of the ways. What about a show poking fun at death and a horrible sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis that took the lives of so many great composers?

Classical Revolution is a national organization that's been popping up all over the country bringing live performance out of the symphony hall and into non-traditional spaces like clubs and restaurants. I wrote about one of these events in San Francisco last December.

This is the manifesto of Classical Revolution PDX:
We love classical music.

We love playing classical music.

We love listening to classical music.

We are tired of the elitist and inaccessible nature of the classical world.

We believe that there are many that would enjoy classical music if they could access it in a setting that is comfortable for them.

We believe classical musicians should be allowed to perform in a setting that is more casual - where the audience is allowed to have a drink, eat a scone, laugh a little, and clap a lot.

We believe everyone can enjoy the music that we love.
A co-worker of mine who lives in Portland is playing "Syphilis Night" tonight with Classical Revolution. It will showcase the music of composers who died of syphilis (including Schubert, Beethoven, Schumann, Wolf, Paganini and Joplin) and will be held at The Woods, a night club/bar that used to be a funeral parlor.

Volunteers will be handing out condoms, and in an email from organizer Mattie Kaiser announced that folks get "extra brownie points for dressing up like a sailor or a prostitute."

I'm sorry, but if this is not the coolest, most awesomely hysterical things you've ever heard, I don't know what is! Mozart would definitely approve. I wish I could get up to Portland for this.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Q&A with Kyle Jarrow, book and lyric writer of Duncan Sheik's new musical 'Whisper House'

Kyle Jarrow and Duncan Sheik teamed up to write 'Whisper House'
photo via

One of my favorite things about Davies Symphony Hall is the variety of performers that grace its stage: like ukulele musicians and big band orchestras. But it’s a special treat when the Symphony itself invites someone extra special to be its guest.

This week, Wednesday to Saturday, The San Francisco Symphony slips something a little different between Poulenc and Gounod classics: selections from a new musical called Whisper House , composed by so-called “one hit wonder” and Grammy winning Duncan Sheik with a book written by New York City’s “hipster playwright" Kyle Jarrow.

Don’t be too surprised: Duncan Sheik went onto receiving a 2007 Tony for his masterpiece Spring Awakening and Kyle Jarrow won a prestigious 2004 Obie Award at the age of 24 for A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant . The two were introduced by a mutual friend and dove right into writing the musical Whisper House. The musical has just come off a successful six week World Premier run at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego.

Last week I was able to chat with Kyle over email and ask him some questions about working with Duncan and his experience with Whisper House...


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Swedish Radio Choir: leading in adventurous programming - another cool choir

The Swedish Radio Choir does not play it safe. They go all out for the rare, hard-hitting, obscure and difficult. And when a musical ensemble takes risks, it is memorable. Even a week later, my ears are still buzzing from some of the repertoire performed by The Swedish Radio Choir by Cal Performances at Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. It was also exciting to see Ragnar Bohlin, Chorus Director of the San Francisco Symphony as guest conductor. He has worked with the Radio Choir in the past and teamed up with them for their 2010 Spring tour.

Even though I have sung in choirs for over half of my life and have a deep love for this music, I would not consider myself a choral music specialist. However, I will usually be familiar with at least one or two selections on any given program. From this program, I only recognized the names of Gustav Mahler and Johann Sebastian Bach. It is always exciting to hear music that is completely new to the ears. The Radio Choir features Swedish compositions, rarely performed pieces of the great masters and relatively obscure composers from all over the world.

The piece that I can still hear buzzing in my ears and that I am most excited about is Anders Hillborg's "Mouyayoum," composed for 16-part-chorus without text [hear excerpts in video below].


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Happy 332nd Birthday Antonio Vivaldi!!

I'm so glad I did not live in this century...just look at that outfit!

Antonio Vivaldi has somehow become my favorite classical music composer. I'm sure it started with his Concerto Grosso in G minor (listen below) being on my music history final in college. The "Allegro," the second movement is so ridiculously awesome. I always equated this music to being the heavy metal of its time with the virtuosity it requires. I remember walking to the lecture hall with this on my earphones feeling totally empowered. "I'm going to ROCK this exam!"

Over the years I've accumulated a few different Vivaldi CDs and compilations and he has become my "brain" music. When I need to concentrate, I put on some Vivaldi. Others choose Mozart for making them smart, I use good old Antonio.

There is something so regal about his music. To me it is soothing.

So, happy birthday old man! And to you readers, enjoy a couple of my favorite string concertos: one in G minor and one in D minor.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Kronos Quartet continues to push the boundaries of the string quartet

Jon Rose's "Music for 4 Fences"
Photo: Christina Johnson

It must be so much fun to be in the Kronos Quartet. Violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler walk out on stage and just emanate cool. They wear denim and leather, have messy hair, awesome lighting, prerecorded electronic tracks and enjoy making noise, both traditionally beautiful and ugly. Oh, and they also dedicated their entire performance to the late historian Howard Zinn. These guys are hip. The best part is that three out of four of them are old enough to be my Dad. My Dad is cool, but certainly not like this. (Love you, Dad!)

Friday night I attended the third of four performances all featuring Jon Rose’s piece “Music from 4 Fences.” Each of the four nights also included compositions by Terry Riley, Damon Albarn of Blur & Gorillaz, (what doesn’t that guy do?) John Zorn, Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream soundtrack), and Bryce Dessner of The National. I got to hear the Mansell piece in all of its intense glory.

One of the more interesting pieces they played was commissioned for the Kronos a couple yeas ago by the Palestinian collective, the Ramallah Underground called “Tashweesh.”


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chanticleer performs in the Cathedral of Christ the Light: or how I spent my second night of Hannukah

Last night I had the absolute pleasure of attending the barely one-year-old Cathedral of Christ the Light right on Lake Merritt in Oakland for an evening with the Bay Area’s own "orchestra of voices" Chanticleer. The twelve guys are back from touring the country and have already begun their annual Bay Area Christmas concerts.

This is the first time I’ve seen Chanticleer, and what I really love about them (other than their music) is the air of the fun they have. There are jokes in the program bios and smiles all around. I spotted the signature insanely awesome handlebar mustache of eldest member Eric Alatorre and the faux mohawk of soprano Michael McNeil. I see this kind of artistic seriousness coupled with gleeful enjoyment a signature Bay Area attitude and I am reminded how much I love living in this part of the country. I am also proud that these guys (most of them from middle America) represent my little slice of the world when they go out on the road.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

CMASH and Classical Revolution bringing concert music back to the people

A note to my classical/concert musician friends:

If you are into performing music for not just folks in concert halls, please do yourself a favor and check out the organization Classical Revolution. They might put on shows near you.

A note to my composer friends:

Check out CMASH, a Bay Area collective of musicians and composers.


Friday, October 16, 2009

The Jewish Music Festival celebrates the art of the Holocaust created by both Jews and non-Jews

Through out my life, I often think about the fact that if it were not for Adolph Hitler, I would not be here. Plain and simple: my grandmother would probably still be in Germany and my Grandfather would have married another pretty Jewish lady in Los Angeles.

If it were not for the Holocaust, we would also not have any of the beautiful and inspirational art and music featured in They Left a Light: Masterpieces from Nazi Prison Camps at the East Bay Jewish Community Center on Sunday evening, October 18th.

This performance will be an educational experience with narration and a multimedia production performed by some of the Bay Area’s top classical musicians, including Susan Waterfall, piano and narrator; Jeremy Cohen, violin; Burke Schuchmann, cello, and Erin Neff, soprano.

By nature, human beings find ways to make beauty out of the darkness. Olivier Messiaen, composer of The Quartet for the End of Time, Sunday evening's featured piece, was a Catholic French composer who lived in the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp during the Holocaust as a prisoner of war...


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

You too can enjoy opera: Tosca, Porgy & Bess and Il Trovatore

San Francisco's home of the Giants AT&T park

Opera is not a cheap art form. Performed traditionally (in an opera house with sets, costumes, etc.), it is very expensive to produce and it is not cheap to attend. Fortunately for Bay Area residents, there are cheaper ways to enjoy opera: we've got free telecasted operas at AT&T park and standing room at the War Memorial Opera House.

Last Friday, 27,000 of my best friends and I attended Puccini's Tosca shown live by telecast at the AT&T ballpark in San Francisco from the Opera House. This is the most people that have ever attended this event. What a unique and bizarre way to watch an opera: blankets, beer, soda, wine, seagulls sandwiches, popcorn, scarves, hotdogs, whatever. It was even weirder noticing that right above the center of the huge 1920x1080 high definition digital screen was a Budweiser ad.

The audience booed the villain, cheered the heroine and tried not to yell at people who were talking too loud (Some didn't do so well, you know who you are!) This is the way opera was meant to be seen and how theater was experience hundreds of years ago. Watch out though, the sound system is so good that you might need earplugs for some of those high notes!

The next live telecast will be on September 19th at 8pm and the opera will be Il Trovatore by Verdi. I HIGHLY recommend that you check it out if you can, even if you're not sure if you like opera. Maybe combined with the ballpark experience, you can ease your way into it.

Over the weekend I also had the privilege to get a sneak preview of the new Porgy & Bess production. This is an amazing production and a gorgeous show all together. I had seen it in Los Angeles when I was a child and really didn't fully understand the story. Knowing more about the history of the opera and Gershwin I, obviously, enjoyed it much more.

One of the things I learned about Porgy & Bess is that when it was first premiered in New York in 1935, it was not well received. People liked it, but it did not have enough staying power to become an immediate classic. While it was performed in pieces in years after, it was not until 1976 when the Houston Grand Opera resurrected the opera mostly in it's entirety. Porgy & Bess has now joined the canon as one of the most popular American operas of all time. It was not well received in the 30s due to the African American stereotypes of some of the main characters: the cripple/begger, the "loose" woman, the drug dealer and the violent man. This makes sense considering the ideals during the Harlem Renaissance to "lift the race through art". It seems that by the 70s, the white and black artistic communties felt comfortable enough to perform the opera and that enough time had passed for audiences all over the country and the world to see it as more than just a racial stereotype.