Wednesday, August 10

Pinchas ZukermanViolinist Pinchas Zukerman is the subject of a giant new box set, 22 discs of recordings he made for Deutsche Grammophon and Philips, spanning the years 1974 through 1996. As someone who has been performing almost 50 years, he knows his way around a recording studio. But that wasn't always the case. 

Zukerman is at least a triple threat: on these recordings, he's showing his chops as a violinist, violist, as well as conductor. When he was starting to record in the late 1960s, the sessions would usually come right on the heels of a concert performance, when that energy was fresh. "I didn’t play in a studio before I played in public," he explains. "I had to play… we had to rehearse, we had to play the concert at least once if not twice… Like for example with [the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with] Lennie Bernstein, I rehearsed it and played it and the next day I came into Avery Fischer, at that time it was Philharmonic Hall, and I recorded it." But he didn't have that luxury for his very first session, with Antal Dorati and the London Symphony Orchestra.  "They phoned me and said, ‘You’ve got to fly over because you’ve got to save our neck and record Tchaikovsky’. I said ‘WHAT? I don’t know the orchestra, I’ve never been in the studio, I…’ They said, ‘Look, you have to do it!’"

Friday, August 5

Lamplighters' New MikadoLamplighters Music Theater presents a brand new take on one of the staples of the Gilbert and Sullivan repertory: The Mikado, which was originally set in the ficticious Japanese town of Titipu. This production has moved the location, after recent protests in various cities around the country object to what they see as 'yellowface' performances with non-Asian casts. Stage director Ellen Brooks says this adaptation (with only minimal changes in the text) takes the story to Renaissance Italy.

There's more information about the production at the Lamplighters' website.

The new production is called The new Mikado - Una Commedia Musicale, but Brooks says the comedy and music translate well. "What I’ve discovered in the rehearsal process is, it’s the Mikado. It’s still the Mikado, no matter what you put it in," she says. It was a hard decision to make, and Lamplighters outlined their process in a letter to their audience on their website. The original plan of setting it in Japan during the Meiji period, a time of great social upheaval (which was also when Gilbert was writing the story) had to be changed after a strong protest was made. "We ran into a big resistance from the Asian-American theater community," Brooks says. "And they said basically that the piece was racist, which I do not agree with. But it could be done, if it were done with an entirely Asian cast. We went through a lot of discussion with Theater Bay Area and a number of other consultants, and finally decided we had to take it out of Japan to make this work. We’d eliminate the problem by taking it out of Japan."  She says she knows it's also controversial to change G&S canon: "You’re always going to have critics… We discussed that a lot. There are people who do not want to see any change whatsoever, because they grew up, or were first introduced to this Mikado that’s in their mind."

Thursday, August 4

American Bach SoloistsThe American Bach Soloists Festival and Academy gets underway this weekend, with the theme 'An Italian Journey.' But Music Director Jeffrey Thomas says while there's music of Vivaldi, Corelli (and of course Bach), there's also a very special U.S. premiere of a work by Handel called Parnasso in Festa. The 10-day long festival has master classes, lectures, and performances, most of which are at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

There's more information about the Festival at the American Bach Soloists website

Thomas says the Handel work, which will be performed Thursday the 11th and Friday the 12th, will be a highlight. "The thing that’s most exciting probably for all of us here at the Festival and the Academy, is believe it or not, an American premiere, yet another one that we’ve found, I don’t know how this is possible nowadays, of a really major Handel work. A full three-act… (well, we cheat and we call it an opera) it’s really a piece for a royal wedding, but it’s quite operatic, but no set." It was transcribed by Steven Lehning, who plays violone and contrabass with ABS. One of the reasons there hadn't been a performance was because there was no performing edition, with individual parts for musicians. Lehning transcribed from the 19th Century complete works of Handel edition by Chrysander, to be able to generate computer-printed scores for this premiere concert.

Wednesday, August 3

Festival Opera's Abduction from the SeraglioTo help celebrate their 25th anniversary season, Festival Opera is returning to the work that they began with... by way of outer space. Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio is mashed up with an episode of Star Trek in an adaptation by director and librettist Josh Shaw. Michael Morgan and the Oakland Symphony join the Festival Opera Chorus in four performances this Friday through next Tuesday. 

There's more information about the production at the Festival Opera website.

It came about as a way of spicing up a dated libretto, and being able to stage an opera economically, but Josh Shaw has had success in several cities with this hybrid production. "If you take the people who know of Mozart, the most popular composer of all time, and cross that with the number of people that know the franchise Star Trek, you’re going to hit a huge percent of the population," he says. He developed it, complete with Vulcan ears, Klingons and cheesy scenery during a festival when he had a cast of singers but a tight budget. Fortunately, so were the creators of Star Trek. "They were always in financial trouble, they were always worried of being cancelled, and basically their set was always a couple papier mache rocks or something borrowed from a western, or whatever, and I can relate to that!"

Shaw says the retro-update has attracted a mix of fans: "It’s been super successful in getting regular opera-goers in the door, but then a whole new group of people who will come because they see a couple of pictures with a Klingon and a Vulcan…It’s become more of a phenomenon and a greater success than I ever thought it would be. It was really just a way to do the show in a somewhat interesting way that we could do on a budget, and it’s become a lot more than that now in its fifth or sixth run since the premiere."

Festival Opera