27 March 2023

Another Opening, Another Show: April 2023

For some reason it's not an international holiday, but 23 April is the day Shakespeare's birth is commemorated, so obviously you need to celebrate in some way. Or you could wait a week & go to UC Shakespeare Trial 2023: A Witches' Brew, in which Erwin Chemerinsky of Berkeley Law & Bernadette Meyler of Stanford Law argue a case based on Macbeth, as enacted by actors from UC Irvine’s New Swan Shakespeare Festival (you as an audience member get to be part of the jury); that's at Freight & Salvage on 30 April. Not sure why this isn't being held on the actual date of his birth (& death) except that the Berkeley Bluegrass Festival is already at Freight & Salvage from 21 April to 23 April.


Z Space and Word for Word present Home by George Saunders, directed by Sheila Balter, from 5 to 29 April at Z Below.

Theater Rhinoceros presents Tina D’Elia's The Rita Hayworth of This Generation, directed by Mary Guzmán, the "story of Carmelita Cristina Rivera, a queer Latina whose love of Rita Hayworth and desire for movie stardom lead her to Las Vegas, where she labors to win the heart of Jesus Antonio Atano, the Latino Transgender Blackjack King of Vegas", & that runs 6 to 23 April.

Aurora Theater presents Rostand's Cyrano, adapted & directed by Josh Costello, from 7 April to 7 May.

The New Conservatory Theater Center presents Locusts Have No King by C Julian Jiménez, directed by Richard Mosqueda, about two closeted gay couples & a dinner party that deteriorates, & that runs 7 April to 14 May.

BroadwaySF presents Come From Away, the musical by Irene Sankoff & David Hein, directed by Christopher Ashley. about passengers stranded in Newfoundland after 9/11, at the Golden Gate Theater from 11 to 23 April.

Cutting Ball in association with In the Margin presents W Fran Astorga's Exhaustion Arroyo: Dancin’ Trees in the Ravine, about three friends in Santa Cruz taking mushrooms in the wild, & that's from 13 April to 21 May.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music's Musical Theater showcase will be A... My Name Will Always Be Alice, by Joan Micklin Silver & Julianne Boyd, on 29 April.


Cal Performances presents An Evening with Robert Reich on 24 April in Zellerbach Hall.


Festival Opera, in conjunction with the Diablo Symphony Orchestra, presents Tales from the Briar Patch, a new mini-opera with music by Nkeiru Okoye & libretto by Carman Moore, conducted by Matilda Hofman & directed by Omari Tau, based on the African folk tales that were also adapted & popularized by Joel Chandler Harris & his Uncle Remus stories; the cast features Marcus J Paige, Omari Tau, Shawnette Sulker, Aisha Campbell, & Leberta Lorál; the concert also features Bernstein's Candide Overture & Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, & that's 2 April at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music Historical Performance Department presents Handel's Flavio on 8 - 9 April.

Philharmonia Baroque presents Handel's Amadigi di Gaula, conducted by Richard Egarr & directed by Louisa Muller, with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, sopranos Deanna Breiwick & Nicole Heaston, & mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter, at the Taube Atrium Theater from 20 to 22 April (please note that for some reason it's open seating).

Pocket Opera presents Albert Herring, its first work by Britten, conducted by David Drummond & staged by Nicolas A Garcia, on 23 April at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, 30 April at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, & 7 May at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.

Cal Performances presents the west coast premiere of Michel van der Aa’s Blank Out, a "chamber opera about tragedy, memory, and loss"; soprano Miah Persson appears live & interacts with recordings & films of others, including baritone Roderick Williams as her son; that's 28 - 29 April in Zellerbach Hall.

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble presents an opera double bill, both world premieres: 4:30 Movie is a new micro-opera by Kurt Rohde about two sisters, one dead from cancer & the other mourning & remembering; the opera is performed along with Rohde’s Sonic Tunic & credo petrified, Bach’s Chaconne, & Sarah Hennies’s Psalm I; the second opera, Tenderhooks, is by Anthony R Green & tells "the story of Nora and Sebastian, housemates struggling with enforced isolation during the pandemic"; the opera opens with a performance of Sarah Hennies’s Everything Else, & you can hear all that on 29 - 30 April at the Bayview Opera House in San Francisco.


The UC-Berkeley Symphony Orchestra & the UC-Berkeley Choral Program present Mozart's Mass in C minor on 8 April at Hertz Hall.

Cal Performances presents Peter Phillips & the Tallis Scholars at First Congregational on 27 April, when they will perform works by Orlando Gibbons, the eponymous Tallis, Nico Muhly, William Byrd, Palestrina, John Rutter, Nicolas Gombert, Josquin des Prez, & Arvo Pärt.

The San Francisco Choral Society presents its spring concert on 29 - 30 April at Calvary Presbyterian in San Francisco, where they will perform Stacy Garrop’s Terra Nostra & Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna.


San Francisco Performances presents guitarist Jason Vieaux & mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke at Herbst Theater on 8 April, performing works by Manuel de Falla, Pat Metheny, Peter Scott Lewis, Jayme Ovalle, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Antonio Carlos Jobin, Schubert, Sondheim, & Lennon/McCartney.

The next Schwabacher Recital takes place 12 April at the Taube Atrium Theater, when countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen & pianist Carrie-Ann Matheson perform songs by Max Janowski, Erroll Garner, Ravel, & Handel, & others.

On 28 April in Herbst Theater, San Francisco Performances presents mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges & percussionist Ulysses Owens Jr in a program they call Notes on Hope, including works by Debussy, Ravel, Duparc, Satie, Poulenc, & Duke Ellington, along with traditional spirituals & original works.


The Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, led by Music Director Dawn Harms, offers its spring concert on 1 April in the Taube Atrium Theater, when they will perform Schoenberg's Fanfare for a Bowl Concert on Motifs of Die Gurrelieder, Florence Price's Violin Concerto 2 (with soloist Samuel Vargas), Saint-Saëns' Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso in A minor (again, with soloist Samuel Vargas), & the Tchaikovsky 3, the Polish.

Edwin Outwater leads the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra in two concerts this month: on 1 April, the program includes Ginastera's Variaciones concertantes, Opus 23, Henriette Renié's Concerto for Harp and Orchestra (with soloist Emmanuel Ceysson), & the Tchaikovsky 4; on 28 April, student conductor David Baker leads Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture & then Outwater takes over for Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra &, joined by pianist Aaron Diehl & his Trio, Mary Lou Williams's Zodiac Suite.

On 2 April in Zellerbach Hall, Music Director Joseph Young leads the Berkeley Symphony in Juan Pablo Contreras's Mariachitlán, Duke Ellington's New World A-Comin' & Billy Strayhorn's A Lovesome Thing: Billy Strayhorn Suite (arranged by Walden, though the site doesn't give any details on who that is; the Ellington & Strayhorn pieces feature pianist Lara Downes), & Elgar's Enigma Variations.

Cristian Măcelaru leads the San Francisco Symphony on 21 - 23 April in the SFS premiere of selections from Blues Symphony by Wynton Marsalis, the American premiere of SFS commission Milky Ways by Outi Tarkiainen (featuring Russ de Luna on English Horn), & the Shostakovich 1.

Dalia Stasevska leads the San Francisco Symphony in the SFS premiere of Anna Meredith's Nautilus, the Sibelius Violin Concerto with soloist Joshua Bell, & the Sibelius 2, & that's 27 - 30 April at Davies Hall.

Cal Performances presents George Hinchliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in Zellerbach Hall on 26 April.

Chamber Music

San Francisco Performances presents the Chiaroscuro Quartet on 1 April at Herbst Theater, performing works by Schubert, Beethoven, & Mendelssohn.

Chamber Music San Francisco presents the Tetzlaff Trio (Christian Tetzlaff on violin, Tanja Tetzlaff on cello, & Kiveli Doerken on piano) at Herbst Theater on 2 April, where they will perform works by Beethoven, Dvořák, & Schubert.

On 2 April at the Noe Valley Ministry, Lieder Alive! presents soprano Heidi Moss Erickson & pianist Paul Schrage (with special guests Joel Pattinson on violin & Peter Myers on cello) performing Ned Rorem's Aftermath & Richard Strauss's Vier letzte Lieder.

Violinist Alisa Rose & cellist Michael Graham perform works by Zoltan Kodaly, Jessie Montgomery, & Handel for Noontime Concerts on 4 April at Old Saint Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco.

San Francisco Performances presents the Modigliani Quartet on 5 April at Herbst Theater, with a program of works by Puccini, Beethoven, & Schubert.

The Emerson String Quartet's farewell tour comes to San Francisco Performances & Herbst Theater on 14 April, with music by Purcell (arranged by Britten), Haydn, Mozart, & Beethoven.

Cal Performances presents the Danish String Quartet at First Congregational on 14 April, where they will perform pieces by Schubert & the Bay Area premiere of an as-yet unnamed Cal Performances co-commission by Anna Thorvaldsdóttir.

The San Francisco Symphony will field a chamber group playing works by Mendelssohn, Timothy Higgins, Andrés Martin, & Ravel in Davies Hall on 16 April.

San Francisco Performances presents violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen & pianist James Baillieu performing music by CPE Bach, Schubert, & Schumann on 18 April at Herbst Theater (this is SFP's annual gift concert for subscribers & donors but tickets are also available to the general public).

Berkeley Chamber Performances presents clarinetist Deborah Pittman & Friends (the friends being flutist Maquette Kuper, bassoonist Shawn Jones, & pianist Joanne DePhillips) in "a multimedia evening featuring African American composers" (the composers being Valerie Coleman, Bill Douglas, Jimmy Rowles, & Pittman herself), & that's at the Berkeley City Club on 25 April.

On 26 April in Herbst Theater, San Francisco Performances presents pianist Benjamin Grosvenor & the Doric String Quartet, performing works by Beethoven, Haydn, & Frank Bridge.

Chamber Music San Francisco presents the Arod Quartet at Herbst Theater on 29 April, performing works by Haydn, Mendelssohn, & Schubert.


Chamber Music San Francisco presents pianist Jon Nakamatsu at Herbst Theater on 16 April, playing works by Chopin, Schubert, & Brahms.

San Francisco Performances presents pianist Lise de la Salle at Herbst Theater on 19 April, with a program of works by Albéniz, Liszt, & Ginastera.

Chamber Music San Francisco presents piano duo Greg Anderson & Elizabeth Joy Roe at Herbst Theater on 22 April, performing piano duos by Mozart & Dvořák as well as their own arrangements of (more) Mozart, (more) Dvořák, Holst, Bach/Gounod, & Leonard Bernstein.

Early / Baroque Music

Cal Performances presents harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani at Hertz Hall on 2 April, when he will play music by William Byrd, Bach, Brett Dean, & Domenico Scarlatti.

Jane Glover leads the San Francisco Symphony in Bach's Magnificat & his Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor, Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, & the first SFS performance of a contemporary piece, Stacy Garrop's Spectacle of Light, & that's at Davies Hall on 13 - 15 April.

Mills Music Now presents Barbara Strozzi, Venetian Virtuosa, in which Paul Flight leads a small ensemble in a number of Strozzi's vocal works, on 16 April at the Jeannik Méquet Littlefield Concert Hall at Mills College.

San Francisco Performances presents Trio Mediæval at Saint Mark's Lutheran on 20 April, with Lumen de Lumine, a program including "French medieval music from Notre Dame, Scandinavian traditional religious folk songs, and contemporary works written for Trio Mediæval".

Richard Egarr leads Philharmonia Baroque in a program that includes the world premiere of Mason Bates's Appalachian Ayre as well as Schmelzer's Lamento sopra la morte di Ferdinandi III, Biber's Mensa Sonora Pars III in A minor, C 71, & Muffat's Missa in labore requies, with sopranos Maya Kherani & Nola Richardson, countertenors Siman Chung & Reginald Mobley, tenors Spencer Britten & James Reese, & bass-baritones Cody Quattlebaum & Jonathan Woody, & that's 27 April at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, 28 April at Bing Concert Hall at Stanford, & 29 - 30 April at First Church in Berkeley.

See also Handel's Flavio at the SF Conservatory of Music & PBO's production of Handel's Amadigi, listed under Operatic.

Modern / Contemporary Music

Cal Performances presents the Kronos Quartet with pipa virtuoso Wu Man at Zellerbach Hall on 1 April, when they will perform arrangements of traditional pipa music (by Man & Danny Clay) as well as pieces by Terry Riley, Steve Reich, & Tan Dun.

At the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on 11 April, the Golden Gate Men's Chorus joins an instrumental ensemble led by Joseph Piazza in an evening of works by David Conte.

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players perform Conlon Nancarrow's Study No. 3a, arranged for ensemble (arranged by Evan Ziporyn), the Bay Area premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Catch & Release, & the world premiere of Brian Baumbusch's Polytempo Music, & that's 13 April at the Taube Atrium Theater.

On 15 April, Ensemble for These Times collaborates with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's TAC Department (I have no idea what "TAC" stands for) & guest artists Adrienne Anaya (vibraphone) & Mia Nardi-Huffman (violin) to present world premiere / E4TT-commissioned work by Juhi Bansal, inti figgis-vizueta, Marcus Norris, & Michael Robert Smith, an SF premiere from Pamela Z, & works by Salina Fisher, David Garner, & Angelica Negron.

On 15 April at Herbst Theater, San Francisco Performances presents a tribute to Bay Area composer Ingram Marshall; Edwin Outwater will conduct members of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in Fog Tropes, & others will present works he dedicated to them: Libby Van Cleve (English Horn) gives us Dark Waters, guitarist Benjamin Verdery gives us Soe-pa, John Adams (conducting Conservatory students & Timo Andres on piano) gives us Flow, & Sarah Cahill on piano gives us Authentic Presence.

On 20 April in Zellerbach Hall, Cal Performances presents Sō Percussion with singer/composer Caroline Shaw in the west coast premiere of Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part (written by the ensemble & Shaw) & Jason Treuting's Amid the Noise.

On 23 April, Old First Concerts presents the Wooden Fish Ensemble in celebration of 120 years of Korean immigration to the USA, in a concert featuring traditional Korean music & several pieces by Hyo-shin Na, including the world premiere of From Korea to America – 120 Years and Beyond. & just a couple of days earlier, on 21 April, Old First presents Hyunchae Kim playing Hyo-shin Na’s music for solo kayageum.

On 30 April, Old First Concerts presents Quinteto Latino in a performance of music by Cuban-American composer Orlando Jacinto García.

Jazz / Folk

Pianist & composer Vijay Iyer comes to the SF Jazz Center this month, first with a solo piano performance on 6 April & then with the Vijay Iyer Trio (the other two are bassist Linda May Han Oh & drummer Tyshawn Sorey) on 7 - 9 April.

Quinteto Latino gives the premiere of their commission The Spanglish Dances by Victor Márquez-Barrios, along with Puzzle-Tocas by Gabriela Ortiz, multiple winds in the distance by Orlando Jacinto Garcia, & another of their commissions, Felipe Nieto-Sáchica’s C U Z A, on 7 April at the Center for New Music.

On 15 April, Old First Concerts presents a Centennial Tribute to Maestro Ali Akbar Khan, featuring his two sons, Alam & Manik Khan, on sarod, joined by Swapan Chaudhuri on tabla.

Cal Performances presents Latin jazz master Paquito D’Rivera & his sextet, performing music inspired by his Jazz Meets the Classics release (the classics in this case being Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, & others), in Zellerbach Hall on 21 April.

Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater & pianist Bill Charlap perform at the SF Jazz Center from 27 to 30 April (& they will be recording these performances for a forthcoming live album).

The Alaya Project. joining "the intricate Carnatic style of Indian classical music and contemporary jazz and funk", plays at the Center for New Music on 29 April.


The San Francisco Ballet closes its season with two story ballets, both with scores by Prokofiev: from 31 March to 8 April we have Cinderella, with choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, & from 21 to 30 April we have Romeo & Juliet, with choreography by Helgi Tomasson.

Voices of Music collaborates with Balam Dance Theatre in Metamorphosis, which director & choreographer Carlos Fittante has set to a new composition by Hanneke van Proosdij & pipa virtuoso Yihan Chen, & that's 30 March at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, 1 April at Saint Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, & 2 April at First Congregational in Berkeley.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater makes its annual visit to Cal Performances & Zellerbach Hall from 11 to 16 April with three different programs: Program A gives us Roy's Joys (choreography by Twyla Tharp, music by Roy Eldridge), Duet (choreography by Paul Taylor, music by Haydn), For Four (choreography by Robert Battle, music by Wynton Marsalis), & Revelations (choreography by Alvin Ailey, of course, set to traditional spirituals); Program B gives us In a Sentimental Mood (choreography by Jamar Roberts, set to Depuis le Jour from Charpentier's Louise, sung by Leontyne Price), Survivors (choreography by Alvin Ailey & Mary Barnett, music by Max Roach), & Are You in Your Feelings? (movement by Kyle Abraham, set to a mixtape of soul, hip-hop, & R&B); Program C gives us Night Creature (choreography by Alvin Ailey, music by Duke Ellington), Cry (choreography by Alvin Ailey, music by Alice Coltrane, Laura Nyro, & Chuck Griffin), For Four, & Revelations.

The Alonzo King LINES Ballet presents a collaboration among King, vocalist Lisa Fischer, & photographer Richard Misrach at the Yerba Buena Theater from 15 to 23 April.

The Smuin Ballet presents Dance Series 2, made up of Swipe (choreography by Val Caniparoli, music by Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of Sergei), the company premiere of Sextette (choreography by Katarzyna Skarpetowska, music by Bach), Dream (choreography by Michael Smuin, music by Chopin), & a world premiere by choreographer Amy Seiwert, & that's 28 - 29 April at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, 5 - 14 May at the Yerba Buena Theater, & 25 - 28 May at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.

Visual Arts

MOAD presents Black Venus, surveying Black women in visual culture from colonial caricatures to present-day works by Black women artists, & that opens on 5 April & runs through 20 August.

Ansel Adams in Our Time, examining the great environmentalist & photographer in the light of those who came before & those who came after him, opens at the de Young Museum on 8 April & runs through 23 July.


BAM/PFA launches the series Odessa’s Uncompromising Eccentric: The Films of Kira Muratova on 1 April, running through 14 May.

Museum Monday 2023/13


detail of Ganymede, attributed to Baldassarre Franceschini, now in the Legion of Honor, San Francisco

26 March 2023

William Kentridge: SYBIL

As part of William Kentridge's residency at UC-Berkeley, Cal Performances presented the American premiere of his stage work SIBYL over a three-day run in Zellerbach Hall. The attendant Gala on the first night meant that, unusually for Cal Performances, the show did not have a ridiculously late start time, so that was the performance I went to (I did not, of course, attend the Gala).

SIBYL is based on a legend of the Sibyl of ancient Cumae (near present-day Naples): she would write your future on an oak leaf & lay it on a pile with other such futures. As you went up to retrieve yours, a wind would rise & shuffle the leaves, so that you could never be sure if the future you were holding was your own or someone else's. This is certainly a resonant parable, suggesting both the inevitability & the uncertainty of our destiny.

The first half is anchored on a short film, The Moment Has Gone, which explores in Kentridge's familiar style of feathery charcoal drawings, constantly erased & redrawn. the story of a Kentridge-like figure going to an art museum & simultaneously the life of a marginal mining operation. Scenes flow naturally with oneiric logic into one another. There is also a live score by Kyle Shepherd & an all-male chorus of African men headed by Nhlanhla Mahlangu. After an overly long intermission, which I would have preferred not to have (intermissions break the flow, especially for an audience a large number of whom are clearly just waiting for the after-party, & I didn't see that any set-up was needed for the second half), we have a short chamber opera, Waiting for the Sibyl, a collection of scenes that do not each end so much as continue in some other universal space after the curtain drops on them. There is no resolution other than reinforced ambiguity.

There are gnomic, possibly gnostic, brief sentences or saying that are broadcast on the back walls (partially obstructed from my right front orchestra seat by the placement on stage of the chorus, & of a large megaphone-like device, but they are also spoken aloud & repeated, so I was given most of them). In one of the scenes a man tries to sit down, only to have the chair pulled away from him mid-descent; after several attempts, he manages to sit down, only to have the chair collapse. It is a scene redolent of both the silent comedians & Beckett (who, of course, admired those comics; Keaton & Chaplin are really some of the underacknowledged springs of the twentieth-century avant-garde). In another scene, an African woman sitting on a chair (chairs keep recurring) is slowly revolved around; on her shoulders she carries a long stick, one side of which has a sign saying Dreams & the other a sign saying True, & both the signs also rotate slowly. Is True a noun, opposing itself to Dreams, or an adjective, modifying Dreams? What are True Dreams? Prophetic ones? Later, one of the repeated sententiae is None of Our Dreams Came True – is that what was suggested here? Or possibly all possibilities are, you know, always possible.

A reference to the circles of Hell recalls a thought that some of the portraits in the film looked like Dante, or someone Dante-esque. The singing, choral & solo, is constant, & an enchantment, but the words are not in English & not translated; one section involves clicking so I am assuming there is an African language involved there. Sound & meaning do not always coincide, at least for some of us. The megaphone gets used to repeat some of the slogans we've seen projected, ending with the pronouncement, over & over, Starve the Algorithm repeats into the darkened auditorium. A woman in the back shouts Yes!, which seems a bit . . . sure, it's what people who attend performances in Berkeley are currently thinking, but these are also the people who whip out the inevitable mobile phone as soon as they can, & put them away as late as possible, so what does it mean for us to think this?

I would love to have seen this show over & over; I think each viewing would reveal new connections & deeper richness, but of course that would be missing the point of a stage work, which gives us moment-by-moment & then passes away into memory before the curtain falls: uncertainty & ambiguity rule us, & part of what makes beauty beautiful is that we know it is fleeting. SIBYL is another astonishing work from Kentridge.

20 March 2023

13 March 2023

Museum Monday 2023/11


detail of The Triumph of Justice, an early 16th-century Flemish tapestry now in the Legion of Honor, San Francisco

12 March 2023

Harry Bicket & the English Concert: Handel's Solomon

The first CDs I ever bought were Philip Glass's The Photographer & the John Eliot Gardiner recording of Handel's Solomon, & the Internet tells me that was 38 years ago, but neither before nor after that momentous purchase had I heard the oratorio live, so when Harry Bicket & the English Concert stopped at Cal Performances & Zellerbach Hall last Sunday on their Solomon tour, I made sure to be there.

I should start off by making it clear I enjoyed it immensely, but there may be reasons beyond the large forces called for that make this oratorio a relative rarity. It lacks the sweep & tragic intensity of such works as Jephthah (my favorite), Saul, or Belshazzar; I wouldn't call it static, but it's not exactly action-packed. I knew this going in, thanks to John Eliot Gardiner (though this performance included a couple of arias that were not in his edition), but I think some of those around me did not; I heard some observations, clearly meant as complaints, that "it was long", & at three & a half hours indeed it was, but if you surrendered to the grandeur it was also quite radiant.

Some of Handel's oratorios are virtually operas & can be staged as such, but Solomon is more like a pageant or masque. It opens with praise of God & King Solomon, with many dazzling choruses (superbly sung by The Clarion Choir, led by Steven Fox), ending with Solomon's unnamed (&, contrary to the Bible, singular) Queen praising their nuptial bed. This was one of several passages in the anonymous libretto that led to much chuckling from some of the people behind me – "bosom" was another word that set them off. You'd think they were middle-schoolers, & not particularly mature ones at that, rather than a couple of wrecks clearly teetering on the brink of the grave. I was glad when they left after the second intermission.

The second part contains a dramatic interlude, the famous dispute over a baby by two women (called "harlots"; the program tells us Handel objected to the term but it doesn't tell us why or what form the objection took; the King James translation does describe the women initially as harlots but thereafter refers to them just as women), with "divide the baby" as the judgment designed to reveal the true mother. Handel's deftness as a dramatist certainly comes to the fore here, with the Second Harlot's sharp interruptions of the First Harlot's laments making a particularly striking deviation from the usual circumspect forms of baroque oratorio. The part concludes, after the judgment & Solomon's assurance, in case you were worried, that he never meant to actually kill the infant, with a bit of gently melancholy pastoral ("Beneath the vine, or fig-tree's shade / Every shepherd sings the maid / Who his simple heart betrayed") & further praise of Solomon.

The third & final part begins with what is, or used to be, one of the best-known orchestral interludes in Handel, the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, who has come to see the glorious sights & generally bask in the wisdom & benevolence of the celebrated Solomon. He treats her to a series of tableaux illustrating the variety of music's emotional powers, to rouse us to martial feelings, to inspire & console us for melancholy love, & so forth (similar in spirit to the Handel / Dryden Alexander's Feast). When she departs, Sheba thanks Solomon for the unforgettable wisdom he has imparted, but it's actually not quite clear what actually constitutes this "wisdom"; for all the praise of the King, & of God, you can't help feeling that in this section Handel is slyly pointing out the superior power of the Composer, among whose powerful creations are not only martial spirit & gentle love, but Majesty & Deity.

As is frequently the case with Handel's oratorios (as opposed to his operas), the chorus plays a major part, & as noted above they were superb & tireless & expressive in all ways, from the ethereal benevolence of the "Nightingale" chorus to the rousing, timpani-studded swells of praise for God, King, & Music. Bicket led the sumptuous band at a pace that never felt either delayed or rushed, & the soloists did not let down either chorus, orchestra, or audience, starting with mezzo Ann Hallenberg as a dignified & intelligent Solomon. Mezzo Niamh O'Sullivan made a fierce Second Harlot, as the Queen of Sheba soprano Elena Villalón's voice was as rich & golden as her floor-length one-shouldered sheath, &, in smaller roles, bass-baritone Brandon Cedel as a Levite & tenor James Way as Zadok the Priest were both smooth & forceful. But it was soprano Miah Persson, as Solomon's Queen & as First Harlot, who, in her pastoral interlude (the one mentioned above, where every shepherd sings the maid who his simple heart betrayed), managed, among the pageantry, to reduce me to tears.

10 March 2023

Friday Photo 2023/10


Market Street, San Francisco: Native Sons of the Golden West fountain commemorating the admission of California to the Union

06 March 2023

Museum Monday 2023/10


detail of Courtyard, Casa del Chapiz by John Singer Sargent, currently on view at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco as part of the special exhibit Sargent & Spain