San Francisco Symphony:  Rossini & Bloch

March 27, 1999
Greetings, Opera fans--

I hope that I am able to live up to the daunting reputation I have acquired as a result of my short but memorable association with Sir Norris von Brabant.  I've been pressed into action to report on important matters such as world travel, opera musings, symphonic blathering and perhaps a choice recipe or two.  My vast array of Internet Acquaintances and Friends are very familiar with the treats and concoctions which emanate from my kitchen and, aside from a few trips to the hospital, most report that the results are favorable.

So as I sit, comfortably ensconced in my Virtual Brabant on the West Coast, I will wax poetic on a most enjoyable trip to the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall on the evening of March 27, 1999.  I've been venturing back to the refurbished San Francisco Symphony Hall only recently.  I was a bit peeved when the amply paid musicians had a strike two seasons ago, however I was drawn back by the splendid Mahler Festival offerings of 1998 and lately I have been attending performances regularly.

The program was diverse. . . .a 20th century piece by Bloch, Schelomo (Solomon) and a rippin' good work by Signore Rossini, Stabat Mater.  I'm guessing both pieces were Holy Week/Passover selections and the entire concert was dedicated to a TITAN OF MUSIC~Yehudi Menuhin, who recently passed on to the celestial chorus and band.  Menuhin, while born in New York, grew up and thrived in San Francisco and always considered it his home.

Now, mind you, I'm no music critic.  My college background was in Biology and Chemistry.  And while I can dissect a frog with the best of them, I wouldn't know a diminished 5th from a High C (or a High Five for that matter).  Cords are pants that you wear and a chromatic scale is something I avoid at the Dr.'s office.  What I can convey to you is largely an emotional reaction and a hapless stab at fashion critique.  With that in mind. . . . . here goes!

I liked the Bloch piece for two reasons:  1) I love to hear solo or accompanied cello works AND 2) I like Klezmer music (Doug, did I spell that right?). This piece had both, Jewish folkloric themes and cello playing, and a big, beefy horn section.  Now, when I hear the cello, I usually burst into tears because it always seems to tug my heart strings.  This music fell just short of that mark.  The symphony didn't have the luxury of having Rostropovich or Ma fly in to rip into this little ditty, so they "made do" with their first chair cellist Michael Grebanier, who gave a fine reading.  There was an undercurrent of passion in the work that just didn't jump out and grab me.

The 2nd half of the program was a bit over the top for me, for a religious work.  I was steeped in a Catholic tradition of Latin Mass, gagging on the scent of incense, works by Bach, & Handel, Mozart Requiems, Verdi Requiems and Vespers and the like.  So to hear religious themes done in the theatrical style of Rossini had me worked into a lather!  I was listening to the chorus singing "The Mother of Sorrows stood in tears beside the Cross on which her Son was hanging" and it sounded like a barcarolle or a brindisi !  Sheesh, Gioacchino, what were you drinking that day?

With luxury casting:  Patricia Racette, Suzanne Mentzer, Roberto Scandiuzzi and Juan Diego Flóres singing, and the passionate Roberto Abbado at the podium, how could you go wrong?  Vance George ably directed the magnificent San Francisco Symphony Choir.  Back up. . . .Juan Diego WHO?  Write down the name 100 times on a piece of paper. JUAN DIEGO FLÓRES.  This guy had a sweet, lyrical, gorgeous medium-sized tenor voice, and the lad is only 26!  This young singer is another wonder from the Southern Hemisphere!  Peru to be exact.  Schooled at the Curtis Institute, his resume is formidable especially in Europe and primarily Donizetti and Rossini.  This young man, IMHO, is a successor to Ramón Vargas (who is still too young to need a successor).  Racette's voice was lush and clarion throughout Inflammatus, and Scandiuzzi, who has been one of my favorite Italian Imports, sang with great fervor and a dramatic panache Pro Peccasit Suae Gentis, and the gorgeous, honey-toned Mentzer brought tears to my eyes during Quis est Homo.  A great evening, Abbado was great conducting the Rossini and less so on the Bloch, maybe it's that Latin passion which was brought out in the Stabat Mater, I don't know.

Next installment. . . . .Only his hairdresser knows for sure. . . . . Gustav Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer sung by Thomas Hampson, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas April 2, 1999 (I'm no fool, I got tickets for Friday!)


PS:  (Next attraction:  Queen of the Nile)

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