San Francisco Symphony:  Stravinsky & Ravel
Dateline:  May 14, 1999

I don't know how an evening could get much better than the experience I had at the San Francisco Symphony.  Michael Tilson Thomas keeps proving to me over and over that he is a genius.  20th Century music seems to be his forte and the evening's program bodes well for this summer's Stravinsky Festival.

The program opened with Stravinsky's Canticum Sacrum.  While not exactly my musical cup of tea, I could appreciate the skill with which the musical line was crafted.  The vocal music was haunting, one could only imagine how these sounds would fill the Duomo in Venice, the locale for which the piece was dedicated.

Everyone who has attended a Timpani Concerto, please raise their hands.  Not many?  I don't suppose there are many to be performed.  The second piece was Kraft's Timpani Concerto (1984).  This was a mesmerizing piece of music.  The program noted that this piece is so technically difficult  that two timpanists are usually engaged for performances.  The soloist, David Herbert, displayed superb mastery of the drums and amazing athleticism.  The five gleaming drums were played with every type of [mallet] drumstick, gloved hands and I nearly expected him to purloin a violin and give the kettledrum a couple of whacks.  Seriously, I found the piece engaging with its varied rhythms carried in waves through the orchestra.  The ovation for Herbert was tremendous, and on the second bow, Tilson Thomas and Herbert ushered out the composer of the work.

After intermission I was thrilled, enraptured, and entranced by Ravel's one-act opera, L'Enfant et les Sortiléges.  Here, Tilson Thomas was given pure luxury casting:  Frederica von Stade, Stephanie Blythe, Dominique LaBelle, Jane Giering-De Haan, Joyce Di Donato, Richard Clement, Raymond Aceto, and François Le Roux.  I am familiar with this piece through a video version, with fantastic sets which spring to life, menacing animals which terrorize the dreadful, misbehaved child.  What thrilled me and delighted me more than the video was the superb singing and the dazzling orchestra in this concert version.

Frederica von Stade was stupendous as the naughty, unrepentant child, so right for the role.  I think that the opera-going public should seek to have this woman declared a National Treasure.  For the rest of the cast it was my second occasion hearing three of the lovely ladies.  Stephanie Blythe is just fantastic; with her first note she filled the auditorium with her rich, plush tone.  I long to hear her in a full opera.  She was wildly engaging as the Chinese Cup opposite Richard Clement's madcap Tea Pot.   Dominique LaBelle amazed me with her warmth as the Princess and the Shepherdess.  Jane Giering-De Haan has a gorgeous coloratura voice, but even in a fiery red gown, didn't quite ignite as The Fire.  Richard Clement was hysterically funny as the defaced Arithmetic Book which could no longer add.  Joyce DiDonato and Françoise LeRoux purred out the two cats.  The chorus was splendid, making frog, duck, insect and the cacophony of other sundry forest noises.  This was an evening of utter delight.

I saw my final Pocket Opera performance for this season on Sunday May 23, [Offenbach's] Orpheus in the Underworld.  What a rollicking good time this was.  Donald Pippin infused his translation of this satire with biting topical humor.  Among the standouts in the cast was mezzo, Donna Petersen.  I first heard her as the old dowager in Pocket Opera's Daughter of the Regiment.  She has sung many roles in her career including the old Countess in [Tchaikowsky's] Queen of Spades, as understudy to Leonie Rysanek.  She was just delightful and blustery in the role of Public Opinion ~ the scourge of the Olympian Gods.  Tenor Michael P. Mendelsohn was a deliciously devilish standout as Pluto.  The piece was well staged and deftly choreographed for the all-important CAN-CAN, complete with skirt waving, leg kicking and a soprano doing the splits (something I daresay you won't see at the MET).  Maestro Pippin exchanged his customary black beret for a red sequined beret just for the HELL OF IT.

Well, I'm off this diet of operatic confections now. . . on to meaty operatic entrees. . . .The RING beckons in a scant two weeks.  Soon many of my operatic pals will be in my stomping grounds for this auspicious occasion.

Here's one last confection. . . .in deference to the delightful Web Boffin**. Yum!

    White Chocolate Truffles


  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsp heavy cream,
  • 3/4 cup sweet butter,
  • 2 1/4 lb bitter sweet or semi-sweet chocolate
  • 3/4 cup sour cream,
  • 6 Tbsp. Grand Marnier Liqueur,
  • 1 1/2 tsp grated orange peel
Bring the cream and butter to a slow boil in a heavy saucepan.  Reduce heat and add chocolate, whisking until smooth.  Remove from the heat and add flavorings* and sour cream.  Pour into a 9 x 13 glass baking dish and chill until set but not too firm.

Line 1 cookie sheet with foil.  Sift 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar onto the pan.  Using a 3/4 oz scoop, form and roll the ganache into balls.  Resist the urge to make them really big, they get bigger when they are dipped.  Roll in powdered sugar until lightly but evenly coated.  Place on another foil covered cookie sheet.  Cover and chill until firm (I freeze them).

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs of white chocolate
Melt the white chocolate over medium-low heat in a double boiler, until the chocolate is just melted.  Do not over heat or the white chocolate will seize and get lumpy.  Take small numbers of the truffles from the freezer and using toothpicks, dip the truffles into the chocolate, WORK QUICKLY WHILE DIPPING.  Place on cookie sheets lined with waxed paper or baking parchment.  You can use a toothpick dipped into the white chocolate to correct breaks in the coating.  Decorate with a drizzle of dark chocolate. . .it looks festive and hides boo boos.  White chocolate won't show that greyish "bloom" that regular chocolate will get if it isn't properly tempered, besides these little treats don't last very long.

Store in tightly covered container in the refrigerator.  Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

* This makes a lot of chocolates.  I usually divide the batch up into three portions and flavor each one differently.  In one I will use 2T of Grand Marnier and 1/2 tsp of orange peel.  In one I add some sifted powdered espresso, dipped in the white chocolate it becomes a Capuccino Truffle.  In the other I will add crushed toasted almonds and 2T of Amaretto or crushed toasted hazelnuts and some Frangelico.  I've tried Chambord and 2 T of de-seeded raspberry jam, Kahlua, Crème de Menthe. . . .you get the idea.

** The Web Boffin positively swooooooned after reading this recipe!  Thanks, Terri!    &:-)

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