09 February 2007

. . . Man never Is, but always To Be, blest

Every year around this time, up until April or May, comes the theater-goer's version of the crocuses poking through the snow -- the announcements of next season's opportunities for ecstasy and disappointment and mostly stuff in between. Even as I find myself wondering why I thought it would be a good idea to have plays and concerts four or five nights in a row and as I stare in disbelief at the constantly escalating credit card bills, I still pull the cards out to do the same thing next year. So much just looks so good! And so much for living in the Now. I actually called the Ballet to see about subscribing this season, but like the Opera they charge an extortion fee for the best seats and though I've gotten used to it from the Opera and have been going long enough so that I sit pretty close without giving in, I'm not starting that all over again with another group. The so-called premium seats cost well over twice as much as the second-best, not that there were any of those close enough for me, so instead of seeing all eight programs I just bought individual tickets to three. I don't understand why they don't even the cost out a little more, especially with all their whining about making opera and ballet more accessible and avoiding "that's for rich people" stereotypes.


The earliest announcement was for David Gockley's first real season at the Opera. I have to say I think he did a good job in a difficult situation. I've thought of this season as "the Rosenberg rebuke." There was a definite Opera 101, throw-up-your -hands feel about the season, as if the basics were all that could be offered to people who groaned at having to hear Messiaen and Ligeti. I was afraid Gockley would go too far to win back that crowd (that's a dead end for the future anyway) by offering a stable crammed with exhausted warhorses (kind of like this season, only more so). In fact I had vowed that if Boheme showed up on the schedule I would switch to buying individual tickets, unless they took up my suggestion of an "opt-out" choice for those of us who just can't sit through certain things again.


I had to get past my intense embarrassment that this is being marketed as a "season of glamour" (complete with British spelling). There's nothing too shocking in there, but there's a new work by Philip Glass, some favorite composers showing up in less frequent incarnations (Macbeth and La Rondine), and one or two that are pretty unusual --like most (or any) baroque operas, Ariodante is probably a stretch for most of the opera audience. I saw several baroque operas before I saw a mainstream one, so I'm thrilled. (Once someone asked me in disbelief why I had three recordings of Ariodante. My reply was "Janet Baker, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and Anne Sofie von Otter." Baroque opera is the reason I do not believe people who go on about new operas failing because "there are no melodies." Baroque opera is nothing but gorgeous melody after gorgeous melody, but it still freaks out the usual opera audience because it's unfamiliar. Repetition is how we hear melody.) San Francisco audiences like to think of themselves as international-level and very daring, but they're actually quite conservative and label-conscious (which may be why we're getting so many singers in roles that were big hits for them at the Met -- not that I'm complaining too much). And I'm always happy to hear The Rake's Progress.


Since I've already complained about the extortion fee and the over-reliance on warhorses, I have to mention another pet peeve, the standard 8:00 start time, because I need to salute the Symphony for changing the start time of the new John Adams opera, A Flowering Tree, to 7:30. I don't have the postcard to hand but the reason given was basically "so people aren't up all night." Accept the thanks of a grateful nation. I'm really looking forward to this work -- one of the first things I did after returning from Bayreuth was buy a ticket for it. And that is despite my disappointment in Dr. Atomic, and despite "I Was Looking At the Ceiling (Because What's on Stage Sucks So Much)" being one of the worst things I have ever sat through. Hope springs eternal in the human breast. . . .

4 comments:

Robert said...

I Was Looking at the Ceiling is probably the only program I've attended where the highlight was going outside for intermission.

Robert Gable
http://rgable.typepad.com/aworks

sfmike said...

"But then there's the bad boys..."

I actually love Doctor Atomic and I was Looking at the Ceiling, though I hated the Sellars stagings of both. Still, he did get them produced and out of the composer's head and onto the stage. See you at "A Flowering Tree."

pjwv said...

Robert -- I had to laugh. . . I recently asked a friend of mine if I'd ever discussed "Ceiling" with him and he was kind enough to say he remembered my rants (which lasted for days) fondly though he also started edging away. . .

Mike, Good point about Sellars getting the works on stage; I didn't make it very clear that my problems with both works had more to do with Sellars (or Sellars and June Jordan) than with Adams's music. I've seen some amazing, indelible things by Sellars and an increasing number of flat, simplistic things. I don't know how far back you've read in my blog but my first real entry was about Dr. Atomic and my disappointment in the libretto. I do sometimes wonder if it was an off night for the performers and/or me, since I know several people who saw the world premiere who loved it. When are you at the Flowering Tree? I'm going on the 2nd.

sfmike said...

1st and 3rd, actually. And I just saw the Lou Harrison premiere of "Young Caesar" at Yerba Buena. Talk about shitty librettos and great music. It made Sellars' cut-and-paste pastiche for "Doctor Atomic" look like genius.