ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Review: Two Italian Dynamos—Nicola Luisotti and pianist Giuseppe Albanese—and the SF Opera Orchestra, kick off SF Opera’s Summer Season at Zellerbach Hall

Nicola Luisott conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in concert on Friday, May 17 at 8 p.m. at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. The program includes Nino Rota’s rarely performed Piano Concerto in C featuring Italian pianist Giuseppe Albanese, Puccini’s Capriccio Sinfonico and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F major. Photo: Terrence McCarthy

Nicola Luisotti conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in concert on Friday, May 17 at 8 p.m. at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. The program includes Nino Rota’s rarely performed “Piano Concerto in C,” featuring Italian pianist Giuseppe Albanese; Puccini’s “Capriccio Sinfonico;” and Brahms’ “Symphony No. 3 in F major”. Photo: Terrence McCarthy

There’s only one Nicola Luisotti—the magical maestro!  Last Friday’s symphonic concert with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra at Zellerbach Hall, a San Francisco Opera and Cal Performances co-production, was everything we’ve come to expect when Luisotti is at the helm of this very talented orchestra—heart-felt passion and mesmerizing music.  It was wonderful to be able to actually see this talented orchestra, which normally resides in the pit during operas, and to place some faces with soloists we’ve come to respect and love.  Last Friday’s program included Nino Rota’s rarely performed “Piano Concerto in C,” featuring Italian pianist Giuseppe Albanese; Puccini’s early piece, “Capriccio Sinfonico;” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F major.

The surprise treat was Giuseppe Albanese, in his West Coast premiere, who not only proved to be un talento enormo on the piano but a curly-haired young Italian heartthrob to boot.  He appeared in bright red shoes, a feat not many guys (apart from Jean-Yves Thibaudet!) can successfully pull off ..…he owned it.  It was his smile, sensual verve and engagement with the music and orchestra that melted the audience and led to several standing ovations and a sensational triple encore.   His encore included an uncannily virtuosic rendition of Scriabin’s “Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand” (Op. 9, No. 2), which he knocked out with playful swagger. I would have sworn there were at least two hands on that keyboard if I hadn’t seen Albanese’s right hand alternately hanging by his side or pressed up expressively against his heart.

The evening opened with Puccini’s “Capriccio sinfonico,” a rarely performed work the composer wrote as a 25-year-old at the conservatory in Milan. The Capriccio was Puccini’s final student work, written to satisfy the requirements for his graduation in July 1883. He hadn’t yet written his first opera (although the work is full of operatic grandeur—and even contains passages that the maestro later used in “La Bohême”).  One of Puccini’s biographers, Julian Budden, has this to say about the Capriccio: “Performed at the annual students’ concert on July 14, it at once alerted the critics to a new voice in Italian music.  Filippi of La perseveranza shed all his reservations of the previous year.  ‘In Puccini,’ he wrote, ‘we have a decisive and rare musical temperament and one which is especially symphonic. There is unity of style, personality, character.  In his Capriccio sinfonico there is a good deal that more experienced composers . . . have not succeeded in doing. . . There are no uncertainties or gropings in the young author. . . The ideas are clear, strong, effective and sustained with much truth.’  (PUCCINI: HIS LIFE AND WORKS by Julian Budden, 2002)

A three encore night for Italian pianist Giuseppe Albanese who had his West Coast debut with Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra on Friday, May 17, 2013.  Photo: courtesy Giuseppe Albanese.

A three encore night for Italian pianist Giuseppe Albanese who had his West Coast debut with Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra on Friday, May 17, 2013. Photo: courtesy Giuseppe Albanese.

The opera orchestra’s performance of this precious archive from Puccini’s repertoire was indeed inspired and so was Luisotti’s conducting, a feat of passion and pure embrace of sound. Luisotti, who at times appeared to be writing in the air with his sweeping gestures of the baton, guided the orchestra into a lush performance, reminding me that it’s hard to beat an Italian conducting an Italian.

Up next was pianist Giuseppe Albanese in Nino Rota’s rarely performed “Piano Concerto in C,” a piece that had his curly hair flouncing and his fingers flying as he executed complex crossovers matching blow for blow Luisotti’s passionate baton waving and flying locks.  As both men became one with the music and the orchestra, it was a pleasure to sit back, watch and listen.  Rota has composed four piano concertos but is best known for his film scores, which date back to the early 1940s.  He’s collaborated with Federico Fellini, Renato Castellani, Luchino Visconti, Franco Zeffirelli, Mario Monicelli, Francis Ford Coppola (he received the Oscar for Best Original Score for The Godfather II), King Vidor, René Clément, Edward Dmytrik and Eduardo de Filippo.  Additionally, he composed the music for many theatre productions by Visconti, Zefirelli and de Filippo.  It’s natural to wonder whether his film and concert music are similar.  The Piano Concerto in C has a strong melody but didn’t evoke any filmic moments for me.   The drama and passion was injected by Albanese who had the audience’s rapt attention throughout.   So much so that, afterwards, he received a long standing ovation and came out for an encore— Denis Zardi Prelude, Op. 6, No. 24—followed by another ovation.  It was his second piece— Scriabin’s “Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand” (Op. 9, No. 2)—where he delivered the goods, a technically challenging one-handed performance of great beauty and emotional richness. After that, as if egged on by Luisotti behind the curtain to “go for it,” he came out again with Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” arranged by Earl Wilde, a familiar piece he played to the hilt while taking every opportunity to lap up the much-deserved limelight.

The evening concluded with Brahams “Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90,” which I had never before heard.  All  four of it movements end quietly and its most powerful moments are quite restrained.  Coming on the heels of the robust first half of the concert, this subdued but highly complex piece was a soothing end to the evening.  The third movement started with a wonderfully low and flowing cello passage that was followed later by Kevin Rivard’s tender horn solo.   What a treat to hear this masterpiece for the first time performed with such passion by Luisotti’s orchestra.

Author Barbara Quick, well-known for her best-selling novel, Vivaldi’s Virgins, has just finished a new historically-accurate novel called “Saving Puccini” and gave ARThound a good deal of insight and perspective on the Puccini performance.

For more information about San Francisco Opera’s Summer 2013 season, which includes Tales of Hoffman (6/5-7/6/2013), Cosi fan tutte (6/9-7/1/2013), and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (6/19-7/7/2013),  click here.

For more information about upcoming performances at Cal Performances, whose next performance is Ojai North! by Mark Morris (6/12-6/15/2013),  click here.

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May 22, 2013 Posted by | Chamber Music, Classical Music, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFMOMA presents “Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation,” at YBCA’s Novellus Theater, August 18 through 21, 2011

Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein looking over the score for Four Saints in Three Acts, ca. 1929; Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library, Yale University; photo: Mabel Thérèse Bonney

Among the outtakes from Woody Allen’s recent hit film Midnight in Paris might well have been a scene showing Gertrude Stein being asked by the obscure young American composer Virgil Thomson to create an opera libretto for him.  There, in Paris in 1927, began one of America’s quirkiest creative partnerships, yielding not only the unique, wacky, and strangely moving operas Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and The Mother of Us All (1947), but opening the floodgates for new modernist thought in music, literature, and art in America.

Stein’s typically nonlinear libretto for Four Saints, more focused on the sounds of words than on plot, is a sort of fractured fairy tale starring two 16th-century Spanish saints—the theologian Ignatius of Loyola and the mystic Teresa of Avila—and a gaggle of imaginary cohorts (St. Plan, St. Settlement, St. Plot, St. Chavez, etc.) who have visions of a heavenly mansion, enjoy a celestial picnic, and dance a tango-inflected ballet.  Thomson’s accessible music draws upon the snappy rhythms of American speech and the warm melodic shapes of American folksongs and hymns. 

On the occasion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s major exhibition The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Bay Area Now 6 (BAN6), SFMOMA in association with YBCA will present a new production of Stein and Thomson’s opera. The new version, titled Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation, will play at YBCA’s Novellus Theater this Thursday, August 18, through Sunday, August 21, 2011.  The 50 minute performance will be preceded by a “A Heavenly Act” (2011), a brand new stand-alone curtain-raiser with an original score by Luciano Chessa and new video and performance elements by Kalup Linzy, inspired by a streamlined 1950s version of Thomson and Stein’s opera.  Four Saints, which follows it, will be augmented by video projections from Chessa and Linzy’s opening piece.

Four Saints is vintage Thomson/Stein, simultaneously All-American and countercultural,” said New York opera dramaturg Cori Ellison.  “Avant-garde yet sweetly ingenuous, it’s always been a magnet for the most imaginative theatre and visual artists, from Robert Wilson and Mark Morris on down.  I’d say any performance of this rare and charming opera is a must-see.”

SFMOMA in Association with YBCA Presents:  Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation

An Ensemble Parallèle production

     Nicole Paiement, conductor/artistic director

     Brian Staufenbiel, director

Music by Virgil Thomson and Luciano Chessa, with libretto by Gertrude Stein

Featuring Kalup Linzy

Novellus Theater at YBCA

Preview: Thursday, August 18, 7:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday, August 19 and 20, 8 p.m.

Sunday, August 21, 2 p.m.

For tickets ($10–$85) visit ybca.org or call 415.978.2787

The Art of Four Saints in Three Acts, gallery talk

Thursday, August 18, 6:30 p.m. • Contemporary Jewish Museum, Free with museum admission

See original music, art, and ephemera connected with the Gertrude Stein-Virgil Thompson collaboration Four Saints in Three Acts in a gallery talk directly preceding the preview performance of SFMOMA’s new staging of the opera at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories exhibition at Contemporary Jewish Museum, May 12, 2011 – September 6, 2011:

Drawing upon a wealth of rarely seen artistic and archival materials, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories illuminates Stein’s life and pivotal role in art during the 20th century.

SFMOMA exhibition: The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, through September 6, 2011

American expatriates in bohemian Paris when the 20th century was young, the Steins — writer Gertrude, her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael’s wife, Sarah — were among the first to recognize the talents of avant-garde painters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Through their friendship and patronage, they helped spark an artistic revolution. This landmark exhibition draws on collections around the world to reunite the Steins’ unparalleled holdings of modern art, bringing together, for the first time in a generation, dozens of works by Matisse, Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others. Artworks on view include Matisse’s Blue Nude (Baltimore Museum of Art) and Self-Portrait (Statens Museum, Copenhagen), and Picasso’s famous portrait Gertrude Stein (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Yerba Buena Neighborhood Celebrates Gertrude Stein, May–September, 2011

Join the Yerba Buena neighborhood this summer in celebrating the life of writer Gertrude Stein and her influence on modern art, literature, and culture. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival will each host related programming: from art exhibitions to opera, poetry readings to salons, there’s definitely a there there. Visit  www.sfmoma.org/celebratestein   for a complete list of programs, discounts, and members-only specials throughout the neighborhood.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment