Sung music enthusiasts, get ready for a massive binge of vocal events: the summer season of the SF Opera just started last Friday night with Nixon in China (more below); it goes on with Attila, a Verdi opera that you don't hear too often, and the Magic Flute, which you do hear quite often, but not in this new English version. The SF Symphony is countering with Bela Bartok's Bluebeard Castle, a one hour opera in a semi-staged version next week at Davies Symphony Hall. There will be a few Berg and cabaret songs in the Ojai North festival, a series of exciting concerts curated by pianist Leif-Ove Andsnes at Zellerbach Hall, but it's mostly the confluence of modern and classic music (Beethoven and Sørensen, Grieg and Kurtag) and the artistry of Leif-Ove and his fellow keyboardist Marc-Andre Hamelin that will draw you there.
David Gockley, now the general director of the SF Opera, commissioned Nixon in China back when he was assuming the same role in Houston. It was the first opera of John Adams, who happens to live in Berkeley and has taught at the SF Conservatory in the '80s, who is more or less omnipresent around the Bay music scene. The question should really be: since Gockley joined the SF Opera in 2006, what took so long to bring the SF premiere of the opera? After all, it's the rare modern opera that has legs, with close to forty productions worldwide since its premiere. The performance we saw on opening night sealed the deal: this extended local absence has been an unfortunate oversight. It's a very impressive must see score. It has a unique indispensable voice, a very idiosyncratic blend of genres putting together minimalist arpeggiated figures layered with more lyrical, traditional orchestrations. Its post-minimalist post-romantic fusion brings out a wealth of vibrant colors and atmospheres, from a rather drab (non)storyline.