13 April 2014

Campbell Moves to Disband San Diego Padres

SAN DIEGO -- Ian Campbell, named Manager and General Manager of the San Diego Padres baseball team just days ago, today announced that the team will disband, immediately following Sunday’s game against the San Francisco Giants at Petco Park.

Campbell cited the team’s failure “to win the World Series, the rising cost of the highest-quality hot dogs at our concession stands, and our inability to field such top-ranking names as Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, even at top prices” as the reasons that made it “necessary to shut down this team now, with dignity.”

“If Ian says we need to stop playing, then I guess we need to stop playing,” said Padres co-owner Peter O’Malley. “This is our only option.”

“I mean, he’s a smart guy,” added the team’s other owner, Ron Fowler. “Ian knows what he’s talking about. This is our only option.”

The Swinging Padre, lone dissenter:
“I have questions.”

Founded in 1969, the Padres are one of only two Major League Baseball teams in California to have originated in the state. San Diego Hall of Famers include Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield.

Campbell, who recently pushed through the closing of San Diego Opera, receives a dual salary for his jobs as Manager and General Manager of the Padres, an unusual double assignment in Major League Baseball. He is expected to receive $500 million in severance over the next 43 years, despite the team’s shutdown.

“I really didn’t see this coming,” Padres fan Teresa Rinteria said of the closing. “But Ian is a smart guy. He knows what he’s talking about. This is our only option.”

“Ian is a smart guy,” said outfielder Will Venable. “I didn’t see this coming, but he knows what he’s talking about. I — must resist! The — can’t — pain! I mean, this is our only option.”

“We knew the problem was coming,” Campbell said, also citing declining sales in solid-gold tickets and caviar nachos, the loss of a lucrative potential contract with a television network on Jupiter, and dwindling attendance at “Free Foam Finger” games, at which fans’ hands were splattered with a frothy brown mixture of undetermined origin.

“We all did what we could,” Campbell said. “These are the cold, hard facts rather than emotions.”

“I know what I’m talking about,” he added. “This is our only option. Look deep into my eyes. This is our only option.”

Campbell with his ex-wife, Ann Spira Campbell,
who is also employed by the Padres as a batboy.

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05 April 2014

The Haushofmeister’s 2014 Diary

Rehearsals are underway now for the Fort Worth Opera’s 2014 Festival, and it has come to my attention that I have not yet received my invitation to participate. This is surely an oversight, since, after all, every single one of the operas presented this season would benefit tremendously from the inclusion of an imperious Viennese butler of some sort, who brings his own special magic to any and all proceedings. Granted, I can’t sing, any more than I could last year, but that’s no excuse.

Consider, for example, Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. It’s in French, it’s set in ancient Ceylon. It’s about people who fish for pearls, or something, and it’s got some gorgeous music — notably the duet for tenor and baritone, “Au fond du temple saint.” Beautiful. Exotic. French. In other words, what’s missing is some echtes ordnungsliebendes anbefohlenes Feuerwerk. Metaphorically, I mean. So picture this: Nadir and Zurga are arguing over who gets Léïla, and then a Major-Domo steps in. “Hurry it up, we’ve got the next show waiting,” I say. “And put some clothes on, for Heaven’s sake!”

Failing that, I would be happy to play the previously overlooked character of Pearl’s nephew, Sheldon Fisher, a dentist from Long Island. Bizet totally intended to write this character. He’s in all the sketches in the Bizet Archive, I promise. So really, we’d just be fulfilling the composer’s original intentions.

Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte already has a troublesome servant, of course: the saucy maid Despina. But here again, you need somebody to tell people how to conduct their affairs, which are all over the place in this opera. Don Alfonso persuades Ferrando and Guglielmo to test the fidelity of their lovers, the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi, and everybody winds up confused. Well, my gosh, what does a butler do but organize the place settings at dinner? “You sit with her, and you, sit with her. Despina, I believe Mrs. Patmore wants you in the scullery. Now.”

Plus, Mozart lived in Vienna. I rest my case.

Including a Haushofmeister in Kevin Puts’ prize-winning Silent Night is almost too easy. The opera is based on a true incident during World War I, when enemy armies found peace and, however briefly, recognized their brotherhood at Christmas. Need I remind anybody that the Austrians fought in World War I? Heck, they even had a navy, despite being a land-locked country. (See The Sound of Music.) So, naturally, I could step in while everybody is celebrating, and announce a special holiday fireworks display.

And then Ava Pine could be hoisted on a wire to fly over the trenches, scattering gifts for all the soldiers. I’ve always wanted to work with Ava, and the audience will go wild. It’s pure theater!

A little more challenging, Daniel Crozier’s With Blood, with Ink is also based on a true story, that of Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, a 17th-century nun who ran afoul of the Inquisition. But really, the difference between an Inquisitor and a Haushofmeister is a matter of degree (and also accent) — just think of the way I tortured the poor Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos last season. Plus, Crozier, unlike Strauss, is still around. I’m sure he’d be willing to tinker just a little bit with the score to allow for an extra scene or two.

It is not given to many composers the opportunity to write for an artist of my caliber. (Kevin Puts, I’m looking at you, too.)

So there you have it. Fort Worth, I await your call.


Fort Worth Opera’s 2014 Festival runs from April 19 to May 11. For information and tickets, click HERE.

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13 December 2013

Pope Francis Accidentally Canonizes Sister Wendy

VATICAN CITY -- Surprising even veteran clerics and longtime Vatican observers, Pope Francis today canonized Sister Wendy Beckett, the popular host of several BBC documentaries on art. In a brief, unscheduled ceremony, the Pontiff bypassed the usual steps toward sainthood, including investigation, beatification, and death, though he underscored that television ratings like the ones she used to get absolutely qualified as a miracle.

Officially, the canonization is considered a “confirmation of cultus,” or recognition of local veneration.

“She’s got nearly 7,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook,” His Holiness said. “Can you imagine?”

“This Pope is moving rapidly to put his own stamp on the Church,” explained Giuseppe Frescobaldi, Vatican correspondent for Corriere della Sera. “The canonization of Sister Wendy represents a new era of openness and inclusion, as well as a willingness to reexamine traditional ways of doing things.”

Saint Sister Wendy was born in South Africa in 1930; she began to pursue her interest in art in about 1980, and produced her first documentary in 1992. As of today, the Vatican said, she will be Patron Saint of Looking at Boobies.

“I suppose all the good categories were taken already,” Saint Sister Wendy said when reached by telephone at the Carmelite monastery in Norfolk, England, where she lives. “Wait!” she added, “Is this some kind of a sick joke?”

“Perhaps I have been a little hasty,” Pope Francis said at the conclusion of his announcement. “But I’m still kind of new on the job, and everybody makes mistakes once in a while.”

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28 November 2013

Preview: More Between Jefferson & Cosway

Melissa Errico

The private life of Thomas Jefferson is the focus of the next Salon/Sanctuary Concert, “More Between Heaven and Earth,” On December 8, the third President’s correspondence and the music of his time will combine to shed light on his relationship with Maria Cosway, whose intellectual and artistic gifts — to say nothing of her beauty — fascinated him for the rest of his life.

Cosway was a painter who, later in life, founded a school for girls in Italy. Music formed an important bond between her and Jefferson, and “More Between Heaven and Earth” features not only the music that she and Jefferson heard together (notably Sacchini’s opera Dardanus, a tale of separated lovers) but also songs that Cosway herself composed for Jefferson. And because this is a Salon/Sanctuary concert, the venue matches the material: New York City’s venerable Fraunces Tavern, where Jefferson, as the first U.S. Secretary of State, kept his office.

Nowadays, we tend to focus more on Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings — his slave, his wife’s half-sister, and the mother of several of his children — a history fraught with the perversions of liberty in early America and the tangle of race relations ever since. But Jefferson’s relationship with Cosway was also revealing of his character. He met her in Paris, even while he’s believed to have fathered the first of Hemings’ children, and over this relationship, too, hung the specter of scandal.

Jefferson was a widower, Cosway was unhappily married, in an era when divorce meant social ruin; she was Catholic, besides, and subject to further proscriptions against divorce. History drove them apart, too, notably the French Revolution and the founding of the United States; they spent most of their lives separated by the Atlantic. Nothing could come of the attraction the two felt for each other, and yet that didn’t stop them from writing passionate letters that form the basis of Erica Gould’s script, performed by Melissa Errico (Cosway) and Campbell Scott (Jefferson), with Judith Hawking narrating.

Campbell Scott

“It’s nuanced,” Scott says, comparing the script to a great novel, in which “two really smart and educated people are expressing themselves. They’re missing each other, and it’s an odd, unrequited love. They’re very up-front about loving each other, but they can’t be together. It’s hopefully very sexy.”

As a self-described Italian–American romantic who relishes period pieces (“I’m all corsets, all the time,” she says, pointing to her role on the Cinemax series The Knick), Errico finds Cosway an irresistibly appealing part, and this isn’t the first time she’s joined Salon/Sanctuary for “More Between Heaven and Earth.”

“It’s being done in an exciting way,” she says. “We’re wearing period costumes, we candle-light the room, the other singers are up in the balconies in this historical space. It’s like going back in time. It’s certainly not a play that’s in a box: you’re surrounded by the era.”

The more Classical assignments in the concert will be fielded by soprano Jessica Gould and tenor Tony Boutté, with members of the instrumental group the Sebastians led by Jeffrey Grossman. But for Cosway’s songs, Errico will “step in front of the harpsichords” to sing.

Maria Cosway: Like Isabel Archer,
but with more interesting friends.

“Maria’s songs are not really operatic but personal,” she says, and for her they’re tied to the letters, “written directly from her heart, [with] melancholy because of the physical distance from her lover and her unhappy marriage.” Errico’s maternal grandmother once dreamed of a career in opera, and her father still pursues Classical piano at Juilliard; for her own part she’s won acclaim singing the lyric leading roles in My Fair Lady and One Touch of Venus. “But I’m more a theater person,” she says, and she strives to make Cosway’s songs “very simple and very direct, like in a small room for a small group of friends, accompanied by a harp. This wasn’t meant to be projected at the Met.”

Best known for his co-starring role in Longtime Companion and for co-directing the brilliant Big Night, Scott has played Jefferson once before — “in a wig, on PBS,” he says. He relishes the chance to perform the authentic words of people who “were really the heads of their societies, leading figures for different reasons, and smart. That doesn’t mean they always expressed their own feelings perfectly — which is also great to say. But they’re so well-spoken. If you become an actor, that’s something you desire. It’s what you seek out.”

He’s relieved, however, that as Jefferson he won’t be called on to sing: “That might grind the evening to a halt. Although if asked to play the violin, I could fake it.” Meanwhile Errico has determined that, if Salon/Sanctuary revives “More Between Heaven and Earth” again, she’ll learn to accompany herself on the harp — but not in time for the performance on December 8.

No matter. “People who love music will get the music and a great story,” Scott promises. “And people who love the characters, you get the music. It’s a bonus night, for God’s sake!”

More Between Heaven and Earth
Sunday, December 8, 6:00 P.M.
The Bissel Room, Fraunces Tavern

54 Pearl Street, New York
Script & stage direction by Erica Gould
Program concept & music research by Jessica Gould
For more information, click here.

Jefferson: A complex personality.

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23 October 2013

Baden-Baden in 1927, Gotham in 2013

Maeve Höglund and the great Helen Donath
show us the way to Baden-Baden.
Photo by Richard Termine©

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest production, Baden-Baden 1927, opens tonight at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College: it reunites the four one-act operas that made history at the Baden-Baden Festival in — you guessed it — 1927. Only one of those works, Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel, has been heard much since then. The chance to hear it again among its sisters — in context — is an opportunity to appreciate one of those lightning-flash moments of creative energy, in which a generation is illuminated.

The quadruple bill at Baden-Baden represents the work of some of the greatest lions of twentieth-century music and theater, from a time when they were scrappy young kids in a terrible economy at a turbulent time. The old order had been smashed, and new technologies (radio!) and forms (jazz!) emerged in Europe, demanding that creative minds make deliberate decisions about the paths they would take forward.

And so it’s important to remember that, when Darius Milhaud composed L’Enlèvement d’Europe (The Rape of Europa), he wasn’t the grey eminence who attached himself like ivy to so many university campuses — that, when Bertolt Brecht wrote four of the six poems for the Mahagonny Songspiel, he wasn’t the hallowed institution of East Germany, or of any other state but that of his own mind — that, when Ernst Toch wrote Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse, there was still a chance that he’d wind up as famous as Paul Hindemith and Kurt Weill, the other composers on the bill.

No, they weren’t yet the Artistic Establishment. They were young people demanding attention, casting aside preconceptions, seeking new solutions because the old solutions — political, as well as artistic — had failed. They knew they had to find the answers within their own talents. In 1927, at the end of Mahagonny Songspiel, while the other cast members held up placards proclaiming various and contradictory politico-philosophical statements, Lenya held up a sign that said simply, “Für Weill.”

In the beginning: Brecht, Lenya, and Weill.

What strikes me is how exactly right the Baden-Baden bill is for Gotham Chamber Opera. The company taps into youthful energy most obviously in its imaginative, irreverent stagings and its casting, relying primarily on attractive young American singers. But over the years since the company’s founding, New York has crowded out its artists, who have moved farther and farther away from the center because (through the active and explicit policy of our billionaire mayor) housing is no longer affordable. The operatic institutions that might make a difference are facing their own challenges: Dicapo Opera is struggling, New York City Opera has filed for bankruptcy, and the Metropolitan, while embracing new technologies and paying more attention to theatrical values (and, on occasion, to more eclectic repertory), never has launched the hoped-for, dreamed-of Mini Met.

Gotham has stepped forward, in its small and (mostly) quiet way, to meet the needs of this city’s artistic community and its audiences. The company treats no score as a museum piece; it seeks new solutions, to reconsider the tried and to test the untried. It exults in the fun and the sexiness of music-theater that too often get lost on other stages. And significantly, Gotham consistently appeals to younger and older audiences, a feat that other companies can’t match.

I’ve long believed that among New York’s cultural entities, Gotham is best positioned to leap forward after the debacle of City Opera: there will be less competition for donors, and the company deserves to benefit and to grow. Yes, there are limits to what one can do within the chamber repertory. Gotham won’t and can’t replace NYCO — but already it has become very like what people mean when they talk about a Mini Met.

Since I started working at the Weill Foundation in 1984, I’ve waited for the opportunity to hear the Baden-Baden bill. And yet it’s not merely as a devoted disciple of Weill that I’m looking forward to the latest offering from Gotham Chamber Opera; it’s also as a New Yorker that I’m glad to hail a bright spot on our too-cloudy cultural landscape.

Gotham Chamber Opera, Baden-Baden 1927:
Mahagonny Songspiel, Weill
Hin und zurück, Hindemith
L’Enlèvement d’Europe, Milhaud
Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse, Toch

Conducted by Neal Goren
Directed by Paul Curran
Designed by Georg Baselitz, Court Watson, Driscoll Otto, and Paul Hackenmueller.
With Helen Donath, Maeve Höglund, Jennifer Rivera, Daniel Montenegro, Matthew Tuell, Michael Mayes, and John Cheek
Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College
Oct. 23 at 7:30, Oct. 25, 26, 29 at 8:00.
For more information and tickets, click here.

Set design for Milhaud’s Enlèvement.

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14 September 2013

New York City Opera: Business As Usual, Despite Challenges

By George Steel,
General Manager and Artistic Director,
New York City Opera
Guest Columnist

As you may know, last weekend I announced that, if New York City Opera couldn’t raise $7 million by the end of this month, we’d have to cancel three out of four operas this season; if we can’t raise $20 million by the end of the year, we’ll have to cancel the 2014–15 season altogether.

Almost immediately, people began to ask, “What happens to NYCO if there are no more operas produced after September 2013?”

Such questions are of course self-defeating and frankly ridiculous. NYCO has a proud tradition, under such distinguished general managers as what’s her name and the irritating old guy with the accent, of bouncing back from the brink of disaster time and again. Under my dynamic leadership, there’s no reason to believe that’s going to change. Besides, we have a Kickstarter campaign! What could possibly go wrong?

The people who ask, “What happens if you fail?” are probably the exact same people who were asking, “Isn’t there some way to stay at Lincoln Center, where people at least know where to find you?” and “Are you sure you want to alienate the very artists who once made this company great and who might have helped you now?”

Well, you can see for yourself how foolish those questions were. Look how great everything turned out!

The NYCO logo: A resounding rebuttal to those
who say that City Opera has become a black hole,
endlessly sucking money out of the universe.

We’re doing a better job than ever of fulfilling our mission: bringing opera to the people of New York City. We’re not confined to one theater, or any theater at all!

There are no limits! Just yesterday in Times Square, I listened to one of our esteemed orchestra members playing the Habanera from Carmen for passersby who may never have heard opera before!

Of course, that violinist was panhandling for tourists, because we can no longer afford to hire musicians full-time. But still! Mission accomplished!

And I’d say she made about four dollars before the cops chased her away.

Even if, in the near future, NYCO has no home, no productions, no artists, and no cash, we will continue to pursue our goals, exactly as we did for how ever many decades we have been in existence.

For instance, I am currently planning to launch “Opera on Wheels,” one of the most innovative programs since the bookmobile and the Nyco® Felafel Cart. We’ll send out a van with a boombox and a loudspeaker, bringing recorded opera, and possibly ice cream or tacos, and reaching every neighborhood in the city. If you’ve got a valid New York drivers license and some old CDs, why not volunteer to help out?

Also, let us know if you’ve got a van to lend us. Have you checked the prices on rentals lately?

I’m not making this up, you know:
One of the “gorgeous” rewards for Kickstarter pledges.

Come Hell or high water, NYCO will continue our educational programs, which now feature special classes in papier mâché in New York’s public schools, using our own supply of wet paper left over from the archive that flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Kids love to play with wet paper!

And while the kids are making masks and ashtrays and Christmas ornaments (all of which we’ll be offering as premiums for Kickstarter pledges), we can introduce a new generation of New Yorkers to the wonderful world of Johann Christian Bach.

We’ll also be staging “flash mobs,” with impromptu performances of scenes and arias in exciting venues such as the Fairway Market and South Street Seaport. Such productions are a great way to reach new audiences, and they’re incredibly inexpensive, because we don’t pay for them.

In addition, I’m currently actively seeking out compromising photographs or video of wealthy people and political figures. This is difficult work, but I know it will pay off for NYCO. Let me know if you hear of any leads.

Meanwhile, let’s emphasize the positives, shall we? We’re no longer reliant on that minuscule portion of our audience that used to show up at our performances because the Met was sold out and hey, we were right across the Plaza. No, we now have a dedicated audience of people who really work to find out what we’re doing and where we are.

Not your grandfather’s NYCO:
What a flash mob opera might look like.

Our board stands firmly behind me and my innovative management ideas. These are the same people who thought it was a good idea to go dark for a season, the same people who hired one general director whose experience was in state-funded European companies and another whose experience was in a university concert series. It’s their vision and their support that make NYCO what it is today, and I thank them, as I’m sure you do, too.

Finally, there’s one more question that’s come up a lot lately: “Why should I throw good money after bad?” I object to the question on principle, as you might expect, but let me try to address the concerns behind it.

Imagine New York with only one major opera company. Imagine New York without a showcase for rising American artists. Imagine New York with nothing more than memories of historic productions, legendary singers, and repertoire that ranged from crowd-pleasing classics to thrilling new discoveries. Above all, imagine New York without the sense of community — yes, of family — that opera can bring, year after year.

Well, you don’t have to imagine, because I’ve already tackled those problems. My point is, if you don’t give us the money, things can only get worse. Thank you.

Illustration courtesy of our friends at Parterre Box.

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10 September 2013

Man Waking from Surgery Stunned to Learn He Is a Joyce DiDonato Fan

A man coming out of surgery and still under the influence of anesthesia was talking to a lady next to his bed when he realized he was listening to a Joyce DiDonato album.

“Man, is that a great voice,” he says, CD in hand. “Whoa! That may be the prettiest voice I’ve ever heard. Who is that?”

“That’s Joyce DiDonato,” a friend says off-camera. “You’re a fan of hers.”

“I’m her fan?” the man says, his voice cracking. “Holy s***. Dang. You mean I’ve heard her sing live?”

“Several times.”

“Do I own her record albums and DVDs?”


The man eats a cracker while thinking about this. “How long have I been her fan?”

“Almost from the beginning, ever since you saw her in Mark Adamo’s Little Women. You’ve even met her.”

“I have?”

“Several times. And she has a new album coming out.”

“Oh, my God, I hit the jackpot!”

While the video was not available for republication here, experts believe it is authentic. Some skeptics, however, insist that the man is not waking from surgery, but has merely lost his mind due to intense deadline pressure as he completes the authorized biography of Madeline Kahn. “The scruffy beard is a dead giveaway,” said one analyst, Dr. Kevin Daly of the American Institutes for Amnesia and Something Else I Can’t Quite Remember.

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