It was an idea that was strangely overdue, this production of “Carmen” in the middle of Fiesta. It only took the Music Academy of the West and Old Spanish Days to agree to work together and suddenly it seemed an obvious thing. Set one of the world’s most popular operas in Santa Barbara during the year the opera was premiered (well, give or take a year), and end the performance with a re-creation of an authentic fiesta: you can’t really miss, not when some in the audience are dressed similarly to people onstage.
Friday night’s performance was one of only two (the other being Sunday), making this “Carmen” a must-see in the arts community.
For 48 years, Christopher Story has conducted Santa Barbara’s West Coast Symphony on the last day of Fiesta, treating those at the Courthouse Sunken Garden to a free concert of classical music.
Sunday’s program featured works from de Falla and Bizet, along with other Spanish-flavored music. On a sunny and humid day, it was one of the last events of Old Spanish Days, and one of the final times people could also see the Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta perform.
Santa Barbara’s Music Academy of the West already exists as a world-class school for the best young classical musicians. But Monday they entered into a deal with the New York Philharmonic, which under the baton on maestro Alan Gilbert, continues to be one of the world’s most prestigious orchestras.
“This is one of the most important endeavors and partnerships that we’ve ever embarked on,” said Music Academy President Scott Reed. “And I think it will be exciting for the Santa Barbara community and the fellows that attend our program.”
It’s taken conductor Vladislav Chernushenko 25 years to get to the United States to tour. Originally, the group he heads-the St. Petersburg State Academic Capella Choir-was scheduled to make their first American tour back in 1978. “The contract was signed,” he says, “And then it didn’t happen for political reasons.”
The history of the St. Petersburg choir can be charted out along centuries of political reasons, events, and decisions, yet their music has kept its close ties to the spiritual. One of the world’s oldest choirs, the group formed in Moscow in 1479 for the express purpose of accompanying Tsar Ivan III wherever he went, celebrating mass or entertaining. Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great both sang in choir at certain points. In 1703, the choir sang at the inauguration of St. Petersburg a major event in the choir’s history, and there they remained. In 1837, the great Russian composer Mikhail Glinka became Kapellmeister, and wrote many operatic works expressly for the choir. During the Communist Revolution the choir’s sacred music fell out of favor, but the group continued, under the name the Popular Academic Chorus, and performed works by Shostakovich, Kabalevsky, and Prokofiev. As rules became lax, the sacred crept back in, until the coming of perestroika unleashed the history of sacred Russian composers and work back into the repertoire.
Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval was supposed to make a welcome return to the Santa Barbara Symphony Saturday night, opening with a pleasant Haydn concerto and closing with a Glière concerto. Somewhere along the way, those plans got the mice-and-men treatment, and the Glière was dropped. Haydn became the finale, and a very brief Glière piece was added to the opening, allowing the beaming Sandoval to show his face and remind the audience that he was around and would be returning for the second half.
So in fact the first half of the evening became centered around Sibelius and his First Symphony in E Minor, Opus 39.
When asked what will make Shu-Ying Li’s portrayal of Madame Butterfly different in the upcoming production of Opera Santa Barbara (their 24th), the soprano looks down for a few seconds, lost in thought, until surfacing with a broad smile. “Because I’m Shu-Ying!” She then bursts into a laugh, which then spreads to those around her. Miss Li knows that what she has said has made herself sound somewhat of the diva, not befitting someone just beginning a professional career.
But she also knows that its her self-confidence that has gotten her this far, thousands of miles away from her native China, along with dashes of good fortune and helping hands.
The role of Madame Butterfly is one that still goes to more non-Asian sopranos than Asian, although in recent years many able singers from China, Japan, and elsewhere have made the role their own.
Adrian Spence likes to make it easy for critics. The director and flautist for Camerata Pacifica has not only been bringing the best of small-ensemble music to Santa Barbara for 14 years now, but his love of educating the public has been spilling out more and more into his lengthy introductions to the evening’s performances.
Though his target audience is the general public, the critic can’t help but crib notes when Mr. Spence is breaking down the structure of a string quartet or trying to explicate the wonders of discord. He’s so eminently quotable that we have to keep reminding ourselves that our job is not to quote him, but to have our own honest reactions. Continue reading Camerata Pacifica: Chamber group opens with a bang→