This is the entrance to the wonderful estate which is the home of the Music Academy of the West. When watching the entrance just imagine the Pacific Ocean behind your back. It is an incredibly beautiful and inspiring place for young artists from all over North America to spend the summer and get lessons from the best teachers and coaches. As last year, I came here to attend the Marilyn Horne Competition, a singing competition of all the Academy's young singers competing for once not in opera, but in art song. Each singer has to present three art songs in three different languages. Even though the tonal range of the normal art song is more limited than in an aria and therefore "easier" to sing, it can be much more revealing about a singer's musicality and language skills. You can get away with a lot of things as an opera singer, but to sing art song asks for real artistry. There were a few people I had already heard last year, but overall the level seemed more consistent this year with a few very young, exceptionally gifted singers, all in their early twenties, but already with a highly developed understanding of the specifics and challenges of art song. Also, half of the pianists in the voice accompaniment program were Canadian, all of them very good! I'll make sure to keep track of what they're doing and follow their development.
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Even though I am on the West Coast my thoughts were in New England all day, more precisely in Tanglewood where our Music Director Johannes Debus gave his debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (one of the best orchestras in the world), replacing James Levine in a concert performance of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio. As of this afternoon it was raining in Tanglewood, not so ideal for an outdoor performance, but I do hope the sun came out in the end. I have no news on how it went, but hope somebody will let me know tomorrow!
This morning, we left San Francisco and flew to Los Angeles where we took a car and drove to Santa Barbara. I am glad I spent two days with the Merolini again. It was quite a different group than last year, most of the singers were a bit younger, but the level was consistently very high with a few people that I am sure we will hear of in a few years. Also, there were a few different colleagues on the panel with new and different contributions. Somehow I feel as a panelist you learn as much as any young singer on these occasions.
Now, we're in paradise for a few weeks. If you have ever been in Santa Barbara you will know why the famous exiled German soprano Lotte Lehmann settled here in the 1940s and started teaching young singers. She created a tradition that still continues until today. Tomorrow, I will spend all day at the Music Academy for the West's annual Art Song Competition.
Good morning from cold and foggy San Francisco. No pictures to post from here as the fog doesn't really allow me to take any. It's a great city nevertheless and I just spent two wonderful days of sightseeing with my family. Now, I'm in the middle of my two days with the young singers of the Merola Program following the same format as last year with a Q&A session in the mornings and auditions followed by the panel's comments in the afternoons. I'm here with Sandy Gavinchuck, the COC's Music Administrator and Head of our own young artists program, the Ensemble Studio; a group of colleagues from other US companies; and even John McMurray, the Head of Casting at ENO in London has made the long trip to hear these young and talented singers. As of the first day it seems that Sheri Greenawald, the head of the program, has yet again put together a remarkable group of people. I will let you know our final verdict after the second set of auditions this afternoon.
Coming to San Francisco always is an opportunity for me to catch up with my pre-pre-pre-decessor at the COC, Lotfi Mansouri, and his wife Midge. Lotfi has just published his memoirs of a life in opera in places as different as Teheran, Geneva, Los Angeles, Toronto, and San Francisco. I have yet to read the book, but knowing Lotfi's frankness I am prepared for an interesting time.
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