MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Consuming Consumption: TB on the Opera Stage


On the TB angle in Puccini (for San Francisco Opera’s La bohème:

“But if she’s dying of that dreadful disease, how could she still sing such gorgeous music?” It’s a question opera-goers often get asked when trying to describe what happens at the climax of one of the most beloved works in the repertoire. In the famous scene from the film Moonstruck, the character played by Cher —who is seeing La Bohème for the first time — notices the paradox and declares, “I didn’t know she was going to die!”

But Mimì’s tragic demise isn’t a medical documentary: it’s depicted in the context of a cultural and artistic tradition in which a wide range of diseases — whether of the body or of the mind — carried powerful symbolic meanings. Influenced by the legacy of Italian opera as well as by Wagner, Puccini was intimately familiar with the sudden madness of Donizetti’s Lucia of Lammermoor, the innocent sleepwalking of Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula, and the mysteriously festering “wound” that torments Amfortas in Parsifal. Susan Sontag, in her landmark deconstruction of the use of “illness as metaphor,” observed that “sickness has a way of making people ‘interesting’ — which is how ‘romantic’ was originally defined.”

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Filed under: opera, Puccini, San Francisco Opera

Harp Head


Filed under: photography

Top o’ the World


Filed under: photography

Sublime Salonen from the Seattle Symphony and Jennifer Koh

Jennifer Koh; © Juergen Frank

Jennifer Koh; © Juergen Frank

My latest review:

It’s not unusual for Ludovic Morlot to offer a spirited brief introduction to a particular piece. But at the top of last night’s Seattle Symphony concert, the maestro was eager to elucidate a rationale threading together the motley menu of Samuel Barber, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and a Tchaikovsky warhorse: essentially, the proposition that all three works represented personal responses to periods of challenge or even crisis.

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Filed under: new music, review, Seattle Symphony, Tchaikovsky

Transfiguring the Night: Music of Remembrance

Rehearsal photos by Leo V Santiago photography.

Rehearsal photos by Leo V Santiago photography.

My preview of the upcoming world premiere by choreographer Donald Byrd for Music of Remembrance:

The event that Music of Remembrance (MOR) will commemorate at this Sunday’s fall concert at Benaroya Hall on Sunday, November 9, is a grim one: the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” during which the Nazis fomented a wave of violent pogroms targeting Jews across Germany and the recently annexed Austria and Sudetenland. But MOR’s focus has always been on the triumphant creativity of the human spirit that defies oppression and hatred — against the most terrifying odds.

Launching its 17th season with this Benaroya concert, the organization remembers the work of composers who were silenced by the Holocaust not only by presenting their music but through a vigorous commissioning program showcasing artists of the present. The result has been to build what founder and artistic director Mina Miller calls “ a living bridge between Holocaust artists and artists today.”

The lineup here is especially attractive, featuring the world premiere of Seattle-based choreographer extraordinaire Donald Byrd’s new dances created for Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night”).

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Filed under: dance, preview

A Glimpse of the Full Monte(verdi)


Claudio Monteverdi was nearly an exact contemporary of Shakespeare, but his lifespan stretched almost thirty years beyond the playwright’s death—so long that he led the sea change from the High Renaissance into a dramatically new musical era. Even in his final decades, Monteverdi remained a revolutionary composer who forever changed expectations about what music is capable of expressing.

This Friday at Nordstom Recital Hall, Pacific MusicWorks opens their new season with an opportunity to experience just what makes Monteverdi such a musical icon—not the long-dead pioneer of the music history textbooks, but an unbelievably imaginative poet of sounds who can still stir your soul to its core.

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Filed under: early music, Monteverdi, Pacific MusicWorks

A San Francisco Halloween









Filed under: photography

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