Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Up-Coming: Silent Autumn

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival has moved their 1-day Winter Festival at the Castro Theatre to this Saturday, September 20th. There will be 3 feature films plus 2 programs of shorts. The Alloy Orchestra will accompany the features The Son of the Sheik, starring Rudolph Valentino in his last role, & The General, Buster Keaton's masterpiece. Pianist Donald Sosin will accompany Laurel & Hardy shorts, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari & a program of shorts evoking the world of 1914. Once again, it appears that the Castro's organ will not be used.

Festival passes are available online & in person, old school, at the McRoskey Mattress Company's San Francisco Showroom.

§ Silent Autumn
Saturday September 20 2014
Castro Theatre

11:00 AM
Another Fine Mess: Silent Laurel And Hardy Shorts
(USA, 1928-1929, approx. 70 minutes)
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin

1:00 PM
The Son of the Sheik
(USA, 1926, 81 minutes)
Musical accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra

3:30 PM
A Night at the Cinema in 1914
(USA/UK, 1914, 85 minutes)
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin

7:00 PM
The General
(USA, 1926, 75 minutes)
Musical accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra

9:00 PM
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
(Germany, 1920, Directed by Robert Wiene, 75 minutes)
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin

Sunday, September 14, 2014

SF Opera: Norma

Last weekend I heard Norma at opening night of the San Francisco Opera. Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky was a powerhouse in the title role. She has a big voice & sang with athletic stamina & focus the entire evening. Her low notes were strudy & strong, & her voice was penetrating high up. She created a feeling of suspense when she sang quiet, hovering high notes with incredible control. It was a consistently potent performance. Mezzo Jamie Barton was terrific as Adalgisa. She sang her first phrases with such softness & security that I immediately felt confident about the rest of her performance. Her voice was lovely, smooth & floating throughout its range, which was often high this evening.

Tenor Marco Berti as Pollione was a forceful singer & seemed to be using a lot of muscle to get through the show. Tenor A.J. Glueckert's voice is distinctively clear & flowing. He was a reproving Flavio & communicated urgency. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn sounded suitably sober & stern as Oroveso. The male chorus was great, sounding unified & unhesitant. Two very small boys portrayed Norma's children. They were cute & well-behaved & even briefly got the whole stage to themselves at the beginning of act 2.

The production's single set is a huge decorated wall that is the entire height of the stage. We get occasional glimpses of a winter landscape on the other side. The staging is static & did not help to involve me in the story. There is real fire onstage in the final scene, but the flames last only a few seconds. The costumes did not make me think of druids or Roman soldiers. I heard someone comment later that the shimmery dress worn by Norma in the 1st act seemed more Las Vegas than pagan Gaul. Apparently Norma wore facial tattoos during the dress rehearsal, but these were evidently removed by opening night.

I liked Maestro Nicola Luisotti's vigorous conducting. The orchestra's playing was vivid, & the woodwinds sounded sheen. The reaction of the opening night audience was surprisingly tame, despite great singing by the leading ladies. Perhaps there was too much competition from the many glamorous women of all ages in the audience. Tenor Russell Thomas will sing Pollione in the remaining performances.

§ Norma
Vincenzo Bellini / Felice Romani

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: Kevin Newbury

Norma: Sondra Radvanovsky
Adalgisa: Jamie Barton
Pollione: Marco Berti
Oroveso: Christian Van Horn
Clotilda: Jacqueline Piccolino
Flavio: A.J. Glueckert
Norma's Children: Oliver Kuntz & Miles Sperske

Fri 09/5/14 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House

Monday, September 08, 2014

Standees at Opening Night of SF Opera

Friday night I was at San Francisco Opera's opening night, where I saw Norma in downstairs standing room with friends. I got to the opera house at 8 in the morning & was surprised to find myself the 2nd in line for standing room tickets. Ahead of me was a cheerful patron who had driven up from Pacifica & arrived at 5:30am. Among other things, she told me the story of the opening night when ACT UP stormed the theater & she mistakenly maced baritone Timothy Noble, who was a cover for that evening's show & happened to be watching from standing room.

When the box office opened at 10am on the dot, there were hardly more than 20 people in line. I could have arrived at 9 & still gotten a ticket number in the single digits. Later on, veterans of standing room told me how much more competitive it used to be. When I was reunited with my fellow standees 9 hours later, someone commented that we all clean up good.

§ Norma
San Francisco Opera
Opening Night
Fri 09/5/14 8:00pm

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Deaglán Ó Donghaile at the Mechanics' Institute

Last week the Mechanics' Institute & The Irish Literary & Historical Society hosted a talk by visiting scholar Deaglán Ó Donghaile on the political subtext of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Bram Stoker was an Irishman & the well-connected theatrical manager of Henry Irving. In Mr. Ó Donghaile's reading, Stoker made subtle references to Ireland's status as an occupied country. Dracula resembles an Anglo-Irish landlord, running a surveillance state, devastating the land & literally feeding off his people. The vampire hunters are a secret society, bound by an oath & akin to the Fenian Brotherhood. Stoker even originally planned to kill Dracula by the classic terrorist method of dynamite. The novel's stabbing death of Dracula echoes the Phoenix Park Killings, an assassination of English political appointees in Dublin. Mr. Ó Donghaile admitted that Dracula is an "over-determined" text, which has been interpreted as being about anything from feminism to the spread of disease, but his observations were convincing, as was his thick Irish accent. Mr. Ó Donghaile also showed us a couple of entertaining political cartoons, including one from the 19th century depicting San Francisco landlords as vampire bats.

§ Bram Stoker's Dracula and Irelands Gothic History
A talk by Dr. Deaglán Ó Donghaile
Tuesday, September 02, 2014 - 6:00pm
Mechanics' Institute

Saturday, September 06, 2014

SF Zine Fest 2014

Last Sunday afternoon I visited the SF Zine Fest, an annual local expo of independent publishing, comics, zines & art. The expo was still busy when it ended at 4p, but I got there too late in the afternoon & had to rush through it. I did manage to see a lot of familiar faces, though. I liked the detailed illustrations using multiple levels of grey inside The Palace of Ashes, Andy Warner's brief history of the Columbarium, & it was impressive to see the hardback version of Alec Longstreth's Basewood. Its successful Kickstarter campaign is a model of transparency. I was alarmed & frankly nonplussed when Jason Shiga confidently explained to me that he expects to complete his 720-page comic, Demon, in 2 years. I loved the crafty items & origami-style books made from found papers at the table of Mad Made SF, whose proprietors gave me quite a hard sell.

The expo occupied 2 rooms in the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park, near 9th Avenue & Lincoln. In the past, people in the smaller room have complained about not getting enough foot traffic, so this year attendees were funneled through the smaller room when they first entered. As a result, I heard exhibitors in the larger room say they weren't getting as many visitors. Someone announced the expo's workshops & panels by walking through the expo & yelling, which everyone agreed was much better than the blaring PA system used in the past.

§ San Francisco Zine Fest 2014
Saturday 08/30: 11am - 5pm
Sunday 08/31: 11am - 4pm
San Francisco County Fair Building
Golden Gate Park

Thursday, September 04, 2014

James Rodgers Sings Weill

Last weekend I was fortunate to attend a house concert & hear tenor James Rodgers, a former Merola Artist, in a recital of Kurt Weill songs. Before each number, Mr. Rodgers read from extensively prepared notes, giving us political & biographical context for each selection. It was nice that the substantial program included mostly less familiar songs. The 1st half had songs in German & French, & the 2nd half was largely devoted to Weill's Broadway career.

Mr. Rodgers acted the songs as well as sang them, embodying a character for each one. His voice sounded comfortable & unforced in the middle & lower range. He often sounded like he was right at the break in his voice for the higher notes. His diction was clear, & his style suited the Broadway numbers well. In "Der Bäcker backt ums Morgenrot" & "J'attends un navire" he did a good job tracing a story arc of shifting moods. His rendition of "Youkali" in particular had a range of dynamic levels & contrasting emotions.

Pianist Jillian Zack was a careful & supportive accompanist, & her playing was engaged & precise without being distracting. She also played under Mr. Rodgers's spoken narrations, giving the program a continuous flow, though this meant that neither performer could rest. I found out later that constantly switching between talking & singing is hard on the voice, & it was a relief to see Mr. Rodgers accept a glass of water from the concert's host midway through the 1st half.

I was very happy to be in such an intimate setting, where the singer could make eye contact with individual audience members. There were around 50 attendees, in a high-ceilinged room with good acoustics. In honor of Mr. Rodgers's country of birth, wine from New Zealand was available afterward. For those unable to hear Mr. Rodgers live, he has just released a CD of Weill songs. A companion Website contains his substantial program notes.

§ Exiled: The Evolution of Kurt Weill
James Benjamin Rodgers - Tenor
Jillian Zack - Piano

"Was wir Versprechen" from Die Bürgschaft
Lyrics by Caspar Neher

"Der Bäcker backt ums Morgenrot" from Der Silbersee
Lyrics by George Kaiser

Lotterieagents Tango from Der Silbersee
Lyrics by George Kaiser

"Es Regnet"
Poem by Jean Cocteau

"Játtends un navire" from Marie Galante
Lyrics by Jacques Deval

Juan's Lied from Der Kuhandel
Lyrics by Robert Vambery

Poem by Roger Fernay

"Oh the Rio Grande" from Johnny Johnson
Lyrics by Paul Green

"Johnny's Song" from Johnny Johnson
Lyrics by Paul Green

"The Saga of Jenny" from Lady in the Dark
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin

"Oh Captain! My Captain!" from Four Songs of Walt Whitman
Poem by Walt Whitman

"Westwind" from One Touch of Venus
Lyrics by Ogden Nash

"Wie lange noch"
Poem by Walter Mehring

"A Rhyme for Angela" from Firebrand of FlorenceLyrics by Ira Gershwin

"Lonely House" from Street Scene
Lyrics by Langston Hughes

"Here I'll Stay" from Love Life
Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

"Lost in the Stars" from Lost in the Stars
Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson

"This Time Next Year" from A Raft on the River
Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson

"Mac the Knife" from Threepenny Opera
Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht
Translation by Mark Blitzstein

San Francisco, August 30th, 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


People kept being surprised that I hadn't seen Richard Linklater's Boyhood, but last week I finally saw it, at a nighttime show crowded with 20-somethings. This coming-of-age story for the Millennial Generation was famously filmed over a period of 12 years with the same cast. We get to watch the actor portraying its soulful main character grow from a 6-year-old boy to a college freshman. The concept & the logistics of production probably made a bigger impression on me than the actual story, which has moments that look genuinely spontaneous as well as scenes that feel pat. The movie does a good job tracking its post-9/11 time period through references to computer products, songs & the political climate. It's remarkably coherent & consistent-looking, despite requiring scenes shot years apart. The film's generally low-key mood makes it possible to sit through its nearly 3-hour length comfortably, though it's so emotionally gentle that the audience I sat with almost seemed disappointed when no one got hurt in a scene where unsupervised teenage boys play recklessly with a buzz saw blade while drinking.

§ Boyhood (2014)
dir. Richard Linklater, USA, 165 mins.