Wednesday, November 25, 2015

SFO: Meistersinger

Last Wednesday night I attended the opening performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at San Francisco Opera. Starting with a languidly paced overture, conductor Mark Elder led with slow, measured tempos that seemed chosen to give every note of the score its full value. The resulting music had a dull, even sheen. There were many beautiful instrumental solos, but the slow tempos may have strained the musicians. There was a surprising blooper from the off-stage band in act 3, & the violins sometimes sounded tired. The violas had a warm, velvety tone, & the harp had an emphatic clarity.

Tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Walther sounded lyrical, masculine & ardent & was convincing as a young, noble military officer. He nearly missed a high note during the 1st act song trial, & before the 3rd act it was announced that he was singing through a cold. He sounded slightly cautious but made it through fine. Baritone James Rutherford was a mildly gruff Hans Sachs & sounded firm & youthful. His singing was impressively consistent & taut throughout. The production asks for naturalistic acting, & Martin Gantner's Beckmesser was eager, foolish & vain but not cartoonish. HIs singing was crisp & characterful & felt stylistically correct.

Soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen had a solid, steely voice & portrayed a grown-up Eva. Bass Ain Anger sang Pogner with weight & a natural ease. I enjoyed the Magdalene of mezzo Sasha Cooke, whose bright, sparkling voice had a powerful presence. Tenor Alek Shrader was an appealing David. His voice was high & nimble, & he moved with agility. It was marvelous to hear bass Andrea Silvestrelli as the night watchman. His resonant, cavernous voice wafted easily through the auditorium, even though he remained at the back of the stage.

David McVicar's production, originating from Glyndebourne, is set during the Napoleonic Wars, & the attractively costumed cast look like they are in the latest Jane Austen adaptation. The entire opera takes place under an ornate vaulted ceiling, & the chorus & the Meistersingers were all distinct individuals, members of a small, lively community. Twice in act 1 the apprentices break into a synchronized dance routine with knee slaps & stomping. The stage fighting during the act 2 riot is rough & vigorous. In a surreal moment in act 3, shoe boxes in Sachs's workshop come to life. The busy meadow scene features stilt-walking jugglers & an extended dance routine. Many scenes had strong lighting coming in from the wings.

The performance ran 5 & 3/4 hours, not including the curtain calls. I noticed considerable attrition in the balcony by act 3. The remaining audience gave an appreciative ovation, cheering the cast & orchestra.

§ Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Richard Wagner

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Mark Elder
Production: David McVicar
Revival Co-Directors: Marie Lambert, Ian Rutherford

Eva: Rachel Willis-Sørensen
Magdalene: Sasha Cooke
Walther von Stolzing: Brandon Jovanovich
David: Alek Shrader
Sixtus Beckmesser: Martin Gantner
Veit Pogner: Ain Anger
Hans Sachs: James Rutherford

Balthasar Zorn: Joel Sorensen
Ulrich Eisslinger: Joseph Hu
Hermann Ortel: Edward Nelson
Konrad Nachtigall: Sam Handley
Kunz Vogelgesang: AJ Glueckert
Fritz Kothner : Philip Horst
Hans Foltz: Matthew Stump
Hans Schwarz: Anthony Reed
Augustin Moser: Corey Bix
An apprentice: Laurel Porter
A night watchman: Andrea Silvestrelli

Wednesday, November 18, 6:00PM
War Memorial Opera House

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Cupcake Opera

The Borderlands Cafe in the Mission is currently hosting a painting exhibition by the Internet's own Opera Tattler. The 30 or so pictures portray operatic stage scenes, of course, though the characters resemble small, hapless cupcakes with twig-like arms. Most depict recent San Francisco Opera productions, complete with quotations from the scores.

I attended the opening reception on Sunday. Since the pictures are right over the tables, they are sometimes difficult to inspect, though it is amusing to consider that customers might be planning the next start-up to take over the world while sitting beneath the image of a cupcake that has fallen on its frosting. No actual cupcakes were available but guests were offered thick fudge brownies. At least 3 of paintings were already sold by the end of the afternoon.

§ Cupcake Opera
new paintings by Charlie Tiee
October 1 - November 30, 2015
Borderlands Cafe

Opening Reception
October 11, 2015, 3:30 - 5:30pm

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

WSJ: How Videogames Are Saving the Symphony Orchestra

Francesca Buchalski as Link 
Classic tongue-in-cheek article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning about how concerts of videogame music are keeping symphonic music alive & kicking for non-subscription audiences:  New Mission for Videogame Heroes: Save the Symphony Orchestra.

Sample Excerpts
Costumed attendees—dressed as dragons, wizards, princesses, fairies, knights and sorcerers—often engage in mock battles. Marriage proposals mid-show aren’t unusual.
“You can no longer just sit there and play Beethoven,”
“From a business-strategy perspective, it completely devalues the brand, ...akin to Mouton Rothschild using its wine to make and sell sangria.”
Heidi Harris, the associate concert master for the St. Louis Symphony, was surprised how much she enjoyed performing Zelda in a concert this year. “I thought it was very beautiful,” she said. “I dislike videogames less now.”

PBO: Scarlatti’s Glory of Spring

Last Friday night I heard Philharmonia Baroque's performance of Scarlatti's La Gloria di Primavera, a sort of extended secular cantata original written to celebrate the birth of the male heir of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1716. PBO touted these performances as the 1st in nearly 300 years. 5 soloists represent the seasons plus the god Jove. The text is fulsome, sycophantic & dramatically static, but the singers did a nice job creating characters & having fun with it where possible.

All the roles are virtuosic, & the entire cast displayed agility & charm. Mezzo Diana Moore was stable & rooted throughout her fancy coloratura passages. Soprano Suzana Ograjenšek's singing was youthful, clean & flirtatious. Countertenor Clint van der Linde's voice sounded firm & well-inflated. Tenor Nicholas Phan was wonderfully expressive & sang his rage arias colorfully. His rich, smooth timbre seemed well-suited for this music. Baritone Douglas Williams made the audience laugh the moment he stepped on stage & gave an engaging & comic performance as the pompous god Jove. HIs acting made the woman next to me downright giggly. His voice was solid & had some weight, & he gamely executed his music's unwieldy leaps. An additional 5 singers joined the soloists for the choruses & blended in neatly.

Everything felt tidy & well-rehearsed. Conductor Nicholas McGegan was a vivacious leader & kept the music spry & sparkling. The orchestra sounded bouncy & adroit. The orchestra was on the floor in front of the stage, except for 2 lutes & the flute & trumpet soloists who joined the singers on the stage. I sometimes felt that the music had a lot of filler, & the evening ran long, the 1st half lasting an hour & the 2nd half running 85 minutes. The performance was being recorded for a CD to be released next year.

The audience was attentive & respectful, applauding only at the end of each half. A man at the end of our row was particularly vocal in expressing his approval at the end. No printed libretto was supplied, but there were supertitles. As the lights went down at the start, an outside door squeaked loudly as it closed, which caused some titters

It was good to be back in the renovated Herbst Theatre, which looked spruced up & brighter. The acoustic sounded clearer to me as well. There is now a downstairs bar, & I enjoyed having a drink during intermission with friends who had all attended SF Opera's Lucia the previous night.

§ Scarlatti’s Glory of Spring
La Gloria di Primavera
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 - 1725)

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Suzana Ograjenšek, soprano
Diana Moore, mezzo-soprano
Clint van der Linde, countertenor
Nicholas Phan, tenor
Douglas Williams, baritone

Members of the Philharmonia Chorale
Heidi Waterman, soprano
Jennifer Ashworth, soprano
Katherine McKee, alto
David Kurtenbach, tenor
John Bischoff, bass

Fri. 9 Oct. @ 8:00 PM
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

Monday, September 28, 2015

Super Blood Moon

Obviously no one would knowingly miss a Super Blood Moon Total Eclipse, so Sunday at dusk I stopped at Alta Plaza Park, the highest location on my way home. A small crowd was already gathered. Some people were picnicking. Even from the top of the park, the horizon is blocked by hills & buildings, so we had to wait for the moon to rise high enough. Some people applauded when the moon eventually emerged from behind clouds. I wouldn't call it blood red, but it was definitely a dark rusty orange, a bit brighter along the right bottom edge. I was lucky to get such a clear view of it during totality. As I kept looking at it as I walked home, it started to resemble a giant orange hanging in the sky. I went out to look again a half hour later, & its bottom edge was a bright, white crescent. It seemed more 3-dimensional than a normal moon. When I tried to check its progress later, the sky was too overcast.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Big Book Sale

I went into the Annual Fall Big Book Sale at Fort Mason telling myself that I do not need more books, but while browsing I came across a hardcover edition of The Complete Illustrated Works of Lewis Carroll & was immediately convinced of its necessity.

However, I did have the willpower to resist this LP of the 8 Bayreuther Festspiel-Hornisten performing lesser-known works for horn ensemble.

I also passed over this 1982 guide to bringing computers into your small business. 

It seemed a bit out of date.

The sale continues through Sunday. All books are $3, $2 or 1$. On Sunday everything goes for $1. But if you are determined to spend money like it's Customer Appreciation Day at Saks, check out the rare books corner, where there's a gorgeous 2 volume art book about Japan for a cool $700.

§ 51st Annual Fall Big Book Sale
Friends of the San Francisco Public Library
Wednesday, September 16 - Sunday, September 20
10 AM - 6 PM
Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Up-Coming: Mill Valley Film Festival 38

Tuesday evening I was at the press announcement for the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival. Executive Director Mark Fishkin, Director of Programming Zoë Elton, & Senior Programmers Karen Davis & Janis Plotkin gave an overview of the festival, which runs October 8 - 18. 107 features & 76 shorts will play on 13 screens in 4 Marin County cities, with over 300 filmmakers in attendance. The 1st announcement was that Ian McKellen will receive a tribute on Sunday, October 11, though they have not yet determined the film they will show at his appearance.

The 2 opening night films are The Danish Girl, an historical drama starring Eddie Redmayne as one of the 1st people to receive gender reassignment surgery, & Spotlight, a drama about The Boston Globe investigation of child molestation within the Catholic church. Closing night is Suffragette, a British drama about the early members of women's suffrage movement, with Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst.

Many selections come from the Cannes & Berlinale Festivals. I'm excited that Andrew Haigh's new film 45 Years is playing, as well as Taxi, another covert film by banned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. The programming panel was enthusiastic about 2 films from Iceland, Rams & Virgin Mountain, & I'm intrigued by Ixcanul, a Guatemalan film in the Mayan language, & Mardan, a film from "Iraqi Kurdistan" directed by Batin Ghobadi, a younger brother of Bahman Ghobadi.

Films with big names include Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg & starring Tom Hanks; Youth, directed by Paolo Sorrentino & starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda; Wondrous Boccaccio, an adaption of the Decameron by the Taviani brothers; & Greenery Will Bloom Again by Ermanno Olmi. Documentary filmmaker Marcel Ophuls will receive a tribute along with a screening of his Ain't Misbehavin'. The Sorrow & the Pity will also be shown. Senegalese author & filmmaker Ousmane Sembène is remembered by the documentary Sembène! & a screening of his film Black Girl.

In response to the dismal underrepresentation of women directors in Hollywood, the festival is highlighting films & panels under the rubric "Mind the Gap," as well as offering a tribute to director Catherine Hardwicke. 2 films, Son of Saul & The Sorrow & the Pity, will be shown in 35mm. Non-film events include 9 nights of live music at the Sweetwater Music Hall, a nature hike & an exhibit celebrating Ingrid Bergman.

§ Festival Web Site | On-line Brochure | Films | Venues | Ticket Info | Festival Pass

§ Mill Valley Film Festival
October 8-18, 2015

§ Press Conference for the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival
Tuesday, September 15, 6p
Dolby Labs

Friday, September 11, 2015

SF Opera Opening Night

This morning the steps of the War Memorial Opera House are decked out, & party tents fill Grove Street, in preparation for San Francisco Opera's opening night, featuring soprano Leah Crocetto & tenor Michael Fabiano in Verdi's Luisa Miller. I joined the line for standing room tickets around 8:30am, & there were only 3 people ahead of me. Heading the line was the Opera Tattler, who was surprised to be first. In past years she has arrived far earlier, only to find herself 2nd or 3rd, so there is definitely a shift occurring in standing room. When the box office opened at 10:00am, a dozen people were waiting.

The mood was enlivened by the Opera Tattler's young companion, who was not shy about testing all the building's doors & crawling around the other patrons. Though he had to wait with the rest of us, he disappointingly won't have the fun of attending the show. A friendly guy in line made a coffee run & brought back treats for his fellow standees.

When I got my ticket, I was instructed to enter on the courtyard side of the building tonight, instead of the usual Grove Street side. Immediately following tonight's performance, General Director David Gockley will award the SF Opera Medal to Francesca Zambello, the director of the production.

§ Luisa Miller
Giuseppe Verdi
San Francisco Opera
Fri 09/11/15 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House