Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Boyhood

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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Merola Grand Finale 2014

Talya Lieberman as Zerbinetta &
Shirin Eskandani as the Composer.
Photography by Kristen Loken.
Last weekend I attended the aptly named Merola Grand Finale, a sort of plenary graduation exercise for all 29 of this summer's Merola Artists. They presented 16 operatic excerpts on the stark, rural set of SF Opera's up-coming production of Susannah, with a full orchestra in the pit. Director Omer Ben-Seadia's staging was sensible. The performers wore formal concert dress, & good use was made of hand-carried props, lighting changes & the full stage space.

Everyone gave assured & easeful performances. Baritone Thomas Gunther singing was robust & connected in the prologue to Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias, during which the curtain came up on the set. In a scene from Thomas's Hamlet, soprano Amanda Woodbury's sound was big & lustrous, & baritone Edward Nelson's voice had alluring colors. I liked mezzo Shirin Eskandani's textured, slightly gritty, sound & ardent acting as the Composer from Strauss's Ariadne. Soprano Talya Lieberman was her strong-voiced Zerbinetta.

Soprano Maria Fasciano has a somewhat metallic edge to her voice, & she was an intense Nedda in a furtive scene from Pagliacci. Baritone Alexander Elliot was Silvio, singing with an open & pleasing sound. Mezzo Eliza Bonet is a characterful singer with a grounded voice, & she had fun performing a frothy Offenbach number while flirting with both the audience & a male chorus of Merolini.

Rhys Lloyd Talbot as Guglielmo,
Anthony Reed as Don Alfonso
& Mingjie Lei as Ferrando.
Photography by Kristen Loken.
Tenor Mingjie Lei, bass-baritone Rhys Lloyd Talbot & bass Anthony Reed were a lively trio in the opening scene from Così fan tutte. Mr. Reed portrayed Don Alfonso's worldly confidence convincingly. Soprano Karen Chia-ling Ho gave a plush & dramatically sustained rendition of Margherita's prison scene from Mefistofele, & she did some theatrical stage business using her shawl to represent an imaginary baby.

Tenor Chong Wang sang "La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto with beautifully taut & secure high notes, & he did a good job characterizing the rakish Duke. As Gilda, soprano Adelaide Boedecker displayed bright, poignant singing. The following quartet with Ms. Bonet & baritone Gideon Dabi was firmly anchored. Tenor Casey Candebat & soprano Julie Adams were terrific in a duet from L’amico Fritz. Mr. Candebat's singing was smooth & controlled, & Ms. Adams voice was big, ringing & urgent.

Conductor Ari Pelto was attentive to the singers, giving them clear cues & never pushing, but he left the orchestra sounding shapeless. The audience responded warmly to all the performers. I felt a little sad to be at my last KAC-hosted event in the press room that evening.

§ Merola Opera Program
Presents
Merola Grand Finale and Reception

Conductor, Ari Pelto
Director, Omer Ben-Seadia

Overture to Nabucco (Verdi)

Les mamelles de Tirésias (Poulenc)
“Public, attendez sans impatience”
Le directeur, Thomas Gunther
Piano, Kirill Kuzmin

Hamlet  (Thomas)
“Vains regrets!...Monseigneur! Ophélie…Doute de la lumière”
Ophélie, Amanda Woodbury
Hamlet, Edward Nelson

Rodelinda (Handel)
“Eduige, t’inganni…Di Cupido impiego i vanni”
Garibaldo, Rhys Lloyd Talbot
Harpsichord, Kirill Kuzmin 

La Fille du regiment (Donizetti)
“La voilà…Au bruit de la guerre”
Marie, Yujin Kim
Sulpice, Scott Russell

Zazà (Leoncavallo)
“Zazà, piccolo zingara”
Cascart, Gideon Dabi

Ariadne auf Naxos (Strauss)
“Sie hält ihn für den Todesgott...Ein Augenblick ist wenig”
Zerbinetta, Talya Lieberman
Composer, Shirin Eskandani
Piano, Edoardo Barsotti
Harmonium, Sahar Nouri
Keyboard, Ronny Michael Greenberg

La clemenza di Tito (Mozart)
“Parti; non è più tempo ...Deh, per questo istante solo”
Sesto, Nian Wang
Tito, Casey Candebat
Harpsichord, Ronny Michael Greenberg

I Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
“Nedda! Silvio! A quest’ora…Decidi il mio destin”
Nedda, Maria Fasciano
Silvio, Alexander Elliott
Tonio, Gideon Dabi

La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (Offenbach)
“Vous aimez la danger…Ah! Que j’aime la militaire!”
Duchesse, Eliza Bonet
Chorus, Tutti Merolini Men

Così fan tutte (Mozart)
“La mia Dorabella…È la fede della femmina…Una bella serenata”
Ferrando, Mingjie Lei
Guglielmo, Rhys Lloyd Talbot
Don Alfonso, Anthony Reed
Harpsichord, Blair Salter

Mefistofele (Boito)
“L’altra notte in fondo al mare”
Margherita, Karen Chia-ling Ho

The Rake’s Progress (Stravinsky)
“Vary the song…Come master…My tale shall be told”
Tom Rakewell, Benjamin Werley
Nick Shadow, Matthew Stump

La Cenerentola (Rossini)
“Sì, tutto cangerà…Là del ciel”
Alidoro, Szymon Wach
Cenerentola, Shirin Eskandani

Rigoletto (Verdi)
“La donna è mobile…Un dì se ben rammentomi”          
Gilda, Adelaide Boedecker
Maddalena, Eliza Bonet
Il Duca, Chong Wang
Rigoletto, Gideon Dabi
Sparafucile, Anthony Reed

L’amico Fritz (Mascagni)
“Suzel, buon dì…Tutto tace”
Suzel, Julie Adams
Fritz, Casey Candebat

Falstaff (Verdi)
“Un coro e terminiam la scena...Tutto nel mondo è burla”
Alice, Julie Adams
Nannetta, Adelaide Boedecker
Dame Quickly, Eliza Bonet
Meg, Shirin Eskandani
Fenton, Benjamin Werley
Dr. Caius, Chong Wang
Ford, Thomas Gunther
Bardolfo, Casey Candebat
Falstaff, Matthew Stump
Pistola, Scott Russell
Chorus, tutti Merolini

7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 16
War Memorial Opera House

Monday, August 18, 2014

SF Street Food Festival

Late Saturday afternoon I met up with a couple of friends at the San Francisco Street Food Festival, in a lovely tree-lined stretch of Folsom Street in the Mission. The festival has been attracting such big crowds in its 6 year history that this is the last time it will held here.

I was told that earlier in the day it was so packed that food lines extended the full width of the street. By the time I got there the lines were much shorter, but at least half the vendors had sold out of food.

Attendees were mostly young people, & the atmosphere was cheerful.

It was nice to see the eponymous chef of Gerard's Paella manning the paella pans.

Drinkers were corralled in specially demarcated areas.

There was also non-comestible entertainment that seemed appropriate to the neighborhood.

§ San Francisco Street Food Festival
Saturday, August 16, 2014, 11 a.m - 7p.m

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hydrogen Jukebox

Photo credit: mellopix
Last Friday I attended West Edge Opera's staging of Philip Glass's Hydrogen Jukebox. The performance was in the lobby of the Ed Roberts Campus at the Asbhy BART station. I found the institutional setting off-putting. I arrived while a pre-performance talk was in progress, & I'm afraid I was one of those grabby people that Patrick complained about. My seat was about halfway back, & it felt far away from the small raised stage at the other end of the lobby. One elderly patron decided she also was too far away & simply moved her chair to a row closer up.

Though the opera has no plot, characters or setting, director Elkhanah Pulitzer filled every moment with activities for the entire cast. We saw lots of cigarette smoking & making out between same-sex couples. Every male performer was shirtless at some point. I liked when the cast threw paper airplanes toward the audience. Good use was made of ladders leading up to the walkways above either side of the stage, where a small band played, hidden from the audience. Conductor David Möschler could be seen, though, via monitors in plain view. At the end of the 1st act he climbed down a ladder to get to a piano in front of the stage, where he accompanied an animated recitation by actor Howard Swain. The music, libretto & staging all functioned at different levels, & I frequently felt adrift.

Soprano Sara Duchovnay displayed solid high notes & a strong, bright-edged sound. Mezzo Molly Mahoney sang a sultry vocalise while standing halfway up a ladder. Mezzo Nicole Takesono was soft-edged. Tenor Jonathan Blalock has a distinctive high, clear voice that is sweet & almost sexless. Bass Kenneth Kellogg sounded anchored & secure. Baritone Efrain Solis's voice is both warm & brawny, & he sounded ethereal in the piece's opening & closing moments. Maestro Möschler led the trance-inducing music at an even pace. In the 2nd act, a saxophone player sat atop one of the ladders & convincingly evoked the 1950s with his improvised accompaniment to another recitation.

Following the performance, the audience was invited to mingle with the performers at a wine & dessert reception on the roof of the building. I saw a great view of the moon & was offered a beautiful s'more cupcake by the person who baked them.

§ Hydrogen Jukebox
Music: Philip Glass
Words: Allen Ginsberg

West Edge Opera
Conductor – David Möschler
Stage Director – Elkhanah Pulitzer

Soprano 1 – Sara Duchovnay
Soprano 2 – Molly Mahoney
Mezzo – Nicole Takesono
Tenor – Jonathan Blalock
Baritone – Efrain Solis
Bass – Kenneth Kellogg
Narrator – Howard Swain

Fri, August 8, 8:00 p.m.
Ed Roberts Campus, Berkeley

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Up-coming: Merola Grand Finale

Merola Opera has announced the casting for its Grand Finale performance in the War Memorial Opera House on Saturday, August 16th. This is the final public showcase for this summer's hard-working artists, & it's always a big evening. Apprentice stage director Omer Ben-Seadia directs, & Ari Pelto conducts.

§ Merola Opera Program
Presents
Merola Grand Finale and Reception

Conductor, Ari Pelto
Director, Omer Ben-Seadia

Les mamelles de Tirésias (Poulenc)
“Public, attendez sans impatience”
Le directeur, Thomas Gunther

Hamlet  (Thomas)
“Vains regrets!...Monseigneur! Ophélie…Doute de la lumière”
Ophélie, Amanda Woodbury
Hamlet, Edward Nelson

Rodelinda (Handel)
“Eduige, t’inganni…Di Cupido impiego i vanni”
Garibaldo, Rhys Lloyd Talbot

La Fille du regiment (Donizetti)
“La voilà…Au bruit de la guerre”
Marie, Yujin Kim
Sulpice, Scott Russell

Zazà (Leoncavallo)
“Zazà, piccolo zingara”
Cascart, Gideon Dabi

Ariadne auf Naxos (Strauss)
“Kindskopf! Merkt auf!”
Zerbinetta, Talya Lieberman
Composer, Shirin Eskandani

La clemenza di Tito (Mozart)
“Deh, per questo istante solo”
Sesto, Nian Wang

Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti)
“Vieni, la mia vendetta…Qualunque sia l’evento”
Alfonso, Anthony Reed
Rustighello, Mingjie Lei

I Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
“Silvio! A quest’ora…Decidi il mio destin”
Nedda, Maria Fasciano
Silvio, Alexander Elliott
Tonio, Gideon Dabi

Così fan tutte (Mozart)
“La mia Dorabella…È la fede della femmina…Una bella serenata”
Ferrando, Mingjie Lei
Guglielmo, Rhys Lloyd Talbot
Don Alfonso, Anthony Reed

Mefistofele (Boito)
“L’altra notte in fondo al mare”
Margherita, Karen Chia-ling Ho

The Rake’s Progress (Stravinsky)
“Vary the song…Come master…My tale shall be told”
Tom Rakewell, Benjamin Werley
Nick Shadow, Matthew Stump

La Cenerentola (Rossini)
“Sì, tutto cangerà…Là del ciel”
Alidoro, Szymon Wach
Cenerentola, Shirin Eskandani

Rigoletto (Verdi)
“La donna è mobile…Un dì se ben rammentomi”          
Gilda, Adelaide Boedecker
Maddalena, Eliza Bonet
Il Duca, Chong Wang
Rigoletto, Gideon Dabi
Sparafucile, Anthony Reed

La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (Offenbach)
“Vous aimez la danger…Ah! Que j’aime la militaire!”
Duchesse, Eliza Bonet
Chorus, Tutti Merolini

L’amico Fritz (Mascagni)
“Suzel, buon dì…Tutto tace”
Suzel, Julie Adams
Fritz, Casey Candebat

Falstaff (Verdi)
“Volgiti e mira…Tutto nel mondo è burla”
Alice, Julie Adams
Nannetta, Adelaide Boedecker
Dame Quickly, Eliza Bonet
Meg, Shirin Eskandani
Fenton, Benjamin Werley
Dr. Caius, Chong Wang
Bardolfo, Casey Candebat
Falstaff, Matthew Stump
Pistola, Scott Russell
Chorus, tutti Merolini

7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 16
War Memorial Opera House

BigPicture Competition at Cal Academy

Last week I was at the California Academy of Sciences for an event promoting the Academy's 1st nature photography competition. Conservation photographers from all over the world submitted more than 6,300 images, & the 45 winning entries are on display in a small trellised enclosure in the Academy's atrium. The pictures are vivid & textured but mounted rather artlessly, crammed together & without frames. The accompanying texts provide information about the subjects & photographers as well as commentary by Academy staff. The images are of varying sizes, & I wished all of them were bigger. They can also be viewed online. The preview was followed by the Academy's NightLife event, which would have been fun to stay for, but I had to rush off to another event that evening.


§ BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition
California Academy of Sciences
August 1 - November 2, 2014
Media Preview: Thursday, July 31st, 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m


Tuesday, August 05, 2014

RAWdance: Turing's Apple

Apparently people think I'm not seeing enough dance. Just 2 days after attending Post Ballet's sneak peek, I found myself at RAWdance's summer program of 4 new works. The 1st half consisted of 3 dances, each 10 or 15 minutes long, by different groups. Burn In depicts intricate interactions between a man & a woman, who often make nervous, repeated gestures. When another male dancer joins them, the pace accelerates & becomes more frantic. In Nawala, a corps of 5 female dancers accompany a romantic couple. The mumu-like costumes & the soundtrack's female vocalist made me think of Hawaii. A Dedication was for 3 female dancers, one of whom seemed to be central to the other 2 in some way.

The featured work was Turing's Apple, a somewhat theatrical piece inspired by the strange suicide of Alan Turing, who supposedly bit into a cynanide-laced apple. A dancer portrays Turing, & the corps of 4 female dancers might be muses or sinister forces. The staging included lots of apples, arranged on the floor, on the set & held in C-clamps hanging from the ceiling. Turing bites into an apple at the beginning. Later, Turing & a shirtless man dance an intimate duet while holding an apple between them with their teeth. Apples are sent rolling across the stage, which the female dancers gather & throw at the set. Scenes from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were projected on a screen, & toward the end Turing appears wearing Snow White's dress. The insistent, pulsing music by Richard Einhorn reminded me of Philip Glass.

A reception followed the show, where I was introduced to Wendy Rein, the bubbly Co-Artistic Director of RAWdance. As an offering that seemed not quite thought through, apple pie was served.

§ RAWdance Summer Season


RAWdance: Burn In
Choreography: Ryan T. Smith & Wendy Rein

Project. B: Nawala
Choreography: Tanya Bello

Gretchen Garnett & Dancers: A Dedication
Choreography: Gretchen Garnett with the performers

RAWdance: Turing’s Apple
Choreography: Ryan T. Smith & Wendy Rein

Z Space
8pm Saturday, July 26, 2014
Post-show reception and silent auction in the lobby

Post Ballet Sneak Peek

Last month a friend invited me along to a free preview of Post Ballet's Five High program, which they perform at the YBCA Theater this week. We saw excerpts from 3 works by Artistic Director & choreographer Robert Dekker, who was happy & enthusiastic to talk about his work. He explained that hand shapes from American Sign Language inspired the poses in the 1st excerpt & that sometimes the dancers make their own choices. We watched a run-through in which Mr. Dekker counted the beats out loud & gave directions, then saw it a 2nd time with music. The 7 dancers moved around the space quickly in what seemed like mathematical patterns, & they were winded by the end.

A male & female dancer, representing the id & the ego, performed excerpts from a dance called Yours is Mine. We also saw part of a new dance called ourevolution, in which 2 couples, wearing hoodies & masks covering their mouths, behaved ambivalently about revealing themselves. Mr. Dekker explained that the costumes came from imagining what Hayes Valley fashion would look like in the future.

Drinks & snacks were offered to the audience, & there was an opportunity to mingle with Post Ballet's dancers & staff afterward. My friend arrived early to claim a front row seat, but was foiled when an extra row of chairs was set up in front of him to accommodate a surge of people who arrived after him.

§ Post Ballet

Sneak Peek of "Five High"
Joe Goode Annex
Thursday, July 24, 6:30pm

Five High
YBCA Theater
August 7, 8 & 9, 2014 @ 8pm

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Merola Opera: Don Giovanni

Amanda Woodbury (Donna Anna)
Photography by Kristen Loken.
Last Thursday night I attended Merola Opera's performance of Don Giovanni. The non-traditional production is set entirely in a modern-day artist's studio. I did not always understand what was supposed to be happening, but it was consistently theatrical. During the overture we see Don Giovanni painting Donna Anna then groping her. An apron-wearing Leporello pushes chairs & tables around the studio & shows Donna Elvira newsprint sketchpads full of drawings of female nudes during the Catalog Aria. Zerlina & Masetto arrive at the studio for a wedding photo. The chorus, dressed in black, appear throughout, moving languorously & looking like judgmental zombies. In the banquet scene they slap on a table in unison when the Commendatore knocks at the door, & they collectively smother Don Giovanni at the end. The act 1 finale was oddly static & opposite to the libretto.

Soprano Amanda Woodbury, riding a wave of strength, immediately impressed the audience with her large, edgy voice & sustained focus. Even though she was completely potent, it felt like she was using only half her reserves. She received extended ovations for both of her arias. Soprano Karen Chia-Ling Ho as Donna Elvira had a muscular & assertive voice. Her character was fittingly angry without being wholly neurotic. She did a terrific un-operatic offstage scream in the finale. Soprano Yujin Kim looked & sounded plucky, pert & a bit bold as Zerlina.

Edward Nelson (Don Giovanni)
and Szymon Wach (Leporello).
Photography by Kristen Loken.
Baritone Edward Nelson was an authoritative Don Giovanni. His voice is strong & smooth & he sounded particularly alluring in the serenade "Deh, vieni alla finestra." Bass-baritone Szymon Wach sounded resonant & was a punkish Leporello who looked more like the Don's brother than his servant. Tenor Benjamin Werley did a nice job maintaining a long line in Don Ottavio's arias, & his voice had a bit of heft to it.

Bass Scott Russel was appropriately firm & stern as the Commendatore. The staging of the graveyard scene was awkward, with him standing in an auditorium doorway instead of onstage. Bass-baritone Rhys Lloyd Talbot was a good actor & sang pleasingly as Masetto. The cast sang well together, & ensemble numbers like the Commendatore's death scene & the epilogue sounded great.

Under conductor Martin Katz, the orchestra was often not together, especially the violins. There were some nice woodwind passages, & the harpsichord continuo was flamboyant. Because the orchestra is in the auditorium at the same level as the audience, it was loud & over-balanced the singers. I was in the 3rd row, close enough to notice the trumpet player was reading a book about music history. The hall was full, & my opera companion was delighted to spot composer Jake Heggie during the intermission. The cowbell used to signal the end of the intermission was obnoxious.

§ Don Giovanni
W.A. Mozart

Merola Opera Program Conductor: Martin Katz
Director: James Darrah

Don Giovanni: Edward Nelson
Leporello: Szymon Wach
Il Commendatore: Scott Russell
Donna Anna: Amanda Woodbury
Don Ottavio: Benjamin Werley
Donna Elvira: Karen Chia-Ling Ho
Masetto: Rhys Lloyd Talbot
Zerlina: Yujin Kim

Thursday, July 31, 7:30 p.m.
Everett Auditorium