Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ramen Street

Two weekends ago I was headed down Fillmore Street from Pacific Heights, intending to visit the J-Pop Festival in Japantown. I expected to see people in great costumes, check out the street vendors & eat a quick lunch. Blocks away from Post Street, the sidewalks were unexpectedly jammed.

When I got to Post Street, I was in the biggest crowd I'd ever seen for a Japantown street fair. I had no idea what was going on. After walking up one and a half blocks, I couldn't get any farther, & the street felt dangerously overcrowded.

It turned out that this year the J-Pop Festival was held in conjunction with Ramen Street, a traveling show of 6 ramen vendors from the US & Japan. The attendees were all young people. I was too scared to stick around, & people around me who had come specifically for the ramen were also making alternate plans, hence the overflow into the surrounding neighborhood.

I passed through the neighborhood again the next morning around 10:30a, half an hour before the official opening time. Volunteers corralled people into orderly lines that were already over a block long.

A volunteer told me that the expected wait was 3 to 4 hours.

I got a better view of the action by walking behind the booths.

Cooks were preparing everything on site in small batches, so it's no surprise that fulfilling orders takes a long time. I did not spot any customers with the product in hand during either of my visits.

§ Ramen Street (Ramen Yokocho)
J-POP Summit Festival
2014/7/19 (Sat) & 7/20 (Sun)
San Francisco Japantown

ABS: Handel's L'Allegro

This month I attended the sold-out performance of Handel's L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato during the American Bach Soloists' Summer Academy. ABS featured 9 young soloists, each assigned to one of the libretto's personified temperments. This resulted in a somewhat theatrical moment when, after 2 hours, 3 entirely new singers walked on stage for part 3. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas's tempos were measured & unhurried, & the piece moved along at the recreational pace of a baseball game.

Hailey Fuqua sang the Il Penseroso soprano arias with big, hall-filling high notes & a liquid sound. In the extended virtuoso aria "Sweet bird" she was accompanied by an impressive Baroque flute player who had great dynamic control & a clean, steady sound with no breathiness. Though the number is clearly designed for the performers to show off their improvisatory skills, both soloists took the long repeat with almost no variation. ABS audiences know better than to interrupt a long work with applause, but a murmur of approval followed the aria.

Singing the L'Allegro soprano arias, Anna Gorbachyova displayed a dark, viscous sound. Tenor Michael Jankosky's voice was open & his articulation clear. Alto Agnes Vojtko & bass Benjamin Kazez both had clean, even voices. Different parts of tenor Jason Rylander's voice seemed to have different levels of openness. At the opening of the Il Moderato section, bass David Rugger made a startlingly big sound. He was an expressive & varied singer & communicated the text well. Soprano Fiona Gillespie's voice was youthful & pretty. Tenor Corey Shotwell made a high, light & unfussy sound that fit the music well.

The chorus of around 30 sounded neat & well-prepared. The orchestra played energetically & their ensemble was tight. The violins' bouncy, off-the-string playing during the soprano aria "Mirth, admit me of thy crew" was especially lively. The gamba solos in "But oh! sad virgin" were fluid & swaying. It was weird hearing chime-like sounds during "Or let the merry bells ring round" & fun hearing the organ during the chorale "There let the pealing organ blow." The extremely well-behaved audience was attentive & quiet throughout. It was quite abnormal seeing Patrick seated in the middle of the hall rather than in a front row aisle seat.

§ L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato HWV 55
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

L'ALLEGRO - Anna Gorbachyova, soprano; Michael Jankosky, tenor; Benjamin Kazez, bass
IL PENSEROSO - Hailey Fuqua, soprano; Agnes Vojtko, alto; Jason Rylander, tenor
IL MODERATO - Fiona Gillespie, soprano; Corey Shotwell, tenor; David Rugger, bass

American Bach Soloists Academy Orchestra
American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Friday July 18 2014, 8p
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Schwabacher Summer Concert

Shirin Eskandani (Mignon) and Anthony Reed (Lothario).
Photography by Kristen Loken.
Last week I heard the indoor version of the Schwabacher Summer Concert at Everett Middle School. It was a showcase for 10 of this summer's Merola Artists, who performed semi-staged scenes from 7 operas with a full orchestra behind them. All the singers gave outgoing, high-energy performances. Director Roy Rallo provided them with stage business for every moment. Props included a chair, a zither, an empty picture frame & a pair of velvet ropes with stanchions.

I liked the varied & dusky colors of mezzo Shirin Eskandani's voice. She was a melancholy Mignon & a contrastingly bright Rosina. Soprano Maria Fasciano sustained a high level of drama as Cio-Cio San in an excerpt from the end of act 2 of Madama Butterfly. Her voice is big & has a slight metallic sound. Sorrow was portrayed by a small, patient child who never showed the least sign of fidgeting.

Chong Wang (Don José)
and Nian Wang (Carmen).
Photography by Kristen Loken.
Soprano Talya Lieberman portrayed a very silly Semele in scenes from the Handel opera. She got a laugh just by the way she slumped in a chair. Her voice is high & warbling, & she flirtatiously showed off a seemingly effortless coloratura. The audience gave her a cheering ovation. Tenor Mingjie Lei, with his smooth, mellow voice, was a rueful Jupiter.

Mezzo Nian Wang had quite a few assignments, ending with the last scene of Carmen. She is an emphatic singer & was a disdainful & sneering Carmen. Tenor Chong Wang was her Don José, & his clear, taut high notes conveyed ardency. Carmen's friends wore glittery dresses that made them look more like Rheinmaidens than gypsies.

Baritone Alexander Elliott sounded solid & was perfectly cast in 2 comedic Rossini roles. He has the perky charisma of a musical theater performer & moves with the springiness of a dancer. Bass-baritone Matthew Stump's voice sounded appropriately mature & weighty for his characters. In a duet from La Cenerentola, he did a brave job singing lying on his side while Mr. Elliott sat on top of him.

Anthony Reed cuts a tall & attractive figure, & he has a surprising bass voice that is beaming & resonant. In a scene from Thomas's Mignon, he was a pensive Lothario & wore his jacket over his bare torso. I was completely unfamiliar with the opera, which seems to deal with a 19th century version of human trafficking. Eric Melear was a stable conductor, & there was fine playing from the trumpet & flute. The opera-savvy audience was enthused & supportive, & many gave the performers a standing ovation.

§ Schwabacher Summer Concert 2014
Merola Opera Program
Conducted by Eric Melear
Directed by Roy Rallo

Mignon (Ambroise Thomas)
From Act I, Scene 4
Wilhelm:  Mingjie Lei
Mignon: Shirin Eskandani
Jarno: Matthew Stump
Lothario: Anthony Reed

Semele (George Frideric Handel)
From Act III: Scenes 3-5
Juno: Nian Wang
Semele: Talya Lieberman
Jupiter: Mingjie Lei

Luisa Miller (Giuseppe Verdi)
From Act II
Count Walter: Matthew Stump
Wurm: Anthony Reed
Federica: Nian Wang
Luisa Miller: Maria Fasciano

Il barbiere di Siviglia (Gioachino Rossini)
From Act I: Scene 9
Figaro: Alexander Elliott
Rosina: Shirin Eskandani

Madama Butterfly (Giacomo Puccini)
From Act II
Goro: Chong Wang
Cio-Cio San: Maria Fasciano
Sharpless: Gideon Dabi
Prince Yamadori: Alexander Elliott
Suzuki: Nian Wang

La Cenerentola (Gioachino Rossini)
From Act II
Dandini: Alexander Elliott
Don Magnifico: Matthew Stump

Carmen (George Bizet)
From Act IV
Frasquita: Talya Lieberman
Mercédès: Shirin Eskandani
Don José: Chong Wang
Carmen: Nian Wang
Chorus: Tutti

Thursday, July 17, 7:30 pm
Everett Middle School Auditorium

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Interval

While at Fort Mason today I discovered that the Long Now Foundation has remade its vague storefront space into a fancy bar called The Interval. The Long Now was founded by people who did well in the 1st tech boom & is a think tank for ideas about planning & sustainability over very long time periods. Their flagship project is the 10,000 Year Clock, a huge timepiece built inside a mountain & designed to last for 10 millennia.

Bar decor includes an orrery, silhouette portraits of board members, & books neatly arranged on unreachable shelves.

There was a gathering of international students when I popped in to take a look. I was mistaken for one of their event speakers while I was perusing the drinks menu.

There's a nice nook with a bridge view in the back.

The place probably works better as party space than a bar or cafe, but someone with a laptop & cellphone managed to turn one of the few tables into an office.

Generous donors to the foundation may be allotted a personal flask of high quality gin, which hangs in a numbered space in the ceiling, awaiting their next visit.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bookish Beasts

This Sunday afternoon, as the final game of World Cup 2014 got underway, the Center for Sex & Culture hosted a small zine fest. The offerings were eclectic. There were old school xeroxed & stapled zines, art & books from independent publishers. I saw a stack of pre-Internet, mint condition adult comic books as well as a children's picture book explaining principles of anarchism. Unusually, there was a high proportion of women exhibitors. The atmosphere was low-key, & I had friendly chats with the familiar faces of Jon Macy, Tyler Cohen & David Kelly. It was nice to hear Mr. Macy say that he liked creating work for a small niche audience. I also got to see someone climb up the venue's dance pole & strike a pose.

§ Bookish Beasts
July 13, 2014, noon-6PM
The Center for Sex and Culture

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Outdoor Movie: Frozen

Saturday night Union Square was filled with young people & families waiting for a free outdoor showing of Disney's Frozen. A lot of people were camped out with blankets, food & drinks & had clearly arrived early to claim their spots. The column in the middle of square unfortunately makes for awkward sight lines. The crowd got bunched up around the periphery of the square.

The projection wasn't very bright, so most of the movie looked like it took place in a dark forest at night. I missed Frozen when it was in the theaters last year, & a few times I wasn't sure what was going on. The audience obviously knew the movie well, though, & they applauded the "Let It Go" song & as well as a moment when the heroine punched the evil prince in the face.

§ Frozen (2013)
Film Night in the Park
Saturday, July 12th, dusk
Union Square

Friday, July 11, 2014

Merola Opera: A Streetcar Named Desire

Adelaide Boedecker & Julie Adams
Photography by Kristen Loken
Thursday night I saw Merola Opera's production of André Previn's opera version of A Streetcar Named Desire. The opera sticks closely to its source, & the show's emphasis on acting & its young, dramatically convincing, cast made me feel I was sitting at a play rather than an opera. It's definitely a vehicle for the soprano playing Blanche, & Julie Adams sang with impressive stamina, consistency & commitment. Her voice has a substantial, viscous sound, & her singing was smooth & connected. She gave us soft high notes that were secure & lovely. Her physical performance was jittery, & her character was clearly under strain from mental illness right from the start. The audience gave a big ovation to her act 2 narration about the suicide of her husband.

The rest of the cast gave dedicated performances as well. Soprano Adelaide Boedecker sounded supple & bright as Stella. Her sultry post-coital vocalise accompanied by the plucking of a double bass is my favorite part of the opera. Baritone Thomas Gunther was an angry Stanley Kowalski, & his voice was focused & firm. Tenor Casey Candebat as Mitch sang with great clarity & control, & he had the most apparent Southern accent in the cast. He's a fun actor to watch, though his Mitch sometimes seemed like a 12-year-old boy. I also liked the vivid acting of Eliza Bonet as Eunice.

Chong Wang, Thomas Gunther,
Benjamin Werley, & Casey Candebat
Photography by Kristen Loken
The terrific set depicts the Kowalski's home with a grimy realism yet is also a bit dream-like. There are no black-outs between scenes, so supers dressed like Stanley's poker buddies reset the stage in full view of the audience. We get to see Stanley having sex with Stella & Blanche. There's also a lot of cigarette smoking.

The opera is mostly dialogue. There are a few arioso scenes but no full-blown arias. The music is lush, & the orchestra is kept busy providing a constant flow of colorful, melodic fragments that encompass movie score romanticism, modern dissonance & jazz. The overall mood is ominous. Mark Morash's conducting was evenly paced. The Everett Middle School Auditorium does not have a pit, so the orchestra was in the auditorium in front of the stage. I sat 6 feet from the tuba. The orchestra's bright, prominent sound overbalanced the singers.

The performance ran for 3 & 1/2 hours, including 2 intermissions. The audience was engaged throughout, though there was a loud clunk from the right side of the auditorium in a quiet moment during one of Blanche's scenes. The insistent clanging of a cow bell signaled the end of each intermission. The show will be repeated this Saturday afternoon.

§ A Streetcar Named Desire
By André Previn
Libretto by Philip Littell
New orchestral reduction by Peter Grunberg

Merola Opera Program
Conductor: Mark Morash
Director: Jose Maria Condemi

Blanche DuBois: Julie Adams
Harold “Mitch” Mitchell: Casey Candebat
Stella Kowalski: Adelaide Boedecker
Stanley Kowalski: Thomas Gunther
Eunice Hubbell: Eliza Bonet
Steve Hubbell: Benjamin Werley
Mexican Woman: Shirin Eskandani
A Young Collector: Mingjie Lei

Thursday, July 10, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 12, 2 p.m.
Everett Middle School Auditorium

Thursday, July 10, 7:30 p.m.
Everett Middle School Auditorium
Merola: A Streetcar Named Desire

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Casting for Merola Opera's Don Giovanni

Karen Chia-Ling Ho, Rhys Lloyd Talbot,
Edward Nelson, Amanda Woodbury
  Photo credit: Kristen Loken
The Merola Opera Program has announced casting for its 2 staged performances of Don Giovanni at the end of this month. The production is conducted by Martin Katz & directed by James Darrah. Other Merola performances this month are 2 performances of Andre Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire this Thursday & Saturday & the Schwabacher Summer Concert next week.

§ Don Giovanni
W.A. Mozart

Merola Opera Program
Thursday, July 31, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, August 2, 2 p.m
Everett Auditorium, 450 Church Street in San Francisco.

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