Sunday, May 28, 2006

SF Opera Simulcast

I went by Civic Center last night to see how they were going to do the San Francisco Opera live simulcast of Madama Butterfly. Very high-tech screen setup against the backdrop of City Hall. Lots of people showed up with lawn chairs & warm clothing, but it was way too cold for me to stay for it. Gockley took advantage of the PR event to appear on-stage before the performance to make announcements & thank sponsers. I think this is a great idea, & I admire the hardiness of the people who showed up, but it's just too cold in San Francisco for this!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Drawings at the Legion of Honor

After my morning at the Metreon, I hiked up to the Legion of Honor to see the exhibit of drawings from the Collection of Joseph and Deborah Goldyne. Although the exhibit is divided into genres, like portraits, nature, etc., it is really a collection of individual masterpieces. It was easiest for me to enjoy each drawing on its own without considering how it might fit into some over-all scheme. What impresses me most are the Italian Renaissance drawings. They are so accurate & yet so fluid. How did they learn to draw like that? Can people still draw like that today?

I liked the gesture drawings of Tiepolo & Rembrandt. It's amazing how much character they can record in relatively few, very loose, lines.

I was also impressed by the Corot drawing of the back of heavily clothed peasant woman. This would seem to be an uninteresting view of an uninteresting subject, but he makes you feel that it deserves a lot of attention.

There is a very striking contour drawing of a chrysanthemum by Mucha. His line is precise & delicate. You get a sense of his sustained observation. I suppose that's something that just about all the drawings have in common: this very sustained sense of focus. & this focus can be completely abstract, as in Bruce Connor's crazy doodle-like drawing.

IMAX Deep Sea 3D

Last Saturday I was actually organized enough to get out of the apartment & get to the Metreon in time to catch a 10:30am showing of this 3D movie. I love visual spectacles like this. Completely thin on content but so much fun to watch. Whoever filmed it must have an obsession about eating, because it was all about sea creatures eating other sea creatures.

And I learned something too. I didn't know that squids could flash different colors or that corals all spawned on the same night each year. I wish there were more of these movies.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Finally saw this last week. It comes highly recommended, but I didn't think it was that good. It's a road movie, & the whole story was both predictable & yet had many implausible & unconvincing moments. I really didn't like its stereotypically negative depiction of gay men as predatory & abusive pederasts.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gruber's Frankenstein!!

Went to the SF Symphony this Wednesday evening. The conductor was Edwin Outwater, who I haven't heard before. The program started with Danses Sacrée et Profane by Debussy, which turns out to be a short piece for harp & string orchestra. French music doesn't always make much of an impression on me, which was the case here. Outwater seems to conduct with a very clear beat that is easy to follow.

This was followed by Living Toys by Adès. Before the piece, Outwater addressed the audience & explained that the general theme of the next 3 pieces was childhood. He interpreted the abrupt, startling ending of the Adès piece as the intrusion of thoughts of mortality upon the playfulness of youth.

I thought this was the most interesting piece of the evening. There were only 17 players, & everyone was often challenged to play extremely high pitches. In the manner of a lot of modern music, it's very dense. The middle of the piece features a virtuosic trumpet solo with lots of notes & special effects. Sometimes the players performed short passages of rhythmic hand-clapping. The 1st cellist seemed especially good a this.

After more shuffling of chairs on stage for this long 1st half, we heard Bizet's Petit Suite. This was a short series of light, encore-style pieces. I liked the slow movement featuring a duet between the violin & cello.

After intermission came Gruber's Frankenstein!! It's a series of short, sardonic poems about monsters & superheroes performed by the composer himself, micked & sitting on a stool in front of the orchestra. He doesn't really sing. Instead he does a kind of sprechstimme using different voices & vocal effects. Sometimes he just makes non-verbal, non-musical sounds. He spoke the poems in English, though his accent was so heavy he may just as well have done it in German.

Gruber did some acting as well, though he avoided going into a full-blown dramatic perfomance. When he came to the line "this is the long finger", he made a fist & stuck out his middle finger to demonstrate, & I almost wasn't sure whether or not he knew the meaning of this gesture to an American audience.

The music is a pastiche of modern styles, often atonal & reminiscent of Berg & Weill. The orchestra at times plays toy instruments like kazoos, slide whistles & plastic tubes that make a low humming sound when twirled rapidly overhead. At the beginning of the piece, the timpanist blew up & popped 5 paper bags, crumbling each one & tossing it in a different direction. These antics provided fitting accompaniment to the poems & got laughs from the audience.

The piece was a little over half an hour, & I don't think it could have sustained itself for any longer. After it was over, I felt like I wouldn't really care to hear it again. I think that one of the things the piece does is satirize the way monster stories & super hero stories patronize & infantilze their audience. So at one level the piece itself insults us, its audience.

It was not a well-attended concert. I had a seat in the back in the 1st tier, & after the 1st piece I moved to the front row of the section. The only other people in the row were 2 ladies who didn't come back after intermission.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Number at ACT

This afternoon I attended the matinee performance of Caryl Churchill's A Number at ACT. This is a two-hander that lasts less than 55 minutes & uses the concept of human cloning to explore parenting, sibling rivalry & nature vs. nuture. The play consists of 5 short scenes which are interviews between a father & his cloned sons. The story is told very efficiently, & each scene ends with an abrubt black-out.

In this production, the action plays out in a very small room that seems to be a den or an office & that floats in darkness in the middle of the stage. Our view of the room shows three walls but no windows or doors. As I was looking at this set before the show started, I already started to wonder how the actors were going to get on stage, but this mystery was revealed only at the final curtain call. Between scenes the room itself is plunged in total darkness while light show with scary music plays around the perimeters.

The play is also a showcase for the actor Josh Charles who plays the troubled son & his 2 clones. This production did a very good job differentiating the 3 identical sons by dress, mannerisms, speech & positioning in the room. At the beginning of each scene it was immediately clear which clone we were watching.

I was very engaged by the ideas of the play, its cleverness, its tightness, & its mixture of the sinister with the humorous. Although no violence occurs on stage or is even described, I think it is a very cruel & violent story. One way to summarize it is to say that it is a story about how technology allows a bad father to be even worse. It reminds me of Edward Albee's The Goat in that you immediately want to discuss it after you've seen it.

I stayed for the "informal discussion" following the performance. It was a question-and-answer session, though I wasn't clear on who the guy leading it was. During the discussion he had to explain the plot 3 different times to 3 different people.