Monday, July 27, 2009

SFJFF: The Yes Men Fix the World

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Castro Theater
The Yes Men Fix the World
2009 | France, USA | color | 90 min
Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno

Yesterday afternoon I was back at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival for the San Francisco premiere of this 2nd Yes Men movie. Executive Director Peter Stein introduced Andy Bichlbaum before the screening, who said he hoped the film's influence would be "disruptive." The film then played to a cheering audience of supporters. It documents more Yes Men pranks, opening with Mr. Bichlbaum's brazen impersonation of a Dow Chemical spokesperson, delivering good news to the victims of the Bhopal disaster. Other stunts range from the tasteless to the happily inane. I was repulsed by the Exxon human candles & loved the Halliburton survival suits, which make the wearer look like a giant tick.

There are some moments that must have surprised the filmmakers as well. We should all be delighted by Kyrgyzstan's presence at the New Orleans recovery trade show. And then there is Ray Nagin, who finds himself sitting next to Mr. Birchbaum's fake HUD agent & then delivers a sly speech about naked truth. It's Michael Moore meets Borat.

After the screening Mr. Bichlbaum appeared again, to a standing ovation. In the Q & A he admitted that in 3 of the pranks, the audience recognized the Yes Men, at which point they just sat back & enjoyed the show. Which makes me wonder what effect the pranks have on their immediate audience. Do people realize it's just a joke & then move on? Surprisingly, the Yes Men have never been sued by any of their targets.

The Yes Men Fix the World was shown as part of a day of Social Justice Films at the festival. The grassroots organizers were out in force, & I was pamphleted several times, though when I got home I discovered that one of the leaflets was for a psychic reader.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

SFJFF: Mary and Max

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Castro Theater
Sat, Jul 25 9:45pm
Mary and Max
2008 | Australia, USA | color | 92 min
Director: Adam Elliot

Last night I went to the late-night screening of Mary & Max, presented by the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival at the Castro Theater. It was introduced by Program Coordinator Joshua Moore, who called it one of his favorites of the festival.

I was drawn to this program to see a claymation feature. However, the actual animation is quite minimal. The story is told entirely in voice-overs, so no dialog syncing was required. It's unusual to see a character walk, & there is often only one movement in a scene. Instead, the movie is carried by its droll story & dilapidated visual design. Max is a middle aged man with Asperger's Syndrome living in New York. He develops a long-distance relationship with a similarly lonely & misfit school girl in Australia. With its mix of odd-ball characters, scatological humor, cartoonish deaths & sentimentality, I would call it Roald Dahl meets 84 Charing Cross Road.

The humor of the movie is pleasingly demented & often dark, & I laughed out loud frequently. I won't be able to get the chocolate hot dogs or the sudden death of a street mime out of my head any time soon. I was only sorry that the story got a bit pat & sentimental as it drew to a close. I'm afraid I knew exactly what Mary was going to find when she got out of that New York taxicab at the end.

Summer Desserts

Summer DessertsI can't say that I have a real sweet tooth, but Saturday afternoon I spent a fun & informative couple of hours watching a Summer Desserts demonstration by Chef Tim Grable. He made 3 different desserts that our small group got to plate & taste. It's impressive how technical everything is & how Chef Grable could intensify the flavor of his Nectarine Soup just by balancing the proportions of the existing ingredients. There were interesting, unexpected flavors, not necessarily sweet ones, such as an olive oil citrus cake or cherries jubilee with corn ice cream & grits. And he really did set that cherries jubilee on fire for us!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Snakes, Sirens and Vamps

Snakes, Sirens and Vamps: A Short History of Early Indian Cinema
A talk illustrated with clips, by Anupama Kapse
Live musical accompaniment for select clips by Robin Sukhadia
Friday, July 24, 2009, 7:30pm
Mission Cultural Center

Reflecting the increasing interest in silent film these days, around 50 people showed up for this event, sponsored by 3rd I & the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Anupama Kapse, a scholar of early Indian film, introduced DVD clips of 6 Indian films from 1918 to 1939, giving us a survey of genres from mythological stories to the Bollywood musical. For 3 of the silents, Robin Sukhadia provided musical accompaniment by triggering sampled sounds in the manner of a DJ. He also played the tabla. The accompaniments were completely contemporary soundscapes, very far from the flute & tabla that would have originally accompanied these films.

Ms. Kapse is quite knowledgeable, & she is good at placing the films in a larger social, sexual & political context. If I understood her correctly, only about 13 films survive from India's early silent period, so we were viewing true rarities. Early films by D.G. Phalke are notable for the precocious performance of his 7 year old daughter & for a crazy special effect Ms. Kapse called a "castrated head." The "stunt film" genre was exemplified by Gallant Hearts (1931) & is an obvious Douglas Fairbanks knock-off, but in a wholly Indian setting. The historical drama Throw of Dice / Prapancha Pash / Shicksalswurfel (1929), a British production directed by a German, looks very much like an art film of the period. We also got a look at 2 early sound films which showed that the template for the Bollywood musical was already well-established by the late 1930s.

Much of the audience already seemed to have good familiarity with Indian film. We were a polite & indulgent audience.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

SF Opera Preview CD

The San Francisco Opera sends out a season preview from David Gockley to subscribers, & I got mine today. It's 2 CDs & an insert, packaged in a nice fold-out holder. Mr. Gockley is on the CD, introducing the season's productions with plot summaries, program notes & excerpts from the company's archives. The bits from Fanciulla del West with Carol Neblett & Placido Domingo in 1979 sound great. We appear to be getting a concept production of Entführung, & Mr. Gockley is almost apologetic when describing it. I'm wondering if I should be offended by the reference to "so-called Ring nuts" in his Die Walküre commentary. He also refers to the entire cycle as "the whole banana."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Country Teacher (Venkovsky Ucitel)

This week I went to the Lumiere & caught this slow, dysthemic movie from the Czech Republic. In the movie's opening scene, the title character shows up to teach grade school science in a rural village. Bespectacled, in his early 30s, outwardly thoughtful & inwardly troubled, he's clearly out of place, & we suspect he is secluding himself from something. He is drawn into a relationship with a hard-working, weather-beaten cow farmer & her teenage son, whom he gradually begins to mentor. Pavel Liska is excellent in the title role. His performance is a slow build-up to a key scene of sexual transgression. Watching it, I felt pity that someone I liked was doing something I disapproved of, yet at the same time I felt that I understood.

The focus is on the unverbalized emotions of the characters, & the general themes of loneliness & forgiveness are clear enough. Major revelations, such as the abrupt appearance of the teacher's detestable ex-boyfriend, seem to pop up out of nowhere, which makes me feel that the director is not in total control of his material. The movie is beautifully photographed in wide-screen format & uses a formal device of having each scene be one continuous take.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Snoopy and NASA

Schulz museum hand stampI seem to be rapidly regressing to my childhood these days. Yesterday I paid a visit to the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, where the exhibit To the Moon is in its last week. This brings together artifacts documenting the use of Charlie Brown & Snoopy as mascots on the Apollo 10 mission in May 1969. One of the more curious objects is a small painting of Snoopy, not done by Schulz, which was flown on the mission & captured in video images sent back to Earth. It was used to demonstrate the color transmission capabilities of the video link. They also have the original Snoopy astronaut doll, which I remember playing with as a kid.

I've been to the museum a few times now, & I'm impressed at how that they constantly change the exhibits. Upstairs there is currently a small display about Schulz's WWII service, including a camp sketchbook & illustrated letters. And to make my visit complete, I even saw Jean Schulz, Charles Schulz's widow, chatting with some visitors in the hall.

Of course it can also be a bit too much. In another building there's a collection of Peanuts merchandise. Who knew there are official Peanuts mahjong tiles? Yet I wasn't really surprised.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reviews of Rufus Wainwright's Prima Donna

Prima Donna, Rufus Wainwright's cross-over opera originally planned for the Met, is premiering this week at the Manchester International Festival. The reviews are mixed, but everyone is taking him seriously, & it seems that at least the work doesn't suck. Entartete Music located a video of Mr.Wainwright stumbling through an aria that sounds minimalist.

The New York Times appreciated it. The Financial Times would see it again. The Guardian was guardedly positive. The Omniscient Mussel found it worthwhile. Many note that Mr. Wainwright showed up at the premiere in 19th century Verdi drag.

Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia

Pez MuseumThe Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia is a storefront museum with just 2 small rooms: a candy store that sells only Pez & an exhibit room. When I arrived for a visit yesterday morning, there was much ado in the candy store, where curator Gary Doss was posing for media photos in front of the world's biggest Pez dispenser. Mr. Doss then gave a tour of the exhibit room to myself & a couple of tourists.

The museum packs a lot of pop culture into a small space & claims to have an example of every Pez ever made. I was surprised to find that Pez is actually an Austrian product & began as a peppermint candy for adults. Mr. Doss pointed out curiosities such as:
  • The original Pez dispensers, which resemble slim cigarette lighters.
  • The 1st American dispensers, featuring Casper the Ghost, Mickey Mouse & Popeye.
  • A 1960's dispenser shaped like a hand holding an eyeball.
  • The world's rarest Pez, the "Make-A-Face", which was pulled off the market due to child safety concerns.
Mr. Doss's mastery of his subject is at a high level, & a conversation with him should be an essential part of a visit. He is a fount of information on such arcane topics as the 8 U.S. Pez conventions & the differences between the American & European versions of the candies. I also ran into the creator of, who was there to update his site's entry on the museum.

Schwabacher Summer Concert

Merola Opera Program
Schwabacher Summer Concert
Yerba Buena Gardens
Sunday, July 12, 2009, 2 pm

L'Italiana in Algeri, Gioachino Rossini: Overture
Der Fliegende Holländer, Richard Wagner: Act II, Scene 2
Orfeo ed Euridice, Christoph Willibald Gluck: Act III, Scene 1
The Medium, Gian Carlo Menotti: From Act II
L'Italiana in Algeri, Gioachino Rossini: From Act II, Scene 7
La Bohème, Giacomo Puccini: Act IV

Mark Morash, conductor

We had gloriously sunny weather for Merola's outdoor program at Yerba Buena Gardens. The singers acted out each scene, but without the benefit of costumes or sets. Instead, most everyone was in basic black, & a row of chairs was spread across the stage. Sheri Greenawald read plot synopses before each scene, though trying to summarize opera plots is always a tricky a business.

Everyone one was amplified, of course, but I was really excited by Gregory Carroll as Erik in the scene from Holländer. He seems to be a real heldentenor already, his voice hefty yet bright. Kate Crist was powerful in voice & demeanor as Senta, & the 2 of them whipped up an intense encounter. They got me so worked up for the entrance of the Dutchman that I was disappointed when the scene ended.

Counter-tenor Ryan Belongie, in the Orfeo excerpt, had none of the hooty or strained sound that I normally associate with his voice type. Susannah Biller was his steady-voiced Euridice. Ms. Biller ended up with a part in every scene, & she was a reliable presence throughout. Suzanne Hendrix, as Baba in The Medium, really took control of the stage. With her substantial sound & confident acting, she created a truly scary scene of desperation & murder.

Everyone got a chance to ham it up a bit in the scene for L'Italiana. The final act of Bohème was surprisingly moving even in the outdoor setting. Brian Jagde's Rodolfo & Lori Guibeau's Mimì were appealing & sweet-sounding. Mimì's death was a rather sad way to end the afternoon, though.

During the intermission, Karen Ames presented a mayor's proclamation to Merola President Patrick Wilken. Ms. Ames also knows the correct way to pack a picnic for these events. The Opera Tattler was spotted sitting demurely in the fenced-off holding pen designated for VIPs. John Marcher was discovered seated on the grass like the rest of us.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SFSFF: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

The 14th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (1927, 1928)
Sunday July 12 10:30am
Castro Theatre

The morning after my late night with Aelita, I was back for this program of early Disney shorts featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The program was hosted by Leonard Maltin, clearly a festival favorite, & Leslie Iwerks, the granddaughter of animator Ub Iwerks. The evolution seems to be that Oswald was a rip-off of Felix the Cat, & then Mickey Mouse was a rip-off of Oswald, after Disney lost the rights for the character. Oswald fills a gap between the Alice comedies & Mickey, & I was interested to learn that Disney, under Robert Iger, has since bought back the Oswald series.

Despite their crudeness, these cartoons have a smart-alecky humor that is still pretty amusing. They even make self-referential jokes about being a cartoon. For example, a question mark might appear over a character's head to express surprise. The character can then grab it & use it as a prop for the next gag. It's also clear that the genre has evolved little over the decades. A clever & mischievous little guy triumphs over a bigger obstacle or foe, things end in a chase or rescue, & there's no point other than to have fun.

Donald Sosin accompanied on the piano. His playing evokes a kind of jaunty ragtime. His wife & son were also on hand to sing & provide vocal sound effects. I found their contributions to be distracting, though. These are silent cartoons, & the characters & gags have to express themselves visually. By adding so many explicit sound effects & even voices for the characters, they seemed to want to make these into sound cartoons, which they are not. Mr. Sosin also invited the audience to make its own sound effects, but I did not hear anyone take him up on the offer.

SFSFF: Aelita, Queen of Mars

The 14th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Saturday, July 11, 2009 9:45PM
Castro Theatre

I was back the SF Silent Festival in the evening for the Soviet science fiction movie Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924). Things must have gotten really behind during the day, because we waited in line outside for over an hour, & they did not let us in until after the scheduled 9:45pm start time. I didn't catch the name of the guy introducing the film, but he used phrases like "neo-sincere" & "post-irony" to describe the attitude of audiences now. I suppose he meant that we were not to view Aelita as if it were just some funny, campy old movie. Aelita is certainly an odd film, but perhaps not a great one. It has a broad, novelistic plot, unfolding simultaneously on earth & on Mars. At times I wasn't sure that I was following events correctly. Aelita, on Mars, neglected by her husband & sporting a unibrow that would make Freida Kahlo proud, gives everyone meaningful stares & lusts after an earth scientist. Our earth scientist is trying to decode mysterious radio signals & is dealing with domestic troubles of his own. He & Aelita finally meet. A Communist revolution breaks out on Mars, followed by a counter-revolution, all within the final minutes of the film. Surprisingly, everything gets sorted out at the end, including the source of those mysterious radio signals. It's clearly possible to make a lot of meanings out of all these events.

The musical accompaniment was more than a match for the increasingly bizarre action on screen. Dennis James played the Castro organ & the theremin, while Mark Goldstein made music with a device called the Buchla Lightning. I've never heard of this thing before, but it seems to be an electronic instrument that is controlled by 2 wands that Mr. Goldstein waves in the air like a conductor. Various programmed sounds were triggered by the position of the wands in space. Sometimes he looked like he was playing an air xylophone, other times he wafted the wands around or tapped them at the air. Besides using the theremin to create arid & eerie sounds effects for the Martians, Mr. James incorporated the Mars movement from Holst's The Planets & even played the Internationale. There must have been some unreformed Marxists in the house, for many people cheered the Martian uprising & clapped along to the Internationale.

Too Big To Fail

San Francisco Mime Troupe
Too Big To Fail
Peacock Meadow in Golden Gate Park
Sat, Jul 11th @ 2:00 PM (Music 1:30)

It was a such a sunny day on Saturday that I decided it would be a bad idea to miss the San Francisco Mime Troupe's show, To Big To Fail, in Golden Gate Park that afternoon. Even though I arrived a half-hour into it, I was able to pick up the thread of the show, which is set in Africa & tackles the credit crisis, the bailout & perhaps the character of Obama himself. The musical numbers were the best part of the show, & I wish there were more of them. I enjoyed the Mime Troupe's talented & committed performers, as well as sitting in the park in the summer without being cold. I was intrigued by the concept of a payment strike, though I can't imagine successfully organizing one.

SFSFF: Amazing Tales from the Archives

The 14th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival
SF Silent Film Festival: Amazing Tales from the Archives
July 10 - 12, 2009
Castro Theatre

I was back the next morning for this talk on film preservation. In this time, when the Web seems to give us easy access to every sort of media, it is interesting to consider that much, if not most, of these early films are gone or rapidly decaying. The festival now admirably grants a Silent Film Preservation Fellowship to forestall this loss. Last year's recipient is Anne Smatla, & this morning she screened her preserved film, Screen Snapshots (7th series) (1924). It's a kind of Hollywood behind-the-scenes promotional short. We also saw other curiousities, such as a fragmented trailer for a completely lost Colleen Moore feature & an Edison movie designed for home projection. The Edison short used an unusual format in which the film was printed down a 22mm film in 3 columns. To show the entire film, it had to be run forward, backward, then forward again through a special projector.

The audience showed its dedication when time ran out at the end of the event & the speaker threatened to skip the final short. Vocal protests ensued, & we got to see all our movies. Stephen Horne gently accompanied the films on piano & flute, sometimes playing both simultaneously.

Monday, July 13, 2009

SFSFF: The Gaucho

The 14th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival
The Gaucho (1927)
July 10 - 12, 2009
Castro Theatre

I think this is one of the best movie events in town, & I was happy to have been at 4 programs this weekend. The films shown usually have both historic & artistic interest, & the festival has done a great job of developing enthusiastic audiences, some of whom even show up in 1920s attire. I attended the opening night screening of The Gaucho (1927), starring Douglas Fairbanks, looking remarkably vigorous for a man in his 40s. The movie is a picaresque adventure set in South America & can still be enjoyed as it was originally intended. Fairbanks's masculine persona & graceful athleticism still charm as well. He makes smoking look so cool that it is almost insidious. In one outrageous gag, he sucks a lit cigarette into his mouth, gives the girl a kiss, then pops the cigarette out & continues smoking.

Tony Maietta & Jeffrey Vance, authors of a recent book about Fairbanks, were present to show us technicolor outtakes of a scene with Mary Pickford as the Virgin Mary. Unfortunately the final color version of this scene is not in the restoration.

The film was accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, which, though grandly named, is a quintet consisting of piano, violin, cello, clarinet & trumpet. They played an original, Spanish-flavored score written in salon music style. They were quite exhausted by the effort.

I missed seeing Stephen Salmons, who has been replaced as Artistic Director by Anita Monga. Melissa Fairbanks, granddaughter of Douglas Fairbanks, traveled from England to be in attendance.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Concerts at the Presidio

Golden gate club in the presidio
Concerts at the Presidio

Romantic, Fortissimo
Golden Gate Club, 135 Fisher Loop
Thursday, July 9, 7:30pm

Jamie Cleron
Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, Op. posthumous; Frédéric Chopin

Luke Chui
Impromptu No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. posthumous, No. 142; Frédéric Chopin

Abraham Wilson
Sleeping Beauty Suite (Arr. Pletnev); Peter Tchaikovsky
Prelude No. 10 (Book 1), "La Cathedrale Engloutie"; Claude Debussy
Sonata No. 7, Op. 83, Precipitato; Sergei Prokofiev

Lo-An Lin
Sonata in B minor, S. 178; Franz Liszt

This turned out to be a student recital. The oldest of the first 3 performers is just out of high school & Ms. Lin is at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, but all are apparently accomplished competition winners of some sort. I've never been to this concert series before, but it certainly has its audience. There may have been 200 in attendance, though I overheard someone remark that turnout was low. I sat next to a woman who looked around & then observed, "The average age appears to be 90." This of course made me laugh. As did the remark of a man behind me, who asked, "I wonder where that piano spends most of its time?"

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Schulz's Beethoven: Schroeder's Muse

Beethoven strip at the King Library in San JoseSchulz's Beethoven: Schroeder's Muse

Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library
San José State University

May 1 through July 31, 2009

Yesterday I journeyed down to San Jose to see Schulz's Beethoven: Schroeder's Muse, a rather cute exhibit of Peanuts strips matched up with historical items related to Beethoven. I guess you could justify the show by saying it's a humorous look at the modern cult of Beethoven, but for me it's just a chance to relive my childhood affection for the Peanuts.

Though he could not read music, Schulz carefully copied real scores into the cartoon, so we can actually figure out what Schroeder is playing. Someone had the bright idea to put excerpts of this music on the audio tour, so we can listen to the music referenced in the strips. Schroeder seems to like the Hammerklavier & Pathétique sonatas.

Besides the strips about Beethoven, the show includes an odd miscellany of objects: music scores, Peanuts dolls, modern interpretative drawings of Beethoven, a life mask, a comic book containing a story about Beethoven, a Frederich Gulda LP from Schulz's personal library, a tourist's scrapbook of a visit to Bonn. One never knows what one will see next. My favorite item is a sweat shirt on which Schulz drew a pudgy-faced Beethoven. But almost alarmingly absurd is a life-size diorama with a dummy Beethoven barely staying propped up in chair, a violin & sheet music strewn at his feet. He sits at a table crowded with objects, among them an ear trumpet & a small dish of macaroni & a spoon.

The friendly staff at the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies know how to amuse themselves. When I pulled open a drawer to discover a swirled lock of Beethoven's hair, one of them told me to look carefully for Beethoven's dandruff as well. Besides its curious collection of keepsakes made of hair, the Center owns some historical keyboard instruments, which I heard being tuned during my visit. The pianoforte is being played in 2 recitals this weekend. They have a salon-sized space for the concerts.

My visit made me realize that I really must get a bust of Beethoven.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Then and Now: Photographs by Sebastião Salgado

Then and Now: Photographs by Sebastião Salgado

The David Brower Center in Berkeley is exhibiting a small selection of photographs by the great documentary photographer Sebastião Salgado. The show consists of large digital prints, many over 3' x 4'. The prints have a matte rather than glossy finish, & at this large size they look very grainy. The concrete lobby is unevenly lit & a bit forbidding, making for less than ideal viewing conditions. However, the images themselves demand attention, & each one is arresting in its own way.

The photos come from all over the world, though many are from Africa & South America in the 1980s & 1990s. They often depict the devastating consequences of war or the sheer toil of physical labor. The balanced compositions, beautiful landscapes & luxurious textures are frequently at odds with the harsh subject matter. This results in mesmerizing images. I find it impossible not to identify with Salgado's subjects. I first became familiar with Salgado through his surreal photos of workers at Serra Pelada, & I was glad to see two images from that series here.

Three images of subjects from the natural world were unexpected, as was a formal portrait of shamans from Brazil. Looking estimable & a little smug, they reminded me of those pillars of society depicted in a group portrait by Frans Hals.

The Brower Center itself seems to be the very model of a green building. I was quite impressed by the building dashboard in the lobby, which I discovered to be interactive. I could view the building's consumption of electricity & water in real time, as well as the production of electricity by solar panels on the roof. It's a nifty way to encourage people to conserve resources.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Ailyn Pérez in Traviata

San Francisco Opera
La Traviata
Giuseppe Verdi
Wed Jul 1 2009 7:30 pm

Violetta Valéry: Ailyn Pérez
Alfredo Germont: Charles Castronovo
Giorgio Germont: Dwayne Croft
Flora: Leann Sandel-Pantaleo
Gastone: Andrew Bidlack
Baron Douphol: Dale Travis
Marquis D’Obigny: Austin Kness
Grenvil: Kenneth Kellogg
Annina: Renée Tatum
Giuseppe: Dale Tracy
Messenger: Bojan Knezevic
Flora’s Servant: William Pickersgill
Matador: Jekyns Pelaez

Conductor: Donald Runnicles
Director and Designer: Marta Domingo

Somehow I ended up at San Francisco Opera's Traviata for a 2nd time, though with Ailyn Pérez replacing Netrebko. I'm glad I was goaded into it, for I would have been sorry to miss this very satisfying performance. Besides singing beautifully, Ms. Pérez portrayed a vulnerable & sympathetic Violetta. She was an expressive actress, both with her voice & in her manner. I was especially grateful for her many wonderful pianissimos, which drew the audience to her character. Her 2nd act scene with Germont, full of pathos, was a dramatic highlight. She was also an excellent vocal match for Castronovo, who was probably over-matched by Netrebko. Even though their contributions were short, the voices of Bojan Knezevic as the Messenger in Act II & Renée Tatum as Annina made me take notice.

At the end the audience gave Ms. Pérez a standing ovation. She did a "Yes! I nailed it!" victory pump with her arms, then jumped up & down & waved to the audience as the final curtain came down. She knew as well as anyone that she'd done a great job.

I met a few cheerful members of Orfeus, as well as Bravo Club chair Alexandra Siliezar. We got a peek at SF Opera's impressive in-house audio mixing & video editing suites, used to prepare the radio broadcasts, simulcasts & cinema series. As we left the backstage area, I was surprised to find myself walking by Castronovo, ready to go on. He was relaxed & friendly & greeted us as we passed.

The robotic cameras used to record the performances have incredible zoom & can be easily trained on the auditorium. Those in the boxes & orchestra seating should therefore be mindful of their behavior.

Intermission Features
During the 2nd intermission, I perused an orchestral score someone was using to follow along with the performance. Some of these opera fans like to make sure that every note is in place. I also shook hands with CFO Michael Simpson, though neither of us probably had any reason to do so.