Wednesday, September 29, 2010

PIXAR: 25 Years of Animation

PIXAR: 25 Years of AnimationThis afternoon I visited the Oakland Museum to see the PIXAR exhibit. I've actually been excited to see this, but was waiting for the summer crowds to go away. It's a large show of the preliminary art for the Pixar films. Much of it is still done by hand. There are finished works in pencil, pastel, oil, gouache, acrylic & collage. I really liked the wall-sized colorscripts, which are high-level story boards showing the over-all mood & color scheme of an entire movie. Lou Romano's colorscript for The Incredibles is strikingly bold, with its flat colors & nearly abstract style.

I was especially eager to see the 3D Pixar Zoetrope. It is a turntable about 6 feet across, carrying life-size models of Toy Story characters. Once the turntable spins up, a strobe light comes on, & the models jump to life. It's magic. The Pixar Artscape installation is a 15 minute film projected on a screen about 5 times as wide as it is tall. It evokes the landscapes of the Pixar films, & one feels immersed in a richly textured world.

The show really has a lot, & there are many gems. I love the satirical drawing by Dominque R. Louis of Sullivan as a hairy blue monster in glasses & a tie, looking like a corporate drone. Neftali Alvarez's model of Carl Fredricksen's house is complete from all sides, even the bottom. Simón Vladimir Varela drew eerie seascapes in charcoal for Nemo. Videos provide behind-the-scenes glimpses of the artists & the production process.

The young children I saw seemed to enjoy running through the maze-like galleries more than looking at the art. Their behavior confirms that Pixar's target audience is really adults.

PIXAR: 25 Years of Animation
Oakland Museum of California
July 31 - January 9, 2011

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Up-coming: Heidi Melton at Noe Valley Chamber Music

Another chance to hear soprano Heidi Melton: I see that she is now on the calendar of Noe Valley Chamber Music for Sunday, November 7 at 4:00pm. The note says she replaces Eleazar Rodriquez, who must have been booked before he got his European gig. Instead of her usual recital partner John Parr, pianist Allen Perriello will accompany her. Apparently the program will be opera arias. NVCM is in a small church venue. I attended once before, & I think we all just sat in folding chairs, which we helped put away afterward.

Free for All

Free for AllI spent a few hours on Sunday at Cal Performances's first Free for All, a day of free performances on the U.C. Berkeley campus. Since they had performances happening simultaneously in different venues, one could sample only a fraction of the offerings. At 11am I showed up at Hertz Hall for an ample hour-long guitar recital by Marc Teicholz. I had planned to hear Teslim at Wheeler Hall at noon, but by the time I got there the venue was full. In fact the venue filled for every performance I attended. Cal Performances seemed well-prepared for the large turnout. Staffers in blue t-shirts made sure people got into lines & received programs & that performances more or less started on time.

I went back to Hertz Hall for the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows concert with sopranos Leah Crocetto & Sara Gartland, tenor Brian Jagde & pianist Tamara Sanikidze. Cal Performances Director Matías Tarnopolsky was on hand to introduce the performers & announce a 10% discount on single tickets purchased that day by Free for All attendees. The singers performed familiar opera scenes, starting with Sull'aria from Le Nozze di Figaro. The sopranos got a laugh when Ms. Crocetto, as the Countess, pulled out her iPhone & handed it to Ms. Gartland's Susanna, who typed out her message to the Count on it. Hertz Hall has a great acoustic for singers, & Ms. Crocetto's large voice felt like a physical force in that room.

Free for AllI then headed to Zellerbach Hall where the line was so long that it already went out to the sidewalk & down into the underground parking lot. Once we got in, though, I was rewarded with a seat 3 rows from the stage. David Lenventhal & John Heginbotham of the Mark Morris Dance Group led people on stage & in the auditorium in some of Morris's witty choreography. The obvious glee with which everyone participated made me realize that even when we are audience members, deep in our hearts we really want to be the performers.

Fall Free for All!
Open House at Cal Performances

Sun, Sept 26, 11 am-6 pm
Zellerbach Hall, Lower Sproul Plaza,
Wheeler Auditorium, and Hertz Hall
Free and Open to the Public

Monday, September 27, 2010

NCCO: An Evening with Edgar Meyer

On Saturday night I was at the New Century Chamber Orchestra's season opener, featuring bassist Edgar Meyer. In the opening Rossini String Sonata in G, NCCO's own bassist, Anthony Manzo, played his solos with excellent intonation & a pleasing, soft-edged sound. It is always possible to pick out his sound, & yet he somehow also blends very well with the rest of the ensemble. During one of his solos, a cell phone with a xylophone ring tone went off, seemingly in time to the music.

Edgar Meyer first played the Prelude to the Bach Cello Suite No. 2 in d minor. His playing draws the listener in & is surprisingly intimate. In the virtuoso Bottesini concerto, Mr. Meyer was an unshowy but impressive soloist. His motions are efficient & effortless. He modestly wore a blue shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, & a bow tie. My concert companion was amused by the comfortable way Mr. Meyer leaned on his instrument when playing. Mr. Meyer received an immediate standing ovation, at which point his bow somehow flopped out of his hands, to gasps from the audience. As an encore, he gave us a light & jazzy improvisation in which he plucked & slapped the strings instead of bowing.

In the bleak Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8, the orchestra made much of the rough & violent middle sections, really digging in. Principal cellist Susan Babini played her soft solos with great control. At the beginning of the evening, leader & music director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg announced that the final piece, the Adagietto from Mahler 5, would be recorded for the group's up-coming CD, & she requested our quiet. I think we were very silent.

The NCCO is conductorless, & the musicians do a good job cuing each other, though I am sometimes visually distracted by Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg's movements. There was certainly nothing tentative about entrances or the sustained pianissimos that ended both the Shostakovich & Mahler. I liked the enthusiastic Herbst Theatre audience, which clapped for individual movements of the Rossini & Bottesini. At the end of the intermission, I was entertained to learn that a 12 year old girl who studies the bass was taken backstage & was thrilled to meet Mr. Meyer.

New Century Chamber Orchestra
An Evening with Edgar Meyer

Rossini: Sonata No. 1 in G major
Bottesini: Concerto for String Bass No. 2 in B minor
Edgar Meyer, bass
Mahler: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5
Shostakovich (arr. Barshai): Chamber Symphony in C minor (Op. 110a)

Saturday, September 25 at 8pm
Herbst Theatre

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Central Market Arts Preview

Straight from the SF Symphony's noon concert, I took the 14-Mission to Mint Plaza, where a free dance program was underway. Mint Plaza is this unlikely corridor around the Old Mint building, on one of the seediest blocks in the area. It feels set apart from the surrounding streets. There are a couple of fancy restaurants & the laboratory-like Mint Plaza Cafe.

A couple of young woman were at the entrance, waving giant we're-number-one gloves to attract attention into the plaza. I saw dances from Robert Moses Kin, KUNST-STOFF & LEVYdance. There was quite a bit of down time between dances as technicians fiddled with the sound system. During one of the pieces, a woman, perhaps from the neighborhood, sat herself close to the stage & did shoulder stands & kicked her legs in the air. Cops kept a close eye on her after that.

This afternoon's program was a preview event for 24 Days of Central Market Arts, a schedule of performances & art shows in the area. Free performances will be taking place in Mint Plaza all weekend.

24 Days of Central Market Arts
Sneak Peek
Friday, September 24 1-2 pm
Mint Plaza
(Fifth Street between Market & Mission Streets)

Friday, September 24, 2010

SFS: Free Noontime Concert

San Francisco SymphonyThe gorgeous weather today made it seem foolish to miss the San Francisco Symphony's annual free concert at Justin Herman Plaza today. This is a good sign for outdoor events going on in the City this weekend. Since the sun was really shining down on the plaza, I sat in a shady spot off to the side & ate my lunch during the music. The event was introduced by KDFC's Rick Malone, though Maestro MTT announced each piece. The Symphony is back from its European tour, & MTT proudly crowed, "We knocked their socks off!"

The orchestra sounded surprisingly fresh. Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture was played with real bite. The opening movement of Beethoven's 5th was measured & emphatic but not ponderous. The Ferry Building clock struck the half hour right before the orchestra launched into the Overture to The Flying Dutchman, which was played with urgency. MTT then sandwiched in a frolicking ballet piece from Delibes. Its brass fanfares were quite clean. The orchestra was light on its feet for the final movement of Tchaikovsky's 4th, which ended the concert.

I'm beginning to wonder how they put up that huge covered stage for these outdoor concerts. I've seen it at least 3 times now this year.

San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor

Roman Carnival Overture

Allegro con brio from Symphony No. 5

Overture to The Flying Dutchman

Cortège de Bacchus from Sylvia Suite

Finale: Allegro con fuoco from Symphony No. 4

Fri, Sep 24, 2010 12:00pm
Justin Herman Plaza

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

SFO: Figaro

Last night I was glad to be at the first night of SF Opera's Figaro. I enjoyed the strong casting in both the large & small roles. Luca Pisaroni has a fresh, bright-sounding voice, & his Figaro is youthful, swaggering & angry. Danielle de Niese is a plucky Susanna, both vocally & visually pretty. She & Figaro were a frisky couple. Lucas Meachem's warm & even voice was a good contrast to Pisaroni. His Count was often frustrated but not too menacing. Ellie Dehn's Countess was civilized & restrained, in both singing & acting. John Del Carlo was terrific as Dr. Bartolo, & Greg Fedderly was hilariously distateful as Don Basilio, in Act I sniffing the Countess's laundry & grotesquely squeezing a pimple on his face. Even in the minor part of the drunkard Antonio, Bojan Kneževiċ raised the level of the ensembles with his copious bass-baritone.

Nicola Luisotti led a reduced orchestra, & the tempos were consistently fast. For the first time, his lack of precision bothered me, though the speedy pace did give me the feeling that the whole opera takes place in one frenetic day. In the last act the music did pause briefly for a moment of pathos for the Countess. Maestro Luisotti also manned the fortepiano for the recitatives, occasionally interjecting with a sassy musical aside or a bit of a Mozart piano sonata.

The familiar staging by John Copley is traditional & good-humored, & the audience laughed in all the right places. With only 1 intermission, the whole thing lasts just under 3 1/2 hours. During the 5 minute scene changes, many members of the audience stood like it was the 7th inning stretch. Following the performance, General Director David Gockley presented Mr.Copley with the San Francisco Opera Medal. Since 1982, only 6 seasons have passed without one of his productions. After citing some of the famous singers who have received the medal in the past, Mr. Copley said he was proud to be on the diva list at last.

I spent part of the evening in the tow of the Opera Tattler, who introduced me to Adler Fellows David Lomeli & Leah Crocetto as if they were old friends, which I guess they are! Ms. Crocetto is covering the Countess for these performances. I also witnessed the Opera Tattler & the Last Chinese Unicorn, those partners in crime, plotting their next opera star interview on their trip to LA Opera this weekend.

Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: John Copley

Figaro: Luca Pisaroni
Susanna: Danielle de Niese
Countess Almaviva: Ellie Dehn
Cherubino: Michèle Losier
Count Almaviva: Lucas Meachem
Marcellina: Catherine Cook
Don Basilio: Greg Fedderly
Doctor Bartolo: John Del Carlo
Don Curzio: Robert MacNeil
Antonio: Bojan Kneževiċ
Barbarina: Sara Gartland
First bridesmaid: Mary Finch
Second bridesmaid: Erin Neff

War Memorial Opera House
Tue Sep 21 2010 8pm

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Up-coming: Faux Real

I'm glad to see that performance artist Monique Jenkinson aka Fauxnique is back with her solo show Faux Real at the Climate Theater for the next 3 weeks. I had a great time when I saw this last year, & she has promised surprises for those seeing it again. I hope that her yoga-practising Madonna is still in the show. For the classically inclined, there were homages to Maria Callas & Swan Lake.

Faux Real with Fauxnique at the Climate Theater
September 22 – Oct 9
Wednesday – Saturday at 8PM


Through this article in Monday's Wall Street Journal, I learned of this Scottish Opera production called BabyO, a 30-minute opera "Suitable for babies aged 6-18 months old." Talk about reaching out to younger audiences. What's next, FetusO?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Roadworks Street Fair

Roadworks Street Fair
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Rhode Island Street between 16th and 17th Streets

roadworks steamroller printsIt was drizzly on Sunday morning, so I was doubtful about this outdoor event, but fortunately it did not get rained out. The biggest pain was getting across town on Muni. Because of the Sunday Streets closure, 22-Fillmore passengers had to transfer to diesel buses for the Western Addition part of the route. This easily added 20 minutes to the trip, not including another break to change drivers at Bryant.

roadworks steamroller printsRoadworks is a fundraiser for the San Francisco Center for the Book. The main attraction is the 3 ton steamroller that is used to print linoleum blocks laid in the street. The process requires at least 4 printers, & everyone was so practiced that they moved with ritualistic efficiency. A nearby wall was already full of prints hanging out to dry.

roadworks steamroller printsThe fair also features displays of print making & book arts & some live entertainment. There was a sizeable crowd. Quite a number of children & dogs attended as well. I enjoyed seeing Ginger Burrel again, whose artist's books effortlessly combine content & materials from disparate sources. I also seem to run into animator Sarah Dungan a lot. Fortunately I like her whimsical drawing. I was seduced by the morbid & insectoid designs that Korrupt Label prints on their t-shirts & hoodies. I totally think Axel would look great in them.

Heidi Melton at Old First Church

Old First Concerts
Heidi Melton, soprano
John Parr, piano

Samuel Barber
Three Songs, Op. 45

Richard Wagner
Wesendonck Lieder

Alban Berg
Sieben Früher Lieder

Richard Strauss
Die Georgine
Ruhe, meine Seele!

Kurt Weill
My Ship

Richard Strauss

Old First Church
September 17, 2010 8pm

PhotobucketAt the beginning of her recital at Old First Church, soprano Heidi Melton happily told us that she wanted to make this an informal Liederabend & that she could think of no better way to celebrate her birthday. Hearing her gorgeously full, rich voice really is a celebration. The sound in the lower register is wonderfully meaty, & as the evening progressed she gave us ever bigger high notes. At times I thought that she must be audible to people driving by outside. Yet even at its most powerful, her sound is never strained, & it seems that she could give even more.

She & John Parr focused on long lines & never rushed any of the tempos. There were some really intense moments. I might have been drooling by the time she ended "Stehe still!" from the Wesendonck Lieder. Berg's Sieben Früher Lieder are favorites of hers, & she rightly described them as every bit as romantic as the songs by Wagner. These songs are favorites of mine as well, & I was probably heaving a bit at the tremendous, compressed climaxes in "Die Nachtigall".

Mr. Parr dedicated the set of 4 Strauss songs to Philip Eisenberg, prompter at the San Francisco Opera, & Ms. Melton sang them with total comfort. During the entire recital, she made me feel that she was singing for familiar friends. When we gave her a big ovation, she said, "Thanks, guys!" After the duo came out for their 2nd encore, there was an amusing moment when they realized they could not start because the page turner had not followed them out with the music. Ms. Melton quickly took it upon herself to go back & retrieve him. I was surprised by the relatively small turn-out of around 60. Almost everyone lined up to greet Ms. Melton backstage immediately afterward.

Ms. Melton is scheduled to appear at a Salon at the Rex on December 1st, & I plan to be there too. According to the program notes, Ms. Melton is also the cover for SF Opera's Aida.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Salt Plays: In the Wound

Shotgun Players
The Salt Plays: In the Wound
written & directed by Jon Tracy

September 17, 2010 3pm
John Hinkel Park, Berkeley

Aleph Ayin / Achilles
Daniel Bruno / Odysseus
Dave Garrett / Menaleus
Alex Hersler / Hektor
Yannai Kashtan / Telemachus
Roy Landaverde / Patroclus
Charisse Loriaux / Nurse 2
Dave Maier / Ajax
Lexie Papedo / Penelope
Harold Pierce / Paris
Nesbyth Rieman / Iphigenia
Emily Rosenthal / Nurse 3
John Thomas / Palamedes, Priam
Michael Torres / Agamemnon
Elena Wright / Nurse 1

I was pessimistic about the weather on Saturday afternoon, but it turned out to be pleasant for this outdoor show. The audience sits on terraces of stone & compacted dirt. People bring picnic lunches, & I was grateful for the bottle of Bracchetto that my theater companion contributed to ours. Food is also available for purchase.

The play grabs bits & pieces from the mythology of the Trojan War, reset to World War II. My interest was held by the constantly unfolding stage pictures, which are striking, harsh & pitiless. I liked the 3 Red Cross nurses who start the show by climbing up guard towers to play taiko drums. There are many rough fight scenes, in which people are thrown to the concrete floor or dragged around. 6 large wheeled flats are used to create locations, clear the stage & reveal tableaux, most dramatically at the end.

However, I could not make sense of the text. Familiarity with the Greek sources did not seem to help. Those 3 Red Cross nurses turn out to be Aphrodite, Athena & Hera. Odysseus is a kind of secretary of defense who keeps holding up a Moleskine notebook like it's Mao's Little Red Book. My theater companion & I were both baffled by the mysterious red briefcases chained to some characters' wrists, perhaps because we did not know until afterward that "horse" is drug slang for heroin.

Despite the outdoor location, the actors are audible without amplification. I was particularly impressed with Yannai Kashtan who plays the boy Telemachus & who does everything with complete conviction. The show has 30 actors, the largest cast ever for Shotgun Players. A raffle was held during the intermission. Prizes were a poster & a ticket to part 2, which opens in December.

Friday, September 17, 2010


2010 San Francisco Fringe Festival
Baggage: A Non-Musical Romp Through One Catholic Gay Man's Dating History
By Shaun McCarthy

EXIT Studio
Thur Sept 16 7:00 pm

This is the simplest of SF Fringe shows. For an hour, Shaun McCarthy, a trim athletic Canadian in t-shirt & jeans, is a talking head in a monologue about searching for, finding & losing love. We get some humor & some pathos. Despite the piece's subtitle, there is a bit of music, & Mr. McCarthy wears his Catholic background & sexuality very lightly. He comes across as genuine, amiable & persistent. Even though he was the one baring his romantic life, I felt a bit exposed to be one of only 17 in a venue that seats about 40.

SF Opera Free Simulcasts Pay Off

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, SF Opera has figured out that the free ball park simulcasts have brought in about $880,000 in new-patron tickets. Since it spent about $800,000 for the past 4 simulcasts, this is a small profit. The key is holding the event in a venue instead of an open-air plaza or park. The opera can thus monitor attendees by collecting information about them when they register on-line for early admission.

Compared to some of its rivals, SF Opera is doing well financially. Attendance was up for the 2008-09 season. Its deficit of $1.3 million is modest compared to the $14 million emergency loan that Domingo had to take out for the LA Opera.

30,000 are expected for the Friday, September 24th simulcast of Aida. For a chance to sit in the field, advanced registration is a must.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


A National Exhibition of Book Art
July 11 - September 19, 2010

Bedford Gallery, Walnut Creek

book,artYesterday I took BART over to Walnut Creek to see this is exhibit of book arts at the Bedford Gallery in the Lesher Center of the Arts. The show includes a diverse range of works by over 60 artists. Many of the works are homages to the form of the tradition printed book. The show opens with a whimsical toy train made of sawed-up books sewn together, with wooden spools as wheels. There are simulacra of books made of ceramics or wood. Pamela Paulsrud sanded old books down to palm-sized stones that feel like they have been polished smooth by tides. David Stein created specimens of an Unlikely Library, with titles like the "Obsolete Technology Bulletin" & "Remaining Vigilant Against Cooties" by Jean Piaget.

I liked Cara Barer's color photographs of books whose pages have been molded into beautiful biomorphic shapes. I also like the dense forest atmosphere of Alison Yates's Quell, a 3-D story book about a hunter & his prey. A small number of the books can be handled. I enjoyed leafing through Sas Colby's collage books made of discarded & arcane printed materials, such as a German planner for accordion lessons. I was surprised to see a picture book by Andy Warhol, complete with a pop-up can of Hunt's Tomato Paste.

The exhibit closes this weekend, & I am glad I made the trip to see it. Unfortunately there is no catalog for the show, but the gallery has an on-line slideshow.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Domingo on the Half-Shell

An article in the New York Times today, titled something like "Met Offers Pastry" in the print edition, reports on an operatic pastiche called “The Enchanted Island,” which will open at the Met on Dec. 31, 2011. Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch are assembling the work from music by Handel, Vivaldi and Leclair. William Christie will conduct a cast including Joyce DiDonato, Danielle de Niese, Luca Pisaroni, Lisette Oropesa, Anthony Roth Costanzo & David Daniels. According to the article, "The cast is led by Plácido Domingo, as Neptune, who will make an entrance on a giant seashell." I have been soul-searching, & I still don't know if I want to see this.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Harnoncourt does Gershwin

Sony Masterworks is releasing a live recording of Porgy and Bess conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, of all people. Harnoncourt is famous for his early music performances & his rigorous preparation, but I have never thought of him as being able to swing. Simon Rattle's recording already sounds too European to me, so I imagine that Harnoncourt will sound even more foreign. The performance comes from the 2009 Graz Festival & features the Arnold Schoenberg Chor & Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Isabelle Kabatu & Jonathan Lemalu are in the title roles. The recording is officially released on September 21st.

Opera in the Park

Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart

Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio
Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart
Michèle Losier

Non più andrai
Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart
Luca Pisaroni

Giunse alfin il momento
Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart
Danielle de Niese

La luce langue
Macbeth, Verdi
Dolora Zajick

Avant de quitter ces lieux
Faust, Gounod
Brian Mulligan

Nemico della Patria
Andrea Chénier, Giordano
Marco Vratogna

Pourquoi me réveiller?
Werther, Massenet
Ramón Vargas

Rigoletto, Verdi
Brian Mulligan, Heidi Stober, Maya Lahyani, David Lomelí

Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini

Largo al Factotum
Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini
Lucas Meachem

Là ci darem la mano
Don Giovanni, Mozart
Luca Pisaroni, Danielle de Niese

La donna è mobile
Rigoletto, Verdi
David Lomelí

Vissi d'arte
Tosca, Puccini
Micaela Carosi

Viene la sera
Madame Butterfly, Puccini
Brian Jagde, Leah Crocetto

Nessun dorma
Turandot, Puccini
Marcello Giordani

O Sole Mio
Marcello Giordani, Brian Jagde, Ramón Vargas, David Lomelí

La Traviata, Verdi

September 12, 2010 at 1:30pm
Sharon Meadow, Golden Gate Park

Opera in the Park
I was in doubt about the weather for Sunday's annual Opera in the Park, but I eventually decided not to miss it, & the weather turned out to be fine. Plus, I could sit in a spot close to the stage simply by joining a friend who had been camped out since 9am. I later found out that a party even closer to the stage had arrived at 7am to claim their spot! The event is sponsored by the San Francisco Chronicle, whose reps greet attendees by selling them $2 programs. Since I am too cheap to buy a program, the listing above is my reconstruction of the event. General Director David Gockley, casually dressed, hosted the show & announced a discount code of "SFOPARK" for 50% off tickets from the SF Opera Website.

All the singers sounded wonderful & got into the jolly spirit of the afternoon. The opening excerpts from The Marriage of Figaro made me very excited for an actual performance later this month. I have never been so close to Danielle de Niese before, & I may have uttered something uncharacteristically trivial when I first saw her that afternoon. The crowd cheered Dolora Zajick even before she started singing. She probably did not need to be miked. Ramón Vargas displayed an astonishing amount of vocal control & shading in just a couple of minutes in his aria from Werther. Lucas Meachem used Figaro's aria to flirt shamelessly & hilariously with the crowd. Brian Jagde & Leah Crocetto were so completely enrapt in the love duet from Madame Butterfly that even the chatty woman next to me, who talked through everything else, paid attention. The excerpts from Andrea Chénier & Rigoletto are apparently hints at up-coming seasons.

Many jokes were made onstage. When Mr. Gockley incorrectly announced one of the arias, Maestro Luisotti exclaimed, "He doesn't know the season!" Before singing La donna è mobile, David Lomeli went up to the podium to confer with Luisotti first, after which Luisotti told the audience, "He forgot the text!" At the choral section of Nessun dorma, Marcello Giordani gestured at the crowd & said, "Sing along!", & a few people with operatic voices actually did. As an encore, Marcello Giordani, Brian Jagde, Ramón Vargas & David Lomelí did the 3 Tenors one better with a 4 Tenors version of O Sole Mio, complete with competitive high notes.

The afternoon proved wacky in other ways as well. A woman in our party wore a large floppy hat & attracted the attention of a press photographer. & at the very start of the event, I discovered that a dog had gobbled the deli sandwich I negligently laid at my feet when I stood for the National Anthem. Such are the hazards of opera al fresco.

Opera San José : Anna Karenina

libretto: Colin Graham
music: David Carlson

Conductor: Stewart Robertson
Stage Director: Brad Dalton

Anna Karenina: Jasmina Halimic
Kitty Scherbatsky: Khori Dastoor
Dolly Oblonsky: Betany Coffland
Princess Betsy: Megan Stetson
Countess Lydia Ivanova: Kindra Scharich
Agafia Mihailovna: Heather McFadden
Konstantin Levin: Michael Dailey
Stiva Oblonsky: Christopher Bengochea
Alexei Vronsky: Krassen Karagiozov
Prince Yashvin: Paul Murray
Alexei Karenin: Kirk Eichelberger

September 11, 2010, 8pm
California Theatre

On Saturday night I was at the opening night of Opera San José, which presented the west coast premiere of David Carlson's Anne Karenina. The company has put a lot of resources behind this show, scheduling 8 performances with 2 casts. The musical idiom is modern, yet tonal, & the sound palette is often glassy & eerie. The music constantly propels, with lots of repetitions of short motives. There are no places for the ear to rest, which is sometimes fatiguing. The libretto covers much of the novel's plot, so the work is in many short scenes that are primarily exposition. I often felt like I was watching a play. Only in 2 brief inner monologues for Karenin & in a final mad scene for Anna does the action stop to explore an emotional state & become truly operatic. Conductor Stewart Robertson was a bit metronomic, but the hard-working orchestra sounded confident in its playing of this very busy score.

That was much fine singing. Soprano Jasmina Halimic has a large, steely voice, & she fully identified with the character of Anna. Kirk Eichelberger has a deep & powerful sound & was dramatically convincing as the stuffy & proper Karenin. Unfortunately, I found myself identifying with his character, which is surely not right. Michael Dailey has an unusual, cushy tenor voice, which was fitting for nice-guy Levin. I also liked tenor Christopher Bengochea, with his clear diction, secure sound & lively characterization of the hapless Oblonsky.

The excellent staging by Brad Dalton was the strongest element of the production. The costumes, furniture & backdrops firmly establish the period. I liked how the characters interacted in naturalistic ways, for instance always facing each other when in conversation. The frequent scene changes were rapid & precisely choreographed. The fully-employed supers not only adroitly shifted props but also established a social context by playing mute servants or train station crowds. The director even found clear & effective solutions for the 2 suicides by train that must occur onstage. Scenes set in the countryside are performed against a particularly gorgeous painted backdrop which has just the right amount of blurry detail.

I enjoyed being with this opening night audience, which was warm & supportive & gave Ms. Halimic a standing ovation. Mr. Carlson was present & looked dazed when he was brought onstage for a bow. I missed hearing the pre-performance recital on the lobby organ, as the person I rode down with mistook the address of Opera San José's office for the California Theatre venue. The neighborhood around the theater is quite active at night. My opera companion & I had to politely turn down nightclub invites as we walked down the block.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

SFO: Aida Dress Rehearsal

Aida Dress Rehearsal
San Francisco Opera
Final dress rehearsal for Aida

Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: Jo Davies
Production Designer: Zandra Rhodes

Aida: Micaela Carosi
Amneris: Dolora Zajick
Radames: Marcello Giordani
Amonasro: Marco Vratogna
Ramfis: Hao Jiang Tian
The King of Egypt: Christian Van Horn
Priestess: Leah Crocetto

Messenger: David Lomelí

7 September 2010, 1:30pm
War Memorial Opera House

I was part of the sizable audience for this final dress rehearsal of Aida, which opens the fall season this Friday. The colors of the sets & costumes are bright & sunny, dominated by light blue, yellow & gold. The scenic designs are flat & child-like. The performers wear elaborate outfits & often look like toys. The maids in Amneris's room are an army of Cleopatras. 4 little girls entertain Amneris with a twirling dance. For Triumphal Scene spectacle we get plenty of exotic costumes, 6 on-stage trumpeters dressed as King Tut, a troupe of acrobats & a life-size blue elephant puppet, straight out of The Lion King. In the tomb scene Radames is lowered to the stage in a metal cage that looks like something David Copperfield would escape from in a Las Vegas show. The production is often visually dazzling, but it does not fit the tragic tone of the opera.

Maestro Luisotti's conducting is fluid & tasteful. He never overplayed the music. There were beautiful solos from the woodwinds & the 1st trumpet. Marcello Giordani will no doubt be a reliable Radames with his Italianate voice & clear high notes. His Aida, Micaela Carosi, seemed to be saving her voice, so I did not get much of an impression of her performance. Hao Jiang Tian has a low & even voice as Ramfis. Dolora Zajick makes Amneris the most prominent personality in the opera, & she will probably bring down the house in the judgment scene in Act III. Marco Vratogna as Amonasro impresses me with his masculine, taut sound & ease when moving on stage.

There is only one intermission, & the curtain has to come down for 2 scene changes that take several minutes, during which the audience naturally becomes restless. The dress rehearsal audience reacted boisterously to the performance & especially Ms. Zajick. During the curtain calls, Adler Fellow David Lomeli raised a laugh when he performed the "We are not worthy" gesture as Mr. Giordani came out for his bow.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Two Gentlemen of Verona
Free Shakespeare in the Park

Directed by Kenneth Kelleher

David Abad (Antonio, Thurio, Outlaw)
Sofia Ahmad (Julia)
Brian Herndon (Launce, Outlaw)
Emily Jordan (Silvia, Panthene)
Gary S. Martinez (Duke, Host)
Alex Moggridge (Proteus)
Michael Navarra (Valentine, Eglamour)
Katie O'Bryon (Lucetta, Outlaw)
Jeremy Vik (Speed, Outlaw)

Monday, Sept 6 - 2:30 PM
The Presidio's Main Post
Parade Ground Lawn

San Francisco Presidio,ShakespearePeople must really make a day of this, because when I got to the Presidio Parade Ground at 2:15pm, the lawn was pretty much full of picnickers who looked like they had been there for quite a while already. The sunny weather made this an ideal day for this outdoor show from the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, & we got a leisurely, straightforward performance of the Two Gentlemen of Verona. Before each scene, an actor announced the setting & the characters. It was like getting on-stage CliffNotes. The costumes & music evoked the mod 1960's. Between scenes the actors lip-synched & danced to a playlist of music of that era, which held up the action. Following this logic, this also meant that we got a version of "Who is Silvia?" with words by Steve Winwood instead of Shakespeare.

Because of the outdoor setting, the actors are heavily miked, & it took me a while to get used to searching the stage for each speaker. Brian Herndon channeled Richard Dreyfuss for his portrayal of the clown Launce. His dog Crab was played by a life-sized stuffed dog on a leash. Most everyone sounded American, except when adopting comic accents, so I was initially both confused & impressed by Silvia's convincing British accent, until I read actress Emily Jordan's bio & learned that she actually comes from Britain. But I still do not know why the cast consistently pronounced "Milan" with the stress on the 1st syllable.

Though the atmosphere was laid-back, the audience was fully engaged in the story. There was spontaneous applause when Valentine beats up the badly behaving Proteus & when the Duke finally bestows Silvia on good-guy Valentine. Sofia Ahmad made me feel the pathos of Julia's plight when disguised as a boy. The reconciliation at the end, demanded by the plot, is hasty, so it seemed right that in the closing moments of the production Julia flinched at Proteus's embrace. Sometimes it's just plain lousy to be in love.

Monday, September 06, 2010

SF Zine Fest 2010

September 4–5, 2010
County Fair Building, Golden Gate Park

30 Second StoryOn Saturday afternoon I was in Golden Gate Park for SF Zine Fest 2010. The event was small but busy. I saw no empty tables as I did last year, & I even met a couple of exhibitors from the UK. A few enterprising people were peddling food outside as well.

I could not pass up Map of Fog, an old-school zine of stories of living in San Francisco, beginning with the line "San Francisco is a city of nerds." Paper Dummy had a story that was ingeniously packaged inside a cassette tape case, but its creator annoyingly refused to reveal the sealed contents, & $20 was just too steep for me. I liked MilkAndTea's The Kitchen, a book inspired by craigslist postings from restaurant workers, the quotes cleverly formatted as menus. This brief book is spare, thoughtful & bold, & it has nothing good to say about the food service industry.

Even though he has written his last zine, John Marr was tabling, in the hopes of unloading his remaining stock of Murder Can Be Fun. I felt lucky to get the last copy of Robert Kirby's new anthology, Three, from the hands of Joey Alison Sayers, a contributor to the issue. Void Where Prohibited sat at a portable manual typewriter on which he offered to write a 30-second story for 25¢. Before starting, he asked me for a name or a situation. I said "Axel", & that was all he needed to hammer out this story:

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Fisher Collection

Calder to Warhol
Introducing the Fisher Collection

June 25 - September 19, 2010

SF MOMAFirst thing Monday morning I was at the SF MOMA to see the Fisher Collection show. Its size alone is impressive. It completely occupies the 2 upper floors plus the sculpture garden, & apparently this is just a fraction of the collection. If nothing else, the show makes clear the meaning of collecting "in depth." Alexander Calder, Gerhard Richter, Agnes Martin, Chuck Close & Andy Warhol each get 1 or even 2 galleries to themselves. It's as if some artists' work were like potato chips to Fisher.

Quantum Cloud VIIIIn a video playing in a small room, Mr. Fisher opines that "Museums are elitist, & they shouldn't be." I found all the works in his collection accessible. I even sat through the video pieces by William Kentridge & Shirin Neshat, though I usually get impatient with time-based works. Antony Gormley's Quantum Cloud VIII was a nice discovery for me. It's a life-size figure, seemingly made of floating match sticks. The best way for me to experience the huge Chuck Close portraits was to take off my glasses & squint. The Claes Oldenburg pieces are characteristically humorous. His Inverted Collar & Tie - Third Version turns a tie into a giant striking cobra. The Study for Typewriter Eraser: Final Position - ROSC Version has an extra layer of meaning now that its subject is an obsolete office tool. Perhaps it would be fun to exhibit it with the museum's collection of portable Olivetti typewriters, which is displayed on the 2nd floor.

I wonder what it means to "own" a Sol LeWitt drawing, which is installed by making marks directly on a wall according to prescribed steps. I also wonder if it was OK for one of the guards to walk on Carl Andre's Copper-Zinc Plain, which is a checkerboard of metal tiles laid on the floor. I watched him do this twice. In another gallery, while I was copying information from a label, another guard came up to me & handed me a golf pencil. I was taking notes with a pen, which is not allowed.