Saturday, December 31, 2011

SFCO: I Like Ludwig

San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, 12.30.2011 Pre-concert talk for San Francisco Chamber Orchestra concert at Herbst Theatre.The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra had a full house for their meaty all-Beethoven program at Herbst on Friday night. The Coriolan Overture had snap. The hammer-blow chords, as well as the silences between, were precise, with clean cut-offs. The 1st violins played strongly. The audience clapped tenatively after the Overture's soft ending but applauded every movement after that. Conductor Benjamin Simon led a vigorous performance of Beethoven's 2nd Symphony which emphasized tight articulation & strong accents. He made a clear contrast between the active 1st movement & the more legato 2nd movement. There were nice flute & bassoon solos, & I liked the dialogue between the strings & the bassoon in the 2nd movement. The final movement was rollicking & high-spirited & made me think of Rossini.

Violinist Robin Sharp was soloist in the violin concerto, which occupied the entire 2nd half. Her playing was stately & grounded. She has a smooth bow arm & can really dig in, though her sound is never raw or crunchy. Her high notes are strong yet sweet. Tempos were not pushed, & the 2nd movement was expansive. The orchestra accompanied supportively, & the string section played with bite. Ms. Sharp received cheers from the audience & applause from the orchestra.

Maestro Simon is an eager & enthusiastic speaker. He gave the pre-concert talk & addresed us before & after each piece. The encore was a sing-along to 3 verses of Auld Lang Syne. Maestro Simon pointed out the 4 verses printed in the program & told us to "pick any three."

§ 2011–2012 Main Stage Concert #2: I Like Ludwig 
San Francisco Chamber Orchestra 
Benjamin Simon, conductor 
Robin Sharp, violin 

Ludwig van Beethoven: Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony #2 in D major, Op. 36 
Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 

Encore: Auld Lang Syne

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hugo 3D

Yesterday I saw Hugo, Martin Scorsese's extravagant 3D movie, based on the children's book by Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. An orphaned boy lives in the walls of a Paris train station in the 1920s, maintaining the station's gear-filled clocks, pilfering casually & evading a not-quite-inept policeman played by Sacha Baron Cohen. Asa Butterfield plays Hugo & looks small & perptually haunted. I did not get into the Dickensian plot involving an automaton that draws & a toy-seller's hidden past, but I felt I got my money's worth of 3D effects. Every shot has layers of depth. Even a library reading room recedes a mile into the distance. It's actually kind of freaky when an actor's head fills the screen. It made me very aware of the way the plane of the side of the head goes back from the face. The opening sequence is an amazing, impossible roller coaster ride through the bustling train station & the labyrinthine clockwork interior where Hugo lives. It might be all you really need to see.

The movie is for a family audience, & the story elements are emblematic & tied together at the end of a full 2 hours. Scorsese clearly had fun recreating George Méliès's glass-enclosed film studio & its frolicsome atmosphere. I happened to see this on the anniversary of the Lumière brothers' 1st public exhibition of a projected movie, a snippet of which appears in the film.

§ Hugo (2011)
Director: Martin Scorsese
126 min, USA

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Artist

The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius's earnest romantic comedy set in 1920's Hollywood, is as ridiculously charming as everyone says. Shot in black & white, using intertitles instead of spoken dialogue, & running at a slightly sped-up frame rate, the movie affectionately mimics a silent era film, though it would never be mistaken for one. Jean Dujardin possesses all the joyful charisma of Douglas Fairbanks & plays a silent movie star undone by the transition to sound. Bérénice Bejo, with her large facial features, also looks like she belongs to the silent era & plays a spunky, rising actress reminiscent of Clara Bow. An early scene where the 2 fall in love during multiple takes of a dance sequence is both delightful & efficient. John Goodman is perfectly cast as the cigar-chomping studio head, & there's even an adorable acting dog named Uggie. Though the story has an old-fashioned innocence, the film plays with its own conventions just enough to give it a modern spin. It certainly appealed to the retirement-age audience I was surrounded by when I saw it. I left feeling happily lighthearted. I'd see it again just to find out if it works that spell a 2nd time around.

§ The Artist (2011)
100 min, France, Belgium
Director, Michel Hazanavicius

Friday, December 23, 2011


SF Ballet Nutcracker, 12.21.2011 Lobby of the War Memorial Opera House at performance of SF Ballet Nutcracker.Prodded by Entartete Musik's close reading of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, I attended the San Francisco Ballet's version this week. I saw it annually as a child, so the music plays prominently on my childhood soundtrack of Christmas. But of course this production is new, so seeing it elicited absolutely no nostalgia in me. The Stahlbaum party takes place in San Francisco in 1915, complete with a row of Victorian houses at the opening of act 1. Drosselmeyer is retained throughout, directing Clara's dream. He transforms the child Clara into an adult ballerina so she can dance the Grand Pas de Deux with the Nutcracker Prince.

The cast features a lot of children & has a high cuteness factor. Clara defeats the Mouse King by putting his tail into a giant mouse trap. The audience applauded the stunningly rapid scene change that reveals the Kingdom of Snow, where the snow falls so thickly that we're practically watching the dancers through a blizzard. The trio of male dancers doing the Trepak was an audience favorite, & I liked the teetering dance of the ballerina doll in the 1st act. Tiit Helimets, the Nutcracker Prince, is graceful & lands his leaps in perfect silence. Sofiane Sylve, his partner in the Grand Pas de Deux, showed off stable turns. The orchestra's playing was clean & breezy. Conductor Ming Luke led gently.

The Opera House is a Nutcracker factory this month, presenting 30 peformances in less than 3 weeks. Artificial snow drifts down on the front steps, Christmas garlands decorate the lobby, costumed touts sell souvenir programs, & there is a candy store in the basement. The family audience was quite dressy, especially the many little girls, who strode to their seats as if they owned the place. While I waited in line for a standing room ticket, a young man tried to sell me two $75 orchestra seats. An excited usher gave me an unused ticket, but when I examined it, it was actually for the previous performance. During the intermission, 2 women asked me to take their picture in front of the Christmas tree in the lobby.

§ Nutcracker
San Francisco Ballet
Choreographer: Helgi Tomasson
Conductor: Ming Luke

Drosselmeyer: Yuri Possokhov
Clara: Rose Ritch
Queen and King of the Snow: Maria Kochetkova, Pascal Molat
Sugar Plum Fairy: Elana Altman
Grand Pas de Deux: Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets

Wednesday, December 21, 7 pm
War Memorial Opera House

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Arthur Christmas 3D

I totally had fun seeing Arthur Christmas, a 3D computer animated movie from Aardman & Sony. The plot re-imagines Christmas Eve as a high-tech paramilitary operation staffed by fanatical, ethnically diverse elves & run from a vast mission control that resembles an overseas call center. For all its computerized efficiency, one gift goes undelivered, & it is all up to Santa's misfit son to make it a perfect Christmas. I enjoyed the movie's goofy & distinctly English characters as well as it's silly humor & just-in-the-nick-of-time action sequences. In a particularly irreverent moment, a "Mission Accomplished" banner greets Santa at the end of his gift run. I also liked the script's play between human skill & technology. For some reason a scene where thousands of elves confront an unconcerned Santa outside his bedroom made me think of the Arab uprisings. It's definitely a kids' movie, though, & the small children & preteens seated around me were clearly entertained. It certainly left me in a good mood.

I arrived late for the show, but the movie didn't start until a good 20 minutes after the scheduled time, after half a dozen previews plus a Justin Bieber music video in which the singer commands us to "Shake, shake, shake" to the tune of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

§ Arthur Christmas (2011)
UK & USA, 97 min
Director: Sarah Smith

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Into the Abyss

I wanted to catch Werner Herzog's documentary Into the Abyss before it disappeared, so I saw it over the weekend in one of the shamefully small screening rooms at Opera Plaza. The movie centers around an interview with convicted murderer Michael Perry, filmed 8 days before he was executed in Texas. Mr. Perry seems amused by his circumstances & comes across as creepy. Grisly police videos & present-day visits to the crime scenes illustrate the senseless triple murder he committed. There are also interviews with accomplice Jason Burkett, who is serving a life sentence, & others touched by the crimes. Herzog excavates some odd corners, such as the freakishly calm young woman who met & married Mr. Burkett after he was incarcerated & who shows us an ultrasound of their unborn baby. An interview with a daughter of one of the victims grows increasingly disturbing as we learn of her family's tragic history & her satisfaction at witnessing the execution. However, the documentary is really Herzog's quiet rumination about the death penalty, & he is especially fond of the former death house captain who became sickened by his job.

§ Into the Abyss (2011)
Director: Werner Herzog 
USA, 106 Min

Monday, December 19, 2011

Up-coming: It's a Wonderful Life

Over the weekend I learned that the San Francisco Film Society will show Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life 4 times on Christmas Day at New People Cinema. This is the most Christmas-y thing I've heard so far.

§ It's a Wonderful Life 
USA 1946, 130 min. Written by Frank Capra, Frances Goodrich. With James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore.

Sunday, December 25
Showtimes 12:00, 2:30, 5:00, 7:30
SF Film Society Cinema 1746 Post Street (Webster/Buchanan)

Queer Comics Project

Queer Comics Project, 12.17.2011 Drag performance at opening of Queer Comics Project at Cartoon Art Museum.Saturday evening I was a lurker at the opening party for a small exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum featuring local comics creators. The show was curated by students in Justin Hall's Queer Comics class at the California College of Art. When I arrived at the museum I was greeted by Mr. Hall myself, who was dressed as Superman & filled out his costume convincingly. The event featured a couple of super-hero inspired drag performances, & a few people showed up in costumes, but otherwise it was a lot of informal mingling & a chance to check out the museum's current exhibitions. Attendees seemed to be mostly artists & students. I ran into MariNaomi for the 2nd time in a week. When I told her I was reading her memoir Kiss & Tell, she worried that I might never want to speak with her again.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Salon at the Rex: SF Piano Trio

Rex Salon, 11.14.2011 Audience for SF Piano Trio appearance at Salon at the Hotel Rex.I didn't see any empty seats for last Wednesday's Salon at the Hotel Rex. In just 60 minutes, the San Francisco Trio presented a substantial meal of a program. Members of the trio took turns introducing the pieces, & there was a feeling of unanimity in everything they did. They played the 2-movement Haydn Piano Trio in E-flat minor with refinement & tight ensemble. Violinist Axel Strauss makes a robust, continuous sound, & there is a lot of variety in his playing. I was impressed by his fast trills. Pianist Jeffrey Sykes plays pristinely, & he executed crisp, rippling runs. The 2nd movement was agile & playful. The trio as whole sounded verdant in the Fauré Piano Trio. I like cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau's effortlessly deep, plummy sound. He & Mr. Strauss were taut in their many unison passages, especially in the impassioned 2nd movement. Amusingly, the main theme of the last movement seems to be identical to the 1st 5 notes of "Ridi, Pagliaccio." The trio really dug into the music, & their performance was assertive.

The program ended with the trio's own arrangement of Piazzolla's Le Grand Tango. It was strong & sweeping, & the trio did not try to make it sound overly pretty. I hope I did not bother anyone when I involuntarily started rocking in my seat. The performance received a hearty ovation & exclamations of "Whoa!" There was a Q & A afterward, during which someone kidded Mr. Strauss about his "puny Deutsch accent." The trio told us of their interest in performing little-known transcriptions, such as Beethoven's own arrangement of his 2nd symphony for piano trio. I was very glad when they offered to play a Piazzolla encore after the Q & A. We got a lively & urgent, if out of season, Primavera Portena for which Mr. Sykes provided percussion by drumming on the piano lid.
This was the last salon of the fall season & perhaps the last one in the Hotel Rex. In the spring, the salons move to the Hotel Adagio for an all-strings series. I hope they retain their intimacy in the new setting.

§ Salon at the Rex
San Francisco Performances

San Francisco Piano Trio
Axel Strauss, violin
Jean-Michel Fonteneau, cello
Jeffrey Sykes, piano

Joseph Haydn, Piano Trio in E-flat minor (“Jacob’s Dream”)
Gabriel Fauré, Piano Trio in D minor, op. 120
Astor Piazzolla, Le Grand Tango

Astor Piazzolla, Primavera Portena from The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires

Wednesday, December 14 6:30pm Hotel Rex

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rhythm & Motion Student Showcase

Rhythm and Motion, 12.10.2011 Curtain call at student dance recital for Rhythm & Motion.At Thanksgiving dinner I discovered that 2 of my cousins were taking dance classes & would be performing in a public program this month. Of course I wanted to see this, but at 1st they wouldn't tell me when or where. Fortunately I did get to see them over the weekend in a dance recital by students taking classes at Rhythm & Motion at ODC Commons. The 70 minute program had 8 numbers, ranging from belly dancing to hip hop. All the dancers were clearly having a ridiculous amount of fun, & the audience of friends & family was just as excited. I don't think I've ever seen my relations moving quite that fast or looking quite that gleeful before. Demand was so high for this event that they performed in 4 shows in 2 days & joked that they needed a union. Before the show I texted "Break a leg" but was apprised that "Merde" is the correct thing to say to dancers.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

East Bay Alternative Press Book Fair

East Bay Alternative Press Book Fair, 12.10.2011 Geoff Vasile signing at the East Bay Alternative Press Book Fair.Saturday afternoon I went to Berkeley to check out the East Bay Alternative Press Book Fair, an expo of independent press, zines, comics & art, now in its 2nd year. There were about 50 vendors, & there seemed to be a lot of conversations going on at the tables. It was good to see some old-school xeroxed zines with cut-and-paste layouts & text hammered out on typewriters. I loved seeing an image of a Muni fast pass in annie's ephemera-themed paper suitcase #1. I hope there will be more issues. There was plenty of fine illustration as well. I liked seeing the slow-moving, hallucinatory images of Brendan Monroe. Elle Skinner's drawings are very cute, & she seems unreasonably productive. I ended my visit at a table shared by MariNaomi & Geoff Vasile, who both chatted with me as if I were an old friend. For some reason Mr. Vasile tried to steer me away from issue #1 of Trackrabbit, but I bought it anyway, & then he broke his pen while signing it. Mr. Vasile often seems nonplussed by what comes out of his mouth, but I am sure that I have never called him a used car salesman.

§ East Bay Alternative Press Book Fair
December 10, 2011 from 10am to 4pm
Berkeley City College

Monday, December 12, 2011

Working for the Mouse

Last week I saw Working for the Mouse, Trevor Allen's entertaining one man show about his experience working as a costumed character in Disneyland. Mr. Allen is a terrific mimic & actor. Wearing a Jiminy Cricket T-shirt, shorts & knee pads, he both narrates & acts out his story. He presents himself as an over-eager teenager, bitten by the theater bug, & he quickly got me identifying with his dream of being Peter Pan. The audience groaned along with his many setbacks, starting when a kid kicks him in the crotch on his 1st day out dressed as Pluto. We learn about employee shenanigans & uptight corporate policies, yet the show never explicitly disses Disney. I believed Mr. Allen's claim that all the stories are true, & he threw in a few asides that made me want to hear even more. He is such a genial performer that even during the black-outs he's bouncing up & down, like a boxer warming up for the next round. Besides being very funny, the show has moments of poignancy & an ending that feels tidy & complete.

§ Working for the Mouse
Written & performed by Trevor Allen
Directed by Nancy Carlin

EXIT Theatre
Friday, December 9, 2011 8pm

Joyous, Jolly, Jingles!

SFGMC, 12.08.2011 String quartet playing in lobby of Masonic Auditorium, before the holiday concert by San Francisco Gay Mens' Chorus.Last Thursday I was at the Masonic Auditorium for the San Francisco Gay Mens' Chorus holiday concert. As the performers entered through the auditorium, people in the audience cheered & shouted out to their friends in the chorus. It was impressive just to see all 260 members, dressed in tuxedos, arrayed on stage. Though basically a Christmas concert, the show avoided being overly religious, & even the Christmas carols were presented in unconventional arrangements, such as "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" in 7/8 time or "The First Noel" sung over the Pachelbel Canon.

The chorus was well-prepared & made a blended, cushy sound. I especially enjoyed their O Magnum Mysterium, sung a cappella with evenness & nice dynamic control. The show was also very visual. When the chorus donned outlandish Santa hats for "Jingle Bells," we were encouraged to take pictures to post on Facebook. One singer looked like he had a lit Menorah on his head. A verse of "Silent Night" was performed in sign language without singing. A break-out group did a skit about Rudolph that climaxed with a tightly choreographed seated chorus line.

Soprano Melody Moore was a featured guest, & she was clearly eager to be on stage with the chorus. Her contributions included a hilarious operatic parody of "Jingle Bells" & an "O Holy Night" sung simply yet gorgeously, after which conductor Tim Seelig asked, "Wasn't that worth the price of admission?" The chorus was also accompanied by a 4-member handbell ensemble whose frantic version of the Hallelujah Chorus nearly stopped the show. As soon as it as over, some one yelled, "Do it again!" The Contra Costa Wind Symphony, a large wind band with percussion, joined the show after intermission, making for a loud 2nd half. The show ended in a solemn mood, as members of the chorus held up candles for a song called "Peace, Peace."

The event had a friendly, community feel, & the choristers mingled casually with the audience before the show & during the intermission. A string quartet serenaded patrons in the lobby before the concert. I somehow missed out on the free Ghiardelli chocolate handed out to early arrivals, even though I was there well in advance. A scaled-down version will be performed 3 times on Christmas Eve at the Castro Theatre. Ms. Moore is expected to do all three shows.

§ Joyous, Jolly, Jingles!
SFGMC 22nd Annual Home for the Holidays Concert

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus
Dr. Timothy Seelig, Artistic Director & Conductor
Melody Moore, soprano
Contra Costa Wind Symphony
Velocity Bells

Masters In This Hall
Traditional, arr. David Maddux

Sleigh Ride
Music by Leroy Anderson, words by Mitchell Parish
Arranged for the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus by Eddy Clement

Angels In Seven
Music by Felix Mendelssohn, words by Charles Wesley, arranged by Philip Kern

Pop Goes The Season
Various writers, arranged by David Maddux and Paul Saccone
The Lollipop Guild

The First Noel
Arranged by Michael Clawson based on Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel
Arranged for the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus by Jon P. Rollins

O Magnum Mysterium
Morten Lauridsen

Variations On Jingle Bells
Words and music by John Pierpont, additional lyrics by Mark Hayes
Arranged by Mark Hayes

Lulla, Lully, Lullay
Music by Philip Stopford, words traditional
Vocal Minority

Hallelujah Chorus
from The Messiah, G. F. Handel
Velocity Handbell Ensemble

Rudolph and Other Queer Folk
Michael Piazza

Favorite One
Cy Coleman, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green

Twas The Night Before Christmas
Music by Randol Bass, words by Clement Clark Moore

Randol Bass

Silver Bells
Words and music by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans
Arranged by Kevin Robison for the New York City Gay Men's Chorus

Swing Into Christmas
Arranged by Mac Huff

Gettin' In The Mood (For Christmas)
Music by Joseph Garland, words by Brian Setzer & Michael Himelstein

I'll Be Home For Christmas
Words and music by Kim Gannon & Walter Kent

O Holy Night
Music by Adolphe Adam, words by John Sullivan Dwight
Adapted from the French by Placide Cappeau
Melody Moore

We Are Lights
Music by Stephen Schwartz, words by Steve Young
Arranged by James Eakin III

Angels We Have Heard on High

Silent Night
Music by Franz Xaver Gruber, words by John Freeman Young
Adapted from the German by Joseph Mohr

Peace, Peace
Words and music by Rick & Sylvia Powell, arranged by Fred Bock

Thursday, December 8th · 8:00pm
Masonic Auditorium

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Satyagraha HD Encore

Wednesday night I was at the movies for the encore presentation of the Met's Satyagraha, mainly to see the staging. The production features 12 members of the Skills Ensemble who operate huge puppets, walk on stilts, hang in the air & manipulate low-tech items like newspapers & rolls of tapes. Their ritualistic activities fit well with the score. The use of long strips of newspapers to represent the publication of Indian Opinion in act II was effective, & it was striking to see a human figure emerge from long ribbons of tape in act III. I also liked seeing the text projected onto newsprint held up by the performers.

One thing that does not come across in these broadcasts is the acoustic, but tenor Richard Croft clearly makes a clean, pure sound. His performance as Gandhi was very still. He sang the repetitions of the ascending motif at the end of the opera with great control & nice variations in timbre. Mezzo Mary Phillips sounded powerful & emphatic as a European defender of Gandhi in act II.

Philip Glass's music must be frustratingly difficult to learn, but the singers & the orchestra always sounded assured. I felt sorry for the woodwinds when they had to play those rapid scale passages over & over. Conductor Dante Anzolini created an even, trance-like flow by not over-emphasizing the beats. Act II had an especially sustained & mesmeric mood.

The broadcast was hosted by Eric Owens. Extra features included live interviews with Mr. Croft, chorus master Donald Palumbo, director Phelim McDermott & composer Philip Glass, who claimed that even though Maestro Anzolini's tempos were faster than usual, the over-all running time of the opera was longer. There was also an informative documentary about Gandhi's early years in South Africa. For some reason the clips of highlights from the Lepage Ring made me giggle. The movie audience looked like your typical SF Opera audience, only older. Someone in a seat near the screen took flash photos several times & was yelled at both during & after the screening.

§ Satyagraha
Philip Glass
The Metropolitan Opera
Live in HD Encore

Conductor: Dante Anzolini
Production: Phelim McDermott
Live in HD Host: Eric Owens

M. K. Gandhi: Richard Croft
Prince Arjuna: Bradley Garvin
Lord Krishna: Richard Bernstein
Miss Schlesen: Rachelle Durkin
Mrs. Naidoo: Molly Fillmore
Kasturbai: Maria Zifchak
Mr. Kallenbach: Kim Josephson
Parsi Rustomji: Alfred Walker
Mrs. Alexander: Mary Phillips

Improvisational Puppetry: The Skills Ensemble

December 7, 2011 6:30 PM

Friday, December 09, 2011

Karita Mattila in Recital

San Francisco Perfomances presented soprano Karita Mattila in recital at Herbst Theatre last Tuesday night. I had a seat a few rows from the stage, & the statuesque Ms. Mattila, a good head taller than accompanist Martin Katz, was intimidating from that close up. She is a singing machine. Her voice has the same viscous & exact sound throughout its range, & she pushes out both low & high notes with the same athletic ease.

The 1st set of songs by Poulenc were charming vignettes in contrasting moods. In Hotel, Ms. Mattila sounded sultry & really did look like she wanted a cigarette. She was free in Voyage à Paris & seemed lost in thought in Sanglots. The Debussy songs were introspective & full of yearning. Ms. Mattila made a quivering, heart-breaking sound at the end of La balcon, & she sounded painfully sad in Recueillement. Mr. Katz was a beautifully precise & sensitive accompanist. His rippling notes in Le jet d'eau were fluid & clear.

Ms. Mattila was appropriately scary in a set of songs by Sallinen about dreams. I found their trance-like chanting & repetition to be unsettling, & Mr. Katz's sharp-edged playing set a creepy mood. The final set of songs by Marx had more soaring vocal lines but was just as disturbing. Ms. Mattila created sweeping climaxes on both high & low notes. At the end of Valse de Chopin, she rested her head on the piano lid as though fainting.

Ms. Mattila possess an unflappable stage presence. When the performers came out for the Debussy set, Mr. Katz discovered he was missing the music & abruptly walked off, leaving her alone on stage. She joked, "This is new," then decided to follow him. When a cell phone rang precisely at the end of a Le jet d'eau, or when a quarter of the audience started clapping before the end of La mort des amants, she managed to sustain the mood.

After this gloomy program, the encore was "I Could Have Danced All Night," complete with a little drunken dance. When Ms. Mattila asked the audience why she was wearing blue, a boisterous Finn at the back of the hall knew it was Finnish Independence Day. Ms. Mattila also told us she now felt free to touch Mr. Katz since he has recovered from his cold.

§ Karita Mattila, soprano
Martin Katz, piano

Francis Poulenc:
Banalités (Apollinaire) (1940)

Claude Debussy:
Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire (1887–90)

Aulis Salinen:
Neljä laulua unesta (Four Dream Songs) (Haavikko) (1972)

Joseph Marx:
Nocturne (Hartleben)
Waldseligkeit (Dehmel)
Selige Nacht (Hartleben)
Valse de Chopin (Giraud)
Hat dich die Liebe berührt (Heyse)

Frederick Loewe & Alan Jay Lerner: "I Could Have Danced All Night"
Finnish Folk Song

San Francisco Performances
Tuesday, December 6, 8pm
Herbst Theatre

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The City Dark

The San Francisco Film Society presented Ian Cheney's documentary The City Dark on Tuesday, & I was one of only 3 people at the afternoon show at New People Cinema. The City Dark gently muses on the loss of the night sky due to light pollution. Various topics, from astronomy to crime, are covered in discrete chapters, using animation, interviews & nighttime photography. The film starts with the obvious loss of stars experienced by city dwellers but then moves on to surprising ecological issues. I had no idea that the glow of city lights sends turtle hatchlings in the wrong direction in their frantic scramble to the sea or that lit buildings cause the deaths of significant numbers of migrating birds. Even more alarming was the classification of night shift work as a carcinogen, since prolonged exposure to artificial light dangerously suppresses melatonin levels. The film would seem to represent an activist position, but its tone is completely low-key.

§ The City Dark
Ian Cheney
USA 2011, 84 min

Bent-Con 2011

Bent-Con Costume Contest, 12.03.2011 Competitors lining up for the Bent-Con 2011 costume content.On a trip with its definite ups & downs, I was in Los Angeles over the weekend to attend Bent-Con. The organizers describe it as "like a Comic-Con, only gayer." It turned out to be a modest-sized comic book & media convention aimed toward gay audiences. It was 1st held last year in a space behind a leather bar, & now, in its 2nd year, it ambitiously upgraded to the Westin Bonaventure. Exhibitors ranged from David Kelly, the creator of the guileless Steven's Comics, to Patrick Fillion, whose rather extreme sci-fi erotica stories are totally at odds with his somewhat milquetoast personality. Besides the exhibition hall, there were discussion panels, a film program & an animation/fantasy costume contest. There was definitely enough to keep me entertained for a long afternoon. If nothing else, I was exposed to a lot of overstated representations of the male body. My con-companion & I enjoyed how super-friendly all the exhibitors & the attendees were.

§ Bent-Con
December 3-4, 2011
Westin Bonaventure
Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Adler Fellows Gala 2011

Last week I attended the big Adler Fellows Gala Concert, & all the singers seemed determined to give us their biggest & best. The lengthy program started at 7:30p, but it wasn't until 7:55p that we heard the 1st singer, baritone Ao Li, in an aria from Cenerentola. I liked the pleasing ring to his voice & his happy, open face. Tenor Daniel Montenegro does not have a huge voice, but his sound is dark & velvety, & he was a dreamy Des Grieux & Roméo. Soprano Nadine Sierra makes a luscious sound & she got a warm response to her scene from Lucia. She sang clear trills, & her high notes were never forceful. The audience also clearly approved of her & mezzo Maya Lahyani in the Presentation of the Rose scene from Der Rosenkavalier. Ms. Lahyani has a wonderfully full, grounded sound & was convincingly masculine. I enjoyed her even more when she returned as a dramatically focused Didon in a scene from Les Troyens.

Soprano Sara Gartland got a big ovation for her slinky Thaïs. Both her high notes & her acting were assertive & secure. Soprano Susannah Biller sang Zerbinetta's coloratura aria while she paced the stage with big gestures & flirted with the conductor. Her high notes were bright & confident, & she received appreciative applause from the orchestra. Tenor Brian Jagde, in his one short aria from Werther, got cheers for his brawny singing & belting high notes. Soprano Leah Crocetto has a sturdy voice with an exciting tension to it. She sang her aria from Maometto II with control, at one point hitting a beautiful high note that seemed to come out of nowhere. She was even more impassioned in a scene from Luisa Miller in which her powerful voice filled the hall. The audience was so excited that they spontaneously applauded mid-scene.

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra played brilliantly. The strings were tight in the William Tell Overture, & there were lovely clarinet & oboe solos in the Der Rosenkavalier excerpt. I liked the alert & precise piano playing during the Ariadne scene. From my seat in the top row of the balcony the bass drum, timpani & basses sounded like they were right in my face. Conductor Giuseppe Finzi led with roomy tempos that were never pressing. His left hand seems to either float at his side or mirror his right hand. The audience of avid Adler fans gave the concert an immediate standing ovation.

§ The Future is Now: Adler Fellows Gala Concert
San Francisco Opera Orchestra
Conductor: Giuseppe Finzi

Guillaume Tell, Rossini

La Cenerentola, Rossini
"Come un ape ne' giorni d'Aprile"
Dandini: Ao Li

Manon, Massenet
"Instant charmant...en fermant les yeux"
Des Grieux: Daniel Montenegro

Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti
"Regnava nel silenzio"
Lucia: Nadine Sierra

Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart
"Tutto è disposto...Aprite un po' quegl' occhi"
Figaro: Ryan Kuster

Maometto II, Rossini
"Giusto ciel"
Anna: Leah Crocetto

Theodora, Handel
"To thee, thou glorious son of worth"
Theodora: Susannah Biller; Didymus: Ryan Belongie
David Hanlon, harpsichord

Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss
"Mir ist die ehre"
Sophie: Nadine Sierra; Octavian: Maya Lahyani

Don Pasquale, Donizetti
"Pronta io son"
Norina: Sara Gartland; Malatesta: Ao Li

Tancredi, Rossini
"Oh patria...Tu che accendi...Di tanti palpiti"
Tancredi: Ryan Belongie

Les Troyens, Berlioz
"Je vais mourir"
Didon: Maya Lahyani

Thaïs, Massenet
"Me voilà seule...Dis-moi que je suis belle"
Thaïs: Sara Gartland

Roméo et Juliette, Gounod
"L'amour...Ah, lève-toi soleil!"
Roméo: Daniel Montenegro

Ariadne auf Naxos, Strauss
"Grossmächtige prinzessin"
Zerbinetta: Susannah Biller
Tamara Sanikidze, piano

Werther, Massenet
"Toute mon âme est là...pourquoi me réveiller?"
Werther: Brian Jagde

Luisa Miller, Verdi
"Il padre tuo...Tu puniscimi"
Luisa: Leah Crocetto; Wurm: Ryan Kuster

Guillaume Tell, Rossini
"Tout change et grandit en ces lieux"

Thursday, December 1, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre, War Memorial Veterans Building

Sunday, December 04, 2011

PBO: Bach’s Mass in B minor

Philharmonia Baroque, 12.02.2011 Herbst Theatre audience at Philharmonia Baroque performance of Bach's B Minor Mass.Friday night I heard Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra perform Bach's B Minor Mass. Conductor Nicholas McGegan presented the Mass as a collection of contrasting movements & led with fleet tempos & a light mood. The 2 opening Credo movements went like a very fast walk. The strings bounced their bows during the Resurrexit. Everyone's heads bobbed up and down in the Sanctus & Osanna. The Cum Santco Spiritu had a frantic pace. The small chorus of 24 was assured. The overall sound was smooth but one could always distinguish the individual lines. The performance featured a lot of precise articulation but a narrow dynamic range.

Soprano Sherezade Panthaki has a pretty voice, with a pure, warm tone, & her singing is very legato. Tenor Thomas Cooley has a clear, bright voice that reaches easily out into the hall. I felt like he was singing right at me. I also liked his clear diction. He & Ms. Panthaki sounded chirpy in the Domine Deus. Baritone Nathaniel Watson's voice has a slight metallic sound, & he sings with a strong center of pitch & good diction. Countertenor Daniel Taylor sang straightforwardly. In the Agnus Dei he seemed to have very little air, &, though he sang all the notes, his voice came close to disappearing. Maestro McGegan & orchestra responded by playing quietly enough not to cover him.

During the duets & arias, the obbligato players in the orchestra stood to accompanying the vocal soloists. In the Laudamus te, concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock gave her ornate line an improvisatory feel. R.J. Kelley struggled with the valveless horn in the Quoniam. We probably heard twice as many pitches as were notated. Stephen Schultz maintained a long line on the Baroque flute in the Benedictus. The audience was quiet & attentive & applauded the chorus especially enthusiastically.

§ Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, conductor

Sherezade Panthaki, soprano
Daniel Taylor, countertenor
Thomas Cooley, tenor
Nathaniel Watson, baritone
Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, Director

BACH: Mass in B minor

Fri., Dec. 2, 2011, 8 PM
Herbst Theatre

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Chancellor's Concert Series

Chancellor's Concert Series, 12.01.2011 Noontime concert at Cole Hall at UCSF.These lunchtime concerts on the UCSF campus ritually start with a short poetry reading by David Watts, M.D., & this time Dr. Watts read a few of his own published poems. These included 2 poems of only 31 words each & another one written from "a different level of consciousness." Violinist Leor Maltinski & cellist Angela Lee then gave a clean & smooth-edged performance of Kodály's Duo for Violin and Cello. Mr. Maltinksi demonstrated impressive bite on his up-bow, as well as rapid bow speed changes & a strong sound high up on the E string. Ms. Lee's playing is fluent & connected, & she is a responsive player. The piece itself keeps both instruments equally involved, & the performance had the feel of a conversation between equals. I especially enjoyed their long-lined adagio movement.

The half-hour event was held in a lecture hall whose steep stadium-style seating made me think of an operating theater. The acoustic is very clear if a bit dry. During the 2nd movement, Mr. Maltinski's E string peg slipped, & the duo had to stop to re-tune, which they did with great calm & then resumed exactly where they left off. On my way out, I heard 2 ladies tell the cellist how much they enjoyed hearing something "modern."

§ The Chancellor's Concert Series
Leor Maltinski, violin
Angela Lee, cello

Z. Kodály: Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7

Dec 1, 2011 12:00pm
Cole Hall, UCSF

Monday, November 21, 2011

SFO: Carmen

Over the weekend I saw Carmen at San Francisco Opera from a fine orchestra level seat. Conductor Nicola Luisotti charged into the overture before the applause died down. He uses a lot of over-sized gestures, & it was fun to watch him conduct the drum & cymbal crashes. The orchestra sounded bold & luxuriant though not as crisp as usual. I liked the phrasing & pure tone of the clarinet, & the violins sounded lush when playing the death motif. Act II began at an appropriately drowsy tempo that established the mood well.

Mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili was an Earth Mother Carmen. Her voice is dark, chesty & dramatic. I especially liked her dusky singing in the fortune telling scene in act III. As Don José, tenor Thiago Arancam had bright & secure high notes, but his performance did not feel very impassioned. Baritone Paulo Szot seems to make a sturdy sound, but his voice did not carry well, so his Escamillo was not very assertive. Soprano Sara Gartland has a strong, hard-edged voice, & her Micaëla came across as firm. Susannah Biller & Cybele Gouverneur sang & acted attractively as the gypsy girls Frasquita & Mercédès. In fact, the entire cast is quite good-looking.

The production is the familiar one by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, with shallow, frontal sets fitting into a tall, sun-bleached wall. It uses spoken French dialogue instead of recitative, for the most part. The children's chorus was well-prepared & enthusiastic. One very small girl looked like she was 5 years old! In the final showdown between Carmen & Don José, Carmen more or less just stands there waiting to be killed. Mr. Arancam had a little trouble pulling out his switchblade, but he had no problem ripping open his shirt moments later. The orchestra level audience gave Ms. Rachvelishvili a standing ovation. The lady next to me enjoyed the show very much, even conducting along during the Toreador Song. My opera companion was less enthused & laughed derisively at every reprise of the tune.

§ Carmen
Georges Bizet

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Production & Set Designer: Jean Pierre Ponnelle
Director: Jose Maria Condemi

Moralès: Trevor Scheunemann
Micaëla: Sara Gartland
Don José: Thiago Arancam
Zuniga: Wayne Tigges
Carmen: Anita Rachvelishvili
Manuelita: Dvora Djoraev
Frasquita: Susannah Biller
Mercédès: Cybele Gouverneur
Escamillo: Paulo Szot
Lillas Pastia: Yusef Lambert
Le Dancaïre: Timothy Mix
Le Remendado: Daniel Montenegro
A guide: Gabriel Laude

Sun 11/20/11 2:00pm
War Memorial Opera House

Sunday, November 20, 2011

SFO: Xerxes (final performance)

SF OperaLast night I again attended Xerxes at San Francisco Opera, mainly to be in the house at the same time as 2 friends, & I found the production to be just as consistently enjoyable a 2nd time around. And this time I saw the model bridge in act II collapse, which it failed to at my 1st performance. It was humbling to realize how badly I mixed up the characters in recollection, though. The cast again all give fine acting & singing performances. I continue to marvel at David Daniels's husky countertenor voice. Lisette Oropesa had great breath control & a pleasing warble in her voice. Heidi Stober impressed the audience with the dynamic range of her high notes. Susan Graham's voice is a well-toned muscle. I enjoyed the absurdity of a Xerxes who sings higher than his fiancée.

The orchestra's playing was light, & dance-like. Conductor Patrick Summer often ended the arias with a slight ritard & a soft landing. The pacing & the amusing staging made it easy to stand through the nearly 4-hour show. The audience applauded each character as they were introduced during the overture, though apparently this only happened at the 2 performances I saw. The show received an enthusiastic ovation, & we heard the performers themselves cheer after the final curtain came down.

§ Xerxes
George Frideric Handel

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Production: Nicholas Hytner
Revival Director: Michael Walling

Xerxes: Susan Graham
Romilda: Lisette Oropesa
Arsamenes: David Daniels
Atalanta: Heidi Stober
Amastris: Sonia Prina
Ariodates: Wayne Tigges
Elviro: Michael Sumuel

Sat 11/19/11 7:30pm
War Memorial Opera House

Thursday, November 17, 2011

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

This glossy documentary by German filmmaker Gereon Metzel documents a year behind the scenes of fabled restaurant El Bulli. We watch the chefs developing recipes in a lab, then see the restaurant kitchen in production. Chef Ferran Adrià & his colleagues know each other so well that they don't need to talk much, & the kitchen, though busy, necessarily runs with a quiet efficiency, so the film is weirdly deadpan. There are no interviews or commentary, so I remained unenlightened about the cooking methods & ingredients I saw. But then Chef Adrià does lecture his new staff that the purpose of an avant-garde restaurant is to confuse the diners.

§ El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (2011)
in Catalan, Spanish & French; 108 min
director, Gereon Wetzel

How Music Looks: The Printed Page

Arion PressLast night Arion Press hosted a talk by Charles Boone on printed musical scores. Mr. Boone described himself as a "quasi-unknown" composer, & his illustrated lecture focused on unconventional notation schemes devised by composers after World War II. We saw crazily complex scores from Friedrich Cerha & Stockhausen that look like engineering designs or maps rather than music. One Stockhausen score has notes printed on a ruler-sized piece of clear plastic that is then rotated over a circular staff. At the other end of the spectrum were scores that consist of verbal descriptions only or open-ended suggestions to the performers, such as John Cage's famous 4'33".

Mr. Boone also played a few well-chosen musical excerpts. I laughed at Jaap Blonk's performance of Recitation 11 by George Aperghis, which wickedly pokes fun at French speakers. A recording of pianist David Tudor playing Stockhausen was stunning. After the talk the audience was invited to peruse actual scores, which were laid out on a large circular table. Mr. Boone also distributed a useful list of his slides.

The audience was a rarefied bunch. I sat next to a balding gentleman who took notes in a huge graph paper notebook filled with what looked like trigonometry diagrams & formulas. The event took place in the Arion Press gallery, which is open to the public. Excitingly raw pulp fiction drawings by Raymon Pettibon are currently on display.

§ How Music Looks: The Printed Page
A talk by Charles Boone

Arion Press & Grabhorn Institute
Wednesday, November 16, 6:00 p.m.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Systems Mural Project

Brian Barneclo: Systems Murals Project
Inspired by SFMike's reporting of Brian Barneclo's Systems Mural Project, I set out yesterday to see if I could view it without buying a ticket on Caltrain. It covers a long expanse of wall along the tracks at 7th & Townsend, & since it's basically in the train yard, the best view is indeed from a seat on Caltrain. From street level, I had to be content with viewing it through fences.

Brian Barneclo: Systems Murals Project
Large heads at either end of the picture communicate through a convoluted path which looks like a cross between a circuit diagram & "It's a Small World." I recognized the San Francisco Bay, complete with sea lions. There's also a parade, a polar bear & a buffalo. Even though the artist uses geometric areas of flat color, the mural has a sense of 3D space. The mural needs a viewing stand, perhaps on top of one of those construction trailers just inside the fence.

§ Systems Mural Project
Brian Barneclo
7th Street & Townsend

Monday, November 14, 2011

La Voix Humaine/Pagliacci

This weekend I attended the opening performance of this Opera San José double bill. I'd never heard La Voix Humaine before, & it doesn't even get an entry in my old edition of Kobbé's Complete Opera. In this hour-long monodrama, a suicidal woman desperately tries to stay in contact with her lover over an unreliable phone line. He has recently abandoned her, & her extreme neediness is both pathetic & annoying. The performance moved at a careful pace & the staging began with a long, uncomfortable silence. Mezzo Betany Coffland sounded secure, controlled & grounded despite her character's near-hysteria. The vocal line is speech-like, & there are no arias. The orchestra punctuates in short bursts, & it seems like they have more rests than notes. At the end, I felt like I'd sat through a play rather than an opera. The supportive audience gave Ms. Coffland a warm reception, & the front row stood for her. The set nicely represented The Woman's posh 1940s apartment without needing to depict every detail.

The set for Pagliacci was minimal, so the attractive costumes instead provided the visual interest. The staging made the action so clear that I never felt the need to read the supertitles. I enjoyed the performance of baritone Evan Brummel, who has a belting, resonant voice & was a skulking & malevolent Tonio. In the final moments, he hands Canio the knife used to kill Nedda & Silvio. Tenor Alexander Boyer as Canio has a pleasant & somewhat light voice, & his high notes are bright & ringing. I felt he rushed through "Vesti la giubba." Soprano Jasmina Halimic is a forceful singer & a fully invested actress. I liked watching her Nedda's wary reactions during Canio's "Un tal giocco, credetimi." Baritone Krassen Karagiozov was convincing playing Silvio as a handsome country bumpkin. I also liked the spirited children's chorus, who have a lot to do during the play scene. The orchestra's playing was uneven at times, though the woodwinds, & especially the flute, sounded fine. The brasses were clean & blended. An error message of some sort appeared on the back projection in the last moments of the show. The audience gave the performance an immediate standing ovation.

During the 1st intermission my opera companion & I stopped by the pit for a chat with the delightful Oboeinsight, who told us that the counting was actually the hardest part of playing the Poulenc. She also alerted us to the intermission during Pagliacci, which we had not noticed in the program.

§ Pagliacci & La Voix Humaine
Opera San José

§ La Voix Humaine
Conductor, Bryan Nies
Stage Director, Layna Chianakas

The Woman, Betany Coffland

§ Pagliacci
Conductor, Bryan Nies
Stage Director, Cynthia Stokes

Canio, Alexander Boyer
Nedda, Jasmina Halimic
Tonio, Evan Brummel
Silvio, Krassen Karagiozov
Beppe, Michael Dailey

Sat., Nov. 12, 2011 8 p.m.

§ Production Photos: P. Kirk

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Salon at the Rex: Nadine Sierra

Yesterday soprano Nadine Sierra & pianist Tamara Sanikidze presented an amiable 70 minute recital perfectly scaled to the cozy Salon at the Hotel Rex. Ms. Sierra announced the program as she went along, telling us personal stories behind each selection as if we were a gathering of friends. We learned that she started singing at 6 & got serious about pursuing opera at 10. She began with Juliet's Waltz, with which she won the Met Opera Council Auditions in 2009, just out of her teens. Her singing was joyful, & her high notes sounded relaxed & unstrained. I especially like her middle range, though, which was luscious & sultry in "Summertime." Harold Arlen's "A Sleepin' Bee" was dreamy & included nice little slides.

Ms. Sanikidze also spoke to us between songs & did not hold back her funny & out-going personality. She admitted she "sucked" as a 7-year-old conservatory student in the Soviet Union, but her competitive nature led her to practice 9 hours a day & finish 1st in her classes after that. She responded "Cry me a river!" to Ms. Sierra's story of being made to practice 1 hour every day at 6 years old.

Both singer & pianist worked together to create a full-force climax for Grieg's "Ein Traum". Ms. Sierra acknowledged her Portugese background in the comic patter song "Engenho Novo." She ended with "O mio babbino caro," because she can always make her tough firefighter father cry when she sings it. The musicians did a Q&A afterward, & Ms. Sierra hinted that her goal of performing at La Scala might be closer than she imagined. The last question was, "Can you do an encore?" Ms. Sierra professed not to have one, but Ms. Sanikidze saved the day by pulling out a dreamy Poulenc song, "from my reserves."

§ Nadine Sierra, soprano
Tamara Sanikidze, piano

Charles Gounod: "Je veux vivre" from Roméo et Juliette
Gershwin: "Summertime" from Porgy & Bess
Harold Arlen: "A Sleepin' Bee" from House of Flowers
Franz Lehar: Vilja Song from The Merry Widow
Edvard Grieg: "Ein Traum"
Stephen Foster: "Beautiful Dreamer"
Ernani Braga: "Engenho Novo"
Giacomo Puccini: "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi

Francis Poulenc: "Les chemins de l'amour"

San Francisco Performances
Salon at the Rex
Wednesday, November 9
6:30 pm
Hotel Rex

SFO: Xerxes

SFO: XerxesThis production of Xerxes at San Francisco Opera is so fresh & funny that I was surprised when someone told me it has been in circulation since the mid-1980s. It's set in the 18th century, in a sort of garden of cultural attractions. The chorus, their faces & costumes painted completely grey, are a genteel crowd who spend their time listening to concerts, admiring collections of curiosities & drinking coffee. The supers, their heads painted completely white, shepherd them through velvet ropes & set out furniture for them with choreographed precision.

The production plays like a comedy of manners, & the arias are cleverly staged as little skits. In act I, Xerxes delivers an aria as he trails Romilda during a stuffy art appreciation event. In act I, Romilda delivers an aria as if in conversation with her sister, as the 2 of them sit through a stuffy art appreciation event. In act II, Xerses & Atalanta sit down for dessert in a fancy restaurant then get kicked out when they get too emotional. In act II, Amastris gets belligerently drunk in a fancy restaurant & is kicked out. The characters sometimes gesture naturalistically exactly with the music. Even the supertitles enhance the artifice by being in a singable, rhyming 18th century idiom.

All the performers were lively singers & actors. Susan Graham is like an athlete in peak condition, her voice glowing, sure & steady, & her Xerxes convincingly masculine. David Daniels's Arsamenes is a lover, not a fighter, & I was continually amazed by how strongly his burly countertenor voice carried. It never sounds attenuated. Lisette Oropesa, as Romilda, hit some lovely high notes softly & without straining. Heidi Stober showed off firm high notes & was very funny as Atalanta. The audience was so impressed with contralto Sonia Prina's muscular coloratura that it applauded halfway through her 1st aria. I liked bass-baritone Michael Sumuel's warm, cushy sound & light-hearted acting as "facetious fellow" Elviro. He was hilarious as an unlikely-looking flower seller in act II. Bass-baritone Wayne Tigges demonstrated fine coloratura & comic acting as a proud yet faintly silly general.

The reduced orchestra played with zest, & all of the tempos were dance-like. It was impossible not to sway with the music from time to time. I enjoyed hearing the trumpet, which was bright yet still blended with the orchestra. In that large house, I was surprised that I could even hear the various lute instruments played by Michael Leopold. I spent much of the 2 intermissions worrying over the program synopsis & studying its diagram of love arrows, but the plot remained a puzzle to me.

§ Xerxes
George Frideric Handel

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Production: Nicholas Hytner
Revival Director: Michael Walling

Xerxes: Susan Graham
Romilda: Lisette Oropesa
Arsamenes: David Daniels
Atalanta: Heidi Stober
Amastris: Sonia Prina
Ariodates: Wayne Tigges
Elviro: Michael Sumuel

Tue 11/8/11 7:30pm
War Memorial Opera House

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Houdini: Art and Magic

Over the weekend I saw this exhibit about Harry Houdini at the Jewish Contemporary Museum. It's a diffuse show that mixes period artifacts with contemporary art. Next to a video of the real Houdini escaping from a straight jacket are clips of Tony Curtis in a Hollywood biopic & Norman Mailer in Matthew Barney's CREMASTER 2. I did not expect to see Raymond Pettibon's nightmarish drawings, though I liked their visceral impact. In another modern piece, conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg "disappears" a book about Houdini from the Los Angeles Public Library by borrowing it & not returning it.

Documentary items include old photos, advertisements, silent movie clips & replicas of famous props. I never caught on to how the galleries were organized, & a time line for Houdini appears randomly half-way through the exhibit. I felt closest to the man when examining 2 of his travel journals, one of them opened to a remembrance of his father's death. The entry touchingly quotes his mother's Yiddish speech. I also enjoyed the spontaneous expression on Houdini's face in a 1910 photo with escape artist Ira Davenport.

Gaining entry to the CJM is like going through airport security, only you don't have to take off your shoes & belt.

§ Houdini: Art and Magic
October 2, 2011 – January 16, 2012
Contemporary Jewish Museum

Monday, November 07, 2011

Up-Coming: Tatsumi

Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo created this tribute to manga creator Yoshihiro Tatsumi. The film turns 5 of Tatsumi's stories into anime-style animation, interspersed with episodes from his memoir, A Drifting Life. Tatsumi's adult comics explore urban alienation & shame, & the stories are dark & grotesque. The animated film closely follows the original comics, simply adding movement & sound to Tatsumi's pages. I like the affectionate way Tatsumi draws himself as a square-headed young man whose face has an expression of permanent innocence. Mr. Khoo's film is intended to honor the manga artist, & Tatsumi himself does some of the voice-overs & appears at the end of the film. There's an obvious gap between Tatsumi's gentle, naive demeanor & the disturbing content of his comics, but the film does not attempt to close it.

Tatsumi plays at the San Francisco International Animation Festival this Friday at 9:00 pm & Sunday at 6:00 pm at New People Cinema. Take the festival's "Not recommended for children" warning seriously. The film contains casual death & dismemberment, copious vomiting & unpleasant sex scenes.

§ Tatsumi
Written by Eric Khoo
Singapore 2011, 96 min.

San Francisco International Animation Festival
Friday, November 11, 9:00 pm; Sunday, November 13, 6:00 pm
SF Film Society | New People Cinema

§ Buy tickets

Sunday, November 06, 2011

New Century Tour Kick-Off

NCCO NapkinThe extroverted New Century Chamber Orchestra starts their 2nd East Coast tour next week, stopping in Massachusetts & New Jersey & ending at Symphony Space in New York. Saturday night was their tour kick-off concert at Herbst Theatre. To help celebrate, they treated the audience to prosecco in the lobby beforehand. Members of the orchestra wore bright red accessories to accent their black concert dress. Leader Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg addressed the audience, though she admitted that she did not know what to say. She thanked the board & praised the ensemble, boasting, "We even play repertoire we should not play!" She also joked that the Rossini Sonata was so hard that the violists refused to play it.

The Rossini Sonata in G was chirpy. Kristin Zoernig's bass solos were neat & a bit clipped. Violin intonation was scrappy, but the cellos were very together, especially in the zippy last movement. The violas received applause when they joined the ensemble for the Barber Adagio, which sounded secure & forthright. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg stood surrounded by the 1st stand players for William Bolcolm's Romanza, a small-scale concerto written for her. Each movement has a pleasing dance-like feel, & even though the ensemble is all strings, Mr. Bolcolm gets a lot of colors. The 2nd movement opens with a lugubrious bass solo & has moments of eeriness. The soloist banters briskly with the orchestra in the jaunty final movement. The cellos & violas were very uniform in the Mendelssohn Octet, sounding especially nice at the start of the 2nd movement. The violins were often ragged, & they made a scrambling entrance in the Scherzo. The movement was a rapid skitter, with lots of bowing off the string. The Presto felt rushing & aggressive.

After the 1st encore, Bolcolm's Incinerator Rag, Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg came back out, put her hand on her hip & asked, "We have another one. Do you want to hear it?" I didn't catch the composer's name, but I think she said it was a Brazilian song. It featured Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg playing a soaring melodic solo & elicited a standing ovation from the audience.

§ 20th Anniversary Gala: Tour Kick-Off Celebration
New Century Chamber Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Music Director

Gioacchino Rossini: Sonata No. 1 in G Major
Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings
William Bolcom: Romanza for Violin and String Orchestra
      Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin
Felix Mendelssohn: Octet for Strings in E-flat Major, Op. 20

William Bolcolm: Incinerator Rag
Song by Brazilian composer?

Saturday, November 5, 2011, 7pm, Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

§ Members of New Century

Violin I: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (Music Director and Concertmaster), Dawn Harms (Associate Concertmaster), Iris Stone, Karen Sor, Robin Mayforth

Violin II: Candace Guirao (Principal), Deborah Tien Price, Michael Yokas, Michelle Maruyama

Viola: Anna Kruger (Principal), Cassandra Lynne Richburg, Jenny Douglass, Elisabeth Prior

Cello: Susan Babini (Principal), Robin Bonnell, Michelle Djokic, Michael Graham

Bass: Kristin Zoernig (Acting Principal)

Glitch in the Grid

I got to see a preview of Glitch in the Grid, the opening night film of the San Francisco International Animation Festival, which starts this week. It's a fragmentary, experimental movie, containing live-action, stop-motion animation & time-lapse photography. Eric & Jeffrey Leiser, 2 brothers in their 20s, made the movie entirely by themselves over the course of 2 years. The nearly insubstantial scenario shows them hanging out in California, New York & Hastings, England, with their cousin Jay Masonek, who vaguely seeks a change in his life. In England we get documentary peeks of Eric's wedding, a Passion Parade & a spectacular bonfire festival. The animated segments come in short bursts & often utilize stop-motion to animate outdoor landscapes. Piles of fall leaves are brought to life. The images of animated colored liquids feel spooky. A flying dove is a recurring image, & the film's message is about accepting the Holy Ghost into your heart.

Glitch in the Grid screens this Thursday at 7pm & 9:30pm at New People Cinema. Director Eric Leiser & his brother Jeffrey Leiser, who wrote the music, are expected to attend.

§ Glitch in the Grid
Written by Eric Leiser
USA/England 2011, 83 min.

SF International Animation Festival
Thursday, November 10, 7:00 pm; Thursday, November 10, 9:30 pm
SF Film Society | New People Cinema

§ Buy Tickets

§ Photo credit: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Semyon Bychkov conducts Don Juan

Davies HallFriday night conductor Semyon Bychkov led the San Francisco Symphony, & I had a God-like view of the Davies Hall audience from a seat in a 1st tier box. The audience was sparse, maybe because of the concert's odd start time of 6:30p. Maestro Bychkov has a low-key musical profile. He never pushes, though he always looks engaged with the orchestra. Strauss's Don Juan was unrushed. The love music after concertmaster Nadya Tichman's solo felt languid & reminded me of Tristan. William Bennett played a level, almost unarticulated, oboe solo.

Kirill Gerstein was soloists for Strauss's Burleske, a jaunty piano concerto in one movement. His playing was clean & bright. The audience laughed at the piece's playful ending & gave Mr. Gerstein a warm ovation. Schumann's Symphony No. 2 flowed with a regular pace & had a relatively small range of tempos & dynamics. The strings were fast, clean & even in the Scherzo. There were nice woodwind solos in the Adagio, especially from the clarinet & oboe. The audience cheered the performance, & the orchestra applauded Maestro Bychkov as well.

Maestro Bychkov did not use a score for Don Juan or the Schumann. One of the woodwinds, perhaps the clarinet, squealed during the 1st movement of the Schumann, which my concert companion put down to the weather changes in the past few days. After Don Juan, a woman seated in our row asked us what was the difference between the French horn & the English horn. My companion said the English horn "looks like an oboe that swallowed an orange." After the Schumann, she asked us which instrument was the oboe, but she seemed skeptical when we pointed out the 2 oboists onstage.

§ Semyon Bychkov conducts Don Juan
San Francisco Symphony
Semyon Bychkov, conductor
Kirill Gerstein, piano

R. Strauss: Don Juan, Op. 20
R. Strauss: Burleske in D minor for Piano and Orchestra
Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61

Fri, Nov 4, 2011 6:30pm
Davies Symphony Hall