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

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Screen Illusion

Yesterday I saw Mathieu Amalric's The Screen Illusion, which played as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Cinema Now. It's a TV movie adaptation of Pierre Corneille's L’Illusion comique, made under the constraint that it use actors from La Comédie Française, speaking the original text but in a contemporary setting. M. Amalric nimbly transposes the action to a set of business suites in a posh Paris hotel, where Isabelle, the daughter of a wealthy business mogul, is pursued by 3 suitors. Clindor's father witnesses his son's shenanigans on the hotel's surveillance videos. When Matamore brags of killing people in battle, he's playing a video game. The actors speak so crisply that I could hear the rhyming couplets even though I don't understand French. There are plenty of meaningful silences as well, so the movie does not feel talky. The last scene might be a bit confusing, & it adds its own twist on top of Corneille's original surprise ending. The movie has almost no music, & the audience sat non-plussed in silence as the closing credits rolled.

§ The Screen Illusion (L’Illusion Comique)
Mathieu Amalric
France 2010, 77 min

French Cinema Now
Wednesday, November 2, 5:00 pm
SF Film Society | New People Cinema

§ Photo credit: Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Hand Bookbinder Exhibit

Hand Bookbinders of CaliforniaThe Mechanics' Institute, in its on-going quest to increase the value of membership, just put up an exhibit of handbound books on the 2nd floor of the library. Tuesday night they held a wine & cheese reception for library members & exhibitors. Members of the Hand Bookbinders of California gave demonstrations & talked about their projects, in the manner of a show-and-tell. A book restorer told us that a repair should never be made stronger than the original material. The principle sounds like it ought to apply in other situations as well.

§ Hand Bookbinders of California
39th Members' Exhibition

Hand Bookbinder Exhibit Reception
Mechanics' Institute
Tue, 11/01/2011 - 6:30pm - 8:00pm

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Halloween Concert with Cameron Carpenter

Davies HallThe Davies Hall audience was in a festive mood Sunday night for organist Cameron Carpenter accompanying Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera. Many came dressed for Halloween. I saw several witches, & my concert companion pointed out a little boy dressed as the Phantom, complete with cape & mask. A bleach-blond Mr. Cameron strode eagerly on stage, wearing thick-heeled shoes, bedazzled pants & a tight-fitting black t-shirt. He launched into the Bach Chaconne in D minor as a prelude to the movie. He displayed an easy mastery of the console, constantly changing registers, & let loose a colorful barrage of sounds. There were moments of exuberant bombast, but Mr. Carpenter could also make the instrument sound very small. He made it so fun that I chuckled several times. The audience cheered the Chaconne, & Mr. Carpenter reacted when a woman whistled at him approvingly.

Mr. Carpenter spoke briefly before playing for the movie & said that he would both follow tradition & depart from it. His accompaniment set the mood for each scene but never drew attention to itself. It utilized a wide variety of timbres & sounded like a symphonic film score. A quiet theme incorporating the tinkling of chimes was associated with the Phantom. There are several performance scenes from Gounod's Faust, but Mr. Carpenter avoided the literal solution of playing music from the opera.

I'd never seen this iconic movie before, & I found it a bit clunky for something near the high point of the silent era. The sets representing the interior of the Paris Opera are impressive, though, & a sequence shot in early Technocolor is startling. I did not expect Lon Chaney's ghoulish Phantom to be more creepy when masked. The intertitles taught me the word "barouche."

The film was shown with an intermission. Mr. Cameron impressively performed the entire program without any music. The audience gave him enthusiastic applause & cheers. They recalled him twice but were not persistent enough to demand an encore, which was a shame.

§ The Phantom of the Opera: Halloween Concert with Cameron Carpenter
Cameron Carpenter, organ

Bach: Chaconne in D minor
The Phantom of the Opera (Silent film with live music accompaniment)

Sun, Oct 30, 2011 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall