Friday, June 29, 2012

Lips Together, Teeth Apart

Thursday night I saw Terrence McNally's Lips Together, Teeth Apart at New Conservatory Theatre. The play premiered in 1991 & is definitely an AIDS play, though no gay characters appear on stage. 2 straight couples, in-laws, are spending the 4th of July in a beach house on Fire Island. The house has been bequeathed to one of the characters by her recently deceased brother. The 4 are uncomfortable being there & behave abrasively. The play takes place in the 1980s & comes across as a period piece. It took me a while to realize why the characters are afraid to use the house's inviting swimming pool.

There was an awkwardness to the performance that I could not put my finger on. The action occasionally stops for the characters to deliver interior monologues, which are indicated by dramatic lighting changes but which provide no new information. At one point an actor talking directly to the audience even gets interrupted by another character. The script includes many references to Broadway shows & operas, though the cast pronounce the name of the composer Gluck as if it rhymed with "luck." The somewhat elderly audience was low-key but attentive.

§ Lips Together, Teeth Apart
by Terrence McNally
San Francisco Premiere | Decker Theatre
New Conservatory Theatre Center
Directed by Dennis Lickteig

Sarah Mitchell (Chloe)
Marie O’Donnell (Sally)
Michael Sally (Sam)
Cameron Weston (John)

June 28, 2012 at 8p

§ Production photo: Lois Tema Photography

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Master Class With Kevin Murphy

I heard some of the Merolini for the 1st time Tuesday evening, at a master class led by Kevin Murphy, pianist & Director of Music Administration at New York City Opera. Mr. Murphy has a calm, reassuring manner, & he focused on the singers' sound & expression. He emphasized clean vowels, often asking the singers to speak the Italian text conversationally.

Tenor Joshua Baum sang & acted "Che Gelida manina" comfortably. He is a capable & confident singer, & his high C was hefty & bright. Mr. Murphy commented that no one worried about him not hitting it. Baritone Joseph Lattanzi sang "Bella siccome un' angelo" from Don Pasquale. He has a nice resonant, metallic sound, as well as a dapper appearance. Mr. Murphy encouraged him to put more character into the aria & to "find words that you like." Mezzo Sarah Mesko sang a dramatic aria from La Clemenza di Tito with a full & mature-sounding voice. Mr. Murphy praised her authenticity & worked on getting her to make a more consistent sound. Kevin Miller was her engaged & florid accompanist. Bass-baritone Matthew Scollin sang the Catalog Aria from Don Giovanni with an appropriately comic face. His fellow Merolini clearly adore him. He has a low-sounding voice, which Mr. Murphy worked to make more bright & open. Pianist Francesco Fraboni played with clarity & bite. Mr. Murphy did not neglect the accompanists, & he sat down at the piano a couple of times to demonstrate things for them.

§ Master Class With Kevin Murphy
Merola Opera Program 2012
Tuesday, June 26, 2012 | 7:00 - 9:00 PM | Herbst Theatre

"Che gelida manina" from La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini
Joshua Baum, tenor
Artem Grishaev, piano

"Bella siccome un' angelo" from Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti
Joseph Lattanzi, baritone
Elena Lacheva, piano

"Deh per questo istante solo" from La Clemenza di Tito by W.A. Mozart
Sarah Mesko, mezzo-soprano
Kevin Miller, piano

"Madamina, il catalogo è questa" from Don Giovanni by W.A. Mozart
Matthew Scollin, bass-baritone
Francesco Fraboni, piano

Saturday, June 23, 2012

MTT Conducts Bartók’s Bluebeard's Castle

Davies Hall, 06.22.2012 Stage set for Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle in subscription performance by San Francisco Symphony.The short 1st half of Friday night's San Francisco Symphony concert was Liszt's Piano Concerto No 1. with Jeremy Denk as soloist. Mr. Denk had a loose & spontaneous approach, & he plopped deep into the keys, even if he did not hit all the notes. The music had an episodic feel, & I liked the clean, simple sound of the clarinet solos.

The main event was a semi-staged version of Bartók's opera Bluebeard's Castle. Tall angled walls surrounded the orchestra, & a sculpture of irregular polygons with sharp corners hung over the stage. The performance began with actor Ken Ruta delivering a spoken prologue from the side terrace. The singers then appeared on a platform behind the orchestra & gave full acting performances. Mezzo Michelle DeYoung has a powerful, earthy & thrilling voice. She was a brave & mature Judith. Bass-baritone Alan Held was a stern & authoritarian Bluebeard, &, up until the end, it could have been a battle of equals.

Moving images were projected onto multiple planes of the set & the overhead sculpture, which turned out to be in 4 parts that moved. The bold but simple imagery included closeups of water drops, flowers, rope, gears & of course many blood stains. Bluebeard's former wives appeared on film as billowy silhouettes. In the opera's biggest climax, the entire hall was lit up, & the blaring pipes of the Ruffatti organ were brightly illuminated. Supertitles were projected on either side of the stage.

MTT was kept very busy directing the constant ebb & flow of orchestral colors. Even though there were a lot of brass players, they made a controlled, soft-edged sound & never overwhelmed the singers or the rest of the orchestra. Bartók's eerie music plus the cinematic staging gave the event the feel of a classic horror film. The opera ends in an unearthly silence, but someone wrecked that by immediately whistling in appreciation. The audience gave the singers a standing ovation, & 2 members of the production team also took bows.

§ MTT Conducts Bartók’s Bluebeard's Castle
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor

Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major
Jeremy Denk, piano

Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, Opus 11
Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano
Alan Held, bass-baritone
Ken Ruta, speaker

Nick Hillel, director
Nick Corrigan, co-director, video & visual design
Jose Maria Condemi, staging
Richard Slaney, producer
David Holmes, lighting design
Adam Wiltshire, set design

Fri, Jun 22, 2012 at 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Friday, June 22, 2012


Andrew Blum, 06.22.2012 Andrew Blum speaking at the Mechanics' Institute about Tubes.During the Friday lunch hour I heard Andrew Blum speak to members of the Mechanics' Institute about his impertinently titled book Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, in which he describes the Internet's physical infrastructure. He was inspired to think about the physical manifestation of the Internet when his home Internet connection went down. A repairman came, spotted a squirrel gnawing on an outdoor cable & remarked, "I think the squirrel is chewing on your Internet."

Mr. Blum is bright & articulate, & his talk covered NANOG, fiber optic cables, Internet exchange points, data centers, plus a reference to South Park. To Mr. Blum, the Internet even has a distinctive smell. He showed slides, & I liked seeing photos of an undersea fiber optic cable being connected to land on a beach in Portugal. He visited the Oregon data centers of both Facebook & Google, & while Facebook was happy to give him a tour of their showcase facility, Google scoffed at the idea that they should let him see inside theirs.

§ Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet
Andrew Blum
Fri, 06/22/2012 - 12:30pm
Mechanics' Institute

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Magic Flute at SFO

Tuesday night I saw San Francisco Opera's new production of The Magic Flute, designed by artist Jun Kaneko. There are no sets. Instead, projected animations of simple patterns in basic colors provide the backgrounds. Costumes in simple shapes & solid colors suggest an Oriental fairy tale. It was to fun to see the huge bird hunted by Papageno & the toy-like, armless creatures charmed by Tamino's flute playing. I also liked Sarastro's spikey-haired lions.

Tenor Alek Shrader makes a smooth & pleasing sound, especially in his middle range. There's a slightly different quality to his highest notes. Nathan Gunn was an appealing Papageno & looked & sounded completely at ease. He even looked good in what was basically a green morphsuit. Soprano Albina Shagimuratova sang with great accuracy & made the Queen of Night's fearsome arias actually sound pretty. Tenor Greg Fedderly, with a Struwwelpeter hairdo, was a great comic singer & actor, & his Monostatos was merry rather than threatening. I liked bass-baritone David Pittsinger, whose voice was deep & even in the short role of the Speaker. Bass Kristinn Sigmundsson as Sarastro may have sounded even deeper, but I found his singing cautious rather than powerful. Soprano Heidi Stober looked like Alice in Wonderland in the 1st act, & her singing was strong, urgent & emphatic.

The 3 Ladies had competitive personalities in their 1st scene & wielded spears, looking like cartoon valkyries. The 3 Boys, dressed like rajahs, rode through the air in colorful ice cream cones & kept together well whenever they sang. Beau Gibson & Jordan Bisch had loud & sturdy voices as the 2 Armored Men. Soprano Nadine Sierra was irresistibly cute & flirtatious, even in a grotesque bird head. The only thing cuter was the brood of golfball-shaped chicks belonging to her & Papageno.

The Magic Flute, 06.19.2012 War Memorial Opera House, during intermission of The Magic Flute.Conductor Rory Macdonald made the music consistently buoyant, lilting & sunny. He never lingers, & tempos may have been fast for the singers. The woodwinds played sprightly & added a few flourishes. The performance was in an English version by General Director David Gockley. This made the dialogue scenes looser & more entertaining. The translation was often colloquial, with words like "goon" & mentions of drag queens & the economic downtown. Papageno's "O Weh!" was cheekily translated into "Oihme!"

I saw a fair number of children at Tuesday night's performance. I started in standing room, but was given a ticket for an orchestra seat by a gentleman who was enjoying the show but had to leave early.

§ The Magic Flute
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
New English version by David Gockley

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Rory Macdonald
Director: Harry Silverstein
Production Designer: Jun Kaneko

Tamino: Alek Shrader
First Lady: Melody Moore
Second Lady: Lauren McNeese
Third Lady: Renée Tatum   
Papageno: Nathan Gunn   
The Queen of the Night: Albina Shagimuratova
Three Slaves: Chester Pidduck, Michael Belle, Phillip Pickens
Monostatos: Greg Fedderly
Pamina: Heidi Stober
First Spirit: Etienne Valdez
Second Spirit: Joshua Reinier
Third Spirit: John Walsh
The Speaker: David Pittsinger
Sarastro: Kristinn Sigmundsson
First Priest: Christopher Jackson
Second Priest: Joo Won Kang
Papagena: Nadine Sierra
First Armored Man: Beau Gibson
Second Armored Man: Jordan Bisch

Tue 06/19/12 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Exploding the Codex

Dolly; Karen Bleitz
Monday lunchtime I visited the San Francisco Center for the Book to see an exhibit of artists' books containing works by 40 artists in a wide variety of formats.

Colander Calendar; Ed Baskauskas
Some of the pieces are more like sculptures, such as this calendar created by enlarging the holes in a colander,

Sedimental, No. 2; Jody Alexander
or this chair, fitted with books embedded in linen & felt.

Ghost Diary; Maureen Cummins
This book, aptly named Ghost Diary, had text & photographs printed on plates of glass.

Five Luminous Towers; Carol Barton
All the objects have an appealing hand-crafted feel, & it was frustrating not to be able to handle any of them. There was no way to see the other pop-ups in this book about towers.

The SF Center for the Book hosts professional artists & offers lots of classes, so it's an active place. On my visit I saw paintings lying on the floor to dry,

& people sorting trays of woodblock type.

§ Exploding the Codex: The Theater of the Book
San Francisco Center for the Book
June 1-August 31, 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012


San Francisco Opera, 06.12.2012 Intermission at Atilla at San Francisco Opera.Thanks to the Opera Tattler, I attended the opening of San Francisco Opera's Attila, a production I probably would have missed otherwise. The opera is heavy with themes of personal revenge & patriotism but, despite the title, is relatively bloodless. Attila himself is perhaps the least reprehensible character in the lot. Every scene turns into a chipper oom-pah-pah number, so the over-all impression is one of jolliness.

The sets are large. The 1st act takes place in the appropriate historical period, in a crumbling Roman amphitheater. However the set for act 2 includes a Medieval catapult & a crumbling 19th century opera house. Act 3 occurs in a crumbling movie theater, complete with a running film starring star Jack Palance as Attila the Hun.

Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto had a dark & weighty sound as Attila. He seemed to be encumbered in act 1 by his long coat. It even knocked over a chair by accident [But see 1st comment below]. Soprano Lucrecia Garcia was Odabella, & though she has a high-flying, muscular voice, she seemed to be having problems controlling it this evening & nearly missed a high note in her solo scene in act 1. Tenor Diego Torre as Foresto, her love interest, made a bright yet narrow sound. Bass Samuel Ramey was dignified in his cameo as the Pope, though he sang with a wide wobble. The children who accompanied him as altar boys lost their focus a bit, sometimes looking around or scratching their faces. My favorite singing was from baritone Quinn Kelsey, who sounded full, beaming & lyrical in his act 2 scenes.

Maestro Nicola Luisotti made the score sound consistently alive & vibrant, & the orchestra played avidly for him. The big choral scene in act 2 was an exciting climax. Immediately following the performance, Chorus Director Ian Robertson received the San Francisco Opera Medal from General Director David Gockley, in recognition of his 25 years with the company. I also witnessed the Opera Tattler receive compliments for upholding dress standards for patrons of the opera.

§ Attila
Giuseppe Verdi
San Francisco Opera

Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: Gabriele Lavia

Attila: Ferruccio Furlanetto
Odabella: Lucrecia Garcia
Foresto: Diego Torre
Ezio: Quinn Kelsey
Uldino: Nathaniel Peake
Pope Leo I: Samuel Ramey

Tue 06/12/12 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House

Laura Griffiths at Noontime Concerts

Old Saint Mary's, 06.12.2012 People leaving Noontime Concert at Old St. Mary's.I was at Tuesday's Noontime Concert at Old St. Mary's for a pleasant program of Mozart quartets. The Oboe Quartet in F major sounded light & trim. Oboist Laura Griffiths has a sleek, silken tone, & she added discrete ornaments & a small cadenza in the 1st movement. Cellist Dawn Foster-Dodson was warm & lively.

The ensemble played the 1st movement of the String Quartet No. 14 in G major with swelling phrasing. Tempos were fleet but not too fast. The fugal opening of the 4th movement sounded a bit hazy. The appreciative noontime audience gave the performers a standing ovation. Maestro George Cleve did not participate, but he stood in front of the audience at the end to praise the musicians & to remind us of the up-coming Midsummer Mozart Festival.

§ Noontime Concerts
Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra Ensemble
Laura Griffiths, oboe
Robin Hansen, Adrienne Sengpiehl, violins
Marcel Gemperli, viola
Dawn Foster-Dodson, cello

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Oboe Quartet in F major, K. 370
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: String Quartet in G major, K. 387

Tuesday, June 12 12:30 p.m.
Old St. Mary's Cathedral

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, 06.11.2012 Intermission at Left Coast Chamber Ensemble performance. Violist Kurt Rohde is setting up for premiere of his piece that never actually happened, due to failed speaker.The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble relocated to a black box theater space for the last concert of their season. The audience sat along 3 sides of the room, & the musicians were much more audible than in the Green Room of the Veterans Building. Yu-Hui Chang's piece Under a Dim, Orange Light for flute, viola & guitar opens with the viola making scraping sounds & has a scurrying feel. Flutist Stacey Pelinka switched between bass flute & standard flute & made fluttering noises on both instruments. She has a solid flute sound. The music was sometimes harsh, though it seems to be impossible to produce an ugly sound on the guitar. The piece ends quietly. 3 latecomers walked right in front of the playing musicians to get to their seats. The composer Ms. Chang was present & took a bow from her seat. Guitarist Michael Goldberg returned for a short solo by Manuel de Falla that had a slow habanera rhythm.

Andrew Norman's A Companion Guide to Rome for string trio is a set of 9 pieces corresponding to the architecture of various Roman churches. The music is restless & astringent & employs slides & extreme pitches. The trio played with grit & determination. In one piece the violist moved to a music stand behind the other musicians & played with his back to the audience. His music included squeaks & crunching double-stops. The violinst did likewise in another section, playing notes in dog whistle territory. After a loud, rocking penultimate movement, the piece ends quietly.

When the audience returned after a long intermission, violinist & Artistic Director Anna Presler embarrassingly informed us that a speaker would not turn on, so they would have to postpone the premiere of violist Kurt Rohde's new piece, which required electronics. The program ended with Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola, & Harp. Mr. Rohde is a brawny player & states everything with confidence. Harpist Karen Gottlieb has nice dynamic control, & I liked the floaty feel of the 1st movement.

I received a cookie-like treat for turning in my audience questionnaire during the intermission, & there was a drawing for tickets to Attila at San Francisco Opera the following night.

§ Delicacies for Diverse Ensembles
Left Coast Chamber Ensemble

Yu-Hui Chang • Under a Dim, Orange Light (2012)  WORLD PREMIERE
Stacey Pelinka, flute; Kurt Rohde, viola; Michael Goldberg, guitar

Manuel de Falla • Le tombeau de Claude Debussy for Guitar, G.56 (1920)
Michael Goldberg, guitar

Andrew Norman • A Companion Guide to Rome for String Trio (2010)
Anna Presler, violin; Kurt Rohde, viola; Tanya Tomkins, cello

Kurt Rohde • …maestoso…misterioso… (2012) WORLD PREMIERE
Anna Presler, violin; Kurt Rohde, viola; Sam Nichols & Jordan Cohen, electronics

Claude Debussy • Sonata for Harp, Flute and Viola, L.137 (1915)
Stacey Pelinka, flute; Kurt Rohde, viola; Karen Gottlieb, harp

Monday, June 11, 2012 at 8 pm
Dennis Gallagher Arts Pavilion

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Inuksuit at UC Berkeley

Inuksuit, 06.11.2012 Performance of Inuksuit by John Luther Adams at UC Berkeley.I'm grateful that SFMike encouraged me to attend this outdoor performance of John Luther Adams's Inuksuit, which kicked off the Ojai North! series. Monday's weather was ideal, & dozens of people were hanging out in the shady areas of a sloping grassy area behind Hertz Hall. 21 percussionists played this performance, though up to 99 may participate. Shortly after the Campanile tolled 5 o'clock, the musicians started slowing moving in from the perimeter. Some had paper cones to amplify their breathing, & others played whirling tubes, bullroarers & other instruments that sounded like wind, rain or rustling leaves. There were silences as well as scored sounds, & a distant train whistle became part of the soundscape.

Inuksuit, 06.11.2012 Performance of Inuksuit by John Luther Adams at UC Berkeley.The musicians made their way to individual percussion setups scattered around the glade. Around 15 minutes in, we heard one-note calls on conch shells & trumpets, then a shattering bass drum solo. Over the next 40 minutes or so, the music grew louder & busier as the percussionists played drums, gongs, cymbals & xylophones. Performers stationed around the perimeter played sirens & then triangles.

Inuksuit, 06.11.2012 Performance of Inuksuit by John Luther Adams at UC Berkeley.We were encouraged to move around, & I was drawn from one percussionist to another, attracted like a moth to lights. Though each musician seemed to be following his own internal pulse, there was often a feel of call & response between the players. The piece wound down to just the tinkling of xylophones. As the silences got longer & the scored music came to a stop, ambient sounds re-asserted themselves. I heard birds chirping & the low hum of a nearby building. As if on cue, the Campanile struck 6 o'clock, & the audience broke into long applause.

Inuksuit, 06.11.2012 Performance of Inuksuit by John Luther Adams at UC Berkeley.Attendees were a mixed bag of music lovers, families, students passing through, & a few odd characters. A woman did her best to be distracting for most of the performance by playing fetch with her frisbee-catching dog right near 2 musicians. I left wanting to hear the piece with the maximum 99 performers spread over a larger area, in Golden Gate Park perhaps.

§ Ojai North!
John Luther Adams

Steven Schick, director

Victor Avdienko
Mike Crain
Raymond Froehlich
Christopher Froh
Susan Jette
Jim Kassis
Luanne Katz
Daniel Kennedy
Loren Mach
Stan Muncy
Patti Niemi
Jonathan Raman
Brian Rice
Kevin Sakamoto
Steven Schick
Megan Shieh
Artie Storch

William Winant Percussion Group:
Nava Dunkelman
Lydia Martín
William Winant
Anna Wray

June 11, 5 pm
Faculty Glade (outside Hertz Hall)

Philadelphia Orchestra and Charles Dutoit

Last Saturday I heard Charles Dutoit lead the Philadelphia Orchestra at Davies Hall. The program began with a suite of pieces by Carl Maria von Weber arranged by Paul Hindemith. The orchestra's performance was brash, & the large string section was loud. The buzzing contrabassoon in the 1st movement was humorous, & there was a delicate oboe solo. The timpanist made pointed & agile movements. The enthusiastic audience gave the performance loud applause & cheers.

Louis Lortie was soloist for Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major. His playing is nicely relaxed, & he looked happy. He has fast, fluttery hands, & every note is distinct. I enjoyed hearing the harp solo in the 1st movement & the unusually viscous English horn sound in the 2nd movement. Someone in the front row stood up & walked out while Mr. Lortie was playing, but the rest of the appreciative audience gave him a standing ovation.

Maestro Dutoit plowed through the Shostakovich 5 in a straight ahead manner. He looks at ease on the podium & does not over-conduct. Each section of the orchestra displayed moments of raggedness. The keyed up audience gave a loud standing ovation, & we got a fast & energetic encore of the Overture to Ruslan & Ludmilla.

§ Philadelphia Orchestra and Charles Dutoit
Philadelphia Orchestra
Charles Dutoit, conductor
Louis Lortie, piano

Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5

Glinka: Ruslan & Ludmilla Overture

Sat, Jun 9, 2012 at 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Story of Film, Part 2

SF Film Society Cinema, 06.09.2012 Box office line for The Story of Film at SF Film Society Cinema.Over the weekend I saw Part 2 of The Story of Film: An Odyssey, being presented on 8 consecutive Saturdays by the San Francisco Film Society. In the 1st hour, filmmaker Mark Cousins continues his survey of the silent era & focuses on films that challenged the romantic "Hollywood bauble." We see clips from Lubitsch, Gance & Buñuel & get the classic shot-by-shot analysis of the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin. Mr. Cousins lingers on Ozu, calling him "perhaps the greatest film director that ever lived." I was interested to learn of Ruan Lingyu, a Chinese movie star from the 1930s who committed suicide at age 25 under intense scrutiny by the press. Mr. Cousins reports that her funeral procession was 3 miles long & that 3 women committed suicide during the event.

The 2nd hour covers the 1930's & the emergence of the standard genres, such as horror, gangster film & screwball comedy. I liked when Mr. Cousins juxtaposed the hotel hallway scene from Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet with the hotel fight scene from Inception, both employing the same shifted axis of gravity. Mr. Cousins reveres Hitchcock, whom he deems "the greatest image maker of the 20th century." The audience laughed when it saw the memorial at Gainsborough Studios in London which depicts Hitchcock as a giant Buddha head.

§ The Story of Film: An Odyssey
Directed by Mark Cousins
8 parts, 122 min each part

Eight Consecutive Saturdays
June 2–July 21
Showtime: noon
SF Film Society Cinema

June 2: Part 1 “Birth of the Cinema” (1900–1920); “The Hollywood Dream” (1920s)

June 9: Part 2 “Expressionism, Impressionism and Surrealism: Golden Age of World Cinema” (1920s); “The Arrival of Sound” (1930s)

June 16: Part 3 “Postwar Cinema” (1940s); “Sex & Melodrama” (1950s)

June 23: Part 4 “European New Wave”; “New Directors, New Forms” (1960s)

June 30: Part 5 “American Cinema of the ‘70s”; “Movies to Change the World” (1970s)

July 7: Part 6 “The Arrival of Multiplexes and Asian Mainstream” (1970s); “Fight the Power: Protest in Film” (1980s)

July 14: Part 7 “New Boundaries: World Cinema in Africa, Asia, Latin America”; “New American Independents & the Digital Revolution” (1990s)

July 21: Part 8 “Cinema Today and the Future” (2000s)

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Spectacle of Napoleonic Proportions

Berlioz Requiem
I was walking by Davies Hall this evening when this poster caught my eye. It's for a special performance by the Redwood Symphony. The program doesn't quite make sense, but you'd be a fool to miss "A Spectacle of Napoleonic Proportions," "a shameless display of brass" and "an almost obscene percussion section."

§ Berlioz Requiem at Davies Hall
August 5, 2012 at 3 p.m.


There is no pre-concert lecture for this event.

Berlioz: Requiem
  with the Finger Lakes Choral Festival chorus
  and Lyric Chorus of San Francisco

Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture
Eric Townell, Rochester Oratorio Society

Berlioz: Shepherd’s Farewell 
Robert Gurney, San Francisco Lyric Chorus

Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra, “Sunrise” (as in "2001, A Space Odyssey")

Boito: Mefistofele (final scene)
Adrian Horn, Finger Lakes Choral Festival

Nixon in China

Nixon in China, 06.09.2012 Scrim projection for SF Opera production of Nixon in China.There was a sense of anticipation Friday night for the opening of San Francisco Opera's Nixon in China. When I saw Lisa Hirsch, the 1st thing out of her mouth was "It's prime time in the USA!" She may still be talking only in quotes from the opera. Nixon in China lacks a plot & a dramatic conflict, but John Adams's music holds it all together. I had a hard time not bouncing in my seat during its many galloping passages. The production is relatively simple & uncluttered. Video projections depict the landing of the Spirit of '76 in act 1 & Pat Nixon's tour in act 2. The setting for the meeting of Nixon & Mao has just a table & 5 chairs in front of 5 large images of Mao. I liked the choreography of Mao's 3 secretaries as they sat in rotation. The stage action is always clear, even when the libretto seems to be nothing but non sequiturs. The busy banquet scene humorously ends with people atop spinning tables. In act 3 the characters inhabit an abstract space filled with props from previous scenes, which are gradually removed.

Baritone Brian Mulligan captured Nixon's posture & movements convincingly. He made a warm, smooth sound & was a youthful & eager Nixon. Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi was a clown-like Henry Kissinger, especially in the act 2 ballet. Tenor Simon O’Neill sang incredibly high in a powerful, gutsy, heldentenor voice, & his pudgy Mao was somehow also lusty. Soprano Hye Jung Lee might have been the smallest person on the stage, but in act 2 she was a threatening presence as Madame Mao even before she opened her mouth. She completely commanded the stage in the show-stopping "I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung," singing one high note after another fearlessly. She was simply terrifying, & the scene built to a savage, surreal tableux.

The music's constantly shifting meters must be challenging, & conductor Lawrence Renes emphasized exact rhythms. The orchestra & performers on stage were miked, which made everything very loud & flattened out the sound. I felt like I heard no strings except for a few ascending violin solos. I enjoyed hearing saxophones in the orchestra.

After each intermission, I saw more empty seats in the rows around me. A cell phone at the back of the orchestra level rang twice during the act 2 ballet & then again just before act 3. Perhaps the owner was too deaf to hear it. Composer John Adams watched the performance from an orchestra seat & received a standing ovation when he came on stage for a bow. We heard the performers cheering for themselves after the house lights came up.

§ Nixon In China
Music by JOHN ADAMS and Libretto by ALICE GOODMAN

San Francisco Opera
Conductor, Lawrence Renes
Director, Michael Cavanagh  

Richard Nixon, Brian Mulligan  
Pat Nixon, Maria Kanyova
Mao Tse-Tung, Simon O’Neill
Chiang Ch’ing (Madame Mao Tse-Tung), Hye Jung Lee
Chou En-Lai, Chen-Ye Yuan
Henry Kissinger, Patrick Carfizzi
Nancy T'ang, First Secretary, Ginger Costa-Jackson
Second Secretary, Buffy Baggott
Third Secretary, Nicole Birkland

Wu Ching-Hua, Chiharu Shibata
Hung Ch'ang-Ch'ing, Bryan Ketron

Fri 06/8/12 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House

Friday, June 08, 2012

Meet the Merolini 2012

Meet the Merolini 2012, 06.07.2012 Meet the Merolini eventThe young artists in this summer's Merola Opera Program were introduced at an event for the program's sponsors this Thursday afternoon. The 23 singers, 5 apprentice coaches & 1 apprentice stage director were selected from nearly 900 applicants. Each took turns sitting on a small stage with General Director Sheri Greenawald, President Donna L. Blacker, & Chairman Jayne C. Davis to answer a couple of questions. We learned that tenor Joshua Baum creates custom Lego minifigs & that soprano Jennifer Cherest is a horseback riding & dressage trainer. If I understood correctly, soprano Aviva Fortunata knits lucha libre masks. Tenor Andrew Stenson described eating a fancy egg dish as if he were a commentator on the Food Network.

The all-women panel asked bass-baritone Hadleigh Adams (pictured) who he likes to eat with & were excited that bass-baritone Seth Mease Carico is a licensed massage therapist. Mr. Carico described ultimate frisbee as "something for hippies to do to pretend they're athletes." The interview format of the event is cruel to participants who are not absolutely fluent in English, & tenor Chuanyue Wang answered one question by singing in Chinese. When asked about food in the US he replied, "I like Whole Foods Market, but I can't afford it!"

The panel interviewed all 29 Merolini in an efficient 70 minutes, & a reception followed. The 1st chance to hear the Merolini in public performance will be at the Schwabacher Summer Concert in Herbst Theatre on July 5th & a free outdoor performance at Yerba Buena Gardens on July 7th. Additional events are available to Merola members.

§ Meet the Merolini
Merola Opera Program 2012
Thursday, June 7, 5:30-8:30 PM     
Herbst Theatre Green Room

§ Merola Artists for 2012


ERIN JOHNSON mezzo-soprano
SARAH MESKO mezzo-soprano
CAROLYN SPROULE mezzo-soprano

YI LI tenor


HADLEIGH ADAMS bass-baritone
GORDON BINTNER bass-baritone
SETH MEASE CARICO bass-baritone
MATTHEW SCOLLIN bass-baritone


FRANCESCO FRABONI apprentice coach
ARTEM GRISHAEV apprentice coach
ELENA LACHEVA apprentice coach
KEVIN MILLER apprentice coach
SUN HA YOON apprentice coach

JENNIFER WILLIAMS apprentice stage director

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Story of Film: An Odyssey

On successive Saturdays at noon, the San Francisco Film Society is showing the 15 hour documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey, by Mark Cousins. This Saturday I saw the 1st 2 episodes, which cover the birth of film & the Hollywood silent era. Mr. Cousins narrates, & I had to become accustomed to the rising inflection of his Irish accent. We get copious movie clips, & much of the fun is seeing scenes from different films juxtaposed, so we see how a shot of workers at their desks from King Vidor's The Crowd is copied in The Apartment by Bill Wilder & The Trial by Orson Welles. Modern-day documentary footage shot in various locations often undermines the movie images, such as when Mr. Cousins cuts from Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad to the real Bagdad.

Mr. Cousins deems film history racist by omission & calls Hollywood a "bauble," even illustrating the idea with a red Christmas ornament that falls off a tree & shatters. I was interested to learn about Florence Lawrence, the 1st movie star, & I agree with Mr. Cousins that the comedies are the best products of silent era Hollywood. The documentary made me feel I need to see movies by Benjamin Christensen & Yevgeni Bauer, as well as Eisenstein's October: Ten Days That Shook the World.

The process of buying tickets at the door was a bit inefficient, as it seemed that every ticket was printed on demand. Despite the unusual noontime start, the theater was close to half full. The woman seated next to me grunted in approval intermittently. Or maybe she was snoring.

§ The Story of Film: An Odyssey
Directed by Mark Cousins
8 parts, 122 min each part

Eight Consecutive Saturdays
June 2–July 21
Showtime: noon
SF Film Society Cinema

June 2: Part 1 “Birth of the Cinema” (1900–1920); “The Hollywood Dream” (1920s)

June 9: Part 2 “Expressionism, Impressionism and Surrealism: Golden Age of World Cinema” (1920s); “The Arrival of Sound” (1930s)

June 16: Part 3 “Postwar Cinema” (1940s); “Sex & Melodrama” (1950s)

June 23: Part 4 “European New Wave”; “New Directors, New Forms” (1960s)

June 30: Part 5 “American Cinema of the ‘70s”; “Movies to Change the World” (1970s)

July 7: Part 6 “The Arrival of Multiplexes and Asian Mainstream” (1970s); “Fight the Power: Protest in Film” (1980s)

July 14: Part 7 “New Boundaries: World Cinema in Africa, Asia, Latin America”; “New American Independents & the Digital Revolution” (1990s)

July 21: Part 8 “Cinema Today and the Future” (2000s)