Monday, August 31, 2009

Clarinet Trios by Beethoven & Brahms

Old First Concerts
Clarinet Trios by Beethoven & Brahms

Sunday, August 30, 2009 At 4:00pm

Jerome Simas, clarinet
Rebecca Rust, 'cello
Friedrich Edelmann, bassoon
Dmitriy Cogan, piano

Trio No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 11 for clarinet, 'cello & piano, ‘Gassenhauer-Trio’

Karl Michael Komma (b. 1913)
Sapphische Strophen for bassoon, 'cello, piano (1981)
(US Premiere)

Trio in A minor, Op. 114 for clarinet, 'cello & piano

This modest chamber recital at Old First Church was titled Clarinet Trios by Beethoven & Brahms, but I found the most interesting piece to be the non-conforming Sapphische Strophen by Komma. Each of its 6 short movements is inspired by a classical poem & has a distinct character. The musical idiom is modern & atonal, yet it evoked a sense of the ancient. I liked the processional-like 1st movement as well as a lyrical middle movement duet for cello & bassoon. The piece ends softly. Bassoonist Friedrich Edelmann's playing was pleasantly smooth. He gave spoken comments before each pair of movements which interrupted the flow of the piece.

We were offered neat & clean performances of the Beethoven & Brahms, though Mr. Edelmann, serving as page turner, flipped a page too soon during the last movement of the Beethoven, causing pianist Dmitriy Cogan to improvise bravely for a few bars. When Mr. Edelmann tried to turn the page back, his hand was nearly slapped by Mr. Cogan. The watchful Mr. Cogan had to shake his head determinedly a few minutes later when Mr. Edelmann was again premature.

Clarinetist Jerome Simas's playing exhibits great dynamic control. When he allowed himself to play out in rare moments during the Beethoven, I felt like he could easily create even more sound. Mr. Cogan's playing is very facile. I have no idea how he did a very rapid trill with his hand at an unusual angle. He often played with a plucked sound during the Beethoven which reminded me of a music box. He created tingling, bell-like sounds for the Komma.

The afternoon recital was attended by an audience of about 80. A watch alarm went off during the quiet last movement of the Komma & was apparently unheard by its owner. At the exact end of the Adagio of the Brahms, a motorcycle engine started up outside, causing Mr. Cogan to look up & smile. At the start of the program, the series director asked the audience what they were going to do next weekend, when the series has a break. She got no suggestions.

Live from the Proms, Sort Of

Lisa Hirsch reports that the Elmwood Cinema in Berkeley will present a live HD broadcast of the Last Night of the Proms -- except it's happening a week after the actual event. & it costs $18 plus reservation fee. I think I've been doing much better listening to the concerts on-line. Too bad the video stream seems to blocked outside the UK. My favorite so far: Prom 33, featuring multiple pianos in works by Antheil, Adams, Bartok & Stravinksy.

SF Shakes: Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors
Free Shakespeare in the Park 2009
San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
The Presidio's Main Post, Parade Ground Lawn
Saturday, Aug 29 - 7:30 PM

Saturday night wasn't anywhere near as warm as the previous night, but a sizable audience of all ages showed up for the 1st night of the San Francisco run of SF Shakes's Comedy of Errors at the Presidio. The cast is constantly in motion, constantly talking, & their joy in the performance is infectious. Cassidy Brown played Antipholus of Syracuse with the comic stiffness of an Al Gore. I overheard an audience member refer politely to Anna Ishida's knife-wielding, woman-on-the-verge Adriana as "having anger mangement problems."

Even non-comic characters are given clownish spins. Daveed Diggs is hilarious as the cocktail-sipping Duke, a cross between Superfly & Disco Stu. His Dr. Pinch, bespectacled & handling a crucifix like a gun, is just as funny. Valerie Weak is simply absurd as a Jewish abbess & as a Wild West jalier wearing a bright yellow cowboy hat nearly as large as she is.

SF Shakes feels no need to be true to the letter of the text, but it's all perfectly within the spirit of the piece. In fact the show opens not with Shakespeare but with the Duke addressing us directly in contemporary speech. There is a running joke involving mispronunciations of "Epidamnum" that no doubt arose during rehearsals. The off-stage kitchen wench Luce appears on-stage as a man in drag. At one point in the evening a bundle of money being juggled was accidentally dropped off the stage, & the actor playing Antipholus simply announced, "I'll get it," & leapt down from the stage to retrieve it.

It did get cold, & near the end of the show a blast of wind rattled the crowd. However, the hardy audience just wrapped themselves in blankets & quaffed more wine & made it through happily.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Handel in Chinese

“[Semele] is the original ‘material girl’ but where does it lead her? That’s very relevant for China today.”

“It’s basically PR-led, using famous names the public will know as a way of getting opera into newspapers, which is all to the good … but generally if you go to see these shows you can tell that the people who know how to do their jobs, the singers, the chorus, the professionals, did most of the work.”
-- from Handel in Chinese, by Laura Battle, in this weekend's Financial Times, discussing the new production of Semele at De Munt, directed by opera tyro Zhang Huan.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cassandra C. Jones: Send Me a Link

Baer ridgeway exhibitionsCassandra C. Jones: Send Me a Link
Baer Ridgway Exhibitions
August 1st - September 5th

Yesterday afternoon I wandered into Baer Ridgway Exhibitions, under the shadow of SF MOMA, & found myself intrigued by this small show of works by Cassandra C. Jones. The imagery is photography-based, & the works are little visual games, incorporating digital technology at several levels. I loved the concept behind the Single Frame Animation videos, in which a photograph of a flock of birds is repeatedly repositioned to create a fluid animation of flight. Kind of hard to explain, but one gets the idea after watching the video for a bit. The nifty exhibition catalog recreates the trick as a flip book. Interestingly, the video works are packaged not on a DVD but as a physical device containing a hard drive & video output that one plugs into a monitor.

In the clever Lightning Drawings, a running squirrel & rabbit are outlined by overlapping found photographs of lighting. The gallery staffer told me that the artist considers these drawings, not collages, but I remained skeptical. I also liked the Fermata series, featuring photographs of leaping horses obtained on eBay. The put me in mind of Muybridge's fascinating animal motion studies.

If you drop into the gallery, be sure to check out the downstairs bookstore, where there is an awesome wolf head constructed out of corrugated cardboard & screws. I love the way the artist created fur by slashing the cardboard at an angle. Eerily, the wolf has a human ear. Unfortunately I don't know who made it. The young woman downstairs said she would put making a label for it on her to-do list.

Monday, August 24, 2009

San Francisco Lyric Chorus

San Francisco Lyric ChorusSan Francisco Lyric Chorus
Sunday, August 23, 2009, 5 pm
Trinity Episcopal Church

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, K. 339

Franz Schubert - Mass in G

Felix Mendelssohn -
Beati Mortui
Say, Where Is He Born from Christus
There Shall a Star from Jacob from Christus
Kyrie in D minor
Lift Thine Eyes from Elijah
He Watching Over Israel from Elijah

Robert Gurney, Music Director
Robert Train Adams, Assistant Conductor and Concert Accompanist

I had never attended a San Francisco Lyric Chorus performance before, but I was lured by the Sunday afternoon time slot & the classical comfort of the repertoire. When I opened my program, I was a bit startled to see Sidney Chen of The Standing Room listed as bass soloist for the Mozart & Schubert. This is just after sighting him at Dido & Aeneas 2 days earlier. Fortunately I don't have to pan him. Even though his contributions were more like brief interjections, his smooth & somewhat round voice was a welcome bonus.

The acoustic in Trinity Episcopal Church is surprisingly dry for a high-ceilinged church, & the 36 member chorus sounded rather timid in the space. They were well-rehearsed, though I would have preferred less square tempos.

Looking around at the audience, I wondered where classical music would be without all these devoted old ladies. A woman in the row in front of me had her small lap dog with her. After the concert, she assured me that he is just as well-behaved when he attends the church services.

During the intermission I ran into the professor-like Stephen Smoliar for the 2nd time this weekend. There seems to be no escaping those classical music bloggers!

Merola Grand Finale

Merolini photo opMerola Grand Finale
War Memorial Opera House
Saturday, August 22, at 7:30 pm

Antony Walker, Conductor
San Francisco Opera Orchestra
Fernando Parra Borti, Stage Director

The 23 singers in this summer's Merola Opera Program presented a mixed program of 20 operatic numbers on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House on Saturday night. It was a user-friendly program with extracts from Handel to Rachmaninoff. All the performers seemed to be having a good night & to be enjoying the rewards of 3 months of intensive work. The setting was a stage within the stage, & good use was made of the entire space.

Clear audience favorites included seduction scenes from Rigoletto & Carmen. Nathaniel Peake as the Duke had a big, supple voice which rose comfortably to the high notes. Maya Lahyani was a sexy, confident Carmen & took complete command of the jailbreak scene. She looked & sounded ready to sing the role tomorrow & make it her own.

I liked Suzanne Hendrix's authentic contralto sound as Cornelia in Giulio Cesare. Margaret Gawrysiak put intense dramatic weight into her scene from Tchaikovsky's Joan of Arc. I was intrigued by the monologue from Aleko, sung musically & with a nice dramatic flow by Yohan Yi. The orchestra accompanied him with some wonderfully lush string playing. I did not even know that there were Rachmaninoff operas, but now I want to hear them. Caitlin Mathes & Paul Scholten gave genuinely amusing performances as Rosina & Figaro in their Act I duet from Barbieri. Kate Crist & Gregory Carroll seemed to pick up where they left off in the Schwabacher Summer Concert, performing a later scene between Senta & Erik from Holländer. This time Senta was angry enough to throw the only chair to be found on stage. The evening ended with the finale of Verdi's Falstaff, with all the singers lined up to call us fools.

And there was a bit of foolery in the air that night. A Beast may have been hot on the heels of the best-dressed woman from the moment she entered the house. SFMike kept appearing & disappearing & then was almost personally offended to discover that there does not seem to be a row Q in orchestra seating. During the performance, a woman in my row insisted on conversing, despite repeated reprovals from those around her. Perhaps she was hard of hearing & was unaware that there was singing going on & that her own voice could be heard.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

SF Zine Fest 2009

Zinefest posterSF Zine Fest 2009
August 22 & 23
SF County Fair Building, Golden Gate Park

The SF Zine Fest has grown in recent years, & it is now something like a smaller, more manageable version of APE. I always have fun at these shows. I'm in awe of creative types, & these people make me feel embarrassingly unproductive. Zines are produced with a real sense of personal investment, & it's a treat to obtain one straight from the creator's hands. The effort involved can be obsessive. I watched Peter Conrad painstakingly use an x-acto knife to emulate a die-cut "2" for the covers of his papperdummy 2. Waving to a pile of cut-out 2s, he told me, "The 2s are free." I felt privileged to handle the multi-layered, hand-bound art books of Aaron Cohick. Andy Warner of Indrind Press proudly showed me the injured arm documented in his zine A Tough Break. I admire the constancy of Jason Martin, whom I have come across for several years in a row now, & each time he has a new issue of his sweetly unaffected Laterborn.

I slipped in & out of a poorly attended interview with Andy Hartzell, a great illustrator & story-teller. Turns out he has a somewhat colorful past, having worked as a carny, drawing caricatures. He's currently working on a video game featuring Wallace & Gromit. He got this job partly on the basis of Fox Bunny Funny, as both have characters who do not speak. I find this very strange, since, other than that, the 2 worlds seem poles apart. When I ran into Mr. Hartzell again a bit later, he was super nice, even though he must have caught me sneaking out of his event early.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Urban Opera: Dido & Aeneas

Urban Opera
Dido & Aeneas
The Elevated Plaza @ 409 - 499 Illinois Street
Friday, 21 Aug, 7pm

Dido, Kindra Scharich
Sorceress, Milissa Carey
Aeneas, Todd Wedge
Belinda, Kimarie Torre
2nd Woman, Pam Igelsrud
1st Witch/Mercury, Cortez Mitchell
2nd Witch/Sailor, Michael McNeil

Julbilate Baroque Orchestra
Artistic Director/Conductor, Chip Grant
Production Designer, Kue King
Urban Opera Chorus

I was skeptical when I read that Urban Opera's inaugural production of Dido & Aeneas would be done at an outdoor venue with no amplification. However, tucked in the corner formed by a large building, I found that I could hear everything without too much effort. The performance started with a spoken dialog between Phoebus & Venus. This was followed by a pantomime which I interpreted to be the sacking of Troy. The cast, some shirtless & sporting tribal tattoos, others in unusual, wiry costumes by Kue King, put me in mind of a Burning Man camp.

Kindra Scharich in the title row was an excellent actress & singers, & her sturdy voice bounced back wonderfully against the building walls. In a rather idiosyncratic bit of costuming, she wore a girdle that made it appear she was pierced front to back through the belly with a cupid's arrow. Tenor Todd Wedge has a lovely, lyrical sound, definitely a lover, not a fighter. The use of extremely high-voiced counter-tenors for the witches was sometimes unsettling but worked musically & dramatically. I especially enjoyed Cortez Mitchell's pure & supernatural sound.

The staging made excellent use of the large plaza. There were entrances & exits from all directions, & it was fun to watch groups of people fleeing or approaching from a distance. The production continually came up with creative solutions to the dramatic needs of the text. The even staged a boar hunt featuring a life-size pig head with the requisite "tushes far exceeding." Dido's funeral pyre was represented by a dancer whose hands are fingers made of real flames.

This was a true group effort, & one felt the commitment of everyone involved. The show certainly had the audience's attention the whole time. Before the performance, I was briefly introduced to Chip Grant, the cheerful artistic director of the event. It was rumored that the elusive Sidney Chen of The Standing Room was in attendance, & we may have spotted him sitting quietly near the back. Guests in premium seating were offered sparkling wine in a can (Francis Coppola Sofia Mini Blanc de Blancs) & what appeared to be home-made chocolate chip cookies.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Outdoor Exploratorium Exhibits

Fracture mapping in fort mason parking lotOn this overcast morning, I spent about 45 minutes visiting the Outdoor Exploratorium Exhibits at Fort Mason. You pick up a map at the Main Office, & it leads you on a thorough walking tour of Fort Mason. The Exploratorium has a very broad definition of interactivity, & clearly not everything is going to work all the time. It was not warm enough to experience the Architectural Mirage nor windy enough to lift the airfoils installation. I probably will check out the elevation of the Golden Gate Bridge next time I am in the neighborhood. The oddest exhibit asks us to taste salt water. I most liked the enigmatic Fracture Mapping symbols embedded in the parking lot. They might actually make me start looking more closely at cracks in the pavement.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Masters of Russian Animation

Masters of Russian Animation
Original music by Gojogo
Saturday, August 15, 2009, at 8:00pm
Community Music Center

Seasons (1969, Ivan Ivanov-Vano)
Wolf & Calf (1984, Mikhail Kamenetsky)
Heron & Crane (1973, Yuri Norstein)
Hedgehog in the Fog (1975, Yuri Norstein)
Tale of Tales (1979, Yuri Norstein)

When I first saw this event, I assumed that we were going to see Soviet animation from the silent era, accompanied by live music. Instead, the program consisted of sound films from the 1960s to the 1980s, for which Gojogo played their own compositions. As such, the endeavor is a bit questionable, especially as some of the films have dialogue & include music by Tchaikovsky, Bach & Mozart.

The event started 15 minutes late & began with an almost content-free 15 minute talk. I enjoyed the music of Gojogo, which has elements of jazz, rock & folk music & sometimes employs sampled sounds. I swayed in my seat when they slid into slinky dance rhythms for the Heron & Crane film.

I was often at a loss with the films themselves. Their story-telling & visual style are very foreign to me & seem technically crude. A couple are obviously for children, others I'm not sure who the audience is supposed to be. The program ended with Yuri Norstein's 30 minute Tale of Tales, which is apparently considered by many the greatest piece of animation ever. I, however, found myself getting impatient with its pattern of recurring, surreal motifs.

There was a capacity audience of about 90, many of whom seemed to be friends & supporters of the presenters. I did not see any children, though there was a second, slighly different, program given as a children's matinee this afternoon.

J-Pop Summit Festival

Hello kitty
New People had their grand opening in Japantown this Saturday. This mall devoted to Japanese pop culture replaces the Japantown bowling alley & consists of a gallery, retail space, movie theater & cafe. The line to get in went all the way up the block, so I decided to check it out another day.

Gothic & Lolita Fashion Show
There was also a small street fair with live entertainment, such as the Gothic & Lolita Fashion Show. This featured an actual line of clothing called Baby, the Stars Shine Bright. Models wore frilly things & looked like a cross between a story book princess, Little Bo Peep & Gormenghast.

Cute cupcakes
I also saw the smallest, cutest cupcakes I've ever seen, from Kingdom Cake. I don't understand the current mania for cupcakes.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Worlds Collide in Union Square

Hit and run hulaUnion Square was its own show this sunny Saturday morning. It was of course full of tourists, & there was an outdoor art show for them to check out. Open-roofed tour buses continually circled the block. Tall drag queens rallied a small but growing crowd gathered for the National Kiss In. A group of about 30 dancers appeared by stealth & gave us a piece of Hit and Run Hula. At least some of those tourists were paying attention. I overheard one of them rejoin his wife & happily announce he had gotten a picture of 2 men kissing.


ZombiesThis sign was parked across the street from my building all day yesterday. I appreciate the warning.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tracy Dahl

Thursday evening I was truly fortunate to have my favorite kind of musical experience at an event for Merola Opera supporters. In a small salon-like atmosphere at the Metropolitan Club, soprano Tracy Dahl appeared with Mark Morash as accompanist. Ms. Dahl sang songs by Mozart, Mahler, Debussy & Lee Hoiby. As an encore, she charmed us with an aria from Mignon. In that setting, everything she did had an immediate & immersive impact. The gathering was so informal & intimate that I could have eye contact from Ms. Dahl. This is how the music is meant to be appreciated, & it was very special.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Imposter's Daughter

This evening Laurie Sandell appeared at Books Inc. on Van Ness to talk about The Imposter's Daughter. It's a soul-baring memoir about her relationship with her father, who sounds like a cross between a con man & a psychopath. There were about 20 people in attendance, & I may have been the only person there who didn't already know the author personally. The event started half an hour late, after the delayed arrival of the author & much fiddling to get a projector working. As the memoir is in the form of a graphic novel, Ms. Sandell read from the narrative while she showed us the book's child-like illustrations. She also showed us unsettling cartoons she did as a child & played an audio clip of her father telling one of his highly suspect stories. Ms. Sandell appeared gratified to be talking about her book in front of an audience. During the Q & A, she revealed that her father is still alive, though they have been estranged since 2002. She also admitted that her family had reservations about the way she went public with this story.

It's nice to know that Books Inc. still has a fairly full calendar of events. Senator Barbara Boxer will be appearing tomorrow with her new novel.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Up coming at the SF Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony has their free outdoor concert at Justin Herman Plaza coming up Friday, September 11 at noon. It look like a pops concert: Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1, Ravel’s La Valse and Richard Rodgers’ waltz from Carousel.

The next Keeping Score program, featuring the Symphonie fantastique, will be broadcast nationally on PBS Thursday, October 15 at 10 p.m. I was in the audience, quite near the stage, when they filmed this, so I wonder if I will be on TV.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Festival Opera: Faust

Festival Opera
Charles Gounod
August 8, 11; 8:00 p.m.
Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek

Directed and conducted by Michael Morgan

Faust: Brian Thorsett
Marguerite: Kristin Clayton
Méphistophélès: Kirk Eichelberger
Valentin: Eugene Brancoveanu
Wagner: Zachary Gordin
Siébel: Erin Neff
Marthe: Patrice Houston

With the grand ensembles of Così still ringing in my ears, I rode out to Walnut Creek for Festival Opera's production of Gounod's Faust. I'd never seen this opera before, but because it has so many famous extracts, it sounded strangely familiar anyway. During the intermission, someone rightly described it to me as the Broadway musical of its day.

It was well worth the trip just to hear Eugene Brancoveanu, whose recital in the Rex Salon I enjoyed so much last year. Although all the singing in this show was fine, when Mr. Brancoveanu's Valentin came on stage, it was like he was an entirely different creature from all the others. Besides the size & beauty of his voice, there is a tension in it which makes it exciting to hear. In the Act V confrontation trio, he was easily louder than the tenor & bass combined. In my recollection, the evening centered on his lovely Act II song & his death in Act V.

Faust was Brian Thorsett, who has a soft, reedy & pleasant voice. In the very 1st scene there was a break in his voice, & he audibly had to clear his throat. I was very worried about him for the rest of the evening, but he made it through ok, undoubtedly with some difficulty. Kristin Clayton has a big upper voice, & her Marguerite is a very serious lady. I thoroughly enjoyed Kirk Eichelberger's hammy performance as Méphistophélès. This funny & vain version of the devil frequently paused to comb his hair, like John Edwards on the campaign trail. In the church scene with Marguerite he ended up entirely topless, so for the 2nd night in a row I was watching a bare-chested opera singer.

The pit in the theater seems unusually deep, & this resulted in a good balance between the voices & the orchestra. The production is minimal, with no actual sets, though 2 large video screens hover conspicuously over the action. These display screen-saver images of flowers & then spider webs, but after a while I stopped paying attention. Props are occasionally brought out to indicate a location, though the oddest thing to appear onstage is a gigantic beach ball, which the festive revelers of Act II toss around upstage. In a shameless steal from Robert Lepage's staging of La Damnation de Faust for the Met, the opera ends with Marguerite climbing a white ladder to heaven.

Merola Opera: Così fan tutte

Merola Opera
Così fan tutte
Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center
Friday, August 7, 2009, 8 pm

Ari Pelto, conductor
Robin Guarino, Director

Benjamin LeClair, Don Alfonso
John Chest, Guglielmo
Alex Mansoori, Ferrando
Ellie Jarrett, Dorabella
Lara Ciekiewicz, Fiodiligi
Caitlin Mathes, Despina

Così fan tutte already makes me uncomfortable, so I was immediately dismayed when I entered the theater & saw a setting that was some sort of rehearsal studio, with no sign of 18th century Naples. For a while we had Guglielmo & Ferrando as actors showing up for their 1st day of work with Don Alfonso as their director. However, either the concept petered out or the production team ran out of ideas, for by Act II things were looking much more standard. I did appreciate that wherever possible things were played for laughs & that it was an appropriately silly staging. The Act I finale had some great funny business, as when the 4 pranksters used Don Alfonso's cell phone to take pictures of themselves in their ridiculous outfits.

I really liked the singing of Caitlin Mathes as Despina. Her voice is high, clean, bright & pretty, & she did a wonderfully comic flat accent as the notary in the Act II finale. John Chest, as Guglielmo, sounds deeper than one expects when looking at him. He sang Il cor vi dono shirtless, placing himself squarely in barihunk territory. Lara Ciekiewicz has a voice that is penetrating in the high register, good for Fiodiligi's high-flying arias, though she interpolated some steps into one of those broad leaps in Come scoglio. Alex Mansouri sounded fluid & secure, if at times squeezed, in the demanding part of Ferrando. Ellie Jarrett's Dorabella was suitably vivacious yet goofy, & I liked her gritty mezzo voice. Benjamin LeClair has an open, slightly raw sound, & he made himself a significant presence throughout, despite the role's lack of arias.

For me the best parts of the evening were the many glorious ensembles. I always heard every singer during the tutti parts, & the orchestra, not being in a pit, had a strong presence. The combined sound was very full, & the finales came across powerfully in the relatively small Cowell Theater.

During the intermission I was introduced, with a little trepidation, to Joshua Kosman. I was relieved to find him funny, friendly & welcoming to bloggers. I believe he was surprised to discover that Axel Feldheim is nothing but a rather misleading pseudonym. It was also a pleasant surprise to meet in person Maura Lafferty of the New Century Chamber Orchestra. And The Opera Tattler pointed out to me oboeinsight, who was in the orchestra & played some fine solos.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Traveling Light

Traveling Light
Joe Goode Performance Group
The Old Mint Building
Thu Aug 6 10pm

I had a feeling this was going to be interesting when I arrived last night at 9:30 & there was already a crowd assembled on the steps of the Old Mint at Mission & 5th to see Traveling Light, a site-specific performance installation by the Joe Goode Performance Group. Once the doors were opened, we were allowed into the brick-lined vaults downstairs. Inside some of the darkened vaults were eerie performance installations. I think everyone was creeped out by the man behind the bank teller's grating, trying to hand us money.

The actual show took place back upstairs. We were split into 4 groups & moved around to witness performances in 5 spaces. Dancers constantly move between rooms, & there are remote-controlled lighting & music effects in each space. At one point we were cleverly led past the technicians monitoring the rooms on computer screens.

The general theme of money was approached obliquely, through scenarios ranging from a sexy 19th century belle in a bustle to contemporary troubles with joblessness. The attractive & hard-working company talked, sang & danced athletically. The production made thrilling use of the space. Performers might be very close or just glimpsed through windows & doors. Seated in the central courtyard, I was awed to look up & see the conjunction of the Moon & Jupiter last night.

There was a sense of this being a unique event. At the end we all gathered back in the lobby, where Joe Goode & the company appeared for our applause & cheers. Mr. Goode thanked us for turning out for the 10pm show & for trying to "turn this cow-town into a late-night city." To be fair, this was no later than a typical opera audience gets out, though he did draw an unusually good-looking audience.

Right now I feel very lucky to have seen this, as the show is sold out for the remaining weekend. It would be excellent if they could add more shows.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

In the Loop

This afternoon I caught a matinee of In the Loop, a nasty political satire from BBC Films. It follows the machinations & in-fighting among American & British bureaucrats during the run-up to a declaration of war against an unnamed Middle Eastern country. This is not the England of Masterpiece Theatre. I often had to strain to understand the British dialogue. The action is frantic & consists almost entirely of conversations full of the most outrageous verbal abuse. Each character is more foul-mouthed & bullying than the last. Yet though I laughed at how awful everyone was, I also wished I could talk like that.

As fun as the movie was, I was furious when I got home & read the Civic Center blog. While I was in that darkened movie theater, I missed hordes of T-Mobile sky divers descending upon the city at midday.

Wagner Festival, but hold the Wagner

Last month The Ambassador had several posts about a recent controversy regarding LA's up-coming Ring Festival. Perhaps the opponents would appreciate the programming for the Bard Music Festival's "Wagner and His World". The featured performances are Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots & Mendelssohn’s oratorio St. Paul, works by Jewish composers publicly reviled by Wagner.

This came to my attention via articles in the Wall Street Journal & the Financial Times.

The Unexpected Man

The Unexpected Man
by Yasmina Reza
Ken Ruta, Abigail Van Alyn
Directed by Stephen Drewes
Thurs, 4 August 2009, 8pm
The Exit Theatre

Last night I, along with about 80 others, crammed into the Exit Theatre for Spare Stage's production of The Unexpected Man, Yasmina Reza's wordy & literate play of ideas about the relationship between writers & their audiences. In a series of internal monologues, we hear the thoughts of 2 strangers sitting across from each other in a train compartment. One is a famous novelist, self-consciously growing into a bitter old man, the other a lively older woman who is perhaps his ideal reader. As they gradually become aware of one another, the situation becomes increasingly charged. For a while I worried that the playwright would be unable to wrap this up in a convincing way, but the ending is both satisfying & right.

I couldn't help noticing that the audience was made up largely of people around the same age as the characters. Perhaps they were drawn by the actors, Ken Ruta & Abigail Van Alyn, who have been staples of the Bay Area theater scene for decades. I got there early enough to take a seat in the front row. Despite the tight space, I enjoyed the chance to be so close to the performers, neither of whom seemed capable of making a false move. Unfortunately, my proximity also meant that I got to see a lady in the audience put her bare feet on the stage from time to time. Another lady next to me dozed off & had to be nudged awake by her husband.

For music lovers, I should note that this production uses a snippet of John Adams music at the start to indicate the setting of a moving train car. This works better than the 2 park benches on stage which incorrectly imply an exterior location.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A View from the Bridge

I had never seen Arthur Miler's A View from the Bridge before, so I took advantage of the Off Broadway West Theatre Company's production to become acquainted with it Friday night. The small theater is in the same building as Ruby Skye, & one hears the thumping dance club music on the way in & out. There were around 30 people in attendance, many apparently friends of the actors, & we filled more than half the seats. At 8:10pm there was no sign of the show starting any time soon, & I began to wonder if I had gotten the start time wrong. Finally a woman announced that we were waiting for a few more people who had been delayed by the Critical Mass ride.

The production is modest & has many good actors. I especially liked Sandy Rouge's authentic-sounding Beatrice. There is an odd disparity of accents & ethnic types represented by the cast, either by design or accident; I was never sure. Somehow an identifiably Irish character was added to the mix, Eddie Carbone is played by an African American actor, & young Rodolfo's accent sounds Russian, not Italian.

On my way out of the theater, one of the staff at the door made sure I was on their e-mail list. Perhaps I was the only person in the audience she did not recognize. She turned out to be the company's publicist, as well as an actor in their previous production of Streetcar Named Desire (Blanche, perhaps?). I asked her about the repertoire, & she said they try to pick plays that audiences want to see. I asked her how they knew what people wanted to see. She said they guessed.

Still curious about the play, I then went to the drama section of Borders Books. There I ran into a fellow audience member, & we nearly got into a fight over what seemed to be the last copy of the play in stock. Fortunately we found more copies, & she turned out to be a very nice woman who is studying at the Jean Shelton Studio & is a friend of one of the actors.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

3 Strokes per person!

Three strokes only
This is a follow-up to a previous post about the Paper Tree store in Japantown. Pictured is one of the those zen paint-with-water kits. I guess if you want to try it out in the store, only 3 brush strokes are allowed.