Sunday, May 30, 2010


Boxcar Theatre presents
Inspired by Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros
Imagined and Directed by Evren Odcikin

B: El Beh
D: Allison Combs
Eugène: Ross Pasquale
Lucy Williams/The Cat Lady: Erin Gilley

Sat 29 May 2010 8pm

Rhino at Boxcar TheatreThis show wasn't on my radar until I saw an article about the origami-inspired rhinoceros masks made by Amy Knight for this production. I made it to closing night & had fun checking out the rhino heads for myself. There are about 10 such masks, either worn by the actors or hanging on the walls & illuminated from within. They are made out of stiff buckram, may have either one or two horns, & each is different. They were easily my favorite element of the show.

The show itself is a very free adaptation of Ionesco's Rhinoceros. It was so free that I did not get a sense of the original at all. The characters were a bourgeois couple, a man in pajamas, who I assume is supposed to be Ionesco, a BBC announcer & a lady whose cat is killed by a rhino. Besides playing the male half of the couple, El Bel also provided live music on the cello. Her unexpectedly fluent playing was my favorite part of her performance.

Rhino at Boxcar TheatreInstead of being seated in an auditorium, the audience stands & moves around the small black box theater for the show's hour-long duration. One never knows where the next scene will take place, & a couple of times actors bumped into me as they moved through the audience. One lady was hit in the head by a stuffed cat kicked around by one of the characters. Director Evren Odcikin made the pre-show announcements in the lobby before letting us all in at once for the start of the show.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Carmina Burana in Kitchener

Maestro Edwin Outwater will close the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony season by conducting an exciting performance of Carmina Burana this week. However, in his complementary blog post, he confesses:
It’s epic, it will have the Grand Philharmonic choir, three great Canadian soloists, and more! It will sell a lot of tickets, people will dig it. There’s just one problem.

I kind of detest Carmina Burana.

He totally makes make me want to go Canada for this performance.

Friday, May 21, 2010


This afternoon I spent way more time than I had originally allotted to check out the Fraenkel Gallery's 30th anniversary exhibit, titled Furthermore. There is no unifying idea other than the curator's discriminating taste. The show opens with a disturbing trompe l'oeil picture of a suicide note & encompasses a wide variety of genres & aesthetic purposes. Found photographs by unknown photographers are next to works by famous names.

Many of the photos are stunning objects in & of themselves. I was fascinated by Adam Fuss's For Allegra (2009), a daguerreotype of the Taj Mahal, perhaps 4 feet wide. Since daguerreotypes are printed on mirrors, dark clothing is a requirement for being able to discern the image. Richard Misrach's picture of the ashen aftermath of the Oakland fire, Untitled #12-91 (1991), is so large that I could stand close up to it & feel immersed in its landscape of devastation.

Images are grouped by theme, creating provocative contexts. Military photos of an aerial bombing of Yugoslavia in 1944 hang above a wonderful NASA photo collage of the Moon's surface. An anonymous 1971 polaroid of 5 tough-looking men sits above another anonymous snapshot of 4 smiling ladies in furs & hats. Both are right next to Diane Arbus's droll portrait of kids in monster masks. Juxtapositions like this made me spend more time examining the images themselves, & I found something of interest in every photo. The exhibit is up through June 26th, so I will have more chances to visit.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Opera Standees Association

The Opera Standees Association met this evening to share their love of opera & discuss up-coming events. The meeting was presided over by their president, who is none other than The Opera Tattler. Her arrival was delayed, but the members had no trouble making lively conversation among themselves. The Tattler oversaw the distribution of access to up-coming Merola Opera events, despite the absence of the Merola liason. OSA members are also looking forward to the June performances at the San Francisco Opera. The Tattler's aforementioned "handsome attaché" was present. He recounted his experience at the opening night of Amelia at Seattle Opera, where he was chagrined to be "dressed like Axel" while others in attendance were de rigueur in their tuxedos.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Operatic Baboons

I've just read about a recent performance of an opera about baboon society. In The Okavango Macbeth, composed by Tom Cunninghaman with a libretto by Alexander McCall Smith, a female baboon goads a young male to take over their troop. A favorably-reviewed benefit performance in Edinburgh on May 5th had personnel from RSAMD and Edinburgh Studio Opera. The Herald Scotland reports, "Director Nicholas Ellenbogen drew some uncannily realistic baboon behaviour from the cast." The Economist notes, "two haunting notes heralded a procession of hornbills, oryx, flying owls, buffalo, impala, elephant, giraffe, warthog and porcupine." Eat your heart out, Lion King!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Arts and Printers' Fair

Book Arts and Printers' FairI was at Fort Mason today, mingling with the small but enthusiastic book arts crowd at the PCBA Book Arts and Printers' Fair. I see the increasing popularity of book arts as a reaction to the digitization of the book. None of the items on display can be reproduced digitally, since their physical & very tactile form is intrinsic to what they are. I totally coveted Peter & Donna Thomas's extraordinary book Paper From Plants, with it's unusual binding that incorporates 30 samples of different types of paper. I can't believe they let me handle this beautiful object which is priced at over $800! I enjoyed running into Aaron Cohick again, & I am in awe of his broadsides in which he used an x-acto knife to lift away a thin layer of paper from the negative space of the text. He has also created a DIY series of books. Anyone can download the PDF files for free & assemble them themselves.

The fair is a pretty cozy event. The exhibitors are all extremely friendly & eager to share their work. There seemed to be a high proportion of tall women in attendance.

Tenderloin National Forest

Tenderloin National ForestOn Friday afternoon I found the Tenderloin National Forest in Cohen Alley, a narrow strip of space between buildings near the corner of Ellis & Leavenworth. It's an art project sponsored by the The Luggage Store. Entrance is through huge swinging gates. The forest consists of lushly planted areas, paved walkways & colorful painted murals. An impressive tree, several stories tall, is toward the back. The landscape is unexpectedly tranquil, & the plants are very well maintained. Birds seem not to have discovered the place. The only sound I heard was the laughter of some women inside one of the surrounding buildings. They might have been watching a TV game show together. I was the lone visitor. The forest also houses a little hut with mud brick walls, an outdoor kiln & low walls embedded with wine bottles.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Supertitles Altercation at Opera Hong Kong

Sometimes I think that opera supertitles can be distracting instead of helpful, but here's a report from the Financial Times of an actual disturbance created by the supertitles at a recent performance Manon at Opera Hong Kong:
the translations ... sparked a near 10-minute altercation during the performance when an audience member began shouting in Mandarin that he couldn’t read the supertitles – Hong Kong uses traditional characters rather than the simplified form mandated on the mainland – while other people around him began calling equally loudly in Cantonese for his ejection from the hall.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Tattling at Amelia

I have received the following intelligence concerning the Opera Tattler's recent visit to Seattle Opera for the premiere of Amelia:
The Tattler and her attaché were spotted at the Seattle Opera’s Amelia world premiere. She was wearing a silk chinoise-inspired full length column dress with killer black heels. Her handsome attaché wishes to remain unidentified.

Three Heads Five Arms

Three Heads Six ArmsI passed through the Civic Center this afternoon in order to check on the progress of Zhang Huan's enormous installation, Three Heads Six Arms. It looks like one of the arms is yet to be attached. The scale alone is enough to make one feel displaced. It looks like a dropped token from a fantasy board game belonging to giants. SFMike has documented the assembly process. The dedication ceremony is scheduled for this Wednesday, May at 10am.

NCCO: Bolcom Romanza Concerto

New Century Chamber Orchestra
Sea to Shining Sea

Barber: Adagio for Strings
Copland: Appalachian Spring (chamber version for 13 instruments)
Bolcom: Romanza for Violin & String Orchestra
        Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin
Copland: Hoe-Down from Rodeo

Sat, May 8, 2010 at 8pm
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

Though concertmaster Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg leads vigorously, the New Century Chamber Orchestra is essentially conductorless. They have close ensemble nonetheless, & they showed it off in their precise synchronization in the Barber Adagio. In Appalachian Spring, clarinetist Jerry Simas played beautifully pure-toned solos with appropriately simple phrasing. I liked the facile, almost light, double-bass playing of Anthony Manzo. Jan Ketchum did fine flute solos, & the whole group had very good intonation. I find Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg's playing to be disjointed, though she certainly expresses an enthusiasm for performance. She has an antsy stage presence, & I often do not look at her for fear of getting too distracted.

After intermission, Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg premiered William Bolcom's Romanza violin concerto. It is in the traditional 3 contrasting movements, each having a strong dance feel. The 1st movement is restless & active. The 2nd movement, opening with an ominous bass note, is a slow waltz & contains a cadenza leading directly into the 3rd movement, a ragtime cakewalk. The piece ends with a jaunty, humorous dialogue between the soloist & the 1st violins. I found the work immediately enjoyable, & the audience responded with excitement. Mr. Bolcom came to the stage to receive flowers. With his white beard & happy demeanor, he looked a bit like Santa Claus.

The Hoe-Down carried on the foot-stomping mood. Violinist Evan Price interpolated an extended improvisation that gave us things like a fiddle version of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. It was great fun & earned Mr. Price a round of applause. Herbst Theatre looked full, & the audience gave the concert an enthusiastic ovation, with many standing. There was a post-concert Q & A with Mr. Bolcom, but I did not stay for it. His piece speaks for itself.

Friday, May 07, 2010

ACT: Round and Round the Garden

American Conservatory Theater
Round and Round the Garden
by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by John Rando

René Augesen (Ruth)
Anthony Fusco (Reg)
Marcia Pizzo (Sarah)
Manoel Felciano (Norman)
Dan Hiatt (Tom)
Delia MacDougall (Annie)

6 May 2010 8pm

While ACT's current production of Alan Ayckbourn's Round and Round the Garden is not as funny as I would have wished, the play's humor holds up despite being over 35 years old. Looking past the laughs, I think it's a pretty harsh view of marriage. At the end of the play Tom, the country vet, clumsily proposes to Annie with a coil of heavy rope slung over his shoulder, symbolizing the constraints of marriage.

I thought that Dan Hiatt's Tom, while decidedly dim, was not quite obtuse enough. I was more convinced by Anthony Fusco's put-upon Reg. René Augesen was a fine comedienne as Ruth. The production has a few saucy moments. Sarah's knickers end up around her ankles while she struggles with Norman in Act I, & Norman is unable to straighten up due to an erection in his pants. The action takes place on a single set showing the back of a country house. The set is attractive & has many realistic details. The presence of the off-stage mother is implied by lights going on & off in the upper story. We only hear the meowing of the cat up a tree in the 1st act, but he makes a brief appearance on the top of the garden wall at the beginning of Act II

My theater companion, who had recently seen a reading of the entire Norman Conquests trilogy, thought that this play had the best story arc of the 3, though we agreed that Table Manners is the funniest one. The evening whetted my appetite for the Shotgun Player's staging of the full trilogy in August.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Hausmann Quartet at the Rex

Salons at the Rex
Wednesday, May 5, 6:30pm
Hotel Rex

Hausmann Quartet
Isaac Allen, violin
Bram Goldstein, violin
Angela Choong, viola
Yuan Zhang, cello

SCHUBERT: Quartet in C minor, D703, "Quartett-satz"
SCHUMANN: Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 41
TCHAIKOVSKY: Andante Cantabile from Quartet No. 1 in D major

At this last Rex Salon event of the season, the youthful Hausmann Quartet gave bright performances of standard works from the Romantic repertoire. There was good dynamic contrast, & they clearly differentiated the various moods of the Schumann. Violist Angela Choong played with tasteful vigor in the Presto movement. I liked the clean intonation & crisp playing of cellist Yuan Zhang. 1st violin Isaac Allen played the repeating melody of the Tchaikovsky Andante Cantabile with a sweet simplicity. Bram Goldstein is an active 2nd violinist, & all the musicians made a fair amount of eye contact with each other. Members of the quartet took turns introducing the pieces on the program. The Tchaikovsky was described as "less rabid" than the Schumann.

The violist sat in a very squeaky chair. The noise was so distracting that Sandy Wilson, of the Alexander String Quartet, brought up a sturdier & quieter perch for her immediately after the 2nd movement of the Schumann. As is usual at these concerts, a short Q & A session followed. The audience asked about the quartet's seating arrangement & the violist's unusually-shaped instrument. Everyone laughed when members of the quartet all pointed to the violist in response to a question about who decides the programs.

I was a bit sad that this was the last Salons at the Rex this season. I've really enjoyed hearing performances in this small venue. I was pleased to learn that Leah Crocetto will be appearing in this series next year.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Cal Performances 2010/11 Season

PhotobucketThis morning Matías Tarnopolsky, Director of Cal Performances, announced the up-coming 2010/11 season. Press conference attendees were seated on the stage of Zellerbach Hall, looking out into the auditorium, perhaps to remind us of the audiences the organization serves. Mr. Tarnopolsky began by threatening to read the press release in Anglo Saxon, in a nod to Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf recital in October. Instead Mr. Tarnopolsky kept our attention with a pithy season overview, & he was almost apologetic to be running out of superlatives to describe the performances. His talk was interspersed with video clips of on-site interviews with some of the artists. We also learned that students make up only 7% of audiences, a figure Mr. Tarnopolsky would like to double.

Highlights include major residencies by the Vienna Philharmonic, Castleton Opera Festival & the Ojai Music Festival. The Vienna Phil, led by Semyon Bychkov, will present 3 substantial programs, ending with a Mahler 6. Lorin Maazel's Castleton Opera will present Benjamin Britten's chamber operas The Rape of Lucretia & Albert Herring. The Ojai North! series will feature soprano Dawn Upshaw in a new collaboration with Peter Sellars. The chamber recitals often feature old & new works in the same program, such as Jeremy Denk's scary marathon recital of the Ligeti Etudes, Books 1 and 2, & the Bach Goldberg Variations. They may have to carry him off the stage afterward, & perhaps me from the auditorium as well.

I'm also looking forward to Gidon Kremer & the Kremerata Baltica program of Beethoven and modern composers, including Pärt, Šerkšnytė, Nyman, Auerbach and Pelecis. Alex Ross will be giving a talk on "Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues: Bass Lines of Music History" from his new book, which I expect to be reading by then. Singers appearing in recital include Bryn Terfel, Jonas Kaufmann, Jessica Rivera & Ian Bostridge. Violinist Christian Tetzlaff plays the complete Bach Sonatas & Partitas, since, as Mr. Tarnopolsky said, there can never be enough Bach in a season. Robert Lepage will appear on stage in a very strange-sounding show that combines the story of an 18th century cross-dressing spy with kabuki. Details of the season will be published on the new Cal Performances Web site, which goes live at precisely 12:01am tonight.

The Opera Tattler was among the journalists in attendance, & her green headpiece attracted a fair amount of attention. She has already posted a condensed season schedule. On my way out I also met the whistling voice of Woodstock when he is singing Puccini.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Romeo & Juliet Ballet

San Francisco Ballet
Program 8 Opening Night
Saturday, May 01, 2010, 8pm
Romeo & Juliet
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Choreographer: Helgi Tomasson
Conductor: Martin West

Romeo: Pierre-François Vilanoba
Juliet: Sarah Van Patten
Mercutio: Pascal Molat
Benvolio: Hansuke Yamamoto
Tybalt: Damian Smith

I love the score for Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet, but I had never seen the actual ballet before, so it was a treat for me be at the opening of the San Francisco Ballet's version. The production looks rich, with Renaissance-inspired costumes & settings in gold, orange & red. The set has lots of moving parts, making for efficient scene transitions. I really liked the well-proportioned & shapely conducting of Martin West, as well as the playing of the pit orchestra. One of the trumpets was having a bad night, though, especially during the second act.

I had no problem following the story, though I often did not know where to watch during the many crowd scenes. The opening of Act II had lots of leaps & turns for the company's athletic male dancers. Another street scene featured a fight between 2 women. There was a protracted death scene for Mercutio, who seemed groggy more than hurt. I found Tybalt's shorter death to be more violent & agonizing.

Sarah Van Patten gave Juliet many moods, from girlishness to crazed despair. In Act III, I was struck by a moment when Juliet seems disembodied when forced to dance with Paris. His slow-motion lifts made her look weightless. In the final scene, Romeo handled Juliet's supposedly lifeless body in a very desperate fashion, kissing it & trying to make its arms embrace him. There was no reconciliation of the families at the end, only a very sad ending with 3 dead bodies on stage.

The house was full, & there was a sense of anticipation from the people seated around me in the side orchestra. Amazingly, the Opera Tattler made a cameo appearance in upstairs standing room for the first act, despite having left Houston quite early that morning in order to attend an Orpheus Luncheon at noon.