Friday, July 30, 2010

Dolce Condoleezza

According to this review in the Wall Street Journal of the joint concert of Aretha Franklin & Condoleezza Rice in Philadelphia, Ms. Rice's "first name is taken from the musical expression 'Con dolcezza,' meaning 'with sweetness.'" But is this a specifically musical expression? The article also makes it sound like Ms. Rice performed Bernstein's overture to Candide & Smetana's The Moldau (presumably the Philadelphia Orchestra did that), as well as soloing in the Mozart d minor concerto. Ms. Franklin got classical with Che Farò Senza Euridice? & Nessun Dorma.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

SFS in Dolores Park

Free Concert at Dolores Park
San Francisco Symphony Celebrates Mexico's Bicentennial

Alondra de la Parra, conductor

Márquez, Danzón No. 2
Chávez, Symphony No. 2, Sinfonia India
Rosas, Sobre las Olas
Moncayo, Huapango
Dvořák, Symphony No. 9, New World

Sun, Jul 25, 2010 2:00pm
Dolores Park

SF Symphony at Dolores ParkEven though it was cloudy & cold in my neighborhood, there was some blue sky & warmth by the time I got to Dolores Park for the San Francisco Symphony's free concert in commemoration of Mexico's bicentennial. There was an enormous crowd of picnickers blanketing the upper part of park & having a relaxing afternoon. Unfortunately I made it there just before the intermission, so my experience started with the irresistibly danceable Huapango. Dvořák's New World Symphony was similarly bouyant. I liked that conductor Alondra de la Parra was always well ahead of the orchestra & did not seem to over-conduct. The 1st movement was expansive, & the 2nd movement had a sustained floating feel. Since the crowd applauded after every movement, de la Parra could give the English horn soloist a bow after the Largo. I found myself gently swaying to the dancing lilt of the Scherzo, & the final movement was fleet without feeling rushed. Maestra de la Parra addressed the audience in both Spanish & English & obviously made many fans this afternoon. I may be one of them. Her CD on sale during the event sold out by the intermission.

The audience got to select an encore via texting. The choices were Mozart's overture to The Marriage of Figaro & Bernstein's overture to Candide. Mozart won, despite a sudden surge of votes for Bernstein after the intermission. The crowd gave the concert a standing ovation, & I think they would have liked to hear the Candide as well.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

MTT, Skype Rehearsals & Foghorns

The Wall Street Journal published a very charming interview with Michael Tilson Thomas on Thursday. When asked about technology, MTT said that he regularly rehearses with people on Skype. Interestingly, Merola baritone Sidney Outlaw was interviewed on KALW's Open Air the same day & mentioned that he gets lessons with his voice teacher over Skype. Clearly Skype is a good tool for well-traveled classical musicians.

Asked about living in the Bay Area, MTT said that he likes to catch Beach Blanket Babylon once a year & that he "could listen to foghorns happily for many hours with no complaint."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Up-Coming: (Mostly) Free this weekend

Tonight's Friday Night at the de Young has a French theme, of course. DJ Schmeejay will spin up French pop, the Cypress String Quartet will perform Debussy & Higdon, & artist Jeanine Briggs will build a dinosaur.

The young Merola singers perform complete operatic scenes in the Schwabacher Summer Concert at Yerba Buena Gardens, Sunday, July 25, 2:00 PM. Judging by last week's performance at Herbst, it should be excellent. Mezzo Robin Flynn will be running half the San Francisco Marathon in the morning before taking the stage to sing Unulfo that afternoon. Frustratingly, at the exact same time, the San Francisco Symphony gives a free concert at Dolores Park in celebration of Mexico's bicentennial. Alondra de la Parra conducts a fun-looking program, ending with Dvořák's New World Symphony. We really need warmer weather this weekend!

Intriguing, but not free, is CARMINA BURANA: Revisited/Rebuked, a performance by Labayen Dance/SF. The work, set to the Carl Orff score, is "inspired by the Philippine matriarchal ritual of sorority and fertility." The All Shook Down Music Festival takes over North Beach on Sunday. Oh, & there's something called Dore Alley on Sunday. I'd like to get to at least 2 of these events, but I'm not saying which ones.

Monday, July 19, 2010

SFSFF: L'Heureuse mort

San Francisco Silent Film Festival
L'Heureuse mort (1924)
Accompanied by: Matti Bye Ensemble
Sun, Jul 18th 7:30pm
Castro Theatre

The closing night of the San Francisco Silent Festival was packed. The program began with a drawing for a shopping spree from festival sponsor McRoskey Mattress Company. We then saw the fanciful Georges Méliès short A Kingdom of Fairies (1903), accompanied by Stephen Horne on piano & flute, playing busily, sometimes on both instruments simultaneously. Critic Leonard Maltin spoke briefly & observed that the evening's big audience for the little-known feature film was a testament to the trust that audiences now have in the festival. L'Heureuse mort is a movie that most in the audience, including myself, had probably never even heard of. The story's anti-hero is a failed Parisian playwright who finds himself, after his death is mis-reported, to be wildly successful as a posthumous author. Nicolas Rimsky is both the screenwriter & star, & his excellent performance elicits sympathy without ever begging for it.

Though a French film, L'Heureuse mort was actually made by Russian émigrés. The whole movie has a European sense of sophistication, & the humor is startlingly modern. A completely abstract drawing shows up as a sketch for a proposed monument. The duel scene is rendered by an animated cartoon. The perfectly controlled ending left me pondering that gap between one's self & the world's perception of that self.

The movie's light touch was matched by the Matti Bye Ensemble's original score which was tasteful, discreet & spare. Recurring dance-like tunes run parallel to the scenes without trying to punctuate every action. The 4 musicians of the band played piano, organ, saw, violin, mandolin, guitar, percussion & vocalized. They also provided occasional sound effects, such as wind for the storm at sea. It was as good a film experience as I have had in a while, & it makes me realize that movies haven't improved over the decades.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

SFSFF: The Strong Man

San Francisco Silent Film Festival
The Strong Man (1926)
Accompanied By: Stephen Horne
Sat, Jul 17th 4:00pm
Castro Theatre

I attended this program for my 1st chance to see a Harry Langdon comedy. Some of the set pieces, such as when he carries a woman up a flight of stairs with his butt, are humorous, but for the most part I found the Langdon character's mindlessness uninteresting & unfunny. His small stature, tight-fitting clothes & graceful mime just kept reminding me of Chaplin instead. On the other hand, it does look like Chaplin stole the idea of a romance involving a blind girl from this movie. Stephen Horne accompanied on the piano, pump organ & accordion. Somehow he can play the piano & the accordion at the same time, though it was so dark I could not see how this feat was accomplished.

As usual for this festival, the Castro was packed with enthusiastic & well-informed attendees, some in period dress. Critic Leonard Maltin was easy to spot in the VIP seating. The program began with the Georges Méliès trick film An Impossible Balancing Feat. Festival Executive Director Stacey Wisnia then presented Photoplay Productions, represented by Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury, the Silent Film Festival Award. After the movie, Mr. Brownlow was on-hand to sign copies of his seminal survey of the silent era, The Parade's Gone By.

Schwabacher Summer Concert

Merola Opera Program 2010
Schwabacher Summer Concert
Friday, July 16, 7:30 PM
Herbst Theater

Conductor: Mark Morash
Director: Roy Rallo

The Merry Wives of Windsor, Overture
Otto Nicolai

Rodelinda, Act II, Scene 3 & 4
George Handel
Rodelinda - Rebecca Davis
Unulfo - Robin Flynn
Grimaldo - Kevin Ray
Garibaldo - Ryan Kuster

Werther, Act III, Opening
Jules Massenet
Charlotte - Renée Rapier
Sophie - Janai Brugger-Orman

Il Barbiere di Sivilgia, Act II
Gioachino Rossini
Rosina - Colleen Brooks
Almaviva - Eleazar Rodríguez
Figaro - Dan Kempson
Bartolo - Ryan Kuster
Basilio - Kevin Thompson

The Bartered Bride, from Act I, Scene 2
Bedrich Smetana
Marenka - Rebecca Davis
Jeník - Kevin Ray

The Merry Wives of Windsor, from Act I
Otto Nicolai
Falstaff - Kevin Thompson
Fluth - Dan Kempson
Slender - Kevin Ray
Dr. Caius - Ryan Kuster
Fenton - Eleazar Rodríguez
Anne - Janai Brugger-Orman

The Merolini have obviously been working hard, & there was never a doubtful moment in this program. The singers were in evening dress & acted extended scenes in front of a row of mismatched chairs. The orchestra was on the stage, though for some reason it sounded much farther away, which actually created a good balance with the singers. (Oboeinsight was somewhere in the band.)

In the scene from Rodelinda, soprano Rebecca Davis impressed immediately with the size, strength & steely timbre of her voice. Rodelinda's son was played by a baby doll which was passed among the characters. Robin Flynn sang her tender aria with the doll pressed to her face, making it seem that the aria was about the baby instead of Rodelinda.

In the introduction to the scene from Werther, the cello section was sonorous in a deep solo passage. Renée Rapier then drew me in completely with her dramatic focus & full, mature sound. The singers went all out with the slapstick comedy in the scene from Il Barbieri. They gesticulated so much that it looked like they were performing the scene in sign language. Ryan Kuster got a big laugh for both his falsetto voice & the curvaceous way he stood when delivering it. He also did an excellent standing half-split. These singers have big voices, but the ensemble got 3 times louder the moment bass Kevin Thompson began singing in his astonishingly low, resonant voice.

We gladly got to hear more of Rebecca Davis in a sweet love scene from The Bartered Bride, & Kevin Thompson was equally welcome back in a drunk scene from an operetta version of The Merry Wives of Windsor. I was really happy that his song repeats the part with a really low note. Eleazar Rodríguez charmed the audience when he sang his serenade from the right balcony. He had a great love interest in Janai Brugger-Orman, whose voice is liquidity & smooth & definitely got that buoyancy that Jane Eaglen frequently requested in her master class. Kevin Ray contributed a very funny yodel to the scene as well.

This program will be repeated for free next Sunday, July 25, 2:00 PM at Yerba Buena Gardens. Weather permitting, it should be grand.

SFSFF: Amazing Tales from the Archives

San Francisco Silent Film FestivalAmazing Tales from the Archives: Lost & Found Films
Accompanied By: Donald Sosin
Fri, Jul 16th 11:30am
Castro Theatre

I was surprised by the heavy turnout for this Friday lunchtime presentation. Kyle Westphal, recipient of the 2009 Silent Film Preservation Fellowship, showed 2 color test films from 1926, using a process requiring 2 cameras. The technique was abandoned because of the expense & difficulty of registering images from different cameras. The films show Hope Hampton, actress & opera singer, modeling Paris fashions. Mr. Westphal thinks Ms. Hampton is a better model for Kane's wife in Citizen Kane than Marion Davies. This year's fellowship recipient is restoring Douglas Fairbanks's Mr. Fix-it, which will be screened at the festival next year.

Joe Lindner, of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, showed the one surviving reel of a 1916 King Baggot feature, a fragment of a 1921 Hallboys slapstick comedy, & a 1928 reel of trailers. The trailers reel shows that the theater changed its movies almost daily. Mr. Lindner emphasized that discoveries are still to be made.

The large audience was really here for the last presenters, Paula Félix-Didier and Fernando Peña of Museo del Cine, Buenos Aires. They are responsible for the nearly full-length Metropolis that was shown that evening. However, the archivists were more interested in showing clips from early Argentine cinema, including a grotesque educational/horror film containing microscopic photography of flies. They also showed a 1929 sound film featuring performers of Argentine music. It contains the 1st tango ever recorded on film. To partly appease the audience, Mr. Peña did tell the story of how he spent 20 years trying to gain access to the archive which he suspected held the full-length print of Metroplis. But I think he was really saving the story for the evening's show.

Friday, July 16, 2010

BASOTI: La Calisto

Bay Area Summer Opera Institute (BASOTI)
La Calisto
Francesco Cavalli

Stage Director: Yefim Maizel
Conductor: Jun Nakabayashi

Il Destino: Caroline Gatlin
Satirino: Jennifer Gaspasin
L'Eternita: Kathryn Crabb
La Natura: Leigh Akin
Calisto: Sarah Young
Giunone: Emily Pelc
Diana/Giove in Diana: Erin Tompkins
Endimione: Kristen Choi
Linfea: Christopher O'Neill
Mercurio: Seth Kunin

San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Recital Hall
Jul 15 08:00 PM

The SFCM recital hall is an ideal venue for this staged production of Cavalli's La Calisto done by the students of BASOTI. The opera is performed in a modern realization, & the whole thing takes less than 2 hours, including the intermission. The pit ensemble is a string quartet plus an electronic keyboard played by Hatem Nadim, who uses it to supply harpsichord, lute & harp. Supertitles are projected on the stage wall, which works well in this small space.

The singers are young & fresh, though the quality of the voices varies a great deal. Emphasis is on acting & moving on stage. The production mixes contemporary & classical dress & plays up the comical aspects of the plot. Characters often skip, prance & dance about, resulting in a lot of stage noise. Seth Kunin, as a dude in dark glasses & a Hawaiian shirt, certainly moves his hips well. One of the most solid performances was by tenor Christopher Nelson, singing the nymph Linfea in drag. I don't know if this is the original conception of the role, but he made it work. It was all the funnier that his paramour is a soprano who looks a quarter of his size. Calisto's transmutation into a bear was less convincing. The Furies, dressed like Goth pole dancers, forced her to wear a miniature bear skin rug over her head.

In a variation on the usual electronic device menace, during the 1st minutes of the show, a cell phone fell from the balcony & clattered to the floor. Thankful it did not hit anyone seated in the row below, which included me. During the intermission the phone was returned to its owner upstairs. It was not clear if the phone was still operational.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Up-Coming: Fall Free for All

Cal Performances has announced the schedule for it's Fall Free for All day of free performances. It's packed with over a dozen performances, varying from the Kronos Quartet to the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. It's a lot to take in & indicative of the impressive Cal Performances 2010-2011 schedule.
Fall Free for All!
Open House at Cal Performances
Sun, Sept 26, 11 am-6 pm
Zellerbach Hall, Lower Sproul Plaza,
Wheeler Auditorium, and Hertz Hall
Free and Open to the Public

Zellerbach Hall
11 am Kronos Quartet
1 pm Diamano Coura
3 pm Dance with Mark Morris Dance Group/"Looky" (participatory session)
5 pm Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir

Lower Sproul Plaza
12 pm Melanie DeMore Community Sing (participatory session)
2 pm UC Jazz Ensembles
4 pm John Santos Sextet

Hertz Hall
11 am tbd
1 pm Sergio Assad, guitar
3 pm Pacific Mozart Ensemble
5 pm Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Ensemble

Wheeler Auditorium
12 pm Teslim
2 pm Word For Word Theater Company/"Frankie the Rooster" by Gary Soto
4 pm Melody of China

Prince Yamadori's Missing Pants

The informative SFMike has provided insight into Prince Yamadori's wardrobe malfunction in a recent performance of Madame Butterfly at Festival Opera. Please refer to the comments section of The Opera Tattler's account here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Ring in Shanghai

In September, the Cologne Opera is presenting 2 complete cycles of The Ring at the Shanghai Expo. The schedule is grueling. The operas are presented on successive nights with no days off. But bragging rights for attendees & performers will be awesome!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Festival Opera: Madame Butterfly

Festival Opera
Madama Butterfly
Conducted by Joseph Marcheso
Stage Director: Brian Staufenbiel

Cio-Cio San: Teresa Eickel
Suzuki: Nicole Takesono
Kate Pinkerton: Elizabeth O'Neill
Lt. Pinkerton: Christopher Bengochea
Sharpless: Philip Skinner
Goro: Andrew Whitfield
Prince Yamadori: Kurt Krikorian
The Bonze: John Bischoff
Sorrow: McKenna Ikue Whyte-Shearer

July 10, 8:00 p.m.
The Lesher Center for the Arts,
Walnut Creek, CA

It was good to attend this Madame Butterfly with the avid & relaxed Festival Opera audience, which has a nice community feel to it. Soprano Teresa Eickel is small & skinny enough to look like the teenage Butterfly, but she has big high notes that she uses judiciously for great dramatic effect. Tenor Christopher Bengochea had a narrow yet beautiful sound in Act I, & in Act III his high notes sounded much more open & free, making for a strong finish. Philip Skinner displayed solid singing & acting as Sharpless, & his was the most consistent performance of the evening.

The orchestra, though of modest size, was very loud. The brasses, especially the horns, sounded clean & smooth, but the string section had some intonation problems. For some reason the harp is in a nook at the level of the stage, instead of being in the pit. It was odd to hear it separated from the rest of the orchestra.

The staging is fairly traditional. Someone had the clever idea of opening each act with a shadow play projected on the scrim, though the performers' silhouettes often got too distorted. At the end of Act II, Butterfly punches spy-holes through the shoji screens looking out toward the audience. When all 3 characters stick their heads through & stare at us, the effect is inappropriately comical.

The oddest element of the production was the costuming, which did not make me think of Japan at all. Butterfly's relatives wore heavy draperies that made them look like tawdry gypsies. Goro, in a top hat, jacket & sash, looked like a character out of Dickens. Prince Yamadori had a very immodest outfit that made the women around me giggle. Or perhaps he had simply forgotten to put his pants on that evening.

Instead of an intermission, there was a 2 minute pause between the 2nd & 3rd acts. A stage hand walked out & replaced a cushion center stage, & the unexpected sight of her gave me a jolt. I was shocked by how much it took me out of the drama.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Master Class with Jane Eaglen

Master Class with Jane Eaglen
Merola Opera Program 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010 | 7:00 - 9:00pm | Herbst Theatre

Last night soprano Jane Eaglen gave a master class to 5 singers before an audience of Merola supporters. Ms. Eaglen is a positive, encouraging & voluble teacher, & the Merolini clearly like her. Her coaching focussed on the sound of the voice.

Baritone Sidney Outlaw sang "Sorge infaust una procella" from Handel's Orlando. He has an eager personality & a bright voice. He impressed Ms. Eaglen with his ornamentation, which he had come up with only shortly before the class, in an operatic version of cramming. Mezzo Robin Flynn sang "Ces lettres!" from Massenet's Werther. Ms. Eaglen told her that the key to high notes is to "squeeze your bottom," then added, "I don't have a big bottom. I have big high notes."

Bass Kevin Thompson sang "Il lacerato spirito" from Simon Boccanegra. His voice is deep, wide & just plain sexy. Ms.Eaglen asked him to smooth out his sound, even if that resulted in slightly mushy diction. Tenor Kevin Ray sang "In fernem Land" from Lohengrin. This was new music for him, & he struggled more than the other singers, his voice sounding squeezed. Ms. Eaglen could hear him tightly sucking in air & tried to loosen up his breath. Finally, soprano Janai Brugger-Orman sang the "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka. Her voice is viscous & luscious, & Ms. Eaglen tried to get her to avoid abrupt vocal shifts.

I found the class interesting, even though I do not sing & did not understand a lot of the technical instructions. All the Merolini have polished presentations already, & Ms. Eaglen often got quite picky in her observations. After the event I was introduced to Eleazar Rodriguez, just briefly enough for me to tell him how much I enjoyed his Tom Rakewell earlier this year.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Wagner Most Popular Proms Composer

The BBC has launched a Proms archive site. Wagner is the most frequently programmed composer & Tannhäuser his most performed work.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

4th of July

4th of July Blueberry PieThis blueberry pie with stars & the cracked Liberty Bell was the hit of the 4th of July BBQ I was at today. The 1st guest that saw it saluted. I can testify that it tasted as good as it looked, putting me in mind of homes with porches & pies cooling on the window sill.

4th of July FireworksAs is usually the case, clouds rolled in tonight, giving us less than ideal viewing conditions for the fireworks along the wharf. Some years the event is little more than a fuzzily colored sky. Fortunately this year the clouds weren't low enough to totally obscure the show, & it was the spectacle it should be. The crowd around Fort Mason did not seem as thick as usual, so I was able to get close to the pier from which the rockets are shot off. The view was great, the fireworks seeming to fall straight down toward us.

Toy Story 3

Instead of dazzling me with Pixar technical wizardry, Toy Story 3 pulled me in with its intricate plot of interlocking escapes & non-stop perils. Though the movie is of course mostly cartoon humor, loss & abandonment are major themes. It goes to some pretty dark places. A day care center is a brutalizing internment camp, run by a purple teddy bear who is almost as scary as John Huston in Chinatown. I was taken aback by a harrowing sequence in which the toys confront a hell-mouth in a garbage incinerator. Its intensity shook me. After scenes like this, the movie's sentimental moments are well-earned. I got teary at the end, & I couldn't believe it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Master Class with Chuck Hudson

Master Class with Chuck Hudson
Merola Opera Program 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 | 7:00pm | Herbst Theatre

Last night supporters of Merola were invited to attend a master class with the Chuck Hudson, a snappy, attentive & alert theater coach. The purpose of the session was to help the singers hone their presentations in the context of an audition. Mr. Hudson did a great job of being both instructive for the singers & entertaining to the audience. He was especially funny when drawing a singer's attention to awkward gestures, calling one pose "Doctor waiting for scrubs" & asking one singer, "Are you selling me a used car?" He was most effective when he called out phrases implying subtext while the scene was going on. Just saying things between the singer's phrases -- "you want to wring his neck", "you see the moon", "mating call" -- really did improve the singer's focus.

Soprano Nadine Sierra sang the "Silver Aria" from The Ballad of Baby Doe with a distinctive, velvety sound. Immediately after her aria, she surprised Mr. Hudson by leading the Merolini & the audience in singing Happy Birthday to him. Baritone Benjamin Covey sang "Hai già vinta la causa" from Le nozze di Figaro while Mr. Hudson tried to get him to "cause the accompaniment" by moving his legs when not singing. Mezzo Renée Rapier easily dropped into the sad mood of "Must the winter come so soon?" from Vanessa, even before Mr. Hudson gave any notes. Tenor Eleazar Rodríguez sang a dreamy "Un' aura amorosa" from Cosi fan tutte, & Mr. Hudson helped him find ways to make the many repetitions of the same words more interesting. Finally baritone Ryan Kuster, possessed of a very big voice, sang "Here me, o Lord!" from Floyd's Susannah. Mr. Hudson helped knock the level of the preacher's desperation up a notch. Pianist Natalia Katyukova provided Mr. Kuster a dark & rich-sounding accompaniment.

Attendees were invited to a champagne reception with Mr. Hudson & the Merolini afterward, but I was unfortunately not able to stay for this.