Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dear Our Valued Shoplifters

This sign on the door of the Maido stationery store in the Westfield San Francisco Centre makes me feel uncomfortable even though I'm not a shoplifter.

Dear Our Valued Shoplifters


PourchsThis sign in the Daiso store in Japantown always puzzles me. I assume it's a creative misspelling of Pouches. Or maybe Purses.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Crime After Crime

A friend of mine who saw Crime After Crime at the SF International Film Festival reported that the audience gave it a standing ovation like he'd never seen for a movie. It documents the long legal struggle to free Debbie Peagler, a woman improperly sentenced to life in a California prison for the murder of her abusive boyfriend. 2 young lawyers, Nadia Costa & Joshua Safran, take on the case pro-bono, thinking it would take only a few months to free her. Instead the case extends for years, becomes an obsession for the lawyers, & their investigation uncovers possible illegalities by the prosecution. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley was hissed whenever he appeared on screen. The film was shot over a period of more than 5 years as events unfolded & contains talking head interviews, photos & footage of the awesomely resilient Ms. Peagler in prison. Her final appearance before a parole board is just one of many wrenching, nearly unwatchable, moments.

SF Jewish Film FestivalThe film is emotionally rich, & many at this SF Jewish Film Festival screening cried. The director, Yoav Potash, was present, & when he & lawyers Ms. Costa & Mr. Safran came onstage for a Q & A, they received a standing ovation. Mr. Potash urged us to support the Habeas Project, which works to free women in similar circumstances as Ms. Peagler. Mr. Safran left us with the story that when he visited Ms. Peagler as she was dying, she told him that she would be very mad if he was sad at her passing. She meant for her life to be inspiring, & the movie honors that purpose.

The film will open in general release in the Bay Area on August 5th & will also play on the Orpah Network.

§ Crime After Crime
USA, 2011, 93 min
Yoav Potash, producer & director

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Castro Theatre
Sunday, Jul 24, 2011 6:00 PM

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Schwabacher Summer Concert

Schwabacher Summer ConcertLast night I got to hear 10 of this summer's Merola Opera artists, in a concert performance of extended operatic scenes with full orchestra. The 1st excerpt from Don Carlo started with baritone Joo Won Kang making a big, hall-filling sound even though his back was turned to us in the incidental role of a monk. Tenor Scott Quinn as Don Carlo had a pleasingly legato voice that was unstrained & Verdian. Baritone Guodong Feng sounded commanding but looked a bit straight-laced as Rodrigo. It was fun to hear the belting Merolini males as the off-stage chorus of monks. The audience had to clap for a long time before the performers came back out to take a bow.

In a long excerpt from Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, soprano Elizabeth Zharoff, as Giulietta, began with an astonishingly long, loud 1st note. Her voice is frighteningly large & is low, round & liquid. She sounds like a mezzo. In contrast, her Romeo, mezzo Laura Krumm, had a high, bright voice & gave a very feminine performance.

In the Wolf's Crag scene from Lucia, tenor Cooper Nolan & Mr. Kang did a good job acting out their characters' mutual contempt for one another. Mr. Nolan began fervently & has a high, ringing voice, though his high notes seem disconnected from his lower notes. Mr. Kang's singing was taut & had a hint of a sneer. In the 2nd excerpt from Don Carlo, mezzo Deborah Nansteel came on as if she already owned the role of Eboli. Her generous voice reminds me of opera recordings of the 1950s. This trio was the one number in which the singers modulated their voices a bit.

In a big chunk of Act I from Rigoletto, Mr. Kang had a booming voice & clearly emoted the anxious concern of the fatherly Rigoletto. Soprano Xi Wang was a forceful Gilda & punched out high notes with muscle. After all this Italian opera, it was a bit of shock to hear Russian in the final selection from Eugene Onegin. Soprano Marina Boudart Harris gave us a strong, matronly Tatiana. Baritone Suchan Kim sang Onegin with a focused intensity. He spent much of the final scene on his knees, even sliding on them.

The set consisted of 6 large cubes that the singers themselves regrouped for each scene like parts of a puzzle. The concert lasted 2 and a half hours, so the orchestra had a lot of music to play & may have been under-rehearsed. It sounded like a flute played the wrong line for several bars in the introduction to "Caro nome."

The Merolini really sang out the whole evening, & my ears were ringing afterward. There will be a free repeat of this concert on Sunday, July 24 at 2:00pm in Yerba Buena Gardens.

§ Schwabacher Summer Concert
Merola Opera Program
Conductor, Robert Wood
Director, Peter Kazaras

L'Italiana in Algeri - Overture
Gioachino Rossini

Don Carlo - From Act II, part one
Giuseppe Verdi
Don Carlo, Scott Quinn
Rodrigo, Guodong Feng
A Monk, Joo Won Kang

I Capuleti e i Montecchi - From Act I
Vincenzo Bellini
Giulietta, Elizabeth Zharoff
Romeo, Laura Krumm
Lorenzo, Suchan Kim

Lucia di Lammermoor - From Act III, part one (Wolf's Crag)
Gaetano Donizetti
Edgardo, Cooper Nolan
Enrico, Joo Won Kang

Don Carlo - Act III, opening
Giuseppe Verdi
Princess Eboli, Deborah Nansteel
Don Carlo, Scott Quinn
Rodrigo, Guodong Feng

Rigoletto - From Act I, scene 2
Giuseppe Verdi
Gilda, Xi Wang
Duke of Mantua, Cooper Nolan
Rigoletto, Joo Wan Kang
Giovanna, Laura Krumm

Eugene Onegin - From Act III
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Tatiana, Marina Boudart Harris
Eugene Onegin, Suchan Kim
Prince Gremin, Joo Won Kang

Friday, July 22, 7:30 PM, Herbst Theater
Sunday, July 24, 2:00 PM, Yerba Buena Gardens

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Project Nim

This afternoon, at a practically empty matinee show, I saw Project Nim, a documentary by James Marsh about an attempt, sponsored by Columbia University in the 1970s, to teach sign language to the chimpanzee Nim Chimsky. The film consists of archival footage, present-day interviews with the participants & some stylized recreations of ominous events. Ultimately the film is about the ethical issues of the experiment. Nim was forcibly taken as a newborn from his mother & apparently raised by hippies. There was no plan for what should happen once he became too mature & dangerous for his teachers to handle. The 2 most important researchers in the story, Professor Herbert Terrace & Dr. James Mahoney, come across as creepy & ambivalent. If the film has a hero, it is Bob Ingersoll, who never treated Nim as a subject animal, smoked pot with him & never gave up trying to improve his quality of life.

The film has a mood-setting score by Dickon Hinchliffe, but it also includes the Penguin Cafe Orchestra's Perpetuum Mobile, which ought to be banned from soundtracks.

§ Project Nim
James Marsh, director

Sunday, July 17, 2011

SFSFF: Amazing Tales from the Archives, Program II

My understanding of the silent era comes mostly from the books & documentaries of Kevin Brownlow, so this morning I was back at the Castro Theatre for his talk at the SF Silent Film Festival. Needing no introduction, Mr. Brownlow received long applause when he stepped up to the podium. He gave a 75 minute presentation about his life-long quest to reconstruct Abel Gance's 1927 Napoleon. He got to know Gance himself & showed us outtakes from a documentary he made about the director in the late 1960s. Mr. Brownlow is sharp, exceedingly modest & quite humorous. He expressed disappointment that we did not laugh at a joke he made at the expense of the English.

The story of the reconstruction is intricate. We saw different versions of the film's snowball fight, & Mr. Brownlow guiltily omitted a sequence depicting the countryside of Corsica from an earlier reconstruction. At one point he found himself dueling against a re-make by Gance himself. We also saw frames from a still lost mob scene. Stephen Horne accompanied on the piano & accordion.

San Francisco Silent Film FestivalFilm critic Leonard Maltin closed the event by unabashedly hyping the up-coming showing of Napoleon at the Oakland Paramount next March. This is Mr. Brownlow's 3rd reconstruction, lasting 5 and a half hours. There is only one print, & this is the only American screening. There will be 4 shows, each a day-long event with 3 intermissions. Carl Davis will conduct the Oakland East Bay Symphony playing his original score inspired by composers contemporary with Napoleon. In the clips we saw, the music sounds like Mozart & Beethoven. Mr. Maltin apologized for sounding like an infomercial as he warned us we would regret not buying tickets now. After the presentation Mr. Brownlow did a book signing, though there were no copies of The Parade's Gone By left to purchase.

§ Amazing Tales from the Archives, Program II
Featuring Kevin Brownlow on fifty years of film preservation and study.
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Sun, Jul 17th 10:00am
Castro Theatre

§ Napoleon
U.S. premiere of the complete restoration by Kevin Brownlow
U.S. premiere of the score by Carl Davis, conducting the Oakland East Bay Symphony
March 24, 25, 31, April 1, 2012
Paramount Theatre, Oakland

SFSFF: The Woman Men Yearn For

Saturday night the SF Silent Film Festival packed the Castro Theatre for a rare screening of The Woman Men Yearn For, a German silent film staring Marlene Dietrich. Kurt Bernhardt directed Dietrich in this movie before she appeared in Die blaue Engel. It gives the lie to the myth that von Sternberg discovered Dietrich & created her iconic screen image. We first see her staring out a train window, looking both blank & alluring, & her seductive pull is immediate. Otherwise, the movie is an unsurprising drama of thwarted passions.

Eddie Muller, local Film Noir expert, delivered a punchy & informative introduction. He related that the film's director described Dietrich as an "intrigante," a woman who fosters intrigue. This is in contrast to a femme fatale, a woman who uses her seductive powers to victimize men. In this case, certainly, Dietrich is the victim & not the victimizer. Mr. Muller also rebutted early critics who panned her seemingly static performance. Mr. Muller defines a real movie star as "someone who is utterly compelling doing nothing."

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, comprising piano, violin, clarinet, trumpet & cello, accompanied the film with an original score. It is melodic & has the feel of salon music. A recurring tune is identified with Dietrich's character. The score establishes a distinct mood for each scene, but the transitions are abrupt. The band kept an even pace for the entire movie, & the audience responded enthusiastically to their performance. Anthony Bernhardt, son of the film's director, was present at the screening.

§ Die Frau, nach der man sich sehnt (The Woman Men Yearn For)
(Germany, 1929, 85 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Kurt Bernhardt
Accompanied By: Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Sat, Jul 16th 8:30pm
Castro Theatre

Saturday, July 16, 2011

SFSFF: Laugh-O-Grams from Disney

This morning I saw early Disney animated shorts at the SF Silent Film Festival in a program hosted by Disney historian J.B. Kaufman & film critic Leonard Maltin. The films came out of Disney's Laugh-O-Grams studio in the early 1920s. Though technically primitive, they have a rascally charm, & it is clear that the animators had fun making them. A little boy & his plucky cat are recurring characters. I like how the dialog appears in the air like comic strip word balloons. The Disney formula of recasting well-known fairy tales is there at the start. Walt Disney himself appears on screen at his drawing board in 2 of the films. The audience applauded him as well as 4-year-old Virginia Davis of Alice's Wonderland. This was an early experiment in combining live action with animation, & there is a delightful scene in which a cartoon mouse teases a real cat napping next to the drawing board. The Laugh-O-Grams films never get national distribution, & the studio went bankrupt, prompting Disney's move out West.

The shorts were accompanied jauntily by Donald Sosin on the piano & Mattias Olsson on percussion. Mr. Sosin informed us that the accompaniments would be entirely improvised, & he encouraged the audience to add its own sound effects. Two of Mr. Sosin's young students took over piano duties for 3 of the films. One of them looked like he was 12 years old.

Waiting to get into the theater, I stood in line in front of a lady with a festival pass. She reported that she walked out of the screening of Sunrise on Thursday night, finding the electric guitar accompaniment over-amplified & distracting. She enjoyed yesterday's Huckleberry Finn, with its location shots of Rio Vista standing in for the banks of the Mississippi.

§ Laugh-O-Grams from Disney
Accompanied By: Donald Sosin
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Sat, Jul 16th 10:00am
Castro Theatre

Newman Laugh-O-Grams (1921)
The Four Musicians of Bremen (1922)
Puss in Boots (1922)
Cinderella (1922)
Jack the Giant Killer (1922)
Goldie Locks and the Three Bears (1922)
Alice's Wonderland (1923)

SFSFF: Amazing Tales from the Archives, Program I

Unid. Children's Ben-HurA large audience turned out at the Castro Theatre for this free presentation about silent film preservation, put on as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which opened Thursday night. Ken Fox, recipient of the festival's 2010 Preservation Fellowship, talked about recreating the intertitles for Mr. Fix-It, an early Douglas Fairbanks film which will be shown Saturday night. The film only survives in an Italian print, so the intertitles were reverse translated back into English & set in a period font called Goudy Pabst Oldstyle. Mr. Fox even learned how to use a fountain pen in order to recreate written documents seen in the film. We also learned that typographers call that dot on top of an "i" a "tittle".

Jan-Christopher Horak described his long quest to identify The Fall of Jerusalem, a mysterious Biblical epic from the 1920s. Even though it was distributed in the United States up to the 1970s, he could find nothing about it. Eventually a lip-reader saw the actors speaking German, & viewers at a screening recognized some of the actors, leading Mr. Horak to the film's origin.

Anthony L'Abbate, a preservation officer from George Eastman House, gave us a crash course in film identification & pointed out studio trademarks cleverly incorporated into movie sets. An archivist working on the Lobster Nitrate Collection shared the various strategies she uses to identify films. A helpful last resort is to post frame grabs on the Nitrate Film Interest Group on flickr.

At the end of the presentation, we saw the recently restored A Heart of the Forest (1913), a one reel drama of settlers & Indians in the Old West. Its burn-down-the-settlers'-cabin climax is worthy of an Icelandic saga. Stephen Horne accompanied on the piano.

§ Amazing Tales from the Archives, Program I
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Fri, Jul 15th 11:00am
Castro Theatre

Monday, July 11, 2011

Oddball Films: American Trance

I was back at Oddball Films for this program featuring Peter Adair's documentary Holy Ghost People, a film I'd known about for years but never seen. It captures a Pentecostal service in Scrabble Creek, West Virginia in which worshippers fall into trances, speak in tongues & handle venomous snakes. I liked seeing whole families arriving for the service, everyone in their Sunday best. Teenage boys greet elder men with a kiss on the lips. Instead of a preacher there is a leader whose role is to rouse people to participation. His other message is that all men are God's creation & of the same blood. Even when events are at their wildest & people are dancing uncontrollably & throwing snakes to each other, Peter Adair never loses sight of his subjects' dignity. The film is shocking without being exploitive.

This was cannily preceded by Kenneth Anger's explicitly hallucinogenic Invocation of My Demon Brother, which looks like a bunch of outtakes from a hippie satanic ritual. Its jarring, noise-like electronic score is by Mick Jagger. The film broke twice, which was distressing because we were probably watching an original print. We also saw an ethnographic film of Lakota war dances. The exuberantly dressed performers & thumping music made me think of a Brazilian Carnival set to the Rite of Spring. One outfit employs a hubcap as a butt-covering tail which the dancer waggles proudly. Though the film dates from 1953, the yellows & reds of the costumes are still eye-popping.

Oddball Films Door PrizeThe program ended on a light note with a pair of cartoon mice performing celebrity impressions & battling a cat with the aid of hypnotizing rays. As if the evening wasn't already rewarding enough, I won the door prize, a picture book cataloging Clio award-winning TV & radio commercials of 1967.

§ American Trance: The Power of Possession
Oddball Films
Friday, July 8, 2011 at 8:30PM

I'm Feeling Scared (1980), Larry Klingman
Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969), Kenneth Anger
Holy Ghost People (1967), Peter Adair
War Dances (1953), University of Oaklahoma
The Mouse-merized Cat (1946), Warner Brothers

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

SF Opera Ring Cycle 3: Götterdämmerung

San Francisco OperaI got my standing room ticket a bit past 11am & received 181, meaning that the box office sold out all 150 standing room tickets at 10am for this final performance of the San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle. SFMike has documented the madness. I again sat on the balcony floor, libretto in hand, taking in the orchestra's beautiful playing & the cast's powerful singing. Even just listening, I was often overwhelmed. The Norn scene has turned out to be one of the cycle's strengths, the singers complementing each other with distinct yet equally strong voices. Andrea Silvestrelli's snarling, cavernous voice by itself communicates Hagen's malevolence. Nina Stemme only grew stronger with each act, & her Brünnhilde was warm, compassionate & consoling in the Immolation Scene.

Ian Storey was a much more consistent Siegfried than in his cycle 1 performance, his voice appropriately weighty & bluff. Melissa Citro was often sharp, but her acting projects well. Gordon Hawkins's voice is solid & dark, though his characterization of Alberich is not threatening. In the Rheinmaiden scene, it was easy to pick out Renée Tatum's well-grounded Flosshilde.

The orchestra played responsively & generously for conductor Donald Runnicles. The transition between the 1st two scenes of Act I was a perfectly controlled crescendo. The Rhine Journey was full & billowing. The performance had a sense of continual unfurling. Act II seemed to pass by in minutes. There was emphatic applause for the orchestra before Act III, as well as a shout of "Bravo Maestro!" We were immediately rewarded with a brilliant French horn solo at the top of the act. The Funeral Music was taut yet throbbing, & it put a lump in my throat. The audience was totally silent in the spaces between those startling, portentous orchestral blows. And I actually heard the opera's soft final notes, which are normally drowned out by overly-enthusiastic applause.

Ms. Stemme received a standing ovation when the curtain came up on her solo bow. I glimpsed her beaming face on the video screens. The French horn soloist stood next to Maestro Runnicles when the orchestra was revealed on stage. Everyone received loud applause & cheers, though when the house lights came up, one of my companions in standing room felt that they could have let the ovations continue longer. Even as we were talking, ushers were clearing us out of the house.

The Opera Tattler at Götterdämmerung It was a warm weekend, so I spent the intermissions in the Biergarten, which was a crush of people. The Opera Tattler was adorned with flowers grown by her Ring Cycle companion. When asked who she was this time, she answered that she was dressed as herself, The Opera Tattler. With the hardiness of a Volsung, she has attended Ring rehearsals, lectures, pre-cycle performances of Siegfried & Götterdämmerung, & all 3 cycles. I assumed she would leave the performance horizontally, but she was indeed still standing at the end of the day.

§ Götterdämmerung
Conductor - Donald Runnicles
Director - Francesca Zambello

First Norn - Ronnita Miller
Second Norn - Daveda Karanas
Third Norn - Heidi Melton
Brünnhilde - Nina Stemme
Siegfried - Ian Storey
Gunther - Gerd Grochowski
Gutrune - Melissa Citro
Waltraute - Daveda Karanas
Alberich - Gordon Hawkins
Woglinde - Stacey Tappan
Wellgunde - Lauren McNeese
Flosshilde - Renée Tatum

San Francisco War Memorial Opera House
Sun 07/3/11 1:00pm

Monday, July 04, 2011

4th of July Fireworks

4th of July Fireworks San FranciscoWe had a rare cloudless sky for the 4th of July fireworks off the San Francisco waterfront tonight, so this time I got to see the show in all its glory. It was noisy & spectacular, & I was grateful that half of it did not disappear into the fog, which is what usually happens. I watched from the path above Fort Mason. I would have liked to get closer to Aquatic Park, where the fireworks look like they are falling straight down on you, but it was already pretty crowded. As the throng left the show, a panicked dog got separated from its owner & ricocheted through the crowd.

Oddball Films: Pick Your Poison

Oddball Films ArchiveSaturday night I attended a screening at Oddball Films, a combination film archive, performance space & living quarters on the upper floor of a Mission District building. Attendees need to be buzzed in. It was worth half the price of admission just to walk past the towering shelves piled with film canisters. This evening's program had a medical theme & included industrial & training films as well as a "racially insensitive" cartoon in which Porky Pig checks into a hospital. Pain and Its Alleviation is a training film for nurses, but it wants to be a psychological horror film. In a series of creepy vignettes, nurses attempt to comfort patients who may be in excruciating pain or just hypochondriacs. The 60 Minutes-style Addictive Sopers features an interview with a gap-toothed drug dealer in a ski mask as it educates us about quaaludes. Surprisingly, the film implicates the drug companies themselves in the epidemic of Methaqualone addiction.

The highlight of the program was the nearly abstract Le Monde Du Schizophrene. It looks like a bad Cocteau film, complete with a backwards-running camera & homoerotic imagery. I can't imagine what the client, pharmaceutical company Sandoz, made of it. One a Minute is WWII military training film about VD, but its beautifully lit scenes of sailors & nightclub prostitutes are far too alluring. Ulcer at Work is a complete 1950s domestic drama demonstrating the efficacy of the new science of psychiatry. It sparked a discussion among psychiatrists in the audience afterward.

Oddball FilmsThere were about a dozen people at the show. My film companion & I slumped in lounge seats up front. There are no refreshments for sale at the venue, but people brought their own snacks & beverages. Stephen Parr, director of Oddball Films, introduced the program & ran the projector. Hearing its mechanical clatter immediately transported me back to those days in grade school when we got to watch movies in class.

§ Pick Your Poison: Medicine and Madness

Patient Porky (1940)
Pain and Its Alleviation (1961)
Addictive Sopers (1978)
Le Monde Du Schizophrene (The World of the Schizophrenic) (1969)
One a Minute (1944)
Ulcer at Work (1957)

Oddball Films
Saturday, July 2nd, 2011 at 8:00PM

Sunday, July 03, 2011

SF Opera Ring Cycle 3: Siegfried

San Francisco OperaI'm so glad I decided to hear these final San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle performances. For Friday's Siegfried, I sat on the floor at the back of the balcony with a libretto for the 1st two acts then squeezed in between some friends at the rail for the 3rd act to watch Nina Stemme's radiant Brünnhilde awaken. The orchestra continues to be a beautiful & responsive instrument in itself. Act I was bouncy & nimble. The forging music had a fleetness to it. Even without watching David Cangelosi's animated performance, I got the full impression of his funny & characterful Mime. Jay Hunter Morris sounded bigger & more open than in his cycle 1 performance, & he communicated a bounding youthfulness.

In Act II, people gasped when the clarinet squeaked at the beginning of the Forest Murmurs, but I've been enjoying the clarinet's floaty playing throughout the cycle so much that this made no difference to me. Mr. Morris's singing was especially buoyant & sweet in this scene. There was genuine laughter when the English horn deliberately squawked, & the French horn played Siegfried's calls fearlessly.

The orchestra played out during the Wanderer scenes of Act III, occasionally drowning out the singers. Mr. Morris sang with continued vigor yet never sounded strained. I found him exciting. The balcony audience laughed when they saw the OperaVision close-up of his sly look as he prepared to kiss the sleeping Brünnhilde. Before singing a note, Nina Stemme emoted a great deal as she reacted to the sun. Her voice was powerful & full of warmth, sometimes taking on a velvety tone. She was a dynamo & expressed great joy in the final moments.

The Opera Tattler attending Siegfried as the Forest BirdPrior to the performance, the Opera Tattler allowed me to photograph her Forest Bird look. This is the outfit which she kept hidden during the Cycle I Siegfried due to a pre-performance mishap. Up in standing room, I saw a dog trot to a balcony seat, a man in a utilikilt, & a man in shorts & a colorful vest who stretched himself on the floor & went to sleep as soon as the lights went down.

§ Siegfried
San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle 2011

Conductor, Donald Runnicles
Director, Francesca Zambello

Siegfried, Jay Hunter Morris
The Wanderer (Wotan), Mark Delavan
Brünnhilde, Nina Stemme
Mime, David Cangelosi
Alberich, Gordon Hawkins
Fafner, Daniel Sumegi
Erda, Ronnita Miller
Forest Bird, Stacey Tappan

Fri 07/1/11 6:30pm

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Ring Prophecy

501 German VerbsI just looked up "sein" in 501 German Verbs, & the example sentence is "Die drei Nornen sangen von allem, was war, ist und sein wird." I take this as a warning that I must not miss tomorrow's final Ring Cycle performance of Götterdämmerung at San Francisco Opera.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Master Class with Matthew Epstein

Thursday evening I got to hear 4 Merolini in a master class presented to an audience of Merola Opera supporters. The event was led by Matthew Epstein, who modestly claimed he is not a "master," even though his lengthy resume includes being director of Columbia Artists Vocal, artistic director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, general director of Welsh National Opera, & manager to many famous singers.

Each singer sang two arias, the 2nd being chosen by their fellow Merolini, who were seated in the middle of the auditorium & played the part of an audition committee. Mr. Epstein moderated the discussion of each singer's performance. Every comment began with praise, but nothing was off limits. Baritone Jonathan Michie has a suave, confident stage presence & rounded low notes but was taken to task about the color of his tie. Mezzo Deborah Nansteel has a wonderfully dark, luscious sound, but her colleagues noticed unintentional movements that gave away her nervousness.

Merola Opera ProgramBass-baritone Philippe Sly was indisposed but bravely sang his bravura Handel aria with a sharp energy. Someone complained about the choice of material, saying of Handel arias, "If I've heard the first 8 bars, I've heard the whole thing." However, everyone had difficulty finding fault with his version of the Count's aria from The Marriage of Figaro. It was bright, original, & bursting with might. I instantly wanted to hear him sing the whole role. Soprano Elizabeth Zharoff got similarly involved in her aria from Iolanta. Her full-throated singing pulled everyone into its mood of sadness. If I had been one of the singers, I do not know what I would have made of all the comments & differing points of view. Mr. Epstein ended the session by telling the singers, "Your entire career is spent listening to advice." After the class, the audience was invited to join the Merolini in a dessert & sparkling wine reception.

§ Master Class with Matthew Epstein
Merola Opera Program 2011
Thursday, June 30, 2011 | 7:00 - 9:00 PM | Herbst Theatre

"Bella siccome un angelo" from Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti
"Mab, la reine des mensonges" from Roméo et Juliette by Charles-François Gounod
Jonathan Michie, baritone
Robert Mollicone, piano

"Va! Laisse couler mes larmes" from Werther by Jules Massenet
"Sein wir wieder gut" Composer's Aria from Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss
Deborah Nansteel, mezzo-soprano
Timothy Cheung, piano

"Sibilar gli angui d'Aletto" from Rinaldo by G. F. Handel
"Hai già vinta la causa" from Le Nozze di Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Philippe Sly, bass-baritone
Ana María Otamendi, piano

"No word from Tom" from The Rake's Progress by Igor Stravinsky
Iolanta's Arioso from Iolanta by Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Elizabeth Zharoff, soprano
Clinton Smith, piano