Thursday, September 29, 2011

Craig Thompson Presents Habibi

Cartoon Art MuseumLast night a capacity audience came to the Cartoon Art Museum to hear Craig Thompson talk about his just-released graphic novel Habibi. It's a fantasy tale, nearly 700 pages long, & its sources include the history of the Arab slave trade, One Thousand and One Nights, the water crisis, Arabic calligraphy, & the poets Rumi & Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. I feel chastised simply by its length. The trim Mr. Thompson thanked us for waiting 7 years since his last book, & he eagerly gave a half-hour talk with slides about the process of creating his new story. We saw pictures of his sketchbooks & the 200 page 1st draft drawn with a pen. His drawing is fluid & alarmingly free of corrections & reworked lines.

We learned that he began the final art even before he had an ending, assuming that a suitable one would present itself. Unfortunately this did not happen, & he tried at least 10 endings before settling on the most "honest" one. He talked about the importance of finishing things, & asserted that the purpose of a relationship is to bring out your insecurities. If you abandon a relationship after the 1st signs of struggle, you will never learn anything.

Craig ThompsonThe audience was a young, arty crowd, & they were patient when the talk started 20 minutes late due to a missing cable for the projector. Afterward, Mr. Thompson did a signing, but the museum sold out of books even before the event started. Incredibly, Habibi was released in 7 editions in 7 different languages on the exact same day, so Mr. Thompson is at the start of a lengthy international book tour. He amusingly kept referring to his French publisher as "The Frenchies." He'll be at APE this weekend, & it might be worth getting a copy from him, as it looked like he drew something in each book when signing it.

§ Craig Thompson Presents Habibi
Cartoon Art Museum
Wednesday, September 28, 2011, 7:00-9:00pm

Dutch and Flemish Masterworks; The Mourners

The exhibit of 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings at the Legion of Honor closes this weekend, & I visited this afternoon, determined not to miss it. The paintings all come from the private collection of the Van Otterlo family & include examples of various popular genres, such as seascapes, church & city views, still life, portraits & allegories. Since the paintings are on the smaller side & quite detailed, everyone needs to get their noses up close, creating jams in front of the pictures. Most of these artists were unfamiliar to me, but the exacting "pen painting" of a war ship by Willem van de Velde the Elder drew a lot of admiration from visitors, as did the still lifes. Rembrandt is representing by a piercing Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh & an amazing etching of a Sleeping Puppy. It's the size of 3 stage stamps but carefully & affetionately observed. There's also a vivid Portrait of a Preacher by Hals & 2 large Van Ruysdael landscapes. The final room of "Dutch Italiante Painting" depicts sunny climes but left me cold.

I also saw The Mourners, a striking exhibit of 37 alabaster statues from the 15th century tomb of John the Fearless, 2nd duke of Burgundy. The statues are about a foot high, & at 1st they looked to me like the pieces of a giant Medieval chess set. Each has a unique presence. They are robed, & the most evocative figures are completely hooded. They normally live in their own miniature aracade, walking in an eternal funeral procession for the duke, but here they stand in the open, so we can admire them from all sides.

§ Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection
Legion of Honor
July 9, 2011 - October 2, 2011

§ The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy
Legion of Honor
August 20, 2011 - December 31, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Mechanics' InstituteTuesday evening I was at the Mechanics' Institute to hear science writer Charles C. Mann give an illustrated talk about his new book, 1493. This account of the unintended consequences of Columbus's voyage to America weaves together science, history & ecology. The European exploitation of the Americas created a truly global economy & an exchange of people, plants &, most importantly, diseases. It was shocking to learn that two-thirds to 90 percent of the Native American population was wiped out due to the introduction of epidemic diseases, & there is a probable connection between this event & the Little Ice Age. Besides tying together a vast amount of knowledge, Mr. Mann also displayed a dry wit, as when he referred to an image of a Native American dwelling hung with animals skins as "Sara Palin's dream house."

The meeting room was full, & people who did not RSVP were put on a waiting list, though I think everyone got in. Refreshments were available, though sadly a sign said that wine could not be offered at these events which are open to the public.

§ 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created - Charles C. Mann
Mechanics' Institute

Tue, 09/27/2011 - 6:00pm - 7:30pm

Monday, September 26, 2011

Apple Store Shroud

PhotobucketWhile the Apple store on Chestnut Street is being renovated, it's been covered with this featureless black facade. Even the floating Apple logo is hidden. I saw workers put this up last night, & when I walked by again at 9pm this evening I could hear Apple construction elves busily at work inside. Actually, I think the building is in mourning for Steve Jobs.

SF Shakes: Cymbeline

SF ShakesSunday afternoon I saw the closing performance of Cymbeline, performed outdoors in the Presidio by Free Shakespeare in the Park. The production has a Steampunk look, with the cast in Victorian clothing & a soothsayer wearing goggles. The stage is strewn with trunks & furniture from a child's nursery. A mute little girl pops up a few times, & the 1st scene is staged as a story being read to her.

The dedicated cast of 9 did a lot of doubling & tripling up on roles. Casting Craig Marker as both Posthumus & Cloten works so well that the actor can switch parts without leaving the stage. His clownish Cloten hasn't quite learned to walk on 2 legs. Caitlyn Louchard is cast convincingly as the boy servant Pisanio. Emily Jordan gave a consistently solid performance as an angry Innogen. She provided a strong anchor for this somewhat unfocussed play. I liked how actor Julian López-Morillas communicates the text so plainly. The production, perhaps reflecting the play, had an uncertain tone. There was an enjoyably grotesque moment, though, when Cloten waved his sword menacingly at us to the accompaniment of the Tiger Lillies's "Kill You on a Monday."

The SF Shakes audience sat patiently through the nearly 3 hour show, applauded the ends of scenes, laughed freely, & hissed at one of Iachimo's exits. The cast uses wireless head mics, but the amplification frequently cut in & out. An announcement was made that this weekend's performances were dedicated to SF Shakes CFO & Board Member Keith Taylor, who "died in a senseless car crash" earlier in the week.

§ Cymbeline
Free Shakespeare in the Park

Directed by Kenneth Kelleher

Chris Ayles (Cymbeline / Cornelius / Sicilius / Jailor)
Craig Marker (Posthumus / Cloten)
Emily Jordan (Innogen)
Sharon Robinson (Queen / Soothsayer / Jailor)
Caitlyn Louchard (Pisanio)
Galen Murphy-Hoffman (Iachimo)
Julian López-Morillas (Philario / Belarius / Jupiter)
Michael Bates (1st Gentleman / Guiderius / Caius Lucius)
Carl Holvick-Thomas (2nd Gentleman / Arviragus / Frenchman)

The Presidio's Main Post, Parade Ground Lawn
Sunday, Sept 25 at 2:30 PM

Sunday, September 25, 2011

NCCO: Carmen Revisited

The New Century Chamber Orchestra opened their 20th anniversary season with this splashy, audience-pleasing program. The ensemble dug into Bloch's Baroque-inspired Concert Grosso with enthusiasm. The first stand players looked at each other often, clearly enjoying the piece. There was a nice solo from viola principal Anna Kruger, & the viola section played tightly together in the fugue. The piano sat behind the orchestra, & I sometimes forgot to listen for it, even though I really liked pianist Miles Graber's limpid playing. The audience cheered the energetic performance.

NCCO honored Stuart Canin, their founding music director, by inviting him to play Mendelssohn's "other" violin concerto in D minor. I think I've only ever heard it once before, & it is appealing & happy music. Mr. Canin has a sweet string sound, & his fluid bow arm is lovely to watch, though his playing was a bit wobbly at times. The orchestra were supportive in their accompaniment & played with bite. They appreciatively stamped their feet for Mr. Canin.

The orchestra returned from intermission having added bright red accessories to their concert dress for Shchedrin's Carmen Suite. Bassist Tony Manzo looked like a Christmas present, with a big red bow tied to the scroll of his instrument. Shchedrin uses well-known themes from Carmen (& 2 other Bizet works), but he is wry & surprising, as when a timpani thud ends the act III Entr'acte or the marimbas play the March of the Toreadors. The orchestra's crescendo in the 1st movement was impressively tense & drawn-out. They played raucously. Leader Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg, though seated, became airborne at least twice. Percussionists Galen Lemmon & Artie Storch, manning a vast array of instruments behind the orchestra, were continually on the move. They must wear out a pair of shoes each performance. The piece ends quietly, & there was a lingering silence before the audience responded with a loud standing ovation.

§ Carmen Revisited
New Century Chamber Orchestra

Ernest Bloch: Concerto Grosso No. 1 with Piano Obbligato
Felix Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in D Minor
Stuart Canin, violin
Rodion Shchedrin: Carmen Suite

Saturday, September 24, 2011, 8pm
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

§ Members of New Century
Violin I:
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Music Director and Concertmaster
Karen Shinozaki Sor
Iris Stone
Robin Mayforth
Sara Usher

Violin II:
Candace Guirao
Deborah Tien Price
Michael Yokas
Anna Presler
Michelle Maruyama

Anna Kruger
Cassandra Lynne Richburg
Kurt Rohde
Jenny Douglass

Michelle Djokic
Robin Bonnell
Michael Graham
Erin Wang

Anthony Manzo

Miles Graber

Galen Lemmon
Artie Storch

Roadworks Street Fair

Roadworks Street Fair
It's pretty hard to miss the photo ops provided by this street fair & fund-raiser for the San Francisco Center for the Book. Spectacularly large lino prints are inked & then laid in the street, where they are printed with an actual steam roller.

Roadworks Street Fair
This image by Eric Rewitzer of Godzilla attacking the Pyramid Building was a crowd-pleaser.

Roadworks Street Fair
Roadworks Street Fair
Roadworks Street Fair
Looking back at my pictures, I am reminded that dogs & popsicles were popular accessories at the event. The weather was capricious on Saturday, & vendors periodically had to stop their stuff from flying away in the wind. It was fun to run into book artist Ginger Burrell once again. I probably learn 5 new things every time I talk with her.

§ Roadworks Street Fair
San Francisco Center for the Book

Big Book Sale

Big Book SaleIt's not reasonable to go into this huge used book sale at Fort Mason looking for a particular item. The books are sorted by subject matter, but basically it is just piles o' books. I loved finding Douglas Coupland's 1990s novel Microserfs filed with books on computer programming. Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population was on a table labelled "Pre-1900 Fiction." Most everything is one or two dollars, but there is also a selection of collectible editions. I was thrilled when one of the staffers allowed me to examine a 1st edition of Harry Houdini's A Magician Among the Spirits. It contains the author's signature on 2 pages & was found in a box of books donated to the library.

§ 47th Annual Big Book Sale
Friends of the San Francisco Public Library
September 21-25, 2011
Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center

Philharmonia Baroque: Mozart & Haydn

PhotobucketFriday night I attended this Philharmonia Baroque concert featuring instrumental works of the classical period. The program began with a detailed & well-prepared performance of Mozart's Prague Symphony. Nicholas McGegan conducts with variety & made the different sections of the piece clear. I liked the way the timbres of the 18th century flutes & trumpets stood out. The timpani, though nearly off-stage, made a great rolling sound, & I felt it as much as heard it. The ending of the Allegro was taut, & the Presto was crisp & built nicely to an energetic finale.

R.J. Kelley was soloist for a pastiche Mozart horn concerto constructed from movements of 2 unfinished concertos plus the slow movement from the 4th concerto. He played a natural horn with no valves, keeping his right hand up the bell while blowing into what looks like a coiled garden hose. It sounds softer & mellower than a modern French horn & seems to be the world's most difficult instrument to play. Mr. Kelley's performance was cautious, but he coaxed hesitant runs, turns & trills out of the thing. He began his cadenza by eerily sounding 2 notes at once. In the pause before the 3rd movement Mr. Kelley sipped water from a plastic bottle, & Maestro McGegan comically mimed giving the horn a drink as well. People seated in my row applauded & stamped their feet enthusiastically for Mr. Kelley.

After intermission we heard an overture by Franz Ignaz Beck, a prolific composer whose works are now almost completely lost. It opens with a gloomy introduction & has contrasting episodes that feel theatrical & are reminiscent of Gluck. The performance ended with a bright & cheerful performance of Haydn's Symphony No. 98. The phrasing was always clear & pointed. Maestro McGegan playfully conducts with his knees & shoulders as well as his hands. Sometimes he flings the music over his head or slaps the orchestra. I like the way he alertly conducts silences. The final presto skipped along, & Maestro McGegan's teasing gestures caused the woman next to me to giggle out loud. McGegan contributed sprightly arpeggios on the fortepiano during the finale.

§ Mozart & Haydn: A Tale of Two Cities
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
R.J. Kelley, horn

MOZART: Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504
MOZART : Concerto pasticcio for Horn in E-flat major, K. 370b/495/371
BECK: Overture from La mort d’Orphée
HAYDN: Symphony No. 98 in B-flat major

Fri., Sep. 23, 2011, 8 PM
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

Thursday, September 22, 2011

SF Opera: Heart of a Soldier

Heart of a SoldierWednesday night I saw San Francisco Opera's latest commission, Heart of a Soldier. It's based on James B. Stewart's journalistic biography of Rick Rescorla, a 9/11 hero who died in the World Trade Center. The performance began with the audience singing the Star Spangled Banner while looking at a huge projection of a waving American flag. The hour long 1st act covers 30 years of Mr. Rescorla's life, from his boyhood in Cornwall to his marriage in Dallas. The many characters, scene changes & multi-layered projections felt jammed together. Tenor William Burden makes an airborne entrance as paratrooper Dan Hill, drifting above the stage, Valkyrie-style. Extremely fit mercenaries cavort shirtless in a Rhodesian bar, there's a jungle battle in Vietnam, & a muezzin calls the faithful to prayer in the middle of a wedding scene. Though shorter, act II feels more expansive, covering Mr. Rescorla's middle-age romance with Susan Greer & the attack on the towers. We see Ms. Greer out jogging with a tail-wagging Golden Retriever, & this scene-stealing pooch got a round of applause when he exited chasing a ball. The collapse of the towers is staged powerfully & ends in a respectful near-silence.

The prose libretto by Donna Di Novelli has a lot of conversations but few places where the action stops operatically. The music by Christopher Theofanidis is harmonic yet modern-sounding. The orchestra under conductor Patrick Summers played crisply, especially in the jaunty, syncopated passages. The committed performances of the cast really sold the evening to me. Thomas Hampson's voice is fluffy, warm & without strain, & he was an endearing Rick. Tenor William Burden gave a naturalistic acting performance as Dan Hill, his voice secure, bright & smooth. Soprano Melody Moore as Susan Rescorla was similarly naturalistic & sang urgently & with strength. I also liked soprano Nadine Sierra's clear & youthful sound as a girl called Juliet, sending perfumed letters to her lover in Vietnam. I never felt I had to refer to the supertitles to be sure what she was saying. Bass-baritone Michael Sumuel gave an emotional performance as the recipient of her letters.

The audience seemed engaged by the opera & even laughed out loud at its humorous moments. Several in the orchestra level gave Mr. Hampson a standing ovation. During the intermission I peeked into the pit & was recognized by principal trumpet Adam Luftman. Fortunately he is friendly toward bloggers & confided with amazement, "That Opera Tattler, she goes to everything!"

§ Heart of a Soldier
Music by Christopher Theofanidis
Libretto By Donna Di Novelli
Based On The Book By James B. Stewart And The Life Stories Of Susan Rescorla, Rick Rescorla And Daniel J. Hill
Commissioned By San Francisco Opera

Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Francesca Zambello

Rick Rescorla: Thomas Hampson
Daniel J. Hill : William Burden
Susan Rescorla: Melody Moore
Juliet, Barbara: Nadine Sierra
Cyril: Henry Phipps
Imam: Mohannad Mchallah
Tom, Ted: Michael Sumuel
Lolita, Bridesmaid: Susannah Biller
Pat, Ann: Sara Gartland
Kathy, Bridesmaid: Maya Lahyani
Omaha, Robert: Ta'u Pupu'a
Dexter, Dex: Daniel Snyder
Joseph, Joe: Trevor Scheunemann
Sam, Wesley: Wayne Tigges
Buddy: Koa the Golden Retriever

Wed 09/21/11 7:30pm
War Memorial Opera House

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dress Rehearsal: Lucrezia Borgia

San Francisco OperaTuesday afternoon, thanks to a thoughtful SF Opera super, I saw the 1st two acts of the final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Lucrezia Borgia. The production opens this Friday night. Since it stars Renée Fleming, there was a great deal of excitement among the rehearsal attendees. Like me, no one seemed to be familiar with the opera itself. I joked that given the subject matter & the composer, people must get poisoned to the accompaniment of a drinking song, & it turns out that this is exactly the case. The poor tenor even gets poisoned twice!

Ms. Fleming sang half-voice in the acts I heard, but tenor Michael Fabiano sounded like he is going to be great. His voice is strong, ringing & masculine, & he has a young & handsome stage presence. Mezzo Elizabeth DeShong has a tightly focussed sound & is a pert Orsini. The role reminded me of the page Oscar from Un Ballo. Bass Vitalij Kowaljow has a big, dark sound, & is intimidating as Lucrezia's abusive husband, the Duke of Ferrara. It was nice to hear that the orchestra's brass & woodwind sections have lost none of their glow from this summer's Ring Cycle.

The production has a Renaissance setting, & some of the costumes have headgear with gold spikey things coming out of them. The set is dominated by a broad staircase & towering stone walls. There seem to be dungeons beneath the stage, & a woman is chased around by a man with a whip in act II. All the scenes are dimly lit, as if everything were happening at night. SFMike was somewhere on stage as a torch-bearer at the end of act I, trying vainly to illuminate the gloom.

§ Lucrezia Borgia
by Gaetano Donizetti

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Riccardo Frizza
Director: John Pascoe

Apostolo Gazello: Austin Kness
Ascanio Petrucci: Ao Li
Maffio Orsini: Elizabeth DeShong
Jeppo Liverotto: Christopher Jackson
Oloferno Vitellozzo: Brian Jagde
Gubetta: Igor Vieira
Gennaro: Michael Fabiano
Lucrezia Borgia: Renée Fleming
Duke Alfonso: Vitalij Kowaljow
Rustighello: Daniel Montenegro
Jeppo Liverotto: Christopher Jackson
Astolfo: Ryan Kuster
Princess Negroni: Blance Hampton
Ladies of the Court: Mary Finch, Claire Kelm, Sally Mouzon, Sally Monro
A Voice: Jere Torkelsen

Dress Rehearsal
Tuesday 9/20/11 · 3:00 PM
War Memorial Opera House

Up-Coming: New Century Chamber Orchestra

On Tuesday, the New Century Chamber Orchestra had an open rehearsal for the 1st concert of their 20th anniversary season. I sat in on about half an hour & saw them work on Bloch's Concerto Grosso No. 1 for String Orchestra and Piano, which replaces Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste on the originally announced program. The group is conductorless, & there is a lot of starting, stopping & discussion among all the members. Though decisions are generally reached by consensus, I was surprised to see leader Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg veto outright a suggestion from the bassist. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg is a very physical performer & never goes less than all-out. Sometimes she rose out of her seat while playing. The Bloch piece was new to me, & it is a super-accessible romp that everyone seems to have a great time playing. The Carmina Burana-like program, which also includes the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto & Shchedrin's percussion-heavy Carmen Suite, should delight NCCO's audience.

Following the rehearsal I was present at a press conference with Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg, who was unstinting in her praise of the ensemble's performances & proud of its continued success, despite the hard times that have affected other orchestras. Noting that NCCO is “an ensemble that has to be seen as well as heard,” she announced the release of a DVD for next spring. She also thinks they should have a bigger presense on YouTube. An up-coming piece from Ellen Zwilich based on Commedia dell'Arte will be “very visual” & a lot of a fun. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg also shared her ambition to someday have the orchestra perform Mahler 4.

The meeting started with all the attendeess introducing themselves, but I actually arrived late & missed this part, prompting Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg to blurt out, “Who are you?” as soon as I came in.

§ Carmen Revisited
New Century Chamber Orchestra

Ernest Bloch: Concerto Grosso No. 1 with Piano Obbligato
Felix Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in D Minor
Stuart Canin, violin
Rodion Shchedrin: Carmen Suite

Thursday, September 22, 2011, 8pm, First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Friday, September 23, 2011, 8pm, First United Methodist Church, Palo Alto
Saturday, September 24, 2011, 8pm, Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
Sunday, September 25, 2011, 5pm, Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, San Rafael

Monday, September 19, 2011

Spitting In The Face Of The Devil

In the last time slot of the last day of the SF Fringe Festival, I saw Bob Brader's solo show, Spitting in the Face of the Devil, about growing up with his stern & abusive ex-Marine father. As a teenager he discovers that his father has had sex with 2 of the male friends he has brought home from school. There are a lot of opportunities to get angry, but the narrative is direct & does not sensationalize. The show makes good use of an ordinary-looking family photo blown up to poster size. Mr. Brader was very invested in his performance, even for our audience of 25, who refused to laugh even at the lighter moments. Though it looks like he has been doing this piece for a couple of years now, it clearly has lost lost none of its power to move him. My theater companion was impressed by Mr. Brader's emotional presence but was bothered by the show's implicit association of homosexuality with pedophilia. Afterward, the story just sat with me, making me feel uncomfortable.

§ Spitting In The Face Of The Devil
by Bob Brader
John Montgomery Theatre Company
SF Fringe Festival 2011
Sunday 18 Sep 5:30 PM

Elite Waste

Elite WasteThis installation was parked outside the Exit Theatre during the SF Fringe Festival. Gregory Kloehn has transformed a dumpster into a neat & compact living space. The deadpan Mr. Koehn & his female associate talked up the convenience of dumpster living as if they were selling used cars. I was asked what it would take to get me into one of these today. I got to sit inside & discover the toilet, which is hidden under a bench seat. There is also a shower, but it is attached to the outside of the dumpster, making privacy an issue. A chicken coop is on top. Keeping the chicken company was a woman in a Chinese dress performing some sort of ritual involving moving slowly, wafting a shawl around & blowing soap bubbles. Someone suggested that she was communing with the chicken.

§ Elite Waste
by Gregory Kloehn
SF Fringe Festival 2011
Somewhere on Eddy Street

I Love You (We're F*#ked)

Sunday I caught shows in the last 2 time slots of the SF Fringe Festival. In his naughtily-titled one-man show, Kevin J Thornton told jokes, sang & shared snippets of his life & thoughts. We heard about high school lock-ins, the Mall of America, & why "Happiness is for fuckin' house cats." Mr. Thornton sang about a half dozen songs, accompanying himself on the guitar & harmonica. I especially like the growly voice he showed off in one song with a pounding accompaniment. The baggy-eyed Mr. Thornton has an endearing presence, & he seems almost too comfortable being onstage. I sometimes felt something formidable under his cheery exterior as well.

The performance had an obvious improvisational feel, & only toward the end did Mr. Thornton admit that this was not the advertised show. This is his 10th fringe festival this year, & he started out with a piece about a devastating break-up, but by now he has gotten tired of talking about it & is evolving his performance. It seems that at least 25% of the show was different from one that a friend saw on Saturday night. Fragments of the original survive in a raunchy bit involving comparisons of male anatomy & a story about the discovery of a boyfriend's secret on-line dating profile in which he describes himself as "honest." I would gladly see Mr. Thornton again in the original show.

§ I Love You, (We're F*#ked)
Kevin J Thornton
SF Fringe Festival 2011
Sunday 18 Sep 4:00 PM
Exit Stage Left

Project Bandaloop Bound(less)

IMG_3010Project Bandaloop's Mint Plaza preview provoked me into attending their full performance of Bound(less) in Oakland on Saturday night. I arrived at least 20 minutes before the show, & the street in front of The Great Wall was already packed. It was shoulder to shoulder where we stood on the corner of Grand Ave. & Valley St. Project Bandaloop's dancers perform airborne, hanging off the side of the building by mountain climbing ropes. It's a spectacle, with the dancers scrambling down the wall like insects, assuming gravity-defying poses, & doing impossible lifts & leaps. The dancers often appear to be standing horizontally on the wall, creating the illusion that we are looking down at them from above. When they push away from the wall, they appear to fly in slow motion. One dancer sailed across the wall & precisely grabbed the corner of the building, causing gasps from the audience. I should be terrified watching, but Bandaloop move so gracefully that they made me wish I could do it myself.

The performance lasted about an hour & was composed of a variety of pieces for different combinations of the 6 dancers. In the opening number, 3 women joined by one long white dress create different shapes as they gradually descend. One solo starts with a male dancer sitting in a rocking chair suspended half way up the wall. He later seems to get involved in a fight with 2 other male dancers. A sad duet between a man & a woman ends when the woman reaches the ground while the man still hangs in the air.

The show was accompanied by a wonderful romantic jazz score by Dana Leong. The fearless Mr. Leong started the show by standing on the top ledge of the building & playing a soulful solo overture on the trombone. Safely back on the ground, he played melodic solos on the electric cello, throwing in tremolos, harmonics, pizzicatos & strumming for added color.

The performance was free, though there was a paid VIP section with seating directly in front of the wall. Many people showed up with their own lawn chairs or blankets. T-shirts & beverages were for sale. There were some crowd control problems across the street where the crowds on the sidewalk were so dense that people could not get to the entrance of a building.

§ Bound(less)
Project Bandaloop
September 17, 2011 8:30 pm
The Great Wall of Oakland

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Up-Coming: Passione

This week I saw a preview screening of Passione, John Turturro's sunny survey of the leading edge of the Neapolitan music scene. It's a compilation of over 20 performances, each staged for the camera in a different setting. Singers might be swaggering down graffiti-covered streets or acting out romantic dramas. One goofy scenario shows Gennaro Cosmo Parlato as a man wearing mascara having an emotional breakdown on a crowded beach. Go-go dancers figure prominently in another. In a classier sequence, guitarist Fausto Cigliano performs in a church with Caravaggio's The Seven Acts of Mercy in the background. In contrast to all this artificial theatricality, James Senese sings the title song in the blue light of a nightclub setting & provides the most authentic moments in the film.

I did not recognize any of the songs or musicians, except for "O Sole Mio," in an exotic rendition by M’Barka Ben Taleb. Spanish & North African influences are evident in many of the performances. The songs are interspersed with interviews, archival footage & commentary from Mr. Turturro, though I found the small bits of information presented to be confusing. Passione will play at New People Cinema for 2 weeks starting September 30th. Mr. Turturro is anticipated to be at the opening.

§ Passione
Directed by John Turturro
91 min. In Italian, English, Neapolitan and Arabic with subtitles.

Spakka-Neapolis 55
Avion Travel
Pietra Montecorvino
Massimo Ranieri
Lina Sastri
M’Barka Ben Taleb
Gennaro Cosmo Parlato
Peppe Barra
Angela Luce
Max Casella
James Senese
Fausto Cigliano
Fiorenza Calogero
Daniela Fiorentino
Lorena Tamaggio
Enzo Avitabile
Pino Daniele

Opera San José: Idomeneo

Opera San José puts on a good show. Last Sunday I attended their grandly staged Idomeneo. A pre-curtain supertitle informed us that the historically accurate production is based on the art of Minoan Crete, & we indeed saw scenic Minoan frescoes, period costumes & a massive 3-story temple. A super even carries on a vase authentically decorated with an octopus.

The performance lasted over 3 and a half hours & encompassed an aria for Arbace in Act III, Idomeneo's final aria "Torna la pace," & the ballet music. Conductor George Cleve was neither too fast nor too slow, & he made it easy to sit through the long acts. He established such an even flow that it felt like an abrupt interruption when Act I ended. The orchestra followed him well, though the strings predominated, & I often had a hard time hearing the winds & brass.

Soprano Sandra Bengochea was a strong-voiced, coquettish Ilia. She almost seemed to be seducing Idomeneo in her Act II aria. Mezzo Betany Coffland has a bright, high-sounding voice, but conveyed masculinity as Idamente. Tenor Alexander Boyer in the title role sounded both weighty & soft-edged. He seemed scared of the coloratura passages, but he valiantly made it through "Fuor del mar" & the punishing "Torna la pace" without incident. Soprano Jasmina Halimic had a powerful, focused sound as Elettra. She pulled out all the stops for her mad scene, reaching a frightening level of insanity in the scored laughter. Other highlights included the Act II trio & the stately opening of the sacrifice scene. Silas Elash's authoritative Heavenly Voice came down into the auditorium through an opening in the ceiling, &, instead of instead of trombones, the house's theater organ blasted the audience. It was earth-shaking.

The cast includes a good-sized chorus, a scantily-clad corps de ballet & a handful of supers, so the stage never looked under-populated. The dancers recreated poses from Minoan paintings & mimicked a bull-leaping stunt in the ballet. The staging incorporated Neptune, played by a bare-chested actor with long white hair, a crown & intimidating pecs. He looked like The Little Mermaid's father. At key moments, he walked on stage like Banquo's ghost, seen only by Idomeneo.

The San Jose audience was quiet, attentive & appreciative throughout, & they responded with a standing ovation. I attended thanks to the Opera Tattler, & it was a pleasant surprise when we ran across the effervescent Out West Arts during the 1st intermission. We also chatted with Oboeinsight, taking her break without leaving the pit & clearly enjoying this gig. Interestingly, the production is double cast, with Idamante sung by a tenor instead of a mezzo in alternate performances. The cordial Opera San José sells fresh baked chocolate chip cookies in the rear lobby, & the smell is irresistible.

§ Idomeneo
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Opera San José
Conductor: George Cleve
Stage Director: Brad Dalton
Choreographer: Dennis Nahat
Set DesignerL Steven C. Kemp
Costume Designer: Johann Stegmeir

Ilia: Sandra Bengochea
Elettra: Jasmina Halimic
Idamante: Betany Coffland
Idomeneo: Alexander Boyer
Arbace: Nova Safo
High Priest: Mathew Edwardsen
The Voice: Silas ElashTrojan Men: Jo Vincent Parks, Raymond Chavez
Cretan Women: Tori Grayum, Jillian Boye
Nettuno (non-singing): Paul Gemignani

Opera San José Orchestra, Chorus, Dancers and Supers

California Theatre, San José
Sun., Sept. 11, 2011 3 p.m.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Oddball Films: Strange Sinema 44

Oddball Films lived up to its name even more than usual when I attended the program this past Saturday night. Among the inexplicable offerings were home movies shot in India & Nepal, a titillating novelty film depicting a lesbian seduction, a 1970s agitprop docudrama from San Francisco about undocumented workers, & a Dali-inspired Porky Pig cartoon. The big revelation for me, though, was Dimitri Kirsanoff's silent Menilmontant (1926). It opens without warning with a shocking double ax murder, the preface to a Gothic tale of 2 sisters orphaned by the crime. The film has no intertitles, & Kirsanoff employs sophisticated cinematic techniques such as rapid-fire montage, double-exposure & jump cuts, but always in service of the story. The film has a strong psychological mood & an atmosphere of dread. I think I gasped out loud during an emotionally devastating scene in which one of the sisters is offered a scrap of bread by a stranger on a park bench. I really need to find out more about this movie, & I'm puzzled as to why I'd never heard of it before. There were several silent movies on the program, so Oddball Films director Stephen Parr played various electronic soundtracks to accompany them, though the often eerie music did not fit any of the films well. Mr. Parr also apologized for not being able to project Menilmontant at the correct speed.

§ "Strange Sinema 44” Oddities From the Archives

Travel films shot in Northern India & Nepal (1950s?)
Hypothese Beta (1969)
Fidelity of Report (1946)
Baron Munchausen’s Dream (Georges Méliès, 1911)
Amour Pour Un Femme (1950)
Los Desarraigados (1974)
Menilmontant (Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926)
Dough For The Do-do (Friz Freleng, 1949)
Red Ball Express (Steve Segal, 1975)

Oddball Films
Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 8:00PM

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

SF Opera: Turandot

SF Opera Opening NightOn Friday night I attended opening night at the San Francisco Opera as a standee. There was some confusion, as a catering tent had been set up on top of our numbered spaces outside, but we managed to sort ourselves out with our marks. Near the head of the line was of course the Opera Tattler, as well as SFMike, looking elegant in his tuxedo & modesty declining to brag about attending 2 opening nights in one week. Upstairs standing room was not crowded, & there was room to spread out. We saw the familiar David Hockney sets, which are cartoony & garish. The bare-chested executioner sports an impressive dragon tattoo. The look is preferable to the comic book sumo wrestler I saw the last time.

Conductor Nicola Luisotti led a vigorous & loud performance of Puccini's sadistic opera. The chorus belted, & the orchestra was ear-splitting in the climaxes. Tenor Marco Berti as Calaf made a consistently big, solid sound without ever seeming to push or strain, though I found his acting & singing to be uninflected. I was surprised when he cut short the last note of his "Nessum dorma." Soprano Iréne Theorin is a powerful & intense singer, & she communicated Turandot's anger & iciness well. Leah Crocetto as Liù was the real star of the evening. Her singing is lyrically Italiante, & though her voice is large she also sang wonderful, far-reaching pianissimos in Act I. She convincingly conveyed Liù's purity & innocence. Ping, Pang & Pong were an animated trio, & their clownish movements were easy to read from the balcony. I liked the roomy voice of baritone Hyung Yun as Ping. Even though they were playing old men, Joseph Frank as the emperor & Raymond Aceto as Timur were sturdy & incisive.

SF OperaFor opening night, statues of golden lions stood in front of the Opera House, & the boxes were festooned with red & blue garlands. Patrons took lots of photos of the over-size bouquet of roses in the lobby. The people seated in the last row of the balcony appeared to be first-time opera goers. They were fidgety & chatty, even during "Nessun dorma."

§ Turandot
by Giacomo Puccini
(Last duet and finale by Franco Alfano)

San Francisco Opera
Conductor, Nicola Luisotti
Director, Garnett Bruce
Set Designer, David Hockney

A Mandarin, Ryan Kuster
Liù, Leah Crocetto
Timur, Raymond Aceto
Calaf, Marco Berti
Prince of Persia, Christopher Jackson
Pu-Ti-Pao, Justin Roninger
Ping, Hyung Yun
Pang, Greg Fedderly
Pong, Daniel Montenegro
Handmaidens, Dvora Djoraev, Virgina Pluth
Emperor Altoum, Joseph Frank
Turandot, Iréne Theorin
War Memorial Opera House
Fri 09/9/11 8:00pm

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Project Bandaloop Sneak Preview

Project Bandaloop, Bound(less)
Friday afternoon I stepped into Mint Plaza for this short but stunning presentation by Project Bandaloop. They perform death-defying dances while suspended off the sides of buildings by mountain climbing ropes. The crowd below looked up to watch an excerpt from the up-coming Bound(less). Three women wearing one long dress make their way down the face of an 8 story building, sometimes struggling with each other, sometimes moving in harmony. The dancers create the illusion that they are walking down the face of the building. It seems like it would be terrifying to watch, but it was entrancing, & I was impressed by their synchronization as well as their ab strength. The audience gasped & applauded moves in which the dancers pushed away from the wall & appeared to fly. We also laughed when 2 workers in the building appeared at their windows to see what was going on.

Project Bandaloop, SwingThis was followed by Swing, a humorous duet in which a swing dance couple takes advantage of being airborne to do impossible lifts & jumps. In between set-ups, the company's director, Amelia Rudolph, talked about the history of the Bandaloop & answered questions from the audience. This peek made me want to check out their full performance in Oakland next weekend.

§ Sneak Preview of Bound(less)
Project Bandaloop
Friday, September 9 at 5:00 pm
The Mint Plaza

§ Bound(less)
Project Bandaloop
September 15-17 at 8:30 pm
The Great Wall, at the corner of West Grand and Broadway in uptown Oakland

SF Fringe: Microvation

Thursday night I was at the SF Fringe Festival to check out this one-man show parodying motivational business speakers. Bill Bernat, casually dressed in blue jeans & wearing a headset mic, stood at a lectern & introduced himself as a Microvational Speaker, explaining that he would motivate us...but just a little. For the next hour, with the aid of PowerPoint slides, he described a catalog of stress-inducing co-workers & told Dilbert-like stories from his days as an IT manager. The show is a series of bullet points rather than a theatrical experience. Mr. Bernat is frank about the inherent competition within corporate environments, where in order to get ahead you may need to sabotage your own coworkers. There was something disturbing about his own admissions of his nettlesome workplace behavior.

The EXIT Theater spaces are cramped, & the show was well-attended. The enthusiastic Fringe ushers encouraged us to purchase beverages to bring into the theater, & a good proportion of the audience did so.

§ Microvation
by Bill Bernat

EXIT Theatre
Thursday, September 8, 9:00 PM

Saturday, September 10, 1:00 PM
Sunday, September 11, 2:30 PM
Wednesday, September 14, 10:30 PM
Thursday, September 15, 7:00 PM
Saturday, September 17, 6:00 PM

§ SF Fringe Festival 2011
September 7 - 18

Friday, September 09, 2011

Paul Madonna at the Mechanics' Institute

Paul MadonnaYesterday evening local cartoonist Paul Madonna gave a talk about his work at the Mechanics' Institute. Though the visual aspect of his art makes the biggest impression, most of his strips actually start with the text. He explained that he does not want the images to illustrate the text redundantly. Rather, the text should qualify the image. Amazingly, he never pencils in first, & he uses a rapidograph drafting pen on the wrong kind of paper deliberately to get an erratic line. He's started making larger drawings, as big as 3' x 4'. These cannot be completed on site, so he sketches on site for one to three hours, blows up the sketches, then finishes the drawings in his studio with the aid of photo references. Despite the freshness & immediacy of the images, some may have been in progress for a year or more before being published. Mr. Madonna emphasized the constant discipline required for him to produce his work. Once he left school, it took him 10 years to get published, & he comes across as very happy with his current success.

The Mechanics' Institute recently knocked out a wall in their meeting room, making it much more comfortable for these gatherings. Wine, coffee & snacks were available, & the room smelled of warm cookies at the beginning of the event.

§ Everything Is Its Own Reward: An All Over Coffee Collection
Paul Madonna
The Mechanics' Institute
Thu, 09/08/2011 - 6:00pm

SF Symphony in Civic Center

SF Symphony at Civic Center PlazaDespite early morning clouds, it was pleasant weather & blue skies for the San Francisco Symphony's free noontime concert at Civic Center on Thursday. The Symphony is celebrating its centennial season in a big way, & I admittedly came more for the atmosphere than the music. Almost the first person I saw when I arrived was SFMike, blissfully rocking out to John Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine. The crowd went back at least two-thirds of the length of the plaza. Though I stood near the back, I could see Lang Lang's head-banging moves during the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1, though his interpretation was actually quite controlled & well-proportioned. In the Britten Variations, the different sections of the orchestra played their solos with keen articulation. The amplification was not overdone, & the balances did not sound distorted.

SF Symphony at Civic Center PlazaAfter the program an excitable Mayor Ed Lee presented the orchestra with a proclamation, & MTT was cheeky enough to ask for free parking as well. Mr. Lee asked Lang Lang "to get back on the piano" & asked the audience to sing Happy Birthday loud enough to be heard in China. The plaza was decorated with balloons & a large birthday cake, which caused the people around me to make inappropriate jokes about MTT jumping out of it.

§ Free San Francisco Symphony Concert in Civic Center Plaza
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Lang Lang, piano
San Francisco Symphony

John Adams
Short Ride in a Fast Machine

Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major

The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

Thu, Sep 8, 2011 11:30am
Civic Center Plaza

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Hong Kong Cinema: Merry-Go-Round

Yesterday I saw a preview screening of Merry-Go-Round, the opening night film for the San Francisco Film Society's up-coming Hong Kong Cinema festival. 2 woman living in present-day San Francisco travel to Hong Kong in very different circumstances & on very different missions. Gradually their paths cross & 2 romances play out, one modern & one reaching back to the 1930s. The movie unfolds at an unhurried pace as a series of disclosures to the audience. It's a luxuriously overgrown film, with several tendrils that take a while to get to the ends of. Characters' emotional states are revealed through hyper-realistic settings, & the movie is rich in camera set ups. The short prologue establishing the 2 women's lives in San Francisco must have been shot in at least 25 locations. The love story is carried by sequences in which characters look pensive while someone on the soundtrack sings to the simple accompaniment of the guitar. I was distracted by the film's strangely under-populated Hong Kong (a huge hospital has only one patient) & the unaccounted passage of time that allows characters to have aged barely 40 years since World War II.

§ Merry-Go-Round (2010)
Directed by Clement Cheng & Yan Yan Mak
124 min. In Cantonese with subtitles

Plays September 23 & 24 as part of Hong Kong Cinema

§ Hong Kong Cinema festival, September 23–25
San Francisco Film Society
New People Cinema

§ Photo credit: Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

Monday, September 05, 2011

Salle Pianos: Chaplin And Bach

PhotobucketOn Saturday night I attended this musical salon featuring piano improvisations & Charlie Chaplin movies. The venue is a piano showroom that opens onto the art gallery next door. Attendees were asked for a $25 - $30 donation, after which they received a glass of wine & mingled among the pianos being restored. There was a 50 minute performance featuring 3 young musicians, who I assume are or were students at the SF Conservatory of Music. Pianist Chad Thomas played 2 preludes by Nicolai Kapustin which sound exactly like lounge piano improvisations but are actually completely written-out compositions based on classical forms. Soprano Elizabeth Hertzberg sang the Bach aria "Bist du bei mir" in a soothing, velvety voice. Pianist Adrian Borcea then played 6 movements from Bach's keyboard Partita No. 6. After each movement, a short excerpt from a Chaplin film was projected on the wall overhead, accompanied by Mr. Borcea improvising on a theme from the movement. We saw bits of The Great Dictator, Modern Times, The Kid (with Turkish intertitles) & The Circus. Mr. Borcea played a 19th century piano whose brittle sound I never quite got used to. Finally, we heard a lively composition by Mr. Borcea for 2 pianos. The pianos were mis-tuned with one another, creating a honky-tonk feel. It reminded me of a score for a Fellini movie.

The evening was hosted by the wry & nattily dressed Tibor Szabo. After the performance he brought out bread, salad, a huge platter of pasta & a tray of pastries. The attendees spent the rest of the evening socializing. There were about 25 of us, but apparently these events can be much more crowded. The audience ranged from students to a lady, dressed as if for opening night at the opera, who admitted to her 60s.

§ Salle Pianos: Chaplin And Bach

Nicolai Kapustin: Preludes 23 & 19
Chad Thomas, Piano

Bach: Bist du bei mir
Elizabeth Hertzberg, soprano
Adrian Borcea, piano

Bach: Partita No.6 in E minor, BWV 830
Adrian Borcea, piano

Adrian Borcea: Work for 2 pianos, title not announced
Adrian Borcea, Chad Thomas, pianos

Saturday, 3 September 2011
7:pm wine reception 7:30 pm Concert

SF Zine Fest 2011

SF Zine Fest 2011I spent Saturday afternoon at the SF Zine Fest in Golden Gate park. It was bigger than last year, with the exhibitors taking up an additional room. Despite a hard sell from the fast-talking Geoff Vasile, I only bought one issue of his Track Rabbit mini-comic, but I'll be back for more. It was fun to encounter mail art maven Jennie Hinchcliff again. She told me the lame postscript to the story of the wedding china sent through the mail. The unreasonably creative Peter S. Conrad fabricated a comic in the form of a scratch-off lottery card. The reader scratches off squares to reveal the story. Hamburger Eyes spread their table with piles of photography zines, & the raw beauty of the covers alone was stunning.

I saw a lot of hand-stitched bindings & multicolored silkscreen covers. Monsters & robots are popular subjects for the illustration art. Ben Catmull's gorgeous prints of monsters imitate Renaissance woodcuts & have embossed backgrounds. My friend pointed out plenty of "owls, mustaches & whales" as well.

At the end of the afternoon I attended a panel on memoir comics. Creators Jason Martin, Joey Alison Sayers, MariNaomi & Rina Ayuyang discussed the risks of personal exposure & the way truth sometimes needs to be manipulated for the sake of story. Mr. Martin is a Gen-Y Harvey Pekar in Papercutter #17, & he amusingly commented on the challenges of drawing his hair. The phenomenal Justin Hall moderated & manged to work in references to porn names & Proust.

§ 10th Annual San Francisco Zine Fest
September 3 + 4, 2011
11am - 6pm
San Francisco County Fair Building
Golden Gate Park