Sunday, April 29, 2012

Valley of Saints

Saturday night I attended the "at rush" screening of Valley of Saints at the SF International Film Festival. This neo-realist film was beautifully shot on location at Dal Lake, Kashmir. A poor but honest boatman is about to flee the area with his best friend, but a military clamp-down thwarts their plans. He draws close to a young female ecologist also stranded by the curfew, & a rift forms between the 2 male buddies. The storytelling is neatly straight-forward, & Lake Dal appears lushly scenic & yet neglected & polluted by its own inhabitants.

Present at the screening were the producer Nicholas Bruckman, director Musa Syeed, cinematographer Yoni Brook, & composer Mubashir Mohi-ud-Din. We learned that the actor playing Gulzar is indeed a real boatman on Dal Lake. Mr. Syeed even lived with him for 3 months in preparation for the film. The real Gulzar Ahmed Bhat does not have a visa to leave Kashmir & has yet to see the film in an actual movie theater. Mr. Syeed's original script avoided the political situation in Kashmir altogether, but when the film crew arrived, they found themselves in the middle of a military crackdown, which inevitably made its way into the story. Mr. Bruckman recorded the film's sound, & when he heard the actors' hearts pounding during a night shoot, he realized how dangerous conditions really were.

§ Valley of Saints
director, Musa Syeed
India/USA, 2012, 82 min

55th San Francisco International Film Festival
Sun, Apr 22    6:15 / PFA
Fri, Apr 27    6:30 / Kabuki
Sat, Apr 28    9:15 / Kabuki

Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present

Saturday afternoon I was at the SF International Film Festival to see Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, a documentary about the performance artist's 2010 retrospective at the MOMA. Ms. Abramović appears as an impossibly hardy & vibrant 63-year-old woman. We see her preparing & performing a work in which she sat motionless & silent in the gallery during all the museum's public hours for nearly 3 months, while visitors took turns sitting across from her & looking into her eyes. It turns out to be amazingly powerful. Sitters frequently responded by crying. A glimpse of James Franco experiencing the work is priceless. The documentary does a thoughtful job providing context, so that you don't feel like you need to know much about modern art in order to get it. We get enough background on Abramović's former partner & collaborator, a shaggy German called Ulay, so that we can view this as a love story as well.

Matthew Akers & Jeff Dupre, 02.28.2012 Matthew Akers & Jeff Dupre Q&A after screening of Marina AbramoviÄ�: The Artist Is Present at San Francisco International Film Festival.Directors Matthew Akers & Jeff Dupre were present for a Q&A. We learned that Ms. Abramović was so comfortable providing them access that after 1 day of filming by Mr. Akers, she gave him a set of keys to her apartment. We also heard more stories of misbehaving museum visitors. Ms. Abramović apparently likes the film, though she finds it difficult to watch because of the emotional memories it brings back. Prior to the screening, Joanne Parsont, SFFS Director of Education, gave away 2 t-shirts by throwing them out to the audience. She tried to get one into the balcony & had the distance but not the height.

§ Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present
director, Matthew Akers
USA, 2011, 105 min

55th San Francisco International Film Festival
Sat, Apr 21    4:15 / Kabuki
Sat, Apr 28    3:30 / Kabuki
Sun, Apr 29    5:40 / PFA

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Informant, a new documentary which premiered this week at the SF International Film Festival, profiles Brandon Darby, who went from founding member of the anarchist collective Common Ground, to FBI informant, to Tea Party blogger. Mr. Darby was interviewed extensively for the film & comes across as both charismatic & desperate for recognition. He even portrays himself in the film's dramatic reenactments. Interview subjects contradict each other outright, & Mr. Darby's role as an FBI informant is made to look fraught with ambiguities. There is also the subtle implication that the radical left & the radical right have a certain affinity.

Director Jamie Meltzer, who teaches at Stanford, was present at the screening & pointed out colleagues in the audience who also worked on the documentary. We learned that it took a year to convince Mr. Darby to participate & that he initially hated the film. Mr. Darby did not attend because he was at a Tea Party event, though he has agreed to appear at subsequent screenings. A woman in the audience who had worked with Common Ground vilified Mr. Darby & emphatically denied that the group advocated any sort of violence. Before the screening, Programming Coordinator Joseph Flores conducted a Jamie Meltzer trivia contest to award 2 t-shirts.

§ Informant
director, Jamie Meltzer
USA, 2012, 80 min

55th San Francisco International Film Festival
Sun, Apr 22    9:00 / Kabuki
Mon, Apr 23    6:30 / PFA
Fri, Apr 27    9:00 / Kabuki

Thursday, April 26, 2012

¡Vivan las Antipodas!

This was the 1st screening I've been to at the SF International Film Festival where I saw a fair number of empty seats. ¡Vivan las antipodas! is a non-fiction film compiled from footage shot in 4 pairs of locations that are exactly opposite one another on the globe. We see, for instance, a shepherd with too many cats in Patagonia, Chile who lives at the antipode of a woman living in a farmhouse at Lake Baikal, Russia. There is no commentary & no apparent pattern to how the footage is assembled, though the film is beautiful & looks like outtakes from a National Geographic special. Shots are often upside-down, & the soundtrack likes to use mismatched music for the locales, so we travel through the narrow streets of Shanghai while listening to a tango. About a half-dozen people walked out of the screening.

Director Victor Kossakovsky was present for a Q&A. After having just traveled 24 hours to get here, he was rumpled, jet-lagged & rambling. He ignored festival programmer Audrey Chang's 1st question, instead turning to the audience to let us know that the dog we saw go missing in the lava fields of Hawaii is now safely living in San Francisco. Mr. Kossakovsky's stories about the film shed more light on his ideas than the film itself. He also claimed that Sundance received 10,000 submissions, & that there is really no reason to make even more films. He asked us why American documentaries are only about solving social problems. He complained that he had a half-empty screening, because European producers make their money out of the production costs of a film, as opposed to American producers, who make their money out of distribution. There isn't even a poster for ¡Vivan las Antipodas!, because his producer told him it costs too much money.

§ ¡Vivan las antipodas!
director, Victor Kossakovsky
Germany/Netherlands/Argentina/Chile, 2011, 104 min

55th San Francisco International Film Festival
Mon, Apr 23    1:30 / Kabuki
Thu, Apr 26    6:00 / FSC
Mon, Apr 30    9:00 / PFA

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Yesterday I attended the last of 2 showings of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry at the SF International Film Festival. This documentary profiles the Chinese conceptual artist & political provocateur through interviews & footage of him at work in his Beijing studio & abroad. I liked Ai Weiwei's clarity of thought & appreciated the film's level-headed, unsensational treatment of him. In a style appropriate to his art, the film cloaks the political issues in wry humor, starting with a clever cat that has learned to open the door to the artist's studio. Ai Weiwei used a blog & then twitter to gain a popular following in China, & it is fascinating to see police freak out when his supporters, alerted by twitter, show up as he sits down for a meal of pig's trotters at a local eatery. The story takes us through the end of his 81-day detention last year. Though Ai Weiwei seems to have been silenced for now, the over-all tone is defiantly optimistic.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, 04.25.2012 Button distributed to attendees at screening of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a the SF International Film Festival.This screening was "at rush," & the last available seats were taken just as the house lights came down. There was no Q&A, but attendees received promotional buttons with a rude but iconic image by the artist.

§ Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
director, Alison Klayman
USA/China, 2012, 91 min

55th San Francisco International Film Festival
Mon, Apr 23    6:00 / Kabuki
Wed, Apr 25    9:15 / Kabuki

Albers Duo at Hotel Rex

Salon at the Rex, 04.25.2012 Salon at the Hotel Rex, before appearance by the Albers Duo.For the last salon event of the season, the Albers Duo presented this 70-minute program of vioin & cello duos for an intimate audience of about 60. The 2 sisters listen well to one another, & their performance was unaffected & tasteful. I liked the comfortable playing & full tone of cellist Julie Albers. Laura Albers has a matching mellow violin sound that is easy to listen to. The 1st movement of the Martinu duo was plaintive, & the 2nd movement was contrastingly spirited. I liked the extended cello solo which Julie Albers played smoothly.

The performers explained that the Glière pieces were not intended for public performance but written for amateurs to perform at home. The Scherzo was joyful, & the sly ending of the perpetual motion Etude made the audience laugh. The pair played the outer movements of the Kodály duo vigorously yet with ease. When it started raining heavily outside, the sound of the drops against the skylight added a soothing element.

During the Q&A, we learned that because the sisters each have careers on different coasts, they have to schedule their rehearsals with one another a year in advance. Laura Albers is Associate Concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, so it was no surprise to learn that Strauss & Wagner are her favorite composers to perform. Her newborn infant was the youngest member of the audience & was extremely well-behaved.

§ Albers Duo
Laura Albers, violin
Julie Albers, cello

Martinu: Duo No. 1 for Violin and Cello
Glière: Eight Duets Op. 39 for Violin and Cello
Kodály: Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7

Salon at the Rex
San Francisco Performances
Wednesday, April 25, 6:30 pm

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Matthias Goerne & Leif Ove Andsnes

I left this song recital by baritone Matthias Goerne & pianist Leif Ove Andsnes feeling that I'd heard a perfect performance. I was dismayed that there were empty seats in the auditorium. The gravely serious program consisted of songs by Mahler, drawn from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, Rückert-Lieder & Kindertotenlieder, alternating with songs by Shostakovich based on the sonnets of Michelangelo. The performers often went from one song to the next without a break, & they held the audience spellbound. I was so caught up that I didn't bother following the translations during the performance.

Mr. Goerne makes an uncannily beautiful sound that is velvety & viscous. He uses a lot of body English, as if he is squeezing or massaging the sound out, instead of actually singing. Even though he takes frequent breaths, his musical line always feels connected. He created an especially soft and still mood in "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen," & his "Revelge" was acidly macabre. Mr. Andsnes used almost no pedal, & his accompaniment was punctilious. During "Der Tambourg'sell" the page-turner reached into the piano to damp the strings, so that they imitated the hollow thumping of a drum. Mr. Adnsnes initially came out wearing a pair of black glasses, but they disappeared from his face before the end of the 1st half.

The audience was wonderfully quiet & let the silence at the end of each set linger before starting to applaud. The peformers received a standing ovation, & the audience laughed when Mr. Andsnes paused to put on his glasses before launching into the encore of Beethoven's "An die Hoffnung," which soared.

§ Matthias Goerne, baritone
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano

MAHLER: Ich atmet' einen linden Duft
SHOSTAKOVICH: Morning, Op. 145, No. 2
MAHLER: Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen
SHOSTAKOVICH: Separation, Op. 145, No. 4
MAHLER: Es sungen drei Engel
MAHLER: Das irdische Leben
MAHLER: Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen
MAHLER: Wenn dein Mütterlein
MAHLER: Urlicht

SHOSTAKOVICH: Night, Op. 145, No. 9
MAHLER: Ich bin de Welt abhanden gekommen
SHOSTAKOVICH: Eternity, Op. 145, No. 11
SHOSTAKOVICH: Dante, Op. 145, No. 6
MAHLER: Revelge
SHOSTAKOVICH: Death, Op. 145, No. 10
MAHLER:Der Tamboursg'sell

BEETHOVEN: An die Hoffnung, Op. 94

SF Performances
Monday, April 23, 8pm
Herbst Theatre

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cal Performances 2012-2013 Season

Esa-Pekka Salonen on Webcam, 04.24.2012 Esa-Pekka Salonen appearing at Cal Performances season announcement via Webcam.This morning director Matías Tarnopolsky announced the Cal Performances 2012-2013 season at a press conference held on the stage of Zellerbach Hall. The up-coming offerings are substantial. Esa-Pekka Salonen will lead 3 programs by the Philharmonia Orchestra, including Mahler 9 & a concert version of Wozzeck. Mr. Salonen addressed the press conference live from London via Webcam. He shockingly admitted that this would be his 1st time in Berkeley, & he is looking forward to meeting young composers during his visit.

Gustavo Dudamel & the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra will present 2 concerts of Latin music, though I think I never really recovered from hearing them at Davies Hall several years ago. 8 dance companies are being presented, including the Mariinsky Ballet with 6 performances of Swan Lake. There are 3 performances of Einstein on the Beach in October. Mr. Tarnopolsky told us that seeing a preview of this inspired him to submit his 1st facebook post, typed at length on his BlackBerry.

In collaboration with the San Francisco Opera, Cal Performances will premiere a family opera based on the The Secret Garden. Visual designer Naomie Kremer showed us an example of the multi-layered video that will comprise the production's set, & mezzo Laura Krumm sang 2 sweet-sounding arias, accompanied by composer Nolan Gasser at the piano.

On a more intimate scale, there are recitals by Yo-Yo Ma, Eric Owens & Nathan Gunn. Nicolas Hodges will perform a world premiere by Birtwistle in his solo piano recital, & Davitt Moroney will perform Bach's Art of Fugue on the harpsichord.

§ Cal Performances 2012-2013 Season

Monday, April 23, 2012

How to Survive a Plague

SFIFF Audience, 04.22.2012 Audience for How to Survive at Plague, waiting to re-enter Kabuki Theater after being evacuated due to a fire alarm.Sunday's showing of How to Survive a Plague at the SF International Film Festival got delayed half an hour when a fire alarm went off just as the audience was seated, & everyone had to evacuate. As we waited on the sidewalk behind the theater, a woman asked, "Can someone tweet this?"

How to Survive a Plague is journalist David France's documentary about ACT UP New York. It's a guileless assemblage of archival video from 1987 through the early 90s, chronicling the controversial group's theatrically aggressive protests & equally belligerent meetings. Much of it was shot by the activists themselves with shaky camcorders, & the depiction of events is fragmentary & includes lots of yelling. Emotions run high in every scene. Footage of Peter Staley's passionate address to the International AIDS Conference in San Francisco in 1990 caused the theater audience to applaud.

Director David France was present, & we learned that he started with so much material that his 1st cut of the film ran 13 hours. Dr. Paul Volberding & ACT UP alumni Peter Staley & Mark Harrington, who all appear in the film, were also present. The festival audience was clearly grateful to have them for the Q&A, & a young woman, apparently an AIDS activist herself, choked up & cried instead of asking her question.

§ How to Survive a Plague
director, David France
USA, 2012, 110 min

55th San Francisco International Film Festival
Fri, Apr 20    9:00 / Kabuki
Sun, Apr 22    6:00 / Kabuki

Opera San Jose: Faust

Opera San Jose, 04.21.2012 Marquee at California Theater, where Opera San Jose is presenting Faust.Saturday night I heard the 1st of 2 casts for Opera San Jose's production of Gounod's Faust. The story is clearly set in 16th century Flanders, with period costumes & rectangular backdrops resembling paintings by Bruegel & Bosch. All the action occurs on a low platform with minimal props, giving the staging a somewhat abstract feel.

Tenor Michael Dailey as Faust is a tall & attractive figure. He has an unusual voice which is light & sounds as if it's coming through cardboard. Soprano Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste has a weighty, dramatic sound & projected a mature Marguerite. The audience got nervous when the staging required her to climb a flight of wobbling, free-standing stairs representing her house. Bass Silas Elash, wearing a feathered cap, was a rakish & swaggering Méphistophélès. He has a big, open sound, especially at the top. Baritone Evan Brummel's Valentin was solid & grounded, & mezzo Betany Coffland's Siébel sounded bright & girlish. Conductor David Rohrbaugh set a relaxed pace, starting with an unhurried overture. The orchestra, & particularly the woodwinds, played with a sense of ease. I enjoyed hearing the auditorium's powerful theater organ in the cathedral scene & at the ending.

The staging by Brad Dalton had its surprises. Four dancers act as minions of Méphistophélès, though neither he nor anyone else seems to see them. Before act 2, a little girl in a white dress appears in front of the curtain. She seems to be Marguerite's dead sister, & her presence & supernatural powers are creepy. I found it odd when characters entered Marguerite's house through a hidden door in a backdrop painted with an outdoor scene.

The supportive audience was engaged, & many stood when Mr. Elash came out for his curtain call. During the 2nd intermission, Oboeinsight, who is playing in these performances, shared with the Opera Tattler & me her musical insights into this enduringly popular opera.

§ Faust
Charles Gounod

Opera San José
Conductor, David Rohrbaugh
Stage Director, Brad Dalton

Faust, Michael Dailey
Méphistophélès, Silas Elash
Marguerite, Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste
Valentin, Evan Brummel
Marthe, Heather Clemens
Siébel, Betany Coffland
Wagner, Sepp Hammer

Sat., April 21, 2012 8 p.m.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tokyo Waka

Friday evening I attended the sold-out world premiere of Tokyo Waka at the SF International Film Festival. It's an impressionistic portrait of Tokyo, anchored on the city's conspicuous crow population. I found the information about crows startling. We see them aggressively attacking humans, making & using hooked tools, & calculatedly positioning walnuts in traffic, so that cars will crush the shells for them. We also get interviews with a broad range of Tokyo residents, including a simply confounding encounter with a homeless woman who does not look like a homeless person you would expect to find in any country. Very tall filmmakers John Haptas & Kristine Samuelson were present & described how they found a Tokyo apartment through craigslist & then went out every day for 5 months to film the city. They both learned rudimentary Japanese in order to approach their interview subjects more comfortably. A reception followed the screening in the SuperFrog Gallery upstairs, where attendees drank wine & played with the interactive exhibits by Karolina Sobecka.

Tokyo Waka lasts barely 70 minutes, & it was preceded by a dowdy 20 minute film which seemed to be about a horse's ass. When it was over, a man behind me muttered in relief, "Finally!"

§ Tokyo Waka
directors: John Haptas, Kristine Samuelson
USA/Japan, 2012, 63 min

Postcard From Somova, Romania
Andreas Horvath, Austria/Romania 2011, 20 min

55th San Francisco International Film Festival
Fri, Apr 20    6:15 / FSC
Sun, Apr 22    1:30 / PFA
Wed, May 2    3:15 / Kabuki


Friday afternoon I was at the 1st regular screening of the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival. Filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof was arrested at the same time as Jafar Panahi & also received a 6 year prison sentence & a 20 year ban on travel & filmmaking. He made Goodbye in secret. It's a meticulously slow drama showing a young woman's attempt to emigrate from Iran, a process involving brazen bribery & stoic reticence. She seems unusually isolated, & it gradually becomes evident that she is in grave danger. When 2 policeman arrive to search her apartment, we endure the entire incident with her, watching in real time from a fixed point of view. Despite its deliberate pace, the film is frightening.

The packed screening was introduced by festival programmer Rachel Rosen, who told us that the film had to be smuggled out of Iran. She also brought us up to date on Mr. Rasoulof's status. His 6 year prison sentence has been reduced to 1 year, & he has recently appeared in Rotterdam & has had a new script approved, so it seems that the authorities are not enforcing the travel & filmmaking ban.

§ Bé omid é didar (Goodbye)
director, Mohammad Rasoulof
Iran, 2011, 100 min

55th SF International Film Festival
Fri, Apr 20    1:30 / Kabuki
Sat, Apr 21    1:00 / Kabuki
Mon, Apr 23    6:30 / Kabuki

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alina Ibragimova

Alina Ibragimova, 04.16.2012 Where's the piano? Herbst Theatre during intermission of ALina Ibragimova's solo violin recital.For their gift concert for subscribers & donors, San Francisco Performances presented a solo violin recital by young Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova. The program notes accurately described this as a "program of extraordinarily difficult music for unaccompanied violin by composers whose last name begins with B." The program was indeed uncompromising. Berio's Sequenza VIII is a virtuosic & discomfiting piece, featuring repeated notes, dissonant double-stops & many technical challenges. Ms. Ibragimova played with an inner fierceness & a look of intense focus. Her bow arm barely seemed to move when she played tremolo runs that were unbelievably fast, & yet every note was perfectly distinct. The audience was impressively quiet for the very soft ending, played with a heavy mute.

Though she had the music for the Berio spread out on 2 music stands, Ms. Ibragimova played the rest of her recital from memory. She used almost no vibrato for the Bach Partita in D Minor, which felt serious & personal. The Giga, played with short, taut strokes, went incredibly fast. Ms. Ibragimova's sound is dark & slightly gritty, & her instrument sounds like it is under extreme tension. I like her seemingly light bow grip & her level right wrist. Passages in which the bow rocks across the strings had a dense texture. The Ciaccona's final double-stop had a strange, almost raspy, timbre.

Ms. Ibragimova was also sparing with vibrato in Biber's Passacaglia, which sounded appropriately mournful & attenuated. The Bartok solo sonata was even more aggressive than the opening Berio, & it made me feel anxious. The 1st movement had harsh contrasts, & the 2nd movement was often brutal. Ms. Ibragimova seemed to be ripping the strings off the violin during the pizzicato. Since she had no pockets, she placed her mute on the floor until the 3rd movement. When she had it on, the violin made buzzing, insect-like noises. The audience was quiet & polite for the entire concert, & many stood at the end, though the applause quickly died down after Ms. Ibragimova's 2nd bow.

§ Alina Ibragimova, violin

BERIO: Sequenza VIII
J.S. BACH: Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004
VON BIBER: Passacaglia in G minor, from the Mystery (Rosary) Sonatas
BARTÓK: Sonata for Solo Violin

San Francisco Performances
Annual Gift Concert
Monday, April 16, 8pm
Herbst Theatre

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Films Added to SFIFF55 Schedule

The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival opens Thursday night, & more films have been added to the schedule which were not in the printed guide, including Chasing Ice, a documentary about the effect of climate change on glaciers. The film's subject, photographer James Balog, is expected to attend. Also added are John Dies at the End, a horror comedy & Lola Versus, a romantic comedy. The directors of both these films are expected to attend as well.

Monday, April 16, 2012

SFIFF: Farewell, My Queen

The opening night film of the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival will be Farewell, My Queen, an opulent costume drama about the isolated court of Louis XVI at Versailles on the days following the Storming of the Bastille. We witness the gradually evolving chaos through the eyes of Sidonie, an unblinkingly loyal young servant whose job is to read to Marie-Antoinette & who eventually turns out to have other uses to the queen. The mood is suspenseful, & frequent use of a hand-held camera gives the settings a modern feel.

Farewell, My Queen plays Thursday, April 19, 7:00pm at the Castro. Director Benoït Jacquot is expected to attend.

§ Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen)
director, Benoït Jacquot
France/Spain, 2012, 99 min

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Kids dress drag queens!

Fauxnique is curating an up-coming Friday Night at the de Young, & she's joyfully announced that "we will have a Project Runtover craft zone in which actual children will be creating outfits for drag queens!" The de Young's Web site confirms: "Child-led teams embellish outfits for Some Thing's drag luminaries, resulting in a wondrous fashion parade!" It does sound awfully cute.

§ Making Scenes: Friday Nights at the de Young
April 27, 2012 - 5:30pm6:06 PM
Museum Lobby

§ Photo credit: Cabure Bonugli


LOVE/HATE, 04.12.2012 Wine served at post-performance reception of LOVE/HATE at ODC Theater.Thursday night I attended the sold out premiere of composer Jack Perla's chamber opera LOVE/HATE at the ODC Theater. The 80 minute work is for 4 singers & a quartet of piano, violin, cello & clarinet. The audience laughed at the droll overture imitating annoying cellphone ringtones. In the opera's plotless scenario, a man awkwardly hits on a woman at a Muni bus stop. This is the pretext for 14 skit-like scenes that are fantasies & flashbacks. The score is a mix of musical styles, sounding variously like opera, show tunes, jazz, pop & Philip Glass. The libretto by Rob Bailis is wordy & urbane.

The cast is young & cute & communicates a feeling of fun. Tenor Thomas Glenn sings with clarity & ease, & he moves very comfortably on stage. His voice thinned only when he had to sing very high. Soprano Marina Boudart Harris has a sturdy, grounded sound, & I liked her in a serious aria about watching a sleeping woman. Mezzo Laura Krumm has a sustained, velvety voice & was convincing in her character's aria expressing insecurity. Baritone Ao Li's voice is deep & round, & his singing was lovely in an aria ending with the words "assuage me." Everyone's voice seemed to get bigger as the show progressed, & the final ensemble was amazingly loud.

The production's minimal props, rolled on & off by stage managers, made the settings clear. Everyone seemed to enjoy the inflatable sheep named Agnes. The singers play multiple roles, with simple costume changes. Though the instrumentalist were at the side of the stage, conductor David Hanlon stood front & center. He is a conscientious leader, & all the performers paid attention to him. I liked the light but varied playing of cellist Adelle Akiko Kearns. Robert Mollicone was kept busy playing both the piano & an electronic keyboard.

The audience was supportive & laughed eagerly at all the comic bits. A wine & dessert reception followed. It rains in the opera, so when we heard booming thunder & heavy rain from the storm outside, it just seemed like really good sound effects.

Composer, Jack Perla
Librettist, Rob Bailis

Conductor, David Hanlon
Director, M. Graham Smith

Cupid/Samantha/Oracle of 3rd Street: Marina Boudart Harris
Laura/O.M.G. Girl: Laura Krumm
George/Casanova: Ao Li
Death/Darren/Sex Guru: Thomas Glenn

Vioin, Michelle Maruyama
Cello, Adelle Akiko Kearns
Ryan Ibbetson, Clarinet
Robert Mollicone, Piano

April 12, 2012
ODC Theater

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tanya Tomkins Salon at the Rex

Salon at Hotel Rex, 04.11.2012 The Salon at Hotel Rex, before performance by Tanya Tomkins of Bach Cello Suites.The Salon at the Hotel Rex was packed for Tanya Tomkins on Baroque cello, playing 2 Bach Suites. Ms. Tomkins joked that she was glad to see everyone drinking wine, since Bach once requested wine as part of his payment. She chose 2 contrasting suites, the bright G Major, which she described as "innocent," & the dark C Minor, with its bizarre Sarabande. Her playing was rhythmically free, & she played through the ends of phrases, so that each movement was a continuous stream of notes. Ms. Tomkins is obviously very familiar with the music, but the performance did not sound rote. She is an effortful player & sometimes breathes heavily. It often sounded like her bow skimmed off the strings.

During the pause between suites, she told us she was playing a 1798 English cello with gut strings & no endpin. The strings are under less tension than a modern instrument, so they ring more. Her bow is also lighter, so the sound is not sustained but instead lifts off at the end of the stroke. Despite the small size of the salon, it is difficult to see seated performers when the room is crowded, & I did not see Ms. Tomkins at all from my seat on the banquette. The audience was quiet & respectful. Several people listened with their eyes closed. During the Q & A, an elderly gentleman stood up & read a poem about butterflies & birds that he had written during the performance.

§ Tanya Tomkins, Baroque cello
Salon at the Rex

J.S. Bach: Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007
J.S. Bach: Suite No. 5 in C Minor, BWV 1011

Wednesday, April 11, 6:30 pm
Hotel Rex

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Waiting Room

I was glad I attended a preview screening of The Waiting Room, a cinema verité documentary about a day in the overflowing ER of Oakland's Highland Hospital. The filmmakers often seem to be right in the subjects' faces, & stories develop around a handful of scared, uninsured patients. Both patients & staff come out looking heroic. A carpet-layer with excruciatingly painful bone spurs stays up-beat, despite receiving nothing besides vicodin & a bill he can't afford. Dr. Douglas White is one dude of a doctor, & intake nurse Cynthia Y. Johnson is a geyser of compassion, even when chewing out a young man for his bad language. The film is deeply sobering, like being doused with a bucket of cold water.

The Waiting Room will be screened at the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival on Saturday, April 21 at 3:50p at the PFA & Monday, April 30 at 1:00p & Tuesday, May 1 at 6:30pm at the Kabuki. Director Peter Nicks & some of the film's subjects are expected to attend.

§ The Waiting Room
director, Peter Nicks
USA, 2011, 81 min

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


The Chilean film Bonsái tells the languid story of the memory of a lost love, alternating between the present & the recent past of its hero, a slightly awkward 20-something living in Santiago. The movie is suffused with a love of books & reading, & it is easy to guess that it is based on a novel. It has a realistic, observational quality, & though bodies might be naked, emotions are not. Despite the melancholy tone, it is also lightly comic. I enjoyed learning that "blah blah blah" is the same in English & Spanish.

Bonsái will be screened at the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival on Friday, April 20 at 9:30p & Sunday, April 22 at 12:45pm at the Kabuki & Tuesday, April 24 at 6:30pm at the PFA.

§ Bonsái
Cristián Jiménez, director
Chile/France/Argentina/Portugal, 2011, 95 min

Friday, April 06, 2012


Poster for Footnote, 04.06.2012 Poster for Footnote movie outside the Clay Theatre.When I 1st read about Joseph Cedar's Footnote, I thought it was a documentary about Talmudic scholarship. Professor Eliezer Shkolnik is a dedicated but unpleasant man. He toils for decades, but his only claim to fame is as a footnote in someone else's work. Through a mix-up, he receives a prestigious award that was meant for his son, who is both more likeable & his academic rival. Unfortunately the prize does not improve the old man, & what starts as a lightly comic satire on academia ends as a family drama.

The film is stylish, full of telling visual details & at times having the feel of a silent movie. The eye-catching opening titles simulate a microfiche reader. The film plays its humor with a very straight face. The story takes place in Israel, & at a moment of high familial tension we watch the characters sit stone-faced through a performance of Fiddler on the Roof. I liked the movie's insinuating score, which sounds like a pumped-up version of Shostakovich's salon music.

§ Hearat Shulayim (Footnote) (2011)
Director: Joseph Cedar
103 min, Israel

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

This Is Not a Film

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi cannot give interviews, cannot leave the country & has been banned from making films for 20 years. In this This Is Not a Film, he pushes against the ban by inviting his friend & colleague Mojtaba Mirtahmasb to come over & document him doing a walk-through of the movie he cannot make. Along the way we get a record of his life under house arrest in a spacious Teheran apartment. He talks with his lawyer about the appeal of his 6 year prison sentence, feeds his daughter's pet iguana & fends off a neighbor who wants him to babysit her dog. From his balcony he hears gunshots, sirens & helicopters. The situation is dire, yet the film often has a defiantly humorous tone. It ends with a remarkable long take that brings Mr. Panahi to the threshhold of his captivity.

This Is Not a Film will be presented April 6–12 by the SF Film Society in their Japantown cinema.

§ This Is Not a Film (In film nist)
An Effort by Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Iran 2011, 75 min.

Monday, April 02, 2012

SF International Film Festival Update

Judy Davis has been announced as the recipient of Peter J. Owens Acting Award & will appear at events at the Castro on April 25th & at the Warfield on April 26th. Films added to the schedule but not listed in the printed guide are: Bernie by Richard Linklater & Nobody Walks by Ry Russo-Young.

§ 55th San Francisco International Film Festival
04/19 - 05/03 2012

ABS: Bach's Double Concertos

American Bach Soloists, 04.01.2012 Audience at Bach Double Concertos program performed by American Bach Soloists at St. Mark's Lutheran.Sunday evening I attended this program of Bach concertos for multiple soloists by the American Bach Soloists. Their performance was exacting & CD-ready. Tempos were consistently fast. Andrew Fouts & Katherine Kyme were soloists for the Double Violin Concerto in d Minor, accompanied by a minimal orchestra of 11. The tall Mr. Fouts makes his violin look like it's 2 sizes too small. His sound has a rapid swell & a skimming feeling. Ms. Kyme's playing was more grounded. It was interesting that each soloist articulated identical passages differently. I often complain about not being able to heard the harpsichord in concerts of Baroque music, but from my seat in the right balcony, the harpsichord sounded bold.

Oboist John Abberger & violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock were soloists for the Double Concerto in c Minor. Baroque wind instruments are one thing where Historically Informed Performance makes sense to me, as their sound is so distinct from the modern versions. I liked Mr. Abberger's even, connected playing. Ms. Blumenstock played in contrastingly short phrases.

When all 3 violin soloists were set up for the Triple Concerto in D Major, they mischievously started playing "Frère Jacques" as a round, with the orchestra joining in. This concerto is actually a "reverse-engineered" version of a Concerto for 3 Harpsichords in C Major. As for every piece in the program, the soloists played with music in front of them, which I felt undermined their virtuosity as well as their communication with each other. I was startled when Mr. Fouts added vibrato to a note he was sustaining in the Adagio. Ms. Blumenstock was vigorous in her 3rd movement cadenzas.

American Bach Soloists, 04.01.2012 Bach Double Concertos program performed by American Bach Soloists at St. Mark's Lutheran.After the intermission, the stage was set for what looked like a harpsichord duel, the 2 instruments set at right angles to one another & the orchestra at the soloists' backs. I liked seeing the violins & violas standing. Corey Jamason and Leon Schelhase were alert & well-coordinated soloists, & the instruments had a crackling sound.

While the stage was reset for the Brandenburg 3, conductor Jeffrey Thomas praised the soloists & joked that to avoid having an unlucky 13 people on stage, he was bowing out early. The orchestra remained standing, & Ms. Blumenstock cued the conductorless performance. The players listened to each other well & were engaged & spirited. It was as if everyone had stepped out into sunshine & open air. The audience responded with a standing ovation & cheers. I had no idea why the Opera Tattler was in attendance, seeing as the program did not include opera or even singers.

American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

John Abberger, oboe
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin
Andrew Fouts, violin
Katherine Kyme, violin
Corey Jamason, harpsichord
Leon Schelhase, harpsichord

Concerto for 2 Violins in D Minor, BWV 1043
Concerto for Oboe & Violin in C Minor, BWV 1060
Concerto for 3 Violins in D Major, BWV 1064r
Concerto for 2 Harpsichords in C Major, BWV 1061
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048

Sunday, April 1 2012
7:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Wozzeck for Familes

The San Francisco Opera will follow up its popular Carmen for Families with a Wozzeck for Families. The perfect introduction to opera, Wozzeck for Families is a 95 minute performance of the complete opera, telling the classic story of love, jealousy, betrayal and death in 15 short, cinematic scenes. Opera newcomers will thrill to the captivating tonalities of the 2nd Viennese School. Young audiences will be drawn to the opera's final scene, in which only children are on stage. The production is recommended for ages 10 and up due to the mature nature of the characters and story of Wozzeck. Patrons enjoying this production will no doubt look forward to Salome for Families in a subsequent season.

§ Photo credit: Kendra Luck / San Francisco Chronicle