Friday, August 31, 2012

Berlin & Beyond 2012

On Thursday, the Berlin & Beyond Film Festival held a press conference for their 17th annual line-up of films from Germany, Austria & Switzerland. Screenings take place at the Castro Theatre & the Goethe-Institut from September 27 through October 4. This year there are 26 feature films & 6 short films. President Sabine Erlenwein & Festival Director Sophoan Sorn were present to discuss festival highlights.

The opening night film is Barbara, a taut drama about East Germany which covers similar ground as Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen). Closing night is another film about the GDR, This Ain't California, a documentary about punk skateboarders in East Berlin in the 1980s. Ms. Erlenwein assured us that the film is actually slower & more reflective than its jam-packed trailer.

Actor Mario Adorf will appear at the festival to receive a lifetime achievement award. Several of his films will be screened, including a director's cut of Volker Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum (Die Belchtrommel) which has an additional 22 minutes. This year an educational program will invite high school students to screenings of Westwind & Lessons of a Dream (Der ganz große Traum).

Highlights include director Alexander Sokurov's version of Faust & The Foster Boy (Der Verdingbub), the most successful Swiss film in recent years. Ms. Erlenwein drew our attention to 2 German films about alternate realities, The Door (Die Tür) & Summer Window (Fenster zum Sommer). We'll get to see a German version of Tom Sawyer & The Substance, a documentary about the Swiss discoverer of LSD.

The press conference included a screening of the festival's Centerpiece Film, Veit Helmer's Baikonur. It's a shaggy dog of a movie, depicting the impact of the Soviet Era Baikonur Cosmodrome on the people living on the Kazakhstan steppe. Space junk rains down on them & is salvaged for its barter value. A beautiful female cosmonaut also happens to fall from the sky, & a charming young local, who goes by the name of Gagarin, discovers her. Absurdity ensues. It's part fairy tale, part ethnography, & part political satire.

View festival schedule here.

§ Berlin & Beyond Film Festival
17th Annual
Sep 27 - Oct 4, 2012
The Castro Theatre, San Francisco

§ Baikonur (2011)
Director: Veit Helmer
Germany, Russia, Kazakhstan; 95 min; in Russian, English & French

Thursday, August 30, 2012


This week I saw ParaNorman, the 2nd stop-motion animation feature from Oregon-based Laika. The title character of this comedy-zombie-horror movie is an 11-year-old boy with spiky hair & an asymmetric face. He gets bullied at school for his freakish ability to talk to the ghosts that linger in his dilapidated town like juvenile delinquents. In the end, he must use this ability to save the town from a destructive witch's curse. There's plenty of cartoon mayhem & gross humor. The film's funniest gag parodies Friday the 13th. I found the story's psychologically-based denouement tricky to follow. Certainly the adults in the story are meritless creatures, even more bullying than the kids.

The film's character designs seem inspired by Mad Magazine. The humans are just as grotesquely proportioned as the zombies, & the zombies are more goofy than scary. The filmmakers used a 3D printer to make the models, which have a somewhat brittle feel. A featurette after the credits shows the fabrication of the Norman model.

Very young children will probably be too scared by the zombies & Norman's supernatural visions. I noticed a mother & her pre-schooler leave halfway through. I'm assuming that a throw-away joke at the end of the movie concerning the jock teenager Mitch earned ParaNorman its PG rating. Offended parents have been complaining about it on-line.

§ ParaNorman (2012)
Directors: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
92 min

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

War Horse

Tuesday evening I was at the Curran Theatre to see the touring production of War Horse, featuring life-size horse puppets by Handspring Puppet Company. The grim story, set in rural Devon & then the World War I battlefields of France, seems mainly a pretext for the puppetry & theatrical spectacle. A ship at sea, trench warfare & even a tank attack are cinematically depicted on the empty empty stage using projections, lighting, smoke, sound effects, & props handled by the large cast. Though the staging is complex, the show operates like a smoothly running machine.

The principal horse puppets each require 3 puppeteers & are convincingly animal-like & communicate sinewy strength. The twitching of the horses' ears went a long way toward selling the illusion. The transformation of Joey from foal to full-grown horse was stunning & elicited gasps & applause from the audience. I was amazed to see actors confidently leap onto the puppet horses & ride away. No attempt is made to conceal the puppeteers, so the horses sometimes appear to have too many legs, & I often read the puppeteer manipulating the head as an ostler leading the horse. The puppets also include flying birds & a comical goose.

War Horse, 08.28.2012 Curran Theatre security at performance of War Horse.A singer, an accordion player & a brass band provide live, on-stage music, so I found it distracting that there was also recorded music. I assume War Horse is a family show, but I saw no children in the audience. The war scenes do not avoid portraying France as a slaughterhouse, so the show is probably too scary for very young children.

§ War Horse
based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo
adapted by Nick Stafford
in association with Handspring Puppet Company

SHN Curran Theatre
Tuesday, August 28, 2012 8:00pm

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sunday Streets in Chinatown

Sunday Streets
I walked through Sunday Streets in Chinatown this past Sunday around lunch time. Grant Street was uncharacteristically spacious as a pedestrian mall, & there was plenty of room for this tai chi class in the middle of the street. The event is agreeable free of street vendors. There were just a few scattered tables & booths representing community groups.

Sunday Streets Chinatown 2012
Yellow-clad practitioners of Falun Gong were quite visible, camped out at the Grant Street entrance & in front of this American flag, performing their eerily slow meditations.

Sunday Streets Chinatown 2012
This weirdly mellow cat sat calmly on the sidewalk, pointedly ignoring people walking close by. He pretended not to see me when I stopped to take several pictures of him.

Sunday Streets
The street closure extended down to the Embarcadero via Jackson then Washington Streets, though these areas were nearly deserted during my stroll. Patrons at Kells could sit at tables in the street, giving the afternoon a European feel.

§ Sunday Streets 2012
August 26
11a.m. to 4p.m.

J-Pop Summit Festival 2012

J-Pop SummitThe J-Pop Summit Festival, a gathering of Japanese pop culture fans, was held in Japantown over the weekend. It had the atmosphere of a small street fair, with live entertainment, vendor booths, fashions, & food trucks. I watched a Pac-Man musical & a Gothic Lolita fashion show with an Alice in Wonderland theme.

J-Pop Summit FestivalMuch criminally cute merchandise was for sale.
J-Pop Summit
Artist Ken Hamazaki found a prominent spot for his street performance version of a tea ceremony. It's an irresistible photo op.

J-Pop SummitI ended up passing through the fair both days & had happy, unexpected encounters with friends & relatives. I also found myself briefly guarding the booth of clothing vendor Korrupt Label.

§ J-Pop Summit Festival 2012
August 25 & 26, 2012
11am - 6pm
San Francisco Japantown

Dog Sees God

Last Friday night I was at the Boxcar Theatre for the penultimate performance of Dog Sees God. This 90 minute play by Bert V. Royal offers up a handful of Peanuts characters grown into contemporary high school students. I was expecting a parody, so when I saw a pile of dirt on the floor, I assumed it was a pitcher's mound. Instead it was the freshly dug grave of Charlie Brown's dog, who contracted rabies & killed a small yellow bird. A cruel fate is similarly meted out to Schroeder, here a tragically bullied gay teenager. In the play's bizarrely sentimental final scene, Charlie Brown sits atop the doghouse, gets drenched by real rain, & reads a letter signed "C.S."

The young & appealing cast all look like they are 16 years old. They give sharp performances. Teresa Attridge is terrific & terrifying in her one scene as Lucy, an incarcerated teen, hugely enjoying her own psychopathic behavior. Andrew Humann is a glum yet cute Charlie Brown. Bobby Conte-Thornton is a prickly Schroeder & elicits sympathy without ever asking for it. I love that he played Beethoven & Chopin for real on the set's grand piano.

Dog Sees God, 08.24.2012 Cast photos for Boxcar Theatre production of Dog Sees God.The tightly packed audience of about 60 responded warmly & applauded the recreation of the dance scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Interestingly, my college-age theater companion was not that familiar with the Peanuts. The theater's building is also a residence, & the sounds of children sometimes drifted in from a nearby rec room. At the end of the show the cast made several announcements, including one for suicide prevention. They ended the evening by singing "We Are Young" as an encore.

§ Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
By Bert V. Royal
Directed by Nick A. Olivero

Boxcar Theatre

CB: Andrew Humann
CB's Sister: Mimi Folco
Van: Lucas Brandt
Van's Sister: Teresa Attridge
Matt: Cody Young
Tricia: Kailey Hewitt
Marcie: Michelle Ang
Beethoven: Bobby Conte-Thornton

24 August 2012 8p
Boxcar Playhouse

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chinglish Rehearsal at Berkeley Rep

IMG_20120823_222309, 08.23.2012 Tech tables at rehearsal of Chinglish at Berkeley Rep.Thursday night I was part of an audience invited to a rehearsal of Berkeley Rep's production of Chinglish by David Henry Hwang. The rehearsal began over an hour late, due to an unspecified technical problem. Mr. Hwang & the director Leigh Silverman spoke to the audience in the lobby during the delay. Mr. Hwang told us how he was inspired to write the play when he visited a new cultural center in China & saw a sign for a handicapped toilet reading "Deformed Man's Toilet." Ms. Silverman described the long search for perfectly bilingual actors for the show.

Tech tables were set up in the auditorium, with production staff seated in front of laptops & video monitors, looking like they were about to land Curiosity. Once the performance started, it was not hard to see why there might be technical problems. The show requires a variety of projections & has a rotating set with interlocking walls & furniture that moves on tracks. Actors sometimes pass through the set while everything is in motion.

The satirical story concerns an American businessman in China. He speaks no Chinese & struggles haplessly with inept translators, an increasingly suspect business consultant, & an affair with the ambitious wife of a Chinese official. Large chunks of dialogue, & even entire scenes, are in Mandarin, with simultaneous translations projected onto the walls of the set. The play often feels like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch. In the funniest scenes, the American businessman delivers his presentations through a succession of comically defective translators.

Since this was a rehearsal, the cast might not have been delivering full performances, but I did like Larry Lei Zhang as Minister Cai, an old-school Communist nostalgic for the Cultural Revolution, & Austin Ku as the huffish Bing, who translates the Minister's utterances into inadvertently obscene English.

My theater companions & I rode back to The City on BART with a well-informed Berkeley Rep usher who was eager to discuss the issues of the play & told us that this production eventually travels to Hong Kong. It is currently in previews.

§ Chinglish
by David Henry Hwang

Berkeley Rep
Leigh Silverman, Director
David Korins, Scenic Design

Vivian Chiu, Zhao
Celeste Den, Miss Qian / Prosecutor Li
Michelle Krusiec, Xi Yan
Austin Ku, Bing / Judge Geming
Alex Moggridge, Daniel Cavanaugh
Brian Nishii, Peter
Larry Lei Zhang, Minister Cai

Roda Theatre
August 24–october 7, 2012 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Old Timey Music on Chestnut St.

Small instrumental combos like this dotted every block of Chestnut Street between Fillmore & Divisadero this morning, giving the neighborhood an old timey atmosphere. I have no idea what was the occasion, but all that was missing was sarsaparilla & a barbershop quartet.

Barry McGee Opening Reception

Barry McGee, 08.23.2012 Barry McGee installation at the Berkeley Art Museum.Early Thursday evening I accompanied a friend to the Berkeley Art Museum for the opening reception of an exhibit by Bay Area artist Barry McGee. The show occupies the courtyard-like lower level of the museum & contains large installations, drawings, photos, graphics & videos. It also includes signs & objects that are presumed to be scavenged or stolen. I did not get a chance to look at the art closely, but this seems to be a graphic design show with a lot of window dressing. Mr. McGee's career as a graffiti artist is represented by life-size animatronic figures with moving arms that wield spray paint cans. There's even a disembodied arm emerging from the leaves of a tree to spray paint the side of a building. It's a bit like Disneyland.

Barry McGee, 08.23.2012 Opening reception for Barry McGee show at the Berkeley Art Museum.The event was well attended, & there were many young people in the crowd. Museum members received a drink ticket & a spiral-bound sketch book designed by Mr. McGee. There was a cheese table, but it was already decimated by the time we got there.

§ Barry McGee
Berkeley Art Museum
August 24, 2012 - December 9, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

Americas Cup

Americas Cup 2012
Yesterday afternoon I viewed the Americas Cup from the Marina Green. The race course is very close to the land, so I could view the action onboard with even my weak pair of binoculars. The boats often look close to colliding. I saw a match-up between an Italian team & a USA team & then a fleet race involving all 11 teams. Naturally, the Oracle-sponsored USA team dominated both races. Live commentary is broadcast to the crowd, & we were urged to cheer for the Americans.

Americas Cup 2012
There's a viewing stand with paid seating, but otherwise the event is entirely free.

Americas Cup 2012
A large video screen offered close-up views of the race, including views from cameras on the boats.

Americans Cup 2012
The "AC Village" set up on the Marina Green has concessions & some child-friendly activities. There's a beer garden as well as this Moët & Chandon tent.

Americas Cup 2012
Thursday was the event's Youth Day, & a fleet of small sailboats manned by junior sailors circled like sharks just off the Marina Green. The crowd witnessed 2 incidents of capsizing & applauded when the boats were righted. Races continue through Sunday.

§ Americas Cup World Series 2012
August 21 - 26
Marina Green

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Merola Grand Finale 2012

Merola Grand Finale 2012, 08.18.2012 Set for Merola Grand Finale 2012 at the War Memorial Opera House.Saturday night I was at the Opera House for a program of opera scenes featuring all this summer's Merola Opera participants. Nicholas McGegan led the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in the pit. The 19 excerpts were semi-staged, & all the Merolini gave clean, accomplished performances, with an emphasis on committed acting. Bass-baritone Matthew Scollin was a coolly callous Charon, blowing cigarette smoke into the face of a miserable ghost in a scene from Lully's Alceste. Bass Andrew Kroes displayed a powerful, rounded sound & was commanding in "Piff, paff" from Les Huguenots. Tenor Casey Candebat received the 1st big ovation of the evening with his nicely full sound in "Pourquoi me réveiller?" from Werther.

Soprano Jennifer Cherest barreled into her scene from Die lustige Witwe with an urgent, full-throated sound. She was equally strong & sustained in her scene from Handel's Alcina. Visually pleasing bass-baritone Seth Mease Carico seemed too debonair as Don Giovanni but was adorably funny & self-satisfied as Mustafa in the "Paptacci" trio from L'Italiana in Algieri. I liked tenor AJ Glueckert & soprano Melinda Whittington in a dark scene from Barber's Vanessa, in which they almost seemed to be talking instead of singing. Mr. Glueckert has a clarion voice, & his singing was nicely connected.

A woman in the row in front of me hummed along when tenor Yi Li sang the familiar aria from Flotow's Marta. In an excerpt from Handel's Semele, bass-baritone Hadleigh Adams portrayed a disturbingly seedy Somnus, groggily popping prescription pills & mindlessly groping Iris. Tenor Chuanyue Wang's "Cercherò lontana terra" from Don Pasquale received a warm ovation, & someone even applauded the trumpet soloist midway through. The audience gave soprano Elizabeth Baldwin a huge ovation for her excerpt from Verdi's Il corsaro, during which she clutched a very long piece of cloth. Baritone Joseph Lattanzi bounded onto the stage from the wings, & he & soprano Rose Sawvel were terrifically bright, charismatic & risqué in the fly duet from Orphée aux Enfers. The program ended with the quartet from act 2 of La Rondine, which put all the Merolini on stage making a huge sound.

Maestro McGegan definitely brought his sprightly touch to the orchestra, which sounded tidy & buoyant. His accompaniment to Werther was especially lilting & pleasant, though I found his Strauss a bit disjointed. I enjoyed concertmaster Kay Stern's shimmering violin solo for Die lustige Witwe. The nearly 3 hour show was performed on the stark set of San Francisco Opera's up-coming Moby Dick. The staging involved up-turned furniture, much smoking & drinking, & rough treatment of flowers. A floor lamp with a bright naked bulb was center stage, & I kept hoping someone would take it away. Poor stage lighting often obscured the singers' faces.

Saturday, August 18th • War Memorial Opera House
Conductor - Nicholas McGegan • Stage Director - Jennifer Williams
San Francisco Opera Orchestra

Béatrice et Bénédict by Hector Berlioz

"Nein, das ist wirklich doch zu keck" from Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor by Otto Nicolai
Frau Fluth - Jacqueline Piccolino
Frau Reich - Carolyn Sproule

"II faut passer" from Alceste by Jean-Baptiste Lully
Charon - Matthew Scollin
Ombre rebutée - Suzanne Rigden
Harpsichord - Artem Grishaev

"Their spinning wheel unwinds Dreams" from The Rape of Lucretia by Benjamin Britten
Female Chorus - Erin Johnson
Lucia - Rose Sawvel
Bianca - Sarah Mesko
Lucretia - Carolyn Sproule

"Volontiers, un vieil air Huguenot...Piff, paff" from Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer
Marcel - Andrew Kroes

"Ah! Mon courage m'abandonne... Pourquoi me réveiller?... N'achevez pas" from Werther by Jules Massenet
Charlotte - Sarah Mesko
Werther - Casey Candebat

"Mein Freund, Vernunft!...Wie eine Rosenknospe" from Die lustige Witwe by Franz Lehár
Valencienne - Jennifer Cherest
Camille - Andrew Stenson

''Ah, taci ingiusto core" from Don Giovanni by W.A. Mozart
Donna Elvira - Aviva Fortunata
Don Giovanni - Seth Mease Carico
Leporello - Gordon Bintner

"O blonde Cérès" from Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz
Iopas - Theo Lebow

"Come Paride vezzoso" from L'elisir d'amore by Gaetano Donizetti
Belcore - Gordon Bintner
Adina - Jennifer Cherest
Giannetta - Rose Sawvel

"At last I've found you" from Vanessa by Samuel Barber
Vanessa - Melinda Whittington
Anatol - AJ Glueckert


"Ich danke Fräulein...Aber der Richtige" from Arabella by Richard Strauss
Zdenka - Suzanne Rigden
Arabella - Aviva Fortunata

"M'appar'ì" from Marta by Friedrich von Flotow
Lionel - Yi Li

"Voglio amar e disamar...Credete al mio dolore" from Alcina by G.F. Handel
Morgana - Jennifer Cherest
Oronte - Theo Lebow
Harpsichord - Elena Lacheva

"Orsù la tua nipote...Pappataci! Che mai sento!" from L'Italiana in Aigeri by Gioachino Rossini
Lindoro - Joshua Baum
Mustafa - Seth Mease Carico
Taddeo - Gordon Bintner
Harpsichord - Francesco Fraboni

"Somnus awake!...Leave me loathsome light...More sweet is that name" from Semele by G.F. Handel
Somnus - Hadleigh Adams
Iris - Suzanne Rigden
Juno - Erin Johnson
Harpsichord - Kevin Miller

"Povero Ernesto!...Cercherò lontana terra" from Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti
Ernesto - Chuanyue Wang

"Egli non riede ancora!...Non so le tetre immagine" from Il corsaro by Giuseppe Verdi
Medora - Elizabeth Baldwin

"Il m'a semblé sur mon épaule sentir un doux frémissement" from Orphée aux Enfers by Jacques Offenbach
Eurydice - Rose Sawvel
Jupiter - Joseph Lattanzi

"Gia che il caso unisce...Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso" from La Rondine by Giacomo Puccini
Magda - Elizabeth Baldwin
Lisette - Jennifer Cherest
Ruggero - Casey Candebat
Prunier - Joshua Baum
Chorus - Tutti Merolini
Celesta - Sun Ha Yoon

Francesco Fraboni, Artem Grishaev, Elena Lacheva, Kevin Miller, Sun Ha Yoon 

§ Photo Credit: Merola Opera Program
“Orsù: la tua nipote…Pappataci! Che mai sento!”
from L’Italiana in Algeri by Gioachino Rossini
Lindoro – Joshua Baum
Mustafà – Seth Mease Carico
Taddeo – Gordon Bintner"

§ Photo Credit: Merola Opera Program
“Egli non riede ancora!...Non so le tetre immagine” from Il corsaro by Giuseppe Verdi
Medora – Elizabeth Baldwin"

§ Photo Credit: Merola Opera Program
“Il m’a semblé sur mon épaule sentir un doux frémissement”
from Orphée aux Enfers by Jacques Offenbach
Eurydice – Rose Sawvel
Jupiter – Joseph Lattanzi

Monday, August 20, 2012

Edison2 Very Light Car

This Space Age vehicle was parked nonchalantly in front of Lucca Deli in the Marina this afternoon. A passing child identified it as a spaceship, & it does look like it ought to be able to fly. A quick Web search revealed it to be the Edison2 Very Light Car, a winner of the X Prize. An electrical cord running from the car into the deli was taped to the sidewalk, so it must have been recharging. The car is very close to the ground, & a peek through the windows revealed that it seats 4.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

No Ordinary Carmina Burana

No Ordinary Carmina Burana, 08.17.2012 Guide dog going into performance of Carmina Burana at Davies Hall.A good-sized crowd turned out for the San Francisco Choral Society's staged performance of Carmina Burana on Friday night. The chorus of nearly 200 formed an impressive wall reaching from the stage to the terrace. A reduced orchestra of about 50 accompanied them. The chorus sounded well-prepared. Female voices predominated.

The program began with Songs for the Earth, a set of 6 choral songs by Emma Lou Diemer, with texts in English by Emily Dickinson, Edward FitzGerald, Dorothy Diemer Hendry, Hildegard von Bingen & Mary Oliver. The audience sat patiently through its half-hour duration, but I found the music bland.

Carmina Burana followed the intermission. Male choristers wore monks' robes, & the women wore head scarves suggesting the Middle Ages. During "O Fortuna," the chorus held flashlights up to their faces & switched them on & off at random. Colored lights changed along with the music. 7 women in pink brown outfits came into the auditorium during the "Uf dem Anger" section. They stood between the front row & the stage & struck various poses, extending their limbs & sometimes lifting each other.

Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu & soprano Marnie Breckenridge portrayed lovers in Medieval garb, & both sang beautifully. Mr. Brancoveanu wore a cowl for his tavern songs & grimaced at the audience. Tenor Brian Staufenbiel came out in a black leotard & flapped white wings attached to his arms while singing in a high, supernatural voice. Between verses he switched to a black pair of wings & for the final verse put on a black ski mask. Members of the childrens' chorus twice ran down from the side terrace to cavort with the solists. The audience gave the show a standing ovation. During the intermission I received many birthday greetings & had birthday confetti thrown at me.

§ San Francisco Choral Society
Robert Geary, Artistic Director
Brian Staufenbiel, Stage Director
Brendan Hartnett, Assistant Stage Director

Emma Lou Diemer: Songs for the Earth
Carl Orff: Carmina Burana

Brian Staufenbiel, Tenor
Marnie Breckenridge, Soprano
Eugene Brancoveanu, Bass

Contra Costa Children's Chorus
California Chamber Symphony
Perceptions Contemporary Dance Company

Friday, August 17, 2012 at 8 pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Stanford Theatre

I went on a field trip Sunday to Palo Alto's Stanford Theatre, a silent era movie house restored by the Packard Foundation in 1987 & now a local repertory theater. It is not large, but it is well-maintained & clean. Old movie posters decorate the interior, & more are on display in a gallery attached to the building. There's a theater organ that is played between evening shows & for silent movies, which are programmed every other week.

This weekend's double feature was Bill Wilder's The Apartment & the Audrey Hepburn classic Breakfast at Tiffany's. I'd never seen The Apartment before, & I really enjoyed its cynical storyline & the wide-screen shots of an office floor that recedes to infinity. Shirley MacLaine looks like she's 12 years old. Breakfast at Tiffany's is a frustrating movie. I love the iconic moments, but the film's departures from the novella & Mickey Rooney's yellowface act are despicable.

The Stanford Theatre has a following, & the Breakfast at Tiffany's screening had a good turn-out. Someone cheered loudly when rain-soaked Cat is rescued at the end. The print we saw was in bad shape. It made me realize that watching a projected film is rapidly becoming a novelty.  My movie companion pointed out a group of girls who attended dressed as Holly Golightly.

§ The Stanford Theatre
The Apartment (1960)
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

Saturday, August 04, 2012

La Finta Giardiniera

Merola Opera, 08.02.2012 Exiting Cowell Theatre through Festival Pavilion after Merola Opera performance of La Finta Giardiniera.Thursday night I attended the 1st of 2 Merola Opera performances of Mozart's strange early opera La Finta Giardiniera. It seems to be a comedy, but I found the characters neither funny nor emotionally explicable. Halfway through I gave up trying to follow the plot. Fancy Edwardian costumes establish this production's time period & give each character a distinct identity. The simple set consists of a raised platform, some furniture, & large square photographs representing the garden.

The entire cast gave assured, well-prepared performances. Their acting was especially strong. Soprano Jennifer Cherest sang the title role with consistent strength & a vibrant voice. In this staging she suffers sexual assault, attempts suicide, gets chloroformed & kidnapped, receives electroshock therapy, & exposes a horrendous gash on her breast, yet she never comes across as pathetic. Tenor Theo Lebow as love interest Belfiore has a clean, unfussy voice & was impressively sustained in his long scenes. Mezzo Sarah Mesko, in a role originally for castrato, was eerily convincing as a man, dressed in a 19th century suit & sporting facial hair. Her singing conveyed masculinity equally well.

I liked tenor Casey Candebat as the Podestà. Both his voice & acting have weight & maturity. Serpetta, the Podestà's servant, is here a private nurse, & soprano Rose Sawvel was fittingly bold & clarion. Her pert dialogue included name-calling in multiple languages. Bass-baritone Gordon Bintner as Nardo has a bright, pleasing voice which is very sweet when he sings softly. Soprano Jacqueline Piccolino, whose costume made me think of Queen Victoria, was a matronly Arminda. She sang with a full, robust sound & expressed fury well in her act 2 aria. Seth Mease Carico & Hadleigh Adams, acting as supers, had great mustaches. The cast had perfect timing in a scene when they all shot one another simultaneously.

Gary Thor Wedow was a vivacious conductor & led without a baton. The lively harpsichord playing of Francesco Fraboni & Artem Grishaev stood out. From my seat on the right side, the orchestra did not sound together, but probably because Cowell Theatre is not ideal for opera, & the musicians basically have to sit in the first row of the auditorium. It was interesting to note that the flute chairs were empty for most of the evening. The performance lasted over three hours, with one intermission. The house looked full, & the audience was attentive & showed no signs of restlessness. I enjoyed entering & leaving the theater through the vast empty space of the Festival Pavilion.

§ Merola Opera Program 2012

La Finta Giardiniera
By W. A. Mozart with libretto by Giuseppe Petrosellini
Sung in Italian with English supertitles

Conductor, Gary Thor Wedow
Director, Nicholas Muni

Nicholas Muni, Scenic Designer
Ulises Alcala, Costume Designer
Eric Watkins, Lighting Designer

Nardo - Gordon Bintner
Sandrina - Jennifer Cherest
Podestà - Casey Candebat
Belfiore - Theo Lebow
Ramiro - Sarah Mesko
Arminda - Jacqueline Piccolino
Serpetta - Rose Sawvel
Supernumeraries - Seth Mease Carico, Hadleigh Adams, Andrew Kroes, Joshua Baum

Thursday, August 2, 8:00 PM and Saturday, August 4, 2:00 PM
Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center