Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Asghar Farhadi's The Past

In this new movie by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian man, Ahmad, returns to Paris to formalize his divorce from his French wife, Marie, so that she can marry her new boyfriend, Samir. We never learn why Ahmad & Marie's marriage broke up, but Marie's domestic life is stressful & chaotic, & her new marriage will combine children from both partners. Without intending to, Ahmad triggers a series of unsettling revelations, leading to increasingly dramatic confrontations. I had to keep reframing the characters’ relationships, & the movie constantly challenged my judgments. Though the film is over 2 hours long & nearly plotless, it is taut & emotionally tense. At times it is like watching a play. Mr. Farhadi has steely clear vision, & there is probably nothing on screen that isn't precisely intended. The cast is attractive & intelligent. A protracted moment during which the 2 men find themselves alone with nothing to say to one another is both funny & exceedingly uncomfortable. The film's children are believable & powerfully depicted. A showdown between Samir & his 5-year-old son in the Paris Metro is painfully distressing to witness.

The movie is mostly in French, though, interestingly, the press materials indicate that Mr. Farhadi does not speak French & that Ali Mosaffa, the Iranian actor playing Ahmad, had to come up to speed in French within a few a weeks. The Past opens in San Francisco on December 27th & then in other Bay Area locations in the following weeks.

§ Le passé (The Past) (2013)
France, 130 minutes
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Starring Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim and Ali Mosaffa

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sad Christmas Tree

Saddest Christmas Tree 

Someone decided to set up a Christmas tree in a disused corner of my neighborhood gym. It's probably been there for weeks, but I just noticed it today.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Renegade Craft Fair Winter Market

Renegade Craft Fair photo IMG_20131221_152252_zps6dc886d1.jpgThe winter edition of the indie marketplace the Renegade Craft Fair was impressively crowded Saturday afternoon. It seemed to be a day out for lots of families, & there was much socializing among the predominately female attendees. According to the fair map, there are over 300 vendors, & they put a lot of effort into making their products look appealing. I saw plenty of jewelry, printed tea towels & clothing, as well as a range of items from baseball bats to toffee. Food products seemed to be popular with shoppers. Concert posters by John Howard, some in 3-D & inspired by the psychedelic '60s, were striking. It was nice to see wooden pie boxes made in Chicago. I bought one on-line for a wedding gift earlier this year, but up to now had never had a chance to see it in real life.

§ 5th Annual Renegade Craft Fair Winter Market
December 21 + 22, 11am – 6pm
Concourse Exhibition Center

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Appreciation for Music

One day I went out and bought a recording of Beethoven's Second Symphony and was so taken with it that I began to accumulate all the Beethoven symphonies. I then went on to Brahms, Mendelssohn and all the others. By that time, the first long-playing records had appeared, and my friends and I would listen to each other's new albums. That was the way I developed an appreciation for music. It is amazing how much you can learn about music just by reading the backs of album covers.
Charles Schulz. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Me

Friday, December 13, 2013

ABS: Handel's Messiah

Grace Cathedral photo IMG_20131211_191638_zps6a6b907b.jpgWednesday night I attended the 1st of 2 Messiah performances by American Bach Soloists in Grace Cathedral. The setting was made even more stunning by seasonal decorations of long, shimmering ribbons hanging in the interior. There was a feeling of a special event. The Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, Episcopal Bishop of California, introduced the program, praised the musicians & conductor Jeffrey Thomas, & urged us to act in solidarity with the poor.

The performance was immaculate & had the manner of a well-prepared ritual. My concert companion declared it "flawless." The cathedral's long reverberation time gave the music a gauzy halo. The orchestra often played softly to minimize sounding muddy. The overture was pianissimo, creating an eerie & expectant atmosphere. Tempos were measured, with occasional brief rubatos. "He shall feed his flock" had a slightly indulgent pace. Maestro Thomas liked to make clear dynamic contrasts between phrases, & the ends of numbers were always meticulously executed.

The soloists stood in the middle of the orchestra rather than out front. Soprano Shawnette Sulker sang with a high, bright & tight voice. Countertenor Eric Jurenas had a focused, narrow sound & was assigned "But who may abide the day of his coming," "Thou art gone up on high" & "If God is for us," besides the traditional alto arias & may have gotten slightly fatigued. Tenor Aaron Sheehan was wonderfully consistent. His clear, bell-like voice carried well. I enjoyed hearing baritone Mischa Bouvier's warm, furry & comforting sound. John Thiessen accompanied him in "The Trumpet shall sound" on a mellow-sounding Baroque trumpet which he played with impressive accuracy. The chorus of 35 singers was split, with sopranos & tenors on the left of the orchestra, altos & basses on the right. They sang with precision & had a transparent texture. Because of the stereophonic separation, phrases bounced from one side to the other in fugal passages.

Grace Cathedral photo IMG_20131211_192118_zps5d8ee7bd.jpgThe serious-minded audience was as focused as the performers. The attentive silence throughout was palpable. Even though a couple at the end of my row slipped out after the Hallelujah Chorus, this was among the quietest audiences I've ever been in. Despite a program note debunking the origin story of the tradition of standing for the Hallelulah Chorus, the audience rose without hesitation for a "Hallelulah!" with a perfectly smooth & even surface.

§ Handel's MESSIAH
American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, music director

Shawnette Sulker, soprano
Eric Jurenas, countertenor
Aaron Sheehan, tenor
Mischa Bouvier, baritone
with the American Bach Choir

Wednesday, December 11 2013, 7:30 pm
Grace Cathedral

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

San Francisco Bazaar Holiday Show

San Francisco Bazaar photo IMG_20131207_152831_zps77b0b5b2.jpgOver the weekend I visited the San Francisco Bazaar Holiday Show at the Concourse Exhibition Center, a sprawling marketplace of independent vendors & hand-crafted items. Just about everything was eye-catching, though this is not a cheap place to shop. The atmosphere & the offerings were generally girlie, & I walked by lots of t-shirts, stationery, jewelry, DIY kits & children's clothing & cupcakes. Stuff made out of other stuff was a common theme. I saw things like wallets made out of seat belts, Christmas ornaments made from maps & terrariums growing in discarded computer chassis. I enjoyed handling the finely constructed artist's books from Green Chair Press, some of which fit inside a matchbox & feature pop-ups & unusual bindings. Attendees, & maybe vendors too, were predominately women.

§ San Francisco Bazaar Holiday Show
December 7th & December 8th 2013 11-6PM each day
Concourse Exhibition Center

Monday, December 09, 2013

East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest

East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest photo IMG_20131207_122759_zpsacda4db2.jpgThis Saturday I checked out the East Bay Alternative Book & Zine Fest. It's grown quite a bit in its 4 years. Close to a hundred exhibitors were crammed into a downstairs room at Berkeley City College. The space behind tables was so tight that some vendors took to crawling under their tables to get out. They were a diverse group, from artists to established independent publishers to first-time zinesters. It was nice to see some old-school zines, like Abigail Young's Camel Toe, which definitely wins the prize for best-named zine. It has content to match. It was fun to see zinester Jason Martin & recreate our scene from his story in Tablegeddon. I also had enlightening chats with the flat-capped Andy Warner & the ebullient Brian Herrick. There is speculation that the independent comics scene is reaching a crisis where there are more creators than readers & that these expos are just gatherings where creators sell to one another.

§ East Bay Alternative Book & Zine Fest (EBABZ)
Dec 7th, 2013 | 10 am - 5 pm | Berkeley City College

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mary Wilson Sings Handel

Next month American Bach Soloists releases a CD of 3 Handel sacred works featuring soprano Mary Wilson. Handel's music is of course attractive & vigorous, & I'm happy that the CD includes Silete venti, which the same personnel performed so gorgeously last season. Ms. Wilson is a great fit for this repertroire. Her voice is wonderfully warm, smooth & gleaming & communicates joy. She executes the many virtuosic passages with ease. In the bravura Alleluja of Silete venti, her singing is agile & her rapid notes connected yet distinct. She sounds perfectly smooth & gliding in the long phrases of the "Suscitans a terra" of Laudate Pueri Dominum. Just like ABS's live performances, this recorded performance is well-prepared & immaculate. Oboist John Abberger's solos are impressively clean & sustained. The orchestra & chorus sound tidy, & the tempos are regulated & balanced, feeling neither too fast or too slow.

The CD will be officially released on December 10th, 2013 & is available for pre-order on iTunes. If you buy it on iTunes, you can download the 1st track now, & the rest of the album will download automatically on December 10th. Program notes are also on-line.

§ Mary Wilson Sings Handel
American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, music director
Mary Wilson, soprano

Silete venti HWV 242
Laudate, pueri, Dominum HWV 237
Gloria HWV deest

Release date: December 10th, 2013
Pre-Order on iTunes

Thursday, November 21, 2013

SFO: Barber of Seville

Alessandro Corbelli (Doctor Bartolo) and Lucas Meachem (Figaro).
Photo by Cory Weaver.
San Francisco Opera's current production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia is double cast, & line-up I heard Tuesday night was solid. As the Count, tenor Javier Camarena has a gorgeous, velvety voice, & his singing was seductive. He had great dynamic control, executed all the tricky coloratura passages with virtuosity & even accompanied himself on guitar. It was exciting to hear him deliver the usually cut "Cessa di più resistere," which received fittingly prolonged applause. Baritone Lucas Meachem was a somewhat hunky Figaro, sporting a major 5 o'clock shadow & making a roomy & athletic sound. Mezzo Isabel Leonard played a spitfire Rosina. Her singing was consistently strapping & her high notes secure. Baritone Alessandro Corbelli must be close to 70 is over 60, but his singing & acting as Doctor Bartolo were vital & tight. It was wonderful to hear bass Andrea Silvestrelli's bottomless pit of a voice as Don Basilio. The difference in height between him & Mr. Corbelli was comical in itself. It was also nice to hear baritone Ao Li's deep, round sound as Fiorello.

The set consists of a diagonal slice of floor & moveable walls along one side, containing doors & windows. It looks incomplete to me. The staging is packed with random visual jokes & is very busy but not very coherent. I never felt that anything was really at stake. Props include an exercise bicycle, cotton candy & a gigantic bust of Rossini. 8 Spanish dancers participate in the action, & characters sometime crawl out from beneath the set. At the end of act 1 the principals attempt to exit down ladders into the orchestra pit & then find themselves on the wrong side of the descending curtain. I was confused about what part of the house the characters were in during the elopement scene in act 2.

SF Opera Box Office photo IMG_20131119_192408_zps91663da1.jpgThe orchestra played extrovertedly under conductor Giuseppe Finzi. Tempos were brisk, & there were a few moments when the orchestra & singers were not in sync. I liked hearing the clarinet & flute solos. A harpsichord accompanied the recitatives for Bartolo & Basilio while a fortepiano accompanied the younger characters. I was in upstairs standing room & spent a lot of time watching the woman seated in front of me bounce up & down to Rossini's music. During intermission the odor of pot wafted from a knot of older patrons on the outside balcony.

§ Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Music by Gioachino Rossini

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Giuseppe Finzi
Director: Emilio Sagi

Fiorello: Ao Li
Count Almaviva: Javier Camarena
Doctor Bartolo: Alessandro Corbelli
Figaro: Lucas Meachem
Rosina: Isabel Leonard
Don Basilio: Andrea Silvestrelli
Berta: Catherine Cook
Ambrogio: A.J. Glueckert
Notary: Andrew Truett
An Officer: Hadleigh Adams

Tue 11/19/13 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host

Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host photo IMG_20131117_140314_zps27ac6dcf.jpgSunday afternoon I saw public radio broadcaster Ira Glass & dancers Monica Barnes & Anna Bass in a live performance with the ungainly title of Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host. The hybrid show combined interviews from This American Life with Mr. Glass's live commentary & dance. Mr. Glass stood at a lectern, which he assembled on stage at the start of the show, & triggered audio clips with an iPad. I'd never had a clear idea of what he looks like before, & it took me a while to adjust to his tall, lanky appearance. The dancers were incorporated into some stories & also performed their own numbers. The audience cheered Mr. Glass when he bravely danced a few times himself.

The show ran an intermissionless 2 hours & was packed with many disparate stories. I liked hearing about the cast of Riverdance trying to win the lotto & about a businessman who approaches his marriage like a marketing campaign. A segment about the death of poet Donald Hall's wife was very sad & accompanied by the dancers moving in a slow embrace while precariously standing on a small table. It was fun to hear an outtake from a David Rakoff interview that was too obscene to broadcast. Mr. Glass made it obvious when he went off script, & at one point he confessed to being "terrified."

Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host photo IMG_20131117_134300_zps1013d95c.jpgThe show took place on a bare stage, but effective use was made of lighting & a small number of props. At one point, 6 audience members were pulled on stage to recreate a middle school dance, complete with disco ball & balloon arch. The show's finale included baton twirling & a confetti explosion. The Nourse Theatre looked full. The audience was attentive the entire time & gave the show a standing ovation.

§ Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host
Performance | Monica Bill Barnes, Anna Bass and Ira Glass
Words | Ira Glass
Choreography | Monica Bill Barnes
Lighting Design | Jane Cox
Set/costume Design | Kelly Hanson
Production Director/Stage Manager | Robert Saenz de Viteri

Nourse Theater, San Francisco
Sunday, November 17, 2013, 2p

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Luciano Chessa at the Columbarium

Luciano Chessa photo IMG_20131116_184436_zpsce7bb7ad.jpgI dropped in at the Columbarium on Saturday evening to catch Luciano Chessa's LIGHTEST, a performance art piece that concluded a full afternoon of site-specific events presented by the SFMOMA. The audience, which had just watched a film, was being asked to rearrange their chairs around the center of the rotunda when I arrived. The piece took place in the dark & lasted just under half an hour. It was evidently about searching. At 1st, 7 performers roamed the building with flashlights while boom boxes on different floors played overlapping tracks of conversations & songs. I recognized The Great Pretender & The Muppet Show theme song. The centerpiece of the performance was Mr. Chessa playing an amplified saw under the rotunda. He produced an unexpected variety of sounds, from scraping metal to thunder claps to high metallic pitches. After his solo, the other performers converged on him, attached their lights to his clothing & then led him blindfolded around the building. The piece ended when they reaching their goal, the niche of Harvey Milk. The performance had a receptive audience. A photographer & videographer recorded the proceedings, even though it was very dark.

§ Luciano Chessa: LIGHTEST
Saturday, November 16, 2013, 6:00 p.m.
Neptune Society Columbarium

Thursday, November 14, 2013

American Promise

For the documentary American Promise, filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson filmed their son, Idris, & his classmate, Seun, as the boys entered kindergarten at Dalton, a progressive Manhattan private school. They were among the few African Americans in the predominately white student body. For the next 13 years, the filmmakers made observational footage of them at school, at extracurricular sports & with their families.

The implicit context for the film is the Black Male Achievement Gap, a phenomenon in which black males do far worse academically than their white counterparts. Idris & Seun are neither poor students nor brilliant ones, but we see how fear of her son falling behind causes Idris's mother to frantically supervise his homework. Idris's father, a Stanford graduate, is equally fearful as he tries to goad his son with foreboding speeches. The film is a bit flaccid at nearly 2 and a half hours long. I did not leave feeling like I knew its subjects well, though I enjoyed a scene of the 2 boys discussing cardigans, which exposes a social gap between them. American Promise open in the Bay Area on November 15th.

§ American Promise (2013)
A Documentary Directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson
140 minutes

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Armstrong Lie

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney originally set out to film a comeback story about Lance Armstrong's return to the Tour de France in 2009. He filmed Mr. Armstrong in training & during the race & had nearly completed the film when the doping scandal broke. The film was put on hold. Then, earlier this year, Mr. Armstrong's confessional interview with Oprah gave Mr. Gibney the opportunity to refashion his movie as the story of Lance Armstrong's rise & fall. The Armstrong Lie shows Mr. Armstrong visiting cancer wards filled with young children & taking a random drug test administered by officials who turn up at his home, but it also features a post-Oprah interview & interviews with less-than-admiring journalists & colleagues. We get glimpses of Michele Ferrari, the cagey Italian physician who oversaw athletes' doping regiments. The focus is on the brazen lies & evasions all around, though there's no new information here.

I liked the thrilling footage of the Tour de France race, some of it shot by cameras mounted on bicycles. Drunken spectators who run onto the racecourse are one of the race's hazards. The idea of doping is put into context by an amusing sequence showing competitors in the early days of the Tour de France drinking alcohol to keep themselves going. Mr. Gibney narrates the film, & his ambivalent attitude toward Mr. Armstrong is partly its subject, but since we now know that everyone was doping, it is not clear why censure should fall on Mr. Armstrong in particular. The Armstrong Lie opens in the Bay Area on November 15th.

§ The Armstrong Lie (2013)
Alex Gibney, writer & director
USA, 123 min.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

MIS Historic Learning Center

Fittingly for Veterans Day, I saw the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center in the Presidio. The refurbished building finally gives the National Japanese American Historical Society it's own building. It's on the site of the US Army's secret language school, set up in 1941 & staffed with bilingual Japanese American soldiers. The school relocated to Minnesota the next year, when the government evacuated all Americans of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast.

Boys Scouts led us in the Pledge of Allegiance...

and provided a bit of band music.

There was a good turn-out of venerable war veterans, whose average age must be 90.

Somehow the organizers managed not to have a working PA system, so I could not hear the speakers & had no idea who they were.

After 90 minutes of ceremony, we were let into the building. At the moment it's pretty basic, but it houses a classroom, space for temporary installations & a gift shop.

§ Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center (Bldg. 640)
San Francisco Presidio
Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Monday, November 11, 2013 – 9 AM.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Philippe Sly at Rex Salon

Wednesday evening I heard bass-baritone Philippe Sly, accompanied by guitarist John Charles Britton, sing 15 Schubert songs in a sold-out Salon at the Rex. The 2 musicians sat close together on 2 chairs & shared one music stand. Mr. Sly told us that he purposely omitted translations from the program, so he instead read the translations to us before each song. He scaled his performance to the quietness of the guitar & the small venue. Both his speaking & singing voice were soothing, & his sound was clean, unfussy & often soft. The youthfulness of his voice fit the music well. He sang "Mein!" with nice contrasts, & his "Abschied von der Harfe" had a sustained quality. Mr. Britton did his own guitar transcriptions, which seemed very literal & also very challenging. He sometimes struggled to play all the notes.

Salon at the Rex photo IMG_20131106_181448_zps8fba1f55.jpgThe salon audience was attentive & appreciatively applauded each song. In the Q & A afterward we learned that German is Mr. Sly's favorite language to sing & that he finds it harder to sing in a language he speaks fluently. Mr. Sly comes across as an exceedingly pleasant person. He joked about the audience's drinking & laughed when Mr. Britton reminded him to read one of the poems. He readily allowed that excerpting from Die schone Müllerin & Winterreise was "blasphemy" but explained that he picked songs based on accompaniments that worked for the guitar. Apologizing for such a dark & serious program, he gave us the 1st song from Ravel's Don Quichotte cycle as a light encore.

§ Philippe Sly, bass-baritone
John Charles Britton, guitar
Salon at the Rex

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)



Lachen und Weinen

Auf dem Wasser zu singen

Der Tod und das Mädchen

Du bist die Ruh

Abschied van der Harfe

An die Musik

from Die schone Müllerin
    Der Müller und der Bach

from Winterreise
    Gute Nacht
    Der Lindenbaum
    Der Wegweiser
    Der Leiermann

1st song from Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Falstaff at SF Opera

Last week I attended the 2nd to last performance of Verdi's Falstaff at SF Opera. The production was well-cast, though bass-baritone Bryn Terfel was obviously the star. His voice was full & cushy & seemed to get warmer & more comfortable as the evening went on. He sang with variety & expression, & his performance had a spontaneous feel. His Falstaff was good company & comical without being cartoonish. The audience particularly laughed when he appeared in act 2 extravagantly dressed in red, looking like a cross between a rooster & a pitcher of Hawaiian Punch.

The female singers all had strong voices. Soprano Ainhoa Arteta as Alice sounded consistently sturdy. Contralto Meredith Arwady's voice was robust, & she played Dame Quickly with a bold sense of fun. Baritone Fabio Capitanucci was a theatrical Ford & fell to the floor when giving vent to his character's jealousy in act 2. The voice of tenor Francesco Demuro as Fenton rang out clearly, with a bit of tension in his high notes. Tenor Joel Sorensen put a lot of character into his singing & physical acting as the bandy-legged Dr. Caius. Bass Andrea Silvestrelli was Pistola, & his deep, orotund voice is so distinctive that it popped out at me whenever he opened his mouth.

The set was composed of flat wooden surfaces & looked similar for all scenes. It was perhaps meant to evoke a Renaissance stage. A large trapdoor hinged up from the middle of the floor to represent the Garter Inn, making it look like Falstaff lived in a giant, brick-lined clam shell. A lot of white laundry linen is tossed in the air during the scene in Ford's house.

San Francisco Opera photo IMG_20131030_192119_zps03feb75f.jpgMaestro Nicola Luisotti's conducting was brisk & extroverted. The orchestra played out, & there were nice woodwind solos. For the final scene, a musician dressed as a huntsman stood in box A & played the opening horn calls on a valveless horn. The grand pause at the end of the finale was dramatic, & Mr. Terfel's pianissimo utterance of "Tutti gabbati" was striking. I watched the performance from upstairs standing room. There was plenty of room at the railing, & I noticed 2 people reading scores. Many attendees arrived late & had to be seated after the 1st scene.

§ Falstaff
Music by Giuseppe Verdi

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: Olivier Tambosi

Falstaff: Bryn Terfel
Alice Ford: Ainhoa Arteta
Nannetta: Heidi Stober
Dame Quickly: Meredith Arwady
Fenton: Francesco Demuro
Ford: Fabio Capitanucci
Meg Page: Renée Rapier
Bardolfo: Greg Fedderly
Dr. Caius: Joel Sorensen
Pistola: Andrea Silvestrelli

Wed 10/30/13 7:30pm
War Memorial Opera House

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween in the Marina

I didn't have to go far for Halloween today. At lunchtime, Chestnut Street in the Marina was full of pre-schoolers & their parents doing some daytime trick-or-treating.

Some kids needed more encouragement than others.

There were so many strollers that major bottlenecks occured on the sidewalk.

The parents were into it as much as the kids.

The Wells Fargo branch had the best decorations. The entire place was decked out with cobwebs & black & orange balloons.

I think this was a customer the employees were trying to resuscitate.

No doubt many of these kids will be out tonight as well, so they're just raking it in today.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Kill Your Darlings

The new movie Kill Your Darlings is a coming of age story starring Daniel Radcliffe as the young Allen Ginsberg in his 1st year at Columbia University at the tail end of World War II. It's the first feature film of director & writer John Krokidas & is based on actual people & events. In the movie, a recording of Brahms Symphony #3 brings together Ginsberg & the dandified Lucien Carr, who then introduces him to William Burroughs & Jack Kerouac. The episodic plot converges on Carr's murder of David Kammerer, an older man who stalked the younger Carr for several years. Carr was indicted for the murder but successfully used the gay panic defense & served less than 2 years.

Daniel Radcliffe portrays an eager, happy & confident Ginsberg. We see him taking drugs, masturbating, receiving a blow job & engaging in accurately choreographed sex with another man. Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr looks like he belongs in the 1940s & communicates both insecurity & decadence. I liked Ben Foster's deadpan & gravel-voiced impersonation of Burroughs. Michael C. Hall is creepy yet vaguely sympathetic as Kammerer. The film's careful recreation of 1940s settings & clothing gives it a stylish, well-dressed look. There are occasional hallucinogenic flashes in which the film runs backwards. Kill Your Darlings opens in the Bay Area on November 1st.

§ Kill Your Darlings (2013)
A film by John Krokidas
USA, 100 mins.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

World Origami Days

According to the OrigamiUSA website, we're in the midst of World Origami Days. I can't find any events to go to for this, so here's an origami howling coyote, designed by John Montroll & folded by me.

§ World Origami Days
October 24, 2013 to November 11, 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Crissy Broadcast

Saturday afternoon, as the fog rolled under the Golden Gate Bridge, I walked to Crissy Field for the 4p run of Crissy Broadcast, a large-scale musical performance presented 3 times over the weekend.

It involved about a dozen different bands of mostly high school musicians. There was a range of ensembles, including winds, brass, strings, electric guitars, percussion, a chorus & traditional Chinese instruments.

I even spotted alphorns.

With all the groups assembled together in the center of Crissy Field, Lisa Bielawa, the composer, periodically announced the time through a bullhorn. She gave a final countdown at 5 minutes to 4, probably for everyone to synchronize watches.

The muscians were well-rehearsed. Each ensemble largely played in unison under its own leader, though the groups themselves seemed to be independent of one another. There were musical phrases that everyone played, so for a while there was a call and response effect.

After several minutes the bands began to disperse, so by the end of the work's one hour duration they dotted the periphery of Crissy Field. As the groups got farther apart & out of earshot, I had to choose to follow a particular one. They played in short bursts, then walked to their next location, so much of the time there didn't seem to be any music going on at all.

A few bands converged on the beach & ended the performance there, but I found it unsatisfying that all musicians did not re-unite.

Musicians far outnumbered spectators, though the people who happened upon the event clearly enjoyed the spectacle of young musicians playing together in public.

§ Crissy Broadcast
Lisa Bielawa, Composer & Artistic Director
Saturday, October 26, 10:00 - 11:00 AM
Saturday, October 26, 4:00 - 5:00 PM
Sunday, October 27, 12:00 - 1:00 PM
Crissy Field | San Francisco

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Flying Dutchman at SF Opera

This past Tuesday I saw the opening performance of The Flying Dutchman at SF Opera. The director Petrika Ionesco was fired by David Gockley the previous week & the production hastily re-staged. The rumored laser beams, spaceships & alien zombies were nowhere to be seen. The action takes place on a nearly bare stage. Projections, mostly of the sea & the sky, provide the scenic effects. The staging straightforwardly told the basic story, though I was confused about what the female chorus was supposed to be doing during the act 2 spinning scene. Costumes looked roughly 19th century, though the Dutchman enters in a sort of muscle shirt. The opera ended tamely, with a field of stars projected onto an empty stage.

The singing was strong. Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley had a nice tension to his voice & was an appropriately tortured Dutchman. His act 1 monologue was taut & received applause. The Dutchman's entrance is theatrical, with the entire stage floor hinging open to reveal a spooky subterranean world. Soprano Lise Lindstrom has a big, solid sound, & she sang with control. Her voice got larger & more focused in the final act. Her Senta, wearing an elegant dress, was a mature woman rather than a naive girl. Tenor Ian Storey as Erik was an effortful singer. Bass Kristinn Sigmundsson's singing was characterful, & he was a vaguely comic Daland. It was nice to hear the bright ringing sound of tenor A.J. Glueckert as the Steersman. The male chorus sang robustly.

SF Opera photo IMG_20131022_195822_zpsd3ca2fc7.jpgConductor Patrick Summers did not push the music, & the duet of Senta & the Dutchman in act 2 unfolded at a slightly indulgent pace. The orchestra sounded clipped at times. I enjoyed the smooth & sweet oboe solos. The off-stage voices of the Dutchman & the Dutchman's sailors seemed to emanate from the walls of the auditorium. I watched the show in upstairs standing room, where there was plenty of room at the railing. This production takes an intermission after act 1.

§ The Flying Dutchman
Richard Wagner

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director, Set Designer: Petrika Ionesco

The Dutchman: Greer Grimsley
Senta: Lise Lindstrom
Erik: Ian Storey
Daland: Kristinn Sigmundsson
Steersman: A.J. Glueckert
Mary: Erin Johnson

Tue 10/22/13 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Merola 2014 Season Announcement

Merola Opera Season Announcement photo IMG_20131021_191455_zpsafd3f66d.jpgEarlier this week, Merola Opera announced next season's events at a wine, cheese & dessert reception for members in the plush Wattis Room at Davies Hall. Jean Kellogg, Executive Director, revealed that next summer's productions will be André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire & Mozart's Don Giovanni. Streetcar will be presented in an arrangement for reduced orchestra by Peter Grünberg. Ms. Kellogg described Streetcar as a "good opera for young voices." Conrad Sweeting gave some details about the April 12th Gala at the Fairmont Hotel. The theme is "A Night in New Orleans." The event is black tie, but Mr. Sweeting assured us that the dress code could be interpreted liberally. The Gala will also honor former SF Opera general director Lotfi Mansouri. Dan Meagher, Merola's ebullient Marketing Director, told us about free opera movies at the SF Public Library & a holiday concert featuring soprano Kristin Clayton & baritone Bojan Knezevic in Lafayette on December 7th.

Former Merola artists soprano Nicole Foland & baritone Eugene Brancoveanu, accompanied by pianist Robert Mollicone, performed 3 numbers from Don Giovanni. Mr. Brancoveanu sang Leporello's Catalog Aria, & his list was on an iPad, so Ms. Foland, playing Donna Elvira, comically flicked through pictures of flags, famous women & the number 1003. Mr. Brancoveanu charmingly hammed it up. He prowled the room, interacted with audience members & even snatched a flower from off a table setting & devoured it. Ms. Foland also sang Blanche's act 3 aria "Sea Air" from Streetcar. It was a treat to hear both singers in such an intimate setting.

§ Merola 2014 Season Announcement
Monday, October 21st, 7pm
Wattis Room
Davies Symphony Hall

§ Opera & Ornaments
A Merola Opera Program Holiday Concert
Saturday, December 7, 2013, 2 pm
Lafayette Public Library · Community Hall
3491 Mt Diablo Blvd, Lafayette

§ Merola Goes to the Movies
Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Library Main Branch
Admission is free

OTELLO, directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Sunday, November 3rd, 2013, 1 pm

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, The Marx Brothers
Saturday, January 11th, 2014, 1 pm

THE MAGIC FLUTE, directed by Ingmar Bergman
Saturday, March 29th, 2014, 1 pm

Film to be announced
Saturday, May 24th, 2014, 1 pm

§ Gala
Saturday, April 12, 2014

§ A Streetcar Named Desire
July 10, 2014, 7:30 pm
July 12, 2014, 2 pm

§ Schwabacher Summer Concert
July 17, 2014, 7:30 pm
July 19, 2014, 2 pm

§ Don Giovanni
July 31, 2014, 7:30 pm
August 2, 2014, 2 pm

§ Merola Grand Finale and Reception
Saturday, August 16, 2014, 7:30pm

Friday, October 25, 2013

Stephanie Blythe at Meyer Sound

Last Sunday evening Meyer Sound in Berkeley hosted a launch party for As Long as There are Songs, mezzo Stephanie Blythe's new CD of American popular songs. It was recorded in Meyer Sound's Pearson Theatre, a small 57-seat venue equipped with an electronic sound system called Constellation. It's a combination of microphones, speakers & digital processing which creates a virtual, customizable acoustic for live performances. Cal Performances uses Constellation for shows in Zellerbach.

Helen and John Meyer gave a brief introduction & demonstrated how the Pearson Theatre's dead acoustic can be changed to simulate various spaces, such as a lecture hall, a concert hall or the echoey interior of a mosque. We heard a track from the CD, then Ms. Blythe came out with pianist Craig Terry, her accompanist on the CD, & sang 3 more songs for us, with the room set to sound like a large, resonant space. The fullness of her voice & the clarity of her diction gave her renditions real immediacy. "The Man that Got Away" made me feel like I should be crying into a glass of scotch. Mr. Terry's robust accompaniment had a lot of personality.

Photo by Jesse Goff
Ms. Blythe explained that her performances are influenced by what a space gives back to her & that it was a great experience to record in an acoustic adjusted to approximate what she hears in her head. The CD was recorded with just 2 small microphones placed in front of her. The people at Meyer Sound are a friendly crew & obviously love what they do. When I asked questions about the theater's sound system, they gave me a private demo & let me play with the iPad app that controls the room's settings. They compared the use of the Constellation sound system to the moveable sound panels in Davies Hall & to the way street performer Robert Close uses the acoustics of Maiden Lane to project his voice around Union Square.

 photo IMG_20131020_181306_zpsf5387d5d.jpgRefreshments were served in an intimate party room with low lighting. It had a canopy of tree branches hanging just above eye level & an ambient sound of chirping birds. The bustling event photographer asked me to pose with several people I had only just met.