Friday, June 28, 2013

Valentine Road

The marriage equality street party in the Castro was underway when I arrived at the Castro Theatre for a Frameline screening on Wednesday evening. The music was thumping & the atmosphere happy.

Inside the theater, Matt Coles of the ACLU told the Frameline audience to "Celebrate & then get back to work!" Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, came on stage with her family & similarly exhorted us.

We saw Valentine Road, a documentary about the murder in February 2008 of 15-year-old Larry King in Oxnard, CA by his high school classmate, Brandon McInerney. Larry was a small, effeminate boy who had just started wearing women's accessories to school. He teased McInerney by asking him to be his Valentine, & a day later McInerney shot him during class. The documentary is multilayered & unfolds at a thoughtful pace, gradually uncovering the abusive home lives of both boys & the impact of the murder on the community. The film treats its subjects respectfully, even though there are some disappointing characters. The audience yelled at the screen when interviewees averred that Larry's behavior & dress actually instigated the crime. Everyone gasped when the film revealed the owner of a "Save Brandon" tattoo.

The director Marta Cunningham was in attendance & received a standing ovation. She told us how gratified she was to present the film at Frameline. During the Q&A we learned that she decided not to involve Brandon McInerney. Since Brandon took Larry's voice, she did not want to give Brandon a voice. She characterized Brandon's defense attorneys as "zealots." I got the impression that Ms. Cunningham is a persistent & canny filmmaker.

§ Valentine Road
Director: Marta Cunningham
USA, 2012, 88 Mins.

Frameline 37
Wednesday, June 26, 7:00 PM
Castro Theatre

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Asian Art Museum: In the Moment

Wednesday morning the Asian Art Museum held a press preview for In the Moment, an exhibit of Japanese art from the personal collection of Larry Ellison. The works span several centuries & include painted screens & scrolls, sculptures, a suite of armor, lacquer, & vases (which Mr. Ellison indeed uses for flowers at home).

The show aims to impress. All the objects are stunningly beautiful, in immaculate condition, & exquisitely refined.

Curator Dr. Laura Allen led a walk-through of the show & explained how Mr. Ellison follows Japanese aesthetic practice by rotating what's on display based on the seasons & the occasion.

The 1st gallery evokes the works' original settings. Visitors hear sounds of nature while viewing a gold-colored folding screen under changing lighting conditions.

Mr. Ellison clearly likes pictures of animal, cats in particular. The images of tigers are especially spectacular, though the painter of these scrolls probably never saw a live one.

Dr. Emily Sano, the museum's former director & Mr. Ellison's art adviser, provided additional commentary on Mr. Ellison's preferences & how the art is exhibited in his home.

To remind us of Mr. Ellison's other interests, the America's Cup trophy is also on display. In the Moment opens June 28th & runs through September 22nd. Four additional screens will rotate into the show on August 20th.

§ In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection
Asian Art Museum
Jun 28 - Sept 22, 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


The Castro Theatre was a packed house for Frameline's screening of Codebreaker, a posh UK documentary about mathematician & pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing. We get an overview of Turing's life & work through interviews with mathematicians, historians, & people who knew him. Interspersed throughout are dramatized scenes depicting Turing's sessions with his psychiatrist, Dr. Franz Greenbaum. The scenes are made-up, though I found affecting a speech in which the fictional Turing equates love & goodness. Ed Stoppard probably portrays an unrealistically attractive Turing, whose stutter & eccentric habits are well-documented.

The film describes Turing's mathematical accomplishments vaguely, explaining the concept of a Universal Turing Machine simply by showing a roll of paper with ones & zeroes being wound between 2 wooden wheels. Interviewees include Dr. Greenbaum's 2 daughters, an excitable Matt Parker, & Turing biographer David Leavitt. The official version of Turing's death by suicide is the only one offered.

Alexis Whitham, Educational Programming & Acquisitions Manager, introduced the film & welcomed GSA students & teachers who were at the show. We also heard from the general director of the It Gets Better Project.

§ Codebreaker
directors: Clare Beaven, Nic Stacey
UK, 2011, 82 mins.

Frameline 37
Tuesday, June 25, 11:30 AM
Castro Theatre

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Merola Auditions for the General Director

Merola Auditions for the General Director photo IMG_20130623_172658_zpsf53d2098.jpgEager Merola supporters started lining up nearly an hour before the start time of the Merola Auditions for the General Director, which took place on the stage of the Opera House following this Sunday's matinee of Tales of Hoffman. It took about an hour and fifty minutes for all 23 singers to audition for General Director David Gockley. The invited audience, seated in the boxes & grand tier, was asked not to applaud until the very end.

All the Merolini gave clean, polished performances & sang out loudly. The voices seemed very uniform. Baritone Alex DeSocio sang "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Faust with an open, ringing sound. Soprano Linda Barnett's "Tu che di gel sei cinta" from Turandot was focussed & chilling. I liked the connected singing of baritone Chris Carr in Silvio's aria from Pagliacci. Tenor Issachah Savage was arresting & sang gorgeous high notes in an aria from Andrea Chenier. I thought tenor Robert Watson had an interesting tension in his voice. Mezzo Zanda Švēde has a distinctive deep, viscous voice. She sounds like an alto. Tenor Darren Pene Pati has a hugely warm stage presence as well as a warm, pleasing sound. His version of "Che gelida manina" from Boheme was refreshingly musical. It elicited a "Bravo" from Mr. Gockley. Bass-baritone Thomas Richards gave a powerful performance of Claggart's monologue from Billy Budd that made me feel I was actually watching the opera, & Mr. Gockley responded with another "Bravo."

Merola Auditions for the General Director photo 4fb82d47-8e04-48c9-9ac2-d5f24c39ab20_zps086a71f8.jpgThe singers were accompanied by Merola's 5 apprentice coaches. Jeremy Weissmann was a flowery pianist, especially when imitating Papageno's bells for bass-baritone Rhys Talbot. Pianist Michael Shannon's playing was clearly-stated & precise. There were callbacks for mezzo Rihab Chaieb, tenor Issachah Savage, soprano Maria Valdes, mezzo Zanda Švēde, tenor Darren Pene Pati, & mezzo Daryl Freedman. I enjoyed Mr. Savage's unexpected 2nd offering, Siegmund's "Ein Schwert" monologue from Die Walküre. I wanted him to keep going through to "Wintersturm."

§ Merola Auditions for the General Director
Sunday, June 23, 6:00 PM
War Memorial Opera House Mainstage

Monday, June 24, 2013


Dec-O-WinMovie Classics at the Oakland Paramount has got to be the best entertainment bargain in the Bay Area. For $5, you can enter the luxurious interior of the Paramount Theatre for a theater organ recital, a newsreel & cartoon, a chance to win a door prize, & a feature film. I went Friday night to see The Graduate, & it was an even better bargain when the woman in line ahead of me gave me her extra ticket. The organist appropriately included Simon & Garfunkel tunes in his performance. The 1966 newsreel included an appeal from General Westmoreland, urging us to buy war bonds. A certain Miss Guided, in a shiny gold dress, spun the Dec-O-Win wheel. Even though my movie companion talked a doorperson into giving us an extra raffle ticket, we did not win a prize.

It was fun seeing The Graduate again. The audience applauded the movie's famous lines & shouted "Turn around!" when Dustin Hoffman drove his red Spider across the top level of the Bay Bridge to get to Berkeley. I kept thinking it would have been great to see a gag reel afterward of The Graduate parodies from The Simpsons.

§ The Graduate (1967)
Mike Nichols, USA, 106 minutes

Paramount Movie Classics
Friday, June 21 @ 8:00 Pm

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Terms and Conditions May Apply

Thursday's closing night film at SF DocFest couldn't have been more timely. Terms and Conditions May Apply is a worrying documentary about the government's use of the data that online companies such as Google & Facebook collect on us. It uses interviews, news footage, & a close reading of various privacy policies to show that such data sharing is perfectly legal & that we've even agreed to it. A CIA official testifies that Facebook is "truly a dream for the CIA." Most unsettling are the stories of people detained by government & law enforcement agencies solely because of something posted online. The film is a call to activism & a response to those who say they are OK with government surveillance because they have nothing to hide. The documentary also includes humorous animations & film clips, & it ends with a bit of guerilla filmmaking in which director Cullen Hoback tracks down Mark Zuckerberg, who just wants to stop being followed.

Terms and Conditions photo IMG_20130621_090953_zpse102ccc3.jpgThe lively DocFest audience yelled "Don't do it!" during the opening sequence in which a computer mouse clicks on myriad "Accept" & "Submit" buttons. Mr. Cullen was present for a Q&A. We learned that Barrett Brown, one of the film's interviewees, has since been put in prison & is awaiting trial. An epilogue about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was added right before the screening. A clip earlier in the film shows George Bush describing what I assume is the NSA's warrantless wiretapping. It made me consider that Mr. Snowden's crime is not espionage but dissent. The Roxie audience was invited to an after-party at Picaro Tapas Restaurant across the street, where I had a glass of sangria, explained proxy servers, & traded travel stories about Turkey with fellow movie-goers.

§ Terms and Conditions May Apply (2013)
USA, 79 min, Cullen Hoback

12th Annual SF DocFest
Roxie Theater
Thu 6/20/2013 7p

Friday, June 21, 2013

Out of Print

Out of Print photo IMG_20130618_183440_zps6623d70c.jpgTuesday night SF DocFest screened Out of Print, a pithy survey of the rapid changes in publishing & reading in the digital age. Even though it is less than an hour, it covers a lot of ground, from the role of the codex in the spread of Christianity, to the future of libraries, to how digital media might be altering the brains of the next generation. We get a lot of statistics & a variety of viewpoints. Interviewees include Jeff Bezos, Robert Darnton, Alberto Manguel, Fred Bass, & Jeffrey Toobin. I was excited to see a fleeting glimpse of book artist Brian Dettmer carving into a tower of books. Scott Turow, representing The Authors Guild, argues articulately against Google Books & for copyright, but I think John Perry Barlow is even more right on when he accuses Google of making private copies of public books. I liked hearing from teens who don't see the point of reading a whole book when there's Google & Spark Notes. I was amused when a student asked a librarian for Hamlet & the librarian responded, "The movie or the book?" Though the film highlights the ways long-form reading is under threat, it ends optimistic about the future of reading.

Adobe Books photo IMG_20130618_201729_zpsab65f814.jpgThe screening was preceded by a one-joke short called How to Sharpen Pencils, in which cartoonist David Rees, wearing a carpenter's apron & a condescending expression, gives a deadpan demonstration of artisanal pencil sharpening. After the show I happened to walk by the empty storefront of Adobe Books on 16th Street, which had a table of free books out front.

§ Out of Print (2013)
USA, 55 min, Vivienne Roumani

How to Sharpen Pencils (2013)
USA, 10 min, Kenneth Price

12th Annual SF DocFest
Roxie Theater
June 18,  2013, 7PM

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Magic Camp

Monday night at DocFest at the Roxie I saw Magic Camp, a documentary about Tannen's Magic Camp, a week-long summer camp for magic geeks that takes place in what looks like an old English castle at Bryn Mawr College. The campers are overwhelmingly teenage males, & the film focuses on 5 of the most committed, who arrive with professional aspirations & hopes of winning the camp's magic competition. The filmmakers record fragments of classes, coaching sessions, performances, & random social interactions. Both the kids & camp staff can be embarrassingly earnest. We get small hints that for many of the campers their immersion in magic is an escape from difficult family backstories. They are real adolescents & not performing prodigies.

SF DocFest photo IMG_20130617_203354_zpsab4271e8.jpg A lot of the film is shot in low light & has the blurry look of a homemade YouTube video. The sound recording is similarly fuzzy, & some of the dialogue requires subtitles. Mood music plays under most scenes. The screening was held in the Roxie's uncomfortable 2nd theater. I overheard someone behind me say that they felt like they were in an airplane. Somehow the house lights came on prematurely during the movie's epilogue. The theater was at capacity, & the audience was amused by the film's many demonstrations of adolescent awkwardness.

§ Magic Camp (2012)
dir, Judd Ehrlich
USA, 85 mins.

12th Annual SF DocFest
Roxie Theatre
Mon, 6/17 7:00 PM

Friday, June 14, 2013

Billboard auf Deutsch

No, I'm not in Germany (yet). I have no idea what this German billboard is doing above Chestnut Street in the Marina.

Ein paar Wochen, um sich sicher zu sein.
Ein Jahr, um es unbedingt aussprechen zu wollen.
Ein Leben, um Dich zu lieben.

Using my minimal German, I think it says something like:

A couple of weeks, to feel sure.
A year, to want to express it completely.
A lifetime, to love you.

This could be related to religious messages on nearby billboards, but surely this is some bizarre mistake.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Opera Tattler Speaks

You've read the Opera Tattler, perhaps you've seen her at the opera, & now you can hear her. She & writer Chad Jones will be discussing opera & musical theater with Chloe Veltman on VoiceBox on KALW this Friday, June 14, at 10p.

§ VoiceBox: What a lovely Aria! I mean Number
KALW 91.7 fm
Friday, June 14, 2013, 10-11pm

KALW archive

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

With the Bradley Manning trial underway & PRISM whistleblower Edward Snowden mysteriously checked out of his hotel in Hong Kong, this seemed like a good week to see We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, Alex Gibney's new documentary about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange & Bradley Manning, his most important leaker. Though the main characters are computer hackers, their complex story is driven by their ethical choices, not by technology. Assange is weirdly fascinating & comes across as cagey & impulsive. Unfortunately the filmmakers failed to get an exclusive interview with him. They disabuse viewers of the theory that the rape charges against Assange are politically motivated, but a curious interview with one of his accusers skirts the encounter in question.

Bradley Manning only appears through second-hand accounts, photographs, & his on-line chats, but he is the film's hero. It was heartening to see former State Department spokesman PJ Crowley gracefully resign after criticizing the treatment of Manning in military prison. Adrian Lamo, the controversial hacker who turned Manning in, receives an unflattering depiction, looking over-medicated & despondent. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA & the NSA, is a frighteningly clear-minded interviewee & is ironically the source for the film's title.

§ We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013)
dir, Alex Gibney
USA, 130 min

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sunday Streets in Dogpatch

Sunday Streets Dogpatch
This month's Sunday Streets, in which main thoroughfares are closed to car traffic, was in the Bayview/Dogpatch neighborhoods, an area I'm not that familiar with. It was the least crowded Sunday Streets I've been to.

Though the closure stretched from China Basin to the Bayview Opera House, I hung around the nexus of 3rd & 22nd Streets. The area is already filling with hipster boutiques & eateries.

Sunday Streets Dogpatch
Many of the old buildings look like survivals from the 1800s.

Sunday Streets Dogpatch
Bands dotted the area, & local businesses were open. Fortunately street vendors were nearly non-existent.

Workshop Residence
I discovered The Workshop Residence, which provides a studio, storefront, & living quarters for artisans on a rotating basis. This afternoon, women were weaving straw baskets at the back.

Museum of Craft and Design
The Museum of Craft and Design has moved into a high-ceilinged space on 3rd Street.

Museum of Craft and Design
Arline Fisch made these translucent aquatic creatures by knitting thin wires. The museum's display really looks like an aquarium.

Rock Climbing Wall
Next door was rock climbing.

Sunday Streets Dogpatch
And across the way, members of the local gym boxed in the streets.

§ Sunday Streets
6/9/2013 11am - 4pm

Monday, June 10, 2013

Opera Parallèle Graphic Opera Lab

Last Friday evening Opera Parallèle presented a workshop reading of a Gesualdo, Prince of Madness, a work in progress by composer Dante De Silva & librettist Mitchell Morris. The two-act opera explores the psychology of madrigal composer Carlo Gesualdo, who infamously murdered his wife & her lover. Act I depicts the grisly murders. Act II shows the composer haunted by the ghosts of his victims years later. In this "Graphic Opera" presentation, the lights were dimmed & pages of a wordless comic book depicting the action were projected behind the singers. The pictures, by Mark Simmons, were appropriately explicit & lurid & functioned as the opera's staging. Some had simple animation added to them. It was like reading a comic book version of an opera while listening to the music.

Opera ParalleleDa Silva's score had an even flow & mixed modern & Renaissance elements. The overall mood was one of sorrow & dread. I found it a bit jarring that the librettto switched between English & Italian. Nicole Paiement was a punctilious conductor, & the musicians & singers all gave taut performances. Baritone Daniel Cilli has a nice velvety sound & was very engaged as the tortured Gesualdo. The role seemed high. At this reading, the orchestra consisted of piano, percussion, theorbo, & an electronic keyboard supplying other instruments. A trio of female singers sat with the orchestra & represented the female chorus that sings from the pit in the full version.

Opera ParalleleThe venue was packed, & there was a delayed start so that more chairs could be brought in. The run-through included both acts & lasted around 75 minutes. There was a pause between acts to tune the theorbo. The creative team sat on stage following the performance & talked briefly about their collaboration. Maestra Paiement praised the composer for his openness to suggestions from the musicians. A wine reception followed, during which there was a raffle drawing for valuable prizes. The same name got drawn twice, but it was decided that the person could only win one prize. Mr. Simmons has blogged his own account of the event & includes an illustration that should have been in the show.

§ Opera Parallèle Graphic Opera Lab

Gesualdo – Prince of Madness
Dante De Silva, Composer
Mitchell Morris, Librettist

Nicole Paiement: Conductor
Brian Staufenbiel: Graphic Opera Concept and Stage Director
Mark Simmons: Graphic Artist

Carlo: Daniel Cilli
Maria: Michelle Rice
Leonora: Maya Kherani
Fabrizio: Andres Ramirez
Artemisia, Anna & Patrizia: Nikola Printz
Orazio: Chris Filipowicz
Female Trio: Sarah Eve Brand, Lora Libby & Rachel Rush

Piano: Keisuke Nakagoshi
Keyboard: Eva-Maria Zimmerman
Theorbo: Adam Cockerham
Percussion: McKenzie Camp

Friday, June 7th, 2013, 7:00 pm
Sol Joseph Recital Hall
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Meet the Merolini

Meet the MeroliniFriday afternoon the Merola Opera Program introduced this summer's artists at an event for Merola members & supporters. The 29 singers, coaches & stage directors were selected from nearly 1000 applicants & come from the United States, Canada, Ireland, Iran, New Zealand, & Latvia. They took turns sitting at a table with Board Chairman Jayne Davis, Director Sheri Greenawald, & Board President Donna Blacker & were asked brief questions, in the style of a Miss America pageant.

Though young, the Merolini arrive with a lot of experience behind them. Apprentice director George Cederquist told a funny story about playing one of Norma's children in a production starring Joan Sutherland & expressed his desire to present Carl Orff's Der Mond to American audiences. Mezzo Rihab Chaieb began singing when she was in a Goth band in high school. Baritone Alex DeSocio told us that football & singing "both hurt a lot" & was admonished for confusing the 49ers & the Giants. Tenor Matthew Newlin humorously demonstrated how he waves his arms wildly when he needs to distract attention away from his singing. Bass-baritone Thomas Richards has already been a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Tenor Robert Watson was working at a Starbucks in Kansas City when he got the call to sing in Lohengrin at SF Opera.

The interviews lasted 90 minutes, & a reception followed. We'll have a chance to hear the Merolini sing in public performances in July & August.

§ 2013 Merola Artist Listing

Linda Barnett, Greeneville, Tennessee
Aviva Fortunata, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Alisa Jordheim, Appleton, Wisconsin
Jacqueline Piccolino, Palatine, Illinois
Maria Valdes, Atlanta, Georgia

Kate Allen, Dublin, Ireland
Rihab Chaieb, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Daryl Freedman, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Katie Hannigan, Newburgh, New York
Zanda Švēde, Valmiera, Latvia

Casey Finnigan, Austin, Texas
Matthew Newlin, Georgetown, Illinois
Darren Pene Pati, Mangere, Auckland, New Zealand
Issachah Savage, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Robert Watson, Kansas City, Missouri

Chris Carr, Quasqueton, Iowa
Alex DesSocio, Wichita, Kansas
Joseph Lattanzi, Mableton, Georgia
Efraín Solís, Santa Ana, California

John Arnold, Cumming, Georgia
Thomas Richards, Burnsville, Minnesota
Rhys Talbot, Cedar Falls, Iowa
David Weigel, Asheville, North Carolina

Apprentice Coaches
Timothy Cheung, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Noah Lindquist, Brooklyn, New York
Sahar Nouri, Tehran, Iran
Michael Shannon, London, Ontario, Canada
Jeremy Weissmann, Culver City, California

Apprentice Stage Director
George Cederquist, Ann Arbor, Mi

§ Meet the Merolini
Merola Opera Program
5:30 p.m. Friday, June 7
Nourse Theatre

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Così fan tutte Dress Rehearsal

Thursday evening I was at the dress rehearsal for San Francisco Opera's Così fan tutte, which opens this Sunday. The airy & brightly colored production moves the action to a spa in Monte Carlo during World War I. The young cast all gave lively singing & acting performances. Bass Marco Vinto was consistently solid as Don Alfonso & communicated smug maturity. I liked baritone Philippe Sly's wonderfully resonant & cushy sound & his ease moving on stage. Tenor Francesco Demuro's voice was high, narrow, & strong. Soprano Susannah Biller sounded girlish & bright & was a crabby Despina. Soprano Ellie Dehn & mezzo Christel Lötzsch, as the sisters, had strong, even, & well-matched voices. Ms. Dehn's sustained "Per pietà, ben mio perdona" in act 2 got extended applause.

Nicola Luisotti was a frantic & propulsive conductor. He had the orchestra playing out vigorously. We even heard him yell a couple of times. There were sloppy moments, & the singers were not always together with the orchestra. Maestro Luisotti accompanied some of the recitatives on fortepiano & playfully interpolated other pieces of music. I liked hearing a theorbo & a guitar in the recitative accompaniment.

The audience seemed delighted by the production & applauded the entrance of Ferrando & Guglielmo by toy boat in act 2, though Ferrando nearly fell later getting back into it as it pulled away. The supertitles provided amusingly loose translations at times. My favorite supertitle simply read "(Despina disguised as doctor)".

San Francisco Opera photo IMG_20130606_170509_zps5b8d30e7.jpgThese dress rehearsals are general seating, & attendees can be competitive. My opera companion & I were lucky to make it to a front row seat in the grand tier with a great view of the orchestra pit. The older woman next to me asked me to call down to a gentleman in a box to find out how he got permission to sit there. She came provisioned with a pocket flask, from which she took occasional nips.

§ Così fan tutte
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: Jose Maria Condemi

Don Alfonso: Marco Vinco
Ferrando: Francesco Demuro
Guglielmo: Philippe Sly
Fiordiligi: Ellie Dehn
Dorabella: Christel Lötzsch
Despina: Susannah Biller

Thursday, June 6, 2013 6p
War Memorial Opera House

Friday, June 07, 2013

SF Opera: The Tales of Hoffman

Wednesday night I attended the opening of Tales of Hoffman at the San Francisco Opera. I'm glad I saw it from downstairs standing room, since you really need to see the entire stage for the production's full effect. Massive walls gracefully open, close, & reorient themselves to suggest different spaces. The set is bathed in a moody blue light, & the cast, in 19th century costumes, inhabit a nighttime, dream-like environment. The staging emphasizes the opera's groteseque humor.

Tenor Matthew Polenzani sang the title role with consistency. His high lyrical voice was free, open, & ardent. Mezzo Angela Brower, as a jealous Muse & Nicklausse, sounded full & even. As the 4 incarnations of Hoffman's nemesis, bass-baritone Christian Van Horn was fittingly stern & grave, & he had a number of evil laughs.

Soprano Hye Jung Lee's Olympia was the high point of the evening & perhaps of the summer season as well. Her legless Olympia displayed mechanical abilities that made me gape, & she nailed every high note & gesture joyfully. The audience responded with gasps, laughter, & a long ovation. I seriously considered whether it might be OK to leave at intermission.

I love soprano Natalie Dessay's sympathetic stage presence, so it was difficult to hear her voice fraying around the edges as Antonia, even though the middle of her range was invitingly warm. Tenor Steven Cole sang 4 servant roles with a lot of character & was a great physical comedian. Soprano Jacqueline Piccolino made a comfortably rich, robust sound in a cameo as the opera singer Stella. Thomas Glenn's mad scientist Spalanzani was nicely wacky. Patrick Fournillier's conducting was lively & elegant, & he avoided making Offenbach sound like oompah music.

San Francisco Opera photo IMG_20130605_190631_zpsc1858b05.jpgOffenbach died 4 months before the premiere of Hoffman, so the opera is actually unfinished. These performances use something called the Keck-Kaye edition, which represents the latest thinking on the composer's original intentions. There is a good amount of spoken dialogue & a substantial prologue & epilogue. The Antonia act is in the middle, between 2 intrermissions. The opera may have exhausted some in the audience, as there was a mini exodus from the orchestra level after the Giulietta act. Because it's so important to see the entire stage, the balcony video screens will be in use every performance, even those without OperaVision.

§ Les Contes d'Hoffman
Jacques Offenbach
Performing Edition based on the integral edition of the opera by Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck

San Francisco Opera
Conductor:  Patrick Fournillier
Director: Laurent Pelly

Hoffmann: Matthew Polenzani
The Muse/Nicklausse: Angela Brower
Coppélius, Dapertutto, Dr. Miracle, Lindorf: Christian Van Horn
Frantz, Andrès, Cochenille, Pittichinaccio: Steven Cole
Luther, Schlemil: Hadleigh Adams
Nathanaël: Matthew Grills
Hermann: Joo Won Kang
Spalanzani: Thomas Glenn
Olympia: Hye Jung Lee
Antonia: Natalie Dessay
Crespel: James Creswell
Voice of Antonia's Mother: Margaret Mezzacappa
Giulietta: Irene Roberts
Stella: Jacqueline Piccolino

Wed 06/5/13 7:30pm
War Memorial Opera House

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Curious Flights: A Britten Celebration

Tuesday night Curious Flights commemorated the 100th birthday of Benjamin Britten with a pleasing program of his lesser-known works. Britten wrote the Movement for Wind Sextet when he was only 16. The piece is pretty, & its inclusion of the bass clarinet imparts a primeval feeling. The Valinor Winds gave it a smooth & clean performance. The Friction Quartet, plus guest violist Jason Pyszkowski, gave a lush performance of the Phantasy in F Minor for String Quintet, written just a few years later. Cellist Doug Machiz bowed & plucked its reiterated theme with anchored & rounded gestures. Violist Pei-Ling Lin has a supple sound, & violinists Kevin Rogers & Otis Harriel communicate urgency. I liked how the players conscientiously handed off the music's lyrical phrases to each other. The piece ended with an extended silence, & the audience was almost reluctant to start applauding.

Tenor Brian Thorsett was arresting in the Canticle III. His high, ringing voice filled the hall & sounded fervent & eerie. There was a startling moment when he suddenly switched from singing to speech. Kevin Rivard, of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, played the horn part with calmness & used a different timbre for each of his solos.

Curious Flights photo IMG_20130604_205954_zps45b06d06.jpgDuring intermission the stage was reset for an orchestra of about 50, that included 4 basses, 4 horns, & a harp. The program concluded with Movements for a Clarinet Concerto, featuring clarinetist Brenden Guy. It's a jaunty 3 movement concerto constructed by Collin Matthews from Britten's sketch for an unfinished concerto for Benny Goodman plus unrealized contemporaneous material. Though the music is exuberant & virtuosic, Mr. Guy was a low-profile soloist, his playing skillful & sunny but a bit reined in. He used music, & there was no traditional cadenza. Instead, he shared the spotlight with the orchestra, which sounded taut & brilliant under conductor Alasdair Neale. It was fun hearing the bass clarinet at the end of the 1st movement.

The audience at the SF Conservatory was sparse but appreciative, & I felt like I was at an event with many friends. Karen Ames introduced the concert & acknowledged Mr. Guy's father, who was here from the UK.

§ Curious Flights: A Britten Celebration
All Works By Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Movement for Wind Sextet (1930)
    Valinor Winds
    Sasha Launer, flute
    Jessie Huntsman, oboe
    Brenden Guy, clarinet
    Jeannie Psomas, bass clarinet
    Alexis Luque, bassoon
    Caitlyn Smith, horn

Phantasy in F Minor for String Quintet (1932)
    Friction Quartet
    Kevin Rogers & Otis Harriel, violin
    Pei-Ling Lin, viola
    Doug Machiz, cello
    Jason Pyszkowski, viola

Canticle III: Still Falls the Rain, Op. 55 (1954)
    Brian Thorsett, tenor
    Kevin Rivard, horn
    Ulysses Loken, piano

Movements for a Clarinet Concerto (1941-42)
Devised & Orchestrated by Collin Matthews (2007)
    Curious Flights Symphony Orchestra
    Alasdair Neale, conductor
    Brenden Guy, clarinet

June 4, 2013 | 8:00 P.M.
San Francisco Conservatory Concert Hall

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Up-coming: Kenneth Branagh’s The Magic Flute

This Sunday, June 9th, selected U.S. theaters will screen a movie version of The Magic Flute directed by Kenneth Branagh. Though the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, it has apparently never been shown or distributed in the U.S. The opera is relocated to a World War I battlefield, & the story's triumph of love is equated with the arrival of world peace.

The movie is restless, every moment packed with fanciful visual concepts, & Branagh makes liberal use of digital trickery. The overture is one long computer-generated tracking shot that snakes through trenches, across a battlefield, & into a sky full of biplanes doing barrel rolls. Papagena seamlessly transforms from an old woman into a teenager while walking across a room, & the Queen of the Night can zip around the sky like Wonder Woman. At times it's like watching a pinball machine. The sets look enormous & seem to be peopled with hundreds of multiracial extras. There's plenty of gratuitous silliness as well, such as the Whac-A-Mole choreography when the Three Ladies harass Tamino & Papageno during their trials.

The film is cast with attractive singers who look their parts. They all give free & spontaneous acting performances, sometimes bordering on slapstick. I liked the bright & fervent singing of tenor Joseph Kaiser as Tamino. His diction is impressively clear. Bass René Pape, with his warm voice, is a benevolent & fatherly Sarastro. He also sings the Speaker's music. Soprano Amy Carson is a steely-voiced & feisty Pamina. Soprano Lyubov Petrova's Queen of the Night gets a terrific entrance standing atop a tank, & her coloratura is aggressive & powerful. Tenor Tom Randle makes a smooth, pleasing sound & is a rather urbane Monostatos. The Papageno of Ben Davis is appropriately goofy. I laughed at the clucking chicken that accompanies his duet with Papagena.

The opera is sung in English, in a contemporary, straight-forward translation by Stephen Fry. The dialogue sections have been trimmed to a minimum. James Conlon conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, & the playing is brisk, extroverted, & bright.

Here in SF, The Magic Flute plays at the Vogue on June 9th at 10am. A live webcast with Kenneth Branagh answering viewers' questions follows the screening. For those who can't make it, the DVD will be released June 11th.

§ The Magic Flute (2006)
France, UK. 134 mins.

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Libretto adapted by: Stephen Fry

Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Music Arranged and Conducted by James Conlon

Queen of the Night: Lyubov Petrova
Sarastro: René Pape
Monostatos: Tom Randle
Tamino: Joseph Kaiser
Pamina: Amy Carson
Papageno: Ben Davis
First Lady: Teuta Koco
Second Lady: Louise Callinan
Third Lady: Kim-Marie Woodhouse
Papagena (young): Silvia Moi
Papagena (older): Liz Smith

§ The Vogue
Sun. June 9, 2013 – 10am
Live webcast with Kenneth Branagh in London following the screening

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

SFMOMA All-nighter

SFMOMA Countdown Celebration
In the windup to the building closure on Sunday, the SFMOMA was free & open around the clock this past weekend. I dropped in around midnight on Saturday, just to say I was there. The place was wall-to-wall people, & it felt like a party. Drinks were available in the lobby & the rooftop garden, where it was even hard to find a place to stand.

SFMOMA Countdown Celebration
There were continuous live events in the 5th floor cafe area, though the chatter from the rooftop crowd was so loud that it was hard to pay attention to anything. I saw archivist Rick Prelinger narrate a 20-minute excerpt of his silent documentary No More Road Trips?, a compilation of home movies shot on family road trips. Footage of tourists feeding bears along the highway was alarming.

SFMOMA Countdown Celebration
There were a lot of couples & groups of young people who looked like they'd be comfortable spending all night in the museum.

SFMOMA Countdown Celebration
The central stairwell was jam-packed, & it took me a good 5 minutes to get back downstairs. The wait to see The Clock was announced as 4 hours. When I left after midnight, entry to the building was temporarily paused, & the line outside stretched around the corner.

§ SFMOMA Countdown Celebration
May 30, through Sunday, June 2, 2013