One of the greatest pleasures of Indian summer is the special nudge its gives heirloom tomatoes to sun-ripened perfection. As we pursue the great tomato hunt, there’s one event that tops them all—the annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, which returns on Saturday, September 27, 2014, for a one-of-a-kind celebration of Sonoma County’s seasonal bounty. Now in its 18th year, the popular festival has a cult like following, attracting tomato lovers from all over the West Coast. Highlights include—the popular heirloom tomato tasting station offering some 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes (grown by Kendall-Jackson); an Heirloom Tomato Grower’s Competition (judging is Thursday, September 25, 2014 with winners on display on Saturday); the popular Chef Challenge featuring Bravo’s Top Chef® contenders; and tomato-inspired gourmet delights from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors. Guests will also enjoy wine tasting, live music by the Carlos Herrera Band and educational wine and garden seminars.
The event, which utilizes nearly 10,000 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, benefits the Ceres Community Project, which involves community-building through providing nourishing free meals to those struggling with serious illnesses.
ARThound’s favorite part of the day is engaging complete strangers in tomato talk —what’s the best tasting heirloom tomato? What’s the best way to grow them? Of course, it’s foolhardy to even attempt to answer these questions but it’s the kind of talk that happily engages any tomato fanatic—for hours.
Tour KJ’s expanded gardens: In addition to wine and food, guests at the 2014 Tomato Festival can discover the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate’s recently expanded culinary and sensory gardens. Culinary gardener Tucker Taylor will lead tours throughout the day to reveal the captivating garden transformation, including an exploration of the garden’s wide variety of organic specialty produce and beautiful design enhancements. Tucker says:
—Technically a tomato is a fruit, but it is legally classified as a vegetable
—Over 90% of gardeners in America grow tomatoes
—We eat close to 25 pounds of tomatoes per year
—The botanical name is Lycopersicon lycopersicum which means “wolf peach”
—Tomatoes originate in South America
—China is the largest producer of tomatoes followed by the US
—California produces over 95% of the tomatoes processed in the US
—Florida is the largest producer of fresh market tomatoes
—The largest tomato on record was grown in 1986 in Oklahoma and weighed 7 lbs. 12 oz.
—The largest tomato plant on record was grown in a greenhouse in Florida and produced over 32,000 tomatoes in the first 16 months
—It is estimated that there are over 25,000 tomato varieties
VIP event package: An all access festival package which includes a VIP tent and lounge, VIP check-in, valet parking with a separate entrance to the event, exclusive wine and food pairings and limited production reserve wines poured by the winery’s Master Sommelier Tickets for this extra special VIP experience are $150 per person. (*Will sell-out, buy now.)
About Kendall-Jackson Winery: Kendall-Jackson is one of America’s most beloved family-owned and operated wineries. Founded by entrepreneur Jess Jackson and now led by his wife Barbara Banke and their children, Kendall-Jackson is based in Sonoma County and offers a range of acclaimed wines grown on the family’s estate vineyards along the coastal ridges of California. A leader in sustainable vineyard and winery practices including solar cogeneration, water conservation, and natural pest control, 100% of Kendall-Jackson’s vineyards in California are SIP Certified (Sustainability in Practice). Learn more online at http://www.kj.com, and follow KJ on Facebook. Engage in this year’s Tomato Festival conversation on Twitter via @KJWines and #Kjtomfest.
Details: The 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival is Saturday, September 27, 2014 from 11AM to 4 PM. Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens are located 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton CA 95439. Advance ticket purchase is essential as the event sells out every year. Purchase tickets online here. General Admission tickets: $95; VIP Package $150. Wear Sun Protection to this outdoor event.
Directions: From Highway 101 going NORTH, take River Road exit. Come to stop light and turn LEFT going over the freeway. Travel approximately 1 1/4 mile to first stoplight, which is Fulton Road. Turn RIGHT at Fulton Road.
Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens is less than 1/2 mile on the LEFT side of the road. (If you go over the Hwy 101 overpass on Fulton, you’ve gone too far.)
From Highway 101 going SOUTH, take Fulton Road exit. The FIRST driveway on the right is the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens.
San Francisco Opera honors Soprano Patricia Racette with the San Francisco Opera Medal, commemorating 25 years and 32 roles, SFO’s highest award
Those of us who attended the final performance of San Francisco Opera’s new production of Carlise Floyd’s “Susannah” this afternoon were in for a treat. Right after extended rounds of applause for soprano Patricia Racette, who delivered a profound Susannah, and cheers for her wonderful supporting cast, a special ceremony took place awarding Racette with the San Francisco Opera Medal. The award was established in 1970 by former General Director Kurt Herbert Adler and is the highest honor the Company bestows in recognition of outstanding achievement by an artistic professional.
How fitting it is that Racette, who celebrates 25 years and 32 roles with SFO this year, was given this award now. Her repertoire and success over the past year with the company has been so vast it is dizzying. She just sang the title role of “Susannah” to rave reviews. This summer, she sang Cio Cio San in the splendid “Madame Butterfly” and gave a stand-out performance as the cabaret singer, Julie La Verne, in Francesca Zambello’s opulent “Show Boat,” SFO’s other stand-out summer of 2014 hit. There, her delightful renditions of Jerome Kern’s ballads “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill,”along with her wonderful acting, were central to the production. Last season, at the very last minute, she stepped up to assume the title role in Tobias Picker’s “Dolores Claiborne” while simultaneously singing the dual roles of Marguerite and Elena in Arrigo Boito’s “Mephistopheles.” That’s just the past year! Her career with the company is nothing short of remarkable.
The New Hampshire-born soprano first joined SFO’s Merola Program where she debuted her now acclaimed portrayal of Puccini’s Cio-Cio-San. Later, as an Alder Fellow with the company, she covered Pilar Lorengar in “Falstaff.” Over the years, she has sung roles with the company as varied musically and dramatically as Luisa Miller and Jenůfa, Marguerite, and Dolores Claiborne. The artistry and fervor Racette brings to the stage is limitless, whether in vocal mastery, stylistic range, or emotional interpretation. After “Susannah,” Racette is singing the title role in “Salome” at San Antonio Opera (Jan 2015); Marie Antionette in The Ghosts of Versailles at Los Angeles Opera (Feb-March 2015) and Nedda in “Pagliacci” (April-May 2015) at the Met. Racette, who is married to mezzo Beth Clayton, is also proud to call San Francisco home, and when she isn’t on tour, she loves walking with her poodle, Sappho, on the beach.
Racette was given the award by SFO’s General Director David Gockley who said Racette was “family” and went on to list her numerous accomplishments over the years. Present on stage were members of the cast of “Susannah.” In accepting the award Racette graciously thanked all those support persons associated with SFO who have contributed to the quality of her performances over the years and the special San Francisco audience members, many of whom have “been there since the very beginning.”
The first SFO Medal laureate was soprano Dorothy Kirsten. While many vocalists (such as Leontyne Price in 1977, Joan Sutherland in 1984, Plácido Domingo in 1994, and Samuel Ramey (2003) have been so honored, other laureates have included stage director John Copley (2010), conductor Donald Runnicles (2009), chorus director Ian Robertson 2012 and scenic artist Jay Kotcher in 2013.
San Francisco Opera Medal Recipients
1970 – Dorothy Kirsten
1972 – Jess Thomas
1973 – Paul Hager (house stage director)
1974 – Colin Harvey (chorister and chorus librarian)
1975 – Otto Guth
Alexander Fried (San Francisco Examiner music critic)
1976 – Leonie Rysanek
1977 – Leontyne Price
1978 – Kurt Herbert Adler
1980 – Geraint Evans
1981 – Matthew Farruggio (production supervisor and house stage director)
1982 – Regina Resnik
1984 – Joan Sutherland
1985 – Thomas Stewart
1987 – Régine Crespin
1988 – Philip Eisenberg (music staff)
1989 – Pilar Lorengar
1990 – Janis Martin
1991 – Licia Albanese
1993 – Walter Mahoney (costume shop manager)
1994 – Zaven Melikian (concertmaster)
Michael Kane (master carpenter)
1995 – Charles Mackerras
1997 – Frederica von Stade
1998 – Irene Dalis
2001 – Lotfi Mansouri
2003 – Samuel Ramey
2004 – Joe Harris (dresser)
2005 – Pamela Rosenberg
2008 – Clifford (Kip) Cranna (director of music administration)
Ruth Ann Swenson
2009 – Donald Runnicles
2010 – John Copley (stage director)
2012 – Ian Robertson (chorus director)
2013–Jay Kotcher (scenic artist)
Details: Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” opens Saturday, October 4, 2014 and there are 7 performances in the run. Seats are selling fast—purchase tickets here or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330. Handel’s “Partenope” opens Wednesday, October 15, 2014 with acclaimed Danielle de Niese in the title role and runs for 6 performances. Purchase tickets here. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.
For more information on San Francisco Opera and all upcoming performances, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx
Review: Cinnabar Theater opens its 42nd season with a touching Fiddler on the Roof, celebrating beloved musical’s the 50th anniversary—extended twice, closes September 28, 2013
There are many gaps in my cultural exposure and the musical, Fiddler on the Roof was one of them—until I saw Cinnabar Theater’s opening night (September 6) performance, which had me and an enthusiastic audience humming, clapping, and tearing up throughout. What better way for Cinnabar to kick off its 42 season than by celebrating the 50th anniversary of this beloved musical whose poignant story about embracing change is captured in the swirl of dance and glorious song. Directed by John Shillington, choreographed by Joseph Favalora, with music direction by Mary Chun, this is a big-hearted production that celebrates what Cinnabar excels at—talented actors making a human connection so palpable it feels like they’re doing it especially for you.
The story centers on Tevye, father of five strong-willed daughters, who is struggling to maintain his family’s Jewish traditions in the tiny shtetl (village) of Anatevka which, in 1905, begins to reel as Tsar Nicholas II’s anti-Jewish propaganda campaign spreads and begins to incite fear and hatred of Jews, even in the far corners of the Imperial Russian empire. Stephen Walsh, who wowed Cinnabar audiences in last November’s hit, La Cage aux Folles, plays Papa Tevye with Cinnabar’s own Elly Lichenstein (Artistic Director) as Golde, his wife. Their on stage chemistry is palpable and they each play their roles with emotional conviction and good-hearted humor. It was nice to hear Lichenstein, a formally-trained opera singer, singing again and embracing a pretty decent and consistent Yiddish accent. She had the audiences in stitches in the scene where the couple is in bed and Tevye relates his frightening dream to her. “This role has enormous personal significance for me,” said Lichenstein. “All four of my grandparents came to America from villages like Anatevka, and it excites me that our magnificent cast is so committed to tell their story.”
In Walsh’s hands, the milkman Tevye is a warm-hearted father, steeped in faith and tradition, who only wants the best for his daughters, each of whom challenge his notions of what is right. Is it following tradition and marrying them off to men of means, picked by a matchmaker, who can provide for them financially and offer them security, or, is it letting them pick the men they love, who inspire them and make them happy?
As the story progresses, Tevye becomes concerned not only that his daughters are falling in love with poor men, but that they are stepping away from their faith. In one of his many dialogs with God and his conscience he reflects on his struggle to accept the men they have chosen.
“Accept them?” How can I accept them?” Tevye groans. “Can I deny my own child? If I try to bend that far, I will break. On the other hand, there is no other hand.”
The daughters are all delightful in their feisty and independent search for love and meaning in their lives—Jennifer Mitchell is Tzeitel, the eldest, who wants to marry a poor tailor instead of an aged butcher. Molly Mahoney is Hodel, who falls for a Bolshevik who would take her far from Anatevka. Erin Asha is Chava, who falls in love with a non-Jew. Lucy London is Bielke and Megan Fleischmann is Shprintze. The roles of their suitors are played by equally talented young men.
The action is set against another of Fiddler‘s delights—its marvelous set by Joe Elwich who has masterfully re-purposed the gorgeous salvage lumber from last season’s “Of Mice and Men” into a modest rustic village which frames the small stage. The fiddler, talented violinist Tyler Lewis, sits atop a small sloping roof, quite close to the off-stage orchestra and serenades gloriously throughout. The peasants’ rich spiritual lives are reflected in their costumes which take on a life of their own in several moving dance scenes. Each of the 40-odd costumes is unique and all designed by Cinnabar’s fabric wizard, Julia Hunstein Kwitchoff.
The original Broadway incarnation of this beloved musical racked up an astonishing 10 Tony Awards by introducing unforgettable songs like “Tradition” and “If I Were a Rich Man.” Music is by Jerry Brock, lyrics by Serldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. Cinnabar’s small orchestra, under Mary Chun’s capable direction, brought great energy to the production. Clarinetist Larry Lipman’s haunting solos were played beautifully throughout.
As I watched Fiddler unfold, I couldn’t keep from thinking how relevant this musical is today. Religious conflict is prevalent in so much of the world and has created such upheaval that entire populations are still being forced to leave their homeland. And family dynamics are reeling and shifting constantly. Parents everywhere are struggling to accept their children’s choices which are different from those they would make. Many Americans are intensely proud that they can trace their heritage to villages like Anatevka and they can personally relate to the sadness and plight of the villagers who are forced to leave. Cinnabar’s engaging production, with its strong emotional core, brings out the many facets of this timeless story about the bittersweet evolution of family life.
On Sunday, September 21, Cinnabar offers a special performance and party (long sold-out) commemorating the day the musical first opened on Broadway.
Details: Cinnabar Theater is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA. There is ample parking on the lot at the crest of the hill, just feet from the entrance. Fiddler on the Roof has been extended twice and there are10 remaining performances. There are a few available seats for these—Thursday, September 25th (8 PM), Friday 26th (8 PM), Saturday 27th (2 PM and 8 PM), Sunday 28th (2 PM) Tickets: $35 General, $25 under age 22, $9 middle-school and high-school. Buy tickets online here or call the box office at 707-763-8920 between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM on weekdays. Last minute: Occasionally, there are “no shows” and if you arrive at the theater 30 minutes prior to a show, you might be able to get a seat. Arrive early for all performances as all seating is general seating, save for opening night, where the house saves seats for subscribers.
Frances Rivetti’s “Fog Valley Crush”—an insider’s story of our glorious local food scene —here’s your chance to fund a limited “first vintage” edition
Frances Rivetti, the British American writer whose wonderful blog, Southern Sonoma Country Life, has enriched our lives for several years now, has generously given of her time by writing delightful and impactful stories about our community. She knows our local food scene like no one else.
She’s just written her first book —Fog Valley Crush: Love at First Bite— and has a Kickstarter campaign up and running to fund its publication. Her goal is to raise $7,500 and she’s already over half way home. I got a great sense of satisfaction going to her Kickstarter page (click here) and getting my books early. You just know it’s going to have a lot of previously unreported history in it if Frances has her hand in it! In full disclosure, Frances is a colleague and friend and we don’t know each other as well as we’d like because we are just too busy to sit down and have a long chat. One thing, I’m wondering who did the delightful art work for her cover?
Not just art, Napa’s Hess Collection, also has film—the “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” screens new shorts from all over the world this Sunday, September 21, 2014
Napa Valley’s Hess Collection not only offers an unparalleled collection of contemporary art amassed by Swiss wine connoisseur, Donald Hess, it also has exceptional film programing in its on-site theatre organized by collection curator, Rob Ceballos. A visit to the striking two story stone museum and grounds on Mt. Veeder, is always a treat— the art works on display are frequently rotated and there’s a tasting room pouring Hess’ world class wines —but when combined with a special film event that includes a knowledgeable speaker, it’s even more rewarding. On Sunday, September 21, 2014, at 2 p.m., Ron Diamond founder of Acme Filmworks animation studio in Los Angeles and Animation Show of Shows curator will present the fantastic “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” film shorts program. The 100 minute program will screen nine award-winning animated short films selected from major worldwide animation film festivals, and includes a reception before the screenings, and a Q & A session with Diamond after the viewing.
Diamond created the annual Animation Show of Shows in 1998 as a way of bringing the year’s best shorts, both studio and independent films, from around the world, to industry professionals and audiences who might not otherwise have an opportunity to see them. The 16th Annual edition features both studio and independent films from the US, Canada, Norway, France, United Kingdom, Poland and Russia, some of which have not been officially released. A few of shorts screening Sunday include: Disney’s FEAST (2014) from director Patrick Osborne that accompanies their full-length animated feature Big Hero Six (November 2014) and Disney-Pixar’s musical short, LAVA (2014) directed by James Ford Murphy, (which will run in front of Pete Docter’s full-length animated feature, Inside Out, (out June 2015)). Also featured is Greg and Myles McLeod’s 365, composed of 365 one-second films chronicling a year in filmmaking, day-by-day. Other films include legendary Disney animator Glen Keane’s directorial debut with DUET (2014), produced at Google’s ATAP unit, along with Mikey Please’s stop motion tour-de-force MARILYN MYLLER (2014), fresh from its Grand Prix win at the 2014 Hiroshima International Animation Festival. The entire program runs approximately 100 minutes.
Details: “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” is Sunday, September 21, 2014, at 2 PM at the Hess Collection. The Hess Collection Winery is located at 4411 Redwood Road Napa. A $20 fee covers the food and wine reception as well as the film program. Patrons are invited to remain and enjoy selected tastings of interesting new release wines in the historic Hess Visitor’s Center. Seats are limited. Purchase tickets here. Online ticket availability ends Friday, September 19, 2014.
Now in its 37th year, the legendary Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), October 2-12, is hard to beat—11 days of the best new films from around the world, intimate on stage conversations with directors and stars, musical performances, and parties. It’s so good that five of the last six Academy Award winners for best picture (Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, The Artist, Argo, 12 Years a Slave) made their Bay Area premieres there. What it really excels at, though, are locally-directed indies, gems of world cinema, wonderful storytelling and docs carefully selected to meet our exacting standards. It is an insider’s festival though and tickets are sold to California Film Institute (CFI), based on membership levels, long before they are made available to the public. This year’s festival is October 2-12 and tickets to the general public go on sale Sunday, September 14 at 11 a.m. If you want to attend any of the fabulous tributes, spotlight or centerpiece screenings, it is essential that you lock in your tickets ASAP.
Stay tuned to ARThound this coming week for top picks.
Screening venues include the CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley), Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael) and other venues throughout the Bay Area.
Online ticket purchase is highly recommended (click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option. There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantage of being able to get your tickets on the spot and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—
Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept. 14–29, 5:00–9:00 pm (General Public) 1020 B Street September 30–October 12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
ROOM Art Gallery 86 Throckmorton Ave September 14–30, 11:00 am–3:00 pm
Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center 85 Throckmorton Ave October 1, 11:00 am–3:00 pm October 2–12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
Microsoft at the Village at Corte Madera 1640 Redwood Hwy September 15–30, 3:00–7:00 pm September 14, 21, and 28, 2:00–6:00 pm
“Arts of the Islamic World”―engrossing lectures by the world’s experts, Friday mornings at the Asian Art Museum, through December 5, 2014
Last Friday morning, you could have heard a pin drop in the Asian Art Museum’s Samsung Hall as Freer & Sackler chief curator of Islamic Art, Massumeh Farhad, gave an overview of the rare treasures from Saudi Arabia that await us in the “Roads of Arabia” exhibition opening October 24, 2014. Farhad gave an insider’s profile of recent archaeological discoveries in Saudi Arabia, including news of an inscription in Nabatean Arabic, the very first stage of Arabic writing, unearthed by a French epigrapher near Narjan (near the Yemeni border) that is an important link in tracing the origins of the Arabic language. She also talked of exquisite artifacts found along the ancient incense roads that originated in southern Arabia and were caravan routes for the transport of precious frankincense and myrrh throughout Eqypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, and the Mediterranean world.
A week earlier, on August 29th, David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, Near Eastern Studies, University of California at Berkeley gave an engrossing survey of the art and architecture of Pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia. One of the world’s leading experts on ancient Iran, he told of the excavations he had participated in and illustrated his talk with stunning aerial photographs of sites and monuments taken by Swiss photographer Georg Gerster. He speculated about ancient Persian garden design and entertained us with an anecdote about Agatha Christie whom he met at an estate in Iran in the 1970’s when he was the Director of the British Institute of Persian Studies in Tehran.
These distinguished speakers are part of a wonderful new 15-part fall lecture series, “Arts of the Islamic World,” organized by the AAM’s Society for Ancient Art, every Friday at 10:30 a.m. though December 5, 2014. The series is designed to provide a broad overview of both pre-Islamic and Islamic art and includes a roster of renowned scholars and curators, several of whom hail from Oxford and the British Museum. Their talks are substantial and run roughly two hours. The series sold-out almost immediately but a number of seats―$20 each―are made available each Friday morning for walk-ins. I have attended the last two lectures, arriving when the museum opens at 10 a.m. and have gotten a seat. Coffee, tea and assorted pastries are offered for sale before the lecture and at intermission. Here are descriptions of the remaining lectures―
September 12: Assimilation and Conquest: Byzantine Sources for Islamic Art (Study Guide), Helen Evans, Metropolitan Museum
September 19: Is there an Image Problem in Islam? Materials for the History of an Idea (Study Guide), Finbarr Barry Flood, NYU
September 26: Persian Painting: The First Golden Age (1300-1500), Robert Hillenbrand, University of Edinburgh
October 3: Seeing and Being Seen in Isfahan: Expanding Gaze for an Early Modern Capital, Renata Holod, University of Pennsylvania
October 10: Chinese Influence on Islamic Glazed Ceramics, Oliver Watson, University of Oxford
October 17: Building Types in Islamic Architecture, Santhi Kavuri-Bauer, San Francisco State University
October 24: The Visual Culture of Islam in India, Alka Patel, UC Irvine
October 31: “Ex Oriente Lux: Luxury Textiles and Oriental Carpets, Carol Bier, Textile Museum, Washington D.C.
November 7: The Art of Islamic Calligraphy: A Journey through Time, Maryam Ekhtiar, Metropolitan Museum
November 14: Seek Knowledge Even as Far as China: East-West Cultural Transmissions in Post Mongol Iran, Ladan Akbarnia, British Museum
November 21: Modernism and Islamic Art, Iftikhar Dadi, Cornell University
November 28: No Class, Thanksgiving break
December 5: Imagining Europe at the Persian Court in the Seventeenth Century (1590-1720), Amy Landau, Walters Art Museum
Details: The September 12 lecture, delivered by Dr. Helen Evans of the Metropolitan Museum, will be the fourth in the series. There is a two-hour “Arts of the Islamic World” lecture every Friday at 10:30 a.m. in Samsung Hall through December 5, 2014. (There is no lecture on November 28, 2014). Fee: $20 per lecture drop-in (purchase at the door, after Museum general admission, subject to availability). The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission: $15 adults; $10 seniors over 65, students and youth 13-17; Thursday nights $5. For more information, visit http://www.asianart.org
Friday evening’s “Norma,” San Francisco Opera’s season opener, with soprano Sandra Radvanovsky as Norma, was an evening of firsts—my first time attending on SFO’s big gala night and my first live performance of Bellini’s “Norma.” And, I was lucky enough to score tickets in the 5th row, close enough to see without even my glasses, also a first. I had prepped most of the week with YouTube recordings of the great Normas—Maria Callas, Montserrat Caballé, Joan Sutherland—and was excited to see how Radvanovsky, rumored to stand in their lauded company, would measure up. Norma is a Druid high princess in Roman-occupied Gaul who has secretly been sleeping with the enemy— a Roman procounsel, Pollione, and has two illegitimate children as a result. Pollione has grown tired of Norma and now has his eyes set on Adalgisa, a young Druid priestess whom Norma regards as a friend. The opera is considered to be the gold-standard of early 19th century bel canto Italian opera.
SFO’s new production is conceived and staged by Kevin Newbury, with sets by David Korins and costumes by Jessica Jahn. Newbury debuted at SFO in 2103 directing the world premiere flop, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. (ARThound wrote about the gorgeous Michael Schwab poster that accompanied the opera.) Billed as being “rooted in the stone age with a contemporary slant,” the production is inspired by contemporary research on the archaeology and mythology of the Druid cultures of Roman-occupied ancient Gaul. With the SFO’s always effervescent Music Director, Nicola Luisotti, in the pit, the orchestra delivered a luminous performance with outstanding woodwind solos.
The British music critic, Andrew Porter, who wrote so insightfully for the New Yorker for some thirty years, said the role of Norma: “calls for power; grace in slow cantilena; pure, fluent coloratura; stamina; tones both tender and violent; force and intensity of verbal declamation; and a commanding stage presence.” Joan Sutherland said of the role “[Hearing Callas in Norma in 1952] was a shock, a wonderful shock. You just got shivers up and down the spine.”
By all measures, Radvanovsky was an astounding Norma. She has a radiant stage presence and a powerful voice, full of sparkling color. The minute she began singing, I immediately liked her velvety tone and her innate musicality, especially her ability to convey tenderness and vulnerability. On Saturday, though, there were some issues with her top range and extended notes. On a handful of occasions during the three hour marathon, her voice broke or became scratchy. And, importantly, that forceful gale wind dynamism and power that we associate with the hypnotic Normas, was not there. From all I’ve read, she’s capable of it and I am sure it will emerge in subsequent performances. Her “Casta Diva,” the famous first act cavatina, a prayer to the moon goddess, asking for peace, was gorgeous but I had the impression that this finely-tuned Ferrari had one more gear that was not present in this rendition. She’s so passionate and immersed in the role though and so secure and nimble in her upper middle range that it was pure pleasure to both listen to her and watch her. I particularly enjoyed her conflicted “Oh non tremare” which completes the first act, where she slams Pollione for his betrayal and exhibited her exceptional range. The audience went wild over her “Casta Diva” and carried its ebullience to the funeral pyre (which came some three hours later and was a quick unsatisfying flash.)
They were equally enthusiastic over mezzo soprano Jamie Barton’s inspired Adalgisa. Barton, in her SFO debut, seemed completely at ease in the difficult role and her nimble voice was warm and alluring. Barton won the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and has gone on to impress audiences ever since. She so believably conveyed the dramatic emotional twists that come with loving a man who is also her friend and superior’s lover that my eyes gravitated constantly to her, troubled pure soul that she was. We’ve all felt the tug of dangerous love and had to make difficult choices between loyalty and following your heart and they played out with compelling drama on Friday. The shivers in this “Norma” were evoked by the girl power moments—by the lush lyricism of Radvanovsky and Barton’s voices blending in the duos—rather than by Norma’s solos of torment and passion.
Italian tenor Marco Berti delivered a wonderful Pollione and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn sang Oroveso with a power that matched his height. We’ll be seeing a lot of Van Horn this season as he appears as Count Ribbing (“Un Ballo in Maschera”), Alidoro (“La Cenerentola”), Colline (“La Bohème”), and Narbal (“Les Troyens”).
David Korins’ set design, which many found confounding, had a single silvery snow-covered tree trunk elegantly hovering from chains in front of an enormous gray wall as a representation of the Druid forest. Blustery snowfall was visible through the doors evoking a Druid winter wonderland. Towards the end of the opera, a giant Trojan horse-like creature slowly overtook the stage and its crescent-shaped horn descended from the sky until it landed in place on its head. The funeral pyre was a mere flash in the pan. Jessica Jahn’s costumes were unfathomable to me—they appeared to come from several different eras and, with the exception of Radvanovsky’s, were unflattering, uninteresting and unattractive.
After the performance, drowsy couples exited the opera house raving about losing themselves in the music and comparing the great divas who have defined Norma. There was a warm buzz about Jamie Barton. SFO’s 92nd season was off to a brilliant start.
Run-time: 2 hours, 50 minutes with one intermission
Details: There are six remaining performances of “Norma”—Wednesday, Sept 10 at 7:30 PM, Sun, Sept 14 at 2 PM, Friday, Sept 19 at 7:30 PM, Tuesday, Sept 23 at 7:30 PM, Saturday, Sept 27 at 7:30 PM and Tuesday, Sept 30 at 7:30 PM Seats are selling fast—purchase tickets for performance here or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.
For more information on San Francisco Opera and their upcoming performances, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx
Honoring the legacy of Luther Burbank―a new exhibition of botanical drawings by Sonoma County artists opens at Sebastopol Center for the Arts on Thursday, September 11, 2014
Framed in my room, I have a Victorian card with lovely hand-drawn lilacs inscribed “You are like a fragrant bouquet of lilacs. The thought of you, however far I stray, brings me back to my childhood hours.” How delightful to learn that Sebastopol artist Vi Strain has created a hand-drawn lilac that will be exhibited at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts as part of their “Legacy of Luther Burbank” exhibition opening Thursday, September 11, 2014 with a reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The exhibition features fourteen Sonoma County botanical artists who have created glorious colored pencil drawings of plants they selected from the Luther Burbank Experiment Farm in Sebastopol and the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa. Botanically accurate portraits of fruits, vegetables, flowers and trees created through Burbank’s experiments all combine as a wonderful florilegium of Burbank’s important and enduring work in Sonoma County. By chance, I had the good fortune of meeting Vi Strain at the recent opening of Schroeder Hall and jumped at the chance to ask her about her work. Here is our conversation―
How long have you been doing botanical drawing?
Vi Strain: Since about 2006, when I took Nina Antze’s “Drawing Nature” class in Sebastopol, where we used colored pencil. I’ve always drawn though and it started when I was a kid in Wyoming. At Montana State University, I studied commercial and fine art, and I was on scholarship for my first two years. I was drawn to botanical drawing because I’ve always found wonder in nature and plant life. Over time, I’ve worked in almost every medium there is. I really like colored pencils because you can get every color you want and they aren’t messy, like oil paints are. I work primarily on Dura-Lar and use oil-based pencils. Faber Castells and Carn d’Aches are my favorites. They are very smooth, so I can easily do very detailed work with very rich and accurate colors.
What did you learn about Luther Burbank in the process of creating your lilac?
Vi Strain: In researching Burbank’s legacy, I read Jane Smith’s book, The Garden of Invention and I visited the Sebastopol Experiment Farm and also the Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa. I found that he brought plants from all over the world and would take those various strains and, through cross-breeding, create a new plant ideally suited to our region, where it does not freeze in the winter time. His lilac is a hybrid French lilac (Syringa vulgaris hybrid). I’ve always loved lilacs and, when I went there and saw his blooming, I knew immediately that I had to draw them as I have such a long history with them.
The amazing color is what grabbed me in this lilac, it’s really multiple colors–it starts as a tiny, almost black, deep purple bud which opens into a red-violet and then turns into a reddish lavender flower. As they start to go, they fade into this white lavender. I enjoy taking it from the bud stage all the way to the spent blossom.
Tell us more about your technique.
Vi Strain: I work exclusively in colored pencils, some are wax and some are oil, on Dura-Lar drafting film. I do all my preliminary compositions and drawings on tracing paper. Once I settle on what I like, I outline it in ink on the tracing paper and put the Dura-Lar directly over that and start working directly on that. Each one takes hours and hours. In this case, I took the lilac all apart and really examined it, trying to find how the blossoms are attached to the stem and how the stem is attached to the branch and how the leaves are shaped and how their vein structure works. I study all of this and then connect all the dots from there. I also create a whole study sheet on just colors. I take a lot of close-up photos too because lilacs don’t last long and I will work on a drawing for months.
Your favorite lilac fix?
Vi Strain: The one at the patio of the Union Hotel in Occidental. It is ancient and a beauty.
Details: Opening Reception for “The Legacy of Luther Burbank” is Thursday, September 11, from 6 to 7:30 PM. The exhibition runs in Gallery II from Thursday September 11 to Saturday, October 25, 2014. Concurrently running is “Big Ideas 1950-1970: influences in modern ceramics,” which focuses on the evolution and contemporary re-interpretation of earlier groundbreaking ceramic works by 13 seminal artists. Sebastopol Center for the Arts is located at 282 High Street, Sebastopol, CA. Phone: 707 829.4797
J.J. Wilson, Jonah Raskin, Julie Lee and Terry Ehret discuss the 2014 Sitting Room Publication, This is What a Feminist Looks Like, with host Gil Mansergh on Word by Word, Sunday, Sept. 7, 4pm, on KRCB, 91 FM and www.KRCB.org. Participants will discuss their responses to the anthology’s topic “When I first realized I was a feminist” which was the catalyst for 46 revelatory essays .