ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

San Francisco’s museums are reopening this week: What to see

de Young Calder Picasso

An installation view from “Calder-Picasso,” at the de Young museum, the first major museum exhibition to explore the artistic relationship between Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso, two of the most innovative and influential artists of the 20th century. Image courtesy: FAMSF

The Asian Art Museum, de Young Museum and SFMOMA all reopen to the public this week, after three plus months of closure. The Asian reopens this Thursday, March 4, followed by de Young on Saturday, March 6, and SFMOMA on Sunday, March 7. The news came today after Mayor London Breed’s announcement that San Francisco has entered the red tier, allowing cultural institutions to operate at 25% capacity. What that means for viewers is a combination of mask mandates, social distancing, and timed entry tickets to regulate capacity. What this means for museums, who rely desperately on the revenue from visitors, is cash flow. With the Bay Area’s vaccine rollout petering along, about to roll into full swing, and new highly transmissible variants of the virus that have cropped up in the Bay Area, it goes without saying that limiting community spread should be our highest priority. If you do decide to go, exercise every caution.

Each museum offers new, substantial exhibitions, installed during their recent pandemic closure. The Asian has Zheng Chongbin: State of Oscillation, an installation in dialogue with the museum’s ongoing transformation project. Working in the Osher Gallery, the Marin-based artist created ink paintings, videos, and an ephemeral chamber suffused with overlapping video imagery that heighten awareness of our bodies moving through space. In the museum’s Bogart Court, panels in varying transparency and patterns are suspended below skylights, directing the flow of natural light and manipulating sight-lines to create a novel spatial experience. The free flow of light and exploring ideas of transparency also informed architect Gay Aulenti’s impressive 2003 renovation of the Asian. After Hope: Videos of Resistance is comprised of 50 short videos made by artists across Asia and the Asian diaspora. Memento: Jayashree Chakravarty and Lam Tung Pang comprises two large-scale works that allow viewers to travel through Kolkata and Hong Kong, exploring the modern city as both a personal and political landscape.

The Asian will have free admission on Sunday, March 7, and will continue with free first Sunday of every month going forward.

Kolkata-based Jayashree Chakravarty’s Personal Space, is one of two works in Memento, the inaugural Hambrecht Contemporary Gallery installation at the Asian. At eight feet tall and more than 30 feet wide, the colossal mixed media on paper scroll furls and unfurls, establishing an architectural presence in the gallery. As you circle the work, attempting to chart a course through the chaos of streets, signs, and natural landmarks, you experience the disorientation the artist felt as the rapidly expanding city swallowed the countryside of her youth. Image: courtesy Asian Art Museum

The de Young is offering the traveling blockbuster, Calder-Picasso, which makes its first U.S. stop in San Francisco. Conceived and curated by Alexander Calder’s grandson Alexander S. C. Rower and Pablo Picasso’s grandson Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, it features over 100 paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs. The exhibit is focused on both artists’ occupation with “the void” and how they transformed our conceptions of form and space—and thus the very definition of art itself.

New at the de Young is Nampeyo and the Sikyátki Revival, an installation of 32 pots by Nampeyo (ca 1860-1942), the renowned Tewa-Hopi potter. Examples of Hopi pottery from Nampeyo’s era and works by four generations of her descendants will be juxtaposed with her masterpieces.

Also, continuing at the de Young is Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, which opened in March 2020, was impacted by pandemic closure, and has been extended through May 2.

The de Young will offer free admission on Saturday, March 6 and continue with free Saturdays moving forward,

SFMOMA reopens with Close to Home: Creativity in Crisis, featuring new works by seven Bay Area artists ― Carolyn Drake, Rodney Ewing, Andres Gonzalez, James Gouldthorpe, Klea McKenna, Tucker Nichols, and Woody De Othello ― in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented social upheaval of 2020. Bay Area Walls, which spreads across three floors of the museum, is a series of commissions by local artists that continues the museum’s investigation of the pandemic and unfolding crises of 2020. It features works by Erina Alejo and Adrian L. Burrell, Liz Hernández, Muzae Sesay, and the Twins Walls Company (Elaine Chu and Marina Perez-Wong). The museum’s New Work gallery will showcase new works by conceptual artist Charles Gaines, emerging from his interest the controversial Dred Scott Decision of 1857, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Missouri Compromise and decreed that Black people were not U.S. citizens and therefore could not sue for their right to freedom.

Music is an important vehicle for conceptual artist Charles Gaines. Manifestos 3, at SFMOMA, draws on seminal essays from James Baldwin and a speech from Martin Luther King. Gaines has translated text into notes, developing a system whereby letters of the alphabet are used in musical notation. The arrangement is recorded in a sound studio. For the gallery installation, the text is scrolled on a video monitor while the music it produced is played. Large-scale copies of the musical score are displayed that include the original text and viewers can see how the letter to note translation was done. Gaines says the music sounds atonal but is actually very tonal in a systematic sense. Image: SFMOMA

Before their public reopening, both the de Young and SFMOMA will have member preview days. SFMOMA will be free to the public on March 7 and tickets can be reserved online starting Wednesday, March 3 at roughly 10 a.m. Due to safety protocols in place which limit the number of visitors, reserving a ticket beforehand is essential. For more details on ticketing, admission and safety protocols, visit the websites: Asian Art Museum, de Young and SFMOMA.

March 2, 2021 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum, de Young Museum, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 films from the 43rd Mill Valley Film Festival you can screen from home, starting Thursday evening

MVFF43 honors actor and producer Viola Davis with its Mind the Gap Award: Actor of the Year in an online conversation with MVFF Director of Programming Zoë Elton and special guest George C. Wolfe. The event can be streamed from October 10-18.   Davis is the first Black woman to attain acting’s great trifecta: two Tony Awards, for Fences and King Hedley II; an Oscar®, also for Fences; and an Emmy® for How to Get Away with Murder.  Her dedication to speaking out with eloquence and wisdom on issues of equality, especially for women and Black women, has established her as one of the great performers and spokespeople of our time. MVFF43 is October 8-18, 2020. 

Grab your popcorn and snuggle in. A pandemic version of the 43rd edition of the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF43) kicks off Thursday evening with drive-in and online programming. In MVFF style, opening night offers a drive-in world premiere screening of “Blithe Spirit,” Edward Hall’s new adaptation of Noël Coward’s 1941 theatrical hit starring Dame Judi Dench as the inept spiritualist Madame Arcati. The locale is Lagoon Park in Marin Civic Center, freshly outfitted with a gigantic studio-grade screen. 

Much of this year’s festival is virtual, with five opening night choices to stream: the US premiere of Judith Ehrlich’s “The Boys Who Said No!;” the California premieres of Argentinian director Ariel Winograd’s “The Heist of the Century,” Mongolian Director Byambasuren Davaa’s “Veins of the World,” American director Alexandre Rockwell’s “Sweet Thing,” and American director David Garrett Byars “Public Trust”.  In all, MVFF43 offers 11 full days of online programming and 10 nights of drive-in screenings.  It presents 144 films, both shorts and features, from 38 countries. It runs through Sunday, October 18 with its final drive in screening, “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” on Saturday, October 17. 

The acclaimed festival runs in tandem with DocLands, the California Film Institute’s annual documentary film festival which was postponed from May due to Covid. Despite the Covid curveball, MVFF has held on to its identity— supporting innovative film, local filmmakers and showcasing likely Oscar contenders that have already premiered at the famed Venice and Toronto film festivals.  MVFF has also kept important promises: fifty-seven percent of the films screening this year are directed or co-directed by women which means the festival hit its 50/50 by 2020 pledge goal.  

This year, the MVFF, DocLands, and Mind the Gap Awards will all be presented virtually, so home viewers can catch wonderful conversations with Viola Davis, Kate Winslet, Sophia Loren, Dame Judi Dench, Claire Dunne, Regina King, Bay Area actor Delroy Lindo, documentary filmmaker Freida Lee Mock and writer/director Aaron Sorkin. As an added benefit, most of these programs which cost upwards of $60 at the festival, are priced at $10.

Here are five films you shouldn’t miss:

Bat-Ireedui Batmunkh as Amra in “Veins of the World.”  Image: Talal Khoury

Veins of the World (Opening Night choice for online viewers)

There are many exciting roads to Asia at MVFF43.  “Veins of the World” presents an exhilarating and poignant story from a child’s point of view and its strong environmental message makes it a wonderful family film. This fiction feature debut of Mongolian director screen writer Byambasuren Davaa’s (Oscar-nominated “The Story of the Weeping Camel”) tells the story of Amra, an 11 year-old boy who lives a nomadic life in the Mongolian steppe with his mother Zaya, father Erdene, and little sister Altaa.  Life as they know it is threatened by the encroachment of international mining companies digging for gold who are destroying the natural habitat. When Amra’s father is killed in an accident, his mother wants to upend their life and move the family to the city. Amra refuses and takes up his father’s fight against the miners. Amra’s musical talent lands him on Mongolia’s Got Talent where he performs a heartfelt song that spells everything out. A wonderful journey of self discovery that explores nomadic and rapdily urbanizing Mongolia. (Opening Night Film; online screening window 10/8 – 10/18, 2020)

Brothers Ilmar Gavilán (L) and Aldo López-Gavilán (R) in a scene from “Los Hermanos/The Brothers.”

Los Hermanos/The Brothers

Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider’s new documentary, Los Hermanos/The Brothers, is a genuine masterpiece, an exhilarating and perceptive dive into the magical and confounded lives of two Cuban-born brothers—violinist Ilmar Gavilán and pianist Aldo López-Gavilán—both virtuosos. They were separated as teens when Ilmar had the chance to study violin in Moscow and later went on to establish himself in New York as a soloist and member of the Harlem Quartet.  Aldo remained in Cuba and became a leading pianist, developing his own signature sound in both the worlds of classical music and Afro-Cuban jazz. They’ve spent their lives on opposite sides of the US-Cuba geopolitical chasm. Filmed in Havana and in the US and drawing on historical performance footage and family archives, the film begins in the Obama era as the brothers reunite, briefly in Havana and then again in New York to collaborate musically. They’ve dreamed of this all their lives. Their joyful and productive reunion is shadowed by future uncertainty about tightening travel restrictions.  The film, a kind of extended road trip in the two countries, takes a palpably intimate look at the frustrating, passionate, humorous and musically inspired lives these brothers lead. It serves up delight after delight—dazzling shots of Havana and a mesmerizing score composed by Aldo López-Gavilán, performed with Ilmar, with guest appearances by Joshua Bell and the Grammy-winning Harlem Quartet.  If their names sound familiar, Aldo performed twice locally at Festival Napa Valley Festival. (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

Investigative journalist Matt Bloomberg in a scene from the documentary “Current Sea.”

Current Sea

This environmental documentary thriller from director Christopher Smith follows Australian investigative journalist Matt Blomberg and ocean activist and former British police officer Paul Ferber to Cambodia where illegal fishing in the Gulf of Thailand has depleted the sea of fish and threatened Cambodian fishermen. As the two men team up to create a marine conservation area and combat the relentless tide of illegal fishing, they face danger and unexpected obstacles. Along the way, a new generation of Cambodian environmentalists are inspired to create better lives. (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

A scene from Michal Sulima’s, “Piano to Zanskar.”

Piano to Zanskar

Warsaw-born Michal Sulima’s indie debut, Piano to Zanskar, is the ultimate film for MVFF’s cause and adventure-oriented audience, proving you’re never too old to do something completely insane, incredibly generous, noble, and beautiful. It follows 65 year-old piano tuner Desmond “Gentle” O’Keefe and Anna and Harald, his two eccentric young assistants, as they embark on an arduous trip by foot and yaks across the Indian Himalayas. Their mission: to deliver a 100-year-old, 80-kilogram, upright piano, from bustling London to the remote village of Lingshed, in Khalsi tehsil, India. Why? Because Lingshed needs a piano. When Desmond reassembles the instrument, it becomes the highest piano in the world and everybody is united by the magic of music. You’ll find yourself laughing and crying in equal measures at the irresistible trio that pulled this off. I often wondered where was the camera to so expertly capture the grandeur of this mountainous area, a soaring maze of passes and gorges. And the marvel of Lingshed, an isolated community stuck in centuries past because there is no road linking them to civilization. They have no need for money, cell phone or televisions. This doc took grand prize at the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival 2019.  (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

Vintner, Hélène Thibon in her vineyard.

Weed & Wine

This timely and beautifully crafted doc from Emmy-winning Rebecca Richman Cohen focuses on two agricultural families on different continents who have been working their land for generations. The Thibon family are winemakers from France’s Southern Rhone region while the Jodrey family grow newly legalized state-certified organic cannabis in California’s Humboldt County. Worlds apart these families have shared concerns about sustainability, climate change, adapting their businesses to change and to succession to the next generation. (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

Details:  MVFF43 runs October 8 -18, 2020.  All tickets are sold online. Virtual — $10 general, $8.50 California Film Institute members. Drive-in — $40 per vehicle, $35 members. To browse films and buy tickets, visit https://www.mvff.com/

October 7, 2020 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cast your vote in DocPitch, support a non-fiction filmmaker in finishing a film—voting closes Wed midnight

Filmmakers Kenji Yamamoto and Nancy Kelly hope to win $25,000 from DocPitch to help fund “Startup Embassy,” which follows three ambitious migrant high-tech entrepreneurs—two men from Spain and a woman from Turkey—who arrive in Silicon Valley with visions of success. They end up in a hacker house, a shared living space that welcomes fledgling entrepreneurs from all over the globe. There, hackers do constructive work, like coding, to make ends meet while working on pet projects. Putting everything on the line, they learn from one another and their struggles are laid bare, including near financial ruin and the stress of family separation.

Each spring, CFI (California Film Institute) brings awe-inspiring true-life stories to the Bay Area with its Doclands Documentary Film Festival.  Due to Covid-19, Doclands was postponed and will now take place before or in conjunction with the 43rd Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), scheduled for October 8-18, 2020.

DocLands is calling on anyone who loves film to vote in DocPitch, its annual fundraising forum.  DocPitch supports filmmakers in completing a documentary already in production with cash rewards that are based on votes cast by the public and industry professionals.  So, yes, your voice matters and translates into cash, which funds an elucidating film.  There is just one day left to cast your vote for one of eight eligible film projects that will win a $25,000 Audience Choice Award.  Voting closes on Wednesday, August 19, 2020 at midnight PDT.  Winners of the Audience Choice Award and eight additional film-making grants totaling $100,000 will be announced on Friday, August 21 via a virtual conversation with the filmmakers.

Click here to view projects and to vote and to learn about the Friday’s awards announcement.  The entire process takes but a few minutes and will wet your appetite for films to come.

August 17, 2020 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 23rd Sonoma International Film Festival kicks off virtually Thursday evening

Maria Peters’ bio-pic, “The Conductor,” (2018) is one of four opening night films offered at SIFF2020 which opens Thursday evening to a virtual audience.  The period drama explores the difficult life of Dutch immigrant, Antonia Brico, who in the late 1920’s battled incredible sexism to become the first woman to conduct a large symphony orchestra, The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Other opening night offerings include the world premiere of “Elephant Refugees,” Louise Hogarth’s documentary about the first community-owned elephant sanctuary in eastern Botswana, where 60 percent of Africa’s elephants live; “I am Woman,” Unjoo Moon’s biopic of the iconic Australian singer, Helen Reddy and her breakout 70’s feminist anthem; and Rajita Shaw’s culinary tale, “Love Sarah.”

Originally scheduled in March but postponed due to Covid-19 outbreak; the 23rd Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF2020) is screening to a virtual audience this Thursday, July 30 through Sunday, August 2, 2020.  Theoretically, you can stream the full program of 110 features and shorts, from the comfort of your couch.  Figuring out access issues in advance is key to a pleasant experience, so plan ahead.  The festival has partnered with Eventive so that films can be viewed on home computers and devices as well as televisions.  You first purchase a pass or individual ticket at SIFF’s website which will “unlock” a film so that you can add it your Eventive festival account.

It is essential to test Eventive’s virtual cinema technology in advance.  Eventive has several test films prepared for this purpose.  I will be watching from from two homes and will have a laptop open to my Eventive festival account and will be playing the films on that laptop.  At the home where I have a smart TV, I will be mirroring the laptop over my wifi.  At the home with a regular TV, I will be connecting my laptop to my TV’s HDMI port.  The HDMI port will allow the TV to watch the laptop over the cable.

Passes and tickets:  A pass which allows access to 110 films is $75 and single films are $10.  Many films are available for viewing throughout the entire festival but several films have time-specific streaming windows.

Heads Up!  A few films have caps on tickets.  Tom Dolby’s feature drama, “The Artist’s Wife,” starring Lena Olin and Bruce Dern as a couple facing the onset of dementia as the painter/husband (Dern) is preparing for a huge retrospective, is nearing capacity.

For those who purchased tickets to special culinary and wine events, SIFF continues to ask for patience instead of refund requests while efforts are made to reschedule these after Covid concerns are at bay.

For film descriptions, trailers, screening time slots and to purchase passes or tickets, visit: http://www.sonomafilmfest.org

 

 

 

July 29, 2020 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SIFF2020 is postponed due to COVID-19 risk

“Born a King,” SIFF2020’s opening night feature, was slated to screen at Sonoma’s historic Sebastiani Theater on March 26.  Shot in the UK and Saudi Arabia, the Spanish co-production is the coming of age story of the future King Faisal (played by Abdullah Ali), who in 1919 was sent to on a high-stakes diplomatic mission to England by his warrior father, Prince Abdul Aziz.   His task was to resolve issues around the unification of Saudi Arabia.  At the time, England was fostering dissent by selling weapons to numerous Saudi tribes to encourage warring among themselves instead of collaboration.  The story follows the 14 year-old Arab prince from the Arabian desert to cosmopolitan England where he encounters Lord Curzon, Winston Churchill, and Princess Mary.  SIFF2020 will feature over 90 films, including indie features, docs, world cinema and shorts.

Originally scheduled for March 25-29, 2020, the 23rd Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF2020) has joined the ranks of North Bay cultural organizations that have postponed programming due to COVID-19 concerns.  The move makes sense for this beloved high-end festival which prides itself on film shown in intimate venues and partying in close quarters.  SIFF’s renowned Backlot tent features lavish self-serve buffet tables with local delicacies as well as wine from Sonoma vintners and trendy beverages.  Festival Director Kevin McNeely promises “We’ll be back.”  For those who have purchased passes or tickets to special culinary and wine events, the festival is asking for patience instead of requests for refunds. Check SIFF’s website for updates on the new date: http://www.sonomafilmfest.org

 

March 11, 2020 Posted by | Film, Food | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: San Francisco Opera’s “Hansel and Gretel”—happily ever after, with adult moments

San Francisco Opera’s new co-production with London’s Royal Opera of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” features Heidi Stober (L) as Gretel and Sasha Cooke (R) as Hansel. Photo: Cory Weaver/ SFO

San Francisco Opera (SFO) has officially kicked off the holiday season with it’s wonderfully staged new co-production of German composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.”  This family-friendly English-language adaptation of the Grimm Brothers’ classic tale follows an impoverished brother and sister who get lost in dense woods and come upon an enticing edible house owned by a witch who lures children in and then roasts and eats them.

Beautiful singing from beloved mezzo Heidi Stober (Gretel), soprano Sasha Cooke (Hansel) and talented supporting singers, along with plush romantic-era music from the San Francisco Opera Orchestra under conductor Christopher Franklin are all pure delight.  With Ian Robertson directing the members of the SF Opera Chorus and a special children’s chorus comprised of members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus and San Francisco Boys Chorus, the experience is both sophisticated and magical.  Running just two hours and 12 minutes, the shortish opera is perfect for families.

Act I of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” features mezzo soprano Michaela Martens as Gertrude, the mother (L), and bass-baritone Alfred Walker as Peter, the father (R). Photo: Cory Weaver/ SFO

What’s unique about this co-production with London’s Royal Opera House by British director and production designer Antony McDonald, is that the original Brothers Grimm story, published in 1812 in Children’s and Household Tales, has been changed significantly.  Librettist Adelheid Wette, Humperidinck’s sister, wrote her version of Hansel and Gretel in 1983 to appeal to German opera audiences while addressing pressing issues of the day—child labor, callus treatment of children, education and gender roles in the household.  In Act I, Hansel and Gretel work right beside their parents, with little time for childhood frivolity.  In the original Grimms’ tale, the father and stepmother are painted as awful characters who deliberately abandon their children.  Wette turned the stepmother into the actual mother, and she doesn’t die in the end.  Instead of being a woodcutter, the father is a broom-maker, a critique of patriarchal authority.

Antony McDonald has further softened many of harsh aspects of the original tale and added new characters.  The father is not portrayed as a drunk; when the mother sends the children into the forest to forage for strawberries and they do not return home; both parents go to look for them.  Even when they are lost and frightened, the children distract themselves with play.

Act II’s “Dream-Pantomime” scene in SFO’s new co-production of “Hansel and Gretel” includes characters from other Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Photo: Cory Weaver

The addition of new characters may come as a  surprise.  In Act II, a delightful Sandman (mezzo Ashley Dixon, Adler Fellow) appears to lull the lost children to sleep.  As the children say their evening prayers and begin to fall asleep, instead of being attended to by angels, several characters from the other Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales make cameo appearances, including Little Red Riding Hood (Sarah Nadreau), the Wolf (Sarah Yune), Prince Charming (Michael Bragg), Snow White (Stacey Chien), Rapunzel (Nina Rocco), Rumpelstiltskin (Kay Thornton), Will-o’-the-wisp (Chiharu Shibata).  As the opera’s final act begins, Hansel and Gretel are awoken at dawn by a Dew Fairy (soprano, Natalie Image, Adler Fellow) who sprinkles them with glistening drops from her water can.

Depending on your preference for adhering to the authentic story, these additions will either delight or annoy you.  Compared to the computer-generated creatures that dominate the screens and kids’ attention nowadays, these furry animals and real human characters add quaint charm.  Antony McDonald is a Royal Designer for Industry, a title he was awarded in the UK honoring his decades of experience designing and directing imaginative productions for opera, theater, and ballet.  Recognizing that “Hansel and Gretel” may be a young child’s first experience of opera, he stated he wanted it to be “visually arresting and engaging, creating a balance of fear and delight.”  He has succeeded.

Robert Brubaker as the witch and Heidi Stober as Gretel in Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” at SFO. Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

Still, the opera goes to some very dark places.  With all we know about child molesters who pretend to be something they are not to prey upon innocent children, the gender-changing witch (tenor Robert Brubaker) takes on terrifying connotations.  On the other hand, the addition is relevant and timely.

Sasha Cooke as Hansel in Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.” Photo: Cory Weaver/ SFO

This performance reunites powerhouses Cooke and Stober who wowed SFO audiences in June when they co-stared in Handel’s baroque masterpiece, Orlando. (https://genevaanderson.wordpress.com/2019/06/21/meet-richard-savino-whose-baroque-instruments-add-period-splendor-to-handels-orlando-at-sf-opera-through-june-27/ )

Mezzo Sasha Cooke was fabulous and abuzz with youthful energy in the pants role of Hansel.  She had a huge stage presence and sang a number of duets where her warm voice sparkled.  She harmonized wonderfully with soprano Heidi Stober who delivered an energetic and delightful Gretel and dazzled in her demanding soli and duets.

Heidi Stober as Gretel in Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.” Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

Just before last Sunday’s opera began, SFO General director Matthew Shivlock took the stage to announce that mezzo Michaela Martens, cast as Gertrude, the mother, was ill and that first year Adler Fellow, mezzo Mary Evelyn Hangley, would replace her.  Hangley took the ball and ran with it, singing the role with confidence in her surprise SFO debut.  These unexpected moments make live opera so exciting.

Bass baritone Alfred Walker as Peter, the father, delivered powerful singing and brought requisite intensity to the role, especially when celebrating the boom in broom sales that put food on his impoverished family’s table.  Tenor Robert Brubaker was wonderful as the frightening witch who ultimately is pushed into the oven and roasted.  More sensitive young viewers may react to seeing the witch corpse in Act III.

The opera’s sets masterfully recreate beloved landscapes from storybooks, from the initial show scrim—a blown-up photo of a romantic valley scene, to the quaint cabin kitchen scene, to the ominous wood forest—to the witch’s creepy chocolate house with a huge knife across the roof and a cherry on top.

In Act I and throughout the opera, a large cuckoo clock atop the proscenium has motorized hands which spin round to mark the passage of time.  The actual sound of the cuckoo comes from behind the orchestra pit and is preformed by percussionist Victor Avdienko, playing his custom-made flute-like instrument,“L”Cuckoo,” made out two PVC pipes.  In Act II, a large automated moth and beetle move slowly around the proscenium seemingly encircling the exquisitely shadowed forest, lit by Lucy Carter.

Act III of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” with Heidi Stober as Gretel and Sasha Cooke as Hansel features a witch’s house inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Psycho.  Photo: Cory Weaver/ SFO

In Act III, the banister of the witch’s house that Gretel breaks off is made on the morning of each performance from dark chocolate that is cast in a mold and baked.  The finished piece is dry brushed with white chocolate to resemble wood.  The house itself was inspired by Hitchcock’s Psycho.

In all, “Hansel and Gretel” is very satisfying due to its high entertainment factor and family friendly vibe.  If you do attend, come early to watch the mayhem.  There is something wonderfully energizing about seeing the opera house full of happy children scurrying around in a scavenger hunt.

Family Activities:

Gingerbread Hunts: Children with performance tickets are invited to participate in a gingerbread scavenger hunt that starts in the Opera House lobby before every performance.

Character Meet and Greets: Following the performances on Saturday, Nov. 30 and Sunday, Dec. 1, audience members can meet fairy tale characters in the Opera House lobby.

Exploration workshops for families: “All About Hansel and Gretel” workshops, perfect for children ages 6 and above, explore the opera’s story, music, production design and characters. Saturday, Nov. 30 at 11 am and 12:30 pm at the Wilsey Center for Opera, Veterans Building, 4th floor, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Tickets: $10 per person. Purchase online here.

Details:

There are five remaining performances of Hansel and Gretel—Sat, Nov. 23, 7:30 pm; Sat, Nov 30, 2 pm; Sunday, Dec 1, 2 pm; Tues, Dec 3, 7:30 pm; and Sat, Dec 7, 7:30 pm. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. Tickets: $26 to $398. Admission for children under 18 is available at 50% off with the purchase of one or more adult tickets in certain sections. Info: (415) 864-3330 or www.sfopera.com

November 22, 2019 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: Romeo and Juliet, the rush of new love with a short shelf life, at SF Opera

Charismatic tenor Pene Pati/Romeo is believably engulfed in the passion of true love in San Francisco Opera’s new production of Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet,”  last performed at SFO 32 years ago.  Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

No matter how familiar the plot, most of us are suckers for a passionate love story; there’s none more enthralling than Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  As a live performance, though, it only clicks when the onstage chemistry is so electric that you find yourself seduced and falling in love with love.   San Francisco Opera’s 97th season opener, “Romeo and Juliet,Charles Gounod’s musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic sucks you in hook, line, and sinker.  The intense longing, desire, and attraction of new love come alive again briefly for Romeo and Juliet, until it all tragically unravels.

The production clicks on so many levelsthe gorgeous singing of leads Nadine Sierra and Pene Pati, their supporting cast, and the SFO Chorus; guest conductor Yves Abel’s and SFO Orchestra’s fluid interpretation of Gounod’s lyrical score.  And a last minute twist that provided the thrilling suspense that makes opera, well, operatic.

Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra disappear into their characters and feed off of each other in four impassioned and lyrical duets that anchor Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

Just three days before the season’s opening gala performance on Sept 6, Romeo, tenor Bryan Hymel, withdrew from the entire production citing personal reasons.  New Zealand tenor Pene Pati, stepped up to sing the entire run.  Pati, a former Adler, who sang the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s “Rigloetto” in 2017, was already booked to sing Romeo in the last of the opera’s seven scheduled performances.  His debut under pressure was splendid.  In his second performance as Romeo, on Sept 13, Patis charisma was palpable, magical.  He sang with such lyricism, passion and seemingly effortless precision that, even in the most challenging arias, he came off like a Ferrari that had just given everyone in attendance the ride of their life.  The love-at-first-sight scene with Julia at the Capulet ball, was something to behold as soprano Nadine Sierra, in her role debut, first encountered her Romeo.  For anyone living the daily grind of a romantic relationship, the interaction between these two was food for the soul.

Pati may be new to the role at SFO but he’s had years to reflect on it.  In 2014, he beat out a remarkable 304 singers to win the Montserrat Caballé International Singing Competition in Zaragosa with his interpretation of the Romeo’s Act II taxing ariaAh, lève-toi, soleil.”  Last Friday, the tenor imbued the seven minute aria with such emotion, and then ended on what seemed like an impossibly-long extended note, that the audience was enraptured.

Soprano Nadine Sierra as Juliet. Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

As Juliet, Nadine Sierra gave a sublime performance that was at times joyfully playful and, by turns, tender, passionate and heart-wrenching, always convincing and never over the top.  Her Act I “Je veux vivre dans le rêve” (Juliet’s Waltz), where she expresses the desire to live inside her cozy dreamworld, where it is eternally spring, was radiant, light, and showcased her exceptional range.

Following in the steps of Ruth Ann Swenson, 32 years ago, Sierra is now the second artist in SFO history to sing Act IV’s notoriously daunting potion aria, “Amour ranime courage,” which contains two high C’s and and relentless vocal gymnastics.  Those of us lucky enough to have followed Sierra’s rise through the ranks of the Merola and Adler programs will never forget how she beamed after slaying this wicked aria in 2012 for the Adler “The Future is Now” concert.  Last Friday, she was in complete control of the aria from start to finish, delivering an astonishing array of glittering sound while enacting a roller-coaster of emotion that ends with her drinking the potion that will feign her death.

Mezzo soprano Stephanie Lauricella as in her SFO debut as Stéphano, Romeo’s male page. Photo: Cory Weaver

Among secondary roles, mezzo Stephanie Lauricella distinguished herself in her SFO debut as Stéphano, Romeo’s male page.  Following her magical Act III aria, “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?,” several in the audience rose to their feet.  Baritone Lucas Meachem, another former Adler, impressed as Mercutio, Romeo’s friend from his first solo aria in Act I, “Mab, la reine des mensonges”.

Canadian conductor Yves Abel’s sensitive command over the SFO orchestra grew more impressive as the evening progressed.  While hailed as Gounod’s most impressive opera, the score’s prelude and first act did not impress and the first 30 or so minutes were carried by the singing.

Dull staging is the thing that most often drags SFO operas down, contributing a stolid feel to productions that soar in other regards. Jean-Louis Grinda’s staging and Eric Chevalier’s Renaissance-era Verona set designs, a collaboration between Opéra de Monte-Carlo and Teatro Carlo Felice, were uninspired.  Much of the action took place on an unattractive round starburst patterned concave platform that was surrounded by architectural details varying over the course of the opera.  The audience was made to wait out several long scene changes which broke up the continuity of the drama and, when the curtain rose, nothing of high visual interest awaited.

Carola Volles’ costumes were hit and miss. Those of plush jewel-toned velvet added sumptuousness and vibrancy to the dull set, particularly in the masked ball, but gowns with more color and pizazz would have better showcased Juliet.

In the end, Pati and Sierra claimed the night…unstoppable in love and death.

Details: There are four remaining performances of Romeo and Juliet: Sat, 9/21 at 7:30 pm; Tues, 9/24 at 7:30 pm; Sun, 9/29 at 2 pm and Tues 10/1 at 7:30 pm. Run Time: 2 hours and 56 min, with one intermission. Tickets: Remaining performances are selling out; purchase online  https://sfopera.com/2019-20-season/romeo-juliet/

Traffic alert: If you are driving in from the North Bay, allow at least 45 min travel/parking time from the Golden Gate Bridge to War Memorial Opera House. For a list of parking garages closest to the opera house, visit https://sfopera.com/plan-your-visit/directions-and-parking/

 

September 21, 2019 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maiden Yacht and its all female crew in SF now; free boat tours and talk Saturday, August 24

On Thursday, at the St. Francis Yacht Club, Angela Health stepped onto the Maiden yacht for the first time in 30 years.  “Sitting up in the bough, it was like meditating.  I felt all the memories rushing back.  I can’t remember the bad bits; I remember it as all good.”   Heath was part of the original all-women crew that raced the Maiden in the elite and grueling Whitbread Round the World race in 1989-90.  Under the leadership of skipper Tracy Edwards MBE, the women persevered through relentless obstacles, defied stereotypes and made headlines all across the world.   The Maiden has been entirely refurbished and, with a new all female crew, has embarked on the Maiden Project, a world tour to raise awareness for girls’ education globally.   You can hear Heath’s story on Saturday when she speaks at San Francisco’s South Beach Yacht Club. Photo: Geneva Anderson

If you haven’t yet seen Alex Holmes’ new documentary Maiden, which is screening all over the Bay Area, it’s high time to experience the extraordinary journey of world’s first all female crew to enter the Whitbread yacht race in 1989.  The film already has an Oscar nod and focuses on young Tracy Edwards MBE and her relentless quest to sail around the world in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and prejudice.  At the time of the race, women constituted just 3% of yacht crews; the sailing world was highly sexist.  Edwards, enamored with sailing and very good at it, was undeterred and started out as a lowly cook in her first Whitbread race in 1985-86.  After that stint ended, she set out to put together an all-woman team of her own and, as skipper, race around the world on her terms.  With pure grit, she battled to find sponsorship and mortgaged herself to the hilt to buy a dilapidated fixer-up boat and get it in sailing shape; she put together a crew and entered the Whitbread.  She kept her team together through 167 intense days at sea, won two legs of the race and proved throngs of chauvinistic naysayers dead wrong.  Watching these heroic and highly-skilled women put everything on the line…and succeed… is an adrenaline rush that lasts for days, inspiring deep thinking about finding purpose in life.  Aside from shots of men eating crow, some of the best footage is archival and it comes from Jo Gooding, the Maiden’s cook and Tracy Edward’s childhood friend, who manages to shoot steadily even when a life-threatening hole opens up in the boat’s hull.

Great news!  The same Maiden yacht that Edwards skippered to Whitbread fame 30 years ago is in San Francisco through August 30 at the St. Francis Yacht Club as part of its new project, The Maiden FactorThe yacht has been entirely refurbished and has a new crew skippered by Australian sailor Wendy Tuck.  With her spectacular victory in the 2018 Clipper Race, Tuck became the first female skipper to win a round-the-world yacht race and is a fitting ambassador for Maiden’s new mission.  Operating under the  Maiden Factor Foundation, the yacht and her crew are raising awareness and funding for girls’ educational organizations by circumnavigating the globe on a two and a half year worldwide tour that covers over 60,000 nautical miles and visits 30 far flung locales.

 

Maiden crew at the St. Francis Yacht Club, from L to R:  Courtney Koos (USA, permanent crew), Angela Heath (UK, original Maiden crew), Matilda Ajanko (Finland, permanent crew), skipper Wendy Tuck (Australia, guest skipper), Amalia Infante (Spain, permanent crew). Photo: Geneva Anderson

Maiden left the UK in November 2018 and, so far, has stopped over in Fremantle, Sydney, Auckland, Honolulu, Vancouver, Seattle, and San Francisco.  On August 30, it departs for Los Angeles and then on to Valparaiso and Uruguay via Cape Horn.

The Maiden and its all female crew as they competed in the Whitbread Round the World yachting race in 1989-90.  The 32,000 nautical mile race entailed 167 days at sea with a course that went from England to Uruguay to Australia to New Zealand and back, with a stop in the US.  Photo: courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Details:  Maiden is in San Francisco August 19-30, 2019

Saturday, August 24, 11am to 3 pm, open boat tour of the restored Maiden at St. Francis Yacht Club, West Harbor G17 (a few feet from the Yacht Club building), San Francisco. Free parking.

Saturday, August 24, 6-7:30 pm: South Beach Yacht Club (near Oracle Park/Pier 40) Original Maiden crew member Angela Heath and present day skipper, Wendy Tuck, will speak about the Maiden Factor.  No host bar/cash only/ Happy Hour Cocktails 4-6 pm with a la carte menu available for dinner afterwards.

FILM:   Maiden, released June 28, is playing throughout the Bay Area.  See the trailer here.

 

 

August 23, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The SF Jewish Film Festival moves to the Smith Rafael Film Center on Friday—beautiful, small, dramatic stories

Internationally acclaimed writer-director, and two-time Israeli Ophir Award winner  Dani Menkin will be in attendance at SFJFF39 in San Rafael Sunday afternoon for an audience Q & A for his new documentary, Picture of His Life (2019), which he co-directed with Yonatan Nir.  The film follows Amos Nachoum, the world-renowned underwater still photographer as attempts to fulfill the most challenging shoot of his 35-year-long career—to photograph a polar bear underwater, while swimming alongside it.  Throughout his career, Nachoum has taken huge risks to get the images that no one else in the world has been able to capture.  The creation of this exciting and gorgeously shot documentary required a skill set that carries its own thrilling story.  Image: courtesy PRX, San Francisco

The 39th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF) comes to the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center Friday through Sunday (Aug 2-4) with 15 of its most popular films from its 10-day run at the Castro Theater in July.  With just four of the 15 films from the US, this mini-fest  features a wide slate of stories from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Poland, Russia, and the UK.   What’s Jewish about the programming can be quite nuanced: the festival has been designed to appeal to a wide range of interests and diverse identities.

The mini-fest kicks off Friday afternoon with two films that have screened in the Bay Area before but are well worth seeing if you missed them: James Freedman’s documentary, Carl Laemmle (2018), which tells the extraordinary story of the German-Jewish immigrant who practically invented the movie business by starting Universal Pictures in 1912 and then went to rescue over 300 Jewish refugee families from the Holocaust and Alamork Davidian’s Fig Tree (2018), a sensitive first feature told through the eyes of a 16-year-old Ethiopian Jewish teenager in the throws of the Ethiopia’s 1989 Civil War who is offered safe immigration to Israel but becomes frantic with worry over those she will leave behind.

Below are my recommendations for films that have something special:

Dolce Fine Giornata (Friday, 6:20 pm)

Kasia Smutniak, Antonio Catania and Krystyna Janda in a still from Jacek Borcuch’s Dolce Fine Giornata (2019).  Image: courtesy SFJFF

This Polish film about expats living in Italy hits several of our hot-topic buttons—immigration, terrorism, nationalism—and it’s set in gorgeous Tuscany.  It offers a complex and very stimulating moral drama that features Polish film star Krystyna Janda in a role that earned her a Special Jury Award for Acting at Sundance.  She plays Maria Linda, a Polish Nobel Laureate poet who is living la dolce vita in Tuscany with her Italian husband, Antonio, and her single daughter and two grand-kids.  She is also involved with Nazeer, a young Egyptian émigré who runs a taverna in town.  Everything comes crashing down when Maria accepts an award and gives a speech with some ill-thought out inflammatory words that seem to suggest she’s endorsing a recent terrorist act as a form of artistic expression.  As her words go viral, Maria refuses to fully explain herself and the backlash escalates, implicating those she cares about most. (Poland, 2019, 96 min, in Italian w/ English subtitles) Screens: Friday, 6:20 pm

Standing Up, Falling Down (Saturday, 4:05 pm)

Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal in a still from Matt Ratner’s feature debut Standing Up, Falling Down (2019), which has is West Coast debut at SFJFF 39. Image: courtesy SFJFF

When stand-up comedian Scott (Ben Schwartz) strikes out in the Los Angeles comedy scene, the affable millennial is forced to return with his tail between his legs to his parents’ home on Long Island.  Everyone in his circle has moved on to adult life and he keeps running into Becky, the girlfriend he ditched when he left for the West Coast who is now married.  Confronted with with the prospect of finding a real job, aimless Scott hits the local bars and makes a connection with Marty (Billy Crystal) a dermatologist and alcoholic who is in a rut of his own making.  The two manage to forge a supportive friendship that provides the platform for moments of brilliant interaction between the two and for Crystal’s magnetic genius to shine. (USA, 2019, 91minutes, English)

Picture of His Life (Sunday 4:15pm)

Underwater photographer Amos Nachoum in a still from Picture of His Life (2019). Image: courtesy SFJFF

Everyone processes their inner demons in different ways.  The world’s most renowned underwater photographer, Amos Nachoum, swims with crocodiles, leopard seals, killer whales, anacondas and great whites to snap some of the most breathtaking close-up photos of these creatures in existence.  With a thrilling documentary that was 10 years in the making,  Israeli documentarians Yonatan Nir and Dani Menkin, follow Nachoum, 65, on a treacherous expedition to Baker Lake in the Canadian Arctic where, working with local Inuits, he attempts to fulfill his final photographic dream—to photograph a polar bear underwater, while swimming alongside it.   As the journey unfolds, so does Nachoum’s intimate and painful story of dedication, sacrifice and personal redemption.  In addition to the breathtaking journey North, testimonies of famous scuba divers and wildlife experts are set against iconic images of sea creatures that Amos created throughout his career.  Director Dani Menkin in person for a Q&A. (Israel, 2019, 75 minutes, in Hebrew w/ English subtitles)

Leona (Sunday, 8:35 pm)

Naian González Norvind and Christian Vazquez in a scene from Isaac Cherem’s Leona (2018).  Photo: courtesy SFJFF

Spanish director Isaac Cherem’s debut feature Leona has its Northern CA premiere at SFJFF.  Naian González Norvind co-wrote the film and picked up the Best Actress award at the Morelia International Film festival for her performance as Ariela, a 25 year-old Syrian Jewish street artist from Mexico City who is striving to lead the expressive and free-spirited life of an artist in a conservative and somewhat closed community.  Facing pressure to find a suitable life partner, sparks fly when she meets Ivan, a non-Jewish writer.  The decision to follow her heart will come with a price and Ariela is confronted throughout with the demands of growing up and asserting her own identity.  Norvind delivers a triumphant performance that is in perfect sync with the film’s title “Leona,” the Spanish word for lioness.  (Mexico, 2018, 94 minutes, Spanish w/ English subtitles)

Details:  The 39th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s Marin segment is Friday, August 2- Sunday, August 4, 2019. 14 films, each screening once, with 4 to 5 screenings daily.  Tickets: $15 (General Admission), $14 (students and seniors with ID), $12 JFI (Jewish Film Institute) members (JFI membership info here.) Purchase tickets in advance at jfi.org/sfjff-2019 or day of the show at the Smith Rafael.

Marin Passes: Marin Passes ($100 JFI members / $125 general public) available online here.

July 30, 2019 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet Drogen, the unflappable equine star of SF Opera’s “Carmen”—he’s from Penngrove and is a rare Gyspy Vanner

Drogen, a 13 year-old Gypsy Vanner gelding owned by Eugene Power, of Novato, and boarded at Caryn and Howard Hoeflein’s Sky High Ranch in Penngrove.  Drogen steals the show in Carmen, which opened SF Opera’s summer season on June 5 and runs through June 29.  Photo: Hannah Beebe

There’s nothing like an extra-large, adorable animal on stage to get an audience oohing and ahhing and that’s exactly how Drogen, a 13-year-old horse from Penngrove, has become the most talked about star of SF Opera’s Carmen.  Of course, the singers are wonderful and Bizet’s familiar music is as enthralling as ever but the chatter has been all about the bullfighter Escamillo’s horse, which bass baritone Kyle Ketelsen rides on stage for his rousing Act II Toreador aria, “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre.”  Drogen makes another brief appearance in Act IV, the final moments of the opera, when he dramatically carries in the heroine Carmen, soprano J’Nai Bridges, and she dismounts into Escamillo’s arms.

I was delighted to learn that Drogen is stabled in Penngrove, at Sky High Ranch, just a few miles from my country home.  His handler, Caryn Hoeflein of Sky High Ranch, appears on stage as an extra in the opera and works with Drogen to ensure all goes as planned for his two stage appearances.

Drogen is a 13-year old Gypsy Vanner—a rare and gorgeous breed of draft horse first bred in Europe to pull Romani (gypsy) caravans in the UK, and introduced into the US by an enamored Florida couple, Dennis and Cindy Thompson, in 1996.  Gypsy Vanners are captivating in motion because of their flowing feathers, the thick, long silky hair that starts at roughly the cannon bone of the leg and grows down and completely around the hoof.  Gypsy Vanners have always been bred for temperament too, as they needed to be able to pull heavy wagons and work with a family.  At nearly 16 hands high, Drogen is a very big boy in terms of the breed standard.

Drogen’s current owner, Eugene Power, of Novato, bought him as a private trail horse in the wake of the deadly fires last November in Paradise, CA.  Drogen had spent ten years as the loving trail horse of a family that lost everything in the fires except their three horses.  Exhausted and devastated by their loss, the owner and her daughter sold Drogen so that he could have the home and stability they could no longer provide.  Caryn Hoeflein remembers the happy day last November when Drogen arrived at Sky High Ranch, “He became a part of our family too.”  Hoeflein, who has ridden since she was a young girl, has encountered many rare horse breeds but Drogen is the first Gypsy Vanner she’s worked with.

Handsome and then some…Drogen. Photo: Hannah Beebe

When Hoeflein was first approached by Gary Sello of Indian Valley Carriage Company in Novato about providing a horse for SFO’s summer production of Carmen, her initial reaction was no. “I kind of laughed and thought no way. Generally, you don’t bring a horse into a building like that, through an elevator and up on stage with people singing, an orchestra, and a crowd…what goes through your head is everything that could go wrong.”  Hoeflein mulled it over with Drogen’s owner, factoring in Drogen’s recent experience at Petaluma’s Butter & Egg Days Parade—a big, long, noisy parade with loudspeakers, kids, balloons and general chaos.  “He really handled that very well, so I thought we’d give this a try.  I’m really glad we did.  It has been an absolute blast and everyone at the opera house has been bent over backwards to address my concerns and to make sure that Drogen is comfortable and happy.”

Before Drogen’s first visit to the opera house, Hoeflein had him fit with equine sneakers—think Sketchers…wide thick comfortable rubber shoes—so he wouldn’t slip on the painted plywood stage.  Also, all the areas he walks on within the opera house were carpeted, which helps muffle the noise of him walking around backstage and helps with his sense of secure footing.  His route was also outlined in white tape to ensure that, in low light, Hoeflein could find her way through the house.

 

Drogen’s handler Caryn Hoeflein, Sky High Ranch, Penngrove, makes two appearances with Drogen in Carmen.  She’s a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo but uses a gentle approach with all the horses she works with.  Prior to Carmen, Hoeflein had never attended an opera.  Her husband and two boys, ages 10 and 13, attended both the final dress rehearsal and last Thursday’s performance and came away proud and loving opera.  Photo: Caryn Hoeflein

 

Just like any other SF Opera artist, Drogen has an SFO ID badge and, when he enters the opera house; he stops for a security check.  Photo: Caryn Hoeflein

 

Drogen wears equine sneakers. Photo: Caryn Hoeflein

 

Drogen’s view of the house, sans audience, from the SFO stage. Photo: Caryn Hoeflein

Drogen’s introduction to the stage was a gradual build-up over several visits.  At first, he went in and out of the opera house entrance.   Then, he ventured further into the house, which entails going through another set of doors after the security desk and walking through a freight elevator to get backstage.  Then, he was led onto the stage to get a good look around.  He got used to the large crowd on stage and then they sang.  Then, Escamillo mounted Drogen in the backstage area and Hoeflein led them both on stage for his aria, which is what really melts hearts in the audience.  They were three or four practice runs in before they added the full orchestra, which turned out to be a non-issue for sweet Drogen.  He seemed to find Bizet’s music soothing.  Nonetheless, Drogen wears foam earplugs for every performance, which helps muffle the music and cheering.  For the scene with Carmen, they did the same gradual build up with J’Nai Bridges.

Neither Kyle Ketelsen nor J’Nai Bridges had ridden much before and came up to Sky High Ranch to meet Drogen before the first performance.  It was one of those unexpectedly stormy days we had this spring, so all the rehearsing, including Kyle singing, was done inside the barn.  You can see that here.

Since most of Drogen’s performances are in the evenings, Caryn gives him a bath around 1 pm, shampooing his whole body, washing and conditioning his mane and tail and paying special attention to his feathers, which are “dirt magnets.”  He is served a hearty lunch (a pelleted complete stable mix, which helps him keep his weight up) and eats al fresco, air drying in the sun.  Hoeflein braids his mane and tail so that they are lush and wavy for his performance.  For the ride down to SF, he wears a lightweight equine cotton sheet.  They pack up and leave about 2.5 hours before the performance and their first entrance is about an hour into the show.

“I save his dinner (hay) for after we arrive so he has something to do while waiting,” says Hoeflein, who parks on the sidewalk of the opera house near the lawn area.  She takes him out of the trailer upon arrival, gets him ready, and then loads him back in the trailer until about 10 min before he makes his stage appearance.  “I leave him in the trailer while I go inside and get my chaps on.  He’s very comfortable in his trailer and this keeps the crowd away.  Everyone wants a photo and that can cause some anxiety.”

Caryn Hoeflein leads Drogen and Escamillo (bass baritone Kyle Ketelsen) on stage for Carmen’s Act II Toreador aria.  Surrounded by a singing crowd, Drogen is every bit the pro.  Photo: Cory Weaver

 

Drogen returns in Act IV.  Hoeflein mounts in the parking lot, rides through several sets of doors and backstage and then moves Drogen over to a large set of stairs.  J’Nai Bridges (Carmen) mounts bareback, sidesaddle style (with both legs on one side), and sits right behind Hoeflein.  They have about 2 min before the signal to get on stage.  Hoeflein rides Bridges out to front of the stage.  While the chorus is singing, Bridges extends her arms and Escamillo helps her off Drogen.  Hoeflein rides to an area in the back of the stage and waits for about 30 seconds while they do their scene and then rides Drogen backstage and they exit the opera house. Photo: Caryn Hoeflein

 

Drogen’s original owner attended last Friday’s performance, their first reunion since his sale.  She loved the performance and Drogen received a special surprise—jolly rancher candies.  “Putting him up for sale was so hard for her,” said Hoeflein, “but she is very happy that he has a wonderful home now and she feels she made the right choice.”

Prior to his appearances at SF Opera, Drogen led a quiet life.  In fact, as a trail horse, all he had ever been asked to do was walk and trot; he rarely cantered.  If there were ever an inspirational story about life as a senior, it’s his—Drogen has embraced life in the fast lane and the attention lavished on him on the SFO stage.

Details: There are 3 remaining performances of Carmen at SF Opera:  Sun, 6/23 (2 pm); Wed, 6/26 (7:30 pm) and Sat, 6/29 (7:30 pm).  Run time is 2 hours and 47 min.  Tickets:  www.sfopera.com, by phone at (415) 864-3330, or in person at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave.  Tickets are extremely limited and most performances are sold out.

Sky High Ranch’s Facebook page: click here.

 

June 22, 2019 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment