Geneva Anderson digs into art

Green Music Center’s Sunrise Choral Concert…..ARThound chats with Jean Schulz

Jean Schulz on Robert Ellison’s “Bar Note Bench,” which Schulz purchased and gave to Sonoma State University for its Green Music Center. The bench is installed outside the Green Music Center education building. “Bar Note Bench,” 2′ x 7’6” x 5’3″, 900 pounds, painted steel. Photo: Geneva Anderson

I saw Jeannie Schulz at this morning’s Sunrise Choral Concert at Weill Hall and grabbed her for a quick chat about Sonoma State University’s new art collection for the Green Music Center. Schulz, widow of Peanuts cartoonist Charles “Sparky” Schulz and President of the Board of Directors at the Charles M. Schulz Museum, purchased the late Penngrove sculptor Robert Ellison’s “Bar Note Bench” after seeing it displayed at Walter Byck’s Paradise Ridge Winery and donated it to the university several years ago.  It was the second piece the university acquired for the collection and is currently installed in front of the Green Music Education building. Schulz is a long-time supporter of Sonoma State University, and donated $5 million toward the construction of Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center, naming the hall after her late husband’s beloved Peanuts piano-playing character, Schroeder.

On the way to photograph her in front of “Bar Note Bench,” she told me that she was “touched and very surprised” when she glanced at the program for this morning’s choral concert and saw that the song “Love Is our Lot,” sung by soprano Carol Menke, had been dedicated to her. She said that when she was watching Santa Rosa Children’s Chorus on stage, when she sees any group of children, she always looks at all their faces and expressions and tries to find the child that is her. “I always look for myself—for the kid that I was, what I looked like and acted like— and I think about what lies ahead, what will happen.  I do that all the time. When I ask other people if they do that, they say ‘no’ and that surprises me.”

And, of course, the piece of art, that she purchased from Dr. Walter Byck —a steel bench that evokes 4 upward pointing sixteenth notes joined by a double beam—evokes memories of Schroeder, playing Beethoven on his tiny toy piano.

“I saw Bob Ellison’s bench up at Paradise Ridge after I’d given the gift, so I knew the hall was going to be Schroeder Hall,” said Schulz. “I thought it was really clever, whimsical, and also a little cartoonish and I wanted it. I thought, if they don’t like it, I’ll keep it for the museum. I asked Don (Green) to go up and see it, because I wanted to make sure it pleased him, and he liked it too. Years passed and I kept writing to Walter and telling him not to lose track of that bench and I held on to that receipt.”

“It’s really exciting that they have finally achieved this,” said Schulz. “Maybe that’s the good part of it all taking so long to come together. People had chance to really think about what they wanted and to express more of their dreams about what might happen here than if it had all gone as planned.  People usually say ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’  They’ve had time.”

Schulz envisions that if, the circumstances were correct with security and light exposure, that her Charles M. Schulz Museum would also collaborate with the GMC and lend works for temporary display in its new mezzanine exhibition area, like the Sonoma County Museum has done with the 10 Christo collages from its prestigious Tom Golden Collection.

What’s it like to sit on that bench? “This steel is really pretty cold,” remarked Jeannie.

No worries, the sun will come out.

Speaking of seats, where is Jean Schultz sitting in Weill Hall?  “I was sitting in the (parterre) box with the Weills this morning but I selected a permanent seat in the balcony.  I like that view. I didn’t particularly want to sit down low in front.  I never have.”

ARThound is publishing a feature on the art collection this coming week, so stay tuned.

Snoopy and Friends Go to the Orchestra: The Peanuts Gang found their way from the comics page to Carnegie Hall and you can hear them next Sunday, October 7, 2012, at the debut concert of the Green Music Center’s new family series.  Richard Loheyde conducts with Kymry Esainko on piano while Marcy Smothers narrates.  Musical sketches from Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Peanuts Gallery for Piano and Orchestra such as “Snoopy Does the Samba,” “Charlie Brown’s Lament,” and “Lucy Freaks Out” will capture each character in turn. The spotlight focuses on superheroes with John Williams’ Superman March and movie music from Spiderman and Batman: The Dark Knight. Also on the program, a medley of familiar Looney Tunes cartoon music, which inspires Bugs Bunny to say “What Up at the Symphony?”

Pre-concert fun starts one hour before each concert. Come early and visit the GMC’s Instrument Petting Zoo. Sunday, October 14, 3:00 pm at Weill Hall.  Tickets: $39 adults; $24 youth

September 30, 2012 Posted by | Art, Classical Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Site Specific: Sonoma State University’s art collection installed at the Green Music Center is up for viewing, along with 10 Christo collages in Weill Hall’s mezzanine

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Come early to the Green Music Center’s opening festivities this weekend.  You won’t want to miss the 10 artworks—4 sculptures (3 outdoors and 1 indoors), 1 oil painting and 5 photographs by artists Bruce Johnson, Robert Ellison, Stephen De Staebler, Jack Stuppin and Wolfgang Volz, in Sonoma State University’s art collection newly installed at the Green Music Center.  Also on display in the Weill Hall mezzanine are 10 collages by Christo, from the Sonoma County Museum’s Tom Golden Collection, on loan to the Green Music Center through December, 2012

Bruce JohnSon “Asia” installed on the north end of the campus, across from the Green Music Center Education building

Robert Ellison: “Bar Note Bench” is installed outside the  Green Music Center Education building.

Stephen De Staebler: “Winged Figure Ascending,” in front of GMC;  “Figure With Sandstone Head” installed in lobby of
education wing

Jack Stuppin: “Alexander Valley and St. Helena,” in the Founders’ Room off the Dwight Courtyard Gallery, which is the long hallway leading from Prelude restaurant to the Weill Hall

Wolfgang Volz: 5 photos of Running Fence, hung in Dwight Courtyard Gallery which is the long hallway leading from Prelude restaurant to the Weill Hall

Stay-tuned to ARThound for a feature on this new art collection.

Details:  The public is encouraged to visit the Green Music Center’s artworks.  General public viewing for the artworks inside has not been thoroughly mapped out.  The building is generally accessible throughout the week, as Sonoma State classes are ongoing.  On concert nights, however, only ticket-holders are permitted in the venue.   The 10 Christo collages from the Sonoma County Museum’s Tom Golden Collection are on loan to the Green Music Center through December, 2012, and are located on the second floor mezzanine.

September 29, 2012 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ancient Olive Trees Take Root in the courtyard of the new Green Music Center

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Ten enormous 118-year-old olive trees, each a specimen of nature’s own architecture, grace the Green Music Center’s Trione Courtyard leading to Weill Concert Hall.  With their gnarled and twisted trunks and their silver-green leaves, these ancient symbols of peace and continuity are another “wow” factor you’ll encounter at Green Music Center (GMC).  They are gorgeous in daylight but, at night, lit to perfection, they take on a mystical quality.  Since the courtyard will be “the site” for pre-concert gathering and intermission chit-chat and refreshments, these regal trees will likely become the number one topic of discussion, reminding us all that you don’t have to go far in Sonoma County to be awed by nature.  For the low-down on how these trees got to GMC, how much they cost and whether they would work in your yard, read on and watch the video.

The trees in Trione Courtyard are old growth Sevillano olive trees from Heritage Olive Trees, owned by Troy Heathcote who is based in Napa but maintains a 42-acre olive grove on his family’s property in Corning, near Red Bluff.  The 16-foot-tall trees were dug up and transported on a flat bed truck from Corning to the GMC and were planted in February of this year.  Six months later, they have canopied out and settled well into their new environment, which was especially engineered to support their long-term growth.  Heathcote also supplied the 8 smaller 95-year-old olive trees planted at the entry of Green Music Center, a later landscaping addition, which you will encounter before you reach the older trees.

It is mainly age that determines the price of heritage olive trees—the older the tree, generally the more sculptural the trunk.  Heathcote’s 118 year-old Sevillano trees are $4,200 each, not including transport and installation.  He has built a successful business that allows people to purchase a piece of living history they don’t have to wait 100 years to enjoy.  “These trees are really neat,” explained Heathcote.  “They were ‘multis’ —had multiple branches coming off their trunk—when they were young, like 15 years old, but over many years, those grew together and that fusion is what gives their twisted, sculptural appeal.  And when you have a tree that isn’t desireable—the trunk mght have a check in it, which happens—you can use those for furniture and when you cut into them, you see these amazing patterns the patterns where the limbs actually fused…it’s very very cool.”

Sevillano olive trees produce one of the largest olives around, a green flavorful “martini” olive, also suitable for stuffing.  They also produce very flavorful olive oil, but there’s not much oil content in the olives, so they don’t produce a lot of oil, making them undesirable for commercial olive oil production.  (Sevillano olives yield 15 to 17 gallons of oil per ton versus almost 40 gallons per ton
yielded by Mission, Manzanillo, and Tuscan varieties.)  The trees are well suited to California, where they can grow up to 40 feet in height.  Because of their unique root system, explained Heathcote, even the oldest of olive trees can be successfully transplanted.  They require full irrigation for the first year, but can survive intense heat and extended dry periods afterwards.  To maintain a full green canopy (instead of a green tip with die-off below) and to discourage woodiness, they also need to be trimmed regularly so that sun and air can circulate through their branches.

“It was a lot of red tape, which is pretty normal for big institutions that have money coming from different sources, ” added Heathcote, “but they got some fine trees and I”m happy to see that they’ve now staffed up and are able to give these trees, all their new trees, the care they need.”

Heritage olive trees at the Green Music Center: Weill Enabled, Well Planned 

Larry Reed, of Petaluma, principal architect for SWA, the prestigious Sausalito landscape architecture firm that excels in urban design, oversaw the placement of the trees.  He worked along with Heathcote and Christopher Dinno, Sonoma State University’s Director for Facilities Management, Capital Planning, Design and Construction.  Reed and his firm worked on the Academy of Sciences building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and realized its signature green roof of undulating mounds of plants.  Reed is on the Green Music Center’s project design team.  Reed is on the Green Music Center’s project design team which includes a very elite concentration
of talent—William Rawn Associates (lead architect Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood), AC Martin (the architect of record), BAR Architects (the San Francisco firm responsible for the remainder of the project), Auerbach + Associates, Theatre consultants, San Francisco, and Kirkegaard Associates, Chicago, for acoustics.  He told me in an interview in May that SWA first got involved in the Green Music Center three years ago when they were hired to solicit funds for Sonoma State to finish the project.

“This was a huge project,” said Reed, “and, 15 years into it, we tried to put some parameters on what was needed for the outdoor venues and put together a master plan…When the Weills stepped up with the money to complete the building, they wanted the olive trees, the design team was supportive, and we all flew up to Corning in a private jet and selected the trees with Troy.”

“The courtyard wasn’t really in our scope of work but we helped plant them, said Reed.  “We specialize in pedestrian experience—sculpting the land, grading it, directing circulation, designing pavements, walls, landscape elements.  We’re also all about projects that honor the local ecology and culture.  The goal was to naturally direct people into the courtyard and concert hall lobby.  The trees are a bridge somewhere between art and landscape. They are large enough to provide intimacy vis-à-vis the scale of the huge concert hall.  They speak to the courtyard’s potential for pre-functions.  They also provide a bit of an acoustical barrier to the South lawn.”

Reed added that the trees could conceivably double in height.  “Generally, they are pruned and kept somewhat low to encourage fruit development but at GMC, it’s all aesthetic.”

The Planting Process:

  • Two approximately 10’ wide x 4 foot’ deep trenches were dug across the entire length of the courtyard, establishing two rows,  where the trees would be planted. Trenches were required so that drain lines could be installed that ran the entire length of the courtyard to external drainage.
  • The bottoms of trenches were filled with roughly 1 foot of a specially engineered drainage rock into which drain pipes were embedded.
  • The trees were then positioned in the trench by a large  crane, operated by Precision Cranes.
  • The area around the trees was filled with Structural Soil, an innovative new growing media developed by Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute, designed to be used under pavement in urban environments.  This new medium is stable when compacted but is root penetrable and supportive of tree growth.
  • The remaining open areas in the trenches were back-filled with Structural Soil.
  • Irrigation lines were put in, with a ring of irrigation around each tree.
  • The courtyard was paved.

A “Green Martini” ?  

There’s talk that lovely olives from these historic trees will be harvested and put to use in some gourmet application, possibly by Prelude Restaurant.  Stay tuned.  ARThound is in favor of a cocktail…. “Give me a Don Green!—martini, that is.

September 28, 2012 Posted by | Classical Music, Green Music Center | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dish: Opening Weekend Parties Await the Well-Heeled Patrons of the Green Music Center, starting with lots of cork popping at Prelude, the GMC’s new restaurant

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I normally don’t get too social but, seriously, who isn’t curious about the goodies and special parties awaiting select patrons of the beautiful Green Music Center this weekend?  Here’s the low-down on Saturday night’s pre Lang Lang soiree for 600 and the exclusive post-performance feast.  The events are co-chaired by Marne Olson and Joan Weill.  Marne Olson is very active in the Santa Rosa Symphony and is the wife of Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana.  Joan Weill is the patron saint of the Joan and Sanford I Weill Hall, who, along with her husband Sandy, donated the $12 million necessary to nearly complete the GMC’s state of the art concert hall.

BEFORE:  While many of us will be scrambling for parking outside the center, 600 generous patrons have been invited to an opening night pre-concert champagne reception in Prelude, the GMC’s elegant restaurant and bar, which will be open to the general public on October 6, 2012.  In a community partnership, the talented young people of Santa Rosa Junior College, which has an exceptional culinary arts and catering program, will provide hors d’oeuvres for the festive pre-concert champagne reception.

AFTER:  Award-winning Napa celeb chef Michael Chiarello (chef at Yountville’s Bottega, vintner, TV host, sustainable farmer, James Beard Award Finalist in 2012 and he overhauled Delta Airlines the first-class menu) has designed a magnificent menu for the post concert fundraising dinner—price of entry $10,000 to $30,000 per table.   The menu includes local delectables such as heirloom tomatoes, rack of lamb, and a special Chocolate Budino for dessert.  Chef Chiarello is supported by the renowned wine-country based Elaine Bell Catering.  And even though SSU’s nick-name from way back when is “Granola U,” and there are boundless fabulous gourmet versions of granola to be found, it’s just NOT on the menu.   Event and floral designer Thierry Chantrel of La Follia, San Francisco, known for his FABULOUS wedding bouquets, has planned an enchanting décor for the dinner tent, complete with more than 60 individually designed “still life tablescapes” unique to each table, beautiful linens from La Tavola, and local and seasonal flowers.

A rare, 2007 “Year of the Dragon” Chinese Cuvée (75 percent Pinot Noir, 25 percent Chardonnay) has been contributed by the Sterling Family of Iron Horse Vineyards for a champagne toast as guests arrive.  Additional wines contributed for the dinner include a 2011 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca Valley, Chile, provided by Agustin and Valeria Huneeus; a 2010 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, provided by Anne Moses and James Hall; and a 2009 Bedrock Wine Co., Lachryma Montis Late-Harvest Semillon from Monte Rosso Vineyard, provided by Morgan Twain-Peterson.

The Grand Opening Weekend itself sponsored by Bank of America.  Additional sponsors include the Koret Foundation, Alexsis de Raadt St. James, the Sterling Family of Iron Horse Vineyards, On Campus Presents, Rudolph and Sletten, Bedrock Wine Co., Patz & Hall, Kosta Brown, Sonoma State Enterprises, and Santa Rosa Junior College.

September 26, 2012 Posted by | Classical Music, Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Green Music Center opens next Saturday with Lang Lang’s inaugural concert in the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Concert Hall—he’ll be playing the Center’s Steinway … AND you can still buy tickets for outdoor seating

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7 days and counting!  We’re all looking forward to Chinese celeb pianist Lang Lang’s concert Saturday evening at the Joan and Sanford I Weill Hall, officially opening the Green Music Center.  Lang Lang will play a Steinway piano owned by the center that he knows well.  The gregarious 29 year old prodigy, deemed “the hottest artist on the classical musical planet” by the New York Times, visited the hall at the invitation of Joan and Sanford Weill in January, prior to their $12 million donation in March.  Lang Lang was asked to test the hall’s acoustics by playing the center’s 9 foot concert series Steinway grand piano.  He recognized it.

The Green Music Center acquired the gorgeous ebony piano in 2009 when it was gifted by an anonymous Sonoma County donor.  Every Steinway grand piano is a numbered work of art with more than 12,000 individual parts and over 125 patented features. The GMC’s piano, #552, had previously been in Seattle and it came to the Green Music Center slightly used but in mint condition.  When Lang Lang checked its number, he confirmed that he’d played it before.  After playing the piano for nearly an hour, he gave both it and the hall’s acoustics a stellar thumbs up according to Kamen Nikolov, associate director of production operations at the Green Music Center.  Nikolov spoke to me during a tour of the 1,400 seat Weill Hall on July 10, 2012.   The Weill’s, who are great fans and friends of Lang Lang, wanted him to play the inaugural concert and wouldn’t take no for an answer.   In the video clips below, Nikolov talks about the Steinway and Lang Lang and he plays a Bach piece demonstrating the Steinway’s magnificient sound and Weill Hall’s stellar acoustics.

If you’ve never heard Lang Lang play before, you’re in for an utterly dazzling display of ebony and ivory, and bursts of color, outrageous color.  If you’re familiar with his talent, it’s rumored that he’s getting even better: the master classes he been taking of late have matured him and led him into a more authentic emotionality.   There’s only one Lang Lang and only one magical celebration of this opening of this lovely hall…so don’t miss out.

Stay tuned to ARThound for several articles this coming week exploring the Green Music Center and Weill Hall, including an interview with Nolan Gasser, the acclaimed Petaluma composer whose Sonoma Overture was especially commissioned by Santa Rosa Symphony for its inaugural concert in Weill Hall on Sunday.

Thrilling!  Weill Hall Acoustics: Kamen Nikolov plays Bach Prelude in C Major

Lang Lang’s Program for Saturday’s Inaugural concert:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:

Piano Sonata No. 5 in G major, KV 283

Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, KV 282

Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, KV 310


Frédéric Chopin:

Chopin Ballade No. 1 Op 23 in G minor

Chopin Ballade No. 2 Op 38 in F Major

Chopin Ballade No. 3 Op 47 in A flat

Chopin Ballade No. 4 Op 52 in F minor

Read ARThound’s review of Lang Lang’s performance at Davies Symphony Hall, January 18, 2011 here.

Lang Lang teaches Mozart: click here for Ben Chan’s April 11, 2012 Piano Sage blog post showing video of Lang Lang teaching a piano master class in Mozart, explaining the nuances of Mozart.

Lang Lang takes a master class on Beethoven:  

Outdoor Seating for Lang Lang’s concert Saturday is Still Available:  As of Friday at 4:30 p.m., the tickets sales office reported that there was still ample outdoor lawn seating at $25 per person (767 seats had sold with a total capacity of 2,700) and outdoor table seating at $55 per person (668 had sold with a total capacity of 1648)

To purchase tickets online, click here.

If you encounter difficulty with online purchases, tickets can purchased by phoning the Box Office at (866) 955-6040 open Monday–Thursday 8 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. and Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or In Person at the Green Music Center Box Office (same hours as above).

Don’t Miss Out on the rest of the Opening Weekend!

Sunrise Choral Concert, Sunday, September 30, 2012, 7a.m.:  Watch the sunrise through the windows of Weill Hall while marveling in the vocal splendor of local choral ensembles and soloists. This free choral concert, which will run about 40 minutes, features original compositions by Jeff Langley and Amanda McTigue, performed by members of the community including the Sonoma State University Chorus and Chamber Singers, Santa Rosa Children’s Chorus, Maria Carrillo High School Chamber Singers, Cantiamo Sonoma and The Sunrise Chamber Players.  Vocal soloists include Carol Menke, Jenni Samuelson, Christopher Fritzshe, Kevin Baum, and Thomas Hart.   There will be a reception in the lobby afterward.  Completely Sold Out!

Santa Rosa Symphony’s Orchestral Opening Concert, Sunday 2 p.m.:  The Santa Rosa Symphony will proudly step over the threshold of its new performance home as Resident Orchestra at the Green Music Center on Sunday, September 30, celebrating 85 years of music making and recognizing three individuals who helped usher in this new era: Conductor Emeritus Corrick Brown, Conductor Laureate Jeffrey Kahane and current Music Director Bruno Ferrandis.

Maestro Brown will conduct Beethoven’s overture, Consecration of the House as an appropriate beginning to the 2 p.m. concert and Maestro Ferrandis takes the podium for the remainder of the program—Ravel’s Bolero, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, performed by Kahane, and Copland’s great Canticle of Freedom, featuring the 100-voice Symphony Honor Choir.

World Premiere Composition by Nolan Gasser:  The Symphony has commissioned an orchestral work by Petaluma resident and critically-acclaimed contemporary composer Nolan Gasser. His Sonoma Overture evokes the natural beauty of Sonoma County, and recognizes the energy and dynamism of its cities, industries and people.  The piece will introduce the second half of the concert.

Seating Indoors is Sold Out;
Lawn and Table Seating is Still Available:
Outdoor Table Seating on the Weill Terraces (many have a good view inside the hall) is $25 per person.  Outdoor lawn seating is complementary but you should reserve your tickets in advance.  Tickets for outdoor seating will be available at the door, subject to availability.   The outdoor lawn seats do NOT have a stage view but large outdoor viewing screens will be installed and a sound system should deliver very high quality sound.  If you go for the outdoor option, remember to dress for the chill and bring blankets or something to sit on.  Low chairs are allowed.

For tickets, purchase (or reserve) online at  OR by phone (707) 546-8742 OR in person at the Symphony Patron Services Office, 50 Santa Rosa Avenue (first floor, off elevator lobby), from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Selling out the HOUSE!!!!   Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas: Sunday, September 30, 2012, 7:30 p.m.:   The capstone of the Grand Opening weekend celebration is the band The New York Times hails as “the most popular and accessible bluegrass act in the country.”  Alison Krauss’ remarkable career goes back more than a quarter century. In 2000, she gained legions of new fans with her performance on the soundtrack of the Coen brother’s hit film, O’ Brother, Where Art Thou. She has won 27 Grammys, the most of any female artist in history, and has collaborated with Robert Plant, James Taylor, Phish, Dolly Parton, Yo-Yo Ma, and Bonnie Raitt.

Seating Indoors is Sold Out;
Lawn Seating is Still Available:
As of Friday, 4:30 p.m., there were 32 tickets, $25 each, left for Outdoor lawn seating.  To purchase tickets online, click here.  If you encounter difficulty with online purchases, tickets can purchased by phoning the Box Office at (866) 955-6040 open Monday–Thursday 8 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. and Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or In Person at the Green Music Center Box Office (same hours as above).

September 23, 2012 Posted by | Classical Music, Green Music Center | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival showcases the best new films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, starts next Thursday, September 27, 2012

Christian’s Petzold’s “Barbara,” opens the 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival at the historic Castro Theatre, September 27-Ocotber 4, 2012. Set in East Germany in 1980, and starring Nina Hoss, the film is the German contender for this year’s Academy Award for the Best Foreign Film. Image courtesy: Hans Fromm.

For film lovers in the Bay Area, the annual Berlin & Beyond Film Festival is an essential—it’s where one goes to see the very best new films by German, Austrian and Swiss directors and the crème of the crop of international collaborations from directors working beyond these borders.  The focus is Germany and German language but it’s the exceptional storytelling, intense drama and highly cinematic nature of the films, and the complete abandonment of Hollywood special effects, that make this relatively small scale festival such a stand-out in the myriad of festivals that are cropping up everywhere.  The festival will mark its 17th season with a dazzling roster of special guests onstage and will screen 26 feature length films and 6 shorts, including four North American premieres and three US premieres. It will pay special tribute to legendary stage and screen star Mario Adorf with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in acting.  Mr. Adorf will be present at the festival to receive the award and will appear in person for two films of his four-film tribute.  It all begins next Thursday, September 27, and runs through October 4, 2012, in San Francisco at the historic Castro Theatre, with additional screenings at the Goethe-Institut SF (530 Bush Street).

The festival will mark its 17th season with a dazzling roster of special guests onstage.  It will pay special tribute to legendary stage and screen star Mario Adorf with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in acting.  Mr. Adorf will be present at the festival to receive the award and will appear in person for two films of his four-film tribute. Also attending are Alina Levshin, the German Ukranian star of David Wendt’s Combat Girls (Kriegerin) which screens Wednesday October 3 and won Best Film (Bronze), Best Screenplay and Best Actress in the 2012 German Film Awards, and sensational directors Veit Helmer and Anno Saul and many more.  Stay tuned to ARThound for coverage.

Festival Highlights:

Opening Night: On Thursday, September 27th, the festival’s Opening Night screens Berlin school writer/director Christian Petzold’s Barbara, winner of both the 2012 Berlinale Silver Bear for Best Director and the 2012 German Film Award’s Best Film.  This masterful period film is set in the very restrictive GDR in the 1980’s and stars Nina Hoss in a brilliantly nuanced performance as an accomplished doctor in East Berlin’s largest clinic who has been transferred to a rural medical clinic following her application for an exit visa to the West where she hoped to join her lover Jörg (Mark Waschke).  She is forced to choose between personal freedom and saving the lives of others and her growing affection for André (Ronald Zehrfeld), her new supervisor.  Barbara is Germany’s entry to the Academy Awards Best Foreign Film category.

Director Christain Petzold is Germany’s most acclaimed director (Yella (2007), Jerichow (2008), Dreileben (2001) a key figure in the Berlin School and he’s from the former GDR, meaning he nails the physical details and psychological ambiance with authenticity.  His camerawork is exceptional too in enforcing the drama—the camera is held just below eyelevel throughout most of the film and the scenes meld into one another.  His collaboration with Hoss began in 2003 with Something To Remind Me; two years later she appeared in his Wolfsburg, for which she won the Adolf Grimme Award; in 2007, she starred in his Yella, winning the Silver Bear for Best Actress in 2007 and the German Film Award in 2008.  In Barbara, Petzold gives her a challenging role he created especially for her, while capturing her regal and haunting beauty against a backdrop that is austere but vividly humanized by his own history. You’ll probably be able to see Barbara screening elsewhere in the Bay Area several months later but nothing beats seeing a film early in a setting like the Castro.

Following the screening, the Opening Night party begins 9:15 PM on Castro’s beloved Mezzanine, where film fans are invited to celebrate the start of another great year with delicious German beer and wine and delectable amuse-bouche.

Legendary German actor Mario Adorf (left) stars in “The Rhino and the Dragonfly,” which has its world premiere at the 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival. Adorf will receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Acting on Friday, September 28, 2012. Image: NFP/COIN Film.

Mario Adorf Tribute:  New German Cinema is unthinkable without the legendary German actor Mario Adorf.  In addition to The Tin Drum (1978) and Lola (1981), Adorf was integral to Roland Klick’s Deadlock (1970), Volker Schlöndorff’s The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975), Reinhard Hauff’s The Main Character (1977), and the omnibus movie Germany in Autumn (1978).  Adorf has played more than 200 roles in cinema and television and the tally of directors he has worked with reads like a hit list of world cinema: Sam Peckinpah, Franco Rossi, Wolfgang Staudte, Edgar Reitz, Billy Wilder, Helmut Dietl, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Claude Chabrol and Sergio Corbucci and Volker Schlöndorff.

The festival will honor Adorf with a lifetime achievement award in acting at the international and North American premiere screening of his most recent film The Rhino and the Dragonfly (2012) directed by Loal Randl, on Friday, September 28th at 6:15PM.  It will screen three more of his classics—the recently released director’s cut of The Tin Drum (Saturday Sept 29th, 8:45PM), Ship of the Dead (Friday, Sept 28th, 4:30PM) and Lola (Tuesday, Oct 2nd, 6:00PM).  Mr. Adorf participate in a Q&A following the special screening of The Tin Drum.  Berlin & Beyond’s Lifetime Achievement Award was last given to Wim Wenders in 2009.  This is the first time Mr. Adorf has been honored at a major US Festival.

The Late Show:  Alexander Sokurov’s Faust, winner of the prestigious Golden Lion at the 2011 Venice Film Festival screens Friday at 9 PM.  The Russian director is most known for his historical feature film, Russian Ark (2002), which made a big splash at 2002 Cannes Film Fesitval and was filmed entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum and was a single 96-minute continuous unedited shot.

Alexander’s Sokurov’s “Faust” screens Friday, September 28, 2012, at the 17th Berlin and Beyond Film Festival. The psychologically jolting film won the prestigious Golden Lion at the 2011 Venice Film Festival and retells Goethe’s classic fable with some hellish twists. Image: courtesy Films Boutique

Faust is the fourth and final film in his mesmerizing tetralogy of films about the evil that is borne out of too much power and it follows Moloch (1999) about Hitler, Taurus (2001) about Lenin, and The Sun (2004) about Emperor Hirohito.  The psychologically jolting Faust stars the Austrian Johannes Zeiler as Faust and Russian Anton Adasinskiy as an utterly creepy and misshapen pawnbroker/Mephistopheles and retells Goethe’s classic fable with some hellish twists that will have you experiencing disturbing flashbacks for days.  The obsessive and impoverished Dr. Faust hungers for knowledge about the human soul and dissects human corpses in a futile attempt to its locus.  When he falls in love with a beautiful young woman, Margarete (Isolda Dychauk), he grows obsessed and cuts a deal with the moneylender, signing over his soul to possess her.  Sokurov’s distinctive visual mark is his sepia-bathed cinematography and stunning lighting and it’s present in spades here.  What he’s chosen to emphasize though isn’t pretty—the film opens with a full on shot of a corpse’s penis and heaps of entrails and, from there, takes us straight into the highly unsanitary 16th century.  But it is Faust’s extreme loneliness and his desire for connection that grips us and we accompany him on this sick hallucinatory eternal journey crafted so impeccably by Sokurov.  The existential film is a dark meditation on many things but Sokurov takes a few jabs at Germany.  If you’re going to see it, take someone along to process it with afterwards…it will help.

Centerpiece Screening:  The Festival’s Centerpiece screening, Baikonur (2011), Veit Helmer’s newest comedy, is about a young Kazakh man obsessed with outer space and with a beautiful French space traveler whose capsule crash lands in a field in Khazakstan near his yurt.  The rest unfolds like a fairy tale in the countryside—he carries the unconscious beauty to his yurt and wakens her with a kiss but she has amnesia and isn’t herself when she agrees to marry him.  Helmer will appear at the festival for a Q&A about the largely Kazakh production, which proceeds in Russian and English. (Screens Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 6:15 PM)

Marten Persiel’s “This Ain’t California” is the closing film of the 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival. The documentary looks at the underground skater culture in East Germany in the 1980’s. Director Persiel and Producer Ronald Vietz will attend the screening, which is also the film’s California premiere. Image courtesy: Harald Schmitt.

Closing Night Film:  Marten Persiel’s This Ain’t California (2012) was a big success at the 2012 Berlinale where it won the “Dialogue in Perspective” award.  The film takes place in the 1980s, the last years of the GDR and tells the hair-raising story of one of the first skateboarding crews behind the Berlin Wall.  Drawing from Marten Persiel’s background as a commercial director, this first feature combines classic skate footage, kitschy commercials and first-person interviews to insightfully draw the audience into the maelstrom of excitement and controversy surrounding the sport’s early years in East Germany.  In Kate Gellene’s interview with Persiel on May 29, 2012, which appears in Rooftop Films (click here), Persiel says, “I started skating 29 years ago as a little kid in western Germany and never really stopped. I am super grateful for the friends I made in all those years and for the stuff I experienced skateboarding. It’s been a life vest and a guide through life… In the film, there is a sense that stupidly goofing around on the streets can shape whole biographies. It’s how you look at your city, the buildings around you, the streets. It’s how much you allow yourself to say ‘this is my world too, I want to play here’. To think like that could basically get you arrested in a totalitarian and militarized system like the GDR. … oh wait.. it can get you arrested in NY too! Hm.”

Closing Night party: After the screening, the closing night bash takes place at 9:30 pm on the Castro Mezzanine, celebrating the conclusion of another year of innovative programming with an assortment of local tastes and German drinks in the company of director Persiel, producer Ronald Vietz and other special guests in attendance.

ARThound’s Picks:

As the only human survivor after an unexplained global tragedy, German actress Marina Gedeck bonds tightly with her loyal dog in Julian Roman Pölsler’s “The Wall” a film that is true to Marlen Haushofer’s exceptional novel. Image: courtesy of Music Box Films

The Wall (Die Wand):  Austrian director Julian Roman Pölsler’s film is based on Marlen Haushofer’s 1962 dystopian hit novel of the same name (about to be re-printed in English later this year).  The film stars German actress Martina Gedeck from the brilliant 2006 Stassi thriller The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) and tells the story of a completely ordinary middle-aged woman (Gedeck) who is vacationing with friends in a remote mountain hunting lodge.  Her friends go out to a pub and she stays back with the dog and when they don’t come back, she makes a very creepy discovery.  She is imprisoned on the mountainside by an invisible wall, behind which there seems to be no life.  She appears to be the sole remaining human on earth, along with the dog (a red hound that will steal your heart), a cat, some kittens, and a cow, with which she forms a tight-knit family.

The film rests entirely on Gedeck’s shoulders and she is riveting, delivering a very credible performance that will leave you shivering and running home to snuggle with your dog.  The odd beauty of this film is that this last survivor scenario may be your own romanticized idea of heaven, or hell (Who hasn’t said “Fuck the world! I’m sick of people…give me just my dog!), but watching Gedeck use her time laboring hard, protecting her pack, and introspectively processing her life, leads us to right into her moments of intensely felt angst, terror, joy and sorrow. (Screens Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 4 PM, Castro Theatre)

Max Hubacher (left) stars in Swiss director Markus Imboden’s “Foster Boy” (“Der Verdingbub”), which has its US premiere at the 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival. Image courtesy: Global Screen.

Foster Boy: Markus Imboden’s Foster Boy (Der Verdingbub), the most successful Swiss film of the last 5 years, has its US premiere at the festival. The film is set in the 1950’s and revisits a dark and nearly forgotten period in the Switzerland’s recent history, when the government occasionally intervened to take children from parents who were deemed unfit, depriving them of custody, and sending their children to work, mainly on farms, a practice that lasted from the early 1800s until the 1960s. The story is focused on a young orphan, Max (Max Hubacher), who was sold to the Bösiger family of poor farmers and on another “Verdingbub,” (contract child) in that family, Berteli, a girl who was taken from her impoverished widowed mother. The gripping story follows the miserable life of physical, emotional and sexual abuse that the children underwent in a household that was supposed to provide foster parenting but instead used them as slave labor.

Hubacher, Switzerland’s 2012 Shotting Star award winner, gives a brilliant and nuanced performance as the emotionally and physically brutalized Max, whose only solace is his accordion and his dream of escaping to Argentina.  Through its story, the film directly exposes and challenges a grave injustice.  It also highlights the important role that an observant and caring outsider can play in reporting abuse IF the authorities to whom the complaint is made are not themselves complicit.  Stay tuned to ARThound for a full review. (Screens: Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 4 PM, Castro Theatre)

Festival Details:  The 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival is September 27-October 4, 2012 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (at market Street) in San Francisco.  Parking can be difficult.  Allow AMPLE time to find parking if arriving by car.  Some programming is at the Goethe-Institut SF Auditorium (530 Bush Street (at Grant).  Tickets:  Price varies per program ($12 for most Castro Theatre screenings and $10 for most Goethe-Institut screenings).  Advance tickets for all shows are available at Brown Paper Tickets.  Online ticket sales end 10:00 pm prior to the day of show for each film.  For information on purchasing advance tickets and day of show tickets in person at the Goethe-Institut or at the Castro Theatre, click here.

September 22, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pounce! General Admission tickets to the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival go on sale Sunday at 10 a.m.—-some films sold-out during member pre-sale

The 35th Mill Valley Film Festival, one of the country's top 10 film festivals, is October 4-14, 2012.

The 35th Mill Valley Film Festival, one of the country’s top 10 film festivals, is October 4-14, 2012.

Dustin Hoffman, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Hawkes, Indian film director Mira Nair, and rock angel Stevie Nicks head a list of film stars and luminaries who will attend the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival, an 11-day celebration of international cinema that is considered one of the country’s top 10 film festivals.  This year’s festival is October 4 to 14, 2012 and tomorrow (Sunday) starting at 10 a.m., general admission tickets will be on sale for its fabulous program of over 150 movies, tributes, award ceremonies, premieres, and parties.  Tickets have been on sale to festival patrons since September 11 and to CFI (California Film Institute) members since September 14 and, consequently, some of the spotlight and tributes have already sold out, along with some of the films.  ARThound will be covering the festival in depth, so stay-tuned.  If you are interested in attending the festival, don’t dally with purchasing tickets.   The festival’s homepage is here and there are three ways to purchase tickets:

Online: To purchase tickets for MVFF screenings, browse the film listings—the full schedule is online here.  When you find a film you would like to see, click “buy tickets” to put the tickets in your cart. You can continue browsing, or click “check out” to complete your order. Tickets purchased online incur a $1.50 processing fee per order.

Tickets you have purchased online will be available for pick-up at the Mill Valley Film Festival Box Office(s).  Seating is guaranteed until 15 minutes prior to screening. No late seating.

In-Person at pre-festival Box Offices:

1104 Fourth Street, San Rafael 94901
Sept. 11– 15, 4:00pm–8:00pm (CFI Members)
Sept. 16: 10am – 7pm
Sept. 17 – Oct. 3: Weekdays 4:00pm – 8:00pm, Weekends 2pm – 8:00pm
Opening Night, Oct. 4: 2:00pm – 11:00pm
Festival Hours, Oct. 5 – 14: Weekdays 3:00 – 10:00pm, Weekends 10:30am – 10:00pm
Note: Monday (10/8) & Friday (10/12) are weekend hours

ROOM Art Gallery
86 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley 94941
Sept. 16: 10am – 2pm
Sept. 17 – Oct. 2: 11:00am – 4:00pm
85 Throckmorton, Mill Valley 94941
Oct. 3: 11:00am – 4:00pm
Oct.4: 2:00pm – 11:00pm
Oct. 5 – 14: Weekdays 3:00pm – 10:00pm, Weekends 10:30am – 10:00pm
Note: Monday (10/8) & Friday (10/12) are weekend hours

BY PHONE: toll free at 877.874.6833
NOTE: If you have trouble purchasing online and cannot purchase tickets in person, leave a message on box office voicemail: 877.874.6833.
All orders placed over the phone are subject to a charge of $10.00 per transaction. Tickets delivered via mail (USPS) incur a $3.50 convenience fee.

RUSH Tickets:   If seats are available, tickets will be sold at the door beginning at 15 minutes prior to screening. Those tickets are cash only. No discounts.

Long time in the oven….Walter Salles’ highly anticipated On the Road reunites the same team from Salles’ Motorcycle Diaries (2004)—producers Rebecca Yeldham and Daniel Burman, screenwriter José Rivera, cinematographer Eric Gailtier, and production designer Carlos Conti. Based on Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, On the Road, considered to the defining book of the beat generation, the movie stars Sam Riley as Sal Paradise (Kerouac’s alter ego), Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty , Kirsten Stewart as Dean’s lover Marylou, Tom Sturridge as Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg inspired) and Kirsten Dunst as Camille, Dean’s wife.


Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut in Quartet, about three aging opera singers (Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins) who are preparing for an upcoming concert in their retirement home when famous diva Jean (Maggie Smith) arrives unexpectedly. Hoffman will attend a special tribute and reception in his honor on Tuesday, October 9 at 7 p.m. at the Rafael Film Center when Quartet screens at the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival.


Argo, directed by Ben Affleck and starring Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck is set during the 1979 Iranian revolution and is about a last-ditch CIA plan to free six American hostages concocted.  Affleck will attend the October 5, 2012 screening at 7 p.m. the Smith Rafael Film Center.

September 15, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Closing Sunday: “REAL TO REAL: Photographs from the Traina Collection,” at the de Young Museum

“Melissa” (2005, Chromogenic print, 50”h x 40”w) by American photographer Alec Soth is on display at the de Young Museum through September 16, 2012, as part of “Real to Real: Photographs from the Traina Collection.” The image was taken at the Flamingo Inn at Niagra Falls, the former honeymoon capital of the world, just after the woman, Melissa, was married. Image courtesy: Traina Collection.

An engaging and controversial show, Real to Real: Photographs from the Traina Collection is closing this Sunday, August 16, 2012, at San Francisco’s de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.  Drawn from the impressive holdings of San Francisco native Trevor Traina, a member of the FAMSF Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Board and the son of its President, Diane B. (Dede) Wilsey, the exhibition brings together rare black-and-white vintage prints of classic images by Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand with works in color by artists ranging from Stephen Shore and William Eggleston to Cindy Sherman, Alec Soth and Andreas Gursky.

How the mix of 110 images, produced by some of the pre-eminent artists working in photography from the 1950s has to the present, qualified as a major exhibition at the museum has been a source of controversy.  Some Bay Area art critics have suggested that it was improper protocol to give museum space to someone so closely connected with the internal politics of the museum.

When Fine Arts Museum director John Buchanan passed in December 2011, Mrs. Wilsey stepped up to run things until a suitable new director could be found and six months later her son has a prominent show in the museum.  It might look cozy but, so far, no one has come up with any rules that were violated.  The show, which examines different historical understandings of Realism and its changing definitions over time, was curated jointly by Art Historian Kevin Moore, who served as an advisor to Traina on the collection, and Founding Curator of Photography and Chief Administrative Curator at the Fine Arts Museums Julian Cox.

Photography has not been considered “fine art” until fairly recently by the FAMSF according to Mrs. Wilsey, who spoke at the exhibition’s press conference in June about the history of photography and the museum’s long lack of wall space devoted to the medium.  Now, things have changed and the museum is welcoming photography, with Julian Cox proudly at the helm.  Cox states, “It was Alfred Stieglitz who, a century ago, campaigned in support of photography’s expressive possibilities independent from other visual arts, because he believed the medium to be endowed with what he described as “a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”

Most of us are moved by photography because it provides us with a myriad of possibilities to understand our lives through the power of images.  The Traina collection includes some well-known icons as well as powerful works by emerging and experimental young photographers.  Notes Cox, “The Traina collection includes many images that sit firmly within the tradition of photography as a craft and a vocation, alongside those made by artists who consider photography as just one medium among others from which they can select to communicate an idea. This use of photography within conceptual art has been at the center of Traina’s most recent activity as a collector, and it brings the exhibition fully into the contemporary moment with new works by artists such as Roe Etheridge, Christopher Williams and Ryan McGinley.

Traina said, “There are often photography shows of one artist or one period. What makes this show special is that it traces an idea — the evolution of the documentary tradition and the maturation of the photographic medium — across almost seven decades. The evolution of color photography and the huge glossy prints that sit next to their pristine black and white antecedents are really fun to see.”

Catalogue: An accompanying 136-page catalogue, Real to Real: Photographs from the Traina Collection (2012, $45) features over 85 plates and includes a foreword and introduction by Curator Julian Cox and an essay by art historian Kevin Moore.

Details:  Real to Real: Photographs from the Traina Collection closes Sunday, September 16, 2012. The de Young Museum is located in Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco.  The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.; Fridays (through November 23, 2012) until 8:45 p.m. and is closed Mondays.  For information about museum hours and ticket prices, call (415) 750-3600 or visit .

September 15, 2012 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Finding the treasure in white trash—“The Great American Trailer Park,” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Theatre is a campy musical that invites you to get your redneck on….through September 30, 2012

From left to right: Mark Bradbury (Duke), Craig A Miller (Norbert), Julianne Lorenzen (Jeannie), Taylor Bartolucci (Pippi), Daniela Innocenti Beem (Betty), Alise Girard (Pickles) and Shannon Rider (Lin) are all part of 6th Street Playhouse’s “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” through September 30, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

They didn’t all plan to be neighbors at the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in North Florida but the fates of a toll collector, his agoraphobic wife, a stripper-on-the-run, her crazy ex, and a trio of busty tube-topped women are all intertwined in the enchanting “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” which opened Friday at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse.  Written by composer/lyricist/actor David Nehls and writer/actor Betsy Kelso, the two-act musical opened in New York in 2004, played off-Broadway and has been produced regionally and internationally ever since.  This love triangle, with its hilarious low-rent twists, has a lot of heart, a lot of dysfunction and snappy, crass, funny songs you’ll find yourself humming on the way home.  6th Street’s Barry Martin is the producer and a talented team of 7 local singers and actors round out the cast.  To add to the fun, 6th Street is encouraging all attendees to dress up in their best “trailer park” fashions and join in on the fun.

The show is staged in 6th Street’s intimate Studio Theatre where the action all unfolds just a few feet from the furthest seat.  The pre-show includes Mark Bradbury’s sign twirling display for Armadillo Arms.  The musical itself opens with the energetic “This side of the Tracks,” sung by the trailer park’s pal-gal trio (also narrators and chorus)— Betty (Daniela Innocenti Beem) the leasing agent and manager of Armadillo Arms; Pickles (Alise Girard), a hysterically pregnant teen; and Lin (named after linoleum) (Shannon Rider) whose husband is in slammer.  These gals, with their ample bewbs spilling forth from their clinging leisure wear, are neither on the “right side” or “wrong side” of the tracks, rather they’re on “this side” of the tracks.  As the women belt out tune after tune, it’s as plain as the nose on your face that these are good-hearted gals who have been through some hard times that have bonded them.  And can they sing!

Daniela Innocenti Beem made a strong impression in the title role in 6th Street’s parody, “The Drowsy Chaperone” in January.  Here, she delivers a glorious Bad Ass Betty, who’s more of an earth mother hidden under some seriously wild hair (wigs marvelously styled by Michael Greene).  Her voice is strong, appealing and memorable, anchoring song after song.  Shannon Rider, of the local Shannon Rider Band, is also impressive.

The story centers on a love triangle between toll collector Norbert Garstecki (6th Street’s Artistic Director, Craig A. Miller), his wife Jeannie Garstecki (Julianne Lorenzen), and Pippi (Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio).   Jeanie’s been agoraphobic since their son was kidnapped some 20 years ago and she stays inside their trailer timidly watching TV in a fuzzy bathrobe.  When exotic dancer Pippi moves into the trailer right next to theirs, Norbert is magnetized by her fishnet-clad bod and sexuality—and that’s way before she’s pole-danced for him.  Soon they are knee-deep into an affair.  The sparks really start to fly when Jeannie gets wind of her husband’s philandering and when Pippi’s ex shows up with a gun at the trailer park.

The show’s credibility rests on the role of Pippi and Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio delivers in spades.  She has a radiance and energy and sensuality about her that channels pop-star Mariah Carey and she puts all those netted body-hugging outfits to good use in a very authentic display of pole dancing.  Bartolucci is a stage veteran with more than 60 productions under her belt. She partners with director Barry Martin in Lucky Penny Productions, located in Napa, and the two recently collaborated on 6th Street’s Kiss Me, Kate in 2011, a production voted “Best Local Musical” in the Bay Area awards.  Her Pippi is a likeable, strong woman who is independent and yearning for love and her complex feelings for Norbert are apparent.

Craig A. Miller’s Norbert pulls off some great one-liners as the loving husband with a roving eye.  Miller’s acting and on stage chemistry with both Julianne Lorenzen, as his wife, and with Bartolucci as his new love connection adds a poignancy to the production.  You may remember Lorenzen’ s stand-out performance in The Marvelous Wonderettes in May (ARThound review here.)  She spends most of the musical neurotically trapped in a bathrobe but her burst-out moment is dazzling.

And ARThound has to comment a detail in the scenery that was spot on.   There’s a poster replica of C.M. Coolidge’s famous Dog’s Playing Poker poster on the wall of Norbert and Jeannie’s little trailer.  This is a personification of every man’s hopes and dreams for the future, carrying the subtle message that without risk there is no reward.  We may never know the outcome in life until we lay down our cards but the winner never folds (gives up).  And that’s the spirit that is driving the residents of Armadillo Arms.  And speaking of driving, there’s a fine poster image of Nascar’s beloved Dale Earnhardt on the other wall…I just knew that mild-mannered Norbert had racing in his blood.

Production Team: Directed by Barry Martin; Musical Director Lucas Sherman; Choreograper Alise Girard; Music and Lyrics by David Nehls, Book by Betsy kelso

Cast:  Daniela Innocenti Beem as Betty;  Shannon Rider as Lin; Alise Girard and Natalie Herman as Pickles; Craig A. Miller as Norbert; Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio as Pippi; Mark Bradbury as Duke

Dress the Part: 6th Street is encouraging all attendees to dress up in their best “trailer park” fashions and join in on the fun.

Details:  The Great American Trailer Park Musical runs through September 30, 2012 at The Studio Theatre at the 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa.  Shows are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday with additional 2 p.m. matinee performances on Saturday 9/29 and Sundays 9/16, 9/23 and 9/30. Tickets are $15 to $25 and can be purchased by calling 707-523-4185 x101, or, visiting  Advance ticket purchase recommended as the show has been selling out. Suitable for adults only.

September 13, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bravo! Rigoletto’s “B team” delivered a fabulous Saturday night performance at San Francisco Opera’s big weekend

In Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” Gilda (Uzbeki coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova) is tragically in love with the Duke of Mantua (Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz). Cory Weaver Photo (cropped).

There’s always something magical about opening of San Francisco Opera’s fall season.  I wasn’t there for Friday’s festive gala celebration but I was there Saturday evening for Verdi’s  Rigoletto sung by the alternate cast—Italian baritone Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto; Uzbeki soprano Albina Shagimuratova as Gilda and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz as the Duke of Mantua—with SF Opera’s Verdi demon, Nicola Luisotti, conducting.  The performance, sans the partying, was wonderful, opening what promises to be a very interesting and musically diverse fall season for SF Opera.  Given that 2013 is the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth and opera companies the world over are mounting Verdi productions, the popular opera, under Harry Silverstein’s direction, is the perfect season opener for SF Opera.

Rigoletto will be performed 12 times, with two distinct casts of world-class lead singers to accommodate its compressed scheduling.  SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti will conduct all but the September 25th and 30th performances which will be handled by Giuseppe Finzi.  (Serbian baritone Željko Lucic (Rigoletto), Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak (Gilda) and Italian tenor Francesco Demuro (Duke of Mantua) led off on Friday evening to favorable reviews.)  I’ll be reviewing both casts.

Saturday evening’s singing got better and better as evening progressed, especially from coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova who is back after her mesmerizing bravura debut this at SF Opera as the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute.  In June, the house loved her and got so excited after her lively Act 2, Scene 3 aria (“Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”) they gave her a roaring and prolonged standing ovation.  Saturday was no different; her Act I, Scene 2 duet “Addio Addio” (“Farewell, farewell”) was a little tight.  When she got to the beloved recitativo and aria, “Gaultier Maldé!…Caro nome, ” she sung on her back, confidently flaunting her powerful voice.  By Act 2, when it came time for her “Tutte le feste al tempio” (“On All the Blessed Days”) I floated.  By Act 3’s famous quartet, “Bella figlia dell’amore” (“Beautiful daughter of love”), she was unstoppable, lyrically melding with the other singers in a stunningly beautiful display of everything that opera should be.  While Russians don’t have a monopoly on suffering, they do it so well.  Throughout, her acting was superb.

The rich, deep, and immediately recognizable voice of bass Andrea Silvestrelli as Sparafucile—the cunning assassin who Rigoletto pays to murder the Duke of Mantua—was also a standout among Saturday’s strong cast.  He’s performed the role in L.A., Chicago and Houston and seems a perfect fit.  Silvestrelli was Hagen in SF Opera’s epic 2011 Ring Cycle Götterdämmerung and Fasolt, the overall-clad giant, in Das Rheingold.

Italian baritone Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, a former Merola fellow, as the Duke of Mantua and mezzo soprano Kendall Gladen as Maddalena.  rounded out the cast.

Vratogna last sang as Amonasro in SF Opera’s 2010 Aida.  His bold Act I, Scene 2 aria, “Pari siamo!” (“We Are Alike”), where he admits that his tongue is just as much as weapon as the Sparafucile’s dagger, was sung passionately.  His fine acting skills drove home the character’s sorrow and torment in his dramatic Act II aria, Cortigiani vil razza dannata” (“Accursed race of courtiers”)

The handsome Mexican lyrical tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz embodied the Duke of Mantua better than any tenor I’ve seen, playing the boastful and cavorting cad to the hilt.  It helped that he’s a young 35, relatively buff, and exuded chemistry with both Gilda and Maddalena.  His character sings some of opera’s best-known melodies too, so he’s tremendously important.  His voice was particularly well-suited to the famous quartet, “Bella figlia dell’amore” (“Beautiful daughter of love”).  Chacón-Cruz actually started out as a baritone (and bass) but became a toner after Plácido Domingo told him that he, too, started out as baritone and then switched to tenor.

Rigoletto, 2012. San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Nicola Luisotti. 1) Arturo Chacón-Cruz as The Duke of Mantua; 2) Albina Shagimuratova as Gilda and Arturo Chacón-Cruz; 3) Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto; 4) Marco Vratogna and Albina Shagimuratova; 5) Albina Shagimuratova; and 6) Arturo Chacón-Cruz.

Luisotti’s passionate conducting is a show in itself and Saturday was no exception.  At the end of the opera, just as after Rigoletto and Gilda’s heartbreaking duet, as Rigoletto wails that the curse has come to pass, Luisotti dramatically raised his arms and boldly summoned the curse to descend.

Italian baritone Marco Vratogna is Rigoletto and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz is The Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” which opens San Francisco Opera’s fall season. Photo by Cory Weaver.

People seem to have a love-hate relationship with Tony Award winning designer Michael Yeargan’s sets which  evoke Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico in their boldly colored, deliberately skewed and disquieting scenes of 16th century Mantua’s streets, the Duke’s palace, Rigoletto’s house and Sparafucile’s inn.  In fact, this is the fourth time that Yeargan’s sets have been used by SF Opera since 1997 for this production.  It was my first time to see them but I found they made a profoundly metaphysical contribution to the opera.  Chris Maravich’s beautiful lighting was certainly a factor. By contrast, Constance Hoffman’s predictable period costumes seemed to weigh it down.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Approximate running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, including one intermission.

Casting by Date:

Rigoletto: Željko Lučić (9/7), (9/11), (9/15) (9/18), (9/21)

Marco Vratogna (9/8), (9/12), (9/16), (9/19), (9/23), (9/25),(9/30)

Gilda: Aleksandra Kurzak (9/7), (9/11), (9/15), (9/18), (9/21), (9/25)

Albina Shagimuratova (9/8), (9/12), (9/16), (9/19), (9/23), (9/30)

 The Duke of Mantua: Francesco Demuro (9/7), (9/11), (9/15), (9/18), (9/21), (9/23),(9/25), (9/30)

Arturo Chacón-Cruz (9/8), (9/12), (9/16), (9/19)

ConductorNicola Luisotti , Giuseppe Finzi (9/25), (9/30)

Director Harry Silverstein

Set DesignerMichael Yeargan

Costume Designer Constance Hoffman

Lighting Designer Chris Maravich

Chorus Director Ian Robertson

Choreographer Lawrence Pech

Details:  War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places.  Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.  Remaining Performances: Sept.11 (8 p.m.), Sept. 12 (7:30 p.m.), Sept. 15 (8 p.m.), Sept.16 (2 p.m.), Sept. 18 (8 p.m.), Sept. 19 (7:30 p.m.), Sept.21 (8 p.m.), Sept. 23 (2 p.m.), Sept. 25 (7:30 p.m.) and Sept. 30 (2 p.m.). Tickets: :  $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330, or online at   Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.

The Sept. 15 performance will be simulcast in a free event at AT&T Park; go to  to register.

Driving to San Francisco and Parking:  Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Sausalito onwards due to congestion around the toll-plaza.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends.   Recommended garages near the opera house are the Performing Arts Garage and Civic Center Garage (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

September 11, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment