ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre Company Tackles a new adaptation of John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore,” through June 29, 2013 at EXIT Stage Left, San Francisco

“Tis A Pity She’s A Whore,” a world premiere adaptation by Oren Stevens, transplants John Ford’s infamous classic to Kennedy-era America.  Directed by Ariel Craft, at San Francisco’s Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre through Saturday, June 29, 2013.

“Tis A Pity She’s A Whore,” a world premiere adaptation by Oren Stevens, transplants John Ford’s infamous classic to Kennedy-era America. Directed by Ariel Craft, at San Francisco’s Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre through Saturday, June 29, 2013.

It would have been easy to miss Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre Co’s (BtaBB) world premiere of Oren Stevens’ adaptation of  ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore in the Tenderloin’s EXIT Stage Left Theatre last Friday because almost everything about the production was scarcely bigger than a bread box, except for its energy and soul.  Wake up call for me, who regularly attends and reviews the larger theatre company productions—there’s incredible core of talent out there that is young, strong, collaborative, constantly adapting to opportunities, and so worthy.

Ariel Craft, 24, a former A.C.T. Artistic Fellow, founded Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre Co. a year ago.  Shortly thereafter, she contacted her young friend, the playwright and director Oren Stevens, who grew up in Lafayette and learned his craft at Yale, to write an adaptation of John Ford’s 1633 drama, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore Pity.  The play’s uncondemning treatment of incest was controversial from its first performance and Stevens’ interventions have quickened the pace of the story while keeping it every bit as arresting.  In addition to a sensitive reworking of the story, Stevens displays a wonderful ear for language. His adaptation managed to make the play sound old but come across as crystal clear and quite colloquial—like the very best modern productions of Shakespeare.

One of the charms of this bare bones production is that, with no set to speak of, it all depends on the strength of the acting.  Justin Gillman was particularly engrossing as Giovanni (imagine a grubby Niles Crane) whose amorous feelings for his sister Annabella (Maria Leigh) lead to a brutal and bloody climax.  The scheming that goes on behind the two siblings and their forbidden love is remarkable.  The seemingly hum-drum  household conceals a world of deception and manipulation— betrayals, rival lovers competing for Annabella’s hand, and ultimately murder.  The siblings’ hypocritical mother, Floria (Cat Luedtke) has chosen the wealthy nobleman Sorzano to be her daughter’s mate and doesn’t care about her daughter’s wants.  Scorned Hippolita (scene stealer Allison Hunter Blackwell) seethes with passion and jealousy, whereas Annabella’s maid/nurse Putana (Jeunee Simon) plays the innocent but then quickly gives up the secret of the paternity of Annabella’s child and shows that she’s a master at household politics and landing on her feet.  Sam Tillis is spellbinding as Vasques, the cunning servant of Annabella’s eventual husband, Sorzano (Peter Townley).

The core of this drama emerges with the pregnancy—a joyless, shameful disaster that is punctuated with dramatic bursts of violence that had audience members gasping and cringing.  On Friday, Maria Leigh delivered a fascinating Annabella…I didn’t care for the self-indulged young woman who opened the play tossing love letters from potential suitors around like yesterday’s recycling.  I liked her even less as an expectant mother who didn’t have a protective instinct in her body.  Like her or not, a spirited young woman, who initially seemed to have the world at her feet, was shown to be extremely vulnerable in a society dominated by men.  For days, I was provoked to think long and deep about motherhood and the very modern familial issues surrounding an unexpected child.

Ariel Craft already shows a precocious ability to get her actors to deliver nuanced and emotionally riveting performances.  Her highly original production packages Ford’s disturbing drama within some of the fluffiest tropes of teen love movies of the 1960s. These are beautifully and sometimes comically evoked through original ballads and do-wop-style songs of San Francisco composer David Brown, which are nicely sung by the talented cast.

More from Ariel Craft —Theater is a place for exploration of the impulses which have no place in the daylight of our society, those which we usually don’t allow ourselves emotional space for: the instincts that we’re afraid of and that, if unpacked in our day-to-day lives, would yield catastrophic results. I can think of few plays better suited for this kind of exploration than ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, which was massively controversial when written and still remains so almost 400 years later.

We made the decision to modernize in hopes of avoiding dismissal of the subject matter because it was a “different time.”  I, for one, make a lot of behavioral allowances for any action which happens in a time that I don’t feel I have a cultural reference point for.  I’m very quick to accept incest and murder in the 1600s as a given, in a way that I’m not in the 1960s. Why the 1960s specifically? There is something fruitful—I think—for the play in the bridge between the 1950s and the 1960s, the loss of innocence, the beginning of a sexual revolution.

Oren Stevens on his adaptation:  Ariel Craft and John Ford accidentally tricked me into doing this show. Ariel’s part was easy; all she had to do was ask for a light adaptation, and that’s exactly what I agreed to do.  I thought I would cut a few characters, streamline some language, and call it a day. Then I met John Ford’s play, which is this dense, meaty masterpiece dripping with scheming, passion, and violence.  Before long, I was having so much fun unraveling and discovering this story that I found I was doing a massive (or, as I say in the script, ruthless) adaptation. Through some fantastic conversations with Ariel, we recrafted Ford’s plot-driven spectacle of blood to be driven by the characters that inhabit the it.  Their desires, rather than their actions, were given the forefront. We ended up discovering the play bit by bit, through scattered sidebars after other meetings, or four AM revelatory text messages, and each new piece was a thrilling discovery; every moment of working on this play was exciting. Ariel and John tricked me into doing this show, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Run-time: 95 minutes with no intermission

Creative Team:  Adapted by Oren Stevens, Directed by Ariel Craft, Scenic Design by Joshua Saulpaw, Costume Design by Emily White, Lighting Design by William Campbell,
Original Compositions and Music Direction by David Brown, Verse Coaching by Jesse Brownstein, Fight Choreography by Will Springhorn, Jr., Stage Managed by Sana Yamaguchi

Performed by: Allison Hunter Blackwell (Hippolita), Alisha Ehrlich (Philotis), Justin Gillman (Giovanni), Maria Leigh (Annabella), Cat Luedtke (Floria), Lisa-Marie Newton (Sister Margaret Cortona), Jeunee Simon (Putana), Sam Tillis (Vasques), Peter Townley (Soranzo)

Details: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore closes Saturday June 29, 2013.  EXIT Stage Left is located at 156 Eddy Street, San Francisco.  All performances are sold-out.  For more information on Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre, click here.

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June 27, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

America’s Cup on Display at Asian Art Museum Thursday, June 27, 2013, along with “In the Moment,” a Peek into Larry Ellison’s Rarely Seen Japanese Art Collection

The historic America’s Cup trophy, in the proud possession of Larry Ellison’s BMW Oracle Team USA and soon to be defended by Oracle Team USA, is on display at the Asian Art Museum through June 27, 2013.

The historic America’s Cup trophy, in the proud possession of Larry Ellison’s BMW Oracle Team USA and soon to be defended by Oracle Team USA, is on display at the Asian Art Museum through June 27, 2013.

The most coveted prize in competitive sailing and the oldest trophy in international sports, The America’s Cup, is on display at the Asian Art Museum though 9 p.m. Thursday, June 27, 2013. The display is part of the opening activities for In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection, the museum’s special exhibition from the rarely seen trove of Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO and owner of ORACLE TEAM USA, defender of the 34th America’s Cup.

Made by the Crown Jeweler Robert Garrard from sterling silver in 1848, it became known as the America’s Cup when the owners of America donated it in 1857 as a “perpetual challenger trophy to promote friendly competition amongst nations.”  Originally just over 20 in. tall, it was extended in the 1950s and again in the 1990s to allow further engraving of racing results. It now stands approximately 3 ft. tall.  Without a doubt, it is one of the most difficult trophies to win and in the more than 150 years since the first race off England, only four nations have been victorious.  For some perspective on its history, consider that there had been nine contests for the America’s Cup before the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896. The America’s Cup was first contested in 1851—when it was known as the One Hundred Pound Cup—when the yacht America, from the New York Yacht Club, beat 15 British yachts in a race around the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England.

You can see the coveted cup at the Asian, along with rare treasures from Ellison’s stunning collection of Japanese art—64 artworks spanning 1,100 years.  Included in the exhibition, which opens today, are significant works by noted artists of the Momoyama (1573–1615) and Edo (1615–1868) periods, along with other important examples of religious art, lacquer, woodwork, and metalwork. Highlights include a 13th–14th century wooden sculpture of Shotoku Taishi; six-panel folding screens dating to the 17th century by Kano Sansetsu; and 18th century paintings by acclaimed masters Maruyama Ōkyo and Ito Jakuchu.  The collection reflects Ellison’s great love of nature and of animals, particularly cats.  The exhibition catalogue cover features one of Ellison’s favorite cats, a tiger, in a hanging scroll by Maruyama Ōkyo (1733-1795), Edo Period. This sitting tiger is imbued with personality and a marvelous sense of detail.  In the Lee Gallery, just adjacent to the education room where The America’s Cup is displayed, are “Two Puppies at Play”—two delightful, one-of-a-kind 13th century Kamakura period (1185-1333) pups, one atop the other, rolling in play, made of lacquer on wood with crystal inlay.

We’ve come to expect a creative use of technology from the Asian and this show does not disappoint.  The Lee Gallery has varying light levels so that viewers can see how painted folding screens and hanging scrolls appeared under fluctuating light conditions before the advent of electricity.   A dramatic pair of 17th century folding screens attributed to Hasegawa Togaku depict undulating waves and huge rocks masterfully rendered in ink with a generous application of gold leaf.  Benches have been set up in the gallery so that visitors can sit at the same height as the screens, roughly the way a person seated on straw would view them in a Japanese home.  A three minute cycle of changing light, adjusted to mimic the passing of a day, illuminates how the gold-leaf softens and modulates, altering the entire mood of the coastal scenery as the day passes.

Tiger by Maruyama Ōkyo (1733-1795), Edo Period Edo (1615-1868), 1779, One of a pair of hanging scrolls; ink and light colors on paper, 45.75 ” H x 20.5” W (each), Larry Ellison Collection.

Tiger by Maruyama Ōkyo (1733-1795), Edo Period Edo (1615-1868), 1779, One of a pair of hanging scrolls; ink and light colors on paper, 45.75 ” H x 20.5” W (each), Larry Ellison Collection.

Public access to this collection has been extremely limited but the AAM made great strides when its former director, Dr. Emily Sano, became Ellison’s private art consultant just after retiring her post at the Asian in 2007.  Many of the rare works on display are pieces that Ellison actually lives with and has on rotating display in his palatial Japanese-style home in Woodside which is surrounded by a traditional seasonal garden.  Stay-tuned to ARThound for a full review of the show.

Larry Ellison is the fifth wealthiest person on the planet.  His June, 2103 net worth is $34.9 billion.  Notoriously tough in business, he’s been sailing since he was a boy and spends lavishly on what he calls the best team sport on the planet.  Of course, in this “winner take all” race, first place is all the matters and we acknowledge that, for years now, the America’s Cup has been more about sailboat design than sport.  Ellison famously brought team BMW Oracle, the challenger in the 2010, 33rd America’s Cup, together to race aboard USA-17, the most technologically advanced sailboat ever built.  In fact, the catamaran was less of a boat and more of a wind-responsive high-tech machine which moved just above the water.  USA-17’s crew was skippered by Australian James “Jimmy” Spithill, the youngest to ever helm an America’s boat, along with a team of expert sailors from all over the world.  All of them were united by a single purpose: to win the America’s Cup and bring it back to America.

As victor in the 2010, Ellison earned the right to set the rules for this year’s regatta.  He brought the race to San Francisco, a decision most Bay Area residents applaud.  Continuing to use the extremely costly 72-foot-long catamarans that fly above the water has been a more controversial call.  So far, only four teams have entered the race due to prohibitive costs and Ellison’s AC72 has been plagued with problems.  While we all know that money doesn’t necessarily equal merit, it’s a historical fact that investing on the frontiers of technology has spin-offs we’ll all enjoy later.  There are few people who could have leveraged nascent digital technology as profitably as Ellison has—he’s earned the right to spend his money as he see fit.  His Japanese art collection is nothing short of spectacular.

For an excellent overview on the 2010 race, The Wind Gods (2103), a new documentary film, airs this week on KRCB and is produced by Skydance Productions, a company run by Ellison’s son, David Ellison.

Details:  The America’s Cup trophy is on display from June 26 until 9 p.m. Thursday, June 27, 2013.  In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection  runs June 28-Septmeber 2013.  The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street (at Civic Center Plaza), San Francisco.  Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $20 Adults; $16 seniors, students; $8 youth 13-17 and free to 12 and under.   On weekends, admission is $2 more.  Parking: The Asian Art Museum does not have a parking facility, but it is served by the following parking facilities—all within walking distance of the museum: Civic Center Plaza Garage is the closest and most reasonably priced has 840 spaces. From Van Ness, turn left on McAllister.  Entrance is on McAllister, between Polk and Larkin Streets. Info: www.asianart.org.

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June 27, 2013 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marin artist Michael Schwab created a special “Gospel of Mary Magdalene” artwork for composer-librettist Mark Adamo—to be presented at the Tuesday, June 25th, performance at San Francisco Opera

Marin artist Michael Schwab created the commemorative poster for Mark Adamo’s opera “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” which has its world premiere at San Francisco Opera June 19-July 7, 2013. Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

Marin artist Michael Schwab created the commemorative poster for Mark Adamo’s “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” which has its world premiere at San Francisco Opera June 19-July 7, 2013. Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

Immediately following the Tuesday, June 25th performance of San Francisco Opera’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, San Francisco Opera General Director David Glockley will present composer-librettist Mark Adamo with a special commemorative artwork by Marin artist Michael Schwab.  Commissioned by SF Opera, Adamo’s opera had its world premiere at War Memorial Opera House last Wednesday.  And while the opera may have opened to mixed reviews, Schwab’s commemorative poster, featuring a bold image of Mary Magdalene with a golden halo against a warm brown background, is a huge hit.  The artwork is available as a limited edition poster, reproduced in two sizes, and is also featured on the cover of the Company’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene program book.  Last week, I had the pleasure of talking with Michael Schwab about his creative process and will be publishing that shortly.

From his studio in Marin, Michael Schwab has established a reputation as one of America’s leading graphic artists. His work is easily recognized by his signature use of large, flat areas of color, dramatic perspectives and bold, graphic images of archetypal human forms.  He has created award-winning images, posters, and logos for numerous clients, including the Golden Gate National Parks, Major League Baseball, Robert Mondavi, Muhammad Ali, Nike, Robert Redford, and most recently, the poster for the America’s Cup 2013 in San Francisco.  His previous collaborations with San Francisco Opera include posters for the Company’s 2011 Ring Cycle, Boris Godunov in 1992 and Nixon in China in 2012.

Michael Schwab “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” (2013) commissioned by San Francisco Opera as a special gift to composer-librettist Mark Adamo.  Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

Michael Schwab “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” (2013). Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

Schwab’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene poster is printed on archival fine art paper and is available as an 16″x24″ unsigned poster OR 16″x24″ signed and framed ($250) OR in size 24” x 36” signed, unframed ($150) or 24” x 36” framed, unsigned ($250) OR collector’s poster 24” x 36” signed and framed ($395)—all through the San Francisco Opera Shop at the War Memorial Opera House or online here.

Following the Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 8 p.m. performance of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Mark Adamo will be presented with a special version of the poster with a red background.

Details: San Francisco Opera’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene runs for seven performances June 19-July 7, 2013 at the War Memorial Opera House.  Tickets and information: www.sfopera.com. or call (415) 864-3330.

June 24, 2013 Posted by | Art, Opera | , , , , | Leave a comment

Lovely for the ears and the eyes—Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” is charming in all regards, at San Francisco Opera through July 1, 2013

Don Alfonso (bass Marco Vinco, left) conspires with the maid Despina (former Adler Fellow, soprano Susannah Biller) to prove to Ferrando and Guglielmo that their two young fiancées are completely fickle and incapable of fidelity, as all women are.  Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

Don Alfonso (bass Marco Vinco, left) conspires with the maid Despina (former Adler Fellow, soprano Susannah Biller) to prove to Ferrando and Guglielmo that their two young fiancées are completely fickle and incapable of fidelity, as all women are. Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

It’s often said that Così fan tutte is Mozart’s opera score that comes closest to perfection and is Da Ponte’s most challenging libretto.  In José Maria Condemi’s production, directed by John Cox and beautifully-designed by Robert Perdziola, San Francisco Opera has found a delightful winner in its summer line-up.  The music and singing at last Tuesday’s performance were  glorious and the entire cast is youthful and composed of singers just forging their careers….how exciting to experience this opera acted out by young people, as they and their fickle follies were the focus of Mozart’s story.  Set in Belle Époque Monte Carlo in a luxury seaside hotel, with gorgeous sets, this co-production with Opéra Monte-Carlo premiered at SF Opera in 2005 and runs at War Memorial Opera House through July 1, 2013.  This is the final opera in the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy led by Nicola Luisotti following Le Nozzze di Figaro in 2010 and Don Giovanni in 2011.

This 1790 comedy of innocence and deception is a classic.  Don Alfonso (bass Marco Vinco), the cynical and worldly friend of two strapping young military officers, Ferrando (tenor Francesco Demuro) and Guglielmo (bass-baritone Philippe Sly), talks them into betting on the virtue of their sweethearts.  He contends that no woman is capable of fidelity and that if the two young men will do all he asks of them in 24 hours, he will prove it.  The men agree and a fantastic chain of deceit, disguise and desire is set in motion.  Their girlfriends, Fiordiligi (soprano  Ellie Dehn ) and Dorabella (mezzo soprano, Christel Lötzsch), two sisters, are loyal beyond reproach…until their men leave.   With Despina, the meddling chambermaid, stirring the pot, the women succumb to seduction..but… in the end, it all works itself out.

At last Tuesday’s performance, the clear stand-outs were Merola and Adler alumna, soprano Susannah Biller, as the maid Despina; Italian  bass Marco Vinco as Don Alfonso and Canadian bass-baritone Philippe Sly as the idealistic Guglielmo.  Not only was their singing exceptional, they had the necessary verve and charisma to carry off their satirical roles.

Susannah Biller’s bright-eyed Despina, the chambermaid who sees life and love for what they really are, was particularly comical as she consoled her mistresses and then coaxed them into betraying their fiancées.  Her Act I aria, “In uomini, in soldati,” was pointed and humorous and followed by a dazzling “Una donna a quindici anni,” in Act II.  Biller literally glows on stage and managed to grab the limelight through the entire performance.  In fall 2013, Biller will create the role of Selena St. George in the Company’s world-premiere presentation of Tobias Picker’s Delores Clairborne.

Cosi 4

After heroic suffering, the two sisters, Dorabella (Mezzo soprano Christel Lötzsch) and Fiordiligi (Soprano Ellie Dehn), share a laugh over the notion of cheating on their two fiancées. Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

Marco Vinco, as Don Alfonso, the driving character in the opera, was most delightful when singing with Biller (Despina), especially when he initially enlisted her in his scheme and slipped her a bribe and explained that his two rich friends needed consoling.  The two were in perfect sync, and while he doesn’t have any major arias, Vinco’s natural charisma and gestures made his every move noteworthy.  Vinco made his SF Opera and U.S. debut as the wild;y entertaining Leoporello in 2011’s Don Giovanni.

First year Adler Fellow, the French-Canadian lyric baritone, Philippe Sly, proved on Tuesday that he has it all—he’s a tall hunk with curly blond hair who happens to be a natural at acting.  His voice is as sweet and distinct as it is powerful.  I was sitting in Orchestra Row H and even at this close distance, I noticed that as soon as he sang, the ladies round me raised their opera glasses to inspect the goods.

Soprano Ellie Dehn, as Fiordiligi, and German mezzo soprano, Christel Lötzsch, in her U.S. operatic debut as Dorabella, were a bit stiff in their acting but warmed as the evening progressed.  Since a lot of the joy in this opera involves watching the transformations the various characters undergo, the ability to act is as essential as the singing. Ellie Dehn’s lyrical Act II “Per Pietá” (“Have Pity”) had a wonderful resonance in the low notes.  Lötzsch’s Act II aria, “È amore un ladroncello” (“Love is a little thief”) was her best of the evening.  Tenor Francesco Demuro was delightful as Ferrando but couldn’t hold a candle next to the more polished Philippe Sly.

As the two men left, and the ladies and Don Alfonso bid them farewell (Act I); their trio, “Soave sia il vento,” one of most moving songs in all of music, did not disappoint.  Suffused with the beauty of the orchestra, their voices melded in rapture. “On your voyage, may the winds be gentle; may the waves be calm; may all the elements respond to your desires…”  If he’d done little else in his career than write this three-minute song, Mozart would have been famous…but, for him, it represented just one song in his 600+ works that are accounted for.

From L to R—Philippe Sly (Guglielmo), Christel Lötzsch (Dorabella), Ellie Dehn (Fiordiligi), Francesco Demuro (Ferrando)and Susannah Biller (Despina) in a scene where Despina disguised as a doctor uses an invention to draw out poison and urges the sisters to nurse their two patients (their fiancées who are disguised as Albanian sailors) back to health.  Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

From L to R—Philippe Sly (Guglielmo), Christel Lötzsch (Dorabella), Ellie Dehn (Fiordiligi), Francesco Demuro (Ferrando)and Susannah Biller (Despina) in a scene where Despina disguised as a doctor uses an invention to draw out poison and urges the sisters to nurse their two patients (their fiancées who are disguised as Albanian sailors) back to health. Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

The special recitative accompaniment— Luisotti on fortepiano, Giuseppe Finzi on harpsichord, Thalia Moore on cello, and baroque specialist Michael Leopold on theorbo—with a custom sound for each set of characters, courtesy of Luisotti, was quite creative and energetic.  From Row H, I was actually able to see a lot of the finger work entailed in playing these instruments which made it all the more exciting.

Perdziola’s costumes for Fiordiligi and Dorabella were inspired by the costumes of the Ballets Russes as well as by designer Paul Poiret and other WWI-era illustrators.  Executed in pastel shades, some with loads of non-flattering pleats and bold vertical stripes, we can be thankful that era is over.

The gorgeous sets, superbly lit by Christopher Maravich, were more effective.  From the opening scene in the casino of the luxury hotel, to the panoramic seaside with its candy-cane colored striped umbrellas and coastal town in the background,  to the sister’s lavish hotel suite with its lovely Klimt-like paintings adorning the walls, the colors and details (a vase of giant red oriental poppies in the girl’s suite) were magical.  In one scene, when the two men, disguised as Albanians, rowed up the center of the stage on a boat and right into the hotel, the crowd gasped with delight.

Act II: in one of “Cosi’s” most beautiful scenes, Ferrando (tenor Francesco Demuro) and Guglielmo (bass-baritone Philippe Sly), disguised as two Albanian soldiers, arrive by boat on a moonlit night, to be married to the two sisters.  Cropped image.  Original Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

Act II: in one of “Cosi’s” most beautiful scenes, Ferrando (tenor Francesco Demuro) and Guglielmo (bass-baritone Philippe Sly), disguised as two Albanian soldiers, arrive by boat on a moonlit night, to be married to the two sisters. Cropped image. Original Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy San Francisco Opera.

Details:  Così Fan Tutte  runs through July 1, 2013 at War Memorial Opera House. 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: The 4 remaining performances of Così Fan Tutte are June 21 (8 p.m.); June 26 (7:30 p.m.); July 1 (7:30 p.m.) Nicola Luisotti conducts all performances.  Tickets: $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330 or purchase online.  Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.

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:  Two garages are very close to War Memorial Opera House— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“MUNCH 150”—the new Munch exhibition from Norway comes to the big screen—Thursday, June 27, 2013 at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas with encore Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Edvard Munch's "The Scream," (1893), National Museum, Oslo @Munch Museum)

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” (1893), National Museum, Oslo @Munch Museum)

This year, all of Norway is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edvard Munch (1863-1944) master of emotion, alienation and loss.  The exhibition, Munch 150, co-hosted by Oslo’s National Museum and the Munch Museum, which opened on June 2, 2013, has been hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime show.   On Thursday, June 27, 2013, at 7:00 p.m., Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol will bring the exhibition and its fascinating back-story right to Sonoma County with the event film, EXHIBITION: Munch 150, with an encore presentation on Wednesday, July 3 at 1:00 pm.

With 220 paintings on display, the sesquicentennial exhibition brings together the greatest number of Munch’s key works ever, including works from the Norwegian’s debut as a 20-year-old in 1883 until he stopped painting just before his death in 1944.  Highlights include near-complete reconstructions of The Frieze of Life (1902) and The Reinhardt Frieze (1906–1907).  In Oslo, these paintings have been liberated from their heavy frames and re-composed into the epic emotional odyssey – the visual novel of a life and of an age – that Munch had originally planned.

The event film, hosted by art historian and cultural commentator, Tim Marlow, goes behind-the-scenes with the curators, art historians and conservators in Oslo who know Munch’s work best and provide crystalline analysis of the artworks and their art historical context.  The planning and hanging of this epic two-venue exhibition is explored at the National Gallery, where Munch’s works from 1882-1903 are exhibited, and at the Munch Museum, where his works from 1904-1944 are on display.

The film also provides an in-depth biography of Munch who lived from the mid-19th century right through to the German occupation of Norway in the Second World War.  When Expressionism arrived in Europe, Munch was a significant and recognized pioneer of this new epoch.  His oil paintings produced during the 1890’s have always attracted the most attention but Munch created a number of masterpieces in the 20th century as well.

Of course, the Scream (Skrik), is given in-depth coverage—from its relationship to The Frieze of Life (1902) series, to the composition’s central iconic figure and its agitated background that undulates with strokes of pure color, to its enduring psychological resonance.   The Scream was originally painted onto cardboard using a mixed media of tempera, oils and pastels in 1893.  Munch recreated this particular painting twice in oils and twice in pastels between 1893 and 1910 as well as a Lithograph in 1895.  Originals are so highly sought after they have been stolen and recovered several times.  On May 3, 2012, the one Scream painting that remained in private hands set a public art auction record of $119.9 million when it was sold at Sotheby’s New York.

Edvard Munch, "Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine," 1906, Munch Museum, Oslo, @Munch Museum

Edvard Munch, “Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine,” 1906, Munch Museum, Oslo, @Munch Museum

EXHIBITION host Tim Marlow seems to get better with each successive exhibition film he hosts and interviews numerous Munch luminaries in Oslo who offer their expert insight and knowledge on this exceptional show.  ARThound is interested in knowing if these excellent cine-art experiences actually stimulate viewers to go and seek out art on their own.  Nothing can replace the magic of seeing an artwork up close and in person.

Run-time:  One hour and 20 minutes

More on Munch:   The National Museum of Oslo has put together a great timeline of Munch’s life, illustrated with artworks, click here.

ARThound scoop:  One special fact about Munch was that he took his dog with him to the cinema; if the dog barked, he left, as the film was obviously not up to it.

Details: MUNCH 150 screens Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 7 p.m. with an encore Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at 1 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas, 6868 McKinley Street, Sebastopol.  Tickets: $14.00 Adults; $12.50 Seniors (62+) and Children (11 and under). The Box Office opens daily 15 minutes prior to the first show of the day. To purchase tickets online from Rialto, click here.  Note:  The seating for this performance is general admission, so arrive early to get the seat of your choice.

Coming to Rialto in October: Vermeer and Music—The next event film in the art exhibition series is on October 10, 2012 (encore October 16, 2013) at the Rialto Cinemas and takes place at the National Gallery in London where audiences will see a unique perspective on the exhibition, Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure (June 26-September 8, 2013) which showcases three masterpieces of Johannes Vermeer brought together for the first time— A Young Woman standing at a Virginal and A Young Woman seated at a Virginal (both owed by the National Gallery) and Guitar Player (on loan from the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House.) (Click here for more information and to by tickets.)

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Lavender Season! See it, Savor it, and Discover it at Matanzas Creek Winery’s 17th Annual “Days of Wine & Lavender,” Saturday, June 29th

Matanzas Creek Winery's Lavender Garden features over 5,000 lavender plants. Terraced rows of the cultivars "Grosso" and "Provence" line the winery's entrance and are the basis of its Estate Grown Lavender product line.  Guests at "Days of Wine and Lavender" stroll the gardens while sampling crisp sauvignon blancs, luxurious chardonnays and fruity, earthy merlots.

Matanzas Creek Winery’s Lavender Garden features over 4,500 lavender plants. Terraced rows of the cultivars “Grosso” and “Provence” line the winery’s entrance and are the basis of its Estate Grown Lavender product line. Guests at “Days of Wine and Lavender” stroll the gardens while sampling crisp sauvignon blancs, luxurious chardonnays and fruity, earthy merlots.

Aside from its beauty, there are few things more sensual and soothing than the aroma of lavender in full bloom.  Whether you prefer to casually take in the sweetness in the air or rub your fingers over its sticky flowering stalks, the experience is magical.  Matanzas Creek Winery’s 17th annual “Days of Wine & Lavender” festival is Saturday, June 29, 2013 and offers an unforgettable afternoon, an immersion of the senses, as guests stroll through the winery’s two-acre lavender gardens while sipping Matanzas Creek’s bright and refreshing wines. With its more than 4,500 individual lavender plantings creating a sea of purple and perfuming the air, the bucolic Bennett Valley estate, set in the rolling golden hills of Sonoma County, is an oasis of respite.

There are lavender festivals popping up all over Sonoma but “Days of Wine and Lavender” is known for keeping it small, manageable, elegant, so tickets are limited, and those who come once tend to return year after year.  The fine cuisine keeps many coming back.  A highlight of this year’s event will be Michelin-starred Chef, Douglas Keane’s special epicurean pairings designed for the winery’s Journey wine collection.  Since closing his acclaimed four-star Cyrus, Keane has been managing his Healdsburg Bar & Grill and he’ll be one of the chef contenders on season five of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, competing for a $100,000 donation to his Green Dog Rescue Project charity.  The festival will also feature a menu created by the estate culinary team, including dishes with estate-grown lavender as a culinary ingredient.  Past scrumptious delicacies have included Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates Chef Eric
Frischkorn’s
homemade artisan breads delicately flavored with lavender and Executive Chef Justin Wangler’s inventive use of lavender in grilled dishes such as Lavender Honey Glazed Scallops or Lavender Roasted Leg of Lamb with Confit Fingerling Potatoes.  Paired food stations will be set-up around the winery for guests to see how the food is prepared and then sample as many items and as many times as they like.  This is an excellent opportunity to observe how salt rubs, concentrated oils, and lavender grilling sticks are used by the pros.

Winemaker Marcia Monahan will lead guests through a sensory exploration of several of the winery’s distinct Sauvignon Blanc wines.  Additionally, renowned oyster guru, Rowan Jacobsen, author of A Geography of Oysters…the 2008 James Beard Award winning guide to all things oysters, will demonstrate how to pair oysters Matanzas Creek’s different handcrafted wines.

Other activities include a showcase of the winery’s lavender barn and lavender product-making techniques, a sneak peak of new wine releases, culinary demonstrations, beekeeping demonstrations and lavender-infused honey tastings by Marshall’s Farm, sustainability tours of the estate, chair massages and live music.

Matanzas Creek’s small-batch lavender luxury bath and body care products are crafted with the same care and dedication that goes into their wine.  The Lavender/Chamomile Soothing Balm ($13.50/ 2 oz) is an all-purpose highly-aromatic balm that is perfect for healing and soothing sun-exposed skin, sore muscles, and nourishing dry skin.  Just a dab goes a long way and it makes the perfect gift.

Details: Saturday June 29th, noon to 4 p.m. Tickets: $95 General Public and $75 Wine Club members.  Advance ticket purchase is essential as the festival sells out in advance each year.  To purchase tickets, click here.  Matanzas Creek Winery is located at 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA  95404   For more information, phone: 800 590-6464

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding her story in China’s troubled history—artist Hung Liu’s retrospective, “Summoning Ghosts,” at the Oakland Museum of CA, closes June 30, 2013

Hung Liu's work , "The Heroines," from 2012, addresses patriotic stories in Chinese picture books, or "xiaorenshu," from her childhood.  oil on canvas, 96 x 160 inches, Collection of Hung Liu and Jeff Kelley.

Hung Liu’s “The Heroines” (2012), is part of a new body of work that revisits patriotic stories in Chinese picture books from her childhood. Like little graphic novels, these picture books told stories of heroic figures and deeds, with an eerie propaganda supplanting the charming fable. These new paintings can be understood as homages to all the artists who lost their art during China’s revolutionary epoch. (oil on canvas, 96 x 160 inches, Collection of Hung Liu and Jeff Kelley).

The ghosts of the Cultural Revolution, the tragedy of Tiananmen, the horror of the 2008 Sichuan Province earthquake, her mother’s death, treasured images from childhood comics—all these are revived in artist Hung Lui’s first major retrospective, Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu at the Oakland Museum of CA (OMCA) through Sunday, June 30, 2013.  Hung Liu, now 65 and newly retired from 20 years of teaching painting at Mills College, is the most accomplished Chinese-born American artist of her generation.  The exhibition explores her creative output from age five through the present.   Together for the first time are 40 of her large-scale portraits of women, children, the elderly, workers—nameless victims of history.  Surrounded by birds and mythical creatures, floral motifs, symbols of past and present Chinese culture, and things an innocuous as bubbles, these vibrant gestural portraits are teaming with spirit energy and copious spills and drips of paint, evoking the blur of fading memories. Hung Liu rescues the disenfranchised from the oblivion of history, celebrating them without diminishing the suffering that has characterized their lives.

Hung Liu was born in 1948 and came of age in Beijing in the repressive era of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.  Her father, an intellectual, was imprisoned and, at age 20, after finishing high school, she was sent to a labor camp in the countryside for four years of “re-education” where she worked with peasants in the rice and wheat fields.  Instead of crushing her, as it did so many, she used these traumatic experiences to fuel a vital inner flame which she kept burning as she resumed life in Beijing and studied and taught art.  Many years later, she was able to emigrate to the U.S. in 1984, at age 36.  She arrived with two suitcases and $20 and pursued an art education on scholarship at Visual Arts Department of UC San Diego.  Within a year, she had connected with Allan Kaprow and was participating in several of his happenings.   Summoning Ghosts, organized by René de Guzman, OMCA Senior Curator of Art, presents Hung Liu’s compelling life story, told through her artworks, as well as the larger human story of the souls crushed in China’s slow crawl to superpower status. It’s an unflinching and remarkably vital story of humanity.

Painted in the aftermath of 9/11, "September 2001"  depicts a traditionally-rendered Song dynasty duck crashing through the face of a young Chinese bride, each image disintegrating into the other. (2001, oil on canvas, 66 x 66  inches.  collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky.)

Painted in the aftermath of 9/11, “September 2001” depicts a traditionally-rendered Song dynasty duck crashing through the face of a young Chinese bride, each image disintegrating into the other. (2001, oil on canvas, 66 x 66 inches. collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky.)

"Mu Nu" (“Mother and Daughter”), 1997, is one of several large-scale paintings that addresses Chinese women at work in stooped labor and domestic chores. (oil on canvas, 80 x 140 inches, Collection of Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art).

“Mu Nu” (“Mother and Daughter”), 1997, is one of several large-scale paintings that addresses Chinese women at work in stooped labor and domestic chores. (oil on canvas, 80 x 140 inches, Collection of Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art).

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Video Clips of Hung Liu in discussion with OMCA’s René de Guzman (all from the March 14, 2013 press conference)

Early Work: 

In 1968, as part of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, Liu, who had just completed high school, was sent for four years of re-education in the Chinese countryside which entailed manual labor under grueling conditions.  With a borrowed camera, she photographed the peasants with whom she lived and worked in the fields and also drew their portraits.  The film was kept undeveloped for decades until 2010, when she became interested in printing at these images.  She also kept portraits she had made of the local farmers and their families and they are on display.  In the video-clip below, Hung Liu discusses these photos.

Current work:

ARThound’s previous coverage of Hung Liu and “Summoning Ghosts:”  CAAMFest 2013—Jin Dan’s masterpiece “When the Bough Breaks,” examines upward mobility’s downward emotional toll on a Chinese migrant family as days, months, years pass

Special Docent Tours:  each Sunday at 1 p.m., through June 30, 2103, knowledgeable docents will walk visitors through the exhibition, sharing insights about Hung Lui’s processes and artworks.  Meet in front of the Great Hall lobby.   Free with museum admission.

Details:  The Oakland Museum of California is located at 1000 Oak Street, Oakland.  Open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m, except Fridays when the museum is open until 9 p.m. Admission is $12 general, $9 seniors and students with valid ID.  Parking: Enter the Museum’s garage entrance on Oak Street between 10th and 12th streets.  Parking is just $1/hour with Museum validation. Parking without validation is $2.50/hour. Bring your ticket to the Ticketing booth on Level 2 for validation.

June 11, 2013 Posted by | Art, Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: San Francisco Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” at San Francisco Opera through July 6, 2013

 

Mezzo-soprano Angela Brower sparkles as Nicklausse, Hoffmann’s friend, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”  Photo  ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Mezzo-soprano Angela Brower sparkles as Nicklausse, Hoffmann’s friend, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.” Photo ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

At last Wednesday’s opening performance of Offenbach’s classic, The Tales of Hoffmann (Les Contes d’Hoffmann), at San Francisco Opera, it was Olympia (soprano Hye Jung Lee), the mechanical doll,  who stole the hearts of the audience and mezzo-soprano Angela Brower who triumphed in her remarkable company debut as the Muse/Nicklausse.  Lee seemed to flutter magically across the stage, singing gleefully and hitting incredibly high notes with precision.  For Brower, who sings throughout the entire opera, it was an act of wooing the audience with the sheer beauty of her voice. 

This is French director, Laurent Pelly’s new co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, and L’Opéra National de Lyon which had its premiere in Barcelona earlier this year. The libretto is by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, based on the integral edition of the opera by Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck.  The story takes real life German poet E.T.A. Hoffmann and places him in three stories of failed love.  Singing the title role is tenor Matthew Polenzani, whom many will recognize from his lead role in Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, the delightful comic opera that opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2012 season and was transmitted to millions via “Live in HD.”   He was joined by the French soprano Natalie Dessay, as Antionia; Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee as Olympia; mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts as Giuletta in her company debut, and American mezzo-soprano Angela Brower as the Muse, disguised as Hoffmann’s dear friend Nicklausse. 

The opera’s staging, with set designs by Chantal Thomas, based on the moody work of the Belgian symbolist painter Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946) was exquisite in its simplicity.  Massive blue walls framed the action and then angularly closed in or moved out, just like the cropping tool in Photoshop, resulting in refreshing new orientations.  Low lighting bathed the set, evoking a dream-like space which lent itself to the dark tone of the story.  Since 1988, Thomas has collaborated with Pelly in roughly 40 productions and two seem to be in harmony.  Her ingenious Act II staging for Olympia the mechanical doll, which employed wonderfully zany machinery to spirit the doll across the stage, brought down the house.

Tenor Mathew Polenzani immediately caught my attention in the Prologue with his Il ètait une fois à la cour d’Eisenach, Hoffmann’s ballad about the dwarf Kleinzach, which sets the stage for his mind to wonder back to beautiful women and his love life.  Throughout the evening he was in top form with lively and powerful singing but less commendable acting—on many occasions, it was hard to actually feel the love whose loss he was lamenting.

The surprise stand-out of the evening was American mezzo-soprano Angela Brower in her company debut as the Muse, disguised as Hoffmann’s dear friend and constant companion Nicklausse.  In a move that is truly operatic, Bower stepped in rather later to replace Alice Coote in the production.  She nailed it from the moment she stepped on stage, showing a real command of the role’s vocal and dramatic requirements and trumping most of the other better-known singers with her powerful voice, capable of such sweet and tender emotion.    Her Act I aria Une poupèe aux yeux d’èmail was lush and energetic.  Sung in the eccentric scientist Spalanzani’s parlor room, it warns Hoffman of a mechanical doll that looked human but fell in love with a copper bird.  Brower comes to San Francisco fresh from her success in the role last season at the Bayerische Staastoper opposite Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazón— a performance that was broadcast on European television and captured for DVD.  She is an ensemble member of the Bayerische Staatsoper.   She was also quite lovely in her Act III duet with mezzo Irene Roberts, Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amou.

If you saw nothing but Act I, Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee’s Olympia, the mechanical doll, it would have been worth the price of admission.  Lee, a Merola Program alumna, dazzled SF Opera audiences last summer with her company debut performance as Madame Mao in John Adams’ Nixon in China.  As Olympia, she outdid herself.   Dressed in a silver gown, she fluttered around the stage, legless, leaving the audience to wonder how  it was happening.   She then took to the floor.  Wearing hidden inline skates, she glided all around the stage, literally running circles around Hoffmann, all while hitting notes in the stratospheric range of E and F with precision.  The audience gave her, and the ingenious device which served as her chariot, a well-deserved long ovation with several whoops and whistles.

Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee as the mechanical doll, Olympia, and tenor Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”  Photo  ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee as the mechanical doll, Olympia, and tenor Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.” Photo ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

It’s been six years since Natalie Dessay’s San Francisco Opera debut, and sole Bay Area appearance, in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor.  She was enchanting in Wednesday’s Act II as “Antonia,” and despite a noticeable decline in her upper register; she was lovely in her mid-range throughout the entire performance.  Offenbach intended that the four soprano roles be played by the same singer, for Olympia, Giulietta and Antonia are three facets of Stella, Hoffmann’s unattainable love.  Dessay was originally scheduled to sing all three, a feat that only a few—like Beverly Sills and Edita Gruberoa—had pulled off in the past.  Apparently, she pulled back after re-evaluating where her voice stands.  She was wonderful in C’est une chanson d’amour, her love duet with Hoffmann.  Its drama was heightened by the wizardry of the staging which transformed yet again, pulling them apart from each other into separate balconies where they sang longingly to each other.

There’s just one Dessay.  Anyone familiar with her performances can’t help but love the verve and mettle this petite French dynamo brings to any role, many of which have been made accessible through the Met’s “Live in HD” telecasts.  A special turn of her head, the flash of her eyes, a quick dash—I was living for identifiable “Dessay moves” and there were many.   Her trio with her mother’s ghost (Margaret Mezzacappa) and Dr. Miracle (Christian Van Horn) was also lovely vocally but the creepy projected image of the ghost cast such a dark pallor over the idea of a benevolent spirit, that it was hard to feel the love connection between Antonia and her late mother.  Copyright law prohibits a reproduction of the program cover which features Spilliaert’s intensely dark and oppressive self-portrait from 1907-8 where he seems to be transitioning into an angel of death.  The heavy milieu of this work seemed to fuel this very disturbing and macabre video projection.

Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann and Natalie Dessay as his frail love Antonia, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”  Photo  ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann and Natalie Dessay as his frail love Antonia, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.” Photo ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Tenor Steven Cole imbued his four servant roles (Frantz, Andres, Cohenille, Pittichinaccio) with distinct personality as did bass-baritone Christian Van Horne, who sang his villainous roles (Lindorf, Coppélius, Miracle, and Dapertutto) with aplomb, especially Dapertutto’s difficult Act III Scintille, diamant.  As Stella, Hoffmann’s Milanese love interest, Adler Fellow Jacqueline Piccolino ended the long evening with a burst of bright energy.

Patrick Fournillier’s conducting was impressive throughout.  He kept the orchestra under rein while evoking a beautiful and vibrant sound.

Details:  The Tales of Hoffmann runs through July 6, 2013 at War Memorial Opera House. 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: The eight remaining performances of The Tales of Hoffmann are June 11 (8 p.m.); June 14 (8 p.m.); June 20 (7:30 p.m.); June 23 (2 p.m.); June 27 (7:30 p.m.); June 30 (2 p.m.); July 3 (7:30 p.m.); and July 6 (8 p.m.)  Click here to see cast scheduling information.  Tickets: $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330 or purchase online.  Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.

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:  Two garages are very close to War Memorial Opera House— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

Cast:

Hoffman—Matthew Polenzani

Antonia—Natalie Dessay

Olympia—Hye Jung Lee

Giuletta—Irene Roberts

Stella—Jacqueline Piccolino

Nicklausse, The Muse—Angela Bower

Coppélius, Dapertutto, Dr. Miracle, Lindorf—Christian Van Horn

Frantz, Andres, Cohenille, Pittichinaccio—Steven Cole

Antonia’s Mother—Margaret Mezzacappa

Spalanzani—Thomas Glenn

Crespel—James Creswell

Nathanael—Matthew Grills

Hermann—Joo Won Kang

Schemil, Luther—Hadleigh Adams

Creative Team:

Conductor—Patrick Fournillier

Director—Laurent Pelly

Set Designer—Chantal Thomas

Lighting Designer—Joël Adam

Associate Director—Christian Räth

New libretto version/ dramaturg—Agathe Mélinand

Chorus Director—Ian Robertson

 

June 11, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hallelujah! Rufus Wainwright solos at Davies Symphony Hall Sunday, June 9, 2013

Rufus Wainwright performs solo at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday, June 9, 2013.  Image: courtesy SF Symphony

Rufus Wainwright performs solo at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday, June 9, 2013. Image: courtesy SF Symphony

Whether it’s folk, pop, opera, languid ballads like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” or acting on the big screen—no matter what he’s up to—vocalist and songwriter Rufus Wainwright remains one of the most unique and fascinating performing artists around.  Luminous, he seems to radiate intoxicating otherworldliness, coupled with sadness and loneliness that make it almost impossible to take one’s eyes off of him when he’s performing.  And that voice!  It ranges from the depths of bass to soaring tenor heights.  Affectionately referred to by Elton John as “the greatest songwriter on the planet” and praised by The New York Times for his “genuine originality,” Grammy nominee Wainwright, 39, has established himself as one of the greats of his generation.  Wainwright performs solo and will accompany himself on the piano and guitar, Sunday, June 9, 2013 at Davies Symphony Hall.

A frequent performer in Bay Area venues including Davies Symphony Hall throughout his career, Wainwright performed with the SF Symphony in 2010 under conductor Michael Francis, premiering Five Shakespeare Sonnets, Wainwright’s own large scale orchestrations of five of the eleven songs he composed for a theatrical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets with director Robert Wilson.  If Sunday’s performance takes anything from his last appearance at Davies, it will be Wainwright’s genius with messing with form to create songs that bear his own stamp.  Following several significant and dramatic events in his life—the birth of his daughter, Viva, who was conceived with childhood friend Lorca Cohen, the daughter of Leonard Cohen; the death of his mother, Canadian folk-singer Kate McGarrigle; and his engagement (and subsequent marriage) to partner Jorn Weisbrodt—his seventh studio album, Out of the Game, was released in 2012 with the input of a new collaborator, celebrated British producer and DJ, Mark Ronson.  It’s been hailed as his “pop recording” but it’s far from reductive.  He plays guitar and produces songs that allude to 1950s rock, light 1970s funk, Southern California folk-pop and music hall by way of the Beatles.  “But even in his closest approach to current pop — “Bitter Tears,” with synthesizer chords and a thumping Euro dance beat — Mr. Wainwright is still stubbornly himself.” (Jon Pareles, New York Times 5.10.2012)

OPERA, stubbornly:  Wainwright’s life is the stuff of opera—child of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, he was raised in an atmosphere where the creative juices and drama flowed freely.  His first opera, Prima Donna, was quite an undertaking for someone with no formal music education—it premiered at the Manchester International Festival in 2009 and had its North American debut in Toronto at the Luminato Festival in 2010.   In 2008, Wainwright made the news when the language of the libretto got him in a dispute with its would-be commissioners— the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theatre.  Wainwright wanted the opera to be in French but the sponsors insisted that a new opera should be in English as their respective creative teams all were native English speakers and the accompanying creative workshops would all be conducted in English.   They also proposed a very late—2014—production date.  Wainwright so said, “no thank you” and then promptly moved on, achieving his vision.  Prima Donna poster

Prima Donna, written in French with English subtitles (and co-written by Bernadette Colomine), follows an acclaimed, but forgotten soprano, Regine Saint Laurent, who is preparing a return to the stage in the role she was known for, “Alienor d’Aquitaine.”   Convinced her voice is forever gone, Regine has high anxiety about reprising the role. In her quasi-deranged state, she latches on to a young journalist who is all too ready to lavish attention on her.  The New York Times said, “There are inspired touches and disarmingly beautiful passages in this mysterious, stylistically eclectic work in Rufus Wainwright’s first opera…” The London Times declared, “…the Canadian singer-songwriter hasn’t just written an opera. He’s written a love song to opera, soaked in the perennial operatic themes of loss, betrayal, delusion and nostalgia, and saturated in the musical styles of opera’s golden age.” Excerpts have been performed with the Oregon Symphony for The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival and at the Royal Opera House in London. The work received a 2011 Dora Award for Outstanding New Musical/Opera and made its U.S. debut in 2012 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House.

Director George Scott also made a fascinating documentary “Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna” (2009, 60 min), which airs periodically on the Sundance Channel and delves into Wainwright’s forays with opera long before his first formal opera, Prima Donna was conceived.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: “Prima Donna” documentary trailer

COMMEMORATIVE FILM:  Australian actress and documentary filmmaker Lian Lunson’s Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You: A Concert for Kate McGarrigle  (2012, 107 min) produced a lush and intimately shot hybrid documentary/concert film on Wainwright’s mother, Canadian folk legend, Kate McGarrigle, who passed in January 2010 of Clear-cell sarcoma.  The film screened at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival in May 2013 and weaves many treasured clips of Wainwright performing as a child, as a young adult and with his sister, Martha Wainwright into the tribute.  The May 2011 concert, the subject of Lunson’s film, was hosted by Rufus and Martha Wainwright in honor of their late mother at New York City’s Town Hall Theatre.  It features performances of McGarrigle songs both famous (e.g. “Heart Like A Wheel”) and obscure (e.g. “I Am A Diamond”).  Accompanying the Wainwright siblings in this performance are such friends and admirers as Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Fallon, Norah Jones, and Michael Ondaatje.  Rufus and Martha sing most of the songs and speak in several pre-taped vignettes interspersed between songs.  Their voices resonate with sadness and gratitude in this mesmerizing portrait of their mother.

Wainwright has also acted in Academy Award-winning director Deny Arcand’s film, L’Age des Tenebres (2007), the Merchan-Ivory film Heights (2005), and the major blockbuster The Aviator (2004), directed by Martin Scorsese.

A scene from Lian Lunson's documentary “Sing Me The Songs that Say I Love You” (2012), which features Rufus and Martha Wainwright performing in and hosting a tribute concert in May 2011, at New York City’s Town Hall Theatre, to their late mother, Canadian folk singer, Kate McGarrigle.  The film screened at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival in May 2013.  Photo courtesy San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Lian Lunson’s documentary “Sing Me The Songs that Say I Love You” (2012), which features Rufus and Martha Wainwright performing in and hosting a tribute concert in May 2011, at New York City’s Town Hall Theatre, to their late mother, Canadian folk singer, Kate McGarrigle. The film screened at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival in May 2013. Photo courtesy San Francisco Film Society

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT performs Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (Live at The Fillmore)

CONCERT DETAILS:

Pre- and post-show Events—Come early, relax, and treat yourself at the Tier with a Twist on the Second Tier. A fresh way to take in a concert this summer, the Tier with a Twist offers food and drinks in the updated Second Tier bar. The added bonus? Take your beverage to your seat and use the free wifi!  It’s the Second Tier—with a twist.

Tickets and information: “An Evening with Rufus Wainright” is Sunday, June 9, 2013 at 8 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall.  Tickets: $22-88. For tickets and information, visit www.sfsymphony.org  or phone at (415) 864-6000.

Getting to Davies:  Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall.  The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.  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:  Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

June 5, 2013 Posted by | Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Berkeley Rep’s ‘Dear Elizabeth”—two poets bonded through letters

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“More than kisses,” wrote the great English poet, John Donne, “letters mingle souls.”   And if ever two souls were mingled, it would be those of acclaimed American 20th century poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell  who exchanged letters for three decades.   While the two never had a romantic or sexual relationship, they had a vibrant long-distance friendship conducted largely via snail mail that was every bit as entangled as a marriage.  From 1947 until Lowell’s death in 1977, they exchanged over 400 letters across oceans and continents, critically reflecting on each other’s poems, literature, and tracking the ups and downs of their careers—they both won Pulitzers—and relationships— his three marriages and her lesbian partnerships.  Dear Elizabeth  at Berkeley Repertory Theatre  is a play based entirely on these exquisite letters and it had its West Coast premiere at the Rhoda Theatre last Wednesday.

Dear Elizabeth is the latest collaboration between Brooklyn-based playwright Sarah Ruhl and artistic director Les Waters, the award-winning creators of Eurydice, Three Sisters, and In the Next Room (or the vibrator play).  Mary Beth Fisher is Elizabeth Bishop and Tom Nelis is Robert Lowell.  Both actors have their debut at Berkley Rep.  Fisher also played Elizabeth Bishop when the play had its world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre last December.  This lovely and well-crafted production consists entirely of the two talented actors reading letters aloud, with no dialogue in-between.  The letters themselves incisive snapshots of the lives they led, written in a conversational style which makes them easy to listen to.   It would not be surprising to learn they are filled with tidbits that never made their way into their poems.  Annie Smart’s set is little more than a shared literary study which changes slightly as they each change bases over the years.  It all works!  Ruhl has done such masterful job of selecting letters and passages, that their sharp intellects and quixotic artistic personalities take root and blossom, albeit quietly, as a conversation on stage.  Dear Elizabeth runs through July 7, 2013.

Sarah Ruhl and Les Waters return to Berkeley Rep with Dear Elizabeth, starring Mary Beth Fisher (left) and Tom Nelis as esteemed poets and lifelong friends Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.  Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

Sarah Ruhl and Les Waters return to Berkeley Rep with Dear Elizabeth, starring Mary Beth Fisher (left) and Tom Nelis as esteemed poets and lifelong friends Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell met each other in New York in 1947, through the poet and critic Randall Jarrell.  Lowell had just published his second book of poems, Lord Weary’s Castle, and Bishop her first, North & South.  Bishop later wrote that she “loved him at first sight.”  Lord Weary’s Castle won the Pulitzer Prize, and Lowell was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.  He frequently discussed his work with other poets, but Bishop did not. Their meeting was the first time she had discussed the nuts and bolts of her work with another poet and it was inspiring.  Something clicked in both of them; she wrote him in 1947 and he replied from Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York and she wrote back.   They became close and then closer still, at first admiring and critiquing each other’s work and then sharing more and more news of their personal lives.

While they both proposed to meet face to face, they rarely did, and instead conducted their treasured relationship from the safety of their writing desks where they seemed to take solace in just thinking of each other.  Of course, there were intrusions—Lowell’s various girlfriends, his three wives and children, his battles with booze and his episodes of manic depression which, more than once, led to his institutionalization.   All his “news” was packed into letters which at times seemed to floor and worry Bishop who doted on him but always maintained a brutally honesty about his work. Bishop, a lesbian, was more of a rolling stone, and couldn’t seem to stay long in one place until she met Brazilian aristocrat Lotta de Macedo Soares in Brazil and settled into a 12 year relationship that ended with Lotta’s suicide.

Over the years, missing each other became a central complaint, especially for the more volatile Lowell who wrote, “We seem attached to each other by some stiff piece of wire, so that each time one moves, the other moves in another direction.”

Fisher and Nelis, who spend a great deal of the play seated side by side at a large desk, have a chemistry that works, conveying both warmth and respect.  Fisher, who looks a bit school-marmish, is particularly adept at capturing the shyness, reserve and loneliness that plagued Bishop.  After Lotta’s suicide, there were episodes of alcohol abuse so severe that Bishop would fall and injure herself.  Fisher also conveys Bishop’s wry sense of humor.  Nelis captures the grandiose and dark aspects of Lowell, who spirals in and out of functionality but uses all his experiences as literary compost…he turns the most elegant lines!   You’ll hear a few of these but the play mainly sticks to excerpts of their letters.  The correspondence between Bishop and Lowell on which the play is based, Words in Air, was published in 2008.

Annie Smart’s sets combine with Russell Champa’s lush lighting to create magical moments of visual poetry.

The biggest take-away is a renewed appreciation for these two gifted poets and the complexity and beauty of their bond.  Did they flirt with the idea of taking it further, of calling it “love”?  In 1957, after one of their few visits crashed and burned, he penned that asking her to marry him was the biggest might have been of his life. Late in his life, Lowell wrote “I seem to spend my life missing you.”   Thankfully, for our sake, Bishop ignored him.  How many great letters have you written your spouse once you settled into a relationship?

Sarah Ruhl and Les Waters return to Berkeley Rep with Dear Elizabeth, starring Mary Beth Fisher (left) and Tom Nelis as esteemed poets and lifelong friends Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.  Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

Sarah Ruhl and Les Waters return to Berkeley Rep with Dear Elizabeth, starring Mary Beth Fisher (left) and Tom Nelis as esteemed poets and lifelong friends Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

Run-time is 1 hour and 45 minutes with one 15 minute intermission

Creative Team:  Written by Sarah Ruhl.  Directed by Les Waters

Designed by Annie Smart (sets), Maria Hooper (costumes), Russell Champa (lighting), Bray Poor (sound), and Hannah Wasileski (projections)

Starring: Mary Beth Fisher and Tom Nelis

Special Events:

Tastings: Sunday 7/7 @ 6:00 PM (Semifreddi’s)

Post-show discussions: Thursday 6/13, Tuesday 6/18, and Friday 6/28 @ 8:00 PM

Docents: talks on Tuesdays and Thursdays @ 7:00 PM; discussions after all matinees

Details: Dear Elizabeth runs through July 7, 2013 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley. Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre is located at 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley (near the intersection of Addison and Shattuck Avenue), Berkeley, CA 94704.  Performances:  Tuesday-Sunday, with additional weekend matinee performances.  Tickets: $29 -$77. Call box office at 510-647-2949 or purchase online at www.berkeleyrep.org.

Parking: paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $3 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM or all day on Saturday or Sunday when your garage-issued parking ticket is validated in the theatre lobby.

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment