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Geneva Anderson digs into art

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)

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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