ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Review: “Looking East,” tracing Japan’s impact on 19th century Western artists─at the Asian Art Museum through February 7, 2016

“Looking East,” at the Asian Art Museum through February 7, 2016, places Japanese and American and French artworks side by side so that viewers can evaluate how Western artists and designers assimilated these new thematic and formal approaches from Japan. Left: “Bamboo Yards, Kyobashi Bridge,” 1857, from the series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” by Utagawa Hiroshige I (Japanese, 1797–1858). Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.26350. Right: “The Water Lily Pond,” 1900, by Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926). Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Given in memory of Governor Alvan T. Fuller by the Fuller Foundation, 61.959. Photographs © 2015, MFA

“Looking East,” at the Asian Art Museum through February 7, 2016, places 170 Japanese and American and French artworks side by side so that viewers can evaluate how Western artists and designers assimilated thematic and formal approaches from Japan. Left: “Bamboo Yards, Kyobashi Bridge,” 1857, from the series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” by Utagawa Hiroshige I (Japanese, 1797–1858). Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.26350. Right: “The Water Lily Pond,” 1900, by Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926). Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Given in memory of Governor Alvan T. Fuller by the Fuller Foundation, 61.959. Photographs © 2015, MFA

When US Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Japan’s Edo Bay in 1853 and forced Japan to sign trade agreements with Europe and North America, the island nation opened up to the West after been virtually isolated for two centuries.  This set off a frenzy for all things Japanese, particularly art.  European and North American collectors and artists went crazy for the sophisticated woodblock prints of artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai and Japanese aesthetics had a profound impact on Western artists who were hungry for inspiration.  Meanwhile, the French coined the term “Japonisme” to describe works made in Europe and the U.S. that incorporated motifs and aesthetic principles from this new imagery from Japan.

Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists, which opened at the Asian Art Museum (AAM) on October 30, is a fascinating travelling exhibition organized by Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFAB).  It was just in Tokyo and makes the final stop of its international tour at the Asian.  It features over 170 artworks and decorative objects from the MFAB’s exquisite collection of Japanese art─the finest in the world outside of Japan─as well as its Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces from painters Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Mary Cassat, Edgar Degas, Paul Gaugin and others.

The novel thing about this exhibition is that the curators have placed Japanese and American and French artworks side by side so that viewers can evaluate how Western artists assimilated these new thematic and formal approaches, making it very engaging for all ages and experience levels, which the Asian excels at.  The exhibition is organized into four thematic areas─ women, city life, nature and landscape─ which explore the hallmarks of Japanese art around the turn of the century.  Dr. Helen Burnham, the MFAB Pamela and Peter Voss Curator of Prints and Drawings, is the head curator, while Dr. Laura Allen, curator of Japanese art, and Dr. Yuki Morishima, assistant curator of Japanese art, are the AAM curators responsible for its installation here in San Francisco.

“This is the first major exhibition from our collections to examine the profound impact Japanese art and culture had on Western artists around 1900,” said Helen Burnham .  “This was a seminal moment in Western and European art─both artists and collectors came to Japanese art with fresh eyes and a readiness to move past conventions.”

“What we’re doing at the Asian is exploring Asia’s global reference and Looking East is a perfect example,” said AAM director Jay Xu, who has made it his mission to rebrand the Asian, shifting the emphasis away from museum and more towards an exciting environment where  people can discover their own personal connections to Asian art and culture.

Xu pointed out that many people love Claude Monet’s familiar 1900 painting “The Water Lily Pond” and are even aware that Monet had an actual Japanese style arched bridge in Giverny but they’ll be surprised to see that the bridge in the Monet is “almost a copy” of the bridge in Utagawa Hiroshige I’s “Bamboo Yards, Kyobashi Bridge,” from his 1857 series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.”  With the artworks next to each other, such comparisons are possible.  In the landscape section of the exhibition, you’ll also see how Monet was inspired by a wind-blown tree from a Hiroshige print and used it in his “Seacoast at Trouvelle,” (1881).  Monet moves away from the Western established tools of perspective and shading and uses the tree to block out the composition’s vanishing point and bands of vibrant color to activate the painting’s surface.

Left: Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III), “[Actor Onoe Matsusuke II as] the Carpenter Rokusaburo” (c. 1814–15, from Kunisada’s series ‘Great Hit Plays,’ woodblock print, ink and color on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection. Right: Vincent van Gogh, “Postman Joseph Roulin,” 1888, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of Robert Treat Paine, 2nd. Photos © 2015, MFA, Boston) (click to enlarge)

Left: Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III), “[Actor Onoe Matsusuke II as] the Carpenter Rokusaburo” (c. 1814–15, from Kunisada’s series ‘Great Hit Plays,’ woodblock print, ink and color on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection. Right: Vincent van Gogh, “Postman Joseph Roulin,” 1888, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of Robert Treat Paine, 2nd. Photos © 2015, MFA, Boston) (click to enlarge)

Vincent van Gogh too was heavily inspired by Japanese art, particularly the small unpretentious woodblocks, snapshots of everyday life in Japan, that arrived in droves in France in the 1860’s often as wrapping for porcelain products that were exported to Europe.  These prints depicted kabuki actors, geisha and famous landscape scenes, like Mt Fuji.  When Van Gogh arrived in Paris in 1886, the Impressionist revolution was in full swing and he realized how important the Japanese influence was on the experimental Impressionists who rejected the rules of the French art academy.  Van Gogh built a collection of some two-hundred woodblocks prints and began to copy these compositions on with oil on canvas.

At the Asian, you’ll see van Gogh’s “Postman Joseph Roulin” from 1888 hanging with an Edo period woodblock from Utagawa Kunisada I of a Kabuki actor.  The influences here are subtle but the inspiration is clear, according to Asian curator Laura Allen who pointed out that Van Gogh and other Impressionists were increasingly interested in scenes of everyday life and that the physical surface of the woodblocks were fascinating to these artists.  “These woodblocks prints were produced quickly with layers of color─it would have taken too much time to use too many colors or patterns─so the compositions lacked depth, had large areas of flat space and relied on strong lines,” said Allen. Van Gogh’s composition has a very flat background, an angularity in the arms and is a portrait of a common working man in society, just like the Kabuki actors.

Left: Kikukawa Eizan, “Otome” (c. 1818–23), from the series ‘Eastern Figures Matched with the Tale of Genji,’ woodblock print, ink and color on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection; right: Mary Stevenson Cassatt, “Maternal Caress” (Caresse maternelle) (c. 1902), oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of Miss Aimee Lamb in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Horatio Appleton Lamb. Photos: © 2015, MFA, Boston) (Click to enlarge)

Left: Kikukawa Eizan, “Otome” (c. 1818–23), from the series ‘Eastern Figures Matched with the Tale of Genji,’ woodblock print, ink and color on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection; right: Mary Stevenson Cassatt, “Maternal Caress” (Caresse maternelle) (c. 1902), oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of Miss Aimee Lamb in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Horatio Appleton Lamb. Photos: © 2015, MFA, Boston) (Click to enlarge)

American born Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) left the U.S. at age 22 to study art in Paris where she developed an interest in the techniques of the Impressionists who were painting everyday scenes that stressed the importance of natural light and shadow in clear color.  She too was an avid collector of woodblock prints by Harunobi, Utamaro and Hisoshige.  In the 1890’s, she created a series of ten color etchings that permitted her to imitate the simplicity found in Japanese composition and color techniques.  At the Asian, her, “Maternal Caress” (circa 1902), an informal portrait of a child clinging to its mother’s neck as she brushes its cheek with a kiss, employs a high vantage point and the intimacy and affection between mother and child.  Both of these were common in Japanese art according to Helen Burnham.  Hanging close to the Cassatt is Kikugawa Eizan’s woodblock of a mother and child in a similar pose and we can feel the tender bond between them.

“Looking East” includes several Japanese and Western items with exquisite and chic design. Nature motifs featured prominently in the Japanese prints, lacquer ware, textiles, bronzes and ceramics that flooded Western markets in the late 1800s. Western artists found them inspirational and they became hallmarks of several major artistic movements of the late 1800s and early 1900s, such as Art Nouveau. Left: Cut mulberry paper textile stencil, 1800–1900, Japan, Edo period (1615–1868) or Meiji period (1868–1912). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, RES.11.748. Right: Letter rack from the Grapevine desk set, 1900–1920, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany(American, 1848–1933), manufactured by Tiffany Studios. Metal and glass. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Anonymous gift in memory of John G. Pierce, Sr., RES.65.60. Photographs © 2015, MFA,

“Looking East” includes several Japanese and Western items with exquisite and chic design. Nature motifs featured prominently in the Japanese prints, lacquer ware, textiles, bronzes and ceramics that flooded Western markets in the late 1800s. Western artists found them inspirational and they became hallmarks of several major artistic movements of the late 1800s and early 1900s, such as Art Nouveau. Left: Cut mulberry paper textile stencil, 1800–1900, Japan, Edo period (1615–1868) or Meiji period (1868–1912). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, RES.11.748. Right: Letter rack from the Grapevine desk set, 1900–1920, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany(American, 1848–1933), manufactured by Tiffany Studios. Metal and glass. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Anonymous gift in memory of John G. Pierce, Sr., RES.65.60. Photographs © 2015, MFA,

Interest in Japan grew wildly during the 1860’s as shops selling Japanese goods sprang up in Paris, London and other locales. Exotic kimonos and Japanese-style designs were coveted. Kimonos appeared in opera and theater productions and artists placed them in their paintings. Parts of kimono fabric were also used in western-style dresses and capes. This women’s silk taffeta dressing gown (circa 1900) was created for the Western market and retailed by Takashimaya. Elaborately embroidered with silk chrysanthemums, it represents the sumptuousness that was appreciated in the West. Typically, kimono designs sold in the West combined greenery and flowers of the four seasons─plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, irises, chrysanthemums─along with more abstract motifs such as undulating vertical lines or horizontal curves representing water. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Elizabeth Ann Coleman, 2001.933.1–2. Photograph © 2015, MFA, Boston.

Interest in Japan grew wildly during the 1860’s as shops selling Japanese goods sprang up in Paris, London and other locales. Exotic kimonos and Japanese-style designs were coveted. Kimonos appeared in opera and theater productions and artists placed them in their paintings. Parts of kimono fabric were also used in western-style dresses and capes. This women’s silk taffeta dressing gown (circa 1900) was created for the Western market and retailed by Takashimaya. Elaborately embroidered with silk chrysanthemums, it represents the sumptuousness that was appreciated in the West. Typically, kimono designs sold in the West combined greenery and flowers of the four seasons─plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, irises, chrysanthemums─along with more abstract motifs such as undulating vertical lines or horizontal curves representing water. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Elizabeth Ann Coleman, 2001.933.1–2. Photograph © 2015, MFA, Boston.

 

Tis the Season─the catalogue is gift worthy:  At 127 pages, the exhibition’s stylish and informative catalogue Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan (about $26, 2015) is full of large photographs with chapters authored by curator/editor Helen Burnham, Sarah E. Thompson and Jane E. Braun, all from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, that reflect on the phenomena of Japonisme and its rich contributions to the West in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Details: Looking East closes February 7, 2016.  The AAM is located at 200 Larkin Street near Civic Center.  Parking is easy at Civic Center Plaza garage which offers a discount with your validated AAM ticket. (Get it stamped upon entry to the museum.) Hours: Tues-Sun: 10-5; Thursdays until 9 (end Oct 8); closed Mondays. Admission:  AAM Members: free.  Adults: general admission w/Looking East $20 weekdays, $25 weekends; Seniors, students, youth (13-17) $15 weekdays, $20 weekends; child (12 and under) free. Reserve your tickets online here.

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November 26, 2015 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cavalia’s “Odysseo”─magical equestrian artistry─ is in San Francisco through January 10, 2016

Elise Verdoncq is one of “Odyssio’s” two-legged stars who performs the finale’s advanced dressage solo and works a small herd of unbridled gray stallions and geldings in the ring, all at one time, in the “liberty” routine. The horses enter the ring prancing and full of energy, like a glorious carousel come to life. The petite French powerhouse, also an attorney, uses verbal commands to control these boys in the ring. When they misbehave, it’s mainly biting and kicking each other, and she quickly gets them in line. “Odyssio” includes 65 horses and 45 artists and runs through January 10, 2106. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Elise Verdoncq is one of “Odysseo’s” most beloved human stars. She performs the finale’s advanced dressage solo and works a small herd of unbridled gray stallions and geldings in the ring, all at one time, in the thrilling “Liberty” routine. The horses enter the ring prancing and full of energy, like a glorious carousel come to life. The petite French powerhouse, also an attorney, uses verbal commands to control these boys in the ring. When they misbehave, it’s mainly biting and kicking each other, and she quickly gets them in line. “Odysseo” includes 65 horses and 45 artists and runs through January 10, 2016. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The horses of Cavalia’s Odysseo are so enthralling they seem to have stepped right out of a dream world.  With more horses, performers and acrobats than ever, the internationally acclaimed show opened November 19, in San Francisco, just in time for the holidays.  Eight years in the making, this is Normand Latourelle’s latest extravaganza and the Cirque du Soleil and Cavalia co-founder has outdone himself.  Odysseo, the second Cavalia Inc. show, had its premiere in Montreal in 2011 and has travelled the globe to be seen by over 4 million fans.  The show combines 45 riders, gymnasts and aerialists with 65 magnificent horses on a sweeping arena of sand and dirt, performing stunningly choreographed vignettes that will have you on the edge of your seat.  Odysseo takes the audience on a soulful journey to some of nature’s greatest wonders, moving from the Mongolian steppes to Monument Valley, from the African savannah to Nordic glaciers, from the Sahara to Easter Island, and even to a lunar landscape.  While the show is a lavish spectacle of beauty, muscle and grace, it never loses touch with the heart-touching affectionate connection between human and horse. Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with rider Spencer Elizabeth Rose, a native of Exeter, (Tulare County) California.

Cavalia’s “Odysseo” celebrates the magical bond between human and horse with a show of artistry and athleticism. Costumed horses and riders gallop across the stage performing elaborately choreographed moves in coordination with acrobats, dancers and musicians. Stunning digital backdrops evoke journeys to places such as the Mongolian steppes, Easter Island and an African savanna. It all takes place in the White Big Top, the world’s largest touring tent, the size of an NFL football field. The set is comprised of 6,000 pounds of rock, earth and sand. In one of the acts, an actual lake, of substantial depth, forms in front of the audience and the horses and riders perform in the water. “Odysseo” runs through January 10, 2016 in the White Big Top near AT&T Park. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Cavalia’s “Odysseo” celebrates the magical bond between human and horse with a show of artistry and athleticism. Costumed horses and riders gallop across the stage performing elaborately choreographed moves in coordination with acrobats, dancers and musicians. Stunning digital backdrops evoke journeys to places such as the Mongolian steppes, Easter Island and an African savanna. It all takes place in the White Big Top, the world’s largest touring tent, the size of an NFL football field. The set is comprised of 6,000 pounds of rock, earth and sand. In one of the acts, an actual lake, of substantial depth, forms in front of the audience and the horses and riders perform in the water. “Odysseo” runs through January 10, 2016 in the White Big Top near AT&T Park. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Performance Details: Odysseo opens Thursday, November 19 and closes January 10, 2016.

Location: All performances at the Cavalia Big White Top Tent, adjacent to AT&T Park, San Francisco.

Tickets:  General Admission: $44.50 to $154.50.  VIP “Rendez-vous” package: $229.50 to $264.50 includes the best seats in the house, pre-show buffet dining and open wine bar, desserts during intermission and a post-show stable tour.  Special pricing for children (2-12), juniors (13-17) and senior citizens (65+). Call (866) 999-8111 or www.cavalia.net

Parking:  On site parking is available for a charge.

November 22, 2015 Posted by | Art, Dance | , , , , | Leave a comment

Artist Janet Cardiff’s “The Forty Part Motet,” a musical sanctuary for the soul, at Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308

Canadian artist Janet Cardiff’s immersive sound installation,“The Forty Part Motet” (2001), is at Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308, which has views of the Marina neighborhood and the Bay. Regarded as Cardiff’s masterwork, and consisting of forty high-fidelity speakers positioned on stands in a large oval configuration throughout the gallery, the piece is a reworking of Tudor composer Thomas Tallis’ famous choral composition “Spem in Alium” (“In No Other is My Hope”). Visitors can walk along the loudspeakers and hear the singers’ individual voices as well as the layered magic of the combined voice. Co-presented by Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and the San Francisco Museum of Modern. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Canadian artist Janet Cardiff’s “The Forty Part Motet” (2001), is at Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308 through January 18, 2016. Regarded as Cardiff’s masterwork, the contemporary artwork is a reworking of Tudor composer Thomas Tallis’ famous choral composition “Spem in Alium” (“In No Other is My Hope”) for a 40-voice choir. Tallis’ piece consists of 40 distinct lines, or parts─one for each voice. Cardiff recorded the piece in the famed Salisbury Cathedral with individual mics on each singer. Her installation consists of 40 high-fidelity speakers positioned on stands in an oval configuration throughout the gallery, enabling viewers to walk up to each loudspeaker and hear an individual singer and then back away to hear the layered magic of several voices together. The piece plays in a continuous loop. Co-presented by Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and the SFMOMA. Photo: Geneva Anderson

There are several spine-tingling moments in the 16th century court composer Thomas Tallis’ devotional choral work “Spem in Alium” which expresses man’s hope and trust in the Lord.  Canadian sound artist Janet Cardiff’s immersive sound installation, “The Forty Part Motet,” quite literally teases them out. Forty speakers on six-foot tall stands are arranged in an oval. Visitors can walk throughout the installation and hear the individual unaccompanied voices─bass, baritone, alto, tenor and child soprano─one part per loudspeaker─ of 40 choir singers, who were recorded in England’s Salisbury Cathedral as well as the melded symphony of choral sounds, altogether creating a transcendent experience.

Last Thursday, installation was unveiled at Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308, making it the space’s inaugural exhibition and first time the installation has been shown in California.  Cardiff’s exquisite layering of the voices creates a profound and intimate experience even within a public space.  I can’t recall the last time I slowed down enough to be still and quiet for any significant length of time.   As I took in the music, the hairs rose on my arms and tears welled.  I stayed for four playings. ( The 14-minute piece is a continuous audio loop, comprised of 11 minutes of singing and a three minute interlude.) With the horror that unfolded in Paris over the weekend and uncertainty about what might follow, and the march of the pending holidays, centering oneself in this immersive musical experience is nurturing and healing.  I can’t wait to go back.

Janet Cardiff, “The Forty Part Motet” (installation view, Gallery 308, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture),2015; co-presented by Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and SFMOMA. Photo: JKA Photography

Janet Cardiff, “The Forty Part Motet” (installation view, Gallery 308, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture),2015; co-presented by Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and SFMOMA. Photo: JKA Photography

Cardiff’s contemporary re-working of this classic was created 14 years ago, in 2001 and the piece has since travelled the world.  Cardiff originally studied photography and print-making before experimenting with sound and moving image.  She grabbed the attention of the art world in the mid-1990s with her site-specific works which explored the sculptural and physical attributes of sound and often had actual physical impacts on the viewers.  Born in Canada, she currently lives in rural British Columbia, and works in collaboration with her husband and partner, George Bures Miller. Cardiff and Miller’s pivotal moment came in 2001, when they represented Canada at the 49th Venice Biennale and won the Biennale’s Premio Prize and Benesse Prize.  Their artwork was “Paradise Institute” which recreated a 16 seat movie theatre and entangled viewers so that they became witnesses to a possible crime playing out on screen and within the audience─an idea that was cutting edge at the time.  The couple’s work has been included top-tier exhibitions and biennales ever since.  Recently, they participated in Soundscapes at London’s National Gallery, the 19th Biennale of Sydney in 2014, and dOCUMENTA (13).

Canadian artist Janet Cardiff in Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308 at the media preview, listening to “The Forty Part Motet,” which is up through January 18, 2016. Cardiff, down to earth and centered, is a huge believer in the emotional power of music. She created “The Forty Part Motet” in 2001 and the piece has since traveled the world. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Canadian artist Janet Cardiff in Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308 at the media preview, listening to “The Forty Part Motet,” which is up through January 18, 2016. Cardiff, down to earth and centered, is a huge believer in the emotional power of music. She created “The Forty Part Motet” in 2001 and the piece has since traveled the world. Photo: Geneva Anderson

“The Forty Part Motet’s” appearance in San Francisco marks a pivotal time for its two co-presentors─Fort Mason Center and SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).  It marks a new beginning for Gallery 308, which is a gorgeous light-filled 4,000 square-foot gallery space with views of the San Francisco Bay and the Marin neighborhood.   The space originally housed Fort Mason’s maritime trade and repair shops and its three-year renovation was undertaken by Jensen Architects, the creators of SFMOMA’s acclaimed roof-top garden.

“Fort Mason Center has been around for 40 years and it’s been viewed as a rental space,” said Mark Tao, CFO, Fort Mason Center.  “We’ve gone through a re-imaging process to put contemporary art at the forefront.  Gallery 308 was once ‘military building 308,’ so we’ve reclaiming something from the past in our name which fits our industrial chic look.  We worked for over two years to bring this work here and we’re very proud.”

Other changes are in the air at Fort Mason Center too.  The San Francisco Art Institute, which currently has campuses in Russian Hill and Dogpatch, is moving to Pier 2 and will start construction there next year.  FLAX art and design store recently opened a 5,000-square-foot store in Building D, after losing their space downtown.

Cardiff’s installation marks the grand finale for SFMOMA’s On the Go programming—the museum’s dynamic off-site art events while its building is closed for expansion construction. (Click here to read about SFMOMA’s 2013 collaboration with the Sonoma County Museum.) The new SFMOMA will open in spring 2016.  Cardiff’s installation is actually on loan from Napa collectors Pamela and Richard Kramlich’s world-renowned holdings of video and media art.  Rudolf Frieling, curator of media arts at SFMOMA was pivotal in orchestrating the loan.

Cardiff’s solo works have long been a part of SFMOMA’s collection and the museum additionally commissioned two audio and video works by Cardiff: Chiaroscuro 1 (1997), made for the exhibition Present Tense: Nine Artists in the Nineties; and The Telephone Call (2001), featured in 010101: Art in Technological Times.

Canadian artist George Bures Miller, Janet Cardiff’s artistic partner and husband, in Gallery 308. “The Forty Part Motet” when installed properly, makes Miller’s spine tingle, even though he’s heard it thousands of times. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Canadian artist George Bures Miller, Janet Cardiff’s artistic partner and husband, in Gallery 308. “The Forty Part Motet” when installed properly, makes Miller’s spine tingle, even though he’s heard it thousands of times. Photo: Geneva Anderson

ARThound chats with Janet Cardiff and George Miller

I had a chance to chat privately with Janet Cardiff just before Thursday’s press preview and with her husband/collaborator George Miller in the gallery while the work was playing.  Here’s our conversation─

You’ve installed this work in so many spaces now, from those that are overtly spiritual to those that much more secular; what is special about this space here in San Francisco, set against the backdrop of the Bay?

Janet Cardiff─What first and foremost matters to me is the acoustics of the space, how the voices sound to me in the space and it works quite nicely here.  The visual is beautiful but the power is in the sound.  I like this space because, when you’re looking out, the music serves as a backdrop, like a filmic score of the city and the water.  I also like the roughness of the space, its rawness that echoes what it used to be.  Because it’s painted white, it’s also very pristine, very contemplative which works with the spirituality of the piece, its whiteness and a light

Is this a spiritual artwork?

Janet Cardiff─Oh yes, Thomas Tallis most definitely wrote this for that purpose with words like “I put all my faith in you, my Lord.”  When he was writing, he was very aware of the voices going up into the cathedrals like angel voices.  It’s inspired me in many ways, on many levels.  I’ve learned so much about absence and presence.  Every single speaker is an individual recording of a singer, so each speaker in the space becomes that person.  The choir was recorded singing together in a room but the singers were spaced apart and every singer had a microphone. So, it does become very anthropomorphic and a virtual representation of those people.  It’s like these people, too, are stopped in time.   This setting brings me right back to PS1, its first showing, with these windows overlooking the city.  I was reminded of the potency of music to move you and of such a brilliant composition from Thomas Tallis which creates such an emotional release for people. Also, the whiteness of the space adds to the spiritual quality of the piece.

Do you have a particular interest in old music?  How was this particular piece brought to your attention?

Janet Cardiff─I was recording in England and one of the singers I was working with gave me a cd of Tallis because she recognized that I liked three-dimensional sound. And that always been an interest of mine, this idea that sound is an invisible media but, at the same time, it affects you emotionally, actually going into your body in a way that something visual can’t.  It’s also fascinating that you also aware of it subconsciously in a sculptural way….I immediately saw this as all around me and became so fascinated with the piece. With a lot of finesse, expertise and hard work and with the help of my husband and my producer in England, we were able to record it with the Salsbury Cathedral choir, who were not all professionals. I wanted to work with children for the soprano voices. We brought in singers from all over England  for a recording session that was very intense.  We had about three hours of recording material and edited it down to the price it is today.  I found it very interesting, from the very beginning, to make this virtual choir of a piece from the 1500’s.  I knew the piece was written in a religious context, like a lot of music then, but I really did not know that it would have the type of effect that it has on people in all these different environments.

What is the best way to describe it? 

Janet Cardiff─Sound is very sculptural for me. I don’t usually make definitions which tend to limit how people might experience the work but this is an installation, a virtual choir. 

As a technician what does it mean to be happy with the sound in this space?

George Miller─I’m pretty happy right now.  Actually, Titus Maderlechner tuned this piece, I’m just a collaborator but I used to set this up before Titus came on.  Every space absorbs the frequencies in a different way so when it moves to a new place, tuning is required to make sure that it feels right, right being appropriate to the piece.  At first, the bass (the lower register voices) weren’t coming through because glass in this space was absorbing the sound and they weren’t getting the presence they needed.  We brought those voices up to fill the space more.  The space also responded to the sopranos and sounded too harsh, so we had to work with that too.

Everyone talks about the Cloisters as “the place” but Janet and Titus set that up and I wasn’t there.  For me this is as good as it gets, the sound is so clear.  I was tearing up and I’ve heard this thousands of times.  For me, it never gets boring and it always gives me a reaction.  If I don’t get that reaction, which is a tingling up and down my spine, then I know I have to make it do that.

Details: The Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff runs through January 18, 2016 at Gallery 308, Fort Mason Center, Landmark Building A, 2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, 94123 (Greens Restaurant is at the other end of this building.)  Hours:  Wednesday-Saturday: noon to 8 PM; Sunday: 11 AM to 5 PM.  Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day.  Tickets: Admission is free but complimentary tickets are required for entry and can be reserved at motettickets.org.  Due to high demand, visitors are advised to reserve tickets well in advance.  A limited number of same-day walk-up tickets will be available to visitors throughout the installation. Follow #40PartMotet for availability. Parking: ample paid parking is available on an hourly basis at Fort Mason Center and payment is via credit card in machine.

November 17, 2015 Posted by | Art, Classical Music, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 56th Venice Biennale closes this weekend with a full slate of activities

A scene from Korean artist Im Heung-soon’s feature-length documentary, “Factory Complex,” winner of the Silver Lion at the 56th Venice Biennale (May 9 – November 22, 2015). This is highest accolade ever received by a Korean artist at the exhibition which dates back to 1895. Using interviews and historical footage, the engrossing film documents the appalling conditions experienced by female workers in South Korea during the country's industrial boom from the 1960-80’s and the retaliation they faced when they attempted to organize. Hardships still exist today, especially for those in the services industry such as flight attendants and call center operators, which the film documents. And, like a disease, the exploitation has spread─Korean conglomerates have outsourced even cheaper labor, so the conditions previously faced by Korean women are now a reality for those in South East Asia. Accolades to Mr. Im for bringing the truth to light.

A scene from Korean artist Im Heung-soon’s feature-length documentary, “Factory Complex,” winner of the Silver Lion at the 56th Venice Biennale (May 9 – November 22, 2015). This is highest accolade ever received by a Korean artist at the exhibition which dates back to 1895. Using interviews and historical footage, the engrossing film documents the appalling conditions experienced by female workers in South Korea during the country’s industrial boom from the 1960-80’s and the retaliation they faced when they attempted to organize. Hardships still exist today, especially for those in the services industry such as flight attendants and call center operators, which the film documents. And, like a disease, the exploitation has spread─Korean conglomerates have outsourced even cheaper labor, so the conditions previously faced by Korean women are now a reality for those in South East Asia. Accolades to Mr. Im for bringing the truth to light.

Venice’s Biennale Arte 2015 closes with a full weekend of events that will take place from Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd November, at the Central Pavilion, Giardini, Arsenale and Giardino delle Vergini.  This was my first time to attend the sprawling exhibition which opened May 9 and included over 80 national shows and a main exhibition curated by Nigerian-born Okwui Enwezor.  Generlly, the national pavilions are where politics play out but, this year, Enwezor’s general theme “All the World’s Futures,” which involved 136 artists from 53countries, turned out to be highly political  with a large number of artists lobbing harsh and complex critiques of the forces behind the global economy.  Look for my article on ARThound just after the event closes.

November 16, 2015 Posted by | Art | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Framing Migrant Labor”─Matt Black, TIME’s Instagram Photographer of the Year, shows his work on the Central Valley at SRJC’s Agrella Gallery, lecture and reception on Monday, November 16

“Riding to work in a farm labor bus,” Fresno, CA, 2004, 16 x 20 inches, archival pigment print on Museo Silver Rag paper, courtesy Matt Black

“Riding to Work in a Farm Labor Bus,” 2004, 16 x 20 inches, archival pigment print on Museo Silver Rag paper, courtesy Matt Black

California photojournalist Matt Black was born in California’s Central Valley and lives there now, in the small town of Exeter.  Some of his strongest work has been done within a 100-mile radius of his home. Working with a 35mm camera, he establishes a strong visual dialogue with the migrant workers in this drought-parched land, drawing us into the difficulties of their makeshift lives.  Each shot is framed in such gorgeous natural light, with such care, that we feel his respect for their individual stories, their dignity, and for the land.

Santa Rosa Junior College’s Robert F. Agrella Art Gallery, will present “Framing Migrant Labor,” featuring 25 large images from Matt Black’s photo essay “From Clouds to Dust,from November 12-December 10, 2015.  In addition to Black’s photos, some 25 works by Sonoma County photographers Morrie Camhi, Otto Hagel, Hansel Mieth and Ernie Lowe will provide a look back at migrant labor from the 1930’s. 60’s and 70’s. The opening reception is Monday, November 16, from 4 to 6 PM and that same day, from noon to 1 PM, Black will talk on his documentary photography work at the campus’ Newman Auditorium as part of its Arts & Lectures series.

“Dust storm rips off the roof,” Avenal, a small farming town in California’s Central Valley, 2009, 16 x 20 inches, archival pigment print on Museo Silver Rag paper, courtesy Matt Black.

“Dust Storm Rips Off a Roof,” 2009, 16 x 20 inches, archival pigment print on Museo Silver Rag paper, courtesy Matt Black.

Matt Black’s work focuses on the themes of migration, agriculture, social inequality and the environment in his home country and in southern Mexico. Last year, he was named TIME’s Instagram Photographer of the Year (2014) and is a 2015 Nominee Member of the Magnum Photo Agency.  He won the 2003 Alexia Professional Grant for his work “The Forgotten Black Okies: A Lost Journey into a Land of Broken Promises” which was named a Pulitzer Prize Finalist.  In 1994, Black received an Alexia Student Award of Excellence for his project “The Transbay Terminal: San Francisco’s Destitute Gateway” which documented the homeless people who refuged themselves in San Francisco’s primary mass-transportation depot.  In October 2015 he received the W. Eugene Smith Award in Humanistic Photography. He has been has been profiled in The New Yorker, National Geographic, Time and Slate.  He just gave a workshop for prestigious Eddie Adams Workshop, considered the premiere photojournalism workshop.  Right after his visit to Santa Rosa, Black, in high demand, jets off to Germany where he will be giving a workshop at Hamburg’s LFI (Leica Fotografie International) Workshop.

His current project “Geography of Poverty” in co-production with MSNBC, involves a cross-country trip where Black will stop in over 77 cities, documenting the plight of over 45 million people who live at the poverty level in the United States.

“Elderly farm workers at home,” Teviston, CA, 2001, 16 x 20, archival pigment prints on Museo Silver Rag paper, courtesy Matt Black

“Elderly Farmworker at Home,” 2001, 16 x 20, archival pigment prints on Museo Silver Rag paper, courtesy Matt Black

“To have Matt Black speak at our college and to have his work at the Agrella Art Gallery to share with our students and our community, is quite thrilling,” said Renata Breth, SRJC Photography faculty & gallery director.  Breth first came across his work in his photo essay “The Dry Land” which appeared in The New Yorker (9.29.2014) and immediately applied for a major grant from the Randolph Newman Cultural Enrichment Endowment (of the SRJC Foundation) to bring the work to SRJC’s gallery where it could be seen by students and the community.  “The photo essays speak without hesitation, in a direct, honest and sincere voice. The photos show poverty, drought and farm workers, revealing a shocking reality many of us are unaware of.”

The technology will be of interest too.  All of Black’s photos appearing in the SRJC exhibit were taken with 35 mm film cameras, so they are from analog negatives.  They are each gorgeously digitally printed on Museo Silver Rag paper, a fine archival paper, which resembles silver halide papers, with exceptional depth and detail.

Details:  “Framing Migrant Labor” is November 12-December 10 at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Robert F. Agrella Art Gallery, located on the Santa Rosa campus on the first floor of the Frank P. Doyle Library, 1501 Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa.  Phone: 707 527-4298. Gallery hours: 10 AM to 4 PM Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays and 1 PM to 4 PM Saturdays. CLOSED: Fridays and Sundays and All school holidays (including November 26th to 28th, 2015) and summer.  Parking Permits ($4/day) are required for both Santa Rosa and Petaluma campuses.)

Opening reception: Monday, November 16 from 4 to 6 PM.

Matt Black lecture:  “Framing Migrant Labor” Monday, November 16, noon – 1PM, Newman Auditorium, Emeritus Hall, Santa Rosa Campus, SRJC (free to the public)

Gallery talk by Laura Larque and Andre Larque: “Historical Perspectives on Migrant Labor in California,” November 17, 2015, noon- 1 PM, Robert F. Agrella Gallery

Ernie Lowe lecture: “Photographing migrant labor in 1965”  December 1, 2015, noon- 1PM, SRJC Petaluma Library – Connie Mahoney Reading Room, 12.1.2015

  

November 7, 2015 Posted by | Art, Photography | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: San Francisco Opera’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”─ Soprano Albina Shagimuratova subs as Lucia and is spectacular!

Russian coloratura soprano, Albina Shagimuratova sang the role of Lucia as a last minute stand-in for San Francisco Opera’s final performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor” on Tuesday, October 28th like she was born to the role. Unruffled by foreign staging and charged with creating believable chemistry with singers she hadn’t practiced with, she wowed the audience with her ability to shine under pressure. . She most recently sang Lucia at the Metropolitan Opera in 2014-15, so she knew the part well and used the role’s insanely demanding vocal runs, gorgeous arias and ensemble parts to showcase her extraordinary voice and acting talent. Shagimuratova is Queen of the Night in SFO’s “Magic Flute” which runs through November 20, 2015. Photo: SFO

Russian coloratura soprano, Albina Shagimuratova sang the role of Lucia as a last minute stand-in for San Francisco Opera’s final performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor” on Wednesday, October 28th. Unruffled by foreign staging and charged with creating believable chemistry with singers she hadn’t practiced with, she wowed the audience with her ability to shine under pressure. . She most recently sang Lucia at the Metropolitan Opera in 2014-15, so she knew the part well and used the role’s insanely demanding vocal runs, gorgeous arias and ensemble parts to showcase her extraordinary voice and acting talent. Shagimuratova is Queen of the Night in SFO’s “Magic Flute” which runs through November 20, 2015. Photo: SFO

The footnotes for Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova’s fall 2015 season at San Francisco Opera (SFO) might read “The Queen rises,” affirming that the last minute drama that occurs behind the scenes in opera can be as exhilarating as what we see on stage.  Before the curtain rose on Wednesday night’s final performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, SFO’s General Director, David Gockley, unexpectedly appeared on stage to deliver “goods news and bad news.”  Soprano Nadine Sierra , who had been getting rave reviews for her Lucia, was suddenly ill.  (Sierra herself was a late replacement for German soprano Diana Damrau who withdrew unexpectedly in September citing personal reasons.)  The good news was that Russian coloratura soprano, Albina Shagimuratova, knew the role of Lucia by heart and had agreed to sub, just hours ago, for Sierra.

Shagimuratova had wowed audiences with her dynamic Queen of the Night in the 2012 world premiere of SFO’s The Magic Flute. She, however, had very recently been ill herself and had been too sick to sing Queen of the Night in last Sunday’s matinee performance of the company’s Magic Flute, which was just two and a half days earlier.  Many of us who are devoted Sierra fans were sad that we would miss her but elated that Shagimuratova, the beloved Queen, had risen from her bed to take on one of opera’s most demanding roles.

Shagimuratova, who most recently sang Lucia at the Metropolitan Opera in 2014-15, did more than seize the moment─she was on fire.  She took us all along with her on Lucia’s tumultuous descent from fragility into madness and executed the famous third act Mad Scene with mesmerizing finesse.  Her co-stars, too, delivered the goods, particularly the dazzling Polish tenor Piotr Beczala as Edgardo, Lucia’s secret lover and baritone Brian Mulligan as Lucia’s brother, Enrico.  And after Sunday’s performance, we’ll all be watching out for the gorgeous Latvian mezzo soprano Zanda Švēde, a second year Adler fellow, whose lovely voice and stunning red hair made the most of her small role as Alisa, Lucia’s handmaid.

Presiding at the podium, Nicola Luisotti brought a stirring and lush performance from the SFO orchestra and chorus that incisively captured Lucia’s emotional fragility and supported the characters’ most passionate moments.  Of the dozen or so Donizetti operas that are considered masterpieces, Lucia is the pinnacle─it contains opera’s most gorgeous and powerful music and abounds with opportunities for vocal embellishment, lush harmonizing and drama.  It’s no wonder that this bel-canto (literally “beautiful singing”) masterpiece has been performed in 23 seasons at SFO. This new SFO production, directed by Michael Cavanagh and designed by Erhard Rom, the team behind SFO’s wonderful Susannah in 2014 and Nixon in China in summer 2012, is sure to become a more frequent staple in SFO’s repertoire.

Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” and “L’elisir d’amore” (“The Elixir of Love”) are among the 25 most frequently performed operas in the world every year. SFO has performed “Lucia” in 23 seasons. A sad irony is that Donizetti, who crafted Lucia’s and Anna Bolena’s brilliant scenes of psychosis, spent his own final years locked away in a Paris insane asylum. Thirteen years after “Lucia’s” premiere, he died psychotic and paralyzed from untreated syphilis. His French publisher left a memoir suggesting that Donizetti had been driven insane by an imperious soprano, who had forced him to make damaging changes to his last grand opera. Portrait of Gaetano Donizetti, Italian pictural school (17th century) from Bologna’s Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale.

Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” and “L’elisir d’amore” (“The Elixir of Love”) are among the 25 most frequently performed operas in the world every year. SFO has performed “Lucia” in 23 seasons. A sad irony is that Donizetti, who crafted Lucia’s and Anna Bolena’s brilliant scenes of psychosis, spent his own final years locked away in a Paris insane asylum. Thirteen years after “Lucia’s” premiere, he died psychotic and paralyzed from untreated syphilis. His French publisher left a memoir suggesting that Donizetti had been driven insane by an imperious soprano, who had forced him to make damaging changes to his last grand opera. Portrait of Gaetano Donizetti, Italian pictural school (17th century) from Bologna’s Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale.

Act 3’s Mad Scene─  The main reason for Lucia’s enduring popularity is the Act 3’s Mad Scene.  Great Lucias become one with the music to embody a young woman ripped apart by inner demons.  Lucia, mourning her mother’s recent death, has been coerced by her brother Enrico, her closest remaining relative, into an arranged marriage and has been crushed by the loss of her true love, Edgardo.  On their wedding night, she stabs her new husband to death and wanders delirious amongst the wedding guests in a bloody nightdress with her hair a tangled mess.  Shagimuratova’s singing had been so captivating for the first two acts, particularly Act 1’s “Quando rapito in estasi,” which brought me to my feet, we knew we were in for a treat.  Indeed, she left nothing in the tank.  Her interpretation of  “Il dolce suono…Spargi d’amaro pianto” was chilling, embellished with amazing trills and cascades that showcased the power and sheer beauty of her voice in its highest register.  The cadeneza passages, played evocatively by Principal Flute Julie McKenzie from the pit, were very well-coordinated, as if it had been practiced several times.  It rightfully earned an ovation with prolonged whistles and whoops and left me with the impression that, for this Lucia, her final exit was a form of victory over the men who had controlled her in one way or another.

Polish lyric tenor, Piotr Beczala, is Edgardo. In Act 3, Edgardo learns that Lucia has died and he stabs himself with a dagger hoping to be reunited with her in heaven. He sings “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali.” Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO.

Polish lyric tenor, Piotr Beczala, is Edgardo. In Act 3, Edgardo learns that Lucia has died and he stabs himself with a dagger hoping to be reunited with her in heaven. He sings “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali.” Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO.

Polish tenor Piotr Beczala as Edgardo, Lucia’s lover, oozed with such virility and tonal mastery that now I feel compelled to follow his career.  His initial physical encounters with Shagimuratova/Lucia, a new partner, seemed somewhat stiff though, particularly the scene in Act 1where he is comforted by Lucia and lays his lead in her lap but their passion grew more believable as the opera progressed.  His grappling with what he perceives as Lucia’s betrayal was enthralling and in the richly textured “Chi me frena in tal momento” sextet that ends Act II, when he bursts in insisting that he still loves Lucia, he was blazing.  In the finale, the punishing, demanding Wolf-Crag” scene, Beczala gifted us with rapid, jarring shifts in emotion, bel canto at its best.

In Act 3, Lucia’s lover, Edgardo (of Ravenswood), Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, is challenged to a duel by her brother, Enrico, American baritone Brian Mulligan at Wolfscrag, where Edgardo lives. The opera’s plot is driven by an intergenerational feud between the Ravenswoods and the Ashtons of Lamermoore, making Lucia’s love for the Edgardo forbidden and driving Lucia’s brother to go extremes to ensure that she ends her relationship with Edgardo. Director Michael Cavanaugh and designer Erhard Rom set this new SFO production in a dystopian near future; the staging has a clean stark feel that is accentuated by dramatic lighting and projections of natural landscapes. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

In Act 3, Lucia’s lover, Edgardo (of Ravenswood), Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, is challenged to a duel by her brother, Enrico, American baritone Brian Mulligan at Wolfscrag, where Edgardo lives. The opera’s plot is driven by an intergenerational feud between the Ravenswoods and the Ashtons of Lamermoore, making Lucia’s love for the Edgardo forbidden and driving Lucia’s brother to go extremes to ensure that she ends her relationship with Edgardo. Director Michael Cavanaugh and designer Erhard Rom set this new SFO production in a dystopian near future; the staging has a clean stark feel that is accentuated by dramatic lighting and projections of natural landscapes. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

And pitted against him, as Enrico, was powerhouse American baritone Brian Mulligan, fresh from his masterful lead in SFO’s Sweeney Todd.  And much like that deranged barber, his Enrico also acted from sheer desperation─he was aware of his sister Lucia’s desires and her fragility but torn by his need to save the Lammermore line as well as to ensure his own future.  In Act 3’s tour de force showdown between Enrico and Edgardo, both Mulligan and Beczala seemed to be feeding off of each other, singing gloriously and ratcheting up the drama.

Turning heads─ It was impossible to miss the sleekly coiffed redhead mezzo Zanda Švēde, Lucia’s handmaid Alisa.  The tall slim beauty was a vision in Mattie Ullrich’s Max-Mara like costuming  From the moment she sang her Act 1warning to Lucia to break up with Edgardo, her impassioned voice had me.  She was particularly impressive in Act 2’s sextet against much more seasoned singers.  Also making the most of his small role and SFO debut was French bass-baritone  Nicolas Testè as Raimundo, the Chaplan.

Act 2’s sextet “Chi mi frena in tal momento” (“What restrains me at this moment”), one of Italian opera’s greatest ensemble moments, set in Ravenswood Castle. Piotr Beczala (Edgardo) in foreground. Then, from left to right─Nicolas Testé (Raimondo) in brown; Brian Mulligan (Enrico) with blond hair and beard, Chong Wang (Arturo) in plaid; and Zanda Švēde (Alisa) in red dress. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Act 2’s sextet “Chi mi frena in tal momento” (“What restrains me at this moment”), one of Italian opera’s greatest ensemble moments, set in Ravenswood Castle. Piotr Beczala (Edgardo) in foreground. Then, from left to right─Nicolas Testé (Raimondo) in brown; Brian Mulligan (Enrico) with blond hair and beard, Chong Wang (Arturo) in plaid; and Zanda Švēde (Alisa) in red dress. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

For this new production, rather than the 17th century hills of Scotland, Michael Cavanaugh’s staging sets Sir Walter Scott’s story in “modern-mythic Scotland, a dystopian near future where the lines are blurred between family, country and corporation.” The sets relied on clean-cut marble slabs which opened and closed in various configurations and a huge stone obelisk center stage to impart a stark cool ambiance that was accentuated by dramatic lighting and projections of rolling ocean waves, thunderous skies and hilly Scottish landscapes.

Mattie Ullrich’s costumes ranged from sleek unadorned dresses in charcoal hues to the wedding party’s traditional long full-skirted ball-gowns in jewel tones with intriguing flower headdresses.  The flowers were so large they enforced the association of women as walking flowers, mere stylized objects.  Poor Shagimuratova presumably had to make do with what was available at the last minute─unattractive Victorian-style dresses with lots of gathers around the waist and bodice, the very worse costuming for a slightly round figure.  Her sumptuous voice was all the adornment this beauty needed to make her mark.

Details:  There are no remaining performances of Lucia di Lammermoor.   You can catch Albina Shagimuratova as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute which has 7 remaining performances and runs through November 20, 2015.  For information about SFO’s 2015-16 season, click here. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.

November 1, 2015 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: “The Hyprocites’ Pirates of Penzance” at Berkeley Rep’s Osher Theater─ zany, irresistible, family-friendly

Pirates have dropped anchor at Berkeley Rep’s new black-box space, Osher Studio. Matt Kahler (with guitar) is the Major-General with the cast of The Hypocrites’ “Pirates of Penzance,” a lovingly loopy rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s topsy-turvy world, playing through December 20, 2015. Photo: kevinberne.com

Pirates have dropped anchor at Berkeley Rep’s new black-box space, Osher Studio. Matt Kahler (with guitar) is the Major-General with the cast of The Hypocrites’ “Pirates of Penzance,” a lovingly loopy rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s topsy-turvy world, playing through December 20, 2015. Photo: kevinberne.com

If you’re in the mood for a hopping party and a performance with a wild storyline, The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance , which has its West Coast premiere at Berkeley Rep, hits the sweet spot.  The Hypocrites, a Chicago theater group founded by Sean Graney, has reimagined Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance into a fully interactive immersion experience.  The result is an offshoot that shares the original classic’s spirit but is fresh and new, one of the most dynamic, zany shows around.  The family-friendly production has dropped anchor at the Osher Studio, Berkeley Rep’s new black-box performance space, located just across the street from its two main theaters.

The genius in Penzance lies in the space’s promenade zone─a few of the front rows and a large central area the large area where there is no distinction between where the audience begins/ends and the performance space.  The audience is invited to sit wherever they please–the floor, on the edge of a plastic pool, up in the mast of the ship–and to move about freely. Spontaneous interaction between the audience and actors is encouraged and there are a lot of flying beach balls, of all sizes, being joyfully batted around, with ukuleles and banjos strumming.  I took a ten-year-old with me to the opening performance and we arrived early enough to enjoy a delightful 15 minutes of  “play therapy.”   There’s also tiki-hut bar where alcohol and soft drinks can be bought at any time….just amble over and pay.

The plot of this delightful musical is as topsy-turvy as the roaring sea─ right after Frederick (Zeke Sulkes) is released from his twenty-one year long apprenticeship to a band of merry pirates, he meets the web-footed matron Ruth (Christine Stulik) and, having never laid eyes on a woman before, doesn’t understand that there are many younger, more beautiful, female partners to be had.  He quickly realizes the mistake he’s made when he meets Mabel (Christine Stulik) and her sisters, veritable sirens in bathing suits (Jenni M. Hadley, Kristen Magee, Becky Poole).  They are all the daughters of Major-General Stanley (Matt Kahler).  Frederick and Mabel fall in love immediately, which leaves him promised to both Ruth and Mabel.

Frederick creates even bigger problems for himself when it comes to his contract with the pirates he has been contractually apprenticed to for the past 21 years.  It is revealed that his birthday falls on leap year, so technically he has a birthday just once every four years.  Out of honor, he (insanely) insists on serving the pirates another 63 years to complete the terms which state that he remain apprenticed to them until he turns age 21.  Mabel promises to wait.  When she and her sisters get dragged off by pirates, a stand-off and uproar ensues between the pirate king (Shawn Pfautsch) and the Major-General (Kahler).

Christine Stulik is Mabel and Zeke Sulkes is Frederick in The Hypocrites’ “Pirates of Penzance” at Berkeley Rep. Photo: kevinberne.com

Christine Stulik is Mabel and Zeke Sulkes is Frederick in The Hypocrites’ “Pirates of Penzance” at Berkeley Rep. Photo: kevinberne.com

Its screwball humor to the nth degree.  The production is carried off by an extremely talented cast who have an innate sense of comedic timing and can all sing and play instruments, and do an amazing job of navigating through onlookers to hit their marks.  On opening night, it was a little difficult to grasp the full richness of some of the puns due to pronunciation and acoustics but that’s a detail that will have surely worked itself out by the time you read this review.

Alison Sipple’s retro beachwear costumes take their inspiration from kids clothing, old floral cotton prints and striped sailor suits and canvas deck shoes and literally add another layer of wild color to an already over the top performance.

No place for serious: A man who sat next to me on opening night in the lively promenade section had the audacity to spend the entire performance hibernating in a copy of The New Yorker.  This guy, wearing a fully zipped vintage Members-Only jacket, kind of looked like a hunkered over turtle.  Despite the many beach balls that bounced off him, he held his ground, never looking up, never smiling.  If you’re looking for a serious drama, head for Berkeley Rep’s main stage.  If you want a place where you can let your hair down and get a little crazy, Penzance is your show.

Creative Team: Sean Graney (Director); Thrisa Hodits (Co-director); Andra Velis Simon (Music Director); Katie Spelman (Choreographer); Tom Burch (Set Design); Alison Siple (Costume Design); Heather Gilbert (Lighting Design); Kevin O’Donnell (Co-adapter/Sound Design); Miranda Anderson (Stage Manager)

Mario Aivazian (Pirate/Pirate King); Delia Baseman (Pirate/Ruth/Mabel); Jenni M. Hadley (Daughter); Matt Kahler (Major-General/Samuel); Royen Kent (Pirate/Frederick); Kriste Magee (Daughter); Shawn Pfaustch (Pirate King); Becky Poole (Daughter); Christine Stulik (Ruth/Mabel); Zeke Sulkes (Frederick)

Run-time:  1 hour and twenty minutes.  At this show, you are free to move around and come and go and purchase refreshments, so there is no intermission.

Details: The Hyporcites’ Pirates of Penzance closes December 20, 2105.  The Osher Studio is located at 2055 Center Street, near the intersection of Center and Shattuck.  The studio is in the Arts Passage, which runs between Addison and Center Strrets and you can access the passage from either side.  Park as if you are attending a production in the main Berkeley Rep theaters and you will be fine as this is just across the street. Tickets: Risers: $55-65; Promenade: $40-50.  Under age of 30 (Promenade) $25.

Info: http://www.berkeleyrep.org/season/1516/9310.asp

November 1, 2015 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment