Asian Art Museum’s “First Look” showcases its own growing collection of contemporary Asian artworks─ through October 11, 2015
Under director Jay Xu, things have been shifting at the Asian Art Museum (AAM); there’s a heartfelt effort to exhibit and collect more Asian contemporary art and thereby engage with today’s issues. Its current show, First Look, which closes on October 11, emphasizes the museum’s recent acquisitions, some as new as 2015, and presents highlights of its contemporary collection acquired over the past 15 years. I was somewhat surprised to learn that the AAM’s collection includes over 18,000 artworks but only 1,100 (rough estimate) were created within the past 50 years. Organized by curator Allison Harding, who co-curated the smashing 2014 show, Gorgeous, this show presents 57 of those intriguing artworks. It’s a thoughtful response to the questions─“What is Asian contemporary art? “What is its status and relationship to more traditional modes of Asian art?“ How is it understood by native viewers versus those outside the region?” On the heels of its summer show 28 Chinese (June 5–Aug. 16, 2015), which featured some of China’s most exciting artists from its vast contemporary art scene, First Look features works from artists from all over Asia and a bit beyond, like Ahmed Mater from Saudi Arabia. This is a show that grows on you with each successive visit. Allow adequate time: some of First Look’s mesmerizing videos are so seductive, you’ll find that you can’t tear yourself away.
Details: First Look closes October 11, 2105. 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: $15 General admission; Seniors, students, youth (13-17) $10; 12 & under are free. You can pre-purchase your tickets, with no processing fee, online here.
At San Francisco Opera’s (SFO) Sunday matinee performance of Verdi’s Luisa Miller, all eyes and ears were on tenor Michael Fabiano and rightly so─his Rodolfo was inspired, powerful. The tall, dashing 30 year-old embodied the aristocrat loved by two women, the son who defies his father and the unwitting pawn in a political intrigue that leads to murder. How trilling to behold a young singer nail a performance and to find yourself rising to your feet, whopping and whistling for him out of pure joy, knowing in your bones that you have just witnessed one of the great tenors in opera. Fabiano, 30, is the recipient of the 2014 Richard Tucker Award and the 2014 Beverly Sills Award, the first person in history to win both awards in one year.
Sharing the glory was young soprano Leah Crocetto, in the title role, alum of the Adler and Merola programs, who sang beautifully as well. Actually it’s a match that’s been in the works for some time─ Crocetto and Fabiano sang Mimi and Rodolfo in SFO’s La Bohème in 2014 but never sang together as they were in separate casts. Each garnered great reviews. Fabiano went on to sing Rodolfo at the Metropolitan Opera House in December, garnering global attention there as well as at La Scala and the Glyndebourne Festival. It was thus no surprise to see a few people in the audience on Sunday who had attended the gala season-opening performance and were back for a final dose of this rare, luscious singing.
The 1849 opera, Verdi’s 15th, is based on Schiller’s play “Kabale and Liebe.” The plot is insanely unrealistic─Luisa Miller, a commoner, is in love with Carlo, who is really Rodolfo, the son of the local Count, Walter. Luisa’s protective father distrusts Carlo and schemes behind her back to have her marry Wurm, who works for the Count. When Wurm (whose name translates appropriately as “Worm”) tells the count that his son is in love with a commoner, the Count orders Rodolfo to marry the recently widowed duchess, Federica who is in the good graces of the Imperial Court. The rest of the opera revolves around political intrigue, deception and heartbreak and culminates in multiple deaths─Wurm by gunshot and Rodolfo and Luisa by poisoning, just after the truth of their abiding love is revealed, but too late as the poison has been drunk.
Soprano Leah Crocetto sang beautifully, consistently hitting the notes this demanding role calls for while evoking the emotional roller coaster that innocent young Luisa is subject to. She soared in her Act II, aria “Te puniscimi, O Signore” which was pulsing with feeling as she expressed being torn between her love for Rodolfo and her father. And right after Fabiano brought down the house with his exquisite Act II aria, “Quando le Sere al Placido,” it was as if she too got a boost from the fumes and came out singing with renewed fire.
Russian mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk has an intrinsically lush, full voice and her SF Opera debut as the widowed duchess, Federica, was enchanting. It was particularly amusing when she made her entrance drawn in on an enormous horse statue replete with its clunky pedestal, as if it had been dragged there from a European park. To dismount she had to be lifted down by another cast member. Her singing was nimble and spot-on, from her Act I aria, “Duchessa Duchessa tu m’appelli,” and duet, “Dall aule raggianti di vano,” with Rodolfo to her Act II recitatives.
Baritone Vitaliy Bilyy as Miller, who has also sung the role at Milan’s La Scala, made his SFO debut and was impressive. Bass baritone Daniel Sumegi sang Count Walter and imbued him with an appropriately dark character. The great irony of the opera is that the Count, who conspires to entrap Luisa and her father, ultimately ensnares his own beloved son.
Bass Andrea Silvestrelli sang wonderfully but could have imbued his bland Wurm with even more despicability. Second year Adler Fellow, soprano Jacqueline Piccolino was impressive as the village girl Laura, whose Act I “Tidesta, Luisa” (sung with the chorus) immediately caught our attention. Her Act III “O Dolce Amica, E Ristorar Non Vuoi,” sung with Lusia and the chorus, again made an impression.
When SFO Music Director, Nicola Luisotti, comes to the podium, and it’s Verdi, one always has the sense that great things are in the pipeline. It’s amazing how time flies too. He made his SFO debut in 2005, conducting “La Forza del Destino,” and has been director since 2009.
He started the overture at a healthy clip, as he is prone to do, but, throughout the afternoon, brought the delicacy out in the scoring as well the drama, passion, and color that Verdi infused this score with. The clarinet solo in the overture and horns calls further enlivened the music. The SFO chorus sang masterfully throughout, starting out as a chorus of simple country folk singing repeating melodies that were expressive and catchy.
The production, a 2000 revival by Francesca Zambello, which I had not seen before, intrigued me, particularly Michael Yeargan’s gorgeous sets. They included a painted surround backdrop of a dense forest which changed colors, and several very large paintings─ a rustic farmhouse for Miller’s house, an elegant tapestry featuring a hunting scene with leaping hounds for Walter’s castle and, for Act II, a gray honeycomb pattern evoking metal mesh─all suspended from a distracting metal arm that hung over the stage for the duration of the opera.
Dunya Ramicova’s costumes were predictable─the villagers wore peasant costumes; the nobles were elegant in fitted red velvet coats and dresses for the hunt; Rodolfo and Wurm were fitted in green and the count wore an elegant black coat with a white ruffled shirt. The fitted waists and abundance of fabric in the skirts of Crocetto’s and Semenchuk’s period gowns did nothing to flatter their rounder figures.
Details: There are no remaining performances of Luisa Miller. For information about the SFO’s 2015-16 season, for which you can still catch all but Luisa Miller, click here. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.
San Francisco Opera’s new production of Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd”—not so scary, but bloody grand it is!
There’s nothing more satisfying than an occasional slice of pie! And San Francisco Opera’s (SFO) production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd, offers just that─delectable meat pies with a killer secret ingredient served up in an exhilarating musical. A co-production with Houston Grand Opera and the Paris Thèâtre du Châtelet, this Lee Blakeley production premiered in Paris in 2011, and garnered raves at the Houston Grand Opera in April 2015. It features Sondheim’s original score for the lyric stage and boasts unforgettable tunes. At the War Memorial Opera House, with a stand-out cast of singers who can also act, it has definitely found its groove. The SFO orchestra and chorus are magical under guest conductor Patrick Summers. Simon Berry’s powerful organ solos, which fill the opera house, punctuate the drama. Wonderfully harmonic singing accompanies the throat slitting and a spare-no-expense big staging, designed by Tania McCallin transports the audience back to bleak 1860’s backstreet London.
In all, it’s a fitting coup for SFO’s Music Director David Gockley, who is retiring and is now in his final season. Gockley has championed musical theater in the opera house to help build a wider audience base. During his tenure at Houston Grand Opera in the 1980’s, it was he who mounted a groundbreaking production of Sweeney Todd, establishing HGO as the first opera company to stage the 1979 musical, originally directed for Broadway by Harold Prince and starring Angela Lansberry and Len Cariou. By the looks and gleeful ovations of the audience at last Sunday’s performance, which included more in their teens and twenties than I have ever seen before, Gockley’s making headway at building that wider base.
The story: In London there once lived a barber named Benjamin Barker (baritone Brian Mulligan) and his sweet young wife and child and he loved them with all he had. But the licentious Judge Turpin (Wayne Tiggs) had Barker exiled to Australia on trumped up charges, meanwhile holding his wife and daughter, Johanna, captive. Turpin ravishes the wife, ruining her life, and the traumatized young Johanna grows up as his ward and house prisoner. The wronged barber, going by the name of Sweeney Todd returns to London to exact revenge and teams up with an ambitious pie maker, with a few secrets of her own, who has high hopes that the barber will become her next husband.
At last Sunday’s matinee, there were three clear standouts —baritone Brian Mulligan in the title role; mezzo soprano Stephanie Blythe as his pie baking accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, and baritone Elliot Madore as the young sailor, Anthony Hope.
From the moment he takes the stage, American baritone Brian Mulligan, commands full attention. Mulligan who sang the title role in SFO’s Nixon in China (2012) and, most recently, Chorèbe in Les Troyens (summer 2105), really channeled his dramatic flare, pulling off a dynamic performance with his rich vocals and acting. Mulligan looks and a lot like School of Rock’s sensational Jack Black, so much so, that, at times, I half expected to see him amplifying his heartbreak with an electric guitar. As the performance begins, Sweeney has just sailed into London with young Anthony Hope, Canadian baritone Elliot Madore, the winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions in his SFO debut. The duo’s energetic opener, “No Place Like London,” showcased the strength and lyricism of their blended voices, while Mulligan’s “The Barber and his Wife” conveyed sensitivity and heartbreak. Later in the Act I, Mulligan’s chilling duo with Stephanie Blythe, “My Friends” referring to his razors, was powerfully macabre.
Madore, in his SFO debut, sung so tenderly throughout the afternoon that I too swooned, from he began wooing young Johanna away from her troubles with his exquisite “Johanna” to his ACTII reprise of that enchanting song and wonderful duos along the way.
Mezzo Stephanie Blythe is always an amazing stage presence but she outdid herself as shopkeeper Mrs. Lovett, a role that showcased her natural comedic genius and irrepressible bombast. She won hearts in “The Worse Pies in London” and continued to deliver full force delight in her Act I duo with Mulligan, “A Little Priest,” an outlandishly hilarious culinary appraisal of humans as pie ingredients. Act II’s duos “By the Sea” with Mulligan and “Not While I’m Around” with Tobias (Mathew Griggs) were exquisite. It was hard to believe that this is Blythe’s debut in this role; she’s set the bar high at SFO for future singers in this role.
There are also star turns by Heidi Stober as Johanna; Elizabeth Futral as Beggar Woman; AJ Glueckert as Beadle Bamford, Wayne Tigges as Judge Turpin; Matthew Grills as Tobias Ragg and David Curry as Adolfo Pirelli.
Stephanie Blythe at the Fairmont Hotel’s Venetian Room October 4: Blythe will perform her heart-warming cabaret show “We’ll Meet Again: The Songs of Kate Smith,” about the great First Lady of Radio, Kate Smith, on October 4th, 2015. For information and tickets ($70 or $100), click here.
Sweeney Todd Details: There are 2 remaining performances of Sweeney Todd─Saturday, Sept. 26, 7:30 PM and Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 7:30 PM. Both will be conducted by James Lowe. Click here for tickets ($31 to $395) or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. While it’s sung in English, every performance of Sweeney Todd features English supertitles projected above the stage, visible from every seat. For information about the SFO’s 2015-16 season, for which you can still catch all performances, click here.
Now in its 38th year, the legendary Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), October 8-18, is hard to beat—11 days of the best new films from around the world, intimate on stage conversations with directors and stars, live music, and parties. AND it’s NORTH of the Golden Gate, so the driving is quicker. This festival is so good that five of the last seven Academy Award winners for best picture (Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, The Artist, Argo, 12 Years a Slave) made their Bay Area premieres there. What it really prides itself on, though, is its selection of locally-directed indies, gems of world cinema, and engrossing docs selected with care to meet our exacting standards. Mill Valley is an insider’s festival though and tickets are sold to members of the California Film Institute (CFI), based on membership levels, long before they are made available to the public.
This year’s festival is October 8-18 and tickets are now on sale to the general public. If you want to attend any of the fabulous tributes, spotlight or centerpiece screenings, it is essential that you lock in your tickets ASAP.
Stay tuned to ARThound for top picks.
Screening venues include: Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael); Century Larkspur (500 Larkspur Landing Circle); Lark Theater (549 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur), Century Cinema (41 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera); CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley), Throckmorton Theatre (142 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley) and other venues throughout the Bay Area.
Online ticket purchase is highly recommended (click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option. (Online purchases have a $1.75 per film surcharge). There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantages of getting your tickets on the spot, no service fee, and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—
Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept.19-Oct 7, 4–8 pm (General Public)
Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, 85 Throckmorton Ave, October 7, 11 am–3:00 pm; Oct 8-18, 10 am to 15 min after last show starts
Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center 85 Throckmorton Ave October 1, 11:00 am–3:00 pm October 2–12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
Everything clicked Wednesday evening at ACT (American Conservatory Theater) which opened its 2015-6 season with Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Between Riverside and Crazy, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama. Drawn from real life, the story, which had the audience laughing all night with its biting dialogue and superb acting, captures a dark period in the life of ex-NYC cop and recent widower Walter “Pops” Washington, marvel Carl Lumbly. “Pops” has a full set of problems which are only compounded by the company of ne’er-do-wells surrounding him. He is trying to stave off eviction from his gigantic rent stabilized apartment on Riverside Drive while he waits for a hefty settlement from a racial discrimination suit he filed against NYPD 8 years back. He’s also keeping tabs on Junior, his newly-paroled son (Samuel Ray Gates) who seems to be using the apartment for fencing stolen goods and who has moved his girlfriend, Lulu (Elia Monte-Brown), in, who might be a hooker. Oswaldo (Lakin Valdez), an addict in recovery, is another questionable houseguest. It’s no wonder that Pops is drinking.
While the entire cast is superb, Carl Lumbly, “Pops,” who hails from Berkley, is the glue that holds this superbly measured tragic-comedy together. He has that wonderful sense of ease on stage that allows him to completely embody a character and to relate genuinely to everyone.
Lumbly, garnered national attention as NYPD Detective Marcus Petrie on the CBS police drama Cagney & Lacey and as CIA Agent Marcus Dixon on the ABC espionage drama series Alias, is well known for his remarkable theatrical performances. In 2013, at San Francisco Playhouse he played the lead character in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ tragicomedy, The Motherf**ker with the Hat, along with Gabriel Marin, who plays a police detective in this play.
As with so many plays drawn from controversial real-life events, perspective is everything and the brilliance of this Guirgis play is that it shrewdly limits itself to a few perspectives, ensuring that we learn everything about Pops and his past from either Pops or the two white NYPD detectives (his former partner (Stacey Ross) and her fiancé (Gabriel Marin) who come calling to try and dissuade him from pursuing his lawsuit against the NYPD.
The crux of the play is that Pops, confined to a wheelchair, has been seething in anger for years over being shot and has been finding consolation in a bottle. He believes his shooting was a racially motivated crime rather than an accident and he wants “justice” and has held out for 8 years hoping for recognition that his civil rights were violated. It’s very easy to fall for Pops and into his mindset. As time passes, however, we learn that, in order to receive a more lucrative settlement, he embellished his story saying that the white cop that shot him called him “nigger” and we learn that, on the evening he was shot, he was off duty at a seedy bar and didn’t identify himself as police officer and his blood alcohol level was very high. That seems to change everything, or does it? Guirgis, who based the play on an actual shooting that happened in 1994, is exploring the limits of truth and the race factor.
How do we decide who to believe in a shooting that is tainted with claims of racial motivation? Pops may have been lying when he said the cop who shot him called a name, but it is also possible that the cop was motivated by an implicit bias, which is almost impossible to prove.
The domestic chaos in the household seems a perfect accompaniment for Pops’ inner turmoil and one of the pleasures of Between Riverside and Crazy is Guirgis’ vivid contemplation of character. Guirgis has long had a fascination with strugglers, strivers, misfits and perennial outsiders and they all come together in this crumbling apartment─each a slave to some form of self-destruction and each with a cover story that cracks as time passes. The push-pull drama is funny, sad and believable.
We first meet well-meaning Oswaldo (Lakin Valdez), a junkie who is committed to rehabilitation but slips up. His affection for Pops in Act 1 is palpable. His colorful riff on eating healthy which involves a diet of fresh organic raw almonds instead of Ring Dings with baloney and Fanta Grape unfolds like poetry. When Pop’s son’s fiancé, Lulu (Elia Monte-Brown), waltzes into the kitchen in short shorts and tries to wrap Pops around her finger, sweetness delivered in a Hispanic Brooklyn accent, we just know she’s trouble and not really studying accounting. And Pop’s parolee son, Junior (Chris Butler), with whom he seems to have a strained relationship, purports to be walking the straight and narrow but his partying and strange comings and goings lead us to suspect he’s up to no good. And then there’s the dynamic seductress “Church Lady” (Catherine Castellanos) who delivers a “Spiritual treatment” that sends Pops straight into cardiac arrest.
And Gabriel Marin, as Lt. Caro has a wonderful stage presence. Seeing him again on stage with Lumbly, after their pairings at SF Playhouse (The Motherf**ker with the Hat (2013), Storefront Church (2013), Jesus Hopped the “A” Train (2007)) makes me realize how magical their chemistry is.
All the action takes place in the confines of the kitchen and living room, essentially one large set, masterfully designed by Chris Barreca. The space evokes the fading grandeur of those magical old large Riverside apartments from the era when middle class workers in New York really had some space. Pops’ wife has passed recently so the place looks neglected with its ratty appliances, distressed cabinets and old linoleum but it’s got very good bones.
Director Irene Lewis’ pacing of this two hour play is near perfect with the first part devoted to Pops’ extended dysfunctional family and the second, a life-altering visit from Church Lady, revelations about his lawsuit, and an unexpected ending.
Carl Lumbly on playing “Pops”─ Pops has had to walk a hard line, and as a black man of his time, growing up and making the choice to become a police officer—perhaps in a neighborhood in which most people went a completely different way—was a complex decision. As his career went on, I believe he saw some things that made him proud of having made that choice. But over time, being tossed up against the serrated edge of reality that operates in situations where people are acting out of desperation, he saw some pretty awful forms of human behavior, in perpetrators and criminals as well as in the system of justice that gets applied to hold them in check. …Because he doesn’t have legitimate power any longer, illegitimate power achieved by lies in the face of unfairness doesn’t feel like the worst strategy.
Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Irene Lewis
Cast: Chris Butler (Junior), Catherine Castellanos (Church Lady), Carl Lumbly (Walter “Pops” Washington), Gabriel Marin (Lieutenant Caro), Elia Monte-Brown (Lulu), Stacey Ross (Detective O’Conner), and Lakin Valdez (Oswaldo)
Creative Team: Chris Barreca (set design), Seth Resier (lighting design), Candice Donnelly (costume design), Leon Rothenberg (sound design)
Run-time: 2 hours, plus one 15-minute intermission
Details: Between Riverside and Crazy runs through September 27, 2015 at American Conservatory Theater, 405 Geary Street, San Francisco. Performances are 8 p.m. most Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. most Wednesdays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. most Sundays. Tickets: $25 to $125, phone 415.749.2228, or visit www.act-sf.org.
The 35th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival hits the Smith Rafael Film Center this Friday, August 7, through Sunday, August 9—the art line-up is impressive
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), the first, the largest, and arguably the best in the proliferation of Jewish film fests, returns to Marin’s Smith Rafael Film Center Friday afternoon with a line-up of 15 new films showcasing the best in independent Jewish film. All of the films have been selected from the 120+ film line-up that has been playing in San Francisco, Oakland and Palo Alto since July 23. The Marin segment has been curated with our North of the Golden Gate viewing preferences in mind—great story-telling, thought-provoking content on current issues and art. Three of the films are art related and with fabulous storylines and seem well worth the drive and time spent indoors.
The festival kicks off Friday at 12:30 with Lisa Vreeland’s acclaimed documentary, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (2015), which made its California premiere at the festival.
And on Saturday, at 12:30 PM, Yari Wolinsky and Cary Wolinsky’s Raise the Roof (2014) tells the inspiring story of the complete architectural restoration of a decimated 18th century wooden synagogue in Gwozdziec, Poland by a team of committed volunteer artisans from around the globe who use original methods and tools to restore the churches elaborate exterior and immense and complex interior frescoes.
On Saturday, at 6:20 PM, French director François Margolin’s docu-drama, The Art Dealer (“L’Antiquaire”) (2014), journeys through a family’s secrets and European history.
On Saturday, at 6:20 PM, French director François Margolin’s docu-drama, The Art Dealer (“L’Antiquaire”) (2014), uses the story of a painting to journey through a famous family’s secrets and European history.
Details: Screenings at the Smith Rafael Film Center start Friday, August 7, at 2:30 PM and run through Sunday, 10 PM. Click here for complete program and ticket information. A Marin Pass, good for all screenings in Marin, is $100 for members Jewish Film Institute / $120 General Public. The Smith Rafael Film Center is located at 1118 4th Street, San Rafael.
Festival Box Office Hours: The Festival Box Office for the Smith Rafael Film Center screenings will be next to the venue’s regular box office and easy to find. It will open 1 hour prior to the first SFJFF screening of the day and will remain open throughout the day until 15 minutes after the last screening begins. Orders set to will call will be available at the venue and on the day of the first screening in the order. If all tickets were purchased on the same order, they will all be available for pick up at the first screening in the order; if tickets were purchased on separate orders, they will be available or pick up at the first screening of each order. Marin Passes will be available for pick up at the Rafael Film Center on August 9th.
Degas in Petaluma—Robert Flynn Johnson’s impeccable collection of Degas drawings are at the Petaluma Arts Center, opening festivities Saturday evening
“Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle or shorthand…“Degas in Petaluma”…. is Petaluma Art Center’s (PAC) biggest coup to date. Featuring 100+ works on paper, the exhibition includes 40 drawings, prints, pastels, and photographs by Degas from his early days of making studies of works at the Louvre to late in his career. Also included in the show are works on paper by artists in his circle, including Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. One of the reasons I’m so excited about this exhibit is that gives me another chance to meet the collector, Robert Flynn Johnson, and hear him hold court on his favorite subject, his art and his thought processes about art and collecting. I met him 20 years back when he was the curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He was one of their most interesting and knowledgeable curators then, always giving us the juiciest tidbits, enlivening the small victories and defeats in the artist’s daily struggle and reveling in the connections between artists. His own eclectic collecting habits were revealed to us with his marvelous photography show, “Anonymous: 19th and 20th Century Photographs and Quilts by Unknown Artists from the Collection of Robert Flynn Johnson,” at PAC in August 2011. (Click here to read ARThound’s review of that show.) And late last year, Joe McDonald’s Ice House Gallery featured some of Flynn Johnson’s even more eclectic works in “Catch and Release: Works from the Robert Flynn Johnson Collection.” It was there that we all had a chance to preview the chic and wonderfully informative catalog for Flynn Johnson’s Degas collection that Joe had shot the images for. Flynn Johnson’s writing in this catalog represents decades of scholarly research and rumination and reveals Degas as a fascinating young man, oddly rebellious and immensely talented. As Flynn Johnson explores the fine details and artistic choices in these artworks, they come to life. He wrote the wonderful wall captions for the show too, so prepare to be wowed on all fronts.
You won’t want to miss the opening party or his two talks at PAC—
Saturday, June 20—Opening Reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres (5-8PM) (click here to buy $10 tickets if you are not a member of PAC; free to members)
Thursday, July 2, 2015—Chasing Degas: My Four Decades Collecting this Artist and his Circle – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM). $15 General, $10 PAC members.
Thursday, July 16, 2015—Public/ Private: Collecting for the Community while Collecting Personally, a Balancing Act – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM). $15 General, $10 PAC members.
Details: “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle runs through July 26, 2015. The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma’s historic former train depot. Hours 11-5 PM Thursday through Monday, open until 8PM Saturdays. Admission for this special exhibit: $10 General. PAC members, FREE. Tickets may be purchased in advance, here.
Horse Sense—ARThound talks with San Francisco Opera’s Daniel Knapp about “Patches,” the equine star of “The Trojans,” at War Memorial Opera House through July 1, 2015
Horses are mythic. There’s none more colossal or more steeped in legend than the Trojan horse, a prize so glorious that it could not be left standing outside Troy’s gates but once brought inside, would destroy all those in power. As San Francisco Opera opens its summer season with six performances of Berlioz’s glorious musical epic, The Trojans, I spoke with David Knapp, the company’s new production manager, about “Patches,” its equine star. The 23-foot-tall Trojan horse, which is on stage for most of the 5+ hour opera, has been nicknamed “Patches” by SFO because it’s literally pieced together from scraps and functions much like a mechanized puppet, with carpenters and acrobats inside it manipulating it. Back after a 47 year hiatus, it took over a decade of planning to bring the $6 million production to San Francisco Opera (SFO). It’s staged by Sir David McVicar, the acclaimed Scottish director, and is a coproduction of SFO, Royal Opera House, Teatro alla Scala, and Vienna State Opera. Since the opera opened to a sold-out house on June 6, it has drawn universal praise from critics and audience alike. Long before the opera opened though, Patches was a big draw with SFO staff and special visitors who came back stage in droves to pose for photos with the humongous but intricately constructed artwork. Here is my conversation with Knapp about this horse—
What’s so special about this giant horse that has travelled here from Europe.
Daniel Knapp: It’s magnificent—7 meters (approximately 23 feet) tall and is not only a sculpture that is scenic art but it’s also a puppet to a certain extent. It’s constructed of steel and fiberglass and doesn’t weigh too much because it’s mainly fiberglass. It has a gaf piston in it which allows for the rocking of the head and basic movements and that’s very exciting. When it’s first introduced, you get the impression that it’s very tall, frightening. You only see the upper part of the head and wonder where’s it coming from and what does the whole thing look like and is it really a horse? There are 2 carpenters and 3 acrobats inside, moving and manipulating the horse and they’ve been here practicing since the rehearsal period began.
Who gets credit for artistic design of the horse?
Daniel Knapp: It’s Es Devlin, a British designer who’s involved with all the top rock and roll shows—U2 tour, Take That tours, Miley Cyrus—and with opera and theatre. She designed the closing ceremony for the 2012 London Olympic Games. She runs an office with a multitude of assistants and she has just opened an office in Brazil. The conception for the horse came from the workshops of the Royal Opera House and she worked with them to refine it, from the model to the life-scale sculpture we call “Patches” because it’s patched together.
Has Devlin created any other animals that we might recognize?
Daniel Knapp: She’s done all the set and scenic design on this opera but I’m not aware that’s she done another horse. For one of the last Take That tours, she did a big man, that was more than 40 feet tall, that stood up over the course of the concert, going from crouching to standing in the middle of the audience. (Take That is a leading British pop group that formed in 1990 and currently consists of musicians Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen)
(Es Devlin designed the giant walking elephant for Take That’s Circus Live Tour 2009. The 26 foot tall elephant had translucent skin made light-weight chain mail and was constructed by Mark Mason of Asylum Models. It was operated by 13 puppeteers inside the skins and another four at ground level who controlled the head, trunk and legs. It had rods that moved the ears and its tail was an inverted acrobat wearing a helmet with hair extensions. (To read about and see the elephant, click here.)
This version of Troyens is set, more or less, at the time of its composition, in the 1850s, Second Empire France. How did that influence the actual conception for the horse that looks like a machine horse?
Daniel Knapp: Everything that you will see that is part of the horse could have been made at that time or could predate that time. The horse is pieced together from what appear to be rifles, screwdrivers, all sorts of tools and scrap materials like keys…it’s actually mostly fiberglass, a piecemeal puzzle that once put together appears as this great horse.
Carbon footprint aside, what’s entailed in getting something of this magnitude to San Francisco? And then assembling it?
Daniel Knapp: We always use steam ship companies because air is too expensive. It was shipped in 16 containers (40 foot high cube containers). Your entire household could fit in 1 of these containers, or, if you’ve got an extensive household you might need 1.5 containers. It all arrived in pieces in a very organized matchbox system. A team form the Royal Opera House came over to help with the assembly because they are the originators. Actually, our staff went to La Scala last year and watched this process and got a feel for what it takes to put on this production. With this run, we did all of that assembly in 3.5 days; in Milan, they weren’t as quick as we were. We didn’t have the time or money to allow for more time to do it.
How many scenes does Patches appear in?
Daniel Knapp: He appears in a multitude of scenes but I’m not going to give away any of the excitement. He’s on stage for a fair while and, when he’s not hiding in the back, sometimes he’s looming in the background and sometimes he’s hidden by a blackout curtain.
How mobile is the horse and how does it move around the stage? I heard this entails acrobats and carpenters.
Daniel Knapp: Yes, that’s exactly what it takes. We have few carpenters and acrobats around and in it, moving it. It’s on wheels, on a huge A stand. If you think of a child’s swing on the playground and think of it for giants, that’s what the internal structure of the horse is. It moves around on wheels that are on tracks just like a train. The tracks are a part of the original design and actually travel with the production. We had to cover our stage floor with another floor and that entailed adding about 1 inch to our stage to ensure that the weight is distributed evenly so that we don’t damage our rather old stage floor. We also had to re-enforce some of the stage structure underneath to make sure that we don’t suddenly fall in the basement. The horse might be relatively light but the trappings—the drum trucks, the big scenery elements for Troy and Carthage—all together, those weigh 32 tons.
Anything tricky about coordinating the movement of the horse to the music and the singers? Do any of the lead singers have any direct interaction with the horse?
Daniel Knapp: As we know from the Trojan story, the horse is sort of a separate entity. The lead singers certainly react to it but they don’t interact with it directly. The horse’s movement on stage is cued like everything else—people execute what they have rehearsed and there’s nothing complicated about that. These are professionals who are used to working to cues from the stage manager, such as “horse go upstage.” We do this in rehearsal and there’s always a review afterwards to make sure that we have hit our marks. Sometimes, the director might want to change the speed but it’s not complicated. There’s one boss and that’s the director but on stage, it’s the stage manager who calls out when and where.
This is a fiery horse—how is the fire created and will there be accompanying liquid nitrogen and steam, like in the Ring?
Daniel Knapp: The horse itself doesn’t breathe fire but its mane burns, which is a very impressive sight. In the original version, in London, they had the horse smoke but due to restrictions over here, the director distanced himself from that when he did the revival in Milan. That’s what I said about cooking the meal for the third or fourth time, you’ve left out the ginger but added something else. Over here, steam and liquid nitrogen are our only possibilities to create atmosphere due to the CVA restrictions we work under as collaborating artists.
Do you have much freedom in interpretation of this opera and how the horse is used here in San Francisco?
Daniel Knapp: It’s like your last cooking experience when you invite people over for dinner and you remember that, three years ago, you did this fantastic meal and you want to do the same meal again. Will do it exactly the same way? No—that’s exactly the same situation with a revival or co-production. We are not the conceivers, David McVicar or Ses Devlin, we are realizing their artistic vision. We had Leah Hausman, the co-director from London, here, who is a dance and movement director and coach, and other of McVicar’s associates here. We could never do this just ourselves because then it’s not in the original spirit. People in the house who were part of the original creation production do feel differently than people who have just joined a few years later and we needed them.
How appropriate is the War Memorial Opera House stage for a horse of this weight and magnitude? Isn’t SF much smaller than the Royal Opera House or La Scala?
Daniel Knapp: It’s not only the horse but it’s also the enormous drum trucks which support Carthage and Troy. Carthage is an entire terracotta kingdom and you’ll be blown away by it, as much as by the horse. You’ve also got the chorus, the singers, dancers, acrobats—over 130 on stage.
Stage wise, we are a little smaller but, auditorium wise, we are bigger than all the European houses. We compare ourselves to the size of Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki, which has the biggest modern stage (together with the Opéra Bastille in Paris) in Europe. Here in the US, you have this curiosum or wonderful paradox because sometimes there are stages like ours that originally did not have a backstage or a real up stage storage area but only a stage area. Actually, up until 45 years ago, all our sets were built right on stage. Our auditorium is huge compared to all the European houses. With 3,146 seats, we are bigger than all other houses but now our stage is smaller, so over the next 20 years there will probably be some developments.
Any funny stories related to Patches so far?
Daniel Knapp: Just people excited to have their picture taken with Patches. It’s like we are a part of Disney World here; even the staff is coming down to the stage to have their picture taken.
What’s your favorite scene in Trojans?
Daniel Knapp: It’s the whole opera, the whole thing, because once it’s done because it’s such a complex and huge show that I can’t focus on one thing but rather all the contributing moments.
How are adjusting to your new position here? What are your responsibilities?
Daniel Knapp: I’m adjusting great; it’s full of surprises in a good and interesting way. The whole scope of coming to a new country and a new working environment offers a multitude of perspectives. It’s been very welcoming so far and very intense, so it feels a lot more like I’ve been here a year and half rather than just a few months.
I’m responsible for overseeing all the productions at SFO— all the scenic elements, costume shops, sound and technical departments and all the labor that’s involved, which is all the talent on the stage plus the electricians and all the support staff…so, it’s quite a scope. I’ve met a lot of people who have a certain sense of responsibility for this company, who identify with it and who have been here much longer than me. They’ve introduced me to the company culture and what necessary changes could be made and how we can achieve those as a team over the next 3, 5, 15, or however many, years to stay up with the world class opera companies.
With “Troyens” up first, followed by the world premiere of “Two Women,” it’s kind of a trial by fire for you. What’s the most demanding part of your job right now?
Daniel Knapp: I’m a little in both fire and water trials right now. I’m from a country that has plenty of drinking water and lakes on our doorstep and coming to Northern CA, and being in the middle of a drought, is also a big trial. To be able to make use of all the technology and intellectual capital that surrounds us here and to engage the techies is another exciting challenge for our opera company. With respect to the work load, at the Bregenzer Festival in Austria, I was always overseeing two productions; last summer it was three productions, one of which was The Magic Flute on the floating stage. I was also very involved with the pre-production of Turandot that will premiere on July 22. So that’s heavy experience with large-scale productions on the lake, in the open air, and it’s a bit of a different scale. We had many international co-productions as well with companies in Europe and the US, so I am quite used to doing multiple wedding dances at the same time. That was exciting but the requirements of a concentrated festival versus a company that is doing performances year-round are different. What I love here is that we have an interwoven schedule so that the three monumental productions— The Trojans, the world premiere of Two Woman and the revival of the classic, Figaro, in an adapted version, Figaro, will all be able to fit on stage. That was a lot to step into.
How did you prepare for this opera? Did you do extensive reading or do you mainly execute and manage?
Daniel Knapp: My learning process is the interaction with the artists, finding out what their real concerns are and looking behind the scenes. I’m not the guy who tries to be more prepared than the director and I don’t do the full research of the director or designers. However, when I have questions about why something is set-up a certain way and why something can’t be done, I get very involved. I always question creative teams about why they would want to emphasize something or not. I need to understand where they are coming from so that we can get the most from their art on stage. The great thing about my job is that, if I do it correctly, you don’t notice that I am there.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming fall season?
Daniel Knapp: Meistersinger of course! That’s because it’s another one of those monster shows with great music, a great designer, great artists…so that’s very nice. I’m also excited about Usher (Fall of the House of Usher) which is so theatrical. The great thing is that my former boss, David Pountney, is the director of that show, so I get to meet him under different circumstances, to collaborate and to actually tell him “no.”
Details: There are three remaining performance of The Trojans—Saturday, June 20, 2105, 6PM; Thursday, June 25, 6PM and Wednesday, July 1, 6PM. Seats are selling fast—purchase tickets here or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat. The June 25th and July 1st performance feature OperavVision, HD video projection screens in the Balcony level. For information about the SFO’s Summer 2015 Season, click here.
Love Lavender? Mataznas Creek Winery’s 19th annual “Days of Wine and Lavender” is Saturday, June 27, 2015
Nestled between three mountain peaks in Sonoma County’s bucolic Bennett Valley, the Matanzas Creek Winery and vineyard is home to over three acres of lavender gardens. Planted in 1991 and nurtured by the vineyard’s gardeners, these spectacular plants frame the entrance to the winery and are now in full bloom. On Saturday, June 27, 2015, from noon to 4 PM, Matanzas Creek celebrates its bounty with its festive 19th Annual Days of Wine & Lavender. The wonderful afternoon includes Matanzas Creek’s special wines, including its latest releases of crisp, aromatic Bennett Valley Chardonnay and its exclusive, hedonistic, Journey label which includes its 2013 Journey Sauvignon Blanc and 2013 Bennett Valley Pinot Noir which has hints of rose petals. Attendance is limited at this special gathering, so guests never feel overcrowded as they stroll the expansive property, taking in the vineyards and the vibrant bust of purple. The healing fragrance of lavender wafts through the air while the bees buzz. Live music keeps the tempo celebratory as guests partake of special food and wine pairings to their heart’s content. Many of these creative gourmet delights are lavender themed.
There are photo booths, opportunities to paint in the lavender fields or just zone out in comfy lounge chairs and take in the view. Not only do I love this event for the food and wine, but it’s wonderful to stock up on Matanzas Creek’s lavender bath and body products which are made with the finest ingredients and beautifully packaged. The concentration/staying power of their fragrance and nurturing qualities are evident immediately and these products make wonderful gifts. Don’t miss the opportunity to bliss out by spritzing yourself with their amazing Lavender Mist. A personal favorite, used by all members of our household, is Matanzas Creek Lavender Blend After Shave Lotion which has warm spicy notes and leaves your skin as smooth as silk.
Good Deeds: The event benefits the Ceres Community Project, a non-profit that involves local teens as gardeners or chefs. Ceres aims to bring 88,000 nutrient-rich meals to those with serious illnesses or to those in need in Sonoma and Marin counties this year. For more information about Ceres and its wonderful classes, visit http://www.ceresproject.org/.
Details: Saturday June 27th, 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
San Francisco’s Silent Film Festival: celebrating its 20th anniversary with 20 gems and an added day—kicks off this Thursday, May 28, 2015
On Thursday, the beloved San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) returns to San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre and runs through Monday with a program of rare silent-era gems—20 features and numerous additional fascinating clips—well worth the trip to San Francisco. This year, the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary and has added a full day of programming on Monday, including a free silent film trivia event hosted by Film Forum’s Bruce Goldman. From iconic silent film actors to fantastic restorations, this year’s lineup spans the far corners of the globe and delivers an outstanding mix from cinema’s golden age and American classics. SFSFF this presents these gems in all their glory as they were meant to be seen—on the big screen in the beautiful Castro theatre, a beloved San Francisco landmark built in 1992 during the silent era. Every film is presented with live musical accompaniment from musicians who live to breathe life into silent film and who will trek in from Colorado, New York, England, Germany and Sweden to perform at the Castro.
The festival’s spectacular historical footage of foreign lands, old customs and great storytelling is what keeps me coming back year after year. It’s that and the audience, as you never know who you’ll end up sitting by. Last year, I sat by a wonderful Hollywood costume designer who gave me a fascinating blow by blow account of the special tailoring techniques used in many of the outfits on screen.
This year’s festival includes early films from China (1), France (3), Germany (2), UK/German (1), Norway (1), Sweden (1) and the USA (10). The line-up includes such rarities as the first Chinese film to screen in Norway; an early Swedish film about an young boy who has to learn to adapt to a step-mother and step-sister after his mother’s sudden death; the earliest known surviving footage of a feature film with black actors; two French films illustrating artistic and intellectual life in avant-garde 1920’s Paris; a silent version of Sherlock Holmes; and the first film to win Oscars for both Outstanding Production and Best Director (Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front). The Castro seats 1400 but these films are immensely popular, so do buy your tickets ahead of time to ensure you get a seat.
Festival director, Anita Monga, responsible for programming, adds “We are trying to represent the breadth and depth of the silent era, balancing drama and comedy and presenting things from around the world. Every year, there are more and more restorations of wonderful films that are being discovered. This year, we are presenting several restorations of films that were lost—Cave of the Spider Women, Sherlock Holmes (with William Gillet, the foremost interpreter of Sherlock on stage). We’re also doing 100 years in Post-Production…an important presentation about a film that was found at New York’s MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) with an all African-American cast that includes the great entertainer Burt Williams. Ron Magliozzi, the MoMA curator for the project, will be here narrating and sharing dozens of rare photographs too. We’ve added an extra day and new free programs that will engage the audience. We’re offering a very rich experience that is set to live music.”
Full festival schedule here.
Details: SFSFF runs Thursday, May 28, 2015 through Monday, June 1, 2015 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco. Tickets: $16 for all films, except opening night film which is $22. Passes to all films (Opening Night Party not included) are $260 general and $230 for San Francisco Silent Film Society members (lowest membership level is $50). Click here for tickets. Click here for passes and membership info. Information: (415) 777-4908 or www.silentfilm.org.
Parking Alert: If you plan on coming by car, street parking is the only parking available. Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to leave sufficient time for parking in the Castro district and walking to/from the theatre. Plan on arriving at the theater at least 15 minutes prior to the screening.