Geneva Anderson digs into art

Soprano Nina Stemme receives San Francisco Opera Medal following Sunday’s glorious “Die Frau ohne Schatten”

Soprano Nina Stemme receives the SF Opera Medal from SFO General Director, Matthew Shilvock. Sir David Runnicles (right), guest conductor for “Die Frau ohne Schatten” and former SFO Music Director (1992-2009), conducted when Stemme made her SFO company debut in 2004. The colorful backdrop is the David Hockney set for “Die Frau’s” Act III finale. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Following Sunday’s awe-inspiring performance at San Francisco Opera of the rarely performed Strauss/Hofmannsthal opera, “Die Frau ohne Schatten” (“The Woman without a Shadow”),  featuring Swedish soprano Nina Stemme as the the Dyer’s wife, SFO General Director, Matthew Shilvock, presented Stemme with the company’s the highest musical distinction, the San Francisco Opera medal.

One of the world’s beloved leading operatic artists, Stemme has performed at SFO over the years in such demanding roles as Wagner’s Isolde, Brünnhilde and Kundry; Puccini’s Turandot and Minnie; and Strauss’ Salome, Electra, and the Dyer’s wife. She made her SFO debut in 2004 as Senta in Wagner’s “Der Fliegende Holländer” under the baton of then Music Director Sir Donald Runnicles.   In 2010, Stemme took on Brünnhilde in SFO’s new production of Wagner’s ring, returning in 2011 to perform her first ever-ever complete Ring cycle and in 2017 as Princess Turandot.  

Nine Stemme received rave reviews for her Brünnhilde in the SFO’s 2011 premiere productions of “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung”. Francesca Zambello’s production emphasized the role of the spiritual feminine and Brünnhilde emerges as the true hero in the four epic dramas. In a scene from Götterdämmerung’s prologue, Brünnhilde (Nine Stemme) and Siegfried (Ian Storey) emerge from their cave and sing a rapturous duet and then Brünnhilde sends Siegfried off to perform heroic deeds. He leaves her the ring as a sign of his faithfulness and she gives him her horse, Grane. Photo: Cory Weaver
In the title role of Puccini’s “Turandot” at SF Opera in November 2017, Stemme brought a fearless musical and theatrical vitality to the proceedings, just as she does in Wagnerian roles.  Her regal, ice cold Chinese princess encharged with a three-riddle obstacle course designed to ward off suitors was a rich study in contrasts, hauty, offputting and emotionally fragile.  Photo: Cory Weaver
Nina Stemme as the Dyer’s Wife in Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s “Die Frau ohne Schatten.” Photo: Cory Weaver

At SFO yesterday, Stemme, brought the power and beauty of her big voice to her remarkable performance as the Dyer’s wife in what turned out to be an exhilarating afternoon where every aspect of this complex, mystifying and incredibly beautiful opera came together in grand style–the music, singing, acting, and staging.  Stemme’s performance was integral.  Soprano Birgit Nilsson, who made her US debut in this role in 1981, cursed it for its difficulty.  Stemme seemed to fall into the role, singing what seemed to be effortlessly through three acts and delivering a mesmerizing outpouring of love in Act III that must have be grueling.  Beyond her vocal mastery, she fully embodied her complex character who undergoes a transformation from a bored frustrated housewife to someone who awakens and really begins to see herself and to feel deeply as a result of a number of fateful encounters.  

I was among those lucky enough to experience Stemme in an intimate recital at Cal Performance’s Zellerbach Hall in early May where she delighted us with a program including Wagner, Mahler, Swedish composer Sigurd von Koch, and Kurt Weill songs from his Depression-era collaborations with Berthold Brecht.  Her flexibility with her voice and emotional engagement was impressive.  Prior to that, she made a strong impression because her performances at SFO were amongst the first operas I reviewed.  I first experienced her in SFO’s ring cycle in 2011.  Her Brünnhilde is seared into me, as is her Princess Turandot. Read the reviews of these performances on ARThound. 

“Die Frau” had its American premiere at SFO in 1959.   As part of SFO’s special centennial season, the company presents five performances of artist David Hockney’s production of the opera with Stemme singing the Dyer’s wife.   The Tuesday, June 20 performance will livestreamed at 7 p.m., PT.   The performance will be available to watch on demand for 48 hours beginning on Wednesday, June 21 at 10 a.m., PT.   Stemme will also sing on Friday, June 16 at SFO’s highly-anticipated 100th Anniversary Concert and Dinner with the Artists.   She will sing “Liebestod” from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” the opera’s climactic, challenging finale, as Isolde sings over Tristan’s dead body.

June 5, 2023 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 66th San Francisco International Film Festival starts Thursday, March 13—10 days of global storytelling

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN SOMEONE ELSE’S WORLD: Anaita Wali Zada, an Afghani who fled the Taliban, stars as Donya in “Fremont,” Iranian British director Babak Jalali’s wry drama about a former US military translator in the Afghan war who now lives among the Afghan diaspora in the Bay Area. Donya makes a living writing fortune cookie captions while suffering insomnia and the disdain of her neighbors who consider her a traitor. She’s going on a date in Bakersfield.  Image: courtesy SFFILM   

There’s something undeniably special about sitting in a theater with others and experiencing a story unfold on the big screen.  The 66th edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival, SFFILM66, offers just with films from 37 countries including 15 Bay Area films, eight world premieres and four North American premieres.  It runs April 13-23, 2023 and is back to being fully live/in person at in venues across the Bay Area, including Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater, San Francisco’s Castro Theatre, Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive and others. A new venue, CGV Cinemas at 1000 Van Ness, will house almost all this year’s SF screenings; it has a huge capacity and will feature a hospitality lounge presented by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for guests to meet and mingle with each other in between screenings.  This year, both Opening Night and Closing Nights celebrate new projects from Bay Area filmmakers and there are a number of documentaries from Bay Area filmmakers as well. ARThound’s interest is international cinema, so after my run-down of the festival’s big events, see my top picks from other countries.

Big Nights and Tributes:

Thursday, April 13: Opening Night: “Stephen Curry: Underrated”   California and hometown Premiere

Image: courtesy SFFILM

The festival kicks off Thursday in Oakland at the historical Grand Lake Theater with Peter Nicks’ documentary Stephen Curry: Underrated chronicling the NBA superstar’s professional rise, his personal life as he works to fulfill his promise to his mother, Sonya Curry, to graduate from college (he left Davidson College in North Carolina after his junior year to enter the NBA draft) and his attempt to win another NBA title last year. Many had predicted the Warriors’ glory days were behind them. Nicks, a four time SFFILM veteran (“The Waiting Room,” Festival 2012; “The Force,” Festival 2016;“Homeroom,” SFFILM2021) shows why Curry is someone who continually defies others’ expectations of his capabilities.  (USA, 2023, 110 min) Director Peter Nicks and producer Ryan Coogler in attendance.

Thursday, April 13 | 6:30 pm PT| Grand Lake Theater followed by an Opening Night Party at OMCA Thursday, April 13 | 9:30 pm PT| Grand Lake Theater, film only, includes introduction by the filmmakers and guests.

Friday, April 14: Tribute to Mary Harron + “Dalíland”  CGV, SF, US Premiere

Mary Harron: Image courtesy IMDb
Image: courtesy SFFILM

Canadian filmmaker and writer Mary Harron (“American Psycho” (2000), “The Notorious Bettie Page” (2006)) will appear in conversation to talk about her 30 year career and her latest film, “Dalíland.”   Set in NYC, in 1973, this biopic tracks a young art school drop-out / gallery assistant (Christopher Briney) on a wild adventure as he helps the aging surrealist genius Salvador Dalí (Sir Ben Kingsley) prepare for a big gallery show in New York.  All borders are blurred as he steps into Dalí and wife Gala’s (Barbara Sukowa) extremely dysfunctional marriage and the wild party scene they inhabit filled with beautiful people and copious substances.  With the remarkable Ezra Miller as the young Dalí.  Director Mary Harron,  producers David O. Sacks, Daniel Brunt, and Sam Pressman in attendance.  (USA/UK 2022, 103 min)

Tuesday, April 18: Centerpiece: “Past Lives” Castro Theater, California Premiere:

Celine Song: Image courtesy Celine Song
Image: courtesy SFFILM

Just the description of playwright turned filmmaker Celine Song’s modern love story grabbed me.  We’ve all played out a similar story, at least in our minds. Nora and Hae Sung, two primary school classmates in Seoul share a budding romance that ends abruptly when Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea to Canada. A dozen years later, Nora, now a playwriting student, notices that Hae Sung has been searching social media for her and they reconnect and imagine a real reunion.  Another decade passes and it happens—they are reunited in New York for one fateful week as they confront notions of destiny, love, and the choices that make up the life we have and the life we long for. (USA, South Korea, 2023, 106 min)

Thursday, April 20: Persistence Of Vision Award: Mark Cousins  BAMPFA, 7 p.m.

Mark Cousins: Image courtesy PalomarDOC
Image: courtesy SFFILM

This year’s POV award is dedicated to the late beloved Tom Luddy (film producer and founder of the Telluride Film Festival) and honors Mark Cousins, the filmmaker and prolific writer whose documentaries about movies display both his vast knowledge of film.  The presentation will include Cousins in conversation, followed by a screening of his 2022 documentary, “The March On Rome” which has its California premiere and is both a film essay and historical document. The title refers to the 1922 march by the Italian fascist Black Shirts from Naples to Rome that ushered in Benito Mussolini’s rise to power.  Much of  “The March on Rome” is Cousins’ close analysis of the 1923 propaganda film “A Noi” by Umberto Paradisi, which misrepresents the October 1922 march more than it documents it.  Cousins masterfully deconstructs this film to show its manipulative elements and how lies can alter the course of history. (Italy, 2023, 98 min, English and Italian)

Cousins’ new survey of Hitchcock’s work, “My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock,” screens Friday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. at BAMPFA.  A wonderful mix of scholarship and entertainment, this tribute takes the form of a posthumous lecture by Hitchcock (Alistair McGowen) on his own career and employs Cousin’s brilliant provocational skills to expand our understanding of this 20th-century giant of cinema. (UK, 2022, 120 min) Director Mike Cousins in attendance.

Sunday, April 23, Closing Night: “I’m A Virgo” (Boots Riley’s new series), CGV Theater, SF

Boots Riley: Image courtesy SFFILM

A special screening of the first four episodes of Boots Riley’s new absurdist comedy series “I’m a Virgo” for Prime Video, about a 13-foot tall black Oakland teenager who has been kept hidden from the world for his entire life but now is out in modern-day Oakland closes the festival.  Emmy-winning Jharrel Jerome (“When They See Us”) stars as Cootie, the tall teen, in this biting comedy. Boots Riley in attendance.

ARThound’s picks:

Friday April 14: “Mariupolis 2” CGV Theater, SF

Image: courtesy SFFILM

Mantas Kvedaravičius and Hanna Bilbrova’sMariupolis 2” tells the human story of the Ukranian war.  Shot in March 2022, only weeks after the Russian invasion, the film takes place around Mariupolis’ Christian Baptist Evangelical Church.  With no comment or narration, the film captures tenderly framed moments of ordinary people attempting to survive in the midst of daily bombings.  In April 2022, Russian soldiers captured and killed the film’s director Mantas Kvedaravičius, a Lithuanian filmmaker and anthropologist, leaving his partner, Hanna Bilbrova, to complete this vital account of a city (and country) besieged in an unfolding global crisis.  The film is fresh and poignant a year into this brutal war. (2022, Lithuania/France/Germany, 112 min, in Russian)  

Friday, April 14: “Luxembourg, Luxembourg,” CGV, SF and Sunday, April 16, BAMPFA

Image: courtesy SFFILM

In Antonio Lukich’s fast-paced dramedy about frayed family ties, twin brothers in central Ukraine go on a road trip to find their Yugoslavian father who is rumored to be very ill in Luxembourg.  As in most great road movies, the preamble and the journey are more important than the destination. Kolya and Vasya are first shown as troublemaking kids who eventually become, respectively, a bus driver and a cop.  When darkly funny circumstances find them both at loose ends, they embark on the search for their dad for answers as to why their lives lack meaning and purpose.  This engaging film has a melancholic soul that traverses as much emotional terrain as geographical.  (2022, Ukraine, 106 min, in Ukrainian and German)

Friday April 14, “Snow and the Bear,” CGV, SF, and Sun, April 16, BAMPFA, Bay Area Premiere

Image: courtesy SFFILM

Asli (Merve Dizdar) is a young nurse who has recently relocated to a remote small Turkish town for her obligatory service where she grapples with unwanted attention from its provincial men.  One cold snowy winter night, a local man goes missing and his sudden disappearance generates all sorts of small talk and finger pointing.  Rumor has it that the bears have risen early from their hibernation and killed some animals around.  Asli soon finds herself in a whirlwind of power relations, secrets and suspicions cast on her.  Director Selcen Ergun’s feature debut deftly balances the tensions between patriarchal tradition and modernity, crafting a mystery drama that mines the wilderness within humanity as well that surrounding this Turkish village. (2022, Turkey, 93 min, in Turkish)

Saturday, April 15, “La Bonga,” CGV Theater, SF, California Premiere

Image: courtesy SFFILM

Anyone who tracks Latin American film is aware of the growing slate of documentaries intertwining human rights and environmental concerns with indigenous peoples. Twenty years ago, the remote farming village of La Bonga received a middle-of-the-night death threat in the midst of Colombia’s civil war, prompting the entirety of its Afro-Colombian community to flee for safety. Within two decades, their mud-hut homes were reclaimed by the fierce surrounding jungle. Sebastian Pinzón Silva and Canela Reyes’ accomplished debut feature accompanies these former inhabitants on their return journey which is led by their matriarch, Maria de los Santos, who longs unite everyone by resurrecting the celebratory festival of their patron saint. This is a physical and spiritual journey to a place that exists only in their memory which culminates in a powerful testament to the importance of home, regardless of the crises that might befall it. Director Canela Reyes in attendance (2023,Columbia, 77 min, Spanish/English subtitles)

Sunday, April 23,  “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood ,” CGV Theater, SF  (Golden Gate Award Documentary Competition nominee) CA Premiere

Image: courtesy SFFILM

When is the last time you’ve experienced a film in Estonian or its dialects Seto or Võro?  Anna Hints’ luxuriant portrait of a group of Estonian women who gather in a handcrafted sweat lodge through the seasons enjoying rituals of the sauna reveals the healing power of sisterhood and acceptance.  Baring their souls and their flesh, tears are released into the heavy, warm air, and quickly dispelled with laughter as the women nurture one another.  Hints’ debut feature won Sundance’s World Cinema–Documentary directing award. (2023, Estonia/France/Iceland, 289 min, in Estonian, Seto, Võro) Director Anna Hints, Producer Marianne Ostrat in attendance.

Other notables:

Sunday, April 23, noon: Free Community Screening:Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret CGV, SF.  Kelly Fremon Craig’s feature stars Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret alongside Kathy Bates, Benny Safdie and Academy Award-nominated Rachel McAdams in this fresh, funny adaptation of Judy Blume’s classic 1970 novel about Margaret, coping not only with the onset of puberty but also grappling with her religious identity.

Documentaries: This year’s impressive documentary program covers Joan Baez, Michael J. Fox, Alfred Hitchcock, Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Pak.  W. Kamau Bell’s lates film, “1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed,” profiles the joys and struggles of children rowing up mixed race and is inspired by Bell’s own experience raising mixed children. This HBO doc is a timely exploration of identity and belonging that challenges assumptions about the challenges mixed children may struggle with.


SFFILM66 is April 13-23, 2023.  Most tickets are $20; big nights are more.  Advance ticket purchase is a necessity; most films will sell out before they screen.  For the complete program, schedule, and to purchase tickets:

April 10, 2023 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hilma,” the new biopic about Hilma af Klint, screens Thursday/Sunday at SIFF26 in sunny Sonoma

A scene from Swedish director Lasse Hallström’s “Hilma.”  Image: Juno

Many of us made a beeline to New York to the Guggenheim in 2018 for the amazing and long overdue exhibition “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future” a celebration of the Swedish artist’s strikingly original abstract paintings. The focus was on her innovative works completed just after the turn of the 20th century (1906-20), when she created incredibly imaginative non-objective paintings that were largely ignored by the art world.  Now considered masterpieces with great mystical depth that invite a re-evaluation of the development of modernism, we decry that she, like many women, was sidelined by the art world and hunger for more information.  “Hilma,” three-time Academy Award nominee Swedish director Lasse Hallström’s (“The Cider House Rules,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “My Life as a Dog”) new biopic promises answers about her lifelong interest in mysticism which had a negative impact on her career and is shot against the backdrop of some of her most famous works. This is the first biopic about af Klint. You’ll meet the Five, the group formed with four other women in the 1890s. Calling themselves the Five, they hold seances and meditations and collectively complete artworks; when Hilma paints, she believes higher spirits are directing her brush. The film is a family affair: Hilma is played at different ages by Tora Hallström (‘Hachi: A Dog’s Tale’), and Oscar nominee Lena Olin, Lasse Hallström’s daughter and wife. The films screens twice at the the 26th Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF): Thursday, 1 pm at the Sebastiani Theater and Sunday, 7:30 pm, at Prime Cinemas. (115 minutes, in English)


The 26th Sonoma International Film Festival is March 22-26, 2023, with more than 110 films slated during the five-day festival, details in the SIFF Festival Guide.  Individual tickets are available and should be purchased online in advance.

March 23, 2023 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Say Cheese! The 17th California Artisan Cheese Festival is March 24-26— new events and locales

Stuyt Dairy Farmstead Cheese Company’s “Tuscano” will have its debut on March 26, at Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace.  So new its label hasn’t been formalized yet, it will be available in very limited quantity.  This wine-marbled beauty is an Italian-style cheese made with pasteurized cow’s milk, combines wine and cheese all in one bite.  It sports an elegant red rind from soaking in wine and pumice. Image: Stuyt Dairy

Love cheese? It’s front and center at the 17th California Artisan Cheese Festival (CACF), March 24-26, taking place all around rural Sonoma County and beyond. After pared-down pandemic versions, this year marks the return of the full experience—farm and producer tours, seminars and pairing demos, marketplace, and a new event on Saturday evening, the cheese crawl—all geared towards tasting and celebrating cheese and having some fun after the storms.  From new small-batch and very rare artisan cheeses to those that have already garnered international recognition, the spotlight is on the vibrant hues, bold aromas, and surprising new flavors of cheese. Sunday’s marketplace will include the debuts of a few new cheeses and will introduce people to a myriad of new gourmet products that pair with cheese. All tickets are sold individually on the website:

This year’s events have been curated by executive director, Judy Groverman Walker, who’s been running the event for the past 11 years and has strong roots in Sonoma County agriculture.  “The goal is to bring all these great California cheeses together, to help promote artisan cheese making, and to keep our diaries alive,” said Groverman. CACF is a 501c3 non-profit and proceeds support the California Artisan Cheese Guild which provides training for cheesemakers and helps them through the hurdles of establishing their businesses. People who attend the festival come from all over the country. Groverman estimates that only about 35 percent are from the Bay Area. “Now that we’re back to three days, we hope to see a lot of people back who haven’t traveled due to Covid 19.” If you haven’t been to the festival before, Groverman recommends Sunday’s Marketplace. “I really enjoy pulling all these cheeses together and the great products that go with cheeses and being able to showcase them all under one roof. ”

Friday, March 24, Farm and Producer Tours:

“Cows, Goats, Cheese and Wine!”(Tour A), is one of four local tours, and includes a visit to The Achadinha Cheese Company (Osh-a-deen-a) on the 230 acre Pacheco Family Dairy on Chileno Valley Road, West Petaluma.  It’s owned and operated by Jim and Donna Pacheco along with their four children William, Daniel, Elizabeth and David.  You’ll taste their specialty cheeses, like the nutty caramel flavored “Cowpricious,” made from pasteurized cows & goats milk, handrolled and aged for 6 to 12 months. And you’ll meet and snuggle with their girls—50 goats and 100 cows. Image: Achadinha

This year, five full-day themed tours are offered, including one out of the area to Anderson Valley. Each tour has three stops—local farms, creameries and artisan purveyors. Besides having fun and tasting, the emphasis is getting a personal glimpse into the vital role of the farmers and producers in our rich Northern California farming area, hearing their stories first hand and learning techniques of artisan cheese making.

Saturday, March 25: Seminars and Pairing Demos

The seminars and pairing demos, a convergence of expertise and passion, offer an opportunity to learn from some of the industry’s most knowledgeable experts at great wine country destinations and to enjoy generous samples of elite cheeses, wines and accompaniments. Expect to make friends: the mutual love of cheese can be a great bonding experience. Photo: CACF

The seminars, a 75 minute blast of education, tastings and ideas for inspired pairings, have traditionally been held at a hotel, most recently Santa Rosa’s historic Flamingo Hotel.  This year, there are four seminars and they are at wineries, all with gorgeous settings. “This is not cheese school; it’s a lot of fun,” says Groverman, “it’s the wine country experience people are looking for—tasting cheeses and drinking wines in the country.” This years offerings—“Cheese and Wine Pairing” at Kendall Jackson Wine Center with KJ Chef and cheese expert, Tracey Shepos Cenami ; “Cheese and Wine Pairing” Bricoleur Vineyards with cheese expert Laura Werlin; “Cheese + Charcuterie Cone Building Workshop”at Baletto Vineyards with Alyssa Gilbert, Owner of Graze + Gather Co; and “Cheese and Chocolate” at the new Sugarloaf Wine Company with chocolatiers Jeff and Susan Mall of VOLO Chocolates.  New: each seminar features an add-on experience at the winery, such as wine tastings, a gourmet lunch with wine pairings, or wine club privileges.

Tracey Shepos Cenami, Kendall-Jackson Chef and cheese expert, specializes in wine country cuisine and artisanal cheeses.  She will lead a seminar on the ins and outs of pairing different wine varietals with different style cheeses. A three-time winner of Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, she rose to national prominence with the award-winning cooking and lifestyle book, Season: A Year of Wine Country Food, Farming, Family and Friends (2018), co-authored with JK’s Justin Wangler.  Her personal favorite pairing is Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir with bacon almonds and Valley Ford Cheese and Creamery’s handmade Estero Gold cheese.  Photo: Kendall Jackson
Charcuterie Cones are trending for good reason: sophisticated looking, they can substitute for laid out cheeseboards and are safely-contained individual servings.  Alyssa Gilbert, owner/founder of Graze + Gather Co.,will lead the festival’s first “Cheese + Charcuterie Cone Building” seminar at Balletto Vineyards’ beautiful new event center in West Sonoma County.  You’ll learn how to craft your very own Instagram-worthy cheese and charcuterie cone along with Gilbert’s tried and true techniques for slicing, arranging, plating, and garnishing.  Gilbert’s  artisan cheese shop and catering company in Downtown Oakland specializes in 100% American-made cheeses from small batch makers and local charcuterie.  Throughout the workshop, you’ll be enjoying seasonal ingredient pairings with Balletto Vineyards estate grown and bottled wines.  Image: Graze + Gather Co.

Saturday afternoon, 4 to 6pm: Cheese Crawl

In this new event, participants receive a treasure map and set off across Sebastopol’s Barlow complex in search of cheese booty.  Each designated stop has a cheesemaker offering samples of their precious handcrafted cheeses plus a featured snack or beverage from one of festival’s non-cheese creators, and an additional special.  Crawlers who check in at all 11 stops along the two hour crawl will be entered to win even more treasure—2 tickets to the 2024 Sunday Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace. 

Sunday, March 25: Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace

The heart of the festival remains Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace at Sonoma County Fairgrounds’ Grace Pavilion which always concludes the weekend of cheese, offering a chance to taste and buy the cheeses presented in the various events and all sorts of fabulous accompaniments, including wine, craft beers, cider, spirits. “I really enjoy being able to bring this together under one roof,” said Groverman, who added that the vibe is special, like a big friendly farmer’s market. Upon entry you’re given an insulated tote bag and a wine glass and you’ll meet and talk with the cheesemakers themselves, most of whom work behind the table selling their cheeses. This year, over 15 cheesemakers are participating, offering dozens of award-winning cheeses and new small batch offerings for tasting and sale, along with all sorts of accompaniments and artisan products from Argentinian alfajores to wood cutting boards. This year’s participants are listed here.

Cheese debuts: Stuyt Dairy Farmstead Cheese Company, of Escalon, is bringing “Tuscano,” their new wine-infused Italian Style cheese, from cow’s milk, which is marbled throughout with a red wine blend. Tomales Farmstead Cheese Company will be debuting “Out Like a Lamb,” it’s fresh, seasonal all sheep’s milk cheese. Cypress Grove will be sampling its new Meyer Lemon and Honey goat cheese, released in the summer of 2022. After a several year absence, Occidental-based Bohemian Creamery is back for the first time with their fabulous small batch cheeses.  

“Out Like a Lamb” is Tomales Farmstead Cheese Company’s latest fresh, seasonal all sheep’s milk cheese—rich, creamy, nutty and spreadable.  Tomales Farmstead Creamery has won competition medals from the American Cheese Society and the Good Food Foundation, a San Francisco-based organization that honors the nation’s organic and sustainable producers. The farmstead’s “Atika,” a Manchego-like aged cheese named after the Coast Miwok word for “two,” is a regular winner and can be sampled at the Sunday Marketplace. Image: Tomales Farmmstead Creamery
Humboldt County-based Cypress Grove will be bringing its popular Meyer Lemon and Honey chevre, released last summer, to Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace. “Floral Meyer lemon slightly sweetened with delicate alfalfa honey mixed into our fresh goat cheese— tangy with a balanced sweetness and the brightness of California sunshine.”  Image: Cypress Hill
Occidental-based Bohemain Creamery, one of our area’s most creative artisanal creameries , which will offer a variety their goat, cow, sheep and water buffalo milk cheeses. Their their inspired descriptions are musings which ignite the imagination: “La Bomba” (pictured above) is a “nugget of stink and ooze that is loosely fashioned after the (in)famous French Époisses soft-paste cow’s milk cheese.  As this cheese ages, it is carefully washed in Russian River Consecration Ale, promoting a custardy texture and powerful flavor that fills the aging room with its signature odor. Some freshly-torn baguette should temper the assault. The average weight is one-quarter pound per lump.” Image: Bohemian Creamery

Having recognized how wonderfully their two products pair, Bohemain Creamery and Big Spoon Sauce Company, both from Occidental, will have tables beside each other at the Marketplace and sample some bites incorporating both their products. Big Spoon Sauce Company, a first time participant, is the creator of a line of spicy sauces which are vegan, gluten and MSG-free and pair especially well with cheese.

“Farm to table, spoon to face” is Big Spoon Sauce Company’s catchy motto.  A first time participant, the company of two, Lani Chan and Nate Bender, produces a line of crunchy, savory go-with-everything olive-oil based sauces that have a cult following among those in the know. “Dragon’s Booty” is a chile crisp meant to light a fire under your booty —it’s loaded with habanero peppers for a base heat, then topped with a touch of Carolina Reapers and Chili de Arbol for a more complex burn that evolves over time, while guajillos add earthiness and depth. Apples and orange zest counter the dragon’s burn with a soft citrus and floral sweetness.  This “super hot” sauce screams for grilled cheese and is the perfect accoutrement for any cheese or charcuterie board.  If mild to medium heat is more your speed, “Chile Crisp,” Big Spoon’s flagship sauce, is a crunchy, salty, sweet, smoky, tingly, all-purpose burst of flavor with a mild tingling heat from Sichuan peppercorns that pairs exceptionally with cheese. In addition to peanuts and roasted garlic, they layer in smoky and sweet flavors with four varieties of dried ground chiles. Photo:  Nathan Bender

New wineries and breweries:  Adobe Road Winery, Anderson Valley Brewing Co, Bricoleur Vineyards, Golden State Cider, and Goldeneye Winery.  

Golden State Cider, a new participant, will bring a variety of its apple-driven dry ciders. “Save the Gravenstein” is a full bodied, aromatic unfiltered cider made exclusively from Gravenstein Apples sourced from Randy Robert’s 65 acre Sebastopol apple farm, “Lyngard Orchards.”  Bold, juicy Gravenstein apple notes are supported by orange blossom honey and citrus with mineral complexity from the terroir, creating a long, refreshing finish. In the 1940’s there were over 9,700 acres of Gravenstein apples; today, there are less than 600.   Golden State Cider’s mission is to educate the public on heirloom varieties, support farmers, and keep apple trees in the ground.  Image: Golden State Cider

Sweet tooth?

Mara Promanzio and daughter Melissa. “We had a beautiful experience last year,” says Mara Promanzio of Amapola, who specializes in Argentinian Alfajores and will be bringing all her flavors—pistachio, limonata, pb&j, pink lotus and more—to the Marketplace. “Argentinian alfajores are the perfect sweet treat to balance savory cheeses and fine wine.  Our homemade buttery cookies filled with creamy dulce de leche are a great addition to your next charcuterie board.” Image: Amapola
Amapola’s Argentinian alfajores. Image: Amapola
Charlotte Walter of Charlotte Truffles, will be returning this year. She specializes in delectable chocolate bites, truffles and bon bons, many of with flavors representative of different cultures—Vietnamese Coffee (dark chocolate with a forward flavor of coffee and a sweet finish from condensed milk); Kiss Me I’m Irish (the creamiest of Irish cream ), Raspberry Yuzu (yuzu, the citrus used in Japan cuisine, helps accentuate the sourness of the raspberries); Rose Water Saffron (a flavor combination is commonly found in Indian sweets is enhanced by warm notes from green cardamom); Hibiscus (inspired by hibiscus tea typically served in Mexican restaurants with the flavors highlighted in a soft jelly and a caramel).  Image: Charlotte Truffles


California’s 17th Artisan Cheese Festival is March 24-26, 2023 at various locations throughout cheese country.  Tickets for all festival events are sold individually online and are capped, so buy early to lock in your experience.  Do not show up at an event without a ticket, with the exception of Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace where tickets ($65) can be purchased at the door.   Fifty early entry (11 a.m. vs. noon) tickets have been released and are available online now for no additional charge.   For more information and to purchase tickets, visit:

March 14, 2023 Posted by | Food, Wine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Berlin and Beyond’s 27th festival of new German cinema is March 23-28—sehr interessant!

A still from Martin Persiel’s “Everything Will Change,” starring Noah Saavedra, Jessamine-Bliss Bell and Paul G. Raymond, Wim Wenders.  Persiel is known internationally for his award-winning documentary “This Ain’t California” (2012) about skateboarding culture in the 1980s GDR, which screened at Berlin and Beyond 2012. 

As if we don’t know where we’re heading as a planet, Martin Persiel’s ecological drama, Everything will Change” lays it out in an ominous eco-drama set in 2054. Wildlife has disappeared from Earth and three friends, who inhabit a bleak concrete world, set out on a time-travel road trip to find out what happened.  They learn their answer lies in the decade of the 2020’s when people knew how fragile biodiversity on Earth was but failed to take action.  Persiel’s unconventional knitting of fact and fiction has garnered him many awards and this latest drama, a blatant call for action, opens this year’s Berlin and Beyond festival on Thursday March 22 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater. This beloved festival of new German cinema includes ten features and four short films and runs March 22-25 and the 28th at the Castro; March 26th virtually, and the evening of March 27th at Berkeley’s Rialto Cinemas Elmwood. 

Two huge breaks with tradition: This is first time that the festival is presenting an opening night film that is not in German—Persil’s film is in English. “The Forger,”(“Der Passfälscher”), the more traditional period drama that follows on Thursday evening at 9 p.m., is in German as are all of the other films in the festival. So there’s ample opportunity to have that undeniably special experience of immersing yourself in crisp German. The venue has also changed, from the Castro Theater, the hub since inception, to the historic Roxie Theater in San Francisco’s Mission District. As the 2023 festival opens a new era of sorts, Festival director, Sophoan Sorn, now in his 13th season, remains committed to providing cinema with exceptional storytelling, intense drama and an almost complete abandonment of Hollywood special effects. The festival is still securing guests, so check the website for updates.

Here are a few films that grabbed my attention:

Thursday, March 23, 9pm: “The Forger” (Der Passfälscher) :

Louis Hofmann in “The Forger.” (“Der Passfälscher, “), 2022. Image: DREIFILM

Berlin and Beyond always includes a riveting period drama, usually set during the Halocaust.  Maggie Peren’s “The Forger,” unfolds in Nazi-occupied Berlin in 1942-43. Louis Hoffmann (Neflix’s “Dark” series 2017-2020) stars as 21-year-old Cioma Schönhaus, a young man with an incredible zest for life who has the misfortune of being Jewish when the hunt for Jews is in full swing. Drawing on his art school background as a graphic artist, Cioma, along with his friend, Det (Jonathan Berlin), joins a network of underground rescuers and forges brilliant IDs that allow hundreds of Jews to escape deportation. At the same time, he re-creates his own identity, as a marine officer, and he and Det embrace Berlin’s night life with gusto, living extravagantly in plain sight of the Nazis as if there were no tomorrow. Cioma’s talent lands him in trouble and his survival will depend on one last great forgery. Based on a true story and adapted from Cioma Schönhaus’s 2008 novel. (Germany, 2022, 116 minutes German w/English subtitles)

Friday, March 24, 8:30 pm: “Family Affairs” (Der Nachname), US Premiere

A still from Sönke Wortmann’s “Family Affairs” (“Der Nachname”), 2022. Image: Constantine Film.

What was intended as a lovely family gathering on the beach of Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, soon dissolves into mass confusion and arguments when the matriarch, Dorothee (Iris Berben), 68, drops a scandalous bomb on her middle-age children and their partners.  She announces that she and René, her adopted adult son, have just married and she has taken on his name and is now Dorothee König.  The siblings are appalled that their mother has married their adopted brother and, even worse, rejected their name: Böttcher.  With Sönke Wortmann at the helm you can expect family drama at its wittiest and a deep dive into cultural norms. The translation of Der Nachname is, “The Last Name, and the film is a sequel to Wortmann’s highly successful first film, Der Vorname 2018 (“The First Name”), which was based on the French play Le Prénom.  All the members of the original cast are back again.  Wortmann’s pitch perfect satire, “How about Adolf?”(2019) was a smash at Berlin and Beyond 2020 (87 min, German w/ English subtitles)

Saturday, March 25, 1 pm, “Radical Dreamer,” Northern CA Premiere

Werner Herzog, in a still from Thomas von Steinaecker’s documentary “Radical Dreamer,” (2022)  Image: © Copyright 3B Produktion

For some 60 years, Werner Herzog has traversed every corner of the globe in search of the most rapturous dreams and captured them on film, over 80 so far—fictional features and documentaries often so bizarre, they have trumped his fiction. Once again, the camera is turned again on the charismatic Herzog by director, novelist and journalist, Thomas von Steinaecker in “Radical Dreamer.”  The documentary includes never before seen archive footage, captivating anecdotes from Herzog about his filming exploits and eternal search for beauty, and conversations with luminaries who know and have worked with him: directors Chloé Zhao, Joshua Oppenheimer and Wim Wenders; singer Patti Smith; and actors Nicole Kidman, Christian Bale and Robert Pattinson.  Iconic excerpts from his feature films and documentaries, and his cameos in cartoon series such as “The Simpsons” have been selected with care, creating a portrait of this illusive subject.  (103 min, German and English w/ English subtitles)

Saturday, March 25, 8:45 pm: “Rhinegold,” North American Premiere

Emilio Sakraya (L) as Giwar Hajabi in a still from “Rhinegold,” 2022. Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Gordon Timpen.

Opera fans will recognize the film title’s apt reference to “Das Rhinegold” from Wagner’s Ring Cycle, about the legendary gold in the Rhine river that will grant immortal life to whoever owns it and, as long as the gold stays at the bottom of the river, all is well with the world.  German Turkish director Fatih Akin’s new film is a loose adaptation of German rapper Xatar’s autobiography “All or Nothing” which traces the path of refugee Kurdish/German rapper Giwar Hajabi’s  (aka Xatar) life from a rough childhood and involvement in the drug underworld to the top of the music charts.  His story turns on a gold heist gone awry. The music is phenomenal. Fatih Akin won the Golden Bear at the 54th Berlinale, 2004, for “Head-On” (“Gegen die Wand” 2004) 138 min. Arabic, Dutch, English, German, Kurdish, Turkish w/ English subtitles.)

Tuesday, March 28, 6:30pm, “All Quiet on the Western Front in 35mm,” Closing Night, special presentation

Felix Kammerer in “All Quiet on the Western Front,” (2022) Netflix/Reiner Bajo.

Edward Berger’s “All Quiet on the Western Front in 35mm” (2022), nominated for 9 Academy Awards and 7 BAFTA’s, is the sobering saga of an idealistic young German soldier on the Western Front of World War I. This is a German’s director’s first stab and the first German language adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s world-renowned bestseller of the same name. The story follows Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), a bright 17-year-old just out of high school, who, along with other classmates, was inspired by an ultra-nationalist teacher to join the German army in its crusade to conquer France.  The naïve new recruits excitedly sing their way to the front lines and then descend into utter terror as they discover the nightmare of trench warfare. Everything about this sensory epic is extravagant, including its full-on assault of incessant violence. A soon-to-be disclosed Special Presentation follows the screening. (147 min., German with English subtitles).


Thursday, March 23 – Roxie Theater, San Francisco:
6:00 PM: Everything Will Change 93 min.
9:00 PM: The Forger 116 min.

Friday, March 24 – Roxie Theater, San Francisco:
10:00 AM: The Ordinaries 112 min. (invitation only/at capacity)
6:00 PM: Piaffe 86 min.
8:30 PM: Family Affairs 87 min.

Friday, March 24 – Vogue Theatre, San Francisco:
11:30 AM: The Ordinaries 112 min. (invitation only/at capacity)

Saturday, March 25 – Roxie Theater, San Francisco:
1:00 PM: Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer 102 min.
3:15 PM: Golden Years 92 min.
6:00 PM: Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush 119 min.
8:45 PM: Rhinegold 138 min.

Sunday, March 26 – Virtual:
8:00AM-11:00 PM: Axiom 98 min. (Viewable in select NorCal counties)
8:00AM-11:00 PM: Shorts Program 100 min. (Viewable in California)

Monday, March 27 – Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, Berkeley:
6:00 PM: Everything Will Change 93 min.
8:30 PM: Family Affairs 87 min.

Tuesday, March 28 – Roxie, SF – Closing Night:
6:30 PM: All Quiet on the Western Front in 35mm 138 min.


The 27th Berlin and Beyond is March 23-28, 2023, main venue is Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street at Valencia, San Francisco.  Parking is difficult in the Mission District. Allow AMPLE time to find parking if arriving by car.  March 27: Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College Ave at Ashby, Berkeley

Tickets:  Opening Night Film (Roxie Theater)$25.00 general (no senior discount); Single Tickets (Roxie and Elmwood screenings, excluding Roxie Opening Night Film and Youth 4 German Cinema) $16.00 general, $13.00 senior (62+) & ADA, $9.00 student (at door with ID. Single tickets for each film can be purchased via individual film pages.

Roxie Priority Film Pass (priority entry to Roxie screenings on March 23-25, excluding Youth 4 German Cinema screening. No admission for special events.)
$125.00 general public.  Click here to purchase.

Virtual Programs: $12.00 per virtual program (24-hour viewing window)
Purchase Virtual Rental: Axiom | Shorts Program

Youth 4 German Cinema screening of “The Ordinaries”: By invitation only. Now at capacity.

March 7, 2023 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFMOMA’s “Joan Brown” retrospective—relatable works exploring everyday experiences, closes Sunday, March 12  

Joan Brown, Self-Portrait in Studio, 1984, Oil and acrylic paint on canvas, 2.4 × 2 m. Courtesy: © Estate of Joan Brown, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.

Highly talented but “unserious” is how Bay Area artist Joan Brown (1938-1990) was long categorized by the fickle art world which celebrates artists for their originality IF it fits the reining definition of contemporary art. Brown’s exposure suffered when she stepped back and forged her own path. Now, thirty-three years after her death, the defiantly independent Brown is the subject of the fascinating SFMOMA retrospective,“Joan Brown,” which examines her career with fresh eyes. She is lauded as a highly influential painter who forged her own marvelously distinctive style.   The exhibit includes roughly 80 important works and is the most expansive presentation of her art in nearly a quarter century, covering the 31 years between 1959 and 1990. It closes soon, Sunday, March 12, and is well worth a visit.

Curated by SFMOMA’s Janet Bishop and Nancy Lim, the exhibit spans SFMOMA’s seventh floor and traces the arc of Brown’s life as an artist. It’s always a treat when SFMOMA celebrates a Bay Area artist whose works reference our local stomping ground and when it honors a female who held her own in a sea of male colleagues. That’s Brown. She was born in San Francisco in 1938 and grew up in the Marina district and lived most of her life in the City before her passing at 52 in India in 1992. In addition to being on the art faculty at UC Berkeley, Brown was an important mentor to many artists, particularly women artists, and she was a mother, a committed athlete, an animal lover and she had been married four times. All of this made its way into her art.

The exhibition opens with canvases from the 1950-60’s, made during Brown’s student years at California School of Fine Arts (CSFA)—later the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI)—where she met artist Elmer Bischoff, an influential mentor who she said “spoke my language, although I hadn’t heard it before.” He encouraged her to paint things from her everyday life and to trust her own instincts. She began gaining recognition for her large paintings that mixed figurative images with thick colorful paint. In 1960, at age 22, she was the youngest artist exhibited as part of the Whitney’s Young America 1960 (Thirty American Painters Under Thirty-Six) and was selling nationally. By 1964, her works had been featured on the cover of Artforum (with an accompanying feature naming her “Everyone’s Darling”) and were in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York and SFMOMA, among others.  

Then, in the mid-1960’s, to the dismay of her peers, Brown stepped back and broke ties with her New York gallery and radically changed course, painting for herself, not sales or the attention of critics.  She abandoned thick paint in favor of enamel house paint and forged a vibrant new style that came to define her iconic works of the late 1960’s and 70’s. The curators highlight this complete break in style in her eerie 1968 work, Grey Cat with Madrone and Birch Trees, which leans on the style of Henri Rousseau. The subject, a large gray cat, is behind a tree trunk and a sense of overall sparseness and separation prevails.

Over the next years, Brown’s style solidified in this uncluttered direction. She employed bright colors and patterns masterfully and delved into self portraiture, rendering human subjects other than herself in outline. She created an offbeat body of work that embraced autobiography, fantasy, whimsy, and frequently incorporated the familiar backdrop of San Francisco’s skyline and bridges. A vital through-line is self portraiture which Brown embraced decades before the obsessive selfie mania of today. The exhibit includes seminal portraits of a gradually aging Brown swimming, traveling, painting, dancing and living her life…and surrounded by an ever-expanding symbolic language which reached its peak in the 1980’s as she immersed herself in spiritual pursuits.  

“We’re following Brown’s intuitive, totally unabashed journey,” said curator Janet Bishop, “this is an artistic vision marked by limitless curiosity and lust for life that resulted in colorful, personal, relatable, funny works.”   


Joan Brown, Thanksgiving Turkey,1959; The Museum of Modern Art, New York. (© Estate of Joan Brown; Photo © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY)

When Brown was just 22, this turkey, which exemplifies her early abstract figurative work in dense paint, was purchased by MoMA in New York.  Drawing from her mentor, Elmer Bischoff, who advised her to paint everyday objects and on inspiration from Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox (1655), she positions the bird precariously on the edge of a table with its belly exposed in defiance of the laws of physics. “A strange sense of space and perspective ends up being a hallmark of Brown’s paintings,” explains curator Nancy Lim. “Everything seems to lay nearly on top of each other, there’s a lot of flatness, and space doesn’t quite make sense. Thanksgiving Turkey is the first time you begin to see this in her work.”

Joan Brown, The Bride, 1970; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, bequest of Earl David Peugh III; © Estate of Joan Brown; photo: Johnna Arnold/Impart Photography

In this full-on-frontal portrait, one of Brown’s most powerful and well-known works, we see the development of her personal artistic language. Her symbolic vocabulary was drawn from wide-ranging cultural traditions, art history, and from her vivid imagination. The Bride breaks down into five pictorial elements: the bride, her leashed rat outlined in sparking gold glitter, her cat head, the field of poppies she is standing in, and various colorful fish that float in the sky or water above the poppies. The vibe is intense, unsettling.

“This is a painting where everything just evolved,” Brown told an audience at her slide lecture at SFAI on April 18, 1971. “I was doing a series of paintings of Adam and Eve…and it started out as a nude in the center, dead center, of Eve, and then it went from there ….”  (cited in Jacquelynn Bass, “To Know This Place for the First Time, Interpreting Joan Brown”)   Among many things, the painting addresses the bride’s power which comes from both innocence and experience and her openness to life which also entails embracing darkness. The rat, beginning with Brown’s iconic 3-D “Fur Rat” from 1962, also on display, was Brown’s most consistent and pervasive image. Here, the large and cowering leashed rat at the bride’s feet may represent Brown’s attempt to engage with her persistent fear of rats or her acknowledgement of the wisdom and intelligence associated with the rat in Chinese astrology.

The Dancers in a City, #2, 1972.  Enamel paint and fabric on canvas, 84 x 71 3/4 in. SFMOMA, gift of Alfred E. Heller. 

Brown married four times. While married to her third husband, artist Gordon Cook, the couple went to local ballrooms and the one depicted here has the San Francisco skyline in the background.  The composition features a range of techniques, from the heavy impasto of the large charming dog to the male dancer’s linear silhouetting.  After struggling to paint the woman’s dress, Brown found a improvised solution in collage and she used fabric she had on hand to cut out the shape of the dress and glued it to the painting. The work was a success and, after seeing the painting in a exhibit in 1974, influential art dealer Allan Frumkin offered to represent Brown, and she accepted.

Joan Brown, The Room, Part 1, 1975, oil enamel on canvas, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, purchase, gifts of Paul Chanin, Samuel Kootz and Dr. and Mrs. Laibe A. Kessler.

Going from gallery to gallery, you may begin to place yourself in Brown’s paintings and that relatability makes her work memorable. The Room, Part 1, from 1975 ,stuck an instant accord in me.  Like many of Brown’s artworks, this painting pays homage to a historical image that she long admired, a ninth century depiction of nomadic Khitans hunting with eagles.  Brown was deeply attracted to Chinese art and culture and its sense of exotic beauty. She had obviously read about the Khitans who, from the 4th century on, dominated much of northern China, Mongolia and the Manchurian plateau. And her work in the mid-1970s marks a transition in her focus—she began to research non-Western cultures and religions in her quest for spiritual enlightenment. In the sparse but immense gray foreground, a languorous Brown dangles her leg with its white sock and yellow shoes from an armchair while she studies the Song dynasty painting.  (The yellow shoes are a constant in her self portraits.) By contrasting her own body into near invisibility, she directs our focus to the painting, suggesting the subject here is not the herself but instead the artwork on the wall and the contemplative act of taking it in.

Joan Brown, The Night Before the Alcatraz Swim, 1975, GUC Collection, Highland Park, Illinois, @Estate of Joan Brown, photo: Michael Tropea.

An avid and accomplished open-water swimmer, Brown cherished the ideas that came to during her swims in the bay, often at sunset, looking out towards the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.  The Night Before the Alcatraz Swim, from 1975, is related to a series of introspective self-portraits about Brown’s frightening near-death experience during a race from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park in 1975.  During the course of the race, a freighter unexpectedly passed the swimmers, producing thirteen-foot waves and large eddies.  Brown became hypothermic and had to be rescued from the water, alongside several other struggling swimmers.  Here, Brown appears warm, calm, and contemplative with the island displayed behind her. Also notable are the Matisse-like colors and energy; she drew great inspiration from Matisse.

Joan Brown, After the Alcatraz Swim #3, 1976, Collection of Palm Springs Art Museum, gift of Steve Chase; © Estate of Joan Brown

Joan Brown, The Long Journey, 1981; di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa, California; © Estate of Joan Brown; photo: Robert Berg Photography; courtesy di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa.

Brown’s long-held fascination with Egyptology manifested into a trip to Egypt after she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977. The trip ignited a passion in her. During the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, she made a number of trips to Ecuador, the Amazon, Machu Picchu, China, India and Mexico. She often traveled alone and made a point of accessing remote destinations. She said the purpose of these journeys was to study ancient belief systems and she became increasingly focused on commonalities between symbols and spiritual pursuits.  She once reflected, “I’ve always thought of my fierce side as a tiger or jaguar or lion.” The tiger was Brown’s Chinese astrological symbol.  In The Long Journey, which is on loan from Napa’s Di Rosa Collection, Brown wears a sari and depicts herself triumphantly riding a tiger as does the goddess Durga in some Hindu traditions.  The scene references transcendence and a seamless passage into the next life.

During this period, Brown visited India frequently with her fourth husband Michael Hebel and they studied with their spiritual guru, Sathya Sai Baba. Brown had an intuition that her life would be short, and it was. Nine years after painting The Long Journey, Brown died at age 52 when a concrete turret collapsed on her and two assistants as they were installing an obelisk at Sai Baba’s Eternal Heritage Museum in Puttaparthi, India. Reflecting on the exhibition, I have deep admiration for Brown who was clearly self-made. She met professional success early on, at a time when women artists faced all sorts of barriers, but wasn’t satisfied. She succeeded by stepping back and embracing a unique artistic style that incorporated her own experiences and helped her process her growing quest for enlightenment. In her own words: “I’m not any one thing: I’m not just a teacher, I’m not just a mother, I’m not just a painter, I’m all of these things, plus.”

If you go, the wall texts are the most engaging I’ve experienced at SFMOMA—they’re rich with fascinating autobiographical details which make Brown’s paintings come to life, such as her experience being audited by the IRS after declaring her cat, Donald, as a tax write off for being the model in her 1982 painting Joan + Donald. (Brown won.)


“Joan Brown” closes Sunday, March 12, 2023 at SFMOMA.  Free entry with general admission. Tickets: free for SFMOMA members; $25 adults; $22  65 and older; $19 19-24 years; free 18 and under.  Save time and buy tickets online before coming to SFMOMA.  

Ragnar Kjartansson’s beloved ethereal video installation The Visitors (2012) is back at SFMOMA. This is a surcharged exhibition. For guaranteed entry to The Visitors, choose “The Visitors with GA” tickets. A limited number of additional tickets for this exhibition may be available onsite, capacity permitting.

March 3, 2023 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrity Chefs Martin Yan and Joanne Weir are front and center at the 26th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 22-26, 2023

Chef Martin Yan, 2022 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, will be honored with the SIFF Culinary Excellence Award at the SIFF | Devour!Chefs & Shorts Dinner on Thursday, March 23, 2023.  Chef Yan will give a cooking demonstration and prepare one course for the extravaganza which features pairings of short films with gourmet courses prepared by visiting chefs, along with bountiful pours of Napa Valley wines. Photo: SIFF

The 26th Sonoma International Film Festival is just six weeks away and the culinary events lineup is out, ahead of any news about special guests, big nights and the program drop.  SIFF This year’s SIFF | Devour! Chefs & Shorts Dinner honors global television personality Chef Martin Yan on Thursday, March 23.   Chef Joanne Weir returns for her second SIFF with Joanne Weir’s Wine Country Cooking Luncheon, Saturday, March 25, where she will premiere segments from her new PBS show, “Joanne Weir’s Wine Country Cooking.”  Bringing film lovers together around a table for a sumptuous meal with free-flowing top wines and even more film is where SIFF excels—forging wonderful conversations and friendships, making the festival come alive. SIFF has just announced that its discounting of festival passes has been extended through February 28. Both culinary experiences are included with the 2023 Patron Pass and are discounted for 2023 Soiree and Cinema Passholders.

SIFF | Devour! Chefs & Shorts Dinner Honoring Chef Martin Yan, Thursday March 23, 2023

In a career spanning 40-plus years, Chef Martin Yan has connected with audiences across the world through his public television series, introducing generations of North Americans to Chinese and Asian cuisines. He has hosted over 3,500 cooking shows, authored over 30 cookbooks and founded a chain of Yan Can Restaurants and the Yan Can International Cooking School in San Francisco. I have vivid memories of watching him on PBS, slicing and dicing vegetables with impeccable precision at a rapid-fire pace and of his wonderful heart-felt enthusiasm. His message: “If Yan can cook, so can you!” 

And accolades! The James Beard Foundation recognized Yan with an award for best television cooking show in 1994, best television food journalism in 1996, and a who’s who of food and beverage in America in 2001. In 1998, he won a Daytime Emmy Award for best cooking show for “Yan Can Cook” which has aired since 1978 and is syndicated around the world making it one of the longest-running American cooking programs of all times. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation honored him again with a lifetime achievement award.

The celeb, famous for cutting up a chicken in 18 seconds, in his 70’s now, still has boundless energy and is a popular YouTube host, livestreaming his approachable recipes from his home kitchen. In 2022, it was announced he would be opening M.Y. Asia in Las Vegas, at the Horseshoe Casino and Hotel (formerly Bally’s) featuring pan-Asian cuisine. The UC Davis alum also recently made a gift to the UC Davis Library Archives and Special Collections to create the Chef Martin Yan Legacy Archive.

Chef Yan brings his unique “Yan-ergy” to the SIFF | Devour! Chefs & Shorts Dinner and will prepare a course during the event that is certain to wow attendees with cleaver action. In addition to Chef Yan, notable chefs at this year’s dinner include Michael Howell | Executive Director of Devour! The Food Film Festival and Executive Chef of the Green Turtle club, Bahamas; Emily Lim | Chef-Owner of Dabao Singapore in San Francisco; Ruby Oliveros | Executive Chef at Ram’s Gate Winery in Sonoma; and Cogir Executive Chef Ensan Wong. Participating wineries are Anaba Wines, Bee Hunter, Gloria Ferrer, Ram’s Gate Winery and Viansa. The event is SIFF’s fourth collaboration with Devour! The Food Film Fest and its founder Chef Michael Howell and Co-Director Lia Rinaldo. During the course of the evening, Yan will receive SIFF’s Culinary Excellence Award and will be the second chef to be honored by SIFF. Chef Jacques Pépin was the inaugural recipient in 2022.

“We’re excited Chef Yan is joining us for our Chef and Shorts event, and he’ll actually be cooking, which doubles the excitement,” said SIFF Artistic Director Carl Spence. “It’s wonderful to honor this world-class chef along with world-class cinema, so it’s a great pairing.”

Joanne Weir’s Wine Country Cooking Luncheon, Saturday, March 25

Chef Joanne Weir, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, international cooking teacher, renowned chef and host of her famed PBS cooking series “Plates & Places” is about to launch a new PBS cooking series. a sneak preview of which will be shown at her SIFF luncheon. Photo: SIFF

Chef Joanne Weir is back at SIFF for a second time to showcase her new PBS show “Joanne Weir’s Wine Country Cooking” with a special lunch event on Saturday, March 25, from 11 to 1 pm. Weir began her career working at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley before moving to food travel tours and opening Sausalito’s Copita Tequileria Y Comida restaurant. She has spent some four decades writing over 20 cookbooks, teaching cooking and is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author. She is known internationally for her TV shows such as “Joanne Weir’s Cooking Confidence” and “Joanne Weir’s Plates & Places.”   At Saturday’s luncheon, she will premiere her new PBS cooking and travel television series, paired with a three-course meal she has curated representing various Sonoma County people, places, and purveyors. One of the special treats in store for attendees is the exclusive Della Terra Olive Oil and balsamic vinegars,

“We’re are thrilled to welcome Chef Weir back to the festival,” said SIFF Executive Director Ginny Krieger. “Her energy, enthusiasm, and engagement with our audience, along with her delicious lunch, was a highlight last year. We’re so glad she’s returning to make this year even more memorable.”

“I’m so excited to be part of the Sonoma International Film Festival,” said Weir. “This event oozes creativity, artistry and fun; the energy is contagious!”

Details: SIFF26 is March 22-26, 2023. Both culinary events are at the Hanna Center, Sonoma, and both are included with the 2023 Patron Pass and are discounted for 2023 Soiree and Cinema Passholders. Non-passholder prices: SIFF | Devour! Chefs & Shorts Dinner Chefs $350; Joanne Weir’s Wine Country Cooking Luncheon $175. Buy your tickets now as both events will sell out. (The Hanna Center is roughly 4.5 miles from the town square.)

For information on passes and to buy tickets:

February 15, 2023 Posted by | Film, Food, Wine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sargent and Spain” opens at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor on Saturday with a lively curator panel and Flamenco dancing in the courtyard

Sargent was captivated by Spain’s dance culture and his preparatory drawings and finished works are infused with the sultry rhythms and raw sensuality of flamenco.  His many sketches on display at the Legion of Honor show how he studied and mastered these intricate movements, creating dynamic sensual masterpieces which stood in contrast to his society portraits. John Singer Sargent “Study for the Spanish Dancer,” 1880-1881 Watercolor, 11 7/8 × 7 7/8 in. (30.16 × 20 cm) Dallas Museum of Art. Image: FAMSF.

Celebrated as the society portraitist of his era, John Singer Sargent visited Spain seven times between 1879 and 1912, turning out a remarkable body of work, which is explored for the first time in “Sargent and Spain,” at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor through May 14, 2023.   The exhibit, which originated at the National Gallery, presents over 140 of Sargent’s dazzling oils, watercolors, and drawings, along with never-before-exhibited photographs, showcasing Spain’s people, architecture, and magnificent urban and rural landscapes.  A highlight is Sargent’s fascination with dance and several studies portraits of dancers are included.  

This Saturday, the exhibit opens to the public with a performance of live flamenco music and dance, and a panel discussion from the curators, offering an overview of the exhibition and discussion of Sargent’s fascination with Spanish art and culture and its influence on his work—both are free.

Sargent and Spain: Curators in Conversation:  11 – 12 pm Gunn Theater, Legion of Honor

Emma Acker, FAMSF (Fine Arts Musuems of San Francisco) associate curator of American art will lead a conversation with Sarah Cash, associate curator of American and British paintings at the National Gallery of Art, along with Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, exhibition co-curators and co-authors of the John Singer Sargent catalogue raisonné.  The delightful Ormond is the great nephew of Sargent, and grandson of Sargent’s sister, Violet Sargent Ormond and grew up with some of these art works on his walls.  The Gunn auditorium will open 1 hour before the talk and early arrival is recommend to secure seating.

The panel talk will be live-streamed on the Legion’s YouTube channel: click here on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Dance and music performance by Caminos Flamencos:  12 – 2 pm, Court of Honor, Legion of Honor

Sargent was inspired by Majorca, especially by the island’s light and vegetation, and the exhibit devotes a gallery to artworks created there.  His beloved “Pomegranates, Majorca,” from 1908, the exhibition’s poster, features these magical fruits bursting in juicy ripeness amidst a tapestry of plush vegetation executed with dense, expressive brushstrokes.  John Singer Sargent, “Pomegranates, Majorca”, 1908, oil on canvas, 28 1/2 x 22 inches, anonymous owner, image: FAMSF

Details: “Sargent and Spain” runs Feb 11 – May 14, 2023. The exhibit is free to FAMSF members. For non-FAMSF members, a general entry ticket is required; $28 for adults. Advance reservations are mandatory.

February 9, 2023 Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SF Opera’s “Orpheus and Eurydice”— Jakub Józef Orlinski, fabulous staging, and the rarely-performed Viennese version…all in 80 minutes

Breakdancing Polish countertenor sensation, Jakub Józef Orliński, is Orpheus in San Francisco Opera’s new production of Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

“Orpheus and Eurydice” is a story plucked from antiquity, recounting the Greek myth of Orpheus, a musician so grief-stricken at his wife’s passing that he braves the underworld to rescue her from death itself.  At SF Opera (San Francisco Opera), Christoph Willibald’s Gluck’s beloved opera, in a new dazzling production directed by Matthew Ozawa, is a not-to-be-missed experience of music, singing, dance, and inventive staging.  

Gluck’s three act opera, last performed at SF Opera 63 years ago, takes place in both the world of the living (Earth) and the world of the dead (Hades), as well as in the space between (Elysium).  It is not set in any specific time period. SF Opera’s new production is Gluck’s rarely-performed original Viennese score, first unveiled in 1762 at Vienna’s Burgtheatre, with libretto by the poet Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, sung in Italian. With Calizabigi’s collaboration, the plot had been reduced to its essentials, with the chorus taking on a larger role, and the solo and choral parts were connected closely with dance. Beforehand, I’d heard a lot about the breakdancing Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński, the brain scans in Alexander V. Nichols’ rotating set, and the fluid dancing, but nothing prepared me for how seamlessly these elements all came together to create an experience of pure art.  My review pertains to the performance Friday, November 18, where I sat in the dress circle, looking down on the action.

The opera’s lively overture and curtain opened dramatically on a lone red-robed figure doing spellbinding handstands and leaps— it was Jakub Józef Orliński, the renowned Polish breakdancer and countertenor, as Orpheus, grieving his beloved wife Eurydice and experiencing flashbacks of their life together.  His mesmerizing dancing and pure athleticism immediately set him apart from all other countertenors who have sung this role. As Act I began, he cried out to the Gods to bring Eurydice back. His unexpectedly high, commanding voice took some adjusting to but I soon found his sound intoxicating. His “Che farò senza Euridice?” (“What will I do without Eurydice”) worked its heart-wrenching magic on the entire audience.  As the drama continued to unfold, Orliński became even more captivating, a star whose role seemed much larger than this singular character, someone uniquely charged to invigorate opera.  

Set & Projection designer Alexander V. Nichols’ creative staging added immensely to the production. Colorful floor projections on a rotating circular stage were reminiscent of a pinwheel but these were images of actual neurons and neural pathways from brain scans of trauma patients at USCF Medical Center, an amazing collaborative feat for SF Opera. Ozawa’s thinking was that Orpheus is traversing various phases of grief toward acceptance and his journey through his pain entails navigating memory and his own psyche. This is a rich visual tapestry of that neuro-biologic process. Since no two brains scans are alike, a myriad of beautiful patterns and colors moved before our eyes, at times resembling oceans, fauna, atmospheric turbulence adding greatly to the drama and our enjoyment, especially when viewed from the grand terrace where they could be appreciated in their entirety. One of the most effective visuals was simple and elegant—the thick black jagged line that appeared on the floor and grew like a fissure, at the moment of Eurydice’s death separating the two lovers with Orpheus singing “What will I do without my beloved.”

Jakub Józef Orliński as Orpheus and, in the background, enshrouded in her casket is his dead wife Eurydice.  The casket is evocative of Damien Hirst’s famous 1991 glass-panel display case for his tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Meigui Zhang and Jakub Józef Orliński in the title roles of Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice.” Zhang and Orlinski’s flowing classically-inspired costumes were designed by Jessica Jahn, a former dancer who is interested in how garments facilitate movement. Photo: Matthew Washburn/San Francisco Opera

Meigui Zhang and Jakub Józef Orliński with dancers in Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice.” Choreographer Rena Butler employed six dancers―three doubles each of Orpheus and Eurydice, who were distinguished by costumes in lighter hues of red for
Orpheus and blue for Eurydice. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Soprano Meigui Zhang, as Eurydice, who sang with such power and touching vulnerability in her SFO debut in last season’s “The Dream of the Red Chamber,” again sang her principal role with remarkable passion, at times sounding utterly ethereal and at times on the verge of unraveling. This former Merola program graduate held her own in the dancing scenes with Orliński too, moving fluidly and expressively. In Act III, as Orpheus leads Eurydice through the underworld, she became more and more unhinged with his refusal to look at her and was convincing in her second death. But the most beautiful choreography was in the melding of their voices, creating a memorable layered beauty.

As Amore (Cupid, God of Love), radiant soprano Nicole Heaston, also a Merola program graduate, delighted the audience each time she descended from her ceiling perch in her sunny yellow gown and yards of golden fabric flowing.  Her natural comedic bend was evident when she sang Despina, the maid in SFO’s “Cosi fan tutte” last fall and had everyone in stitches.  Her Act I “Gli sguardi trattieni” was a joy both for her singing and her effervescent sparkle. This is where she tells Orfeo that his suffering will be short-lived because Jove (Jupiter) will allow him to descend into the land of the dead to retrieve Eurydice. Making this a real test, Orfeo must neither look at her, nor explain why looking is forbidden, otherwise he will lose her forever.

Nicole Heaston as Amore (Cupid) in Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Music symbolizes represents Orpheus’ emotional journey. Olivier award winning conductor Peter Whelan, music director of Scottish Chamber Orchestra, also a bassoonist, singer, and champion of Baroque historic performance, led the 46 piece reduced SF Opera orchestra in a remarkably vibrant performance of Gluck’s original 1762 Vienna version of the opera.

The SF Opera Chorus sang beautifully, taking on the roles of mourners in Act I, Furies and shrouded lost souls in Act II and joyful onlookers in Act III.  Act II’s harrowing “Chi mai dell’Erebo,” sung by the furies and ghosts who are trying to deny Orpheus’ passage to the underworld, was particularly moving.  The song was ushered in by César Cañón’s harpsichord playing and punctuated by energetic dramatic orchestral runs emulating the dark sounds of the Elysian fields.

Dance also plays a vital role, depicting the memory landscape Orpheus is navigating. Orlinksi and Zhang do all of their own dancing and six dancers dressed in slightly different shades of red or blue are on stage with them acting as doubles, symbolizing Orpheus and Eurydice at different phases of their relationship. Choreographed by Rena Butler, the overall impact seemed to be to highlight Orlinski’s immense talent and the rest followed a course of natural simplicity.  

Meigui Zhang and Jakub Józef Orliński in the Elysian Fields scene in Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice.” The sheer shroud fabric worn by the lost souls in the background (members of the SF Opera chorus) features portraits and writing samples from deceased family members of the opera’s creative team. Photo: Matthew Washburn/San Francisco Opera

Jakub Józef Orliński as Orpheus confronts the Furies (members of SFO’s Chorus) in Act II of “Orpheus and Eurydice.” Colorful floor projections on a rotating circular stage by Alexander V. Nichols are of actual neurons and neural pathways from brain scans of patients at USCF Medical Center. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

I left the opera house enriched by this burst of creativity and then spent the drive home trying to dredge up what I remembered of the myth of Orpheus and how it was that, in the end of this opera, Orpheus survives and seemingly is reunited with Eurydice. I recalled that Orpheus couldn’t resist Eurydice’s pleas and gave in to the temptation to see his beloved wife again. He looked at her and, in fulfillment of prophecy, Euridyce disappeared forever and Orpheus killed himself.  After researching Gluck, I learned that he adapted the legend, rejecting the harsh ending in his classical sources and instead conformed with the happy ending expected of the modern stage in his day. As Orpheus is about to kill himself, Amore intervenes, disarms him and rewards him for his love and devotion and Eurydice comes to life again, like she’s just woken up from a deep sleep.


There are two remaining performances: Saturday, Nov 25, 7:30 pm and Thurs, Dec 1, 7:30 pm.  Run-time = 81 min, with no intermission.  Tickets: Purchase online:

Traffic alert: If you are driving in from the North Bay, allow at least 45 min travel/parking time from the Golden Gate Bridge to War Memorial Opera House. For a list of parking garages closest to the opera house, visit

November 23, 2022 Posted by | Art, Dance, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: A Thrilling New Production of “La Traviata” at SF Opera

Soprano Pretty Yende in her Company debut as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

It’s a story as old as time: man falls for beautiful woman with an unsuitable background; his family disapproves and intervenes; and the aftermath is tragic, especially when the woman dies before wrongs can be righted and a beautiful love is thwarted.  Meddling, lies and bad timing; where would opera be without them?  SFO’s (San Francisco Opera’s) new production of Verdi’s beloved “La Traviata,” has all of that and looks at the woman as a model of feminine strength.  The beloved opera, the most performed in the world, opened Friday night to a full house, delighting the audience with its fresh new staging by director Shawna Lucey, production design by Robert Innes Hopkins and lighting by Michael Clark. It introduced a stellar international cast headed by three stars in their Company debuts in the principal roles of Violetta, Alfredo and Germont. The music under new Music Director Eun Sun Kim was enthralling as was the singing from SFO’s opera chorus. This is a brand new production, the first in 35 years, and it was built by the Company entirely in the Bay Area. It was high time that this beloved classic be given a fresh face, especially in SFO’s centennial year.

Based on Alexandre Dumas’ 1853 play La Dame aux Camélias (Lady of the Camelias), a fictionalized account of Dumas’ affair with famed Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis who died of tuberculosis at age 23, Verdi’s “La Traviata” (“The Fallen Woman,”) has long been viewed as a cautionary morality tale about the dangers of living outside society’s norms. This Traviata, set in the late 19th century, as envisioned by Shawna Lucey, is a story of self-invention that looks at the courtesan Violetta Valéry, as an empowered feminist, ahead of her time. With steely resolve, Violetta has achieved wealth, fame, social standing.  She leads an independent and sophisticated life on the borders of a high society that denounces and embraces prostitution.  She accepts the price: the long leash that connects her to her rich much older patron, Baron Douphol. As for the emotional toll, she’s long abandoned any hope of true love and has a transactional approach to intimacy.  When young Alfredo Germont professes his total devotion, she is thrown. She allows herself to love and moves to a plush country house with Alfredo for a fresh start, never telling him that she is dying of tuberculosis.  Enter Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, very much the opposite of Violetta, who represents the old-fashioned constricting social norms of the time.  He implores Violetta to break it off with Alfredo, telling her that she will ruin the family’s social standing and deny Alfredo’s sister any chance of a respectable marriage.  Violetta makes the ultimate sacrifice and ends it, becoming a victim of the societal rules she thought she had conquered.  Alfredo is crushed and enraged; he insults Violetta at a party in Paris and then goes away.  When he learns later that it was his own father who masterminded their breakup, he rushes back to find Violetta on her death bed where she dies in his arms.  

Jonathan Tetelman as Alfredo and Pretty Yende as Violetta offer a festive champagne toast as they sing their brindisi in Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Simone Piazzola as Giorgio Germont and Pretty Yende as Violetta in Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” The pergola of roses surrounding the garden suggests an idyllic Eden, where Violetta and Alfredo lived freely and happily for several months until Germont showed up to demand she break it off with his son. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

From the moment the curtain opened on Act I, a lively party in Violetta’s Parisian apartment, soprano Pretty Yende, the renowned South African bel canto interpreter, was dazzling. Dressed to the nines in her blue satin party dress, she sashayed across the floor, commanding attention and a sound that demanded to be heard.  Her famous duet with Alfredo, the drinking song “Brindisi, Libiamo ne’ lieti caliche che la bellezza infiora,” was full of fun and energy and had the audience swaying and humming.  Their beautiful duet, “Un di, felice, eterea, mi balenaste innante…” “One happy day you flashed before me…” was full of vocal gymnastics, which Yende seemed to blossom into as the performance went on. Their voices complimented each other’s exquisitely but they failed to demonstrate there was any real sizzle between them. Yende mesmerized the audience with her rapid-fire emotive “Sempre Libera,” (“Forever free”) a long, grueling test of a soprano’s mettle that she finished off with the customary, albeit briefly-held, E flat. 

Yende’s Act II encounter with Germont, Alfredo’s father, a key moment in the opera, was a high point.  Here, she is pressured into breaking up with Alfredo to save the family’s reputation and to allow Germont’s daughter to marry an appropriate suitor. Yende went from projecting strength, confidence and defiance and then dissolved into a shattered and dis-empowered wreck after agreeing to leave Alfredo.  Her brief aria “Amani Alfredo,” “Love me Alfredo, as much as I love you…” where she emotively poured out her soul was astounding.  Her big Act III goodbye to life aria, “Addio, del passato…” “Farewell to the past, beautiful, happy dreams…” was her most convincing singing of the evening. Coming after she receives a letter from Germont telling her that Alfredo knows about her sacrifice and is returning, she sings this tormented aria as a resigned farewell to a future with Alfredo and as an expression of her belief in the eternal power of love.

Jonathan Tetelman as Alfredo in Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” set in courtesan Flora’s Parisian salon. Violetta has just lied to him, telling him that she loves Baron Duphol. He snaps and sings out his agony surrounded by the crowd. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

When tenor Jonathan Tetelman took the stage as Alfredo, “total package” was my hit—both him and his beautiful voice. I had a similar reaction years ago to Jonas Kaufmann after hearing him sing at the Met. Tetelman, a tall, dashing Chilean-American, conveyed Alfredo’s tender passion, intense rages and crippling remorse with such authenticity that he threatened to steal some of Pretty Yende’s thunder. He sang beautifully in his Act I duet with Violetta, “Un di, felice, eterea, mi balenaste innante,” (“One happy, ethereal day, you flashed before me,”) and was particularly compelling at the beginning of Act II in his “Lunge da lei” and “De’ miei bollenti spiriti’ (‘My passionate spirit’) singing with emotional directness and evoking a warm audience response.  In Act II, when he learns that Violetta has been selling off things to pay for their luxurious lifestyle at the country villa, his “O Mio Remorso! Oh infamia” was painful, heartfelt.  In Act III, when he returns to find Violetta dying, their duets were heart-wrenching.

Simone Piazzola as Giorgio Germont and Jonathan Tetelman as Alfredo in Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Italian baritone Simone Piazzola brought lyricism, intensity and tenderness to his SFO debut as Giorgio Germont.  In the ten years since he was on SFO’s stage as a Merola Fellow, he has become known for his moving portrayals in many of Verdi’s works.  He has a strong stage presence, having sung Germont with high praise over 200 times in some 30 productions around the world.  The role comes with its own set of dramatic challenges which are entwined with the music and convey his evolving perspective on Violetta and Alfredo’s relationship.  He struck a quite believable balance between wanting to preserve his family’s honor at all costs and finding that he really cares for Violetta and has misjudged her. His Act II aria “Pura siccome un angelo”(“Pure as an angel…”) sung to Violetta was heartfelt and passionate, reflecting his love of family and his “Di Provenza il mar il suol” (“The sea and soil of Provence”), sung to remind Alfredo of their home in Provence, was aching.  

In the smaller roles, bass Adam Lau was impressive as Dr. Grenvil and mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven sang beautifully as Flora.

Music Director Eun Sun Kim guided the SF Opera Orchestra masterfully.  The prelude opened on a somber theme foreshadowing Violetta’s illness and tragic death with very delicate, high strings in a sad melody.  The mood changed as the orchestra bounced energetically through Act I’s pleasure-filled Parisian party atmosphere. The rousing drinking song had the people around me humming and swaying in their seats and the intense outpouring of melody supporting Violetta’s “È strano / Ah, fors’è lui / Sempre libera” paralleled the new intense stirrings of love within her heart.  The violins played exquisitely again in the Prelude to Act III expressing tender hope which is overshadowed by despair.  Kim kept the orchestra moving along at a good clip, slowing things later in the opera as the mood shifts and Violetta’s illness and parental interference cast a dark spell. It will be a pleasure to hear her conduct Verdi in coming seasons.

One of the exciting things about a new production is seeing the creative transformation of a familiar scene—Act II’s party scene at Flora’s apartment was hit and miss.  The set was gorgeous, painted in shades of red and intricately designed with stained glass windows and faux tiles evoking Alhambra and a wall of erotic paintings on display in the background. The evening’s entertainment arrives and a raucous party ensues. The female chorus sings “We are Gypsies” and the male chorus “We are the Matadors from Madrid.”  Double-sided costumes—male on one side and female on the other were a hit with the audience. Less convincing was the a nod to the Marquis’ wild sexual proclivities—a male clad in a pink lace tutu who crawled on the floor imitating a dog.  

Pretty Yende as Violetta in Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Flora’s apartment, executed in shades of red with a gallery of erotic art would have been all the rage in certain circles in late 19th century Paris. Throughout the performance, Yende appears in stunning gowns. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Pretty Yende as Violetta and Taylor Raven as Flora with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus gathering around Violetta in a touching protective gesture to shield, end of Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

In the end, it was Violetta’s descent into the throws of death, matched by the pathos of her singing that captivated us to her last breath. A complete surprise came when Violetta read Germont’s letter to her aloud in her spoken voice; hearing Yende’s South African accent felt quite intimate.


Six remaining performances of “La Traviata” are scheduled: Wednesday/16 (7:30 p.m.), Tuesday/22 (7:30 p.m.), Friday/25 (7:30 p.m.), Sunday/27 (2 p.m.), Wednesday/30 (7:30 p.m.); Saturday/December 3 (7:30 p.m.), 2022.  Sung in Italian with English supertitles.  Run-time: 2 hours, 58 minutes with 2 intermissions.  Tickets and information:

Saturday, November 7- 10pm: La Traviata Encounter:   Experience the romance, drama and passion of “La Traviata” in a new and unforgettable way. See Act I of Verdi’s La Traviata (approx. 30 minutes) with South African Soprano Pretty Yende as Violetta and Chilean-American tenor Jonathan Tetelman as Alfredo Germont.  Afterwards, enjoy an immersive evening of food, drinks and dancing in the transformed Opera House whose different lobbies will be inspired by scenes in the opera. Food and specially themed specialty cocktails will be available for purchase.  Read ARThound’s coverage here

November 16, 2022 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment