Review: San Francisco Opera’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”─ Soprano Albina Shagimuratova subs as Lucia and is spectacular!
The footnotes for Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova’s fall 2015 season at San Francisco Opera (SFO) might read “The Queen rises,” affirming that the last minute drama that occurs behind the scenes in opera can be as exhilarating as what we see on stage. Before the curtain rose on Wednesday night’s final performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, SFO’s General Director, David Gockley, unexpectedly appeared on stage to deliver “goods news and bad news.” Soprano Nadine Sierra , who had been getting rave reviews for her Lucia, was suddenly ill. (Sierra herself was a late replacement for German soprano Diana Damrau who withdrew unexpectedly in September citing personal reasons.) The good news was that Russian coloratura soprano, Albina Shagimuratova, knew the role of Lucia by heart and had agreed to sub, just hours ago, for Sierra.
Shagimuratova had wowed audiences with her dynamic Queen of the Night in the 2012 world premiere of SFO’s The Magic Flute. She, however, had very recently been ill herself and had been too sick to sing Queen of the Night in last Sunday’s matinee performance of the company’s Magic Flute, which was just two and a half days earlier. Many of us who are devoted Sierra fans were sad that we would miss her but elated that Shagimuratova, the beloved Queen, had risen from her bed to take on one of opera’s most demanding roles.
Shagimuratova, who most recently sang Lucia at the Metropolitan Opera in 2014-15, did more than seize the moment─she was on fire. She took us all along with her on Lucia’s tumultuous descent from fragility into madness and executed the famous third act Mad Scene with mesmerizing finesse. Her co-stars, too, delivered the goods, particularly the dazzling Polish tenor Piotr Beczala as Edgardo, Lucia’s secret lover and baritone Brian Mulligan as Lucia’s brother, Enrico. And after Sunday’s performance, we’ll all be watching out for the gorgeous Latvian mezzo soprano Zanda Švēde, a second year Adler fellow, whose lovely voice and stunning red hair made the most of her small role as Alisa, Lucia’s handmaid.
Presiding at the podium, Nicola Luisotti brought a stirring and lush performance from the SFO orchestra and chorus that incisively captured Lucia’s emotional fragility and supported the characters’ most passionate moments. Of the dozen or so Donizetti operas that are considered masterpieces, Lucia is the pinnacle─it contains opera’s most gorgeous and powerful music and abounds with opportunities for vocal embellishment, lush harmonizing and drama. It’s no wonder that this bel-canto (literally “beautiful singing”) masterpiece has been performed in 23 seasons at SFO. This new SFO production, directed by Michael Cavanagh and designed by Erhard Rom, the team behind SFO’s wonderful Susannah in 2014 and Nixon in China in summer 2012, is sure to become a more frequent staple in SFO’s repertoire.
Act 3’s Mad Scene─ The main reason for Lucia’s enduring popularity is the Act 3’s Mad Scene. Great Lucias become one with the music to embody a young woman ripped apart by inner demons. Lucia, mourning her mother’s recent death, has been coerced by her brother Enrico, her closest remaining relative, into an arranged marriage and has been crushed by the loss of her true love, Edgardo. On their wedding night, she stabs her new husband to death and wanders delirious amongst the wedding guests in a bloody nightdress with her hair a tangled mess. Shagimuratova’s singing had been so captivating for the first two acts, particularly Act 1’s “Quando rapito in estasi,” which brought me to my feet, we knew we were in for a treat. Indeed, she left nothing in the tank. Her interpretation of “Il dolce suono…Spargi d’amaro pianto” was chilling, embellished with amazing trills and cascades that showcased the power and sheer beauty of her voice in its highest register. The cadeneza passages, played evocatively by Principal Flute Julie McKenzie from the pit, were very well-coordinated, as if it had been practiced several times. It rightfully earned an ovation with prolonged whistles and whoops and left me with the impression that, for this Lucia, her final exit was a form of victory over the men who had controlled her in one way or another.
Polish tenor Piotr Beczala as Edgardo, Lucia’s lover, oozed with such virility and tonal mastery that now I feel compelled to follow his career. His initial physical encounters with Shagimuratova/Lucia, a new partner, seemed somewhat stiff though, particularly the scene in Act 1where he is comforted by Lucia and lays his lead in her lap but their passion grew more believable as the opera progressed. His grappling with what he perceives as Lucia’s betrayal was enthralling and in the richly textured “Chi me frena in tal momento” sextet that ends Act II, when he bursts in insisting that he still loves Lucia, he was blazing. In the finale, the punishing, demanding Wolf-Crag” scene, Beczala gifted us with rapid, jarring shifts in emotion, bel canto at its best.
And pitted against him, as Enrico, was powerhouse American baritone Brian Mulligan, fresh from his masterful lead in SFO’s Sweeney Todd. And much like that deranged barber, his Enrico also acted from sheer desperation─he was aware of his sister Lucia’s desires and her fragility but torn by his need to save the Lammermore line as well as to ensure his own future. In Act 3’s tour de force showdown between Enrico and Edgardo, both Mulligan and Beczala seemed to be feeding off of each other, singing gloriously and ratcheting up the drama.
Turning heads─ It was impossible to miss the sleekly coiffed redhead mezzo Zanda Švēde, Lucia’s handmaid Alisa. The tall slim beauty was a vision in Mattie Ullrich’s Max-Mara like costuming From the moment she sang her Act 1warning to Lucia to break up with Edgardo, her impassioned voice had me. She was particularly impressive in Act 2’s sextet against much more seasoned singers. Also making the most of his small role and SFO debut was French bass-baritone Nicolas Testè as Raimundo, the Chaplan.
For this new production, rather than the 17th century hills of Scotland, Michael Cavanaugh’s staging sets Sir Walter Scott’s story in “modern-mythic Scotland, a dystopian near future where the lines are blurred between family, country and corporation.” The sets relied on clean-cut marble slabs which opened and closed in various configurations and a huge stone obelisk center stage to impart a stark cool ambiance that was accentuated by dramatic lighting and projections of rolling ocean waves, thunderous skies and hilly Scottish landscapes.
Mattie Ullrich’s costumes ranged from sleek unadorned dresses in charcoal hues to the wedding party’s traditional long full-skirted ball-gowns in jewel tones with intriguing flower headdresses. The flowers were so large they enforced the association of women as walking flowers, mere stylized objects. Poor Shagimuratova presumably had to make do with what was available at the last minute─unattractive Victorian-style dresses with lots of gathers around the waist and bodice, the very worse costuming for a slightly round figure. Her sumptuous voice was all the adornment this beauty needed to make her mark.
Details: There are no remaining performances of Lucia di Lammermoor. You can catch Albina Shagimuratova as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute which has 7 remaining performances and runs through November 20, 2015. For information about SFO’s 2015-16 season, click here. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.
“101 Pianist’s” at Weill Hall Sunday─ Lang Lang’s dedication, passion, and teaching prowess front and center
Green Music Center’s season openers are always magical but yesterday’s finale event, “101 Painists,” led by Lang Lang, was most of my most memorable afternoons ever at Weill Hall. One hundred gifted young piano students, from all over the Bay Area, gathered for an on-stage music lesson and performance with Lang Lang. The piano legend, who gave the very first performance at Weill Hall in 2012, opened GMC’s 2015-16 season on Saturday evening with a sold-out concert of music from Chopin, followed by a gala reception and dinner. Sunday’s finale concert, though, was all about kids and musicianship and giving back. Packed to capacity with families and scampering kids of all ages, Weill Hall was hopping as we experienced Lang Lang inspiring the next generation of young musicians with his passion, humor, and undeniable gift for communication.
After initial preparation with their local music teachers, the lucky 100 young pianists, sitting two to a keyboard, perfected and performed Schubert’s “Marche Militaire” No. 1 and Brahms’s “Hungarian Dance” in F sharp minor. Since its launch in 2009, “101 Pianists” has been presented in global cities from Amsterdam to Kowloon, to Rome to Washington D.C.. Rohnert Park is the 14th participant to date and 1400 young pianists have participated so far. The program allows students of the solo piano to enjoy the social nature of creating music as an ensemble.
In between the rehearsal and performance portions of the two-hour session, Lang Lang took questions from the students and responded thoughtfully about his favorite music, his practice routine, and how to infuse music with emotion. He revealed that he began playing at age two and a half and had a rigorous rehearsal regimen─ six hours a day on weekdays and longer on the weekends. Now days, though, he practices 2 hours daily, unless he’s preparing for a concert. He revealed frankly that there’s no sense practicing if your heart is not in it, “best to take a break.” There’s great complexity in motivating young musicians to imbue their playing with heartfelt emotion. He encouraged parents to motivate their children with positive reinforcement, mentioning Transformers (toys) and candy. Many of us recall the relentless pressure that Lang Lang’s parents placed on him at a very young age to succeed. Lang Lang, now 33, seems to have digested that and is trying to inspire a passion for playing with much gentler methods. And, as a teacher, he is gifted─within minutes he helped the group work through nuances in pacing, volume and pitch relationships that made a tremendous difference in their final performance. There were one or two moments of fast-handed flash but Lang was very focused on bringing out the color in the students’ playing.
It was endearing to hear Lang Lang relate how, at age 17, he got his big break from GMC executive director, Zarin Mehta, whom he considers one of his great mentors. Mehta, at that time, was in Chicago, working with the Chicago Symphony, and was president and chief executive of the Ravinia Festival. Lang Lang was a student at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Having heard Lang Lang audition at length on a Tuesday for the following year’s Ravinia festival, Mehta called him up and asked him to return to Chicago on Saturday to play with the Chicago Symphony for their “Gala of the Century,” as a last minute substitute for André Watts. The piece─ Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Lang Lang’s intensity, delicacy, fabulous technique and absolute control through those unforgiving tempos in that performance launched his career.
Lang Lang has also long been championed by Joan and Sandy Weill, who met him in 1999, when he was 17, and gave a stunning performance at Carnegie Hall for significant donors. Over the years, they have become musically and philanthropically entwined and have become friends. Since 2008, Weill has been on the board of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation and it was Lang Lang who convinced him to invest the money ($12 million) that finished the concert hall that was ultimately named Weill Hall. Lang Lang also suggested that Zarin Mehta would be perfect for the executive director position at Weill Hall.
The afternoon was also a great success in audience building. Afterwards, there were lots of kids asking their parents if they could come again and the season brochures were flying off the stand.
Now Smell this─ This past January, Lang Lang launched his first fragrance, “Amazing Lang Lang,” for men and women (90 to 100 Euros and initially available just in Europe). I didn’t get close enough for verification but the two scents apparently share notes (pun intended) of jasmine, kyara wood, and pepper.
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.
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.
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.
April and May belong to old roses. Whether they climb a fence, or explode on their own with gorgeous sprays of colorful and fragrant blooms, they are a source of pure delight. With names that run the gamut from “Tuscany” to “Ispahan” to “Baron Girod d l’Ain,” heritage roses evoke history and poetry. Rose lovers will get their fix this Sunday at El Cerrito’s annual Celebration of Old Roses, one of the few remaining places where we can see, smell, talk and purchase old roses. The annual spring event is sponsored by the Heritage Roses Group (HRGBA) and takes place this Sunday at the El Cerrito Community Center from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Officially, old roses, or antique roses, are varieties that date from 1860 or earlier. Their attractiveness grows from their wonderful rich and varied fragrances and graceful growth habits which make them ideal for the garden and disease resistance. Once established, many are drought tolerant too, so in these times when many are culling plants to save water, an old rose can make sense. For those feeling too guilty to think of planting in these times, the celebration in El Cerrito is a chance to see it all without the responsibility of ownership. Much like a delightful old-fashioned country fair, people gather round to ohh and ahh its focal point—a 100-foot plus display of freshly picked old roses in old-fashioned mason jars, all in glorious states of bloom. The roses are organized by class—gallicas, centifolias, damasks, mosses, hybrid chinas, bourbons, portlands, chinas, teas, eglantines, floribundas and others. There is ample opportunity to explore the nuances of each variety—fragrance, color, size, petal count, foliage and growth habit.
In addition to the display, rose experts who have made it their mission to save and perpetuate this diverse group of plants will be on hand to answer questions.
Have a rose that you can’t identify? Just put a complete cutting (full bloom, bud and some foliage) in a jar and bring it to the event and the experts will try to identify your rose.
Vendors will also be selling rare perennials, and crafts, china, books, greeting cards, calendars, honey, jam, jewelry, and clothing, all inspired by roses. Tool sharpening will also be available on site, so bring your clippers and loppers. This year, all children attending the event will receive a free rose plant, courtesy of Tom Liggett and HRGBA.
noon talk “Where have all the Roses Gone,” Gregg Lowery, Sonoma County Rosarian — With the general downsizing of nurseries, the 2014 closure of Sebastopol’s globally acclaimed Vintage Gardens, which sold hundreds of rare heritage roses, we’re all wondering where have all the roses gone? Lowery will talk about what’s happened, what the prospects are for buying and preserving heritage roses in the future and the importance of roses to human history and culture.
Details: El Cerrito’s Celebration of Old Roses, Sunday May 17, 2015, El Cerrito Community Center, 7007 Moeser Lane, El Cerrito. 11 am to 3:30 p.m. Free. If you plan to buy roses or plants, bring cash. For more information, call Kristina Osborn at The Heritage Roses Group (510) 527-3815 or visit http://www.celebrationofoldroses.org
J.J. Wilson, Jonah Raskin, Julie Lee and Terry Ehret discuss the 2014 Sitting Room Publication, This is What a Feminist Looks Like, with host Gil Mansergh on Word by Word, Sunday, Sept. 7, 4pm, on KRCB, 91 FM and www.KRCB.org. Participants will discuss their responses to the anthology’s topic “When I first realized I was a feminist” which was the catalyst for 46 revelatory essays .
The wait for a commercial electric car is over – the first Nissan Leaf is rolling in Sonoma County and I’m driving it
After what seems like forever, our long-awaited all electric Nissan Leaf has arrived and it’s impossible to write objectively about how good it feels to be off oil and to be the first customers in Sonoma County to actually receive their Leaf. The Leaf is part of our strategy, several years in the making, to go renewable through solar and to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint. Like many who live in Northern, CA, we feel our area is ripe for EV adoption and are proud that we will help lead the revolution. Actually, we were one of those 16,300 early enthusiasts who reserved a Leaf last summer in anticipation of its December 2010 launch–delayed several times. The first Leaf actually did arrive at Petaluma’s Northbay Nissan in December but left immediately with its new owner in Silicon Valley. So, when we got the call last Thursday, that we would be the first in Sonoma County to take delivery of our Leaf, we could hardly believe it.
The Nissan Leaf is a zero emission vehicle with a caveat—the car itself is zero emission when charged from solar PV systems but when charged from PG&E’s electrical power (the major supplier here in Northern, CA), it’s slightly better than a Toyota Prius (the leading hybrid) in terms of its overall (car plus electrical generation) emissions. Our Nissan Leaf SL is zero emission because we are charging it from the sun.
Commercial all electric vehicles (EVs) have been around for over 10 years now, but they always seemed to suffer from being impractical, weird, expensive, or downright ugly. General Motors EV1 elevated our consciousness but was killed by Big Oil. Chris Paine’s marvelous movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” tells the story unflinchingly. Other EVs soon followed suit but were fatally weird or downright goofy looking–the Mitsubishi iMiEV, BMW’s Mini E, Nissan’s EV-02, Toyota’s FT-EV II, to name a few. The stunning Tesla Roadster broke onto the scene in 2008 as the first truly commercial EV but was affordable only by the wealthy starting with an MSRP over $100,000 for a two seat sports car.
EV’s: a significant component in saving our planet
When President Obama entered office, he appointed Steven Chu as Energy Secretary. Both Obama and Chu are ardent believers in the dangers of climate change and the economic crisis that U.S. and global addiction to oil will eventually trigger. They created an extremely favorable environment for the electric car and directed the Department of Energy to make it happen. When Nissan received a $1.4 billion loan to build a plant in Tennessee to manufacture the Leaf, the first very affordable and attractive commercial EV was on its way.
The Leaf and other reliable and affordable EV’s are essential in the fight against global warming which will drive catastrophic climate change over the next 50-100 years. Simply stated, global warming is driven primarily by the CO2 Green House Gas that is released by our burning of fossil fuels, like gasoline. Automobiles and other motor vehicles are the largest offenders in releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. NASA scientist Dr. Jim Hansen’s well-known oft-quoted publications on the implications of climate change are harrowing.
EV’s are crucial to the plan for eliminating our CO2 emissions because fossil fuel burning transportation is the largest contributor to these emissions. Generating electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, tidal and hydroelectric combined with zero emission EV’s can eliminate the automobile’s contribution in a straightforward manner. This formula also eliminates our addiction to oil for our automobiles thereby reducing the economic risk of oil’s price or availability.
The US economy and national security are at severe risk due to our addiction to foreign oil. The US does not have enough oil reserves to make a difference should supply be jeopardized. The planet itself is approaching “peak oil,” where Earth’s maximum reserves and production of oil hit an upper limit, or peak, and then begin declining. Just as demand for oil is starting to accelerate rapidly in China, India and the developing world, oil’s availability is about to peak and then will decline. If we, as a planet, don’t reduce our consumption of oil, the CO2 emitted from automobiles burning gasoline will accelerate global warming. Eventually, we will see an economic crisis making the 1974 oil embargo look like peanuts and from that all sorts of disasters will follow suit as oil is so integral and deeply woven into the fabric of our economy.
Getting off PG&E and on Solar—EV’s go hand in hand with Solar PV Systems which we also have
In addition to purchasing a Nissan Leaf, two years ago we designed and built a 12.6 kWatt solar PV system that creates all our electricity from sunlight. This is bringing our home to nearly CO2 neutral. Our electricity will be free when our system finishes paying for itself in 1 ½ years from saved utility bills and we have created a model we are proud of— getting off of fossil fuel generated electricity. If everyone could buy and install an EV and a solar PV system, our planet would be safe from the unthinkable impacts of global warming on climate Change and the coming economic crisis due to peaking oil supplies.
Nissan Leaf: pricing
That’s the back story to our Leaf purchase. After paying $99 and signing up for the Leaf months ago online, and waiting through numerous delays, we took delivery last Thursday from Petaluma’s Northbay Nissan. Besides loving the car, I couldn’t believe it cost just over $20,000 after incentives, which is a ridiculously low price for a new car of any quality. With an MSRP at $32,780, California will give you a $5000 rebate check immediately and the IRS will give you a $7500 tax credit next April 15, leaving the final price at $20,280, plus tax and license. A deal! You can visit the Leaf site to appreciate what they offer. We bought ours from Ron Coury at North Bay Nissan in Petaluma which has become the Leaf sales leader and popular with customers from all over CA due to its extremely competitive pricing.
Interior leg and storage room
Upon first glance, the Leaf appears quite small. When I jumped inside, I was shocked at how roomy it is and at its sophisticated dashboard and front-end technology. Both the front and rear seats are comfortable for me at 5’10” with long legs (36’ inseam), as well as offering overall reasonable visibility. The front and rear doors make it easy to enter and the hatchback makes this little car seem almost like a mini-SUV. The rear seats fold forward and an optional rear cargo compartment cover ($190.00) creates a nearly flat storage area from the front seats to the hatch door, just perfect for a giant red hound. Of course, the fabric seats available only in a dove gray color will be a HUGE problem for pet owners as these just grab hair right off the animal. Leather please! We paid an additional $900 to have the car perma-plated and Scotchgarded but it’s not going to solve this issue. I was also hoping that once the seats folded down, there would be a standard protective mat to place over the area if you want to transport a bicycle and keep that upholstery clean. Not yet.
Keyless Start, Power to Merge
Mastering the procedure for starting this electric car without an actual key takes a few practice runs. First, you put your foot on the brake and then push the start button, release the emergency brake and put it in drive. It’s dead quiet, so you really have to take it on faith that it’s ready to go. It feels incredibly quick from a standing start due to the torque character of the electric motor. Its handling is quick and responsive and it turns and stops on a dime, almost feeling like a sports car. I timed it yesterday when merging onto Highway 101 South and reached 65 mph in a snap, a lot faster in fact than I do in my 2009 Subaru Forester.
It’s a truly fun little car to drive and feels quite different from a Toyota Prius or other gasoline-powered car. My only complaint is that shifting into drive is done by pulling back on the shifter and reverse is forward, not terribly intuitive for someone who previously owned a jeep and has become accustomed to shifting Tom’s Z06. Note to Nissan: Forward = drive. Reverse = reverse!
Speaking of its quiet ride, it’s so quiet that Nissan added sound back in to alert the sight and otherwise impaired. Nissan fitted a small speaker on the car’s left front that emits a very subtle tone up to 18 mph. After that, Nissan reasons that sound of the tires and wind will be sufficient to warm of an approaching Leaf. When it’s in reverse, it also emits a faint sound.
EV-IT System: ECO Mode and Pesky Touch Screen
For a relatively inexpensive car, it’s rather sophisticated. The LED headlamps, EV-IT and navigation systems, Nissan Carwings economy tracking system, solar panel (only available with SL model), built in Bluetooth speaker phone, are all features one might find on a more expensive car.
Driving the car is really about optimizing your range. The car comes with a number of features that assist with that. Constantly displayed are how much charge is left and how many miles remain in your driving range. A power meter tracks energy consumption and regeneration. If you drive efficiently, the eco indicator will reward you with a virtual forest. You can also check with the trip computer to see how much time is needed for a full charge. You can switch settings to see your efficiency in miles/kWh.
There’s also an EV-IT system which gives you pertinent graphic information. On the map display, you can see your remaining range with a circle giving nearby charging spots. Another screen tells how to maximize your heater or A/C usage to maximize range.
I had worried that I would have a lead foot and would not be able to maximize the efficiency of the battery charge. The Leaf has what Nissan calls the ECO mode where the car’s computer takes control of acceleration and tries to optimize the battery charge. This really works and it is barely noticeable that computer is controlling acceleration.
Two complaints so far– the multi-level touch screen controls are complex and hard to manage while driving and using the windshield wipers, heater and air conditioning does significantly reduce mileage. Don’t try to get the full 100+ miles if it’s a cold rainy day and you need to run the heater, defroster and windshield wipers throughout the trip or a hot day and need air conditioning. I would guess it takes about 20% of the battery charge to continually run them.
For running around town, the Leaf is fabulous and economical. We have our own solar PV system so charging the Leaf is free. It feels great driving by all those gas stations with their $4 plus per gallon for regular signs staring you in the face.
Charging at Home: Level 1 and Level 2 EVSE
Our Leaf came with a 120 Volt Level 1 EVSE that allows charging from a standard 20 Amp outlets available anywhere. Everyone had been concerned at how slow charging would be at 120 Volts and how the 240 Volt EVSE was going to be over $2000 installed. We discovered that since we don’t run the battery down too low, that at 120 Volts, the Leaf charged to 100% easily overnight in about 12 hours. We have been plugging it in around dinner time and by morning, it’s fully charged. We have ordered a 240V Level 2 Charging EVSE and will be installing it in our garage ourselves with the help of an electrician friend. By doing this, we will be able to install the Level 2 EVSE for about $900 in our garage. Once we’ve done that, we will be able to charge our Leaf in about 5-6 hours from empty to full.
The Leaf is fitted with a 24kW lithium-ion battery pack complete with 48 separate modules housing four cells a piece. If one of these fails, Nissan can replace the nodule without having to replace the entire battery pack. That’s on Nissan. If you happen to ignore the numerous built-in warning systems, and deplete your battery, the first Leafs come with 3 years of free roadside assistance. A flatbed truck will haul you to a charger.
Commercial Parking and Charging and Commute Lane
I have yet to drive the car into San Francisco and park in any of the numerous garages with charging stations. I mainly park at Sutter/Stockton Garage, Civic Center, and Opera Plaza and all of these supposedly have stations. EVs can drive in the commute lane by applying for a special sticker…worth the price alone.