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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Verdi's Massive 'Aida' Shines at SF Opera

Posted By on Tue, Sep 28, 2010 at 3:09 PM

Micaela Carosi as Aida - CORY WEAVER
  • Cory Weaver
  • Micaela Carosi as Aida
Giuseppe Verdi's Aida

@ September 24, 2010
War Memorial Opera House

Better than:

The D-Backs (we hope)

The forthcoming observation about San Francisco Opera's production of Aida is not intended to be dismissive of the backflipping acrobats, the dancers, the endless processions of priests and soldiers, and (especially) the giant blue elephant puppet. As the presence of a giant blue elephant puppet suggests, Aida is an opera of scale. (This may account for S.F. Opera choosing it for Friday's Opera at the Ballpark simulcast.) But what made Friday night's performance come alive -- from an in-house perspective, at least -- were the smaller, quieter moments. Bombast is easy; convincing nuance is not. Balancing the two as effectively as this production did is rarer still.


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Monday, September 20, 2010

Saturday Night: Massenet's 'Werther' at San Francisco Opera

Posted By on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 8:49 AM

Alice Coote (Charlotte) and Ramon Vargas (Werther) - CORY WEAVER
  • Cory Weaver
  • Alice Coote (Charlotte) and Ramon Vargas (Werther)
Werther by Jules Massenet
War Memorial Opera House
September 18


Better than:  A chaotic production with mediocre singers

The new production of Jules Massenet's Werther making its debut at San Francisco Opera demonstrates the degree to which a successful opera depends on a constellation of elements coalescing just so. Despite outstanding performances from three key singers, an orchestra that masterfully rendered Massenet's complex score, and a taut if somewhat predictable story drawn from an iconic work of literature, the production felt less satisfying than these assets might indicate. For that, a good part of the blame rests on Louis Désiré's production design and Francisco Negrin's direction.

It's not that I reflexively take exception to less-than-traditional stagings of operas. This summer's Die Walküre, to name one recent example, was brilliant -- freeway overpass, aviator goggles, and all. But that production had an overall coherence of vision and purpose that this Werther lacked. Its set had elements that, on their own, were intriguing.  Unfortunately, there were far too many of them to coexist successfully -- particularly in service of a plot this straightforward, with a core cast this small. When intimacy was called for -- which was most of the time -- scattershot spectacle reigned. Watching this production felt like reading a book by a talented writer who badly needs a slash-and-burn editor to save the writing from its excesses and unevenness, thereby allowing the more effective innovations to shine.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tim Cohen, S.F. Musicians Featured in New Art Show

Posted By on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 at 10:05 AM

TIM COHEN
  • Tim Cohen
There's long been an interesting overlap between the worlds of music and visual art. Countless rock bands (see, for starters, the 'Stones) assembled in art school, and many musicians, after their recording lives settle down, hit the gallery circuit. So it perhaps didn't take a wild imagination to come up with the idea of doing an art show featuring the work of San Francisco musicians. But Sound and Vision, which opens tomorrow at Fivepoints Arthouse and features work by Fresh & Onlys frontman Tim Cohen, former Flamin' Groovies leader Cyril Jordan, along with many other local musicians, looks rather cool anyway.

"Most of the musicians I know, they have also have an outlet doing visual art," says show promoter, concert photographer, and Radio Valencia DJ Crispin Mccabe. "I think it comes down to a certain type of personality -- they have a real need to express themselves."

Mccabe used to direct a non-profit gallery in Seattle, so putting an art show together wasn't new to him. He gathered a mix of people he knows from the S.F. music scene (like Cohen and Grace Cooper, of S.F. band the Sandwitches) along with a few non-locals, such as notable New York illustrator Avi Spivak. The idea for the show came after Mccabe saw Cohen's imaginative drawings, which grace, among other things, the cover of his solo album, Laugh Tracks. Other artists showing works include Christopher Musgrave, Sammy Owen, Kimi Recor, and Jean Yaste.

Sound and Vision opens tomorrow night with live performances from Clouds, Parergon, and Blood Beach. Mccabe says there will be more live musical performances -- including an August 28 show with Apache, Daddy Long Legs, and former Groovies member Cyril Jordan -- before the art show closes on September 11.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Soundwave Festival's 'Illuminated Forest' Sees Final Performances Friday

Posted By on Tue, Aug 3, 2010 at 10:36 AM

A sketch of the Illuminated Forest
  • A sketch of the Illuminated Forest
Video art. Interactive sound. Live performances. All in a high-tech "Illuminated Forest" that only truly comes alive when humans enter. (Yes, it knows when humans enter.) This is the Soundwave Festival's Illuminated Forest exhibit -- a so-called "multimedia exhibit and reactive performance space" at the Lab.

The interactive forest itself was created by four artists, each of whom worked on a different aspect, from the painted branches (cut by S.F. Rec and Park), video, sound, and fabric. The aim, according to the organizers, is to deconstruct human relationships with the world, to illustrate for those who experience it how interconnected humans are to the planet.

The forest is also a performance space. On Friday, two days before it comes down, the Lab will see musical performances by Extraordinary Forest, French composer Geraud Bec, and a collaboration between Japanese sound artist Takahiro Kawaguchi and S.F. artist [ruidobello].

A closing reception for the forest will be held on Saturday; the exhibit comes down Sunday. So this week is your last chance to experience the Illuminated Forest.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

At the de Young, a Stunning Work of Recycled Bottle Tops

Posted By on Fri, Jul 30, 2010 at 12:24 PM

El Anatsui's Hovor II - COURTESY OF DE YOUNG MUSEUM
  • Courtesy of de Young Museum
  • El Anatsui's Hovor II
The woman sauntered up to the giant wall hanging called Hovor II, inspected its connecting pieces, then sat down on a nearby bench to get a more expansive view. Every five minutes or so, the pattern was the same on the second floor of the de Young Museum: Surprise. Inspection. Survey from afar. I witnessed that pattern this week, soon after speaking to the artist who created Hovor II from the tops of old liquor bottles.

El Anatsui (his full name) specializes in recycled materials, but his works of art - from a distance, anyway - seem to incorporate pristine materials. Hovor II looks like a giant screen of gold and bronze, as if it came straight from Gustav Klimt's painting The Kiss, but on close perusal, the names of Nigerian liquor tabs are evident everywhere. "Old Mac Deluxe Whisky," "Perfect Dry Gin" and "Eastern Distilleries And Food Industries" say many of the small pieces that make up Hovor II.


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Thursday, June 24, 2010

At SFMOMA, Donald Fisher's Art Collection Proves Surprisingly Diverse

Posted By on Thu, Jun 24, 2010 at 11:39 AM

Andy Warhol, Triple Elvis, 1963
  • Andy Warhol, Triple Elvis, 1963
During his lifetime, Gap founder Donald Fisher was rightfully heralded as a visionary and an entrepreneur of the highest caliber - someone who turned a single store on San Francisco's outskirts into a billion-dollar operation that, under the "Gap," "Old Navy" and other retail names, employs more than 100,000 people and sells valued clothing to millions around the world. Fisher also had his detractors, especially among hard-core liberals, who said the Gap's use of cheap factories abroad - and Fisher's relatively conservative politics - undermined the retailer's reputation for items of good value. In May of 2009, four months before Fisher passed away from cancer, one critic bashed the Gap founder's formidable art collection, saying it symbolized corporations' stranglehold over the world's art market. What does Fisher's art collection say about him and corporate America?


This is one of the questions that inevitably arises at the dramatic exhibit opening Friday at SFMOMA. "Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection" offers a stunning taste of Donald and Doris Fisher's 1,100-plus holdings. For more than 30 years, the Warhols, Calders, and other priceless art that Fisher and his wife collected were only available to a select audience: Those who knew the Fishers, or those who were invited to the Gap's headquarters, where much of the art resided. Three years ago, Donald Fisher campaigned to house the work at a new museum he would build in the Presidio, but when opponents derailed those plans, Fisher worked out an agreement with SFMOMA to bring the collection there. Eventually, a new building will hold the artwork. For now, the museum's top two floors are devoted to a portion of the lifelong collection, which - for its depth and historical importance - is as valuable as any private collection known in the world. All told, the paintings, sculptures, prints and other items owned by the Fisher family may be worth in excess of $1 billion.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Saturday Night: Wagner's "Die Walküre" at War Memorial Opera House

Posted By on Mon, Jun 21, 2010 at 9:21 AM

Mark Delavan (as Wotan) and Nina Stemme (as Brünnhilde) - TERRENCE MCCARTHY
  • Terrence McCarthy
  • Mark Delavan (as Wotan) and Nina Stemme (as Brünnhilde)
Richard Wagner's Die Walküre
San Francisco Opera
June 19, 2010

Better than:
Whatever one oblivious patron's watch beeped 20 consecutive times to remind him or her to do. Watches are like small children and dates who snore. Can't shut 'em up? Don't bring 'em to the opera.

Thanks to a particular melody's status as the go-to accompaniment for cinematic scenes of derring-do, Richard Wagner's Die Walküre is an opera whose reputation precedes it, even among non-operaphiles. My boyfriend, an aficionado of derring-do-heavy films with four operas under his belt, fervently hoped that Saturday's performance would be "bad-ass" enough to justify the "Ride of the Valkyries" music, and thoughtfully offered to start some shit in the audience if he deemed Francesca Zambello's production lacking in bad-assitude. Happily, this did not come to pass. Bravura singing, virtuosic conducting from Donald Runnicles, bold if sometimes incoherent aesthetic choices, and unexpectedly humane touches made this Walküre a thrilling, surprisingly accessible rendering of Wagner's intimidating vision -- a vision that SF Opera will present in its totality with next summer's Ring Cycle, of which Walküre is the second part.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

New Cal Shakes Show is Far From 'Heaven'

Posted By on Mon, Jun 14, 2010 at 1:10 PM

The cast of The Pastures of Heaven - KEVIN BERNE
  • Kevin Berne
  • The cast of The Pastures of Heaven

Runs through June 27 at California Shakespeare Theatre.

Imagine an episode of The Waltons that just won't fucking stop, and you'll have some idea of the horror that awaits you with The Pastures of Heaven.

The season opener at Cal Shakes is the first-ever world premiere for the usually reliable company. Adapted by S.F. playwright Octavio Solis from a short story cycle by John Steinbeck, Pastures follows dozens of characters living in a valley near Salinas over the course of many years, with a cast of 11 actors playing multiple roles. Ambitious, yes -- but ambition is no excuse for this incoherent, mawkish mess.

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Saturday Night: "La Fanciulla del West" at War Memorial Opera House

Posted By on Mon, Jun 14, 2010 at 8:35 AM

Deborah Voigt (as Minnie) - CORY WEAVER
  • Cory Weaver
  • Deborah Voigt (as Minnie)
Giacomo Puccini's La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West)
San Francisco Opera
June 12, 2010


Better than: The actual 49ers -- and I'm ready for some football.

Did I enjoy San Francisco Opera's production of La Fanciulla del West? I'm a coal miner's daughter, so the opening sight of guys with pickaxes suspended mid-air and hacking away at a rock wall (for gold, but still) triggered a frisson of pride. I firmly believe that more operatic heroines should announce their entrance with two blasts from a rifle. I am not above cheating at high-stakes poker, particularly if my fate is the high stake in question. And I like seeing the corporate ambitions of Wells-Fargo frustrated. Given all that, of course I enjoyed Fanciulla. But while performances that coincide with one's personal bent and biases may be entertaining, that alone does not make them great. What I saw at the War Memorial Opera House on Saturday was, in a word, transcendent.

That this 100-year-old opera isn't performed more often should be a hanging offense, particularly in these parts. It's set in California during the Gold Rush, and was adapted from a play by native San Franciscan David Belasco (though the libretto, by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini, is in Italian). Local color abounds, including mild jibes at the manliness of S.F. dudes, and hearing singers put the required Italian flourish on such words as "Sacramento" and "Wells-Fargo" elicited giggles from the audience. Puccini's score is a delight; it's indebted as much to modern composers (think Debussy) as to past masters of the genre, and Andrew Lloyd Webber thought so highly of it that he allegedly ripped off one recurring melody for "Music of the Night." (Only the best will do for the man who brought you Cats.)

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Saturday Night: "Faust" at the War Memorial Opera House

Posted By on Sun, Jun 6, 2010 at 8:59 PM

Stefano Secco as Faust and John Relyea as Méphistophélès - CORY WEAVER
  • Cory Weaver
  • Stefano Secco as Faust and John Relyea as Méphistophélès

Charles Gounod's Faust
San Francisco Opera
June 5, 2010


Better than: Fruitless jaunts down to Georgia (Méphistophélès); Grecian Formula (Faust)

If any enterprising directors or costume designers would care to take a dare, I'll make a bet with you: Find a way of signifying Faust's change from geezerly scholar to studly playboy that doesn't involve him shedding a fake gray beard, and I'll do my damndest to rustle you up a fiddle of solid gold. Though its transformation of Faust's facial hair is not among them (the above photo's from a dress rehearsal), San Francisco Opera's mostly traditional staging of Charles Gounod's 1859 opera does have its worthy flourishes -- but such moments stand out as much for their own excellence as for the blandness of their context.

The Faust legend needs no introduction; a frumpy, aging academic sells his soul to Satan in exchange for renewed youth; the ensuing carousing is swell for a while, but ultimately loses its appeal, both for those caught in its wake and for Faust himself (see "soul sold to Satan" clause). Those familiar with other versions of the story may find it odd that Gounod's Faust is a title character in name only: He functions more as a catalyst for the action, rather than as a dominant, front-and-center presence. This can lend any staging of the opera a faintly unfocused or at least decentralized quality (something that's keenly felt during the four-scene third act, which feels nigh interminable; do visit the coffee bar during the second intermission). One can only imagine what productions would be like if the original ballet sequence were ever included.


Patricia Racette as Marguerite and Stefano Secco as Faust - TERRENCE MCCARTHY
  • Terrence McCarthy
  • Patricia Racette as Marguerite and Stefano Secco as Faust





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