Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Merola Opera Grand Finale 2014

The annual summer boot camp in San Francisco for aspiring opera professionals finished with the traditional Grand Finale where all the young singers performed an aria and/or duet and/or ensemble with an orchestra at the San Francisco Opera House. Last Saturday's edition was one of the best I've seen, partly because of the crisp, unfussy direction by apprentice stage director Omer Ben Seadia which kept the disparate numbers moving along swiftly. It also helped that this year's crop of Merolini were mostly very good singers. (All of the press photos are by Kristen Loken, who did an especially excellent job this year.)

The most effusive praise from some critics was for Julie Adams and Casey Candebat above in a duet from Mascagni's L'amico Fritz. They both sounded lovely, though I didn't buy Ms. Adams in her sparkly concert gown as a young peasant girl picking cherries for her employer.

There were plenty of equally good performances, including Karen Chia-ling Ho as Margherita in Boito's Mefistofole, where she sang the doomed, crazy character with no holds barred and got away with it. After her performance as Donna Elvira in last month's Don Giovanni, I'd happily watch her sing just about anything.

Two other stars of Don Giovanni, Amanda Woodbury and Edward Nelson above sounded great as Ophelia and Hamlet in a duet from the dreary Ambroise Thomas operatic version of the Shakespeare play.

Shirin Eskandani and Szymon Wach sang a duet as Cinderella and her Fairy Godfather Alidoro from Rossini's La Cenerentola, and it was a particular treat hearing Wach's young, pretty, pliable bass-baritone in music that is usually assigned to gruffer, older singers.

There were three excerpts from operas that made me want to hear them done whole by the Merola program some upcoming summer, including Richard Strauss' chamber opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, which was nicely performed by Talya Lieberman as Zerbinetta seducing the serious Shirin Eskandani as the Composer.

It would also be wonderful to see Mozart's rarely performed final opera, La Clemenza de Tito, which is ripe for an interesting staging and has at least half a dozen juicy parts for young singers, as Niam Wang and Casey Candebat demonstrated, in Sesto's pleading aria for forgiveness to the Emperor Tito.

The conducting by Ari Pelto was barely adequate, especially the leaden Nabucco overture, but he must have been doing something right because the actual sound of the orchestra all evening was rich and delightful. They were also able to switch stylistically on a dime from Italian Verismo to Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress above, another perfect opera for a young Merola cast, in the above scene performed well by Benjamin Werley as Tom Rakewell and Matthew Stump as Nick Shadow.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Large Five Piece Reclining Figure

After a coal miner's son upbringing, a stint as a soldier in World War One followed by an artist's life in bohemian London in the 1920s and 1930s, the British sculptor Henry Moore started creating bronze cast sculptures in 1950 and became very wealthy. Over the next four decades before his death in 1986, he continued to refine his neoprimitive, marvelously expressive designs. Large Four Piece Reclining Figure above dates from 1973, one of eight castings of the sculpture, and it has been reclining at the corner of Van Ness and Grove in front of Davies Symphony Hall since the building's opening in 1980.

From all accounts, Moore didn't much care much about money and luxuries, continuing to live in the same country house he moved to with his wife Irina in 1940 during the Blitz. He funneled his wealth into the Henry Moore Foundation, which runs an indoor/outdoor museum in the village of Perry Green where he lived, and gives grants to contemporary [one would hope starving] artists.

The outdoor sculpture garden even has an identical Large Four Piece Reclining Figure, but it's doubtful they allow street people (possibly young starving artists) to sleep on their sculpture bases like San Francisco does on a Saturday afternoon.

In truth, the tired, human reclining figure sheltering in public against the bronze reclining figures was a perfect interactive piece of art all of its own. If Marina Abramović had paid a homeless person to do the same for $2 an hour, the work would probably be acclaimed internationally.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hayes Valley Artists: plus one

Last weekend on Hayes Street between Octavia and Laguna, a woman was scrawling a welcome in chalk to a local art show.

It was being held in the old grocery store building which is about to be replaced in a month by more condos and retail in a new complex at the corner of Laguna and Hayes.

For its last two months of existence, the space is hosting an art market...

...for Hayes Valley resident artists.

This edition closes this Sunday and a new set of artists and work will be going up for the following month.

So if you want to buy a reasonably priced painting or print from Rhonel Roberts above, now is the time to do it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Stop Suing San Francisco, Gavin Newsom

There was a photo-op in front of the San Francisco Ferry Building at lunchtime in anticipation of a meeting between the California Lands Commission and the San Francisco Port Commission. The confab was presumably about the lawsuit the State Commission recently filed against the people of San Francisco for voting to have a say in waterfront height issues with Proposition B. For a very good explanation of the absurdity and ugly backroom deals that led to this lawsuit, click here for a link to former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos' op-ed in this morning's San Franciso Chronicle.

Gavin Newsom is on the California Lands Commimssion and is the public face of the lawsuit. The former San Francisco Mayor and currently useless California Lieutenant Governor currently lives in the Marin Multimillionaire village of Ross. He deserves to be mocked and heckled every time he shows his photogenic face in San Francisco from this point forward. It takes a heaping amount of arrogance and hypocrisy to dun the taxpayers of San Francisco on behalf of waterfront developers, just because they are friends of Brown/Pelosi/Feinstein, the real old powerbrokers in this provincially corrupt city.