Monday, April 28, 2014

Bangin' and Clangin' Returns

The honky-tonk busker duo of drummer Jake Alexander and pianist Kirby Lee Hummel returned to the Heart of the City farmers market in United Nations Plaza last Wednesday after what seemed like a long absence.

They call their act Clangin' and Bangin' and they are crazy good.

They usually manage to soothe the savage beasts of the insane people in the area, but the gentleman above was too filled with rage to be calmed, so the cool, relaxed security guards made him cross Market Street where he cursed everyone in sight, including a cop car that did nothing.

Welcome back to the madness, Jake...

...and thanks for the beautiful music, Kirby.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Voyage to Mahagonny at the Old Exploratorium

The Exploratorium science museum left their old digs at the Palace of Fine Arts a couple of years ago for a state-of-the-art new museum on the waterfront, but it may have been a mistake. The 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition building is a wonder unto itself, something I finally realized after spending last weekend rehearsing Opera Parallèle's upcoming double-bill of Kurt Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel and Francois Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias.

The curving old warehouse is huge, with skylights, monumental statues and detailing galore. Everyone, including mezzo-soprano Renee Rapier above, wanted to move into the place forever.

Opera Parallèle started its career with a world premiere of the final version of Lou Harrison's opera Young Caesar at the Yerba Buena Theatre in 2007 in a surprisingly great production that featured exquisite music-making by conductor Nicole Paiement above, who was a friend of Harrison's in Santa Cruz.

Since then, the company has specialized in daring productions of little-performed contemporary operas, meaning the repertory of the last 100 years that doesn't include Puccini or Richard Strauss. They have mounted productions of a chamber-size version of Berg's Wozzeck, Philip Glass's Orphee, a condensed version of John Harbison's The Great Gatsby, Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts, Golijov's Ainadamar, and a double-bill of Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti and Barber's A Hand of Bridge. All of them have been directed and conceived by Brian Staufenbeil above, talking to the most excellent soprano Rachel Schutz who is singing and playing Tirésias in a career performance.

The entire cast, through sheer providence, is an unusually good mix, and they play off of each other beautifully, including the talented baritones above: Gabriel Pressier from Florida in the red boots, and Hadleigh Adams from New Zealand as the Gendarme who becomes his gender-bender suitor in Les mamelles de Tirésias.

Another Florida baritone, Daniel Cilla above, is part of the rich stew of this production...

...along with Canadian/San Francisco tenor Thomas Glenn who is consulting above with musical assistant William Long and the virtuoso rehearsal pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi.

Though Opera Parallèle is financed on a shoestring by big opera house standards, they are seriously ambitious and extravagant which is in the very DNA of the art form. This weekend's production at the Yerba Buena Center Theater features a huge contingent from the SF Girls Chorus above...

...the dancers Joseph Hernandez and Vanessa Thiessen...

...and a full adult chorus including Cliff Reilly and Anne Marie Borch above.

Though it is impossible to know how a show is going to turn out before it is actually performed in front of an audience, this one feels special.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Celebrating Easter, Marijuana and Cherry Blossoms

Sunday in San Francisco featured a whole range of outdoor festivities, from an Easter Parade on Union Street to a 4/20 marijuana celebration in the Upper Haight and Golden Gate Park's Hippie Hill. Further west in the park, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence hosted their annual Easter shindig featuring a Hunky Jesus contest, which is where the two men above spent their afternoon. The Easter bonnet on the right cleverly managed a nod towards the celestial configuration of Easter and 4/20, with prop monster joints and real dope in a fully loaded pipe.

Meanwhile, the two-week Cherry Blossom Festival ended on Sunday with its annual parade that makes its way from Civic Center up Polk and Geary to Japantown.

There were all kinds of interesting looking people assembling for the march at 1PM...

...including drumming troupes...

...a lion dancer...

...and a contingent of people dressed as anime/manga characters.

My favorites, as usual, were the ladies in the fabulous hats.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Demolishing Jack Tar

The slow demolition of the Jack Tar Hotel on Van Ness and Geary has been an entertaining spectacle over the last few months... times looking like monumental abstract sculpture...

...with colorful accents from big machinery.

The 1960 Mid-Century Modern hotel felt a bit out of place from its very inception, and many people despised the structure, even after it had been painted beige in the 1980s and renamed the Cathedral City Hotel.

Longtime San Franciscan Bay Area residents all seem to have interesting stories of experiences there, from Werner Erhard's EST weekends in the 1970s to salsa dancing in the ballroom over the decades.

The block will soon house the new California Pacific Medical Center, which will have interesting stories of its own.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rescue Me

For all its geographic beauty, San Francisco is a tough little city, as exemplified by Ocean Beach with its rundown infrastructure, dangerous rip tides, and lack of lifeguards, restrooms or bathing facilities. Unwary tourists and ocean-newbie locals have been swept out to sea and drowned in a murderous succession for years, but the best the city can do is post the signs below in a parking area which does not seem to do much good.

Last week, 14-year-old Marco Conejo was the latest casualty along with his father who tried to save him but who became trapped in the rip tide himself. A 17-year-old surfer, Tony Barbero (below), managed to paddle in a younger cousin of Marco to the beach and dived back into the ocean to save the father, who was still in a coma a week later. Marco's body hasn't been found.

Last Tuesday at the weekly Board of Supervisors meeting, there was a Special Commendation ceremony scheduled for 3:30 where Tony Berbero was honored for his rescue effort. Reading the young man's body language on the SF Government TV broadcast, it seemed obvious that he was still in a state of emotional shock over watching people die in front of him. This commendable sensitivity mixed with personal bravery was rudely hijacked by the San Francisco Fire Department Chief, Joanne Hayes-White (above right), who is a classic example of arrogance-fueled incompetence.

Tony Berbero's father is a Captain in the Fire Department and after Joanne acknowledged how everyone was all part of the Fire Department family, she offered Tony an SFFD T-shirt, telling him he was already a made man. "You'll be a professional firefighter in our department."

From 1988 to 1997, the San Francisco Fire Department was placed under federal monitoring in an attempt to "eliminate patterns of racial and sexual discrimination in the department," so it was odd hearing such publicly stated nepotism by its current fire chief. She may be female but it's still essentially the same old family mafia that has always staffed the department, federal injunction or not.

An hour after Chief Hayes-Whites' grandstanding moment, a fire broke out on the top floor of a six-story apartment building at 14th and Dolores above, across the street from the new Whole Foods housing complex on Market. Except for the poor tenants on the top floor who have lost their housing, the firefight was a success, with no loss of building, people or their kitties.

The next morning, Wednesday, a mother and child were not so lucky, and died in a fire at their top floor, two-story Sunnydale housing project apartment in Visitacion Valley.

Rest in peace, your poor people, and let me send out a prayer for a new, competent Fire Chief before San Francisco becomes even more dense and dangerous.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tibetan Mandalas and Japanese Baskets

A room on the second floor of the Asian Art Museum has been reconfigured for the summer as a Living Mandala in its design.

Possibly because the room is so dark, I did not experience lightning enlightenment this afternoon while wandering through.

The fault was probably mine, though transcendence did arrive while meandering through the Japanese bamboo basket room and looking at the late 19th century flower basket by Wada Waichisai I above...

...and the contemporary hanging flower basket called Pure by Nagakura Kenichi.

According to the wall label, the backpack above was discovered after a post-purchase analysis to be made of fine leather strips in an imitation of bamboo. It looks ancient and modern at the same time.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Show Me The Way to the Next Pretty Opera

Opera Parallèle presented a preview on Wednesday evening of their upcoming avant-garde chamber opera production, a mashup of Kurt Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel and Francois Poulenc's 1947 Les Mamelles des Tirésias. Singers from the show, including present and past Adler fellows Hadleigh Adams and Renee Rapier above, sang selections in German and English (Mahagonny) and French (Tirésias), offering a taste of a rich, extravagant stew.

Conductor Nicole Paiement, above, took the audience through the various musical styles in the two pieces, which range from Weimar Germany era cabaret to French vaudeville and lyric grand opera.

She explained the concept of sprechgesang, where the text is spoken on certain musical pitches, which provides a striking contrast when the performer suddenly bursts into a sung lyrical refrain. As an example, Renee Rapier and Rachel Schutz above spoke/sang Weill's The Alabama Song that became a hit for Jim Morrison and The Doors in the 1960s with its "Oh, show me the way to the next whiskey bar/pretty boy/little dollar" chorus. In its original incarnation, the song is both sarcastic and potently beautiful.

In collaboration with Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann, Weill wrote the "dramatic cantata" Mahagonny in 1927, one of his first forays into the melding of classical and popular music that characterized his career. The original piece was supplanted by the full-length "epic opera," The Rise and Fall of The City of Mahagonny in 1930, which was promptly banned by Hitler's government, and which is still only fitfully revived. Hearing the original Songspiel is a rare treat. (Pictured above is baritone Daniel Cilli who like everyone else in the show is cast in multiple parts.)

The production follows a theater troupe crossing a desert in a dystopian future, where overpopulation and its consequent depletion of every natural resource has left the world in a serious mess. Instead of a circus wagon, these modern gypsies are pulling a beached boat on wheels which turns into a theater where they perform the opera-within-an-opera, Les Mamelles des Tirésias, for a nomadic desert tribe. The latter piece is taken from Guillaume Apollinaire's 1903 surrealist play that is a riot of gender swapping, word play, and absurdist babymaking. Cast members at the preview above are (left to right) Hadleigh Adams, Renee Rapier, Andreas Ramirez standing in for Thomas Glenn, Daniel Cilli, Gabriel Preisser, Rachel Schutz and John Bischoff standing in for Aleksey Bogdanov.

There are also four ancient supernumerary roustabouts with the troupe that include yours truly, Mike Harvey and Charlie Lichtman above. We were at our first rehearsal last night and the sensurround singing and music was so good it just about knocked us over. This is going to be a very interesting, musically beautiful show, and you shouldn't miss it. There are three performances on Friday, April 25th, Saturday, April 26th and a Sunday matinee on April 27th at the LAM Research Theater at Yerba Buena. You can buy tickets online by clicking here, or call the Yerba Buena box office at (415) 978-2787, or go to the box office in person at 700 Howard Street to avoid annoying ticket fees. For a special Civic Center blog 10% off, use the code DISC.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

New Bear Republic Fundraiser

The Lone Star Saloon, a gay bear bar on Harrison Street, hosted a fundraiser last Sunday for a contingent of AIDS Lifecycle bicyclists who are pedaling from San Francisco to LA in early June.

They call themselves the New Bear Republic and their skintight cycling outfits from both this year and last were marvels of over-the-top design.

The only depressing thing about the event was that they were raising money for parasitic AIDS charities, principally the San Francisco AIDS Foundation whose executive director is currently paid over $300,000 to do, well, something. Remember that figure the next time you are hit up for a donation.