Sunday, July 14, 2024

Mrs. Roper Pub Crawl

Whenever I get sick of living in San Francisco over the years, there is usually an epiphany that reminds me of why I am happy to be here.
On a whim, I joined a Hayes Valley neighborhood event on Saturday afternoon that was organized on Facebook and billed as a Mrs. Roper Pub Crawl.
Mrs. Roper was a character on the late 1970s ABC sitcom Three's Company and and its spinoff series The Ropers. She usually dressed in outrageously colorful kaftans and chunky jewelery, and attendees to the pub crawl were encouraged to wear the same.
First stop on the pub crawl was at the outdoor Biergarten on Octavia Street, and it was easy to spot the party because the regular patrons were wearing colorless clothing.
The event was organized by Tommy Netzband, a local resident who gives the Haunted Haight Walking Tour and also arranges cruises.
The two dozen Mrs. Ropers were an unusually balanced mix of male and female, gay and straight, and all oddly interesting in individual ways. It was a good reminder of San Francisco's charm.
I did not continue with the pub crawl to the next two watering holes as two hours of strong beer was enough for me. By the way, I found the psychedelic kaftan through sheer luck at a Goodwill on Geary & Fillmore, and finally have the perfect item to wear poolside in Palm Springs. As one woman said at the Biergarten, "Why wear anything else, ever?"

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Kara Walker Installation at SFMOMA

SFMOMA commissioned the artist Kara Walker for a site-specific installation at the Roberts Family Gallery, the huge ground-level space fronting Howard Street that recently housed Diego Rivera's Pan-American Unity mural.
Fortuna and the Immortality Garden (Machine) is the title and the sculptural figure of Fortuna which dispenses slips of paper with fortune cookie type messages for individual museumgoers.
In the center of the room is a rock garden with black obsidian from Clear Lake's Mt. Konocti, which the museum website describes as "volcanic glass with deep spiritual properties."
Within the garden are an assortment of animatronic figures...
...that look somewhat nightmarish...
...like a a slavery-inflected Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.
According to the museum website, "They recall mechanized medieval icons that evidenced divinity, vitality, and the promise of faith...[which] evoke wonder, reflection, respite, and hope."
Whatever the intended meanings, the literally moving sculptures are an amazing sight. Entry to the gallery is free, and the installation will be here for the next two years.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

On Wings of Song with "Partenope"

The San Francisco Opera is finishing up its summer season with Handel's 1730 Partenope, a three-and-a-half-hour comic romp about the title character being besieged by marriage suitors and the ensuing complications. The six-member cast all sings well and seems to have a real sense of cameraderie onstage, with two star turns by Europeans making their American debuts. Julie Fuchs as Partenope is not only a spectacular singer who makes difficult, ornamented music sound effortless but she is also gorgeously believable as the hostess of a 1920s artistic salon in Paris, where the story has been updated and relocated from ancient Naples by director Christopher Alden. (All production photos are by Cory Weaver.)
Her musical performance is matched note for note by Carlo Vistoli, the Italian countertenor (male soprano) singing Arsace, Prince of Corinth.
The renaissance of Handel operas and other lyric works from the 16th and 17th centuries is a modern phenomenon. Partenope, for instance, had its American premiere in Omaha in 1988, a development which was strangely foreshadowed by the 1979 sci-fi novel On Wings of Song by Thomas Disch. In that book, set in the mid-21st century, the United States has bifurcated into an authoritarian Christian fundamentalist regime in the Midwest and decadent liberal zones along the coast where the rage for castrati singers have made a comeback.
Baritone Hadleigh Adams (top left, with Julie Fuchs in the center)) sings Ormonte and it was lovely to have his lower register balancing out the many soprano voices in the opera. It was never quite clear in this staging who his character was supposed to be, but in compensation he did get to wear the most amusing costumes of the evening. Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack (top right) was Rosmira, Princess of Cyprus, who spends 95% of the opera disguised as a man. She has tracked down Arsace after he jilted her at the altar and makes life hell for him over the course of the opera.
There is another suitor, Emilio, Prince of Cumae, who in the original libretto arrives with an army to reinforce his betrothal bid. In this version, he is based on the artist Man Ray, running around taking lots of photographs. Director Christopher Alden has a great visual sense but his concept productions don't usually make much sense, and Partenope is no exception. Instead of a battle scene between the forces of Partenope and Emilio that are clearly depicted in the Act Two musical score, there is instead just a lot of confusion. Tenor Alek Shrader, seen here with Daniela Mack in drag, nonetheless did a fine job playing the surrealist artist.
There is yet another countertenor suitor, Nicholas Tamagna, singing Armindo, Prince of Rhodes, and he was delightfully piquant as the shy, recessive guy who eventually wins the girl.
The final scene sets up a duel between Arsace and Rosmina in male drag, but the altercation is stopped when Arsace takes off his shirt to fight and demands that Rosmina do the same. Her disguise is revealed and instead of trying to kill each other, they kiss and get married instead.
Between the swift, fabulous conducting of Christopher Moulds and the superlative cast, this production is a diva worshiper's treasure, and I have a few friends who have seen it repeatedly. Chenier Ng, above left, was seeing this production for the third time, and posted this selfie with Carlo Vistoli at the stage door after this Tuesday's performance. There is one more chance to attend this Friday the 28th, and since you probably won't have many more chances to see Partenope in this lifetime , it's highly recommended.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

San Francisco Mayoral Candidate Debate

A debate between five candidates for San Francisco Mayor was held Monday evening at the new UC San Francisco Law Center building at the corner of McAllister and Hyde.
Supporters of all five candidates marched about on the sidewalk with signage, with Daniel Lurie having the largest turnout.
The gleaming new building is just a stone's throw away from one of the seedier blocks in the Tenderloin but the doorman for the free, fully booked event was genially competent.
San Francisco is a one-party town for Democrats, who were hosting the debate...
...and various schismatic organizations were represented...
...including the San Francisco Young Democrats who were represented by the amiable, not-young volunteers above.
The basement auditorium held about 500 people, and I was reminded once again what a small village San Francisco can sometimes be. I ran into a lovely ex-colleague I had not seen in 30 years who was there to support Mark Farrell. "I went to the same school as him," she explained, and I replied, "Oh, right, you were part of what I used to call the Convent of the Sacred Heart Girls School coven."
The moderator was KRON-TV reporter Terisa Estacio, who did a fine job keeping the answers to their time limits and firmly shutting down a few of Mayor Breed's more boorish supporters. For one of the better descriptions of the political implications of the debate, check out this article at Mission Local by Junyao Yang.
The first candidate to open with a 90-second opening statement was Mark Farrell, former Supervisor from the Marina District and interim mayor for 6 months when Ed Lee dropped dead while in office. In her rebuttal to an accusation by Farrell, London Breed sarcastically called him "temporary mayor" more than once. Farrell's major theme seemed to be "I'm a native-born San Franciscan and have lived here all my life," and "we need police officers who are native-born," which didn't make much sense.
Ahsha Safaí, the District 11 Supervisor from the Southeast, spoke well and presented his boilerplate speeches with skill. San Francisco has a ranked choice voting system so it's possible he could win with enough third place votes.
Daniel Lurie is an heir to the Levi-Strauss fortune and has been involved with left-leaning nonprofits through his adult life. He's being accused of trying to buy the election, but I think his motives are less about power and more about trying to fix the incompetence and corruption of San Francisco government under Mayor London Breed. Lurie, however, projects zero political charisma even though he seems like a smart and thoughtful person.
That incompetence and corruption certainly didn't start with London Breed. It's structural and she's merely been its caretaker. To give her credit, surrounded by white guys in dull suits and ties, she behaved and looked like a charismatic star and she projects pugilistic power which none of her competitors do.
District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin has seemingly been around forever, but he only turned 60 on this debate night. I'll be voting for him strictly on the basis of competence. He knows how this government works and he's honest. Will he be able to change the old-fashioned pay-for-play corruption? Probably not, but at least he might make a difference.