Sunday, December 09, 2018

Ifigenia in Aulide

Last weekend at ODC in the Mission District, the Ars Minerva troupe presented their fourth annual early music opera, the 1738 Ifigenia in Aulide by Giovanni Porta. The bare-bones production was yet another surprising success, and if you don't believe me, click here for Lisa Hirsch's index of rave reviews. The cast of mostly local singers was strong enough that three-and-a-half hours went by without the tedium that can accompany a Baroque opera production. From left to right above, they were Teucro: Matheus Coura, Arcade: Spencer Dodd, Ifigenia: Aura Veruni, Achille: Céline Ricci, Elisena: Cara Gabrielson, Ulisse: Kevin Gino, Clitennestra: Shawnette Sulker. (Not pictured is the fabulous Agamennone: Nikola Printz.)

The three previous Ars Minerva productions have focused on modern premieres of 17th century Italian operas, which in the style of Monteverdi are closer to spoken theater with a lot of dialogue sung in recitative, and quick, bouncy narratives. 18th century opera became more the province of songbirds with fairly rigid formulas stretched out over long evenings. Céline Ricci, artistic director, stage director, and singer kept the staging lively and the various personal complications clear, starting with the sadsack Teucro sung by countertenor Matheus Coura whose expressive eyebrows were a performance in themselves.

Poor Teucro is in love with Elisena, a political prisoner from Lesbos, who is not who she claims to be. It's the juiciest part in the opera, sort of like Elettra in Mozart's Idomeneo, and Cara Gabrielson took advantage of every one of her lamentation, revenge, and seduction arias.

The libretto is a mashup of Euripides and the French playwright Racine. The story of Ifigenia's sacrifice to the god Artemis so her father Agammemnon can sack Troy has a number of variations on its tragic ending. Pictured are the very sweet-sounding Ifigenia of Aura Veruni with her betrothed, Achille, sung by Art Minerva director Céline Ricci.

Nikola Printz kicked ass as the conflicted Agamennone, playing patriarchal tyrant with his daughter and wife Clitennestra, who was sung and acted brilliantly by Shawnette Sulker. Their trio in Act 3 was not only gorgeous, but it carried serious emotional heft.

By the second act, you actually started caring about these mythological characters, and the theatrical spell was cast.

In this version of the story, Ifigenia is not spared at the last second by the goddess Artemis and replaced with a sacrificial deer, but instead it turns out that Elisena's real name is ALSO Ifigenia so she is sacrificed instead. Since she has caused so much mayhem throughout the opera, this feels very much like a happy ending. It was also fun seeing Ulysses being writen and portrayed as a conniving asshole, sung well by a strutting Kevin Gino.



The most exciting element of the evening was the chamber orchestra conducted from the harpsichord by Derek Tam. They were so good, relaxed, and tireless they deserve to be named individually. Violin 1: Cynthia Black, concertmistress, Anna Wasburn, Toma Iliev, Violin 2: Laura Rubinstein-Salzedo, Tyler Lewis, Viola: Aaron Westman, Cello: Gretchen Claassen, continuo: Erik Andersen, Theorbo: Paul Psarras.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Proper Hotel Mural

At one of the grittiest intersections in San Francisco, consisting of Market, Jones & McAllister, a thin, triangular office building was transformed into Hotel Shaw in 1927 (click here for an interesting history). As the neighborhood became sketchier from the 1960s on, the building went through a number of owners and names. Its last incarnation was the Renoir Hotel, which seemed to be a budget site for Euro tourists, but it has been reborn in the last couple of years as a luxury hipster establishment called Proper Hotel, complete with an instantly successful rooftop bar.

The neighborhood is still a den of thieves and drug addicts acting out on the sidewalks, but the Proper Hotel seems to have dealt with that reality by being very secure and closed off architecturally from its ground-floor surroundings.

Whatever misgivings I might harbor about wealth slumming in squalor, the new mural going up on the backside of their building on 7th Street is a magnificent addition to the neighborhood. It made me smile while sad, which is a remarkable feat for public art.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Unsettled in Palm Springs

The Palm Springs Art Museum is the third and final stop for Unsettled, an extraordinary exhibit curated by Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha and JoAnne Northrup at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno.

The show features work by over 80 artists from the "Greater West," stretching from Alaska to Patagonia. The second stop for the exhibit was at the Anchorage Museum of Art, where they were probably amused by 1980, 1970, 1960, totem poles by Brian Jungen created out of golf bags.

Bolivian artist Sonia Falcone's installation Campo de Color (Color Field) used terracotta bowls filled with spices.

I've never been a fan of Ed Ruscha's paintings, but the half dozen pieces included in the exhibit are all wonderful, including the 2003 Charles Atlas Landscape...

...and the 1980 Intense Curiosity–Gross Neglect above.

Agnes Pelton (1881–1961) was a German immigrant who spent the last 30 years of her life in Cathedral City where she painted mystical desert landscapes, including the 1952 Idyll.

A sense of doom and disaster underlies some of the art, represented here by The End, a 1983 watercolor from the Western Shoshone/Washoe artist Jack Malotte, depicting a Nevada landscape during a nuclear war.

Atom bombs are depicted even more explicitly in Bruce Conner's 20-minute CROSSROADS film from 1976. With music by Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley, Conner took 1946 documentary footage from the atom bomb tests on the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, slowed it way down, and created something that's equal parts beautiful and horrifying.

The exhibit includes work by lots of Native Americans (rather than works depicting them), including the Tlingit/Unangax artist Nicholas Galanin's 2012 photo mashup, Things Are Looking Native, Native's Looking Whiter of an early 20th century woman and Princess Leia.

With the collaboration of Nep Sidhu, Galanin is also responsible for the 2016 No Pigs in Paradise, referencing the disappearance and murders of Native women in the north.

There are also works that seem to be there just because they are so gorgeous, such as the 1998 ceramic by Pilo Mora who splits his working time between Phoenix and Chihuahua, Mexico.

Mexican artist Ana Teresa Fernandez, who currently lives in San Francisco, went to the U.S.-Mexico border where she painted the wall blue to match the sky, which is documented on a video and a painting, Erasing the Border (Borrando la Frontera).

My favorite work was a 7-minute film recreating the opening sequence of The Sound of Music, except Julie Andrews singing and running through through the Alps is replaced by a Peruvian boy soprano in the Andes singing "The hills are alive..." in an indigenous language. It's simultaneously funny and touching.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Palm Springs Gratitude

I fled from the Bay Area's toxic wildfire air to Palm Springs last Saturday and felt terrible for everyone left behind while my lungs thanked me with every breath.

On Tuesday I joined my friend Grant, who works in Palm Springs, for the Businesspersons Lunch Special at Spencer's Restaurant.

It's a great deal at $19.50 for a three-course meal at a beautiful, fancy restaurant, but the packaging is a hilarious misnomer. The menu states that the busy businessperson's lunch is meant to be served in 45 minutes, but our experience was closer to 110 minutes.

Which was perfect, especially since we were joined by Paul, Grant's office manager at their EIR consulting firm, who was the essence of amusement.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.