Sunday, June 28, 2015

Zuni Lipstick Lesbian Party

To escape the noisy crowd a block away from our apartment in Civic Center this afternoon, my soon-to-be-legal-in-50-states spouse and I escaped to the Castro district for lunch. We figured it would be festive and without the mobs, and we guessed right.

On our way, we stumbled across a large sidewalk party outside of the Zuni Cafe on Market Street that seemed to be predominantly lipstick lesbians who were not suburban twinks.

"Is this something new?" I asked one woman, and she replied, "No, I've been coming to Zuni for a lunch party on Pride since the 1980s."

I googled "lesbians Zuni pride" later in the afternoon and found an amusing, well-written account of last year's Pride festivities on a blog by Chris Lenwell called from ellis island to ellis act.

Linwell starts his Pride essay with:
"No self-respecting gay San Franciscan participates in the City’s vast grab for tourist dollars called the Pride Parade...Back in the day it was a street party where you’d run into lots of people you knew being silly and stupid. You would do bad things like get drunk on a Sunday afternoon and eat those awful barbecued turkey legs because it was the only food around. Once fortified you could go on to do other bad things."
But he relents later on:
"The last time I went to Zuni on Pride we sat down and had a late lunch. Not a chance this year. Apparently a decade or two ago it turned into a (mostly) Lesbian hangout on the day of days. It was one huge bar scene spilling out into the street and side alley. Getting up to the bar was impossible but Leigh, in her inimitable way, had our Margaritas in no time. They were so potent we decided to have a second."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Gay Marriage Evening in the Castro

The US Supreme Court judgment on Friday affirming that marriage is now gender neutral was huge, as was their tentative defense of Obama's healthcare legislation in King v. Burwell the day before.

The US President also sang Amazing Grace acapella Friday afternoon at the Charleston funeral of nine murdered black Christians, and the Confederate flag officially became anathema overnight. It was telling that the South Carolina governor started her defense of flying that flag at the state capitol with "corporate CEOs never mention it as a problem." One week later Wal-Mart is no longer selling Confederate flags, and the governor reversed herself and is calling for it to be taken down. It feels a bit as if we have stepped into a time machine like Rod Taylor and the world speeded up at a completely different rate into the future.

I went to the Castro district on Friday to meet young friends for Happy Hour, and was greeted by a Mock Bishop at the Muni station. "He's been working at this for a very, very long time," the woman above said in an admonishing tone. "I'm also old," I told her, "and have seen it all too, but glad to know I'm looking young enough that I have to be lectured on gay history."

Castro Street from Market to 18th was closed for an impromptu celebration with a stage and a sound system but not a lot of people seemed very interested, except for annoying volunteers from the corrupt HRC organization handing out equality flags...

...and the couple above who brought their own sound system so they could dance a duet in the streets.

There were a ridiculous amount of uniformed San Francisco police offers stationed around 18th and Castro, engaging in their usual practice of talking amongst themselves and completely ignoring those who they are sworn to protect and serve.

I moved to San Francisco in 1974, when the San Francisco Police Department was routinely coming to the Castro neighborhood to bash people's heads in because they were fags and they could get away with it, and have still never seen or heard an official apology for their behavior. The homophobic and racist texts by SFPD officers that were recently released by the US Justice Department indicate not much has changed in that regard, either.

Still, Friday was an authentically joyous moment, and I hugged strangers and friends like Farzad above all evening with the greeting, "Happy Gay Marriage Day!"

The techie gold rush is transforming San Francisco at what passes for lightning speed in this city. Young Minnesota transplant Eric above was apologizing for the disruption and I told him, "Don't worry about it, the place needed some new energy."

"Capitalism is what really needs to change, and I don't see that happening in my lifetime, but I didn't see going from being criminalized for my sexuality to gay marriage in this lifetime either."

It feels like we're living in a science fiction story.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Two Women at SF Opera

The world premiere of a new Italian opera, La Ciociara (Two Women), is taking place this month at the San Francisco Opera, and it was a nice surprise at Wednesday evening's third performance. The critical reaction from its premiere a couple of weeks ago has been mostly savage (click here for a media roundup by Lisa Hirsch) with complaints about the Puccini-derivative musical score by composer Marco Tutino and the inadequate libretto by the composer and Fabio Ceresa. (All production photos are by Cory Weaver. Above are Anna Caterina Antonacci as Cesira and Sarah Shafer as her daughter Rosetta, the two women of the English title.)

The music is bizarrely old fashioned, but sincerely so, and the vocal writing is some of the most grateful for bringing out the beauty in singers' voices that I've heard in a while. Puccini in general and his Tosca in particular is the model for this new opera, but Tutino is obviously aware of all that has come since, and it's very much his own music. The libretto is based on an acerbic 1957 Alberto Moravia novel about the horrific WWII adventures of a mother and daughter fleeing Rome during the Nazi retreat in 1943 for Ciociaria, her poor, rugged mountain region homeland.

Moravia came from a wealthy family with a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. During the 1930s and 1940s, one half of his family were leading anti-fascists while the other side were top Fascist government officials. I'll let you guess which branch was which. Alberto spent 1941 to 1943 with his novelist wife Elsa Morante on the island of Capri, avoiding the Fascist authorities who didn't approve of his writing. When Italy was invaded by the Allies, the couple returned to the mainland in Fondo, a southern mountain town on the border of Ciociaria. In his novel, the author's stand-in is Michele, an intellectual schoolteacher who is loved by both mother and daughter and who dies for continually doing the right thing. Dimitri Pittas above wielded a sensationally beautiful tenor in the role, which is reason enough for anyone to love him.

The staging by Francesca Zambello is one of her better efforts, simple yet filled with extravagant touches like the opening bombing of Rome. Not everything worked. The Evil Nazis were as unconvincing as any stock Hollywood villains, and the Moroccan rapists looked like they had escaped from a regional production of The Abduction from the Seraglio or The Italian Girl in Algiers. They were more risible than horrifying.

The singers all evening were superb, from the smallest to the largest parts, and Music Director Nicola Luisotti was completely in his element, conducting the orchestra with the passion he usually brings to Verdi. (Antonacci and Shafer are rescuing injured American parachuter Edward Nelson above.)

The real reason to see this opera in one of the next two performances is Anna Caterina Antonacci, a fabulous Italian diva in her 50s for whom the composer wrote the lead part. Her final scene where she excoriates the surviving village men for not protecting a mother and her daughter from shameful, degrading rape is electrifying. "And you laugh about it," she sings, digging in the knife. We're lucky to be seeing her in two roles this month at the SF Opera demonstrating her range: Cassandra in Les Troyens in a very stylized Martha Graham style performance, and Cesira acted and sung in a neorealist, neoromantic manner. It will be interesting to see whether La Ciociara takes on its own life in Italy, where it's due for a 2018 premiere in Turin.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

SF City Hall Centennial Birthday Party

The San Francisco City and County government threw a centennial birthday party on Friday evening for its absurdly grand City Hall building.

The setup in Civic Center Plaza was strange, with a few food concessions for the common folk...

...surrounding a raised platform with decorative hedges where donors were wined and dined by tuxedo clad waiters.

Two stages were set up for musical acts on the plaza that were offering everything from classical to jazz to original Dead Kennedys punk rocker Jello Biafra singing Let's Lynch the Landlord.

There was a small space set up for a silent dance party, where a crowd was gyrating to music supplied through headphones...

...and of course an appearance by Frank Chu scaring the tourists.

The highlight of the evening for me was standing in line for 45 minutes to ride the Rock-O-Plane, my all-time favorite carnival ride from a California childhood.

At the last minute, I ended up kidnapping John (above right) as my partner. Happily, muscle memory kicked in and I remembered how to get the caged ferris wheel seats moving backwards and we were soon spinning upside down deliriously.

The large crowd waited patiently in the dark for a promised light show projected onto City Hall's facade at 9:30 PM. First, we were treated to Mayor Ed Lee singing from his balcony, "Don't cry for me, San Francisco/The truth is I gladly sold you." Actually, he gave a speech about the prosperity of the city and how it's shared widely amongst all, with lots of diversity. He also mentioned that San Francisco City Hall was considered The People's Building, an unintentionally ironic statement when the People were shivering outdoors while a lavishly appointed party for America's mayors was taking place indoors. There was also no hiding the blatant pay-to-play roster of corporate partners for this $4 million event, most of them with current business legislation that involves city regulation, including Lyft, Uber, Kilroy Realty, PG&E, and so on.

The light show started simply with different color combinations lighting up various parts of the building's exterior, including a rainbow version.

This was followed by a half-dozen aerial dancers on the side of the building who didn't have much more to do than make an initial impression.

Finally, the $2 million projection system kicked in with a quick, bizarrely fragmented history of San Francisco that broke down about 30 seconds in, but the crowd was patient, and the show started up again about five minutes later.

The short presentation finally devolved into psychedelia, which was fun but odd. Can't wait to see what they do with the expensive paintbox next.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Thrillpeddlers Present Club Inferno

The Thrillpeddlers troupe at the tiny Hypnodrome theater South of Market has recently opened Club Inferno, another genderfuck musical revival that's an enormously entertaining riff on Dante's Inferno, with an all-female roster of sinners in the various circles of hell.

Thrillpeddlers producer/director Russell Blackwood above introduced the musical with a copy of Dante in one hand and a brick in the other. "We have a brick from the destroyed Palace Theater in North Beach where the Cockettes shows that we've revived over the last five years were performed in the early 1970s, and we also have a brick from the Paradise Lounge, the destroyed performance space where Club Inferno premiered in 1990." He ended his introduction with a translated quote from the opening lines of The Inferno: "In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost." Russell raised at least one eyebrow on the phrase, "the straight way was lost," though I prefer the Dorothy Sayers translation: "Midway this way of life we're bound upon,/I woke to find myself in a dark wood,/Where the right road was wholly lost and gone." Right, straight, it's sometimes a good thing to be lost.

The "glam rock musical" was written by Kelly Kittell, with music and lyrics by Peter Fogel, and musical direction and arrangements by Birdie-Bob Watt, who appears in this production as Xaron, the ferryman of the dead (or in this version, the elevator operator). Dante is a trashy female singer/dancer (Matthew Simmons aka Peggy L'eggs) who is killed by a falling stagelight and then guided through Hell by Virgil, well played by John Flaw with a handsome voice and a mean air guitar.

Part of the joy of Thrillpeddlers productions is their avoidance of musical amplification, so this show put me off at first because it's definitely amplified Glam Rock, but the musicianship of Steve Bolinger on guitar, Tommy Salami on drums, and Tim Perdue on bass won me over, and the sound mixing (with a few moments of feedback aside) was well done and appropriate for the small space.

The book of the musical was amusingly erudite and hewed both freely and closely to Dante's original. The Circle of the Lustful, for instance, includes Cleopatra in both the original poem and the musical, although the former didn't include dancing Furies and a Mummy for Noah Haydon's rendition of Love Is Hell.

There is a similarly reformist bent in the Circle of The Gluttonous where the lesbian lovers Mama Cass and Karen Carpenter (Leigh Crow and Amber Sommerfeld) get to eat whatever the hell they want without guilt, and sing about it happily in My Other Half.

Unusual for a musical, Act Two is better than Act One, providing a few great showpieces, including a production number for Leigh Crow as a murderous Lucrezia Borgia in Your New Best Friend...

...and a sweet, funny power ballad called Always Say Your Prayers for Amber Sommerfeld as Joan of Arc in the Circle of Heretics...

...culminating in the showstopping Little White Lies with David Bicha bringing down the house as the 1920s revival preacher Aimee Semple Macpherson. Highly recommended if this is your kind of entertainment (click here for tickets).

Sunday, June 14, 2015

San Francisco Jazz Festival Outdoor Concert

The SFJAZZ Center celebrated the 33rd anniversary of their summer Jazz Festival with a free outdoor concert last Tuesday evening a block from their new concert hall in the Hayes Valley.

The setting was the blacktop area on Hayes Street called Proxy, across from Patricia's Green...

...surrounded by food trucks and long lines for the single beer vendor.

Wind and fog were at their traditional San Francisco summer intensity... it wasn't a particularly comfortable listening experience but the music was good.

Maybe SFJAZZ Director Randall Kline above will move the event next year to earlier in the afternoon when the chances for sun are better. For a look at this year's festival schedule, click here.