Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Sausalito Smooching

Sunday afternoon to Sausalito from San Francisco's Ferry Building was delightful.
There were same-sex and opposite-sex couples from all over the globe on the boat...
...including the couple in the foreground from Perth, Australia and the couple in the background who verged on daring displays of public affection, but kept pulling back.
While eating a sandwich from Venezia, the Italian deli downtown, on the Sausalito breakwater...
...I watched a November marine layer mist turn San Francisco ghostly.
On the return ferry, a young couple who had been making out next to their bicycles on the Sausalito breakwater continued their public avowals of love...
...joined by a half dozen male cyclists who were in varying stages of drunkenness and joy.
The trip was bone-chillingly cold and I envied the couple...
...who were warming each other up.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Black Saturday on Ocean Beach

I was very brave on Black Friday, walking into a Best Buy after my ancient Sony digital cameras from 2001 finally died and batteries from that era were impossible to find.
In what I can only view as a Christmas miracle, there was a young salesman at Best Buy who actually knew something about cameras, and told me the model he was suggesting never went on sale because it was so popular. "It's the vlogger industry standard right now and it's fully automated if you don't want to bother fiddling with things like aperture settings, and also fully adjustable if you do."
So I walked out of the big box store with a tiny box containing a camera with 100 times the memory storage of the old one, along with a steep learning curve.
Unfortunately, I become unreasonably frustrated when confronting a new digital interface, so thank the goddess for YouTube instructional videos, which are helping to ease the unmoored pain.
On Saturday afternoon, we went for a walk on Ocean Beach and saw two boats driving in very close to shore next to a few surfers.
We wondered if they were rescue craft or drug smugglers, but it looked dangerous whoever they were.
The day was warm with a pinch of tartness from the cold ocean, so people were bundled up...
...and also stripped down.
Somebody was stretching in what looked like Tai-Chi exercises, but amusingly at about three times the normal speed.
Somebody else was practicing a classical tune on their horn at a professional skill level.
My favorite sights on Ocean Beach usually involve parents playing with their kids on the shoreline.
The joy of children who love the ocean is infectious and a happy memory for me who grew up on beaches.
Since I now have the equipment to be an industry-standard vlogger at my advanced age, it is time to finally join the New Millenium, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Orpheus and Eurydice at the SF Opera

San Francisco Opera has wrapped up the fall portion of its centennial season with a creative, gorgeously musical production of a rarity, the 1762 Gluck opera, Orpheus and Eurydice. That is the work's name in English, but it was written in Italian for a royal premiere in Vienna, then rewritten 7 years later for a version produced in Italy, followed by a French version in 1774. The lead role of Orpheus has been sung by everything from an alto castrato (think mezzo soprano sound coming from a castrated male) in Vienna, a soprano castrato (think high soprano sound from a castrated male) in Parma, and a haut-contre (very high male tenor) in France. In this San Francisco production, the role is being sung by Jakub Józef Orliński, a Polish countertenor (think falsetto soprano coming from an uncastrated male) who has recently conquered the world online. (All production photos by Cory Weaver.)
Most of the operas of Gluck's time featured elaborate plots involving many characters in love with the wrong persons, but Orpheus and Eurydice only has three characters: Orpheus, his recently deceased wife Eurydice, and the goddess Amor, along with a chorus and a corps of dancers. Orliński sings about two-thirds of the music in this original Vienna version and is onstage for the entire production. I had reservations about him initially because I didn't particularly care for the sound of Orliński's voice, but I have now seen the production twice and he's won me over completely with his overall musical sensitivity, the strength of his projection in the large opera house, the commitment he brings to the role, and his extreme physicality.
The goddess Amor was sung by soprano Nicole Heaton, who arranges for Orpheus to search for Eurydice in the Underworld. I loved her deus ex machina entrances and exits from above the stage, and she offered the only moments of levity in a tale that is essentially about grief.
The local production team was superb, working with not much more than a turntable on a bare stage. The staging by director Matthew Ozawa was simple, clean and occasionally mysterious. The set and production designer Alexander V. Nichols created a few visual miracles on that turntable while not overdoing it. Jessica Jahn's costumes were vivid and lighting designer Yuki Nakase Link did a particularly evocative job with a complex lighting scheme.
The reason I have seen the production twice is because the music is so seductive, even though it unfolds at almost virtually the same pace throughout. The chorus under new director John Keene sounded wonderful as villagers eulogizing, demons denying, and souls roaming the Elysian Fields. At first, I thought the orchestra under debuting Welsh conductor Peter Whelan was a bit too heavy for this 18th century music, but by the third performance on Sunday afternoon, they sounded perfect.
The characters of Orpheus and Eurydice are each shadowed by three dancers in various scenes, and for once the theatrical conceit worked gracefully and unintrusively. Choreographer Rena Butler deserves credit, and so do her dancers: Alysia Chang, Brett Conway, Marian Faustino, Livanna Maislen, Christopher Nachtrab, and Maxwell Simoes. A last-minute substitute for the role of Eurydice, soprano Meigui Zhang did a fine job singing but the character in this version is a terrible whiner so it was difficult to care whether she made it back to the living world or not.
During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s in San Francisco, I watched quite a few people journeying mentally to the land of the dead when their partners or best friends died. One of my personal duties was to extend a hand to them, insisting there was still much to live for, and advise them to pull their psyches away from the underworld. Some did and some did not. This operatic version of Orpheus and Eurydice has a happy ending, where Amor revives the twice-deceased Eurydice and everyone rejoices. In the original, there was a ballet at the end to celebrate, which must have been fun. You have two more chances to see the opera, this Saturday, November 26th and next Thursday, December 1st. And if you don't have any money, standing room in the balcony for $10 is a visual and aural feast.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Marlena's Al Fresco Birthday Party

Marlena, The Absolute Empress XXV of the Imperial Court of San Francisco, hosted an al fresco birthday party early Sunday afternoon for their 80th year around the sun.
The informal, open-to-all celebration was held in the picnic area of Patricia's Green, and it could not have been sweeter.
Besides birthday cake...
...there were presents, flowers and booze.
Generations of Imperial Court royalty stopped by to offer well wishes, including Emperor XLVI Leandro Gonzales in the Georgetown sweatshirt.
In the early 1990s, Hayes Valley's doubledecker freeway that bisected the neighborhood was torn down after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Around that time, Marlena took over a scary crack whore neighborhood dive called the Underpass and turned it into a slightly more respectable dive called Marlena's that featured lipsynching drag shows on top of the pool table. It became the de facto community center for the slowly gentrifying neighborhood, and Marlena's smart, kind, no-nonsense stewardship of the saloon was admired by all: gay, straight, whatever, both young and old. The legendary place closed in 2013 (click here for my account) and morphed into the more upscale Brass Tacks, but its influence continues to permeate through the neighborhood, and Marlena still lives in an apartment above the old bar.
Like Herb Caen, another iconic San Franciscan, Marlena is actually from the San Joaquin Valley. Caen came from Sacramento while Garry McClain (aka Marlena) is from Modesto, where he opened The Brave Bull, the conservative city's first gay bar. San Francisco has been improved immeasurably by Marlena's presence, and it's enormously cheering to see her survival into old age.

Monday, November 14, 2022

A New "La Traviata" at San Francisco Opera

Last Friday the San Francisco Opera premiered a beautiful new production of Verdi's 1852 opera, La Traviata, its first in over 30 years. The traditional production design by Robert Innes Hopkins is lavish, airy and features large, curving back walls that help singers project their voices, and the costumes are brilliant. The direction by Shawna Lucey is also interesting as it is made explicitly clear, with money being showered on female choristers in the opening moments, that the settings in Act I and Act III are essentially upper-class 19th Century Parisian bordellos. (All production photos by Cory Weaver.)
This may be the first La Traviata I have seen that made me cry, which had everything to do with the chemistry between the two young, rising leads, South African soprano Pretty Yende as Violetta and American tenor Jonathan Tetelman as Alfredo. Their duets in the first act were so gentle, musically supportive, and loving that my heart cracked in the first 15 minutes. Tetelman sang his young romantic role almost conversationally, except when the music demanded he belt it out which he did quite beautifully, and his diction was amazing. I don't speak Italian but understood almost every word he sang. Yende started off sounding underpowered in the first act, but she was conserving herself for the almost impossible-to-sing role, with four different voice requirements for each act. She was superb and created a real, sympathetic character over the course of the opera.
One of my least favorite baritone characters in all of opera is Giorgio Germont, Alfredo's father, who strips the opera dead of all its joy early in Act II when he demands and then pleads for Violetta to break it off with his son, the love of her life, for the sake of his family's honor. Simone Piazzola has a great operatic voice but his characterization was deeply dull and the only word I could make out in his ramblings was "piangi [weep]."
The chorus was having an evident blast in their shiny new costumes being lascivious party people. There were synchronization problems with the orchestra under Music Director Eun Sun Kim in the first two performances, but they weren't major. The conducting and playing of the orchestra throughout was some of the most delicate and lovely Verdi I have ever heard in this house, and the glorious finale in Act III for principals and chorus was a reminder, once again, that Giuseppe Verdi was a musical god. The young Adler fellows in the cast also had a great night, particularly Timothy Murray as the Marchese d'Obigny having fun in a pink tutu at Flora's joint.
Act IV is a study in pathos as Violetta sings while dying of tuberculosis, and guilt-ridden daddy Giorgio finally tells the truth to Alfredo who rushes back in time for his true love to die in his arms. Again, the two singers connected so sweetly that the cliches and the cruelty of the tale were transformed.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Cathenge in Hayes Valley

The tiny Patricia's Green parklet in Hayes Valley has a new Burning Man artwork installation called Cathenge that is an utter delight.
Created by David Normal for 2019's Burning Man festival, the Cathenge website has the following description: "Cathenge is an interactive 3D printed Cat Temple dedicated to the Extraterrestrial Spacecats. Think: Tall, Elegant, Mystical Cat Statues – “The Catoliths.” Six in total, arrayed in a circle like the standing stones of Stonehenge, the Catoliths symbolize “Holofelinity” – Universal Cat Consciousness. Like the Monoliths of 2001: A Space Odyssey, through direct interaction with the Catoliths human consciousness is evolved."
The website continues: "Visitors to Cathenge experience the majesty of the Catoliths through their interactive sound and lights.The six Catoliths are like a set of windchimes and entering into their circle is an interactive experience of harmonic tones and lights that respond directly to movement."
As a cat person myself, it's lovely to see Cat energy presiding over what has essentially become a dog park for the neighborhood.
All hail our Feline Healers.