Wednesday, May 29, 2024

June Opera Is Bustin' Out All Over (in San Francisco)

San Francisco will be the opera capital of the United States this June with at least six shows opening around town, starting with three major productions at the San Francisco Opera for their annual summer season (click here for tickets).
It starts with Mozart's The Magic Flute in a a 2012 production co-created by the Komische Opera in Berlin and the LA Opera by Australian director Barrie Kosky. It's presented as a silent film with over 800 separate projections on a blank wall with singers appearing on rotating vestibules. (For an interesting explanation of the design, click here for the SF Opera blog.) It sounds like a gimmick but has been successful enough to have over 40 appearances all over the world. Best of all, the problematic spoken text in either German or English will be replaced by silent film interstitials, a lovely solution. I am particularly looking forward to hearing how Music Director Eun Sun Kim conducts Mozart, which can be tricky, and also tenor Amitai Pati singing the role of Tamino. By the way, the huge spider above is the Queen of the Night.
This will be followed by the American premiere of the recently deceased composer Kaija Saariaho's final opera, Innocence. A co-commission of SF Opera, the work has already premiered in Aix-en-Provence, France and a few other European cities, and a new production is being built here. Set simultaneously at a wedding and at a school shooting at an International School in Helsinki, it's been declared a modern masterpiece by a number of music critics. Its appearance here is a very big deal.
Finishing up the season is Handel's 1730 comic opera, Partenope, about the first Queen of Naples being besieged by suitors for three and a half hours. The Christopher Alden production appeared here in 2014 and I walked out after the first act because I didn't know the music and the zany, madcap staging set in 1920s Paris at an artistic salon felt heavy-handed. However, in anticipation of seeing it again, I have been listening to various versions of the once-obscure opera on YouTube, and the music really is insinuatingly gorgeous, which makes me look forward to hearing it live with an international cast.
Across the street, the San Francisco Symphony's soon-to-be-departed Music Director Esa Pekka Salonen is conducting a quartet of interesting concerts in June, starting with a double-bill of Ravel's full-length Mother Goose ballet accompanied by the Alonzo King Dancers and Schoenberg's 30-minute opera, Ewartung, depicting a woman going mad in a dark forest. Peter Sellars is staging both, and the soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams has to carry the entire work on her shoulders since it's a monodrama. West Edge Opera produced this last summer in a reduced orchestration, and it will be exciting to hear it in its full splendor. Performances are from Friday, June 7 to Sunday, June 9 (click here for tickets).
From June 21-23, Opera Parallele is giving the West Coast premiere of a 2016 American opera, Fellow Travelers, composed by Gregory Spears whose music has been praised to the skies. Commissioned by Cincinatti Opera, it's an adaptation of a Thomas Mallon novel about a love affair between two publicly closeted gay men working government jobs in Washington, D.C. during the Lavender Scare of the 1950s when commies and homos were interchangeable scapegoats. I haven't read the book or seen the Amazon Prime series that recently aired, but am looking forward to hearing the score and seeing Joseph Lattanzi, who created the role of Hawkins Fuller. The performances are being held at the little jewel box Presidio Theater. Click here for tickets.
Pocket Opera is midway through their 2024 season, and will be presenting Otto Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor in one of company founder Donald Pippin's genius English translations. I have never seen the opera but have been hearing and reading for decades that it's one of the best Shakespearean adaptations in the operatic repertoire. To make it more interesting, I am a huge fan of Kenneth Kellogg who is singing Falstaff and Rene Harms who is singing Alice Ford. It's being performed at the Legion of Honor on Sunday afternoon on June 30 (click here for tickets).

Monday, May 20, 2024

The People's Palace

A multimedia dance spectacular responding to the racist architecture of San Francisco's City Hall was held in the building itself a couple of weekends ago.
The thirty-minute work entitled The People's Palace was free to attend with an online reservation, and was financed by a huge assortment of grant-making institutions (click here for the program).
The major force behind the project was choreographer Joanna Haigood, who has been creating site-specific works around the country for decades, and the performers were from her local troupe, Zaccho Dance Theatre.
There were even aerialists dancing under the dome.
Though both Haigood and scenic designer Sean Riley acknowledge how gorgeous the Beaux Arts building is, they rightly point out that the busts, sculptures, and architecture are all European-centric and ignore the rest of the non-white population. In an interview with Riley, he notes: "So one of the things we really focused on — the elephant in the room — are these four rather large medallions in the ceiling. They have a relief carved within them representing the virtues liberty, learning, strength and equality. They’ve compiled images of lots of different symbols like you’d have on the back of the dollar bill. All this different symbolism. But they’re clearly not representative of the full breadth of our society."
To that effect, there was a musical interlude by Gregg Castro, who is the Culture Director of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone along with a colorful panoply of dancers making their way up the grand staircase.
They were accompanied by four musicians (on flute/recorder/sax, harp, double bass, and trumpet) with a score by Marcus Shelby.
San Francisco City Hall is one of my favorite places in the world, especially since it became a party venue for everything from graduations to ballet openings. The building is also host to dozens of weddings every day which adds to the theatricality of the place. Finally, you can drop in on local government at work which tends to be both boring and fascinating in equal measure.

Friday, May 10, 2024

The Art of Noise at SFMOMA

An entertaining exhibit called The Art of Noise has just taken over the 7th floor of SFMOMA.
I was afraid they would be trotting out the same old psychedelic Fillmore posters from the 1960s, and there is a whole wall of those along with a huge array of analog album covers...
...but the bulk of the show is devoted to musical playback devices from the last century.
The design and engineering of music reproduction machines is fascinating. Pictured above are the 1912 Thomas Edison Fireside Model B cylinder phonograph and the 1935 RCA Victor Special Model K phonograph designed by John Vassos.
There is also a gorgeous 1947 Rock-Ola 1426 Jukebox from Chicago.
The 1960s brought exquisite, sleek design to High Fidelity as evidenced by this 1962 Wall Unit designed by Dieter Rams for Braun in Frankfurt.
Everyone will have their own Proustian madeleine moment walking through this exhibit, and one of mine was seeing the 901 Speaker designed in 1968 by Amar Bose in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Also featured is an historic unit used for 1980s DJ sets in Compton, California from Technics in Osaka, Japan: the 1979 SL1200MK2 turntables along with the 1984 DM-1450 mixer and preamplifier.
Another Japanese product is the JVC RC-M90 Boombox, from 1981.
There is also an area where you can relax on divans with headphones attached to 21st century playback devices.
In the space usually employed for videos, the HiFi Pursuit Listening Room Dream No. 2 installation has been created by the famous audio engineer Devon Turnbull (OJAS). A DJ was playing tracks on turntables from various jazz albums with the purest analog sound imaginable. Because of a strong preference for live music, I have never been much of a High Fidelity enthusiast, but for many people it was an all-consuming passion. So if you are any kind of audio fetishist, this exhibit is sheer pleasure.