30 June 2011
29 June 2011
28 June 2011
27 June 2011
Festival Opera at the BART-accessible Dean Lesher Center in Walnut Creek presents La Traviata on July 9, 12, 15, and 17.
The Royce Gallery offers "a new chambre [sic; not sure what they're getting at with that spelling] music series" hosted by Pamela Z: July 8 and 9 the Robin Cox Ensemble plays contemporary chamber works by Bay Area composers including Amy X Neuberg and Pamela Z; on July 29 we have Poetry + Motion, featuring The Atchleys, Kinji Hayashi, Dean Santomieri, Shinichi Iova Koga, Pamela Z, Leigh Evans.
American Bach Soloists presents its first summer Bach Festival & Academy, from July 15th through the 23rd, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Check out the schedule of lectures, master classes, and performances (including two of the B Minor Mass) here. And it's not all Bach; the festival includes Handel's great opera Ariodante on July 22, starting at 7:00.
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival runs from July 14 through 17 at the Castro Theater; they have as usual lots of great stuff, and the closing night film is the amazing Victor Seastrom film HE Who Gets Slapped, featuring Lon Chaney as HE, a bitter, vindictive circus clown who . . . gets slapped. That's his act, or at least part of it: the full thing has to be seen (in all its wild Expressionistic glory) to be believed. Incidentally I've read the Leonid Andreyev play on which the film is based, and HE's act isn't described beyond the slapping, so what we see in the film is the invention of the film-makers. Bitter, vindictive clowns . . . that's entertainment!
The Merolini are in town: check out the next generation of opera stars on July 22 at 7:30 in the Schwabacher Summer Concert in Herbst Theater and July 24 at 2:00 in a free public concert at Yerba Buena Gardens.
Berkeley/West Edge Opera brings us into August with the world premiere of Caliban Dreams, an original work inspired by characters from the Tempest, featuring John Duykers, with a libretto by Amanda Moody and music by Clark Suprynowicz, July 30 and August 5 and 7, at the El Cerrito Performing Arts Center.
And if I were going out of town, it would be to the Cincinnati Opera to see Nathan Gunn's role debut as Eugene Onegin at the Cincinnati Opera, July 14 and 16.
26 June 2011
25 June 2011
24 June 2011
23 June 2011
22 June 2011
21 June 2011
20 June 2011
19 June 2011
17 June 2011
16 June 2011
Windy night that was I went to fetch her there was that lodge meeting on about those lottery tickets after Goodwin's concert in the supper room or oakroom of the mansion house. He and I behind. Sheet of her music blew out of my hand against the high school railings. Lucky it didn't. Thing like that spoils the effect of a night for her. Professor Goodwin linking her in front. Shaky on his pins, poor old sot. His farewell concerts. Positively last appearance on any stage. May be for months and may be for never. Remember her laughing at the wind, her blizzard collar up. Corner of Harcourt road remember that gust? Brrfoo! Blew up all her skirts and her boa nearly smothered old Goodwin. She did get flushed in the wind. Remember when we got home raking up the fire and frying up those pieces of lap of mutton for her supper with the Chutney sauce she liked. And the mulled rum. Could see her in the bedroom from the hearth unclamping the busk of her stays. White.
Swish and soft flop her stays made on the bed. Always warm from her. Always liked to let herself out. Sitting there after till near two, taking out her hairpins. Milly tucked up in beddyhouse. Happy. Happy. That was the night. . .
-- O, Mr Bloom, how do you do?
Happy Bloomsday to my mountain flowers.
15 June 2011
14 June 2011
13 June 2011
12 June 2011
11 June 2011
10 June 2011
A couple of weekends ago V and I trekked out to the Legion of Honor, mostly to see Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave, an exhibit of costumes made out of paper and "inspired" by a wide range of clothing from the past, from the Florence of the Medici to the early 20th century House of Worth. Many of the local museums have what seems to me an excessive number of exhibitions featuring Clothing for Rich Women. I was hoping that seeing them made out of paper would make them more interesting. I do understand and accept that fashion is art and so forth, but to me it's sort of like Sanskrit in that I understand that it is significant, I admire people who master it, I would kind of like to master it myself, but realistically that's just not going to happen.
It's a long trek to the Legion of Honor from the east bay, involving BART and then a bus ride. There are several buses you can take, but this time we took the 38 Geary, which has a reputation as the craziest of all SF bus lines, but which was surprisingly calm on our long bus ride. The Legion of Honor is at one of the tips of the San Francisco peninsula, and the views are spectacular. The museum itself has its charms, but I never visit there without wishing some of the robber barons had tried to buy respectability through more extensive purchases of more impressive Old Masters.
The views are striking whether it's sunny or foggy. We had a little of both the day we went. You can see the fog rolling in over the Golden Gate Bridge below.
V was fairly disappointed in the exhibit. I enjoyed it more, but that had a lot to do with her company; if I had spent the day getting to it by myself, the shrugs would have set in much sooner. I did enjoy all the colors, and initially the workmanship, since I myself can't fold an origami crane without its looking as though it flew from Chernobyl. I was puzzled by the gauzy material used for veils and suchlike, and then read on a label that it was lens-cleaner paper. I wasn't sure that wasn't cheating on the whole "made out of paper" thing. Then I started feeling that, however carefully she was folding and hemming the paper, the decorative painting was a little too slapdash.
And the whole "inspired by" thing started to seem more of a convenience than anything else, allowing for too much cheating: there's a dress "inspired by" Botticelli's Flora in the Primavera, and de Borchgrave's version had about a quarter of the flowers on it, and they were sloppily painted. That's when I thought, well, enough of this. Also by then the rooms were quite crowded.
I ended up mostly wondering how exactly you get people to pay you for making large-scale costumes out of paper. That is the sort of life skill I have never been able to figure out.
I did enjoy the colors though.
Above you see a pigeon perched on the head of a trumpeting angel.
There was also a copy of the Magna Carta on loan. When we first came across it there was a couple standing in front of it, staring intently. They were having a long conversation about the parchment and the script and how it was written and what it meant, and they prefaced each remark by saying, "Well, I don't really know for sure, but. . . ." And they weren't being modest, the way people sometimes are when they really are expert but don't want to crush the uninitiated. They really didn't know, and were going off on extensive but unfortunately dull and unamusing flights of fancy, planted in front of the Magna Carta even though it should have been clear there were people milling around waiting for a glance up close.
The best exhibit, which we didn't even know was there until we happened into that room, was an elaborate mosaic floor created for a Roman villa and recently discovered in what is now Lod, Israel. It's delightful and a view of the charming menagerie was worth the trip.
Pulp Fashion closes this weekend. The mosaic floor is there until July 24. El Cid (above) is on guard at the slope leading to the museum entrance for the duration.
UPDATE: Up until, oh, ten minutes ago (thank you Lisa for correcting me) and despite (or because of) seeing banners advertising this show every day for months, and of course actually attending the show, I was certain it was called Pulp Fiction rather than Pulp Fashion. Oops! Actually I think Pulp Fiction makes sense, since the creations are "fictions" not just in the usual sense that clothing is a costume but in that they're not really meant to be worn and are recreations of past clothing. So I think my name is more clever, but alas not accurate.
09 June 2011
08 June 2011
07 June 2011
06 June 2011
05 June 2011
04 June 2011
03 June 2011
The show started at the inevitable 8:00 PM. I’ve been complaining for years about the standard 8:00 PM start time and everyone has assured me that it can’t possibly change and no one has ever once offered me a solid reason why. If someone can actually offer me such a reason (as in, “X percentage of our audience comes from X distance and they have to start out after 5:00 and it takes them X amount of time to travel,” and not as in “it’s so civilized,” a reason I will accept only when I live in a civilized country), then I will just write it off as part of the suckitude of life and adjust myself accordingly.
Until then, I figure I get to make this complaint at least once for every time a performance group talks about “increasing the audience” and “putting butts in seats” and blah blah blah while never actually changing a single significant thing about their operations (starting a Facebook page doesn’t count). So by that measure, I figure I get 77, 863 more opportunities to bitch about the 8:00 PM start time – oh, wait, did you hear that? Make that 77, 864 more opportunities! You know what – I think I’ll just keep the meter running on this one.
It’s just the inertia of habit. Every job I’ve had here in California has started at 8:00 AM (or earlier), and this is true of everyone I know. When people respond to me on the start-time issue they sometimes snobbishly imply that theater-goers, at least the ones who really count, just need to be important enough to stroll in late the next day. But you know who can’t get away with that? Teachers, nurses, bankers, clerks, doctors, executives . . . uh, well, just about everybody. And most of those people are not even going to consider going to something that doesn’t even start until 8:00 PM. I know this because plenty of them have told me so.
Performance groups blather endlessly about how to get 20-year-olds into the theater but it really isn't that tough to get 20-year-olds to try different things – that's what being 20 is about. I would think the obvious second part of the problem, only there doesn’t seem to be much thought given to it, is how to keep them coming back once marriages and mortgages and the grimly grinding reality of daily work take over. The sad news, and apparently it is news, is that the sexy years fleet away and the exhausted decades settle in, and unless you’re young, retired, or a member of the small cranky band of foolhardy (and unencumbered and relatively solvent) performance addicts, you are going to go for the sensible bedtime whenever you can.
And not only does the 8:00 PM start time ensure you generally get home late enough so that the next day is a gruesome ordeal – there are also hours to kill between the end of work and the start of the show. I’m genuinely curious how people fill this time, because I am finding it more and more difficult, as the brick-and-mortar bookstores and music stores close (and books and music themselves lose physical reality and join the wireless world humming around us).
I already get to theaters early. And as a non-driver, I walk or take public transportation, so you can’t get places any more slowly than I already do. I eat dinner slowly, sometimes even at places with waiters. And I still have hours to wait. There’s only so much aimless wandering you can do before you start feeling the need to rethink what you’re doing with your life, which kind of drains the pleasure out of a show. What are people doing and where are they coming from that the performance can’t possibly start until shortly after 8:00 PM?
And please don’t suggest that I go to a bar and “relax” with a drink or two. I loathe bars. And I already spend too much money on my theater-going without adding in the cost of overpriced drinks (universal truth: any place that sells food makes its profit on liquids). And by nature I’m already bleary-eyed and have a small bladder – alcohol is not going to improve my evening. And how much time can you kill in a bar anyway before some kind soul helpfully suggests AA?
At least in Berkeley I can go to Moe’s Books, my favorite bookstore. There are the increasingly frequent occasions when the oppressive sense of unread volumes starts crowding in on me and I have to flee in existential terror, but other than that, I can always manage to kill a fairly pleasant, or at least neutral, hour in there. Of course, I generally walk out having purchased more books, and if there’s one thing I really need to do more of, it’s spend more money I don’t have on more books I don’t have time to read.*
What’s that? You’re waiting for the dance stuff to start? So was I, pal, so was I.
OK, so I decided the 8:00 PM hassle and a late night were worth it to see Bournonville’s company in Bournonville’s La Sylphide, which I had only seen on DVD. This program (La Sylphide and Flindt’s The Lesson) was only being done on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I didn’t have a choice about not going in the middle of the week. A friend of mine had a perfect ticket for sale. It was expensive, but, again, I decided it would be worth treating myself.
I get to Zellerbach (still so much time to kill, but I'm tired of wandering) and the lobby monitors are telling us that there will be two twenty- to thirty-minute intermissions. I’m not sure why they’re telling us this until I realize the program only lists one intermission. I’m standing at my front-row seat waiting waiting waiting for the magic 8:00 PM hour, leafing through the program (which is a little tough to see because it’s too dim in the auditorium for comfortable reading) when a member of the Berkeley Symphony down in the pit asks to borrow my program so she can see which piece comes first. She can’t figure it out so I show her the page where it says The Lesson comes first. I’m sensing a haphazard quality to the evening. I am not yet particularly alarmed, however.
Matias Tarnopolsky, the Director of Cal Performances, who seems like a charming fellow, comes out and tells us about the intermissions and reminds us to turn off etc etc. Lights dim (even further) and the dancing finally begins! The Lesson is a sardonic little tragicomedy, performed with unemphatic precision and superbly calibrated moves. I’m enjoying it tremendously! Then the lights come back up. I see that it is about 8:30 PM, since it is a fairly short piece. We start the first intermission.
It lasts an hour. The audience (perfectly behaved during the small amount of actual dancing we’ve seen so far) is starting to get restless. Someone behind me remarks on how well-behaved the audience is, saying that if this were Paris they’d be throwing things. That starts to sound like maybe a good idea. Eventually it looks as if La Sylphide is finally going to start, which means we’ve had to wait until about 9:30 PM before the main attraction even begins. I am no longer feeling quite so happy.
The curtain goes up and it immediately becomes apparent what the delay was: the set, the interior of a Scottish castle complete with large fireplace, large window, and double staircase, is elaborately, and let me say almost tediously, detailed and realistic, and needed a corresponding amount of set-up time. And the fairly elaborate set for The Lesson needed to be taken down first.
Here’s the thing about sets: on the one hand, it’s quite interesting to see La Sylphide done in the same sort of set and style that a ballet-goer in 19th century Denmark would have seen. On the other hand, I don’t really care that much about having elaborately realistic sets. I mean, I am susceptible to their charms and recognize the importance of setting, but I’m not that invested in “realism” on stage and it’s not really crucial to my theater-going experience that the set look exactly like a photograph you might see in a brochure for a Scottish bed-and-breakfast, and I’m not going to walk out of there thinking how ineffably charming it was to see a real ceiling or how profoundly moving I found it when the dancers went up and down the stairs.
Clearly the Royal Danish Ballet or whoever is handling the sets simply cannot install and remove them in a non-absurd amount of time. I realize that things go wrong in live theater, but this is not just “one of those things,” one of those almost endearing mishaps that remind us that live theater happens in the moment: this is a huge miscalculation and a major fail and a time-wasting fuck-up of vast proportions, and I hope you can see past all those italics that what’s especially irritating is that the evening could have maybe absorbed the delay a bit better if the show had started even half an hour earlier instead of at goddam 8:00 PM.
So La Sylphide finally starts. I am determined to enjoy it. Let me repeat that it’s already 9:30 PM. Our hero James (Mads Blangstrup) is sitting in a chair, sleeping, which is probably what I would be doing if I were at home, so I empathize with our hero. Our Sylphide, the insufficiently ethereal Caroline Cavallo, enters, and I try to avoid guilt by association but can’t help noticing she bears an unfortunate resemblance to Sarah Jessica Parker, the hacky star of the trashy Sex and the City. I try to put that out of my mind, but I’ve seen precious little dance for the amount of time and money I’ve spent so far, so I’m not in the most charitable mood. She is grinning and hopping around, looking very physical. I was expecting more unworldly melancholy from the role that made Taglioni a legend. Despite the perkiness our Sylphide is, as required by the plot, irresistible to our James.
I notice that James’s fiancée, Effy (Camilla Ruelykke Holst), not only looks kind-hearted and sensible, she is way hotter than our Sylphide. Since James has an endearingly mischievous and cute rival, the slim young farmer Gurn (Nicolai Hansen), I’m thinking Effy would be better off not wasting her time with the moony James. Such is the cruel arbitrariness of plot, Effy must pine for James, at least through this act. Madge the Witch (Lis Jeppesen) shows up, and though my spirits are temporarily restored by delight at seeing someone known as Madge the Witch, I wonder if she is supposed to look so young and act so cartoony. We waited an hour for Act 1, and it lasts just half an hour. The lights come back up, and I have a dilemma, because we’re just starting the second intermission, and it’s already a bit past 10:00 PM.
I find an usher and ask her for a realistic guess at the performance’s end time, or at least an estimate of Act 2’s length. Act 2 lasts slightly over half an hour. The performance’s end time is apparently anyone’s guess. So, best-case scenario: the second intermission is only half an hour, meaning the show ends slightly past 11:00 PM, meaning I get home (not even to bed, just home) slightly past midnight. But I have no reason to think the best-case scenario is what’s going to happen.
We could easily be looking at another hour-long intermission (or even longer; I'm not sure how much time is required to remove a Scottish castle and install a misty forest), meaning we don’t get out of there until after 11:30 PM, meaning I don’t get home (again, not to bed, just home) until after 12:30 AM, or maybe even closer to 1:00 AM, depending on when I get to the BART station and when the train arrives.
We could even be looking at the possibility of the performance lasting past the last train, meaning I’m not only up the creek without a paddle, I’m up the creek without a canoe, unless I want to spend Act 2 nervously checking my watch and barging out of there at the witching hour whether the performance is over or not.
No matter what the case, my alarm is going off at 5:40 AM, and I have to spend from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM the next day being sentient and productive. These mental calculations are not conducive to appreciating the artistry on display, since all I'm thinking about is the clock and the various schedules and the time, and I am increasingly irritated at the whole situation.
Also, since I was up early and at work all day, I am already getting dark circles around my eyes, which is frankly kind of sexy, I think, but I am also starting to drool and go cross-eyed, which is sadly less sexy. I realize I’d better cut my losses and leave, which is not something I normally do, but I also realize I'd better submit to reality. I realize I am missing Act 2, which is what I had most wanted to see. I realize I am not the only person leaving due to worries about train schedules and running time and getting to work the next day. I assume they are all as unhappy and irritated as I am. How many will come back?
I don’t usually engage with reviewers here, because, well, why would I, but I have to say I’ve skimmed some of the reviews of that evening (by the way – I have no idea when it actually ended – does anyone out there know?) and have seen no mention of the stupefying and disastrously long intermission(s). While I am needless to say delighted at the enjoyment of people who were given free tickets and do not have to show up for their non-arts-related jobs early the next morning, their readers, who are potentially paying customers, should have a fair idea of what they’d get for their time and money.
Theater-going is supposed to be a pleasure, not an ordeal, and aesthetic delight is available in diverse ways and forms, including many that are not only less expensive, but are not going to leave people dragging through the next workday. Referring in passing to a long evening doesn’t cut it – Gotterdammerung is a long evening, but you go in knowing what you’re in for and you get a whole lot of Art for your time and money and at the end you get to see the universe burn up so everyone leaves happy. Last Tuesday night the proportion of dance to the proportion of irritatingly wasted time was like the proverbial ham in the boarding-house sandwich.
Obviously Cal Performances didn’t realize how long the intermissions would be (though shouldn’t someone have realized, and done something?), and I don’t mean to single them out, because they are far from alone in their bizarre adherence to the archaic 8:00 PM start time, and they consistently present things that are generally worth the hassle. But let’s look at this from the perspective of a paying customer, like, oh, let’s say, me: I paid $90 for a ticket, plus BART fare for a trip to Berkeley I wouldn’t have taken otherwise, plus the cost of a dinner I wouldn’t have eaten out otherwise, plus the cost of books I wouldn’t have bought if I hadn’t had to kill so much time before the curtain, and that is a lot of money when I didn’t even get to see the part of the show I most wanted to see because of poor planning and outmoded start times. And have I mentioned how much time I wasted waiting for 8:00 PM? As far as I’m concerned, my happily anticipated evening was a fiasco.
Confidential to Jolene and Lisa and anyone else who meant to get a ticket and didn’t: in case you saw some reviews and regretted missing this: don't. You dodged a bullet.
* The latest purchases at Moe's: Alexander Theroux's The Strange Case of Edward Gorey, Mary Shelley's The Last Man, and Ezra Pound's Translations.