24 June 2015

fun stuff I may or may not get to: July 2015

BART Update
As I've been noting every month since April, BART had announced a track shut-down between Coliseum and Fruitvale, scheduled for several weekends a month from April to August. The good news is that they seem to have finished early. The I'm raising my eyebrow at you, BART news is that they didn't bother with more than a cursory announcement of that fact. You'd think they'd have something up on their website, if only to pat themselves on the back for finished ahead of schedule. Such an announcement would also be reassuring to people who have been thrown by BART's capricious way of suddenly announcing and then quietly changing the shut-down dates.

I did actually take the bus bridge one Sunday afternoon, because I had a ticket for a matinee I didn't want to miss. The bus bridge was, how shall I put this, surprisingly endurable? On both ends the buses were there waiting, and there seemed to be enough of them for the crowds, which was good because many people had no idea this was going on (and this was a month into the project) so ridership was probably close to normal Sunday levels. I don't know if I just got lucky with the buses – I definitely got lucky on the return trip, because if I'd reached the San Francisco station two minutes later I would have had to wait at least another twenty minutes for a train, though that is not really due to the shut-down problem and is more in the nature of just one of BART's regular problems, which is that they don't run enough trains. I also have to say: people move so slowly I cannot believe it. I'm not talking about elderly, very young, or disabled passengers, I mean adults who should be able to walk on an escalator or at least know enough not to block them. In the event of (God forbid!) some disaster striking, I am just going to shove people out of my way. Seriously. Or at least scream at them to speed up their strolling. Slow-moving is a particular problem in the many stations that have narrow staircases/escalators and not enough of them. Which is most of the stations.

In short: the bus bridge worked surprisingly well, but added enough time and trouble to the trip so that I would not want to deal with it late at night.

I think I was correct in guessing in my initial remarks on this situation that BART was going to be randomly announcing such track shut-downs for the next few years, because we have another one coming up, and since it involves the crucial area between the West Oakland station and the Transbay Tube, it is going to have an even bigger effect on riders. There will be buses between the 19th Street Station in Oakland and the Temporary Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco, but BART is presenting them as a last resort for desperate riders and is basically hoping you'll figure another way to do whatever you need to get done. The currently announced dates are the first weekend in August and all of Labor Day Weekend – but as repeatedly noted, and complained about, BART does have a history of changing their dates with little to no fanfare, so check their site as necessary and consider yourself warned.

As usual, July is a fairly quiet month for performances, but there are some fun things out there, particularly for opera fans.

San Francisco Opera closes out the second half of its season with a few performances in July: one more of Berlioz's Les Troyens (1 July) and two more of Mozart's Nozze di Figaro (3 and 5 July; the 3 July performance is simulcast at Major Phone Company ballpark; the simulcast is free but you need to register).

San Francisco Opera's Merola Program for young artists starts up when the regular season ends; there is a concert (presumably of opera arias, though no specific program is given on the website) on 9 July at the Conservatory of Music and a repeat on 11 July (matinee) at Yerba Buena Gardens; then on 23 and 25 (matinee) Merola presents Puccini's Gianni Schicchi on a double-bill with Menotti's The Medium at Cowell Theater at Fort Mason (from a public transportation point of view, this is a difficult location; I'm not sure why they moved from the lovely auditorium at Everett Middle School that they have used the past few years). Click here for more Merola information.

At the other end of the month (and mostly into August), West Edge Opera holds its second summer festival, again presenting three operas – Monteverdi's Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, Berg's Lulu, and Laura Kaminsky's As One, a new chamber opera exploring the life of a transgender woman. Each is in a separate and intriguing location: Lulu is in the abandoned 16th Street train station in Oakland on 25 July, and 2 (matinee) and 8 August; Ulysses is in the American Steel Studios at 1960 Mandela Parkway in Oakland on 1, 7 and 9 (matinee) August; and As One is in the Oakland Metro on 26 (matinee) and 31 July and 8 August (matinee).

I have conflicting feelings about these venues. On the one hand, they sound potentially exciting and even glamorous in a sort of necrotic Norma Desmond way, with lots of site-specific possibilities. On the other hand, they are not public-transportation friendly (and please note that some of the dates coincide with BART's latest track shutdown, as noted above). I have walked to the Oakland Metro (near Jack London Square) from the 12th Street BART station; it's a bit of a schlep but do-able, though I would not scoff at anyone who did not feel comfortable walking it alone at night. For the other two operas, West Edge will provide a shuttle ($10 round-trip; free if you buy a "gold" ticket) to the West Oakland BART station (again: BART's latest shutdown will effect the 1 and 2 August performances, and it's possible West Edge doesn't even realize this yet). But honestly – and this is more the fault of our inadequate public transportation than of West Edge Opera  – the thought of waiting up to twenty minutes late at night at the West Oakland station really does not thrill me. What is West Edge's fault is their persistence in starting evening performances at 8:00, even as more tradition-bound organizations (like the San Francisco Opera) bow to reality and start performances at 7:30. I'd be a little more open to the wait if I thought it wouldn't be approaching midnight and the final possible train. There's also the horrifying thought of having to wait in a crowd of opera patrons while they gather themselves, slowly oh so slowly, to get on the shuttle. And then having to listen to their so-called "thoughts" on what they saw! I'm impatient enough already without dealing with that! Well, at least West Edge did add the shuttle option; when I checked their site a few months ago, there was no information about public transportation at all. Too bad there's only one matinee per opera, since that seems like the best time for this particular adventure.

As a lagniappe to the San Francisco Symphony's June Beethoven festival, and as part of its summer programming of popular concerts, you can hear Edwin Outwater conduct an all-Beethoven program – the Leonora Overture No 3, the First Symphony, and the Violin Concerto with soloist Liza Ferschtman – on 11 July. Outwater also conducts the other program that looks particularly interesting, when Awesome Principal Trumpet Mark Inouye and his jazz quartet join the Symphony for variations on some old favorites; that's on 9 July. Both those concerts start at 7:30 rather than 8:00, an innovation that I would welcome during the regular season.

Shotgun Players presents Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, directed by Delia MacDougall, from 2 July to 2 August.

San Francisco Playhouse presents Sondheim's Company, directed by Susi Damilano, from 7 July to 12 September.

No Nude Men revives William Marchant's 1955 comedy The Desk Set, directed by Stuart Bousel. Yes, this is the play that was made into a Tracy/Hepburn film, and it's about four women researchers who are losing their jobs to technological advances. Gee, can't imagine why they'd revive that now! The show runs from 9 to 25 July at the Exit Stage Left Theater.


Michael Strickland said...

The Merola program didn't abandon the charming junior high school auditorium, it abandoned them, as it seems there is to be construction of some sort going on there throughout the summer.

Glad to hear the Oakland Metro is near Jack London Square. I can take the ferryboat back and forth from San Francisco, one of my favorite rides.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Thanks for clarifying the Merola performance space situation. That makes sense. And I hope Merola can go back there next year. The Cowell Theater is not only difficult to get to, but no great gem once you're there.

Yes, the Oakland Metro is very close to Jack London Square, and you can have a beautiful ferry ride. Unfortunately I'm coming from the other direction and it's a much longer and not particularly appealing walk from the BART station.

I saw several shows at the Metro when the Oakland Opera performed there. I think they are now defunct. They did some really great stuff on stage, but I just got completely exasperated with their lack of professionalism off stage. For example: if you announce the doors will open at 7:00, I expect them to open at 7:00, or maybe five minutes after, not 7:55. This wouldn't be a big deal if there were reserved seating, but there wasn't, and -- well, it was just annoying. But I'm sure West Edge will be more on top of things, and it's an interesting venue.