Last Saturday I was at the San Francisco Opera for the first time since December 2019, when I saw a disappointing production of Hansel & Gretel; my first post-lockdown visit was a happier occasion: the kick-off to SFO's centennial season with the world premiere of the new John Adams opera, Antony & Cleopatra, based mostly on Shakespeare (thanks to Lisa Hirsch for inviting me along).
I was one of the many disappointed in Adams's previous opera, Girls of the Golden West, which I found simultaneously meandering & inert, &, as with Doctor Atomic, I felt the libretto, a patchwork by Peter Sellars, was a large part of the problem. I'll admit I was one of those making the easy joke that Shakespeare would be a better librettist than Sellars, but honestly, that's not necessarily the case: any one trying to set Shakespeare's plays as operas is running up against a giant mountain of marble: not only do you have a long performance/reading history of these masterpieces of the stage (to go along with the operatic masterpieces any new opera is, however consciously or unconsciously, compared against), you have the sheer power (as well as familiarity) of Shakespeare's words, which have sunk into & shaped our own language, centuries later. There are very few Shakespeare operas that I think can stand up with their source; I can muster only a cold admiration for Verdi's Otello, as I prefer the messier, grimier original to the neatly wrapped nobility of Boito's adaptation. Of the Shakespeare-based operas I've heard, my short list of true successes are Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream & Verdi's Falstaff (which, really, outpaces Merry Wives by miles). (I will also gladly concede that The Boys from Syracuse is an improvement on The Comedy of Errors.)
So I'm happy to report that Antony & Cleopatra looks likely to join that company for me; kudos to Adams, who prepared the libretto himself (with some additions from Virgil, Plutarch & other classical writers), in consultation with dramaturg Lucia Scheckner & director Elkanah Pulitzer. As was to be expected, the focus of this rich, sprawling play, with its multitude of people, places, & themes (both poetic & political), had to be narrowed. Many favorite moments are, inevitably, lost. Some story lines (particularly Enobarbus's) suffer a bit. But adjusting to that is part of taking in what is, although based on a familiar work, also an entirely new one that needs to stand independently. The central relationships among Antony, Cleopatra, Octavian (the nascent Caesar Augustus), & his sister Octavia (married off to Marc Antony in a failed attempt to cement a peace between the two rivals) are fully present. The additional texts also work well: the most prominent of these is a passage, used towards the end of the opera, from the Aeneid about the future imperial glory of Rome, given to Octavian & chorus (one of the few big choral numbers in the opera, which is an interesting change for Adams, whose earlier operas, particularly The Death of Klinghoffer, tend to be chorus-rich): it's the Leader & his multitudes, an accurate reflection of the new political order Octavian is ushering in, replacing the multiple personality cults of his Egyptian rivals with a single one of his own. The use of Dryden's translation is particularly astute, as the regularity of his rhyming couplets gives a sense of conformity & control to the passage, in contrast to the freer, more fluid blank verse of Shakespeare.
The music, of course, fills in the missing spaces, creating layers & connections of its own. At Girls of the Golden West I was initially a little surprised at how comparatively spare the music seemed. I had been used to each new score from Adams growing in complexity & lushness, so I needed to adjust my expectations (I'm not sure the approach worked that well in that piece, but the composer apparently felt the need, for whatever reason, for a change in direction). The music for Antony, full of quicksilver transformations, struck me as rich, & even grand, without being overtly, opulently, operatic. The "Roman" music tends to use more brass, & the "Egyptian" music more harps & some relatively unusual percussion, such as celesta & cimbalom, & it uses them without sounding inappropriately or unfashionably "Oriental"/exotic in sound. (After all, though the cultures & personalities are very different, it's not all contrast between the two: Rome & Egypt are both empires run by a few powerful individuals).
Some musical moments that struck me: Octavia, married to Antony & resident in Athens, is lamenting to him that she is caught between her brother & her husband & the tensions rising between them; as she sings her long, yearning lines, we hear, faintly beneath her, the Egyptian instrumentation: you can actually hear the distracted Marc Antony, longing to return to Cleopatra, not listening to her. I think repeated listening will reveal other connections & subtleties like this. In the Adams style, there are also quotations from others: in the scene in which Cleopatra interrogates the messenger who tells her Antony is now married, I heard in her initial reaction a splash of Baba the Turk's "Scorned! Abused!" from The Rake's Progress, which sets the right tone for this scene – strong, dramatic, intense, but also a bit overblown & faintly comic – particularly as the follow-up in which she quizzes him about Octavia, which gives an overtly comic edge to the entire scene, is not included in the libretto. There is also an extended use or adaptation of what sounded to me like the Rhine theme from Das Rheingold, which I believe occurs when Rome declares war on Egypt: evoking a new world, or at least a new empire, rising based on gold connected with the abundant flowing waters of a great river, gold ready to be taken, shaped, & misused for ends both creative & destructive.
There's a lot to ponder with this score, & in particular the final scene. One of the remarkable things about Shakespeare's play is that half of the titular couple dies at the end of Act IV, in a fairly messy way, leaving Cleopatra center stage in Act V for an extended, exalted farewell to life – given the heavy use of sexual slang in this act (die, come) & her elevation above mundane realities (reflected in her physical elevation on the stage, secured in her Monument), it is pretty much a Shakespearean Liebestod, & given Wagner's influence on Adams, I was expecting the ending to be treated that way. But it's not: I don't want to suggest that the music is a let-down, or not up to the tragic occasion; it continues to be complex & beautiful, but it doesn't soar the way the end of Tristan does, or even the end of Jenůfa. Again, listening to this new work meant adjusting what I was expecting. I was looking to the wrong operatic couple: the ending is more like that of Pelleas et Melisande (& in fact in his program note Adams cites the Debussy as a model for what he was trying to do in this opera).
So what's going on with the ending, besides my need to correct my expectations & listen to the work on its own terms? Part of it may be Adams's on-going resistance to the traditional trappings of Opera – although he must surely be considered at this point one of the most important living operatic composers, his works are, in style & substance, steadily resistant to, or subversive of, the traditionally operatic (some of this resistance may be why he insists on using amplification for the musicians, & yes, he uses it here as well). A resistance to the emotionally blatant – the operatic – may be part of this feeling. His works frequently lean towards the contemplative rather than the action-packed, closer to a Bach Passion than, say, Tosca (see, for example, The Death of Klinghoffer) & he does have a history of quieter, more meditative endings (see, for example, Act III of Nixon in China, after the coloratura fireworks that end Act II). Perhaps the Wagnerian key here is to be found not in Tristan but in the quotation from Rheingold: we've sat through an epic, but no matter how deeply moved we are, these characters will be swept from the stage, & the cycle starts all over again – in short, the lack of the expected musical soaring is an astute philosophical & political comment on the inevitable course of empires, as well as individual lives, however grand. I'm sure further exposure to this opera will lead to further contemplation; the dubious statement that familiarity breeds contempt is nowhere more convincingly refuted than in Operaland. (I will also admit that the long lock-down has left me unused to sitting for extended periods as well as to late hours; physical realities were making themselves known by the end of the three & a half hour running time, & those things also play a part in how spectators feel in the end.)
The production is mostly modern dress, except for the occasional cuirass or sword. I'm not wild about this, but it seems like a sensible solution to a staging problem: you can't count on people knowing how to read ancient outfits (would a purple toga convey status to contemporary audiences the way golden epaulettes do?) & attempts at putting suchlike on modern performers risks making them look uncomfortably & unaccountably draped in sheets & towels. The Romans are mostly in black & Antony's people mostly in white, which is perhaps a bit obvious (the Romans don't come off well here in general) but is also a helpful way to tell the two sides apart, especially if you're in the farther reaches of the opera house. Cleopatra is suitably glam in sparkly evening gowns. There's sort of a semi-contemporary look to the whole production: there are frequent projections conveying Rome or Egypt, but they're in black-&-white, showing buildings (in Rome, that is; Egypt's monuments were always ancient) that postdate, sometimes by centuries, the action of the opera. There are striking stage pictures, particularly a tableau of Antony & Cleopatra & their offspring posing as Osiris & Isis: lots of gold & sparkles.
The performers are all magnificent. It's no surprise at this point that Gerald Finley brings superb empathy & commitment to the aging, flailing, grand Antony, but Amina Edris as Cleopatra will be a revelation to many: in a role written for someone else (Julie Bullock, who withdrew a few months ago because of pregnancy) she gives a glorious, star-making performance as the mercurial queen, easily holding the stage at the end for her extended death scene. (She is also, unlike the historical Cleopatra, of Egyptian descent.) (There is a moment I could do without: when she first realizes Marc Antony is dead, the music stops & she screams; I've experienced effects like this before, & though Edris does it superbly, I find moments like these take me out of the opera. I have no idea if this is written in the score or was inserted by director or performer or what. [UPDATE: see the comments for the source of the scream.]) Paul Appleby provides equal weight as the sweet-faced, sweet-voiced, fanatically & frighteningly ambitious Octavian. The rest of the cast is also excellent: Taylor Raven as Charmian, Brenton Ryan as Eros, Alfred Walker as Enobarbus (he does get one of the work's few arias, a splendid setting of the famous description of Cleopatra floating down the river: "The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne. . . ."), Hadleigh Adams as Agrippa, Philip Skinner as Lepidus, Elizabeth DeShong as Octavia, Timothy Murray as Scarus, Gabrielle Beteag as Iras, & Patrick Blackwell as Maecenas. This was my first time hearing the orchestra led by new Music Director Eun Sun Kim, who did, to my ears, a masterful job of leading the large forces through a completely new & obviously complex score.
This is definitely an opera that deserves frequent hearings, & I hope a recording will be forthcoming – I guess I should work in a variant of "custom cannot stale [its] infinite variety" as I think appreciation for it will only deepen as it takes form in our minds.
(my first steps into the War Memorial Opera House in nearly three years)
September is the traditional performance-season kick-off, though increasingly things just go on year round. (The Opera & the Symphony have their official season openers this month but those are mostly social occasions & as such of minimal interest from my point of view.) Still, things seem to be heating up as the weather, we hope, cools down. The usual rules apply: check before you go for cancellations or postponements; be prepared to wear a mask inside the theater & to show proof of vaccination.
The Empire Strips Back: A Burlesque Parody is at the revived Great Star Theater in Chinatown through 2 October.
Oakland Theater Project presents The Crucible, Arthur Miller's Salem Witch Trial play, directed by Michael Socrates Moran, from 2 to 25 September.
Aurora Theater gives us the world premiere of This Much I Know by Jonathan Spector, directed by Josh Costello, a time-hopping piece about Lukesh, a psychology professor trying to solve a mystery involving his wife, Natalya; that runs from 2 September to 2 October.
Cal Shakes, in partnership with Oakland Theater Project, presents Lear, Marcus Gardley's modern verse adaptation of King Lear, co-directed by Eric Ting & Dawn Monique Williams, from 7 September to 2 October.
The national tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, which, as you might guess, is a musical based on the Baz Luhrmann film Moulin Rouge!, will be presented at the Orpheum Theater by Broadway SF from 8 September to 6 November. Their site describes the film as "revolutionary", & I am not sure what they mean by that. I saw the film when it came out in 2001 (so long ago that I actually went to a theater to watch it) & I walked out thinking "I have no idea what I thought of that." After several days I decided that it's so much the sort of thing I usually love (stylized, musical) that if I didn't love it, I must have disliked it. Part of the problem for me, aside from the overly simplified characterizations (the sneeringly villainous villains!) is the music, which is the great selling point for a lot of people, but it's just not stuff I know or respond to. Oddly the number I liked best, "Like a Virgin", was originally made famous by one of my least favorite performers ever, the puzzlingly over-rated Madonna. But I liked it because the film-makers did something with it – I still remember the old man in his nightgown dancing down the hall, gleefully singing those silly words. Anyway, as they say, YMMV on this.
Ray of Light Theater presents Kinky Boots, the Cyndi Lauper / Harvey Fierstein musical about a shoe company that discovers a profitable new path thanks to drag performers, at the Victoria Theater in San Francisco from 9 September to 1 October.
Berkeley Playhouse presents Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights from 9 September to 16 October.
Berkeley Rep presents the world premiere of The Ripple, the Wave That Carried Me Home by Christina Anderson, directed by Jackson Gay, about a daughter coming to grips with her parents' activism, specifically her father's work to integrate swimming pools, & that's from 9 September to 6 October.
At San Francisco Playhouse, Sondheim's Follies continues through 10 September, & then from 22 September to 5 November you can see Indecent, directed by Susi Damilano, a co-production with Yiddish Theatre Ensemble of Paula Vogel's recent examination of the events surrounding the 1923 New York City production of Sholem Asch's The God of Vengeance, which was shut down as obscene, mostly due to a lesbian love scene.
Broadway SF presents Aaron Sorkin's Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Bartlett Sher & starring Richard Thomas, from 13 September to 9 October at the Golden Gate Theater. I am possibly the only American who has never read the novel or seen the movie. It's always interesting to me to see what gaps there are for all of us – I mean, I've read a lot of novels & seen a lot of movies, but somehow this one never came up for me.
ACT gives us Passengers by The 7 Fingers & written, directed, & choreographed by Shana Carroll, exploring a group of strangers on a train as they head to their various destinations, & that's at the Geary Theater from 15 September to 9 October.
The New Conservatory Theater Center presents Aunt Jack, about a drag performer & his non-drag son & the rest of their families & lovers, written by Nora Brigid Monahan & directed by Jeffrey Hoffman, from 16 September to 16 October.
Man of God by Anna Ouyang Moench, directed by Michelle Talgarow, about four young women in a Christian mission in Southeast Asia discovering their leader is far from godly, opens at Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage on 3 September & runs through 2 October. As part of their Champagne Staged Reading Series, Shotgun presents Siren by Lisa VillaMil, directed by Cathleen Riddley, an Odyssey-alluding evening about a family dealing with loss, on 19 & 20 September.
42nd Street Moon presents a concert performance of the Tim Rice / Andrew Lloyd Webber Evita on 17 - 18 September at the Alcazar Theater in San Francisco & on 23 - 24 September at the Heritage Theater in Campbell.
Custom Made Theater presents Zac & Siah; or, Jesus in a Body Bag by Jeffrey Lo, directed by Adam L Sussman, in which the titular friends & followers of Jesus try to figure out what to do post-Crucifixion; the production, postponed from an earlier month due to COVID, will now start on 24 September & run through 16 October.
Ballet Master Alonzo King will be in conversation with Steve Kerr, Head Coach of the Warriors, on 16 September at the SF Jazz Center, discussing not only the parallels between dance and sport but also social justice, human rights, mindfulness, & self-care.
The big opera news this month is of course the opening of San Francisco Opera's centennial season; the Opera is wisely kicking things off not with an actual full-length opera, which only delays the parties for the Opening Night crowd, but with a special 90-minute concert on 9 September, featuring Music Director Eun Sun Kim leading Nadine Sierra, Michael Fabiano, Lucas Meacham, & Pene Pati in arias & excerpts from as-yet unidentified works; the next night is one of the biggest musical events of the year, the world premiere of the latest opera from John Adams, Antony & Cleopatra, based on Shakespeare's play, conducted by Kim, directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer, & featuring Amina Edris as Cleopatra, Gerald Finley as Mark Antony, & Paul Appleby as Caesar, & that's on 10, 15, 18, 23, 27 September & 2 & 5 October; Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin is up next, conducted by Vassilis Christopoulos & featuring Evgenia Muraveva as Tatyana, Gordon Bintner as Onegin, & Evan LeRoy Johnson as Lensky (all making their SF Opera debuts, as is the conductor, in Robert Carsen's production as revived by Peter McClintock), & you can experience it on 25 & 28 September & 1, 6, 9, 11, & 14 October.
The Wagner Society of Northern California will be screening a new documentary by Axel Brüggemann, Global Wagner, From Bayreuth to the World, examining the world-wide cult of Wagner, on 17 September at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco.
Chanticleer opens its season with Labyrinths, which will include music by Josquin des Prez, Trevor Weston, Steven Sametz, Tania León, & George Walker, & that's 20 September at First (Congregational) Church in Berkeley, 22 September at Mission Santa Clara, & 23 - 24 September at the Green Room in the War Memorial Complex in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Symphony kicks off its season with Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen & with the participation of actors from the African-American Shakespeare Company, on 23 September, but be warned that this is the "Opening Night Gala" & usually such events are not only much more expensive, with even worse audiences than usual, but artistically thin, though perhaps one of Salonen's innovations at the Symphony will be to buck that trend. Opening Gala out of the way, the Symphony & Salonen return on 24 September with Mozart's Overture to The Impresario, the SF Symphony premiere of Florence Price's Violin Concerto 2 (with soloist Randall Goosby), & Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra.
Then on 29 September & 1 - 2 October, Salonen leads the SF Symphony in an as-yet unnamed world premiere from Trevor Weston along with the Mahler 2, with soloists Golda Schultz (soprano) & Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano).
Music Director / Concertmaster Daniel Hope leads the New Century Chamber Orchestra in Berlin 1938: Broadcasts from a Vanishing Society, a multi-media imaginary "radio play" featuring vocalists Thomas Hampson and Horst Maria Merz that explores a threatening time & place through music from Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Hanns Eisler, & others; that's 16 - 18 September at the Presidio Theater in San Francisco.
On 24 September at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Edwin Outwater conducts the SFCM Orchestra in the Mahler 3, featuring mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the San Francisco Boys Chorus, & the SFCM Conservatory Chorus.
At the Center for New Music on 24 September, the Opus Project presents Opus 95, which is, as you might guess, the Opus 95 works by composers ranging from the baroque to our contemporaries, including Buxtehude, Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Wilhelm Taubert, Alexandre Dubuque. Brahms, Dvořák, Fauré, Ignaz Brull, René Lenormand, Benjamin Godard, Luise Greger, Stravinsky, Poulenc, Mark Alburger, Cyril Plante. & Roberto Novegno, "with a couple of other pieces thrown in, because we like them!" (This program was rescheduled from 9 July.)
Cal Performances presents the Dover Quartet at Hertz Hall on 25 September, where they will perform works by Haydn, Amy Beach, & Mendelssohn.
Old First Concerts presents the Ives Collective on 25 September, performing works by Missy Mazzoli, Germaine Tailleferre, & Amy Beach.
Early / Baroque Music
On 25 September the Cantata Collective resumes its series of free concerts exploring Bach's cantatas at Saint Mary Magdalen's in Berkeley with Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn BWV 23 & Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 33, featuring soloists Jennifer Paulino (soprano), Christine Brandes (alto), Derek Chester (tenor), & Harrison Hintzsche (bass).
The San Francisco Early Music Society presents Brooklyn's Alkemie with the "other side of courtly love", through medieval French songs from "a female or non-gendered poetic perspective", including works by Gilles de Binchois, Gualterius Libert, & "the ever-intriguing Anonymous", as well as readings from Christine de Pizan, & that's 30 September at First Presbyterian in Palo Alto, 1 October at First (Congregational) Church in Berkeley, & 2 October at Saint Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.
Modern / Contemporary Music
The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble starts its 30th season with Up Next! Exuberance & Brilliance from Young Composers, featuring the world premiere of Canon Cadenza Cadence Cluster by Sky Macklay. Things You Don't Yet Know You Feel by Sarah Westwood (the 2020 Left Coast Chamber Ensemble Composition Contest Winner), Lickety Split by Carlos Simon, & the Piano Quartet 1 in G minor, Opus 25, a youthful work by Brahms; & you can hear the program on 18 September at the Hillside Club in Berkeley & 19 September at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
On 18 September at Old First Concerts, pianist Lynn Schugren performs Treasures from the Mother Lode, featuring world premieres from Mark Vance, Dennis Lauderdale, & Durwynne Hseieh (all of them from the Sierra Nevada), along with Terry Riley's Heaven Ladder book 7.
On 22 September at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, the SF Jazz Center presents Chucho Valdés with a new, three-movement suite, La Creación, telling the creation story according to La Regla de Ocha, the Afro-Cuban religion also known as Santería; the performance features pianist Valdés himself, along with the Yoruban Orchestra, MONK'estra, & Music Directors Hilario Durán & John Beasley.
Le Vent du Nord, a group from Quebec featuring accordion, guitar, fiddle, & hurdy-gurdy, visits Freight & Salvage on 25 September to play tunes traditional & original.
See also the world premiere of the newest John Adams opera, Antony & Cleopatra, at San Francisco Opera (under Operatic).
The Mike Greensill Trio makes its annual Labor Day appearance at Old First Concerts on 4 September, performing a mix of original music & selections from the trove of the Great American Songbook.
Paula West sings at the Museum of the African Diaspora (presented by MOAD along with the SF Jazz Center) on 7 September.
Leyla McCalla, a cellist, banjoist, singer, & guitarist formerly with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, comes to the SF Jazz Center from 8 to 11 September with songs of social struggle & protest from her new album, Breaking The Thermometer.
Pianist Brad Mehldau performs 19 - 20 September at Herbst Theater (presented by SF Jazz; these concerts are rescheduled from last February).
Joshua Redman's Moodswing Quartet (Redman on tenor saxophone, Brad Mehldau on piano, Christian McBride on bass, & Brian Blade on drums) performs at the SF Jazz Center on 23 September.
Brass trio The Sticklerphonics (Scott Amendola, Raffi Garabedian, & Danny Lubin-Laden) perform at SF Jazz on 29 - 30 September.
On 29 September, the Chapel Trio (tenor saxophonist & flutist Charles Lloyd, with Thomas Morgan on bass & a guitarist TBD) perform at the SF Jazz Center.
The Full series at BAM/PFA, programmed by Sean Carson, offers a program postponed from May 2020: Touch Bass, a collaboration between choreographer Risa Jaroslow & bassist/composer Lisa Mezzacappa, featuring three dancers, three bassists, and three double basses, on 10 - 11 September with a free open rehearsal on 8 September.
The World Ballet Series, which I'm not familiar with, presents Swan Lake, which I am familiar with, on 18 September at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater; all the website says is that it "will be performed live by a multinational cast of 50 professional ballet dancers".
Miami City Ballet comes to Cal Performances (specifically, Zellerbach Hall) on 23 - 25 September with Balanchine's Jewels, accompanied by the Berkeley Symphony, which will be led by Gary Sheldon.
Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy, instead of closing in early September, will now run through 27 November, & even if the thought of fashion leaves you cold, this fantastical, sumptuous show is worth the trek out to the Legion of Honor.
BAM/PFA presents Undoing Time: Art and Histories of Incarceration from 3 September through 18 December.
You can celebrate Pier Paolo Pasolini's 100th birthday at the Castro Theater on 10 September with a viewing of Abel Ferrara’s biopic, starring Willem Dafoe as Pasolini, followed by four films from the master himself: Accattone, Mamma Roma, Medea (featuring Callas, but in a non-singing role), & his attack on fascism, the famous/infamous Salò; or, the 120 days of Sodom.
The Pacific Film Archive portion of BAM/PFA kicks off several film series this month: the African Film Festival starts on 7 September with Neptune Frost & runs through 29 October; that date & film are also the start for the Alternative Visions series, which runs through 30 November; Undoing Time: Cinema and Histories of Incarceration, running in conjunction with the similarly named exhibit at the museum, starts 8 September with Rabbit in the Moon; Elaine May: Age of Irony explores her work as a film director, beginning with Mikey & Nicky on 9 September & concluding on 30 September with the notorious Ishtar, which I saw when it came out & which I remember as being unjustly maligned; & on 24 -25 September, Cambodian film-maker Rithy Panh, whose work explores the Cambodian genocide & the lasting effects of war, will appear in person, presenting two of his recent films (The Missing Picture on the 24th & Irradiated on the 25th).
period, question mark, & apostrophe, from Parenthetically Speaking (It's Just a Matter of Speech)?, blown-glass sculptures by Mildred Howard, seen as part of the special exhibit The Artist’s Eye: Tammy Rae Carland, David Huffman, Lava Thomas, John Zurier at the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive
As in the Before Time, August is a light month for performances, possibly the lightest, as groups gear up for the fall season. The usual caveats apply: check for cancellations, check the venue COVID requirements, be prepared to mask & show proof of vaccinations & boosters.
Berkeley Rep offers the world premiere of Goddess, a new musical conceived & directed by Saheem Ali, with music & lyrics by Michael Thurber & book by Jocelyn Bioh (with additional material by Mkhululi Z Mabija), telling the tale of a young man returning to Kenya to marry his fiancée & take his place in his politically powerful family until he visits an afro-jazz club & things go awry, & that's 13 August to 25 September.
Broadway SF presents the national touring company of the recent Broadway production of Oklahoma! at the Golden Gate Theater from 16 August to 11 September, & they promise that the classic show is intact but re-visioned, which sounds interesting.
At the SF Jazz Center on 6 - 7 August, Terence Blanchard will lead his Terence Blanchard E-Collective (Blanchard on trumpet, Charles Altura on guitar, Taylor Eigsti on piano & keyboards, David Ginyard on bass, & Oscar Seaton on drums), the Turtle Island Quartet (David Balakirshnan & Gabe Terracciano on violin, Benjamin von Gutzeit on viola, & a player to be named later on cello), along with as-yet unlisted singers, in music from his much-praised recent opera, Fire Shut Up in My Bones.
San Francisco Opera's Merola program presents The Magic Flute, conducted by Kelly Kuo & directed by Gina Lapinski, on 4 & 6 August at the Yerba Buena Center; the Merola Grand Finale, conducted by Patrick Furrer & directed by Matthew J Schulz, will take place at the Opera House on 20 August.
West Edge Opera continues its annual festival, with August performances of Handel's Giulio Cesare on 4 August, Dukas's Ariane et Barbe-Bleu on 6 August, & Mark-Anthony Turnage's Coraline on 5 & 7 August.
The Lamplighters present Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe, conducted by David Drummond & directed by Nicolas Aliaga Garcia, on 6 - 7 August at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 13 - 14 August at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, & 21 - 22 August at the Bankhead Theater at the Livermore Performing Arts Center.
The Golden Gate Men's Chorus under guest music director Zane Fiala celebrates The Voice of America in words & music by, among others, Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, & Sara Teasdale (words) & David Conte, Elliott Carter, & Rollo Dilworth (music), & that's 27 - 28 August at Saint Matthew's Lutheran in San Francisco (near Mission Dolores).
SF Jazz offers Sing, Sing, Sing, a week built around vocalists: on 4 - 5 August, there's singer-songwriter Nellie McKay with music spanning her career; on 6 August, Sandy Cressman performs a tribute to Brazil's Milton Nascimento; & on 7 August, Chilean singer-composer Claudia Acuña performs music from her new album, Turning Pages.
Cal Performances presents Gustavo Dudamel & the Encuentros Orchestra, along with members of YOLA (the Youth Orchestra of Los Angels) & special guest esperanza spalding, at the Greek Theater on 4 August, when they will perform the Bay Area premiere of a new work by Giancarlo Castro D'Addona, a song set by Spalding, & the Dvořák 9, From the New World.
The San Francisco Choral Society, led by Bob Geary, joins with the California Chamber Symphony at Davies Hall on 19 August for the Verdi Requiem, with Bryan Baker conducting & soloists Clarissa Lyons (soprano), Buffy Baggott (mezzo-soprano), Christopher Bengochea (tenor), & Eugene Brancoveanu (bass).
The Greek Chamber Music Project (Ellie Falaris Ganelin, flute; Kyle Bruckmann, oboe; Ariel Wang, violin; Lewis Patzner, cello; Costas Dafnis, ghostplate (which is a metallic instrument that Dafnis built & designed along with Tom Nunn)) will appear at Old First Concerts on 28 August with Music & Myth: Tales of Ancient Robots, featuring Talos Dreams, commissioned by the Project from Dafnis, exploring the line between human & human-made through the myth of the automaton Talos, as well as excerpts from Medea: Rebirth and Destruction, composed collectively by students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, & Greek Dances by Thanos Ermilios.
Arjun K Verma on sitar & Nilan Chaudhuri on tabla play music from the North Indian tradition at Old First Concerts on 5 August.
On 7 August, Old First Concerts presents Vishnu R on navtar (a stringed instrument of his own invention), performing works by South Indian composers including Thyagarja & Purandara Dasa as well as contemporary masters such John McLaughlin, Al di Meola, & Vishnu R himself.
The San Francisco International Piano Festival returns 18 - 28 August for its fifth anniversary season. I am listing the in-person performances only, but there are also lots of on-line events & you can check out the whole schedule here:
18 August: Opening Night will be at the Noe Valley Ministry in San Francisco, & is a celebration of the tricentennial of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, & the bicentennial of César Franck; Dr Sharon Mann will speak about Bach & Rachel Breen & Jeffrey LaDeur (the Festival's Artistic Director) will perform selected Preludes & Fugues from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier along with Franck's Prelude, Choral et Fugue & the world premiere of Kurt Erickson's Seventeen Minutes and Twenty-Two Seconds, a piece that takes off from the C Major Prelude and Fugue in jazz-inspired directions;
20 August: at the Maybeck Studio in Berkeley, the Aveta Trio (Sarah Yuan, piano; Eunseo Oh, violin; & Elliott Kim, cello) will play the 1891 version of the Brahms Trio in B major, Opus 8, & Parker Van Ostrand will play the Liszt B Minor Sonata;
21 August: at Old First Concerts, Rachel Breen will perform John Bull's Fantasia on Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, selections from Scriabin's Preludes Opus11 & Opus16, Nikolai Medtner's Sonata Opus 22 in G Minor, Schumann's Arabeske, & Beethoven's Sonata in C Minor, Opus 111;
22 August: at the Noe Valley Ministry, Jeffrey LaDeur will offer a master class; the program includes Beethoven's Apassionata played by Jacob Rockower & Chopin's Ballade in F Minor Opus 52 played by Ziyue Amy Zeng;
24 August: at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, composer Elinor Armer, pianists Lois Brandwynne & Jeffrey LaDeur will engage in a musical conversation, featuring performances of Armer's 3 Songs on the poetry of Ursula Le Guin (with mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich) & Promptu as well as the Schubert Impromptu in G-Flat Major;
25 August: at Old First Concerts we have another master class, this one featuring Bobby Mitchell, with a program including Liszt's Sonetto 123 del Petrarca played by Rebecca Tseng & Dutilleux's Choral et Variations from Piano Sonata played by Sarah Yuan;
26 August: at Old First Concerts you can hear the west coast debut of Czech pianist Jan Bartoš, in a program of music from his native land, featuring Janáček's Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 & his In the Mists, along with Miloslav Kabelác's 8 Preludes & Smetana's Dreams;
27 August: at Old Saint Mary's in San Francisco, Jan Bartoš will conduct a master class, featuring performances of selections from Schumann's Faschingsschwank aus Wien played by Karina Tseng & a work to be announced played by Solomon Ge;
27 August: at Old First Concerts, Bobby Mitchell will perform early & late Schumann, including Gesänge der Frühe, Impromptus Opus 5, Intermezzi Opus 4, & Waldszenen.
28 August: at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Festival closes with a celebration of Bach's continuing influence, including pianists Jeffrey LaDeur, Parker Van Ostrand, & Tammy Lynn Hall as well as the Telegraph Quartet performing selected Preludes & Fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, the IV: Introduzione: Fuga from Beethoven's Hammerklavier, the Quintet for Piano and Strings in G Minor Opus 57 by Shostakovich, selections from The Well-Tempered Lennon & McCartney by Tom Sivak, & Bach-inspired tunes by Nina Simone/Tammy L Hall to be announced from the stage.
Modern / Contemporary Music
Pamela Z performs at the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive on 11 August as part of Sarah Cahill's Full series.
On 4 - 5 August at the SF Jazz Center, Terence Blanchard, along with his E-Collective & the Turtle Island Quartet, will perform music from his recent album Absence, inspired by the music & legacy of Wayne Shorter (see also above under Operatic for Blanchard's appearance with music from his opera Fire Shut Up In My Bones).
Herb Alpert, along with singer Lani Hall, appears at the SF Jazz Center from 11 to 14 August.
Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs, which promises, or threatens, a multi-media immersive experience as well as an optional virtual-reality bit at additional expense – there are also actual items from ancient Egypt – opens at the de Young on 20 August & runs until 12 February 2023.
Undoing Time: Art and Histories of Incarceration opens at the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive on 27 August & runs through 18 December.
detail of Musicians in the Orchestra (Portrait of Désiré Dihau) by Edgar Degas, now in the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
The usual pandemic warnings apply, once again: check for cancellations or postponements, along with vaccine & masking requirements – the latter seem to be shifting daily, so be sure to consider not only what is required but how comfortable you are with it – some people are fine with masks being recommended but not required, others very much are not, so know before you go. It's unfortunate that social distancing is, for obvious reasons, not even mentioned these days by most performing arts groups, but it might also be useful to keep in mind how quickly you can get away from any crowds (of course, that's always been a consideration for some of us).
As was the case in the Before Time, July is a fairly light month, though there's a surprising amount going on operatically, along with American Bach Soloists' annual summer festival, & some exciting art exhibits opening, so here we go:
Custom Made Theater presents José Rivera's References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot, directed by Katja Rivera, a magical-realist play about a woman waiting for her husband to return from war, from 1 to 24 July.
Berkeley Rep presents Sanctuary City, about the struggles of two DREAMers, written by Martyna Majok & directed by David Mendizábal, from 8 July to 14 August.
Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage present Dream Hou$e, written by Eliana Pipes & directed by Karina Gutiérrez, about two Latina sisters, their historic home, & a "reality" TV real-estate show, from 9 July to 7 August.
On 12 July at the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive, filmmaker Sini Anderson and author Michelle Tea host a 25th anniversary reunion showcase for queer feminist group Sister Spit, which will feature Lynn Breedlove, Nicole J Georges, Beth Lisick, Denne Michelle Norris, Kamala Puligandla, Brontez Purnell, & Vivek Shraya in a cabaret-style evening.
Michael Pollan will be "in conversation" with Lauren Schiller at City Arts & Lectures on 26 July.
You still have a few chances this month to catch the end of San Francisco Opera's season, as Don Giovanni plays on 2 July & Dream of the Red Chamber on 1 & 3 July, but after that SFO switches to summer mode, with the Merola Program kicking in on 9 July at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with a program put together by Craig Terry featuring the Merolini in selections from what is now usually called "the American Songbook"; then on 14 & 16 July, also at the Conservatory of Music, you can hear the Merolini in staged scenes (directed by Jose Maria Condemi & conducted by Jorge Parodi) from works by Latin American & Spanish composers, including Manuel de Falla & Daniél Catán.
On 6 July at the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco Céline Ricci, Artistic Director of Ars Minerva, joined by pianist Lindsay Rader & mezzo-sopranos Nikola Printz & Deborah Rosengaus Martinez, will preview their production of Leonardo Vinci's Astianatte, slated for this October; the presentation is free but registration is required.
Festival Opera in Walnut Creek presents Norma on 8 & 10 July at the Lesher Center for the Arts, conducted by Bryan Nies & directed by Mark Foehringer, with Shana Blake Hill in the title role.
Pocket Opera will present their version of La Traviata, conducted by Mary Chun & directed by Elly Lichenstein, with Michelle Drever as Violetta & Sergio González as Alfredo, on 10 July at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 17 July at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, & 24 July at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.
Opera Parallèle will become the first company to have staged all three of Philip Glass's Cocteau operas (in case you're wondering, the other two are Orphée & Les Enfants Terribles) when it presents La Belle et la Bête (conducted by Nicole Paiement & staged by Brian Staufenbiel, with soprano Vanessa Becerra as la Belle & baritone Hadleigh Adams as La Bête) at SF Jazz's Miner Auditorium on 14 - 17 July. On 29 June at the Academy SF there will be a panel discussion, A Tale as Old as Time: Exploring Queer History and Identity Through Beauty and the Beast, with moderator Michael "Mojo" Mohammed & panelists Dr. Ellie Zara Ley & baritone Hadleigh Adams; the discussion is free but registration is required.
West Edge Opera will hold its annual festival, this time at the Scottish Rite Center on Lake Merritt in Oakland (an easy walk from BART), where you can see Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto, conducted by Christine Brandes & directed by Mark Streshinsky, featuring counter-tenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen as Caesar & soprano Shawnette Sulker as Cleopatra, & that's on 23 & 31 July & 4 August; Dukas's Ariane et Barbe-Bleu, to Maeterlinck's libretto, conducted by Jonathan Khuner & directed by Alison Pogorelc, with mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier as Ariane & bass-baritone Philip Skinner as Bluebeard, & that's 24 & 29 July & 6 August; & the American premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Coraline, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, conducted by John Kennedy & directed by Tera Branham, with mezzo-soprano Kendra Broom in the title role, & that's 30 July & 5 & 7 August.
On 13 July at Davies Hall you can hear the San Francisco Symphony, along with the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus & the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, in a program called Final Words (nothing more specific has been announced yet), led by Dr. Timothy Seelig.
The Martha Redbone Roots Project appears at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley on 19 July.
On 28 July at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music you can hear the last of this year's Schwabacher Recital series, with baritone Sidney Outlaw & pianist Warren Jones delivering a program based on their album Lament (named after the Langston Hughes poem Lament for Dark Peoples), featuring composers Dorothy Rudd Moore, Robert Owens, & Harry T Burleigh.
The San Francisco Symphony presents An Evening with Bernadette Peters on 30 July.
On 7 July, Erina Yashima leads the San Francisco Symphony in Ramal by Kareem Roustom, the Lalo Cello Concerto with soloist Johannes Moser, & the Dvořák 8.
On 14 July, Paolo Bortolameolli leads the San Francisco Symphony in Copland's El Salón México, Kevin Puts's Contact: Concerto for Two Violins, Bass, and Orchestra (featuring Time for Three, which is Nicolas Kendall & Charles Yang on violin & Ranaan Meyer on double bass), the Overture to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss Jr & the Suite from Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss.
On 21 July Ludovic Morlot leads the San Francisco Symphony in Gabriella Smith's Tidalwave Kitchen, Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (with pianist Inon Barnatan), Gershwin's An American in Paris, & Ravel's Boléro.
At the Center for New Music on 9 July, the Opus Project presents Opus 95, which is, as you might guess, the Opus 95 works by composers ranging from the baroque to our contemporaries, including Buxtehude, Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Wilhelm Taubert, Alexandre Dubuque. Brahms, Dvořák, Fauré, Ignaz Brull, René Lenormand, Benjamin Godard, Luise Greger, Stravinsky, Poulenc, Mark Alburger, Cyril Plante. & Roberto Novegno, "with a couple of other pieces thrown in, because we like them!"
On 10 July, Old First Concerts presents violinist Kenneth Renshaw & pianist Elizabeth Dorman performing works by Bach, Fauré, Lili Boulanger, & Domenico Scarlatti.
Violinist Basma Edrees & pianist Ava Nazar play music by Reza Vali, Brahms, & Astor Piazzolla on 17 July at Old First Concerts.
Pianist Lee Alan Nolan plays music by Bruce C Bennett, Vera Ivanova, Scott Joplin, May Aufderheide, Irene Giblin, Scriabin, & Lubomyr Melnyk at Old First Concerts on 22 July.
Early / Baroque Music
Jeffrey Thomas leads the American Bach Soloists in their annual summer festival, held at Herbst Theater from 23 to 31 July; there are some social gatherings but the musical events are:
23 July: Flames of Love, featuring soprano Mary Wilson & the band, performing works by Handel, Telemann, Vivaldi, & Bach;
24 July: the Harmonic Labyrinth, again featuring Wilson & the band, this time performing Bach's Wedding Cantata & the Orchestra Suite 2, as well as works by Telemann & Locatelli;
26 July: Classical Genius, featuring chamber works by Mozart & Mendelssohn;
28 July: Bach & Jazz: "Blowin' the Blues Away!", featuring jazz re-visions of music by Bach;
29 July: Barococo, featuring the galant styles of High Baroque and Rococo music as exemplified by works from Handel, Rameau, Vivaldi, & Bach;
30 July: Belshazzar, Handel's great oratorio, featuring soloists Maya Kherani (soprano), Sarah Coit (mezzo-soprano), Eric Jurenas (countertenor), Matthew Hill (tenor) & Mischa Bouvier (bass-baritone);
31 July: Bach, Barges, and a Burlesque, featuring music by Handel, Bach, & Telemann.
Modern / Contemporary Music
On 13 July, as part of the Berkeley Art Museum's Full series (programmed by Sarah Cahill), Evan Ziporyn, performing on solo & multitracked clarinet & bass clarinet, will interpret works by Donald Fagen, Philip Glass, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Jaco Pastorius, & others.
Soprano Rose Hegele & pianist Sarah Cahill visit the Center for New Music on 16 July, where Hegele will perform I Awake & I Am, "a short recital of works for solo voice and voice and electronics", & Cahill will perform pieces that she has commissioned from Ursula Mamlok, Regina Harris Baiocchi, Maggi Payne, & Mary Watkins, as well as pieces by Lois V Vierk and Aida Shirazi.
Pink Martini appears with the San Francisco Symphony (conducted for the occasion by Edwin Outwater) on 28 July.
The Django Festival Allstars visit Freight & Salvage on 29 July.
The SF Jazz Center has several theme weeks this month:
Next up is the Pan-American Songbook, featuring the Afro-Cuban All Stars with Juan de Marcos from 21 to 24 July; Monsieur Periné on 20 July; Quique Escamilla on 21 July; the Villalobos Brothers from 22 to 23 July; & Los Cenzontles on 24 July.
& finally we have Blues Week, featuring Aki Kumar on 28 July; Tommy Castro & the Painkillers along with Joe Louis Walker on 28 July; Chris Cain on 29 July; Marcia Ball & CJ Chenier on 29 July; Terrie Odabi on 30 July; Elvin Bishop & Charlie Musselwhite on 30 July; Mimi Fox & Pamela Rose on 31 July; & Ruthie Foster on 31 July.
ODC/Dance presents A Summer Sampler from 28 to 30 July, featuring Brenda Way’s Unintended Consequences (A Meditation), Kimi Okada’s Two If By Sea, KT Nelson’s Going Solo (for ODC veteran Private Freeman), Amy Seiwert’s Veronica & Vincent, & Dexandro Montalvo’s Impulse.
Diego Rivera's America, focusing on the period from the 1920s to the mid-1940s, will have more than 150 of his paintings, frescoes, & drawings, as well as three galleries with large-scale film projections of his murals, & opens at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on 16 July, running through 2 January 2023.
Faith Ringgold: American People, promising the "most comprehensive exhibition to date of Faith Ringgold’s groundbreaking vision", opens 16 July at the de Young Museum & runs until 27 November.
The Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive hosts by Alison Knowles: A Retrospective (1960–2022), the first comprehensive exhibit of the still-active artist's work; it opens 20 July & runs until 12 February 2023.
The Oakland Museum of California opens Hella Feminist, made up of items from the museum's collections as well as newly commissioned art works, on 29 July.
The Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive presents Forever Kinuyo Tanaka beginning on 8 July; presenting not only six of the films Tanaka starred in, including some rarities, but the six films she directed, the latter in newly restored prints.
Starting July 29 at the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive, you can see From the Front Page to the Front Lines: The Essential Sam Fuller, featuring many of the director's most celebrated films.