On Casting Non-Actors

Usually it's easy to tell when a film makes use of non-professional actors. The untrained actors are supposed to imbue a movie with a rough edginess, perhaps a greater sense of "the real" (whatever that means.) More often than not, though, the performances come across as wooden and self-conscious, as was the case with the recent movie Once, for instance.So I was quite surprised to emerge from a screening of the Golden Bear Award-winning Mongolian movie, Tuya's Marriage, at the weekend, to discover that I had been watching a cast of mainly … [Read more...]

On Preventing New Yorker Fatigue (and a bit about Anthony Lane)

A couple of years ago, I did something that few self-respecting persons with graduate degrees and aspirations to literary careers dare do in this country: I cancelled my subscription to the New Yorker.The reasons for cancelling were largely to do with a bad case of New Yorker Fatigue (NYF). The magazine's reporting style is so uniform that by the time I reached the Financial Page, I would frequently run out of steam. I didn't see much point in paying all that money for a publication that remained largely unread every week. And there was quite a … [Read more...]

Rotating Skyscrapers

An inspiring architectural news item caught my eye today. Architect David Fisher unveiled plans for the world's first rotating skyscraper. 70- and 80-storey buildings are in the planning stages of being built in Moscow and Dubai respectively.What's really exciting about these buildings is the combination of sublime aesthetics and energy savings. The skyscrapers will be powered by the sun and wind and continuously change shape as each floor rotates around a central axis driven by wind turbines, one between each floor.A demo video clip attached … [Read more...]

On Memorizing Plainchant

Question: How do singers memorize plainchant?Answer: Generally, they try to avoid it.Lacking melodies, rhythms or any of the typical "pointers" that musicians use to commit songs to memory, plainchant is one of the trickiest musical forms to learn off by heart.This issue has been on my mind a lot lately as I embark upon the process of memorizing Hildegard von Bingen's Ordo Virtutum, the oldest known musical drama of its kind in the western world, in preparation for a series of performances of the work with my early music ensemble, San Francisco … [Read more...]

Take Me Out To The Opera

Until last Friday night, when I attended San Francisco Opera's live simulcast of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor at AT&T Ballpark in San Francisco, I didn't realize that the baseball anthem "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" was something of a national anthem in this country.The song, which happens to be celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer, was cloned during intermission on Friday night, as c. 23,000 opera-goers joined together in singing SF Opera's spoof version:Take me out to the opera,Take me out with the crowd.Buy me seat at the … [Read more...]

Lunar Eclipse

I was going to devote today's blog entry to describing the fun I had at the weekend when I attended a simulcast of San Francisco Opera's Lucia di Lammermoor alongside 23,000 happy pinickers/opera-goers at the city's ballpark, and the brilliance of the partnership between SF Opera and the SF Giants in general.But woeful tidings concerning the announcement of the demise of Theatre de la Jeune Lune are forcing me to postpone my perky blog post for another day.The news that the seminal Minneapolis-based theatre company is shutting its doors … [Read more...]

Sports Writers Have The Edge

A few days ago, I blogged about an interesting experiment that's just been conducted by The Guardian newspaper in the UK. The publication asked its sports and arts critics to swap jobs for a day. The arts journalists were sent off to write about sports events, and the sports journalists reviewed various arts happenings.After reading the arts writers' impressions of cricket, soccer, darts and other sports events, I had mixed feelings about the point of The Guardian's exercise. Some of the writers did a good job of bringing their own perspective … [Read more...]

Summer in the City

There are many reasons why I'm excited to be sticking around the Bay Area this Summer, culture-wise. Here are just a few of them...1. American Bach Soloists' SummerFest -- what lovelier way to spend a summer evening than munching a gourmet picnic supper serenaded by some of the country's finest early music specialists?2. Thrillpeddlers' Theatre of the Ridiculous Festival -- San Francisco's own Grand Guignol stage company presents a weird and wonderful program of theatrical campery featuring Charles Busch's Theodora, She-Bitch of Byzantium and … [Read more...]

Trading Places

I've always been fascinated by the idea of what a specialist in one field can bring in terms of his or her perspective to another, completely unrelated sphere of expertise. A couple of years ago, I suggested to my then-editor at SF Weekly that the different arts critics at the paper might switch disciplines for one issue, to see how each of us would bring our specialty to bear upon a different subject. My editor didn't go for the idea at all. Shame really; I would have loved to write a theatrical restaurant review and read what my restaurant … [Read more...]

On Curtain Calls And Cocktails

I've long been campaigning for the appearance of more bars and cafes in performing arts spaces in the US. Seems to me that venues should be doing everything they can to get audiences and performers mingling and interacting and discussing the work and its connection to the world at large. One of the best ways of doing this is by giving people a congenial place to meet, eat and drink. Booze, of course, is the best lubricant for chat.I also think it's important for venue managers to let patrons bring drinks into the performance space. People … [Read more...]

The Sins Of Our Fathers

Prejudice is an insidious thing. Without even realizing that I'd been turned off the music of Wagner at a young age as a result of my father's vendetta against anyone popular opinion considered anti-semitic, I had decided I hated Wagner. I had made this decision, even though my only exposure to the composer during my formative years had been through playing Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg in my school orchestra at the age of 15.It was only when I was in New York a couple of years ago participating in the NEA/Columbia Journalism School's … [Read more...]

Six Orfeos

As a singer-in-training, I'm just beginning to squawk out my first aria from the operatic cannon. I'm tackling "Che Faro Senza Euridice?" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. The famous song is, of course, one of the most divinely beautiful and tragic arias I've ever heard, though you wouldn't necessarily know it from my mangled attempts to penetrate Gluck's underworld.Thankfully, my singing coach came up with the bright idea of pointing me to YouTube so I could hear some of the world's great mezzos and countertenors tackle the aria. I spent a very … [Read more...]