A Blythe Hour

I had the privilege of catching an hour or so of mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe's masterclass at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music yesterday in between meetings and deadlines. Not only is Blythe one of the most versatile and stunning singers of today, but it also turns out that she's a wonderful pedagogue with a lovely sense of humor.I watched Blythe coach three of the Conservatory's young female singers. The two sopranos sang arias from Italian operas (Verdi's Rigoletto and Bellini's I Capuleti ed i Montecchi); the mezzo performed a … [Read more...]

Theatre Movies

As I walked out of the press screening of Richard Linklater's excellent new film about Orson Welles and the build-up to his landmark 1937 Mercury Theatre adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar last night, it struck me that as engrossing as Linklater's film is -- and it is indeed worth seeing for the quality of the performances, the slick storytelling and the shabbily endearing 1930s New York aesthetic -- in one respect it's just like pretty much all of the films that are made these days about the world of the stage: It paints it in a twee … [Read more...]

Oil and Water

There's been a vogue in recent years of opera composers attempting to blend western and eastern musical and performance styles in operas. One element which a lot of these operas have in common is a tension between achieving a perfect mix between vastly different cultural traditions while at the same time demonstrating how little they have in common. That the oil and water effect is ultimately the aspect of these operas that remains most powerfully in the memory after the opera is finished is telling.Stewart Wallace's 2008 opera The Bonesetter's … [Read more...]

Shameless Self-Publicity On A Friday Morning

The new vocal music media project, VoiceBox, which I host and produce, is ramping up for a January 1 launch on public radio station KALW 91.7 FM. The weekly series, which explores the art of singing and the best of the vocal music scene from the Bay Area and beyond, will also launch as a podcast and web portal.At the moment, I'm in the throes of fund-raising for the project. VoiceBox is a fiscally-sponsored project of the media incubator Independent Arts & Media. So all donations to the cause -- which are gratefully accepted and easy to … [Read more...]

A Little Something Extra

Although I didn't realize it until intermission when artistic director Patrick Dooley made an announcement, I witnessed a small but significant historical occasion at the Berkeley theatre company Shotgun Players last night: For the first time in its history, the company added a Wednesday night performance. Shows now play from Wednesday to Sunday, instead of Thursday to Sunday.This doesn't sound like a big deal: Companies often extend their runs around here. But one rarely hears about theatre organizations adding extra weekly performances … [Read more...]

Wanted: Great New Recital Hall for San Francisco

People who go to recitals around the Bay Area tend to spend a lot of time complaining about the Herbst Theatre. The 928-seater hall (pictured left) has a noble history and is lovely to look at. It was the site of the signing of the United Nations Charter on June 26, 1945. Originally designed as the Veterans Auditorium, the theatre was refurbished and renamed Herbst Theatre in 1977. Eight large beaux-arts murals, created by Frank Brangwyn for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, adorn the walls while overhead five chandeliers hang … [Read more...]

I’m Joining The Glee Club

It flummoxes and somewhat heartens me that Fox can be such a reactionary media network (at least from a news and commentary perspective) yet still manages to produce some amazingly progressive and engaging programming. My latest obsession is the new fictional comedy series Glee, which follows the fortunes of a bunch of misfit high school students and their teacher as they struggle to take the school's all-singin', all-dancin' glee club to the top.The pilot and first two episodes of the show have all been snappily written. The performances are … [Read more...]

You Say Tomayto, I say Tomahto

What happens when a choral ensemble from one country attempts to sing the music of another tradition? Sometimes being an outsider brings a whole new perspective on the culture of a different place and fireworks ensue. Sometimes the effort, though well-intentioned, results in a complete misfire.I experienced both of these outcomes over the weekend at a pair of choral concerts by two fine choirs, The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge from the UK and the Bay Area's Clerestory ensemble. Both groups feature terrific singers and perform a fairly … [Read more...]

China’s Great Wall: The Forgotten Story

The initial feeling that hit me when I walked into the 3A Gallery in the South Park neighborhood of San Francisco, was how picture postcardy the first massive image I came across in Oakland photographer Jonathan Ball's Great Wall of China exhibition looked to my untrained eyes.The panoramic photograph in question depicts a verdant, bumpy landscape of peaks and valleys with the famous wall snaking its way across the terrain. It's obviously a beautifully-composed picture, but there's nothing particularly unusual about it. I've never been to China … [Read more...]

Tony Taccone’s Skinny Red Tie

Berkeley isn't known for its fashion prowess. Most of the residents of this sunny, west coast university town schlump about in ill-fitting jeans or baggy shorts, flip-flops and old T-shirts. To dress up in Berkeley is to put on a hoodie.Last night was therefore completely out of the ordinary, as hundreds of people rocked up to Berkeley Repertory Theatre dressed to the elevens (forget the nines and even tens) for opening night of the world premiere of American Idiot, a new rock musical directed by Michael Mayer based on the songs of punk band … [Read more...]

Tongue-Tied

Every few months, myself, another Bay Area theatre critic, two directors, an actor and a producer get together to host what we call a "theatre salon" -- an evening involving anything between 12 and 50 people, food, wine and conversation about a specific topic to do with the performing arts. Past themes have included the San Francisco Fringe Festival, theatre-makers' relationship with audiences and theatre and the (ailing) economy.This time around we decided to spend an evening with a smallish group of colleagues (some new to the salon concept … [Read more...]

Pleasantly Surprised

Following the debacle that was the San Francisco Fringe "Sneak Peek" preview soiree a few weeks ago, I didn't have high hopes for my day of Fringeing on Sunday. I had six shows on my schedule starting at 1pm. I figured that the only way I could get through it all was to medicate heavily between each performance.So I was unimaginably thrilled to discover that not only did I not need booze to soften each theatrical blow, but that this was probably the best day of Fringeing I've experienced to date.I didn't manage to get to all six shows -- … [Read more...]