November 30, 2009
So here we go: nice job Mr. Gockley!
Gosh, that wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Below are links to my original posts on the operas, listed in order of my preference, best to worst:
Il Trovatore: An all-star cast, including the incredible Sondra Radvanovsky, made this the most satisfying Verdi opera on the War Memorial Stage since the Swenson/Hvorostovsky/Villazon Traviata a few seasons back. The sets were great. I saw it twice and could have easily seen it a third time.
La Fille du Regiment: This production made me realize I actually do like Donizetti- at least when he's done well- and this was a close runner-up for first place. Diana Damrau was simply superb and Juan Diego Florez was terrific. Pelly's production was a zany joy, resulting in one of the most enjoyable evenings spent in the house in recent years. I wish I'd seen it more than once.
Salome: Nadja Michael's voice and Luisotti's conducting of Strauss were not to everyone's taste, but I found Michael's portrayal to be one the most mesmerizing performances I've ever seen on any stage. I saw it twice, including the night when Molly Fillmore replaced Micheal.
Il Trittico: For many, this should be in the number one slot but I'm putting it at number four because while it was very good: A) Patricia Racette isn't Radvanovsky or Damrau in the vocal department, B) the staging for Suor Angelica was kind of dumb, C) having seen the fantastic production LA Opera put on last season, this one just couldn't compare to it on any level. I'll give Racette her due for pulling off all three roles and making it look easy, but there were three fantastic productions in this season- this one was only very good. Still- that's not a complaint.
Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio): Not prime Mozart, nothing really to get excited about. Mary Dunleavy was not her usual stellar self and the production just kind of rolled along in an amusing, slight way. Not bad, but really not good. Mozart-lovers (of which I am not one) probably liked it a lot more than I did. Once was certainly enough.
Otello: Sadly, my personal favorite among the six on the fall schedule was the most abused. This kind of disappointment was what I expected the entire season to look and sound like so I can't be too bitter about it and thankfully it only happened once. Unfortunately it had to happen to one of Verdi's greatest works. On the upside, this was the first time Luisotti truly impressed me as a conductor. I saw it twice- one time too many.
Overall, it was a fall season of surprising quality and delivered at least three or four performances people will be discussing and referencing for a long time. As one of Gockley's more vocal critics, I'll happily give the man kudos for pulling off a season that I thought was going to be terrible and as it turns out it was the best of his tenure so far. We'll see what summer brings, but for now, while one can safely say SFO is no longer as interesting as it used to be as far as programming goes, one can also say that on most nights what ends up on the stage is quality and worth attending.
The album cover took my breath away. In terms of visual stimulation, I'd say it was second only to seeing a naked girl for the first time, which happened just a few months earlier at summer camp. I had no idea what to do with her at the time, and a knock on the dressing room door from a camp counselor stopped me cold from trying to figure it out any further. But this, and all the excitement it promised, could be all mine for $3.66 and I could play with it all afternoon, or at least until my mom came home from work and told me to turn it down. I bought it and went home, feeling like I had just purchased some truly illicit pleasure. I ripped off the cellophane wrapper and unfolded the double album. Inside there were notes from each member of the band- as if they were writing directly to me. I pulled the vinyl record from the left sleeve and put it on the turntable. A huge swell of cheers and applause came out of the speakers and some dude screamed "YOU WANTED THE BEST AND YOU GOT THE BEST! THE HOTTEST BAND IN THE LAND, KISS!"
I had no idea who this guy was, but I believed him, and when the band launched into "Deuce," with its opening line "Get up! And get your grandma outta here," I was pretty much a goner. By the time I heard the machine gun riff of "Parasite" I was hooked. This was the most cathartic music I had ever heard in my life, even if I had no idea what most of the songs were about. The noise, the chunky metal/glam three chord progressions and the easily memorized refrains just melted into my ears.
It was an infatuation that only lasted a couple of years at the most but for me but it left a deep imprint and paved the way for me to become susceptible to the pleasures of opera some twenty years later via a very circuitous musical path. It didn't take me long to graduate from KISS to Black Sabbath and AC/DC and from there to Devo and the Clash, eventually taking a long detour through the P-Funk universe that led me to Run-DMC and early hip-hop, blues, jazz, afrobeat, Dead Can Dance and finally to classical and opera. Yet there was always something about those early KISS albums that held sway over me. It was a musical/ cultural talisman I was never able to entirely erase from my mind, no matter how many thousands of moments, images and songs have entered my head since that fateful afternoon spent alone in my bedroom with the first Alive! album.
Last year, during the end of American Idol, when Adam Lambert performed with KISS, I realized all these years later that incredibly enough they still had the ability to excite my imagination. Yes, like many others, I was completely dismayed when Lambert launched into "Beth," the lamest KISS song ever (and the beginning of the end of my interest in them), but when Lambert and KISS launched into "Detroit Rock City," or whatever it was, I was once again 14 years old. Suddenly the legacy of these guys became crystal-clear to me. Though many disparaged them at the time, those four guys in the make-up and ridiculous costumes forever changed rock and roll in a way few people have. Don't believe that? Sorry- listen to Motley Crue, Van Halen , Judas Priest, Guns 'n' Roses and dozens of other bands for the proof.
When the KISS "Alive! 35" tour was announced, I knew I had to go, even though I remember scoffing at the idea of attending the same kind of anniversary tour ten years ago. This time I wanted to go. Had it really been 35 years? God, I felt old. Ancient, actually, and I knew this whole enterprise reeked of disappointment and the crass cashing-in on a band's history that Gene Simmons is somewhat famous for. On the other hand (detour here), Simmons unmasked NPR's Terri Gross for the fake that she is. Her interview with him was one of the most interesting public undoings of a reporter/interviewer I've ever experienced. I've never been able to listen to Terri Gross since. Simmons exposed her as a joke, though she endeavored to do just that to him. Simmons is smart, but he's also a smarmy opportunist.
So here we are in 2009, and KISS releases Sonic Boom, an album available only at Walmarts that have an accompanying KISS corner set up to sell all kinds of KISS Krap (anyone remember the KISS Coffin?) and announce the accompanying KISS ALIVE 35 tour. I swallow my skepticism and buy the tickets to the Oakland show- hoping against my inner instincts that as these guys approach AARP membership and recover from hip-replacement surgery they can still pull off a decent show. A show that will remind me why I ever cared in the first place.
And those old dirty bastards pulled it off- and then some. They were fantastic. They rocked it better than anyone could have ever expected from a bunch of codgers in ridiculous make-up and stupid-dumb outfits had any legitimate reason to. Granted, this isn't like seeing Patti Smith, Radiohead or the Stones on a good night, or Achim Freyer's interpretation of Wagner, but they delivered the goods for two solid hours and it was a cathartic experience in the most Aristotelian sense of the word.
The set we saw featured the following; Deuce, Strutter, Let Me Go Rock and Roll, Hotter Than Hell, Shock Me, Calling Doctor Love, Modern Day Delilah, Cold Gin, Parasite, Say Yeah, 100,000 Years, I Love it Loud, Black Diamond, Rock and Roll All Night, Shout It Out Loud, Lick It Up, Love Gun and Detroit Rock City.
But I'm a bit ahead of myself. I took three people with me, none of whom had ever seen KISS before and only one of whom (GG- a Detroit girl, bred in the bone), had what you might call a real interest in seeing the band. The other two, Fet Kuk, a middle-aged Swede who grew up on ABBA, and MG, who was born in the 8o's and whose favorite band is the Velvet Underground, were pretty much along for the ride based on my enthusiasm and pretty good (16th row floor) seats for what promised to be at least an entertaining novelty act. It pleased me to no end to look over at all three of them at multiple points during the show and see them eating it up with smiles on their faces and enjoying what can only be called a base rock and roll experience that rattles through the bones, no matter what you brought to it beforehand.
Before KISS took the stage, I roamed around the floor taking pictures of various people in KISS make-up. There were four generations of fans present, which was really different than 1976. What was considered dangerous and louche back then was now a family outing. That in itself was weird, but make of that what you will. I was particularly interested in the KISS make-up booth on the perimeter of the arena making little kids into their favorite KISS personages. There was one woman, probably younger than I, who had on a gold lame' jacket in full makeup toting her son around, also in full make-up, who looked to be about 9 or 10 years old. There was a couple whose picture I snapped who then instructed me to go forward a couple of rows so I could also snap their kids. It was an incredible vibe- much different than when I and my junior high school friends attended the show in 1976 with our two ounces of pot that cost us $20 which we smoked through the entire show.
And yet in a way it wasn't. Yes, there were some serious disconnects from the 70's, such as when Paul Stanley told the audience we should go to Walmart the next day to buy Sonic Boom, and the intro to "Cold Gin" was an admonishment not to drink and drive (where was this in the 70's???), but apart from those weird disconnects the band was able to resurrect the feeling that you were partaking of something communal.
Still, I haven't written about the show itself. So I'll get on with it. We completely skipped opening act Buckcherry, opting instead for over-priced beers at one of the bars. However, their version of Deep Purple's "Highway Star" sounded pretty interesting from the outside perimeter.
The lights went down at 9:00 pm sharp and a voice roared "OAKLAND, YOU WANTED THE BEST AND YOU GOT IT- THE HOTTEST BAND IN THE WORLD...KISS!" and of course the crowd went nuts. The band walks out onstage and tears into "Deuce." It's loud, it's like 1976, and when the flames erupt in columns from the rear of the stage we can feel the heat in the 16th row. Everyone is on their feet and they stay that way for the next two hours. The back of the stage is a huge video screen projecting close-ups of the band. This worked well for everyone but Simmons, whose aging, sweaty face is soon grotesque enough with out being blown up to twenty feet high.
The next tune is "Strutter" and I can tell this show is not going to disappoint- the energy level is extremely high and the band seems really into it, regardless of the fact that the entire top section of the arena is draped-off. They're playing it like they mean it- incredible when you think about how long they've been playing these songs. Next up is "Let Me Go Rock and Roll," a song I wouldn't have expected, at least that early in the set. "Hotter than Hell" follows. That's four tunes from the Alive! album off the bat and the audience is eating it up. The show itself is decidedly retro- it's very much like the seventies shows but with better electronics and lighting. The moves are the same, Simmons flicks his tongue constatnly (and he literally drools just as much, all caught on the jumbo tron behind the stage).
Thayer sings "Shock Me," a Frehley song from Love Gun, which gave him some room to shine on the guitar, but it was definitely the weakest song of the set. Thayer resurrected Frehley's firework-spewing-guitar bit, complete with shooting down some lights, and it looked real enough to those who never saw it before. From a fan's perspective, it would have been great to have Ace Frehley and Criss there, but their replacements played the roles and the parts to the extent that that really weren't missed (except for the drum solo in "100,00 Years"). "Shock Me" concluded with the slow riff that was originally attached to the end of "Black Diamond"- a weird change that actually worked in the context and spoke to the power of the riffs themselves.
"Cold Gin" featured the previously commented-on admonishment not to drink and drive, and Stanley again charms the crowd with a little pre-song banter about its origins. Still, going back to the 70's, this song was an invitation to get plastered. My, how things change. Next up comes "Parasite," which makes me crazy that they are actually playing this song. Always too cool and dirty to be a major hit, the riff and rhythm pack an enormous wallop. My second favorite moment of the show, and the point where I feel transported back to 1976 for the first time. I simply cannot stop grinning. This is exactly what I wanted.
"Say Yeah" off the new albums follows, generating little heat but they play it like it's off off Dresssed to Kill, and then it's into "100,00 Years," complete with drum solo which is the only moment I wish Criss was behind that kit. Next up is "I Like it Loud" which is really a mediocre song, but they launch into segue of The Who's "Baba O'Reilly" halfway through it and I'm blown away not only the balls these guys have, but at their ability to rock this to death. Kiss covering The Who- it was my favorite moment of the show.
The encore was four songs: Rock and Roll All Night, Shout It Out Loud, Lick It Up, Love Gun and Detroit Rock City. Look at those titles. Do I need to tell you the encore kicked ass? The confetti rained down on the audience, the jumbotron flashed pictures of album covers and fans in make-up. By the time it was all over we got the fire-breathing, we got the blood-spitting, Stanley flew over the audience to a mini-stage at the other end, the band rose thirty feet above the audience on risers, and to put it simply, KISS rocked.
***Please read the comments attached to this link- the 2nd one is from a longime KISS fan is a really great response to this post (the first one is from my sister).
All photos (except the album cover) by GG and John Marcher.
November 28, 2009
Unfortunately there wasn't much beautiful singing to go along with it, though Marco Vratogna's Iago was well-acted and he had a menacing enough air about him to be the only believable countenance onstage in a production that was pretty much "park and bark." His voice was fair enough, and the chorus did an admirable job. From there it's all pretty much a shipwreck.
I saw the production twice, on the evenings of the 21st and the 25th. Zvetelina Vassileva's Desdemona sounded much better during the earlier performance. At the latter, especially during the second half, her voice declined markedly into something that was not at all pleasing to hear. The gentlemen seated next to us actually let out soft boos when she came out for the curtain- something I don't ever recall hearing for a singer in this house (though there have been a few that may have merited them). She sounded much better during the previous performance, though she isn't a captivating performer and her characterization elicited little sympathy.
Johan Botha was really the production's largest problem in every sense of the word. Yes, the man has a strong and warm voice, but he cannot act and he cannot move. His singing is over-mannered. The one visual I'll take away and probably never forget was the was way he was constantly pulling his robe over his considerable girth- if this was meant to characterize anger, indignation, an emotion or state of mind, it didn't. It only drew one's attention to the man's late-Pavarotti-esque physique. He was utterly unconvincing and thus from the moment he hit the stage I hated this Moor with his 70s hair and ridiculous copper-tinged blackface. Otello is not really the most sympathetic of characters in a lot of ways, but the audience has to care about him because he is a man of honor. Here he is portrayed as an oafish figure being taken advantage of in the most tragic way. He's duped- and comes off as a man who could be with relative ease. Put out the light Johan ...and pick up the phone and call a personal trainer or an acting coach.
The sets, from the Chicago Lyric Opera, made no sense at all. A three-tiered house of some sort with two columns rising from the center of the floor to nowhere, they were floor-to-ceiling clutter, and when Otello hid behind the staircase he wasn't lit even when he was singing. The columns inexplicably remained in place during the one set change (where the house-like backdrop was hidden by white drapes) to Desdemona's bedroom. Someone please tell me why these columns were there at all. Someone? Anyone?
Adler Fellow Renee Tatum was fine as Iago's wife Emilia, Beau Gibson was a wooden Cassio and Daniel Montenegro was also fine as Roderigo. Eric Halfvarson's Lodovico was a curious presence, arriving too late in the night to really have much of an impact. As I mentioned, the chorus sounded clear and robust.
Skip this one.
Fela Kuti had few musical peers- James Brown, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Sinatra and Prince are among the handful that could be considered the man's equal. The founder of afrobeat, Fela took the music of his native Nigeria and cross-pollinated it with jazz and funk to create a heady stew of irresistible grooves. His songs often lasted up to thirty minutes over which he sang political lyrics that constantly landed him in deep trouble with the Nigerian government.
When you walk into the Eugene O'Neill theater the action is already well underway. Decorated to resemble the Shrine in 1978 (Kuti's club in Lagos, Nigeria) during the night of his final concert there, the band, Antibalas is already churning a groove and there are people dancing on the perimeter of the stage. The theater has the vibe of a party about to erupt- and soon enough the lights go down and it does. Various actors dance their way onto the stage, followed by the Sahr Ngaujah (one of two actors portraying Kuti). Ngaujah, from Sierra Leone, is a formidable and magnetic stage presence. It's hard to take your eyes off him, though there are many people onstage vying for your attention for the next two hours and forty-five minutes.
Although at moments it feels like more like a concert or a dance piece, this is serious musical theater. Fela! takes the audience through the evolution of Kuti's musical development, tracing out his influences from his native country to Sinatra to James Brown, while the band plays behind him. As the music changes, so does Fela's consciousness and his desire to effect a change against the Nigerian government and the multinational oil companies that run the country through the country's corrupted army. The first half of the show has the audience on their feet dancing along to Fela's classic grooves like "Everything Scatter," "Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense" and "I.T.T."
In the second half, as Fela's life is increasingly disrupted by continual harassment, arrests, and torture of him and those in his circle, the party spirit subsides and the show becomes a monument to the indefatigable spirit of the man and those around him. The music in the second part contains many of the darker hits, such "Sorrow, Tears and Blood," "Zombie" and "Coffin for Head of State," all of which still keep the audience entranced to the rhythm. The party becomes a provocation.
Throughout, there is an explosion of dancing coming across the stage and down the aisles. In real-life Kuti had some thirty-odd wives, here portrayed by nine or ten women who each bear a distinct and unique presence. It also needs to said that these women look nothing like the typical Broadway dancer- and that's a huge plus for the show. Jones's cast is perfectly comprised of people who possess major talent and are completely believable.
I discovered Fela's music in the 80's and had the good fortune to see him perform sometime in Los Angeles during that decade. It was a memorable show. The first album of his I bought was a 12" single titled "Black President" (on Capitol) and it had three songs that had over 40 minutes of music on it. It was the best $3.99 I ever spent on a piece of vinyl. As a fan, I was initially skeptical and had reservations about how this play would come across- would it try sanitize a man who definitely couldn't or shouldn't be? How could the music be performed up to the necessary standard, etc.? How could the essence of Fela be distilled into a Broadway show? This was a heady task and Jones and company have really succeeded in pulling this off beyond my most hopeful expectations. Kudos to the entire production for making this work so well.
Go see this play.
November 26, 2009
Against a wall of twenty-four squares that contain either people or video projections depending on the scene, the singers perform on the stage floor in front of the wall or on three catwalks above the stage. Ladders run up the center and sides. Acrobats walk up the wall, ballerinas dance and soldiers march backwards across the catwalk, parties erupt within the squares, an inferno appears from below. The technological aspects are stunning but it's really the creative vision that captivates the audience- and at every moment that vision works to convey the story and mood of the music. It's simply brilliant and the effect is similar to the incredible staging of Radiohead's 2008 summer tour.
The success of this is all the more impressive when one considers Berlioz's Faust was not conceived to be an opera. It just happens to work as one, since the composer made great use of select parts of Goethe's work and composed some gorgeous music to bring it to life. Faust has four parts and eight scenes.
In the first, Vargas, resembling Karl Marx in a ridiculous wig and beard, contemplates life experiences he's never going to have. During this part, soldiers (looking very much like wind-up toys) march with perfect precision backwards across the catwalk to the score's Hungarian March. Faust is about to kill himself out of despair when Mephistopheles appears with the offer to good to refuse. Vargas loses the Marx costume and the two attend a riotous, lustful party at a pub that looked to me like a great place to spend New Year's Eve (or the onset of the Apocalypse), which Faust grows weary of (being more the romantic sort than a party-person). They then venture off to the Elbe, where Mephistipholes entices Faust with a vision of Marguerite, which of course, since this is opera, or at least 19th century literature, Faust immediately falls in love with the idea of her. I fell in love the choreography and imagery of the Will o' the Wisps- one of the most gorgeous sequences I've ever seen on a stage anywhere.
November 22, 2009
Chereau's production (previously seen in European houses) is a masterstroke of understanding and explication. Using a huge cast that extends way beyond the singing roles to tell the story and illustrate the bleak, repetitive life of prisoners, he creates a an entirely self-contained universe on the stage. Prisoners are violent, express their all-too-human needs, seek companions and allies, bully each other, release sexual tension and try to maintain a sense of dignity and hope without having any reason to except that it's endemic to the human spirit. All of these expressive themes come through clearly and without ever descending into the expected, banal or trite.
When a torrent of debris and garbage suddenly fall onto the stage it's an indelible moment. Shocking in its force and message, totally disrupting to the mind. While the prisoners cleaned it all up I didn't even notice what they were doing until the floor was cleaned-it seemed the most natural response to a most unnatural occurrence- and in this manner Chereau really captures the spirit of Dostoevsky's work.
The cast is uniformly solid. Willard White (Gorianchikov) has one of the most unique voices and presences in opera today and his character, around which revolves what little of a story there is, is simultaneously pitiable and dignified. Eric Stokossa (Alyeya) takes what is usually a trouser role and invests it with a warmth that makes his interpretation inevitable. Future productions will have difficulty casting a woman in the role after his compelling performance. Kurt Streit (Skuratov), Stefan Margita (Morozov) and especially Peter Mattei (Shiskov) all sing and inhabit what are essentially thankless roles with deep understanding and force. Mattei has the largest role, or essentially the most substantial, and his voice was compelling through a long aria leading to the opera's denouement.
Salonen conducted with precision and clarity- the themes had a resounding urgency and the orchestra never overwhelmed the singers. Janacek's score, full of the darkest of his beloved folk melodies and perhaps his most searing, desparing passages, was in more than capable hands under his baton.
And yet here's the part that leaves me days afterward with a deep ambivalence about the production and unwilling to join in on the accolades being heaped upon it: Janacek's final opera is not as strong as the ones he wrote preceeding it and this production, for all its strengths, doesn't make the case that From the House of the Dead was something that has unjustifiably been missing from the Met stage (and many others) all of these years. Musically and thematically, it's an inversion of The Cunning Little Vixen, but it's not structured nearly as well.
Among the many elements that make Vixen perfect is the story and the music come full circle. From the House of the Dead is episodic and like many other episodic operas (or stories), sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, and the common factor for me in seeing them as a success is being able to establish a common thread within the material for the audience to take away. For me, it doesn't exist here beyond the most obvious expression of how much it sucks to be in a prison. This isn't helped by the fact that the opera has no balance in it as far as characters or stories coming to the fore and showing (not telling) the audience why they matter. White's Gorianchikov comes closest, but his early prominence in the work returns as a mere trickle at the end. All of this isn't to say that it wasn't a pleasure to be finally able to see this work performed, and by such capable hands, but they weren't able to make the opera into more than the flawed sum of its parts. My disappointment in the production stems from relishing all of the creative resources put into it, with all of the extra flourishes Chereau has added to the staging, the potential to overcome the weaknesses of the opera's plot could have been overcome, but from where I sat, they weren't.
November 13, 2009
Until then, the beasts will be prowling the jungle for the next ten days and you won't find them here.
November 8, 2009
My initial poll of friends who may have wanted to go all the way to London to see the show yielded no takers, but I had a hunch that these shows would be pretty awesome. The movie confirms that had they taken place, my hunch would have proven correct. The movie also shows Michael Jackson to be in far better shape than media reports would have had us believe at the time of his death and refute the rumours circulating prior to it that he was in no shape to actually pull these shows off.
Granted, who knows what went on in the editing room and how carefully the footage was chosen. Regardless, the film does show Jackson as involved, in shape physically and vocally, capable and very aware of the presentation he wanted to present. Add 20,000 fans to the mix and what was merely involving in the film would have become truly electric to experience in person.
It's not a concert film, but rather a document of a performer at a particular place in time. I would say the film bears testament that the performer himself is really one of handful about which you can honestly say "There never will be another like him or her." That's a short list. If you have any interest, it's well worth the time. It left me with a vague sadness that we'll never get to see what would have been the comeback of a lifetime.
November 7, 2009
Strangely, I had a mixed reaction to the performance. In the ten years I've been regularly attending SFS concerts I don't think I've ever heard this orchestra sound so warm- especially the violin section. The horns too, played with a resonance I've seldom experienced at this level. Carey Bell, principal clarinet, has been on a roll the past couple of seasons, turning in one remarkable, notable performance after another but last night, during the solo in the 2nd Symphony's final movement, he outdid himself. Bell gave the audience a solo that truly was something of exquisite beauty, leaving me with the impression that he must now be considered one of the orchestra's key players. It was unforgettable.
Yet for me, there were some things missing that would have made the entire evening a success despite many fine moments, many of which were truly exciting. During The Bells the chorus became a wall of sound that reached Spectoresque proportions. Soloists Frank Lopardo and Mikhail Petrenko sang their parts with passion, with Lopardo offering an especially nuanced performance which at times was overwhelmed by the orchestra. Petrenko has an obvious passion for the piece that was as readily evident as he listened as much as when he sang. Nuccia Focile on the other hand, seemed uncomfortable from the moment she took the stage until she left it, and she gave the same impression during her singing.
More so than many composers, Rachmaninoff lives or dies by the conductor at hand. Bychkov gave a reading that emphasized speed over beauty and and the result was that many of the more delicate moments in each piece disappeared under the weight of the orchestra churning at full speed. That's not to say that there weren't gorgeous moments in both works (it is Rachmaninoff, after all), just not as many as I for one, would have expected. Hence you get the mixed-bag reception from this particular listener.
I missed another opportunity to introduce myself to Josh Kosman, who was chatting the couple seated next to us. Oddly, the couple disappeared at intermission only to return after the 2nd to reclaim an umbrella and a coat left behind. Hey Josh, I didn't want to interrupt your conversation, but that was me looking for an opening in it. Mr. Vaz was also in attendance and I'm curious to know what he thought of the whole thing.
After the performance GG and I made our way over to Sauce, where the service for our dessert and drinks was excellent.
November 3, 2009
There's no real point to this post other than that I wanted to note there may not be much on this blog for the next couple of weeks and then there's going to be so much to write about I wonder how I'll actually get it all done.
Friday I'm going to the San Francisco Symphony for an all-Rachmaninoff program conducted by Simon Bychkov featuring the Second Symphony and The Bells. Talk about romantic overload, but I think this concert is going to be one of the highlights of the SFS's season. I'm going to ask a fellow blogger to accompany me because the romance will just have to wait another week, when MG and I go to New York. It will be the first time I've gone back since I went to see Cristo's Gates. I've really missed these annual trips and I'm pleased to have resurrected this tradition of seeing at least a couple of things a year at the Met.
We're going to see the LePage production of La Damnation of Faust with Borodina and her hubby, conducted by Conlon. I was actually a bit dismayed to see Idlar was part of the cast because in my one encounter with both of them, SFO's terrible production L'Italiana a few years back, I walked away thinking if he hadn't been in it Olga would have been as great in the role as she was when I saw her perform it at the Met some seven or so years ago. That's probably wrong and ridiculous, but once you formulate a prejudice they can be unreasonable things to let go of. Still I think it will be worthwhile and it will be MG's first Met experience, which I'm pleased to partake in.
The next night we are going to see what is likely to be the buzz production for the entire year. Almost every opera geek I know on the West Coast is making a trip all the way to the Met in November or December primarily to see Janacek's 100-minute opera From the House of the Dead. The highly-acclaimed Chereau production, originally done at the Aix-en-Provence festival and conducted by Salonen in his Met debut, is available on DVD but I haven't watched it. Instead I've been listening to the Mackerras recording to prepare for it. It sounds like The Cunning Little Vixen, but inverted, with that score's joy and naturalism replaced by equal amounts of despair and human frailty. It's mesmerizing and I have high hopes surrounding it. Kudos to Peter Gelb for bringing something special like this to the States that at one time would have made sense for SFO to stage but we no longer have that kind of opera company in this City.
Then MG and I are going Broadway-bound to see the Bill T. Jones directed Fela! about the life and music of the only musician who can be said to be an equal to James Brown: Nigeria's father of Afrofunk, Fela Kuti. We're seeing a preview because of the timing, but this too promises to be an evening of solid grooves and amazing dancing.
Friday we return home and the following night we are off to see Johan Botha in Verdi's Otello, conducted by Luisotti. If this production is any good (and there really is no possible way it can be worse than the last Otello to grace the War Memorial stage, which was Pamela Rosenberg's only admitted artistic regret), then I'm afraid I'll have to admit Mr. Gockley's plans for this season have been a resounding success despite my initial deep skepticism and ridicule. That's going to be a very untasty bit of crow to eat, but the play's the thing, and so far the Gock has had a winning fall season way beyond anyone's (except perhaps his own) expectations.
Sunday night is the other big event besides the Janacek opera: KISS's Alive! 35 tour rolls into the Oakland Arena. I was at the first Alive! tour when it hit LA in 1976 (yes, I know the math is off) and was present for the recording of Kiss Alive II at the LA Forum a couple of years later. That was my first concert and if you can't understand how someone goes from being a teenage KISS fan to an opera geek, well, my goal is to make you "get it" by the time it finally rains in November.