The Greatest Love Duets & Arias of Opera

What better time spent on this Valentine’s Day than to bathe in the gifts of the operatic canon. I’ve selected only one from a given composer (i.e. we know Puccini or Verdi alone could fill an ENTIRE list). I tried to balance obvious choices with some less so. Surprisingly, none from Mozart inspired inclusion here.

Some embody a new or even first love (such as the Louise and Rigoletto selections), others a more mature, spiritual love (such as Tristan und Isolde and Die Tote Stadt). I’ve included translation excerpts in a few instances, where the text is particularly purple and ripe. I hope you enjoy this collection.

And, by all means, share your favorites, or any I missed in the comments. it was a challenge to narrow down, as you can imagine. Admittedly, the offerings are much more lean in the baroque realm, and none from modern opera <sad trombone>. And, yes, it’s terribly heteronormative, but alas, if you’re like me, you can project all sorts of fantasies onto these stories too ;-P

So, draw up a warm bubble bath, light some candles, get a great view of the stars, hop in the sack, and push <PLAY!>…

Und du wirst mein Gebieter sein (duet)
Arabella (Richard Strauss)

Depuis le jour
Louise (Charpentier)

“Since the day I gave myself my destiny seems all flower-strewn. I think I’m dreaming under a fairy sky my soul still intoxicated by your first kiss! What a beautiful life! My dream wasn’t a dream! / Oh! I’m so happy! Love is spreading its wings over me! In the garden of my heart sings a new joy!”

Ja vas lyublyu
Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky)

O Nuit Divresse (duet)
Les Troyens (Berlioz)

“Endlessly intoxicating night of ecstasy.”

Signore ascolta
Turandot (Puccini)

“Her heart is breaking! My, how long I’ve walked with your name in my soulWith your name on these lips!”

Gluck das mir verblieb (duet)
Die tote Stadt (Erich Wolfgang Korngold)

“Joy, that near to me remains, come to me, my true love. Night sinks into the grove, you are my light and day. Anxiously beats heart on heart. Hope itself soars heavenward.”

Mild Und Leise
Tristan und Isolde (Wagner)

“Don’t you see it? Brighter and brighter how he shines, illuminated by stars rises high? …(It) sounds out of him, invades me, swings upwards, sweetly resonating rings around me? …be engulfed — unconscious — supreme delight!”

A te o cara (duet)
I Puritani (Bellini)

Caro Nome
Rigoletto (Verdi)

“Sweet name, you who made my heart throb for the first time, you must always remind me the pleasures of love! My desire will fly to you on the wings of thought and my last breath will be yours, my beloved.”

A levé toi
Romeo et Juliette (Gounod)

Dove sei
Rodelinda (Handel)

Signore deh non partire
L’Incoronazione di Poppea (Claudio Monteverdi)

Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix
Samson et Dalila (Saint-Saëns)

“My heart opens itself to your voice.”

Any glaring omissions, or ones you would like to add in the comments? Fire away!

jcm’s Top 10 Show Picks of 2019

I’m gaga reflecting on another rich year of San Francisco Bay Area opera, music, theatre, drag, dance… Welcome to my 11th Annual TOP 10 List! As always, reflecting on these is part of how I enjoy the pleasures of the year all over again, and an essential part of that was sharing in most of these with a good friend. I hope you enjoy perusing them as well. The top two offerings here fulfilled long-standing dreams/wishes to see each LIVE. That alone made them notable for me, even setting the amazing results aside.

What were your top shows/live artists? Share in the comments below…and hope to see you at a venue in 2020!

1) Heart: LOVE ALIVE Tour, Sept. 6

Ann Wilson is in ASTONISHING vocal shape at 69 years old…far beyond what I expected. She cast a heartfelt, passionate, witchy spell, and served up breezy, personable storytelling intros to each song, with a warmth I didn’t expect. 

It dawned on me that perhaps only because she’s still alive and kickin’, is she not considered the legend that Janis Joplin is. I mean, c’mon…this is a GODDESS in our midst! Why aren’t we bowing down before her? Even the masterful Linda Ronstadt can’t sing anymore. And this woman sounds like she’s 35. Plus, she also whipped out a masterful flute solo (ala Lizzo)…who knew?!

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Her sister, Nancy is not far behind at 65. It was a nearly spiritual evening, with musical highlights incl. Magic Man, Dog & Butterfly (duet), Love Alive, Mistral Wind, The Boxer (a fantastic cover of a Simon & Garfunkel favorite!), and the fabulous encores: Alone (Ann’s anthem belt), Barracuda, and Stairway to Heaven (picking up on their Kennedy Center Honors’ tribute). Their hits have always been special to me, as my siblings and I used to belt them in our falsettos, racing down Cincy freeways.

This was my first time at the Concord Pavilion, which felt like quite a trek from San Francisco (even with a friend), but in a beautiful, natural, oh so very NorCal setting. It’s similar to Shoreline, but a more dramatic, inspiring location.

2) Rusalka, SF Opera, Jun. 13 (Unofficial Final Dress Review)

My favorite international DIVA, Rachel Willis-Sørensen was in divine, refulgent voice. I always liken her timbre to Golden Age German mezzo Christa Ludwig, but with thrilling, easy high notes. (I’m thrilled to have scored tickets to see her at Opéra National de Bordeaux in 2020 as Donna Anna, in a sold out run.) She was a chameleon throughout the night, and well supported by the costume/wigs/makeup team…Act I: ala The Ring (the 2002 film), Act 2: ala Katy Perry, Act 3: ala Lady Gaga or Bowie in Labyrinth. She is no doubt the full package.

Brandon Jovanovich was virile and passionate, his Czech sounding so idiomatic (to my ears), with just the right throatiness and nasality. Yet another powerful role assumption this finest of dramatic tenors has blessedly brought to our house.

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Photo: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

Jamie Barton was hysterical and offered a complete, 3D character. She just simply WAS Jezibaba, with a huge, booming voice. Act I was the highlight, Act III was powerful, and Act II sagged just a bit, based on the less seasoned Foreign Princess. Conductor Eun Sun Kim, recently announced as our new SF Opera Artistic Director (!) lent inspired leadership to the proceedings. I’m proud of the company for this historic promotion.

The opera ballet was surely the most playful and fun I’d ever seen (usually they feel like the bathroom or losenge break to me), with its camp, whimsy, mythic tone, and choreo by Andrew George. The Wood Nymphs were spectacular, particularly Natalie Image, who is a star-in-the-making. All three were perfectly whimsical and absurd. A welcome taste of Bouffon/buffoonery.

3) This Side of Crazy, New Conservatory Theatre Center (NCTC), Oct. 17

After performing some old skool #SouthernGlam in the “Happy Hour is a Drag” pre-show in the NCTC lobby, I stayed to experience the MainStage offering, Del Shores’ world premiere commission. Kate Boyd, scenic designer, offered an amazingly detailed, and intimate set that really drew one into the story, and created a real sense of place. I felt like I was really IN that home. The writing was masterful, with at least 25 quotable, quippy one-liners…surely a Del Shores specialty. Wes Crain curated costumes that with each entrance elicited a gasp or snicker. Just right.

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Ditty Blaylock (Christine Macomber, left) & Bethany Blaylock (Amy Meyers, right) / Photo: Lois Tema, New Conservatory Theatre Center

Christine Macomber was a tour de force as the family matron Ditty Blalock, a narcissistic, self involved joy, but wrapped in a messy sort of love. I’d LOVE to know more about her past, and her own trauma. That could easily be a Part II play (calling Del Shores!).

The actresses portraying the Blaylock daughters/sisters were a very well-rounded trio. You could feel their dynamic synergy at all times. Alison Whismore was particularly affecting as the neurotic, chain smoking, gaunt, and just on-the-edge Abigail Blaylock. Cheryl Smith and Amy Meyers were also excellent and committed as the other sisters.

So many laughter and tears. This is silver screen ready! Throw Olympia Dukakis or some celeb in that role (or keep Christine!) and it’ll be the next Steel Magnolias. As Ditty exclaimed to her daughters: “I taught you to have conviction, even when you don’t mean it.” (close, if not exact quote).

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jcm’s Top 10 Show Picks of 2018

WELCOME to my 10th ANNUAL (!) post of the finest shows that the SF Bay Area has to offer. I’ve loved taking in local live/stage shows all these years, and sharing my resonances and reactions with you. In that vein, I pass on to you Langhorne Slim’s poignant message (from the Rooster Stage at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, my #5 entry below): “Wishing you peace, love & ALL THE SWEET SHIT in life!”

Especially in the past few years, the amount of what I’ve been able to experience has necessarily lessened, so this is hardly a comprehensive list. But I know what I like, and am grateful to have sampled even this much crème on top of another year of shows!

What were your favorite Bay Area performances of the year? Please share in the comments.

1) Erasure, World Be Gone Tour, The Masonic, August 17

Andy Bell gave us all (esp. the gays) a lesson in what 50-something can look like. He displayed boundless energy and a giving spirit, a fearless and bold play with his sensuality/sexuality (donning a faux tattoo full body tight), a voice nearly as fresh as in their earliest recordings (starting in ’86)…and THIS from someone who has had BOTH hips replaced! It was wonderful to dance with them for nearly half the concert. It was nearly impossible to stay in our seats.

erasure Fredy Rimando

(credit: Fredy Rimando)

Their setlist included every hit I craved to hear: Oh L’Amour, Ship of Fools, Breathe, Just a Little Love, Chains of Love, Sweet Summer Loving, Victim of Love, Phantom Bride, World Be Gone, Who Needs Love Like That, Atomic (Blondie cover), Love to Hate You, Blue Savannah, Drama!, Love You to the Sky, Sometimes, Always, Stop!, Encore: A Little Respect

2) Stacey Kent, I Know I Dream, The Fairmont, February 24

This was my second time seeing Stacey, her husband and bandleader Jim Tomlinson at the Fairmont. This concert was just as transporting. I lapped up the broad range of songs she performed, from diverse cultures and song traditions. But it is her Bossa Nova repertoire that will remain my favorite from her. Thankfully, this setlist offered at least 4 of them. Stacey always leaves me wanting more…just like travel, love, and sex, which most of her songs are about.

SONY DSC

Highlights included: Make it Up, (a Jobim song), Les Amours Perdues, Happy Talk (by Rogers & Hammerstein), The Very Thought of You, Polka Dots and Moonbeams (Sinatra’s first hit, a requested song), Bullet Train, To Say Goodbye (by Edu Lobo, Brazilian), La Rua Madureira, Je Palle d’amore (by Nina Ferrer, performed as a samba, with a more hopeful air), Mon Jardin Hiver

The lyrics to their original, Make it Up really resonated to me:

“I love you and you love me
And I can’t tell you why
You’d have thought by now we’d have figured out
The reason and the rhyme
You love me and I love you
And it’s been this way so long
That if we knew what were doing
We’d be doing it all wrong
So let’s just make it up as we go along.”

3) Roberto Devereux, San Francisco Opera, September 18

Sondra Radvanovsky displayed dramatic and vocal fearlessness. A voice of this grand scale (aka true dramatic coloratura) was a treat in this repertoire. It made me crave some Wagner rep. from her, perhaps Senta, or even an attempt at Isolde, neither or which she has performed. Her final mad scene was surprisingly beautiful, and affecting. Her haggard and harried appearance never disrupted the sung line. It elicited a level of feeling from me the rest of the opera hadn’t, as much of it was VERY technically polished, but perhaps a bit too period.

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(credit: Cory Weaver)

I really liked the production, particularly the mini opera that accompanied the overture. Jamie Barton delivered gobs of glorious tone, and with great dramatic commitment, even if some of the surtitles, and period cultural considerations elicited laughter. As always, she called to mind Marilyn Horne’s fach, but with cleaner technique. I could have done without her rape by the Duke.

Russell Thomas was very impressive too. It was great to see this trio back together again after our ’14 SFO Norma!

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jcm’s Top 10 Show Picks of 2017

This year benefited from the serious good will of many friends…sharing comps, gifting me tickets, or taking me as their date. I could nearly call this it the Cheap & Free Top 10 of SF, and yet I’m clear it may not have been so cheap for them, so that’s not quite accurate. Whatever the case, it is with an special level of gratitude that I share my ninth annual jcm’s Top 10 Show Picks of the SF Bay Area.

What were your favorite Bay Area performances of the year? Please share in the comments.

1) La Temple de la Gloire, Philharmonia Baroque, Zellerbach Hall, April 28

QUELLE GLORIEUSE! To see such a lovingly and idiomatically rendered rare gem of French Baroque opera was utterly transporting, from the fantastically pompous overture replete with Falcon Crest-like trills, to the appearance of a queen bedecked in silver Glinda costume, with Statue of Liberty-esque headpiece. It had not been performed since its original debut in 1745!

The cast’s training in early music style showed in their trills, and phrasing, and they were clearly not just putting on this style. It included countless sumptuous french lyric sopranos, and more than one true, ringing haute-contre (incl. the virtuosic Aaron Sheehan). The dance troupe perfectly balanced fluidity and restraint, and was headed by a true baroque dance star, Olsi Gjeci (from Vlorë, Albania). He was entrancing, in embodying qualities of femininity and masculinity, from his white lily entrance, to his Bacchus drunken antics.

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Photo; Jeff Phillips

The Philharmonia Baroque Chorale sounded 3X its size in spirit and volume (were they miked?). The orchestra perfectly bubbled and lilted. A fanciful ostrich served up very sexy legs. The costumes would make Mackey or Galliano swoon. Bacchus and Érigone’s impossibly saturated and colorful East Indian-inspired costumes stood out. I could go on. Breathtaking. The Trajan scene was the only scene that dragged a bit for me.

It was allegedly a “million dollar production.” Well, it showed. And to see such a packed house, and hearty response to a baroque opera really says something. BRAVI!!!

Here is a fascinating video showing the making of and preparations for the production.

2) Coco Peru: The Taming of the Tension, Oasis SF, March 8

I inadvertently went to “church” on this eve…and encountered a priestess that made me sob, swoon, and snort. She was sentimental, spiritual, with a heavy helping of sarcasm. She is Coco Peru! I’ve never paid much attention to her (I’ve always been more a fancier of Jackie Beat and Varla Jean), but now I’m a believer.

This artist takes “drag” where it rarely goes…to meaningful places. Through compelling and riotous storytelling, with a sense of intent and conviction that is faultless.

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Her setlist included: I Touch Myself, The Fear (Lily Allen cover), Somewhere That’s Green, Nowadays, The Killing Moon (Echo and the Bunnyman cover), and humor/subjects incl. “The circles” (re: a certain Spanish lizard), Liza & Shirley, Chita, love, social media, “yaaassss queen,” theatre etiquette, facial fillers, 8 more years (before retirement)…

“For years I’ve helped young people find their voice. Now I want to say shut the fuck up. Our world is not your reality tv show.”

How did Coco end up above Hamilton? Well, she speaks my language, so it landed right at the center of my heart.

3) HAMILTON, Orpheum Theater, March 9 (SF Premiere!)

I was stunned and awed by Andy Blankenbuehler’s masterful choreography. Sensual, passionate, high concept, organic. Having played in high school theatre with Andy, and connecting with him again at this performance, my lens was no doubt skewed towards his contribution to this iconic show. Every moment rich with choreographic storytelling.

A particular heart palpitation movement the dancers did really resonated to me. Andy titled it the “Martha Graham” moment. A few months later at a local dance workshop through Pop Star Booty Camp, I was able to try a portion of Andy’s “The Room Where it Happens” choreography, taught by Derek Mitchell, resident choreographer. It was a real thrill, and really got under my skin.

Aside from the PBS documentary, and the Tonys, I hadn’t exposed myself to the soundtrack or show in any meaningful way, so I was able to experience this performance very much in the moment, almost as new material. (Truth be told, something about an over-produced sound quality to the soundtrack, and Lin Manuel’s voice didn’t draw me in.) LIVE, it’s a whole other beast.

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Photo: Joan Marcus

I favored Emmy Raver-Lampman as Angelica, and Amber Iman in the small part of Maria (with rich, alto, Sarah Vaughan tone). I couldn’t keep my eyes off the male ensemble dancer, Andrew Wojtal, who also played a judge for a blink, among other small roles. He was a major talent, so committed to every movement. I enjoyed qualities about each of the leads, and especially appreciated the rawness and realness of Michael Luwoye in the title role. It was great not having any celebrity casting choices to distract.

The role of the King of England (Rory O’Malley) was indeed much needed humor in the midst of the intensity and great amount of words to take in of the hip hop/poetry slam style of much of the show. The tender and sassy moments (i.e. the Schuyler Sisters) were for me the most accessible, given my lens and tastes.

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jcm’s Top 10 Show Picks of 2016

I’m back for my annual musings on the finest SF/Bay Area live performances of the year (#whatiattended)! As always, there’s a very healthy dose of opera, musical theatre, and jazz here, so they are more than well represented. And, I’m well aware of some great shows I had to miss because of my budget, or other commitments, but alas…it’s still a scrumptious array. Reflecting on these is a favorite way I savor and reexperience them once again.

What were your favorite Bay Area performances of the year?

1) Champion, Opera Parallèle, SFJAZZ Center

This unique jazz opera by Terence Blanchard is about the life of world champion boxer Emile Griffith, including his struggle with trauma-related dementia. A deeply affecting, tragic story, with gay content that was very impactful on a personal level. It features a great score, which deserves to land on the stages of the top American opera companies. It was heading to the Kennedy Center next, so it at least also had that audience. Unfortunately, it’s up against Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird” (featuring Lawrence Brownlee), so I fear it’s doubtful two jazz/jazz-oriented operas can have major legs. But, I get ahead of myself. This evening (Feb. 27th) had a sense of event, with Tuck and Patti, and Terence Blanchard in the audience, and lingering in the lobby afterwards as well. And we had the good fortune there of briefly meeting the contemporary opera legend, baritone Robert Orth, who passionately played Howie Albert.

The opening scene was so alive it reached out and grabbed the audience. The orchestral palette was rich, with the percussion and bass real stand outs. The orchestral hand-clapping-as-percussion really resonated. Former Merolini Karen Slack lit up the stage as Emelda Griffith, as did Arthur Woodley as the elder Emile, who was devastatingly real. The Herman’s Hole/”pussy” scene, with its fluid sexual expression was compelling and confusing, reflecting his confusion and the surrounding culture. Victor Ryan Robertson as Benny ‘Kid’ Paret was also very touching, a great physical actor, with a pleasing lyric voice in the midst of all the dramatic voices. A couple of scenes featured an actual boxer/dancer/percussionist who moved onstage in an unstoppable fashion.

Some lighting/projection cues revealed glaring flaws, and a couple of voices sounded tired. Also, where we sat there were frequent challenging sight lines, but it was thrilling to experience this opera in a true hall to jazz.

2) Dolly Tour: Pure & Simple, Shoreline Pavilion (Mountain View)

Not much needs to be said about this legendary woman. There may be many great drag impersonators of her, but there is only 1 Dolly. Her mix of goodness, simplicity, and yet worldliness and acceptance seems to be without peer.

dolly

It was a lovely night out as well, reminding me of concerts of my youth at Riverbend in Cincinnati. My favorite songs/moments included “Little Sparrow/If I Had Wings,” “9 to 5,” and two vocal quartets: “I’ll Fly Away,” and “The Seeker,” which skewed more towards bluegrass. Also, “Coat of Many Colors” and her new single “Pure and Simple” were really lovely.

I was in some disbelief that she sang it all live. The nuance and tone was so fresh…as if she was 25 again. She offered many quotable moments. When inviting a handsome band member to the spotlight for a featured musical moment, she shared: “I said I was married I didn’t say I was blind.” Her costumes take a page from Elvis’ book…bell bottoms and sequins for days!

Click here for her full set list

3) Cabaret, National Tour, Golden Gate Theatre

The Emcee, Randy Harrison surely brought in audience based on his Queer as Folk celebrity, but he exceeded my expectations on stage. He offered a more solid, robust voice and technique than I expected, and than most of this role previous exponents had. I also appreciated that he used his voice in a somewhat less caricature-y fashion. He expressed plenty of lithe, engaging movement as well.

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Photo: Joan Marcus

Andrea Goss, a petite Sally Bowles, was fantastic, offering a gamine, pixie appeal. Her small-scale delivered a big presence and impression. My date, who has seen a dozen or so Cabaret productions put her in his top 3…the slew of past celebrity Sallys not holding up real great by comparison.

As is often the case with this show, the love story between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz tugged on many a heart string. The set design, and how it was used was engaging throughout, integrating the orchestra in an authentic way, true to the milieu.

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jcm’s Top 10 Show Picks of ‘15

It’s time for my seventh annual Top 10 Bay Area round-up. Seventh?! Can it be? As always, this doesn’t attempt to be a comprehensive Bay Area review list, more a fun way to highlight what was most memorable for me in ’15. As a student working full-time, there are plenty of great offerings I have to pass on (i.e. dance and plays are sadly missing from this Top 10), but this tradition is a constant reminder of the embarrassment of riches we have to draw upon here. No doubt one of the things that keeps me in the Bay Area, despite the ever-unfriendly cost of living. Care to share your favorites of ’15?

1) Stacey Kent, Venetian Room, The Fairmont Hotel

Stacey was near the top of my list in ’11. She was slated to return to SF in ’13, but had to cancel. After that long wait, she returned at last again this year. She and her band were as transfixing as before. Few can weave the spell she does. There is a sort of personalized intimacy about her craft.

In some patter between songs she shared that she had taken part in the commemorative Corcovado festival honoring the Cristo Redentor monument in Rio de Janeiro, telling magical stories of meeting and working with the great Marcos Valle. With excited humility she said that one of the Brazilian jazz greats had upheld her to the younger generation as the model for modern bossa nova technique (perhaps more than even the current native Brazilian singers, was the assumption). I wasn’t surprised by this. Her clean, distinct, but always compelling tone and delivery are like a modern day Astrid, or Blossom Dearie. Never to be mistaken for another, but in that lineage.

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In this concert she performed This Happy Madness, Só Danço Samba, The Face I Love (Marcos Valle), Waiter Oh Waiter, O Barquinho, The Changing Lights, So Nice, One Note Samba, How Insensitive, Waters of March (duet with husband, Jim Tomlinson), I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face, and Ice Hotel.

After she performed “How Insensitive” she said “I be that hit home.” To see if that’s true, check out the lyrics here.

2) Les Troyens, Opening Night, SF Opera

This opera sat on my wishlist for decades. There was a false start during the Rosenberg era, when it was announced but pulled due to the onset of the recession. It was last mounted at SFO in the late ‘60s. So rarely performed, and so challenging to mount, it’s no surprise it took so long for the SFO to do so. It was worth the wait.

Opening night held three surprises. The first was the 25th Anniversary of Susan Graham’s debut with SFO. The second was the onstage presentation to La Graham of the SF Opera Medal by David Gockley. This whole affair was very moving, and included long, rapturous applause. During her acceptance speech, she spoke about her debut as Minerva, in Ulysses, as well as notable memories from Iphigenie…, and Xerxes. The third was that this was one of only a few performances that included stellar high tenor Bryan Hymel, as he pulled out early in the run.

Les Troyens,ROH; 20th June 2012,   Les Troyens,ROH; 20th June 2012,

The orchestra, chorus, and ballet were essential to the production’s success. Highlights included Graham’s devastating Adieu, fière cité, during which she stood onstage alone, in front of a plain black curtain, and appeared to be welling up as she sang. The audience was rapt. The Nuits d’ivresse duet was sensual and intoxicating, with Hymel particularly tender and affecting. He had a more slender voice than expected, but a thrilling top, which he is lauded for. Chong Wang and Rene Barbera delivered glorious ariettes of sorts. Antonacci proved her singing-actress status. Sasha Cooke was stunning, offering a dark, clarinet-like tone. She seemed a true vocal successor to Susan, and it felt as if one could see a passing of the torch here, in their particular vocal fach. The metallic-looking horse was a stunning, giant malleable puppet, not unlike the dragon from the SFO Ring Cycle. Berlioz’s orchestration was like a soothing bath.

3) Mighty Real, The Brava Theater

This musical based on the life of local, SF legend Sylvester was the love-child of a gay couple from NY. Broadway producers had turned it down, but they championed this important SF story. One of them, Anthony Wayne starred in the title role. Another producer, Cheryl Lee Ralph, was present, and offered a moving speech after the bows. She shared that “Sylvester was a man who walked in the light of his own truth.” Indeed. The musical made that loud and clear. And they brought him very much to life.

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Many from the local City of Refuge fellowship were in the audience. This added to the aliveness of the show, through audience reactions. Wayne as Sylvester offered a falsetto that never faltered and stellar storytelling abilities. The supporting cast was very memorable, especially the women who portrayed Martha Wash and Tina Turner (in Proud Mary). It made me long for the disco days, which I am too young to have fully experienced (aside from a long-time Donna Summer obsession via cassettes).

It shared a story of sadness and loss, but also transcendence. It was deeply moving to mix with men seated near us who lived through this SF era.

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jcm’s Top 10 Show Picks of ’14

My show-going in 2014 started out slowly, all thanks to grad school. But, thankfully, by the summer, it was in full swing again. So, there is plenty to gush about on my annual list. Always so grateful for the Bay Area offerings…and no doubt one of the reasons I continue to call it home, especially as travel is a bit fewer and farther between these days. Performer friends, if you’re show’s not on here, I didn’t see it <wink, wink>. I hope you enjoy my musings! What were your favorites of the year?

1. Cher, with Cyndi Lauper, at SAP Center – San Jose

Cher tops my list. Surprised? Cyndi was her opening act, with a voice still in surprisingly rocking’ shape. Can she really be 61? And, for that matter, can Cher really be 68?! (Don’t answer that.) Highlights were “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Believe” (a remix), a “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” and “Half Breed” carnival-themed set, and a Burlesque-themed set (incl. “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me”), a duet with Sonny, and a staging in which she was floated above the audience, as if a religious icon (not that she isn’t). The show was really perfectly crafted…and OFFICIALLY her last. It indeed felt like a farewell. No one could pull off what she did. My friends and I had a ball, shaking our tail feathers and lip-syncing from our nose-bleeds once things heated up.

2. Matt Alber, at Great American Music Hall

Matt is the only solo repeater this year. He topped last year’s list. His brother, Lou Jane was the opening act this time. Matt’s set included “The Wind,” “The Stars,” “Field Trip Buddy,” “Rivers and Tides,” “Handsome Man,” “Velvet Goldmine,” “Rescue,” “Make You Feel My Love,” “House on Fire,” “Spectacularly,” “Brother Moon” (duet with brother, Lou Jane), “Always” (a jazzy, ACAP cover), “End of the World,” “Walking on Sunshine,” “Send in the Clowns”. It was a transfixing and warm, familial night. He alternated between piano and guitar accompaniment. His band and some classical instrumentalists joined for various songs, including a sensitively played cello, and his dad sweetly tickled the ivories as well.

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3. Karrin Allyson, Jazz at Filoli Gardens

Her smoky tone and easy swagger make her one of my jazz favorites of late. Highlights included “All You Need to Say (Never Say Yes),” which features the moving line: “Search to find true happiness and the world will say yes – yes is all you need to say.” Also, Simon & Garfunkel’s “April Come She Will,” “All I Want” (Joni Mitchell), “What a Difference” (with Kenny Washington), Cat Steven’s “Wild World,” “O Baquino,” and “I Can Do Anything As Long As I Know You Love Me,” a beautiful new song by her. This is also a fantastic, intimate outdoor venue.

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4. “Luster,” SFGMC, with Ann Hampton Callaway, at Davis Symphony Hall

This show featured “Tyler’s Suite,” a commissioned tribute to Tyler Clementi. Out of the three SFGMC shows I attended this season, this one was the stand-out. The chorus soloists were surprisingly solid, and the chorus delivered finely textured harmonies. Ann did an improvisational piano solo before which she asked for names and local/SF places of note from the audience, and incorporated them into her song. She had us rolling in the aisles. And that voice! So soulful, nurturing, contralto-ey. Cuts to my heart.

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5. Nutcracker, SF Ballet

This production is still very fresh after 10 or so years, and delivers on all its holiday promise. Highlights were the Grand Pas de Deux, featuring Yuan Yuan Tan, and her VERY dashing prince, Luke Ingham (not pictured; I wonder if HE was “taught to be charming, not sincere”), and the magical snow scene, very moving with audible en pointe and snowfall onstage. They do NOT scrimp on the amount…for five minutes your head is in the Sierras. Calling the Zamboni!

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6. Norma, SF Opera

The level of musical attunement, and true bel canto shared between Sondra Radvanovksy and Jaime Barton is a rarity these days. It harkened back to the Sutherland/Horne pairing in its best moments. How to say it…Rad’s voice is never not interesting to me. I don’t understand her vocal production, which makes it fascinating. It’s richly textured at best…buzzy at worst. Reminiscent of Callas in the lower range, and belted utterances. She was very liberal with the gossamer pianissimi, and offered some thrilling full-throttle high notes. Barton displayed moments of Horne in her lower chest. She knows how to move, and seems really “in her body,” which offered a sensuality. She’s also the most youthful Adalgisa I’ve yet seen, which made Pollione’s passion all the more believable. The production offered some nice detail, but didn’t inspire, and the Avatar-style makeup was mystifying. Norma’s two children were beyond precious.

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7. Jimmy James, at Rebel

Highlights included his impersonations of Cher, Bette (doing “Feliz Navidad“), Barbra, Billie, and Liza (doing “Single Ladies”!!!) had us alternately in tears and stitches. He is a very skilled entertainer, with an incredibly versatile and impressive voice. I hope he’s fast becoming more of a gay household name that he should already be, aside from his ’80s appearances on the talk show circuit as THE perfect Marilyn impersonator.

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8. Esalen Work Scholar “Reading,” in the Solarium

It was a privilege to sit in on this informal, private event. It featured teacher John Smith’s “If I Were a Robin,” and included original songs and poems/prose by the students. My emotional response to the event was no doubt stoked by the Big Sur setting, and the crackle of new writers growing their creative wings. Here’s “…Robin” from a previous show.

9. Showboat, SF Opera

What a treat to see this great american musical for the first time, and performed at this level. Standout performances were by Morris Robinson as Joe, and Kirsten Wyatt as Ellie Mae. Patricia Racette’s rendition of my favorite “Bill” was beautifully and movingly handled. Not operatic in the least. Perfectly scaled down. The production was beautiful and really served the piece.

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10. Mary Lambert, at the Nourse Theatre

Mary is such an open-hearted, disarming, and authentic artist. She warmly invites you into her unique vision and storytelling. Highlights included “Jessie’s Girl” (cover), “My Body,” “She Keeps Me Warm,” and “No Secret” (encore). Her themes of body image, and mental illness/health are much needed in our current culture. Young Summer was the opening act. She was reminiscent of Lana del Rey.

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Other Notable Performances:

• Michael Fabiano, as Rodolfo, La Boheme, SFO, delivered Golden Age tenorial squillo and passion
• Heidi Melton, in recital, SF Performances, SF Conservatory of Music, a Merola/Adler star returns again, incl. idiomatic and stunning Sibelius and Strauss sets
• Jef Valentine, in Panorama, ACT Costume Shop, a beautifully committed and personal vision of the Peter Pan legend
• Sean Patrick Murtagh, in Holiday Test Drive II, Martunis, incl. a perfect, refulgent “Oh Holy Night”

Favorite Drag Show of the Year:

MASCARA “Burlesque,” hosted by the Castro Country Club, featuring irreverent, moving, messy, unforgettable numbers by Uphoria, Serenity Heart, Jada Stevens, Dina Isis, Dusty Porn, and more. All in service of, to inspire, and raise funds for the queer recovery community.

Top 5 Best Movies of the Year (that I saw):

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Into the Woods
3. Boyhood
4. Love is Strange
5. The Theory of Everything

Check out last year’s list >

Share your favorites. And, here’s a toast to what 2015 brings!

my holiday greeting: ’14

My Christmas / holiday / solstice greeting for you, sharing a story of the gravitas and beauty of our humanity, from life in San Francisco…to our world. It combines a music track of mine, with some favorite illustration work.

I hope it resonates to you. ❤

The music track is from “Christmas in the Ballroom” 2011, with solos by myself, Nicholas Patton, and Gina DiRado. Also featured are Ann Assarsson, Ryan James Brandau, Katie Brennan, Ivy Depner, Matt Peterson, Kathleen Pheneger, and Trond Gilberg on piano.

Illustrations are by Nikki Mclure, Paul Madonna, Barrie Maguire, Paul Bommer, Maggie, Marco Cibola, Mike Brennan, Aline Candido, Cathy Trautmann, Clifford Harper, Artflakes, Tugboat Print Shop, and misc. street artists (Berlin, and elsewhere).

I don’t own the rights to these illustrations, and use them humbly and with great admiration for the artists. This is not for any commercial purpose or broad circulation.

SOCHI Dream Podiums & Predictions

Well, Olympics and figure skating fanciers, it’s that special time again, as we’re on the cusp of another Winter Games: Sochi 2014! Care to share any dream podiums or predictions? My dream podiums contain sentimental or personal favorites. Predictions are simply that…predictions, no preferences applied.

Here are mine:

MY DREAM PODIUMS:

ladies: nbc olys sm 2
Mao Asada
Carolina Kostner
Akiko Suzuki

men:
Daisuke Takahashi
Jeremy Abbott
Jason Brown

dance:
Davis/White
Virtue/Moir
Cappelini/LaNotte

pairs:
Pang/Tong
Savchenko/Szolkowy
Voloshozar/Trankov

team event:
USA
Canada
Russia

PREDICTIONS:

ladies:
Mao Asada
Julia Lipnitskaia
Yuna Kim

men:
Yuzuru Hanyu
Patrick Chan
Tatsuki Machida

dance:
Davis/White
Virtue/Moir
Bobrova/Soloviev

pairs:
Voloshozar/Trankov
Savchenko/Szolkowy
Pang/Tong

team event:
Canada
Russia
USA

jcm’s Top 10 Performances of ’13

It was another stunning year of live performance in the Bay Area and beyond. I’m forgoing reviews this time, thanks to grad school demands. I’m grateful yet again for the embarrassment of riches…one of the many reasons I gladly call San Francisco home!

1) Matt Alber @ The Rickshaw Stop
Presented by SF Bear Pride
November 8
With NAKIA, Jeb Havens…
Program incl.: Monarch, The River, Velvet Goldmine, Old Wallingford, Tightrope, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Field Trip Buddy, Hide & Seek, Always (ACAP), End of the World, Yellow, New York, Old Ghosts…
A taste of Matt live

Matt Alber

2) Pink Martini @ The Hollywood Bowl
July 19
With China Forbes, Storm Large, Saori Yuki, Ari Shapiro…
Program incl.: Brazil, Zundoko bushi, Splendor in the Grass, Eugene, Hang on Little Tomato, Get Happy/Happy Days medley, And Then You’re Gone/But Now I’m Back medley, Yo Te Quiero Siempre…

(Photo by jcm)

(Photo by jcm)

3) Mephistopheles, San Francisco Opera
September 14
With Ildar Abdrazakov, Patricia Racette, Ramón Vargas, Marina Harris…

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4) Anything Goes, Broadway Tour, Curran Theatre
January 28
With Rachel York, Fred Applegate, Erich Bergen, Alex Finke…

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