Archive for the ‘oratorio’ Category

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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If music be the food of the soul…

Seeing the movie The Soloist yesterday put me back in the embrace of the sort of music that I love most deeply. The beautiful soundtrack features Beethoven’s “Triple” Concerto, Eroica and Ninth Symphony, and the Bach Cello Suite No. 1. I highly recommend the movie, while confessing it’s quite flawed. But, like Shine or Hilary and Jackie it effectively uses music as a character itself, showing its truly transformative nature, as well as how it can be a reflection of one’s internal Sturm und Drang. (See the real story behind the movie here.)

The Soloist

I have a short-list of classical music favorites in this vein that I return to time and time again, and never tire of. They are my spiritual balm, are deeply healing, and “feed” me when I’m feeling lost or run-down. If I were ever considering an atheistic path, these pieces will continue to convince me otherwise. I consider them some of the most spiritually transformative works in the genre.

I tend to prefer more contemplative, stirring works than cheerful, overtly uplifting ones, when looking for something transcendent, so those weigh more heavily here. Surely one of these will be played at my funeral (which is hopefully a long way off). And, these are not necessarily my favorite recordings, but they are what’s available online, and in a good enough quality, worthy of viewing.

I’ve narrowed to one work per composer, otherwise Richard Strauss and Beethoven would have filled the entire list. I had to leave out the Mahler, Elgar, Faure, and Morricone. They are in no particular order.

Missa Solemnis: Benedictus (Beethoven)
This movement flows without a pause from the previous Sanctus.

Eclogue for Piano and Strings (Gerald Finzi)

Vier Letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs): Im Abendrot (At Sunset) (Richard Strauss)
This rendition is too frenetic, but Popp makes it worthwhile. I most love della Casa and Fleming’s (first) studio recordings.

Mass in C Minor: Et Incarnatus Est (Mozart)
Noone has ever sung this like Ileana Cotrubas, on the Raymond Leppard recording.

Tristan und Isolde: Love Duet (Wagner)

Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, “Organ”: Poco Adagio (Saint-Saens)

Fourteen Songs: Vocalise (Rachmaninoff)

Missa Sancti Gotthardi: Anima Nostra (Michael Haydn)
Please ignore the RIDICULOUS video. This one is for your ears only!

Double Concerto in D Minor, for two violins: Largo (Bach)

German Requiem: Ihr Habt Traurigkeit (Brahms)
As much of a Janowitz fan as I am, this is a bit past her prime, and the Kathleen Battle and Elisabeth Grummer studio recordings can’t be beat.

Beau Soir (Beautiful Evening), for violin (Debussy, arr. Heifitz)

I hope that you experienced here at least one of these pieces for the first time (again, these video themselves in most cases are not the focus here, just a delivery device). Although I don’t think it’s an ideal practice to extract a single movement from a symphony or mass, the “jewel” of such a work can become a portal for one to want to explore more of the complete work. I hope you find that to be the case. Good luck on your journey! I leave you with the Joseph von Eichendorff’s text from Im Abendrot:

We have gone through sorrow and joy
hand in hand;
Now we can rest from our wandering
above the quiet land.

Around us, the valleys bow;
the air is growing darker.
Just two skylarks soar upwards
dreamily into the fragrant air.

Come close to me, and let them flutter.
Soon it will be time for sleep.
Let us not lose our way
in this solitude.

O vast, tranquil peace,
so deep at sunset!
How weary we are of wandering—
Is this perhaps death?