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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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Heidi Melton: The Official Berlin E-Interview

Since I first sang the praises of my friend, soprano Heidi Melton on jcm, she has moved several steps closer to the exposure that her prodigious gifts hinted at. I’m very excited to share with you (Melton fans and newbies alike) my new e-interview with her: she, in Berlin, sidled up to her laptop with frosty brew-in-hand, and me, in San Francisco, eagerly awaiting her return to SFO, in 2011. Ah, it’s the next best thing to sitting down in-person at a pub!

It’s not surprising that, despite the 5,657 miles between us, her appeal, warmth, irrepressible sense of humor, and passion for her art still shine through. Enjoy this glimpse into her life, career and heart…

Photo: Kristin Hoebermann

jcm: What is your very first memory of singing or performing?

HM: I suppose that my first memory of music would be of my grandma sitting next to me on the piano bench, teaching me how to play. It is how I spent the majority of my formative years, and was very gratifying.

jcm: Are you from a musical family? Or, were your gifts helped along in any way in your childhood home?

HM: My family has always loved music, although not necessarily opera. But, they have really started finding an appreciation for it — except for my sister, who still feels that opera sounds like someone is stepping on nails! My grandma went to college for piano performance, so that was always a part of my home, but I will admit to not really discovering opera until I was about 14 or 15.

jcm: Have you always been on track to be a performer, and when did your trajectory shift towards opera?

HM: When I first started applying to undergraduate schools, I did so under music performance and music education. I applied mostly to state schools in Washington, but I had my one “pie in the sky” school, which was the Eastman School of Music. I was accepted into Eastman, but only as a music education major. I wasn’t good enough to get into their performance program. Anyhow, I’ve never been good at accepting a “no,” so I worked hard and juried into performance, and haven’t looked back.

jcm: When did it become clear that your voice was that very special and true dramatic soprano, like one of your favorites, Régine Crespin, or perhaps even a Hochdramatische (“heroic”), like another favorite, Astrid Varnay? Is it a pressure, or instead empowering to know you hold this rare gift?

HM: It does seem to be heading in that direction, doesn’t it? I do consider it a gift, and with any gift comes responsibility, so I am just trying to do all that I can to ensure that I give “the beast” everything that it needs to be the best it can be. But to answer your question, it is both a pressure and empowering.

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