Archive for the ‘Rachel Willis-Sørensen’ Tag

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 ‘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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