JOBS, THE SMART-PHONE GUY, GOES OPERATIC

JOBS, THE SMART-PHONE GUY, GOES OPERATIC

How long since a world-premiere opera got an instant standing ovation almost five minutes long? With several scenes en route evoking spontaneous applause? The Berkeley Ph.D. grad Mason Bates pulled it off July 22 with his first such effort, a bio-opera on “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.” In portraying the late iPhone creator, warts and all, it spotlighted his unique overdrive personality and headstrong brashness. Often his own worst enemy, the workaholic Jobs drove his coworkers and women in his life as hard as himself, with only his Buddhist teacher Kobun and his own wife Laurene injecting equilibrium into existentialism before the untimely illness and death.

SCOTLAND TURNED ITALIAN IN ‘LUCIA’

SCOTLAND TURNED ITALIAN IN ‘LUCIA’

Stellar, no-holds-barred singing by all five principals marks the powerful “Lucia di Lammermoor” currently at the Santa Fe Opera, with Brenda Rae in the title role. If in his most arresting drama the very Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti nudged the Walter Scott story away from Scotland, this production firmly transplanted it to Italy. Instead of kilts and bagpipe regalia, we get white-tie formals and gowns straight out of “La Traviata,” without so much as a Scottish moor or heath in the background (The minimal backdrop appears to be straight out of the US Steel factory).

EXOTIC BIRD, QUEEN, FABLE: RUSSIAN TRIFECTA

EXOTIC BIRD, QUEEN, FABLE: RUSSIAN TRIFECTA

The Russian opera-fantasy “The Golden Cockerel” brings the glorious music of Eastern exoticism by Rimsky-Korsakov onto the stage here, with voluptuous courtly costumes fitting the 1907 era when it debuted. But, saddled with a puerile libretto in Russian, not even the brilliant stage direction by Paul Curran could save this farcical tale about an impotent, buffoonish ruler more obsessed with personal comfort than the well-being of his people. The intent was clearly to satirize the real Tsar then, and perhaps even ruling luminaries of our time in this revival.

MENLO PARK: BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE BACH

MENLO PARK: BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE BACH

Talk about depth. The chamber-music festival Music@Menlo showed off four different lead violinists in baroque concertos, each one better than the previous, and on the under-40 side too. If alone, any one of them could be the star of this bucolic festival running through Aug. 5, though none of them (yet) command wide-spread name recognition, at least on the West Coast. Unlike the past 14 seasons, when the pianists often had the upper hand, this year’s spotlight is on all-strings,…

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BERLIOZ STRIVING TO RECAST THE SYMPHONY

BERLIOZ STRIVING TO RECAST THE SYMPHONY

Hector Berlioz is two different composers, whether thinking symphonically or operatically. As he had proven in his early “Symphonie Fantastique,” he could be brilliant and concise to the max, creating what many would call the greatest French symphony of them all. But when he wrote his “Roméo et Juliette” hybrid work, he was thinking much more operatically, drawing out his statements into overly generous lengths. There are glints of great beauty and finesse, but also a lot of bloated segments…

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BEETHOVEN’S LIFE, AT PIANO OR NARRATED, IS A PENINSULA SUCCESS STORY

BEETHOVEN’S LIFE, AT PIANO OR NARRATED, IS A PENINSULA SUCCESS STORY

The versatile pianist-actor Hershey Felder, who won praise for his performances as Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin and other musical giants, has moved into deeper waters with his hugely successful account of the composer Ludwig van Beethoven, now in an extended run at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Felder is a remarkable performer – a fine musician whose pianism elevates this bit of theater to a lofty plane as he entertains us with his impersonations of the…

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SYMPHONY COUNTDOWNS: MODERNS, NOVELTIES, GLITZ

SYMPHONY COUNTDOWNS: MODERNS, NOVELTIES, GLITZ

Stemming from a family of top vaudeville performers, symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas would inevitably strike his show-business colors eventually. After two decades’ serious-minded leadership of the San Francisco Symphony, he brought forth an astonishing orchestral concert of American Moderns augmented with colored lights, hot dancers, jazz ensemble, projections, spatial (but not spacey) musicians’ placement, video and singers in glitzy spangled outfits. Did your recent symphony program list both a stage director and choreographer like Michael’s, perchance? This main-stage program…

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WEDDING IN INDIA: A ROUSING NEW MUSICAL

WEDDING IN INDIA: A ROUSING NEW MUSICAL

Mira Nair’s highly entertaining play/musical “Monsoon Wedding” at the Berkeley Rep is spot on, based on two weddings attended in New Delhi. “Monsoon Wedding” is based on her award winning movie of the same name. For Nair, the theater is her real métier—her first love, what  she knows best. She had studied theater at Harvard as an undergraduate and went on to act in several renowned avant guard troupes. This play is a splendid and extravagant display of the preparation…

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‘DON GIOVANNI,’ DEFTLY SUNG AND ACTED BY NEWCOMERS

‘DON GIOVANNI,’ DEFTLY SUNG AND ACTED BY NEWCOMERS

Despite all the unfamiliar names and unknowns in the cast, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” is getting sparkling performances at the S.F. Opera, among the most inspiring encountered in our regular SFO visits since 1960. The greatest difference with earlier times is in the acting and stage direction. Circa 1949 rehearsing the title role here, Met star Ezio Pinza called to the stage director, “Canto cui?” (Do I sing here?). Whereupon he planted his feet firmly and launched into his aria. We…

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THE RIGHT ‘RITE’ WITH THE RIGHT MAESTRA

THE RIGHT ‘RITE’ WITH THE RIGHT MAESTRA

To hear the right Rite with the right conductor (Susanna Mälkki) would’ve been the right move over the weekend. Music that was despised a century ago is now embraced. One of the world’s foremost women conductors currently, doing arguably the most revolutionary work of all time: a formidable combination. So it wasn’t the original ballet this time, merely the sound of the huge orchestra, which may be ultimately superior. Or are we all anxious to watch in detail the Sacrifice…

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