The sweetness of home: San Francisco Opera’s “Hansel and Gretel”

Grimm’s folk tales are indeed grim. Often functioning to terrify children, they frequently pit innocence against malevolence. We don’t seem to be able to free ourselves of them and our childhoods remain full of girls in red hoods chased by wolves and starving children abandoned by their parents in dark woods. For what keeps the stories alive and seductive is that the innocents often defeat the evil forces that threaten them. Hansel and Gretel, the 1893 opera by Engelbert...

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New fireworks for “Le Nozze di Figaro”

There aren’t many operas that I can watch over and over with the same degree of interest, joy and eagerness as I do with new operas, even if in the end I don’t really like the premiering opera that much. This puts me at odds with most major opera companies, whose programming is financially obliged to reproduce repertoire, repeating the same 10 or so operas with a few lesser known and new operas in between. However, there is one opera I’d go see any day of the year, any year of the...

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Renée Fleming at Cal Performances

The always lovely Renée Fleming gave a recital filled with her personal beauty at Zellerbach Auditorium this past weekend. Accompanied by pianist Richard Bado, a sensitive accompanist and skilled musician, she gave Cal Peformances’ adoring audience a remarkable tour through the history of European and American song. The recital began with four songs by Schubert, described by Fleming as the “foundation of classical recitals.” The songs were filled with the composer’s heated intensity...

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Mapplethorpe and the question of beauty

Since the mid 20th-century and perhaps earlier, depending on the art form and how radical the practitioners, beauty as a feature of high art has been suspect. Beauty, it’s claimed and with reason, soothes and distracts, makes us accept the unfair and corrupt in our society and revel in the gorgeousness of art before all things. Beauty is easily duplicitous. Certainly Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), which played at CalPerformances’ Zellerbach Auditorium this past weekend,...

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The beauty of “Billy Budd”

Out of the near dark an old man hobbles slowly to the front of the stage. With a light illuminating only his face and chest, creating the image of an unfinished man, a half of a man, he begins his story. He is Captain Edward Fairfax Vere, who commanded the British warship “Indomitable” during the Napoleonic Wars. And he is filled with self-doubt and remorse as he looks back at his failure as a leader of men. Vere will also close Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd, because...

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West Edge Opera’s “Breaking the Waves”: An interview with Sara LeMesh and Robert Wesley Mason

This past week West Edge Opera opened its West Coast premier of composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek’s opera, Breaking the Waves. The opera premiered at Opera Philadelphia in September 2016. Based on the 1996 film by Lars von Trier, the opera is set in the Scottish highlands and tells the story of Bess McNeill, a young woman from a closed Calvinist community who marries a Scandinavian oil-rigger, Jan Nyman. When he is paralyzed in a work accident, Nyman encourages...

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