Rimsky-Korsakov reviewed at Island City Opera

Since moving to the Bay Area, I’ve been reviewing for San Francisco Classical Voice.   Most recently was a fun trip to Alameda, a part of the Bay Area that feels very different from Berkeley or San Francisco — a kind of time warp old California town. The opera was presented in the ballroom of the grand Elks’ Lodge — another amazing vestige of the 20’s.

Here’s the ballroom, with a gorgeous Tiffany-style skylight containing, of course, an elk, which you can’t see in this picture.

And here’s my review of the operas:


Classical Baby

Our grandchildren in Arizona (3 months and 3 1/2 years) watch the occasional TV (well, the older one watches). One of the shows, which our son couldn’t believe we hadn’t heard of, is called Classical Baby, in which a diapered toddler takes on musical and Classicalbabydvdartistic chestnuts. It is, I learn from Wikipedia, a Canadian show from about 2005, with separate episodes for Music, Art, Dance, Poetry, and Lullabies, available on DVD and HBO. The animations are clever and the pieces — Waltz of the Flowers, for example — are pleasant. Needless to say, a piece like the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto is massively shortened and simplified. Still, it’s there, and pretty cute — as are Bach’s Prelude to the first cello suite, Debussy’s Claire de Lune, and Appalachian Spring. The orchestra is made up of animals — as is the audience.

Here’s a collection of snippets. Notice how wonderfully the conductor raps his baton for silence, a toddler-Toscanini! O mio babbino caro (2:25) is one of my favorites!

At the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, there are some mid-18th-century paintings from the 18th century that reminded us of Classical Baby — a series by Charles-André Vanloo featuring (slightly older) children as artists and musicians. Apparently they hung in the Versailles palace of Mme de Pompadour.


If Classical Baby is cute and amusingly Canadian, Vanloo’s seem just creepy.

These children are miniature versions of the court of Louis XV — overdressed and oversexed; pampered aristocrats, not music-lovers in Pampers.





Music and art are here laden with gendered sexual tension; girl-children are on display; semi-nude modeling is the equivalent of playing the piano, a louche entertainment in expensive silks.

I’m glad my grandchildren are watching Classical Baby!

Gods in Color

We went to the Legion of Honor (that’s one of San Francisco’s art museums) yesterday for two exhibitions that are each closing soon, one on Klimt and Rodin, the other called “Gods in Color.” This one featured reproductions of Greek and Roman statues colored as current scholars think they would have been originally. It’s a shock to those of us brought up on the notion— derived largely from the 18th-century German art historian Johann Winckelmann—that the whiteness of Greek marble was part of its timeless significance.

In a postmodern age, that notion has (rightly, I think) been deconstructed: nothing is timeless, all is historicized; whiteness as eternal and eminently beautiful is, fairly obviously, a racialized construction.

The statues, and the research behind them, come from a group in Frankfurt called Liebieghaus. Check them out here.

The colored statues in the exhibition certainly do their bit in deconstructing that “classical” aesthetic of pure whiteness. I wish the curators had made more of a connection with the issues of race (they do note a gendered pattern, in that women are given whiter complexions than men).

My memory of art history classes about these statues is that they concentrate on aspects that are, for lack of a better word, statuesque: their sense of proportions, balance, posture. With the addition of color, surface patterns suddenly become much more important. The fabric on this statue (apparently Artemis, I think), for example, is fascinating and complex.


Narratives in the temple friezes, like this with Alexander the Great, in white armor, suddenly become intense and explicit with the addition of color: here he tramples on a Persian whose garb is “barbarian”—that is, garishly tasteless. Guess who’s winning this battle?


Monteverdi for Christmas

I just came across a beautiful Christmas song — thanks to my friend Jean who just performed it with Columbia Baroque! — it’s Monteverdi’s Puer Natus.

Well, actually it’s not quite that:  it’s a modern reworking of his Chiome d’oro, a duet for two sopranos and instruments, a secular piece about a lovely someone with beautiful golden hair that dances about and entrances the poet/composer.

The Puer Natus is that piece with the words changed — instead of Italian, Latin; instead of amorous, religious. In the Renaissance, this was a typical way of “covering” a popular song and repurposing it — the whole deal was known as contrafactumand it’s still done today. The Latin text, about the birth of Jesus, was added by Larry Rosenwald for a performance by Voices of Music. The result is as intricate, passionate, and swirling as the angels in this Botticelli Mystical Nativity!

Here it is, from the wonderful Voices of Music YouTube channel:

Academy of Sciences

It seems fitting for the first blog post in my re-worked “World as Museum” website and blog to talk about a trip we made to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. If there’s a museum that encompasses “the world,” it’s surely this: rainforest, coral reefs, dark matter . . . .

And re-worked the museum also is: the new (well, pretty new) building by Renzo Piano that replaced an older one is spectacular — open, light filled, accommodating hordes of school groups dashing around without bumping into grandads like me; and most interesting, a public building that self-ventilates.

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Skylights and big glass panels open and close; shades draw to keep the sun out; breezes lift and circulate with apparently minimal fossil fuel expenditureImage result for academy of sciences.

Most cool of all is the enormous green roof, a garden of native plants draped around artificial hills that supposedly imitate the San Francisco landscape.Image result for academy of sciences

The planetarium is also pretty wonderful: we saw a show about the dark matter of the universe that was amazingly detailed and seriously scientific in its approach.

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