Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Boris Godunov, Samuel Ramey, SF Opera

Wednesday Nov. 12, 2008.  SF Opera.

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky's original 1869 version, with libretto by Modest.  Based on a historical tragedy by Pushkin and History of the Russian State by Karamzin.  Starring Samuel Ramey as Boris, and Jack Gorlin as Fyodor, son of Boris.  Jack Gorlin was the Little Prince in Rachel Portman's The Little Prince.  At 12, he's already a consummate stage presence.  

It refreshing to see the original version, which has been revised many times like a Hollywood movie:  It isn't slick enough!  We need a leading lady!  We need a romance to bring in the women! 

The true romance is of course between Boris and Power.  (How very Russian!)  The opera opens with a scene of serfs being beaten and forced to cheer for Boris, an archetypal introduction to an archetypal drama.  This scene should have been darker and scarier.  The opera has many highlights, notably a chiming, glittering coronation scene (with synthesized bells I think at SF Opera).  

Boris Godunov has a raw power and energy to it which, in addition to being a hallmark of the Russian nationalist school, is a welcome breath of fresh air in the opera house, even today.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brian Wilson at the Chicago Theatre

Sunday November 16, The Chicago Theatre.

Undersold.  Too many fluffy Beach Boys songs.  The Brian, front and center, with a little video monitor to help with lyrics and banter for a show reaching nearly three hours.  I was very impressed with Brian's singing, which otherwise has been quite strained on albums such as Orange Crate Art, and quite ProTooled on albums like the remake of SMiLE.  What Brian did in concert was to simply not sing when the part went too high.  He just layed out, saving his voice for where it is still quite capable.  His band covered perfectly.  It is important to note, if you want that Beach Boys sound, you don't need the Beach Boys:  you just need the exact correct vocal arrangements, executed properly.  Done.  Close your eyes, the magic was always in Brian's arrangements.
The highlight of the evening was new album That Lucky Old Sun performed uninterrupted as a thirty-five minute concert piece.  Really amazing.  (Yet another homage to Los Angeles, but we can forgive that.)  SMiLE clearly is not a one-off deal.  He may be 67, but he's still got it in him.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lang Lang at Chicago Symphony Center

Saturday November 15, Lang Lang n Frenz at Chicago Symphony Center.

Though I regret I never saw Liberace, I feel this kind of makes up for it.

Lang Lang comes to Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco in December.

If you're lucky, he'll wear the same giant hideous silver brooch.
(I can't find any pictures of it, but it's been mentioned in other reviews.)
If he does, you'll for sure want to take him to Marlena's after the concert.

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell

After discovering a pot pipe and marijuana paraphenalia in his son's room, Arthur's father says he "bounced him on the floor a couple times" and the next day his son ran away, eventually landing in NYC. 

Cellist/composer/singer Arthur Russell may not have had the same amount of formal training as other downtown hipsters like Juilliard/Boulanger pedigreed Philip Glass, (the film does not detail Russell's time spent at the Manhattan School of Music) but nevertheless the young man became music director for influential performance hotspot The Kitchen.  In the melieu of this cultural incubator, Russell connected with other emerging and established artists and performers.

The failure of a potentially high profile work with Robert Wilson confined Russell's career to arty but forgotten 12" dance club mixes issued under multiple fanciful monikers, further obscuring the artist from scrutiny or identification.  As he had coped with disfiguring acne scars in adolescence, Russell avoided showing his face, polishing his diction, or establishing his name. Wild Combination doesn't investigate the workaholic's self-sabotage.

File under "obscure New York artists who died prematurely of AIDS."  This growing genre of documentaries shows the loss of great minds and talents like Arthur Russell, regardless of what level of success or achievement they attained.  We mourn the loss of these artists and the alternative culture they so actively created.

One of the touching parts of the film is the history of Russell's relationship with partner Tom Lee, a terrific interview subject, as well as the bonding between Tom and Russell's parents.