Sunday, October 12, 2008


As I fully expected, Dave Jones' 50th Birthday Celebration was a brilliant affair. The event was held in the main dining room on the second floor at the Bohemian Club. The place looked festive with balloons and streamers. There were at least six food stations with sushi, fresh pasta made to order, shell fish, various vegetables, Caesar salad, carved roast beef, plenty of hot hors d'oeuvres and a dessert table including five or six birthday cakes with some for other guests who had recently had birthdays, including Herb Goodrich. 


The live band played fine renditions of rock and soul standards from the 60's, 70' and 80's. I danced a couple times with Lissa, our hostess, and joined in the conga line. Adam and I had a terrific time. His headache from the day before was gone...but I'm not so sure about tomorrow.


Before the birthday event, I went to the Sunday matinee of San Francisco Opera's production of Korngold's Die Tote Stadt. My Bohemian friend Richard Evans had invited me the night before, when his wife decided she couldn't make it. Richard is one of the best musicians I know. He's a wonderful composer, who has written a number of shows for Bohemia, and I've had the privilege of singing principal roles in two of his Grove Plays. And Richard is probably the best accompanist I know. On a first run through he can play a sensitively accurate written-accompaniment or produce a creative one following every nuance of the singer’s performance for a piece he may never have heard before!


Die Tote Stadt is a marvelous opera.  I was familiar with Erich Wolfgang Korngold from his film scores in the 1930’s and 1940’s. He wrote the music for Robin Hood and a number of Bette Davis movies. I had heard he had been a child prodigy (so I guess it’s appropriate his middle name was Wolfgang). He wrote this opera—not his first— when he was in his early twenty’s. The orchestration is extraordinarily rich – reminiscent of Richard Strauss, Mahler, some Wagner and early Schoenberg. The size of the orchestra is about the same as Der Rosenkavalier, one of my favorite operas.


The dead city in this case is Bruges in Belgium. I spent ten days there with Chanticleer in 1981 for a music festival. I guess you might consider it dead from the standpoint it didn’t expand and develop in the 19th and 20th Centuries. But that was to our great fortune, since the medieval and Renaissance city then survived intact. It’s a brick city with canals—and along with Amsterdam and St. Petersburg— is a smaller Venice of the north. (There’s a terrific recent film noir In Bruges I highly recommend.)


Without getting into the plot, the sophisticated story moved me with its depiction of obsession and loss. I had learned after my return from Bruges that my dear friend Gary Murakami had committed suicide while I was gone. So I could relate to the psychological elements.  San Francisco’s production and staging was absolutely first- rate…and the singing was superb.

Richard had been given excellent comp tickets: row K in the orchestra right on the center aisle. They were by far the best seats I have ever had at SF Opera.


Continuing backwards…on Friday night I saw ACT’s marvelous production of Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. I took my friend Juling from Starbuck's. She's a wonderfully enthusiastic supporter! (At first I thought I couldn’t afford to continue my friend Craig’s subscription, so he changed the series from Wednesday to Friday nights. In doing so, he gave up what I thought were the best seats in the house… the exact two center seats seven row back.  He still has a great row in the center section, but the seats have moved a little to the right. He convinced me to buy his series… at least for another year. Craig bought a condo a few years ago, and I’m just keeping his seats warm until he can afford them again.)


Stoppard is one of my favorite playwrights. I first saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at the Yale Dramat my sophomore year in college. (One of the leads was Philip Anglim, who later played The Elephant Man on Broadway, and was Richard Chamberlain’s lovechild in The Thornbirds. His mother Paule has an art gallery on Geary Street in San Francisco.)


Tom Stoppard is Czech and English was not his first language. It’s incredible to me how someone can be such a brilliant writer in a second language. (The same, for Joseph Conrad.)


Rock ‘n Roll is set in Cambridge England and Prague from 1967 through the fall of the Soviet block in the early 1990’s.  So I relived my teenage years and young adulthood. I clearly remember Prague Spring, and I think I was selling ice cream at a summer job in August 1968 when the Soviet tanks entered Prague. Last February I spent a few days in Bratislava, Alexander Dubcek’s home town, and Praha, while accompanying Chanticleer on a winter tour of Central Europe.


ACT’s production was superb in every way, including the sets. Manoel Feliciano (Jan) was brilliant, and the ubiquitous Rene Augesen performed one of her best double roles yet.


So already it’s been a full Columbus Day weekend. I’ll write more about the holiday itself tomorrow.


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