Nina Simone

5 March 2013 in Music

Nina Simone’s voice wavers in that unsteady way—she always sounds as if she’s on the verge of crying, though tears are probably the farthest thing from her mind. “Black is the color…of my true love’s hair.” She weighs her words, each one, as if on a twin scale in front of her on the piano. (It is her chemist’s desk.) When satisfied, she converts the words into phrases that suffuse the room. The music is unweighable. On the piano, she punctuates the song like she doesn’t give a shit. It’s as if playing the piano is a bore to her, an additional task that she’s only doing because the studio producer asked her, oops, would she mind. She is unsurprised.
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Memories Above the Seat

7 February 2013 in Music, Theater

I attended West Edge Opera’s Poppea this past weekend and was reminded how much I enjoy the little companies, the ones that reside in the cracks between the Bay Area’s more venerable institutions. In a small theater (Poppea was presented at El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater) I can sit in the cheapest seats (a comparable row at War Memorial would command a premiere price) and feel an immediate connection to the performers onstage. The company, in turn, can articulate character, style, setting, and ensemble in ways that might be lost in a three-tiered grande opera house. Granted, this production of Poppea was pared down in terms of both the script and the cast (seven singers, two acts, and
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Cloud Atlas

3 November 2012 in Film

After seeing Cloud Atlas, a friend asked me if I thought the musical storyline was believable. In the film, a young English composer (played by Ben Whishaw) becomes the “amanuensis” (copyist) for an older (apparently well-recognized) composer, leaving his lover in the lurch for what seems like the gig of a lifetime. It is the 1930s, (though the music and lifestyle both struck me as late nineteenth century) so yes, I found it plausible that the young man would move, enthusiastically, into the composer’s house. (Free room and board? How could an aspiring composer say no?) I even believed the scenes depicting their working relationship, from the older man screaming, “that’s not what I sang at all!” and causing me
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Dolby Atmos

29 October 2012 in Film

Friday night I attended a presentation at Dolby Labs to hear about the recently released Atmos sound platform. Their theater is a gem of a room: cozy, grande-dame glamorous, and unbelievably quiet (it floats on its own slab, thus isolated from spaces above and below). Dolby treated us to clips from Brave, Mission Impossible IV, the upcoming Woman in Black, and the just-released Chasing Mavericks. Atmos met my expectations head on, in ways that are often more real than real. Sound effects are magnified from the global level—waves breaking on the California coast—to the local—a single leaf snapping free from a tree branch. Creaking wooden floorboards curl around you from all different heights and locations and, in tandem with the
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The Black Glove, Op. 5

27 October 2012 in Theater

August Strindberg’s The Black Glove (at the Exit on Taylor through November 11) is like a two-year-old who, taken to the park for a playdate, proceeds to throw a tantrum, pick some wildflowers, lose a shoe, kiss the new girl, and get stung by a bee, all within an hour of arriving. In other words, it’s a difficult child. Verse, fantasy, and self-reflective monologues coexist in ways that amuse, surprise, tire, and sometimes test your patience. The production feels, at times, “lost and found, lost again, and found again,” (scene 4). With an “innocent kidnapping” at its core, the work is a study of the lives of people who reside in an apartment building, as well as their reflections on
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The Ghost Sonata, Op. 3

15 October 2012 in Theater

On a whim, I decided to go see Cutting Ball Theater’s production of August Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata, one of five chamber plays in repertory at the Exit Theater on Taylor. The venue is the tiniest of spaces (60 to 70 seats), which made for one of the most engaging, up close, and intimate performance experiences I’ve had in a long time. (Two days prior, I was perched away far away in the balcony at San Francisco Opera.) At the Exit, the size of the venue supports Strindberg’s style so well: there is an abbreviated quality to his storytelling, and though the characters do not lack emotional intensity, they seem sketched as if in outline with a dark pencil. There is
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