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Preview: SFGate: Leah Garchik

Leah Garchik


Opera about Gold Rush shadows cast on 21st Century America

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 00:33:25 UT

In a “Girls of the Golden West” pre-premiere conversation onstage at the San Francisco Opera House on Tuesday, Nov. 21, director/librettist Peter Sellars, along with longtime opera collaborator and composer John Adams, told dramaturg Kip Cranna they’ve been working on the project for years because “everyone’s always talking about California.” Sellars seemed turned on, animated, eager to share ideas — perfect qualities for a collaborator. He and Adams have worked on the operas “Nixon in China,” “The Death of Klinghoffer” and “Doctor Atomic.” “What John’s music gives you,” said Sellars, “is the sound of America. ... The heartbreak is there at the same time as the idealism.

Band Together Bay Area backstage snapshots

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 17:23:19 UT

A view from behind the stage at Band Together Bay Area, the mega concert organized by major local leaders to assist victims of last month’s North Bay fires: •Emcee Renel Brooks-Moon, sitting with her husband, Tommie, poring over the script and rundown for the Thursday, Nov. 9 event at AT&T Park. “I’ve been so sad since Charlottesville,” she said. “It’s been one tragedy after another. But this is the best part of what I do.” Onstage between every act, she was self-assured, enthusiastic ... and she never looked at a piece of paper. That’s not an accident. Offstage, she studied hard, breaking concentration only to exchange warm greetings with Barry Bonds.

Musicians band together in SF to benefit North Bay fire victims

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 14:25:35 UT

An eclectic group of artists, most of whom grew up or gained fame in the Bay Area, took the stage Thursday night at AT&T Park to help raise millions of dollars for victims of the North Bay fires. The names kept getting bigger for the sold-out Band Together Bay Area benefit concert, with Rancid, G-Eazy and Dead & Company giving impassioned performances and Metallica closing out the night. But the top billing belonged to the audience, including a front section reserved for first responders, volunteers and community members who lost their homes.

Paving over Yosemite and other great ideas

Tue, 7 Nov 2017 21:57:38 UT

Following up on the item in which a reader suggested that the all-new Department of the Interior might preside over coal mining in the Marin Headlands, readers have suggested some other mixed uses for national parks. I mean, what’s the use of them if we can’t monetize? Larry Jones suggests that Yosemite, with its valley, would be an ideal landfill site. And Michael Jory suggests Yosemite National Park and Ride. “Why not pave over every single national park and turn them into parking lots?” The beauty of that suggestion, of course, would be that changing the signs wouldn’t be that expensive. All they have to do is add “ing” to the “Yosemite National Park.

MoAD stresses keeping black art and culture strong in San Francisco

Sat, 4 Nov 2017 04:35:54 UT

The Museum of the African Diaspora’s Afropolitan Ball on Saturday, Oct. 28, raised more than a million bucks, which more than met the monetary goal of this all-out swanky party. But there sure was a larger purpose: “Together,” said the inside of the program for the “Shades of Black” party, “we will keep black art and culture in our city.” If it seems there are fewer and fewer blacks in San Francisco, this was an occasion for the city’s most prominent members of that community — including Willie Brown, honorary co-chairman of the event with Lloyd Dean of Dignity Health — to put on their best duds, party with old pals and confirm their place in the city’s cultural mosaic.

SF Italians say a loving so-long to opera maestro Luisotti

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 16:01:37 UT

San Francisco Opera Musical Director Nicola Luisotti, who had announced in May that he would be leaving in October, flew on Wednesday, Oct. 25, to New York, where he and his wife, Rita, will resettle. Two days before that, on Monday night, Italian Consul General Lorenzo Ortona, his wife, Sheila Pierce, the Italian Cultural Institute’s Paolo Barlera and culture-loving Romana Bracco organized an affectionate ciao-for-now — not a formal Opera event, but a gathering of friends — dinner at the Italian Consulate. Speechifying was limited to a few remarks by Ortona and then Luisotti.

With fire raging, neighbors pitch in to help a bride

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 23:50:30 UT

Nextdoor listings on Thursday, Oct. 12, included a note from a good Samaritan trying to help a desperate friend whose wedding had to be moved due to the Wine Country fires: “Obviously, there are people in far more dire situations, but my friend and bride-to-be is scrambling to find a new venue for what was to be a Sonoma wedding on Saturday. Anyone have suggestions for a venue in San Francisco that could accommodate 70 people and might actually be available this Saturday?” Almost 30 people responded and by the end of the day, a venue had been found. But among the suggestions.

Re-examining the role of the tough guy in our culture

Sun, 1 Oct 2017 13:00:00 UT

The literary stars at the 29th annual National Kidney Foundation authors luncheon — at the Hilton in Union Square on Nov. 4 — include Joyce Maynard, Lisa See, Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown, Christine Carter and Lee Child, whose 22nd Jack Reacher thriller, “The Midnight Line,” will be published in November. Child has been writing the best-selling series for 20 years. The hero of the tales, a former member of the Army military police, is a he-man with “a two-fisted decency,” wrote Janet Maslin in the New York Times. He fights, he shoots, he outsmarts the bad guys.

City Arts & Lectures founder Sydney Goldstein steps down

Wed, 5 Jul 2017 07:01:00 UT

“I am looking forward to sitting in a good orchestra seat or even in the green room” at the Nourse Theatre, “and enjoying the programs along with other patrons,” said Goldstein last week. “With a full-time staff of four, everyone has always had their hand in every aspect of the work, from booking to setting the stage and handling travel and accommodations,” Goldstein said. Many programs are parts of series, such as the 826 Valencia College Scholarship events that City Arts has produced for 13 years. Goldstein was organizing literary events for the College of Marin in 1980 when she booked her first speaker, Fran Lebowitz, who was to lead off a series of six fundraisers for the San Francisco Public Library, in the Herbst Theatre. Soon after that, Steven Barclay, who had taken Goldstein’s job at the College of Marin, came to work with her at the new company, “and added a lot,” said Goldstein, crediting Barclay with snagging Tony Kushner, for example, and adding “energy and taste that built up a certain part of our audience.” With design and communications manager Alexandra Washkin, they manage an email list of almost 25,000 patrons, as well as a separate snail-mail list the same size. With the help of patrons and supporters like Moti Kazemi of BBC Construction, Helen and John Meyer of Meyer Sound and the school district’s facilities chief David Goldin, the restoration cost less than $2 million. “Sydney did the work of finding a new venue, and against so many odds, raising money and finding really talented people to make it work for us and to make it work for so many other presenters,” said Goldstein-Breyer. “I think the main lesson is to trust your instincts,” said Goldstein. Because you can poll a lot of people and you end up with something that maybe by the numbers seems like the right thing, and it’s not.

Netflix project for SF-based ‘Tales of the City’ in development

Tue, 4 Jul 2017 13:00:00 UT

The project doesn’t have a formal go-ahead, but the first of 10 scripts for installments has been written by “The Hours” novelist Michael Cunningham, according to Maupin, the series’ executive producer.

Summer of Love concert and light show come to Golden Gate Park

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 03:19:23 UT

There were 18,000 to 20,000 music-loving, feather-and-bead-draped, flower-holding Summer of Love veterans and hippie-wannabes gathered in the hollow in front of the Conservatory of Flowers during the first summer night of the year, Wednesday, June 21, according to estimates by Rec and Park staffers. The Surrealistic Summer Solstice concert started in the early evening and ended — with an “All You Need Is Love” sing-along — after the 9:15 p.m. light show was projected on the Conservatory, a formal wedding cake of a building that took on a multicolored psychedelic pattern as though she were a Victorian bride boozily wrapping herself in Janis Joplin velvet. In the VIP pavilion, Charlotte Shultz recalled that her husband, the late Jack Mailliard, was president of the Police Commission when the hippies and the police were sparring. Former Mayor Willie Brown, who’d taken a lead role in raising funds for the lighting (co-produced by Obscura Digital), relished the civic moment, and also joked from the podium about “poorly dressed” Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg, who was thereupon defended (“don’t insult Phil”) by Shultz, who not only recalled a certain yellow plaid suit worn by Brown (“bad, bad, bad”) but also mentioned that hairdo you had. The pavilion atmosphere was unstuffy — and there had been a generous amount of time for liquid refreshment before the speeches — but the laughs that it drew sounded wary. Proudly decked out for the occasion in much-admired 1975 Mickey McGowan boots (like the ones in the de Young Museum show, and much admired by passing fashionistas), she reports that the biggest sing-along in her area was “White Rabbit,” and there were boos when Mayor Ed Lee was introduced. Musicians included members of Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Chambers Brothers, Country Joe & the Fish and It’s a Beautiful Day — all backed by Moonalice. People were interested in time traveling, going back to the days of freewheeling dancing ... old hipsters reliving their pasts through the music that got all this stuff going. Concert producer Dawn Holliday (behind the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass free festival at Golden Gate Park) said that from her vantage point on John F. Kennedy Drive, she looked down in the beautiful valley in front of the Conservatory, (where) people were dancing and spinning, and it just looked so peaceful. In front of the Conservatory near the end of the light show, I stood with others in parallel position — arms up as if in religious trance — wielding cell phones in an attempt to capture the vibrancy of the sight.

The joyfully persistent art of being ‘incredibly annoying’

Fri, 2 Jun 2017 21:31:41 UT

Buell’s “Joyous Persistence” event on Thursday, June 1, at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, was Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as The Chronicle’s John Wildermuth Head of Hamlin School Wanda Greene, daughter of a Pentecostal preacher, roared a musical welcome to participants, probably 95 percent of them women. Obama administration Ambassador to Hungary Eleni Kounalakis, running for lieutenant governor, made a case for standing up (“our beautiful country ... elected the worst possible person ever”) and then author and civic leadership advocate Eric Liu got down to the practical matter: how power works. Thursday, of course, was the day that President Trump pulled out of the Paris Accords, and there was a lot of talk about reaction to that serving as a model for future action. Cheryl Haines of the For-Site Foundation talked about Ai Weiwei and political art, and Gina McCarthy, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, talked with Greenpeace’s Annie Leonard about climate change. There was plenty of practical advice — use consumer power to reflect your priorities (; use civic channels to protest (; look for trustworthy news sources ( — for everyday use. [...] in nodding to candidate Kounakalis, he drew a few groans with a joke about the job’s main duty being “picking up the obit section to learn whether the governor has succumbed.” The reception was better when he noted that “California is an antidote for cynicism,” and talked about his hopes that his two daughters have the same opportunities as his sons. The bottom price for a ticket to the daylong event was $100, but I sat next to Joan Bullen of Mill Valley, who, with her daughter, Emma Mastra, was there on “scholarship.” The afternoon closed with Anna Deavere Smith performing three segments from her work, including an interview in which she was the voice of civil rights leader John Lewis, describing the chief of police in Montgomery, Ala., apologizing to him for beatings/arrests Lewis had suffered in the ’60s. Artist Michele Pred, carrying a purse emblazoned with the words “Equal Pay” in lights, gave away, one by one, a fistful of dollar bills, each marked with a percentage of the wages earned by women in various ethnic groups as compared with white men, and each cropped to reflect that percentage.

You can now drink while watching the opera, symphony, and ballet, at least at the moment

Thu, 1 Jun 2017 13:00:00 UT

The San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, and San Francisco Opera (which has long allowed patrons in boxes to sip Champagne while soaking up arias), agreed to a six-month trial in which the hoi polloi would be allowed the same privilege. For the Ballet and the Symphony, the trial started in January; because the opera season is in the fall, its experiment begins with summer opera. Drinks in enclosed containers can be toted into the hall to be slugged at will. What with tweeting and slurping, the culture connoisseur has nary a chance to nap.

Dermatologist says 'cell callous' is joining 'tech neck' as a 21st century health issue

Tue, 30 May 2017 18:53:17 UT

Callous and corn creams designed for feet may help, or a superficial cortisone shot. But sufferers should adjust their phone grips. "Palm it," says the doc, "or better yet, put it down."

Is Donald Trump’s pen mightier than his sword?

Tue, 16 May 2017 20:09:03 UT

Almost daily, we see photos of our man in the White House holding up documents he’s signed, his facial expression mimicking the proud glee of a toddler holding up the handprint he made for Mother’s Day. Reader James Brzezinski, whose challenging name may have led to a lifelong interest in names and signatures, has studied the presidential signature on the letter in which FBI Director James Comey was fired, for example, and is thinking that the president signs with the ancient family name that preceded Trump: Wieder’s suggested picks for Comey’s replacement include: the president’s daughter Tiffany Trump (“just accepted to Georgetown law school”); Mike Flynn (“has ‘lock her up’ tattoo”); actor Mark Harmon ( “‘NCIS’ consistently No. 1 in the ratings”); Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner ( “still has Tuesdays open”); Joe Arpaio (“‘se habla’ this”); and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (“makes Arpaio look like Pope Francis”). The Art and Poetry of Resistance at the Museum of International Propaganda in San Rafael, Patrick Gannon noticed a meter minder about to ticket his car. The parking enforcer asked if the car with a “Facts Matter” bumper sticker was his and then added, “I bet in this case you’ll hope that the facts don’t matter, eh?” She didn’t ticket the car. [...] Kevon Cottrell, who just watched the 2000 movie “American Psycho,” reports that 16 minutes into it, the lead character, who seems to be a wealthy up-and-comer, asks, “Isn’t that Trump’s car?” Later, he spots Ivana Trump. The movie, based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel, was known for its gruesome depiction of a serial killer. [...] according to an appraisal in Rolling Stone magazine, “At its heart, ‘American Psycho’ is a caustic satire about materialism and the empty feeling that comes with chasing it.” When Bernadette Peters sang “Am I Losing My Mind?,” “Send in the Clowns” and “Children Will Listen” at the Palace of Fine Arts on Saturday, May 13, Billy Cook and Julian Grant wondered if “she was offering subliminal commentary about current events in Washington.” In keeping with that, Will Durst, whose new show, “Durst Case Scenario,” opens in July at the Marsh, is wondering whether “this whole thing might be a plot by the pharmaceutical industry to sell more Xanax.” Mark Davis sent photos of an installation in which a neighbor had used a front fence to create a Mother Guilt Depository.