Local News Matters Arts & Entertainment newsletter

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The Bay Area is a hub of artistic expression, attracting artists, writers and musicians from around the globe to live, work and create. We highlight some of the offerings here.

• Shocking, salacious and full of fine singing: San Francisco Opera, sad to say, announced this week the cancellation of its fall season. But their ongoing Opera is ON digital project ventures bravely on with this weekend’s free streaming of Richard Strauss’ biblical-themed “Salome.” Their 2009 production starred German soprano Nadja Michael as the flame-haired temptress who writhes her way through the Dance of Seven Veils for her lustful step-pop Herod in order to get the captured Jokanaan (aka John the Baptist) decapitated and delivered, minus his body, to her on a silver platter. It’s all very revenge porn-driven and gross, but the music is as lush and sensuous as anything in the operatic repertoire. Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley is Jokanaan, and tenor Kim Begley sings the role of Herod. The 1-hour-50-minute opera, sung in German, streams at 10 a.m. on June 20 at sfopera.com and is available until midnight the following day.


Bay Area stage icon Aldo Billingslea is leading an ambitious new black theater initiative that includes a livestreamed play reading on June 19. (Photo courtesy of PlayGround)

• A Juneteenth play: Talk about an ambitious project, PlayGround, the Bay Area new stage works incubator, is teaming with Bay Area stage icon Aldo Billingslea, the nonprofit Planet Earth Arts, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre and 30 other Bay Area stage troupes to present a live-streamed Zoom reading of a brand new Black Lives Matter-themed play to celebrate Juneteenth and raise funds for African American theater projects across the country. The play is Vincent Terrell Durham’s “Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids,” which imagines an eventful meeting between a white liberal couple and Black Lives Matter activists. Actors from around the Bay Area and the country will take part in the reading, which will be streamed at 7 p.m. June 19 (Juneteenth). The presentation is free, but donations are welcome and will benefit Billingslea’s new Juneteenth Theatre Justice Project, which aims to assist black theater companies and address what organizers cite as “the systemic racism in the theater industry.” To access the play and learn more, go to https://playground-sf.org/Juneteenth/.


• A waterborne cellist: We can scarcely believe our eyes as we watch Stjepan Hauser, one-half (with Luka Šulić) of the world-renowned 2CELLOS  ensemble, floating barefoot with his instrument on a wooden platform that is wending its way through the stunningly gorgeous waterfalls of his native Croatia’s Krka National Park. As luscious to look at as it is to listen to, this nearly 23-minute video concert features ultra romantic music by the likes of Rachmaninoff (the slow movement from his second piano concerto, transcribed, of course, for cello), Tchaikovsky (“Swan Lake” and “Nutcracker” excerpts) and others. It’s a part of the “Alone, Together” performance events Hauser has been posting to stream on his YouTube channel – a previous one was posted from Croatia’s Pula Arena amphitheater sans audience. Access the new post here: https://youtu.be/EejNUPl5bz0.


A streaming version of David Hirata’s solo show “A Box Without a Bottom” is available on The Marsh’s website. (Photo by Daniel D. Baumer/The Marsh)

• A magic ‘Box’: Bay Area writer, stage performer and illusionist David Hirata has entertained audiences around the Bay Area with his theatrical magic show. He also debuted a controversial solo stage show at The Marsh in San Francisco last year that related the story of famed 19th-century Japanese magician Namigoro Sumidagawa, who toured America and became a celebrity, as well as a target for racial taunts and harassment. It was the play’s original title — “The Jap Box,” an actual term used by American detractors to describe one of Sumidagawa’s stage props — that drew the controversy. Hirata has retitled his solo show “A Box Without a Bottom” Visitors to The Marsh’s website can find a streaming version of the show available under the “Solo Performer Spotlight” heading; it’s among the wide variety of Marsh content you’ll find online. The show is free but donations are encouraged. Go to themarsh.org.


• An icon reopens: OK, this isn’t so much an arts event as a cultural milestone. But San Francisco’s legendary City Lights Bookstore — which survived an obscenity trial by selling Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” in the 1950s, but was shuttered like most businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic — is back open. Yes, you must wear a mask and practice social distancing, and inside traffic will be kept to a limit, but the iconic 67-year-old store at Columbus and Broadway in the city’s North Beach neighborhood will admit patrons from noon-8 p.m. seven days a week. New to the store is a “Antiracist” section of fiction and nonfiction works responding to the country’s protests over racism and police brutality. The store will still serve those who are more comfortable ordering books by mail or for pickup — call 415-362-8193 or email orders@citylights.com — and for now, City Lights literary events will still be of the streaming variety. More information is at www.citylights.com