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.
Doom, gloom and some great tunes: A Druid high priestess in love with the totally wrong guy (first, he is two-timing her; second, he is a Roman commander and the arch-enemy of her occupied people; and third, she shouldn’t be cuddling with anybody, because she has sworn a vow of chastity) gets tangled up in her own machinations with disastrous results in Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma.” Walnut Creek-based Festival Opera undertakes an ambitious production of the two-act tragedy at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Lesher Center’s Hofmann Theatre, 1601 Civic Drive. Soprano Shana Blake Hill stars in the title role, opposite tenor Dane Suarez as her faithless lover, the Roman proconsul Pollione. Bass Kevin Thompson is Norma’s father Oroveso, king of the Gauls, and mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon is Adalgisa, the younger Druid priestess who is also in love with Pollione. Bryan Nies conducts the Festival Opera and Chorus as the organization opens its 31st season with this production, directed by Mark Foehringer. The performance repeats at 2 p.m. Sunday. You can find tickets, $45-$95, at https://www.festivalopera.org/ or by calling (925) 943-7469.
An American sing-out: Some of them come from as far away as China, South Korea and Uzbekistan, but Saturday afternoon at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, this year’s crop of 31 Merolini will be performing proudly from the all-American repertoire of Broadway and Hollywood hits. The young apprentices in San Francisco Opera’s prestigious and highly competitive Merola Opera Program present “A Celebration of American Song” to kick off their 2022 Summer Festival at 3 p.m. in the concert hall at 50 Oak St. Curated by Grammy-winning pianist Craig Terry, who is also a Lyric Opera of Chicago music director, the program will roll out classics by such big-name American composers as Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Fats Waller, Jule Styne, Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein and more. We’re sure the urge to sing along will be strong, but do it under your breath, please. For more information, or to purchase tickets, $55-$80, visit https://merola.org/calendar.
Different look at American dream: Polish-born playwright Martyna Majok represents the kind of immigrant experience that her protagonists in “Sanctuary City” could only hope for. As a child, she came to the U.S. with her parents, who toiled at a variety of jobs while she grew up in New Jersey and discovered in school that she had a unique and powerful voice for drama. Now 37, Majok has four full-length plays to her credit — not to mention a Pulitzer Prize for her 2016 work “Cost of Living,” which looks at the relationships between disabled and abled persons. And she is reportedly at work on a musical adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” with musical artists Florence Welch and Thomas Bartlett. She has developed a reputation for hard-hitting and evocative glimpses of people and communities in America struggling against a variety of societal obstacles. Her 2020 play “Sanctuary City,” getting its West Coast premiere beginning this week at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, focuses on a pair of young undocumented immigrants, Dreamers, who are striving to build a stable life as teenagers in America, where even in a sanctuary city like Newark, New Jersey, something as simple as a traffic ticket can lead to peril. Love, courage and politics are intertwined in Majok’s 90-minute play that jumps back and forth in time and emerges in short snippets of action and narrative. “Sanctuary City” plays in previews Friday through Tuesday, with the main run slated for July 13 through Aug. 14. Proof of vaccination is required, and masks must be worn in the theater. Tickets are $21-$86; go to https://www.berkeleyrep.org/.
‘Star Trek’ off the cuff: East Bay-based Synergy Theater specializes in the challenging art of full-length improvised “plays” based on a classic theme and steered by audience suggestions. In other words, there’s a general story going but you should come prepared to laugh at the sheer improvisational energy and goofiness of it all. The troupe is currently reviving its 2019 show “Improvisors in Space: A Spontaneous Starship Adventure,” which takes as its storytelling foundation “Star Trek,” a franchise that practically begs to be made fun of. But since this improvisation and all, any audience suggestion dealing with space-based sci-fi is probably acceptable grist for the mill. If it looks like an idea will grab a laugh, or even a groan, this 13-member troupe led by performer and director Kenn Adams will no doubt boldly go for it. The production is playing Thursday through July 17 at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts, where proof of vaccination is currently not required, but masks are strongly recommended. Attendees are encouraged, however, to “set your phasers on pun.” “Improvisors in Space” tickets are $25 (we have no idea what that equals in Klingon currency). Tickets and more information are at https://www.lesherartscenter.org/.
Tribute to Linda: Pop, rock and jazz singer Linda Ronstadt boasts one of America’s most iconic song catalogs. Blessed with a powerful, evocative voice and a knack for thrilling interpretations of seemingly every tune she tackles, the 11-time Grammy Award-winner is a superstar of American popular music. On Saturday, her legions of fans are offered a treat when Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater hosts “A Celebration of the Music of Linda Ronstadt,” a concert touching on the full breadth of her career, from the pop-rock standards she performed with the Stone Poneys and as a solo artist, to her jazz/pop standards performed with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Taking on the chief vocals for the show is acclaimed cabaret/jazz/blues singer Ann Hampton Callaway, whose impressive catalog includes tributes to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. She is also an accomplished songwriter whose tunes have been recorded by artists ranging from Liza Minnelli to Carole King to Patti LuPone. And if you want to impress pals with some tasty trivia, know that she also wrote the theme song for TV’s hit sitcom “The Nanny.” On Saturday, Hampton will be accompanied by the Stanford Live Orchestra, along with guest artists The Good Lovelies, a Canadian folk/country trio known for its heavenly harmonies; San Francisco singer and trumpeter La Doña; and San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow Anne-Marie MacIntosh. The show, presented by Stanford Live, kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Make sure to check the event website for up-to-date COVID requirements. Tickets are $15-$140, with some VIP four-person tables available. Tickets and more information are at https://live.stanford.edu/.