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.
Freebie of the week: Take me out to the opera! It’s a grand night for singing at Oracle Park in San Francisco Friday night, as the San Francisco Opera streams its newly minted production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” live from opening night on the War Memorial Opera House stage onto the gigantic digital scoreboard in the ballpark. This annual event draws thousands of opera lovers who pour onto the field and into the stands to enjoy what they’d have to pay anywhere from $26 to $408 to hear in a cushioned opera house seat. You might want to bundle up and bring a thermos of hot chocolate, as the simulcast will stretch a full three hours from its 7:30 p.m. curtain time. This production, sung in Italian with English supertitles, stars three singers all making their house debuts: South African soprano Pretty Yende brings her celebrated interpretation of the courtesan Violetta’s role to an American stage for the first time; tenor Jonathan Tetelman makes his West Coast operatic debut as well, singing the part of her lover Alfredo Germont; and baritone Simone Piazzola steps into the role of his disapproving father, Giorgio Germont. Registration is recommended at www.sfopera.com/ballpark. “La Traviata” runs through Dec. 3, with a special digital livestream available for $27.50 on Nov. 16 and a one-time, elaborate, party-hearty “Traviata Encounter” featuring the first act and an evening of eating, drinking and festivities to follow on Nov. 19. Find information on each at sfopera.com/digital and sfopera.com/encounter.
A proliferation of Prokofiev: Vadym Kholodenko, a Ukrainian-born pianist who began a career as a solo concert artist at age 13 and went on to capture the prestigious gold medal at the Van Cliburn competition in 2013, is the featured artist for the Steinway Society’s program at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Visual and Performing Arts Center on the De Anza College campus in Cupertino (2150 Stevens Creek Blvd.) Although he will be playing all four movements of the Schubert Sonata in E-flat Major, the bulk of his program will be works by Sergei Prokofiev. The Russian composer’s “Four Pieces” (Danza, Minuet, Gavotte, Waltz) will open the evening, which will conclude with his “Things in themselves,” Op. 45, A and B and his Sonata No. 6, Op. 82. Single tickets for the live performance, $55-$80, are available at steinwaysociety.com or 408-300-5635, but the recital will also be livestreamed, at $40 per household, with the program accessible for the following 48 hours.
From Russia, with love: Did you know that stage musicals have been adapted from “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch?” It’s enough to make you wonder if the adaptation game has been given completely over to one-note, knee-jerk bean counters looking to make a quick buck off something easy. Then along comes a show like Dave Malloy’s “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” the origin of which staggers the imagination: Carve a 70-page chunk from Tolstoy’s 1,225-page novel “War & Peace” (an intimidating work that has possibly been fake-read more than any other piece of literature in history) and voila – there’s your musical. But given that this is a Russian novel we’re talking about, those 70 pages afforded Malloy more than enough love, heartbreak, scandal, philosophical musing, war and what-all to create a compelling sung-through electropop musical, which is what Malloy did, and wound up with a Broadway hit that garnered 12 Tony Award nominations in 2017. Now the musical is getting its West Coast premiere by Berkeley’s Shotgun Players, in what amounts to a homecoming of sorts for Malloy, who used to live in the Bay Area and whose long history of working with Shotgun players dates back to 2005, when he was the music director of the company’s production of “Cabaret.” “Comet” plays at Ashby Stage in Berkeley through Jan. 15. Tickets are $34-$70 with a pay-what-you-can performance set for 8 p.m. Friday. The show will be live-streamed Nov. 17 and Dec. 1 ($25). Tickets and more information are available at shotgunplayers.org.
Motown musical: There are two kinds of jukebox musicals these days. One version wraps together a bunch of tunes from a beloved band or artist in a story concocted to make it seem like the songs somehow belong together. We’re talking about such shows as the ABBA-fueled “Mamma Mia!,” which can be ridiculously funny; or “Head Over Heels,” which was mostly just ridiculous (but likable if you are into Go-Go’s tunes). Then there are shows that use songs from an iconic band to tell the story about that group, such as the much-produced hit “Jersey Boys,” about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (and who knew that those clean-cut-seeming boys were such badasses?). One of the more recent versions of this genre has Motown in its veins and got its start at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. “Ain’t Too Proud,” Dominique Morisseau’s fast-paced, no-nonsense take on The Temptations, premiered in Berkeley in 2017 before moving on to Broadway. Now it’s back in the Bay Area in a touring Broadway production presented by BroadwaySF. Morriseau is known for such Detroit-centered plays as “Skeleton Crew” and “Detroit ‘67,” both of which have been produced in the Bay Area. As for “Ain’t Too Proud,” The Temptations story certainly has enough drama – enormous talent, clashing egos, drugs and legal issues – to make a compelling play, but chances are it is will be those classic, earthshaking Motown hits and the high-kicking choreography that you will remember most. “Ain’t Too Proud” plays Wednesday through Dec. 4 at the Golden Gate Theatre at Taylor and Market streets in San Francisco. Tickets are $56-$256 (subject to change). Go to www.broadwaysf.com
Foggy choreography: It’s common for a painter, writer or composer to seek inspiration from a secluded, serene and scenic setting, probing its beauty, silence and solitude for insights into the human spirit or the world around us. Liss Fain did the same thing to develop a dance. The result was “Here. Take It,” a full-length, immersive installation work that gets its debut this weekend in San Francisco. The work is the first since 2019 for Fain, a longtime choreographer who studied with Merce Cunningham and who is known for pieces that incorporate evocative settings and deal with our place in the world. For this piece, Fain made several trips to Pierce Point Ranch, a national park near the tip of Point Reyes, where she would arrive pre-dawn and watch the Bay Area’s resplendent fog give way to morning light. And it is this transformation that she is attempting to capture on stage – from the fog to the abandoned dairy farm buildings to the beckoning shoreline. The work reportedly incorporates a free-standing barnlike structure that covers the stage, along with film and video clips, voiced-over text, a score by Dan Wool, six dancers and an actor. Fain says that during her exploratory trips to Pierce Point, she was seeking solace from dealing with a medical issue affecting a loved one. As she puts it, “There is something life-affirming in that place, watching the dark disappear.” The piece brings performers and audience members together onstage, creating an atmosphere of intimacy and shared experience. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Z Space, 450 Florida St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$45. More information is at www.zspace.org or https://www.lissfaindance.org.