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: Few Bay Area traditions are as grand and lovely as the Stern Grove Festival, and not just because the music is delivered for free. The festival, now in its 86th year, offers great concerts from mid-June through late August at stately Stern Grove at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard in San Francisco. This year’s lineup of A-list acts is one of the best we’ve seen in a while: folk icons Indigo Girls and opener Neko Case on Sunday; genre-bending singer-songwriter Santigold with opener Ogi on July 2; Lyle Lovett with opener Andrew St. James on July 9; Angelique Kidjo with opener Jupiter & Okwess on July 16; the San Francisco Symphony performing sections of classic film scores on July 23; Bob Moses with opener Neil Frances on July 30; Buddy Guy with opener Eric Gales on Aug. 6; Patti Smith with opener Bob Mould on Aug. 13; and the season-closing “Big Picnic” concert featuring the Flaming Lips on Aug. 20. Shows begin at 2 p.m. and are free, although—and this is important—reservations are required. The reservations open for each show a month in advance and spots are routinely released up until the day of the performance. So even though the Indigo Girls, touring behind their recently released 16th album, “Look Long,” are listed as sold out, keep checking for newly released tickets. If all else fails, live-stream the concert at home. Details are at www.sterngrove.org.
Hurricane Madeleine: Playwright Madeleine George has a knack for weaving together a great range of themes and elements in her plays, which are like firecrackers of creativity. In “The Curious Case of the Watson Intelligence,” a love-hate look at our dependence on technology, George brings together several Watsons—including Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick and the supercomputer that once kicked butt on “Jeopardy!”—to clever comedic effect. The comedy, which was presented by Shotgun Players in Berkeley a few years ago, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2014. Now comes the equally busy “Hurricane Diane,” which as the New York Times puts it, “whirls ancient myth, lesbian pulp, ecological thriller and The Real Housewives of Monmouth County into a perfect storm of timely tragicomedy.” It focuses on a suburban woman who wants nothing more than to create the perfect lawn and garden. But the lesbian gardener she hires, who is the Greek God Dionysus in disguise, is obsessed with climate change and has other ideas. The 2019 play recently opened at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre, directed by Jennifer King and starring Rebecca Schweitzer as the ambitious homeowner and Stacy Ross as the feisty gardener. The show runs through July 16 at the theater, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $33-$65; go to www.auroratheatre.org
A busy Blanchard: If you’re wondering what happens to an acclaimed musician’s performance schedule after landing a high-profile administrator-curator’s gig, Terence Blanchard offers an encouraging glimpse. The renowned New Orleans trumpeter and composer (whose opera “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” this year became the first work by an African-American composer produced by the New York’s Metropolitan Opera Company) was named the new executive artistic director of SFJAZZ Center on June 8, replacing founder Randall Kline. Far from giving his trumpet a vacation, however, Blanchard will be onstage at Bing Concert Hall on Saturday night during opening weekend of the Stanford Jazz Festival. He’ll lead the star-studded E-Collective (with pianist Taylor Eigsti, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist David Ginyard and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr.), which will be joined by the acclaimed Turtle Island Quartet. The musicians teamed on the acclaimed 2021 album “Absence,” a tribute to the legendary Wayne Shorter, who died in March. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $30-$100. The Stanford Jazz Festival, meanwhile, runs through Aug. 5 with a dazzling lineup including Indian jazz singer Mahesh Kale with saxophonist George Brooks (Sunday), singer Clairdee (July 1), composer and percussionist Omar Sosa (July 8) and many more. Most shows cost $52-$62. Tickets, a complete schedule and more information are at stanfordjazz.org
One hell of an operetta: The fair Eurydice has had it up to here (picture hand under her chin) with her sketchy fiddle-playing husband Orpheus and takes up with the shepherd Aristaeus, who turns out to be Pluto, whom she willingly accompanies to his kingdom waaaay down below. That’s just the beginning of the tomfoolery in composer Jacques Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld,” a hilarious and satirical burlesque on Greek mythology that incorporates Jupiter (disguised as a fly!), Juno, Cupid, Mercury, Mars, Minerva and, of course, the wine-swilling Bacchus in the cast. The feisty Pocket Opera company opened it to a full house last week in Berkeley but has one more production to present at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. Soprano Amy Foote sings as Eurydice, tenor Andrew Metzger is Pluto, and tenor Nathanael Fleming is Orpheus, who, truth be told, couldn’t care less if he gets Eurydice back or not. You’ll surely recognize the tune when the second act ends with everyone cavorting around to Offenbach’s famous can-can. Find tickets, $30-$75, at pocketopera.org.
Arias al fresco: Walnut Creek-based Festival Opera is gearing up for its 2023 season (and will have a production of Bizet’s “Carmen” in August) by tempting opera lovers to a free concert at 6 p.m. Thursday in Orinda Community Park at 28 Orinda Way. General director Zachary Gordin hosts a program of highlights from “Don Giovanni,” “Carmen” and “La Boheme” along with hits from Broadway shows “Camelot” and “Les Misérables” and songs by George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, Kurt Weill and Irving Berlin. The scheduled singers are Aisha Campbell, Dalyte Kodzis, Matheus Coura, Michael Foreman and Matthew Lovell, with Chun Mei Wilson backing them on piano. Lawn seating will be available. and there will be trucks on hand selling food and wine. For more information, check festivalopera.org.