Thursday, October 31, 2013

Merola Goes to the Movies: Otello

source: Wikipedia

For our second program, the Merola Opera Program and the San Francisco Public Library continue our Merola Goes to the Movies series with a screening of Otello, directed by Franco Zeffirelli.  This 1986 production features Placido Domingo as Otello, Katia Ricciarelli as Desdemona and Justino Diaz as Iago and runs 124 minutes.

In his autobiography Zeffirelli writes "the first rule of filmed opera is that the story should be universally understood."  He felt it would be a disaster to try to "put over one of those convoluted opera stories."  That is why he chose Otello as a subject since it was already well-known as Shakespeare's classic play Othello.
Otello is a stirring drama of love and jealousy, ambition and vengeance is set against the splendor of the 15th century Venetian Republic. It is the second of Verdi's three operas based on Shakespeare plays.  Arrigo Boito, composer of the opera Mefistofele recently produced by the San Francisco Opera, wrote the libretto for Verdi's opera.  Michael Rose's new book The Birth of An Opera has a chapter that traces the genesis of the opera and Boito's collaboration with Verdi.

The film is sung in Italian with English subtitles.

Otello will screen at 1:00 PM on Sunday, November 2, 2013 in the Koret Auditorium of the Main Library.  All Library programs are free and open to the public.

The Birth of an Opera: Fifteen Masterpieces from Poppea to Wozzeck by Michael Rose (W.W. Norton, 2013).

Zeffirelli: The Autobiography of Franco Zeffirelli (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986).

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Music for Halloween

Halloween is well know as the most important night of the year in San Francisco.  While it's not a holiday necessarily associated with any particular songs or music, any musical selections with a bit of the macabre or mysterious could create a Halloween mood.

The Halloween SongBOOk includes "spooky music from movies" (examples are the Title themes from the Corpse Bride or Nightmare on Elm Street).  It also has "pop, rock , and novelty songs" (for instance "Monster Mash" and "The Purple People Eater") as well as "creepy classical music" (such as Danse Macabre and Funeral March of a Marionette - the theme to Alfred Hitchcock Presents).

Piano Pictures: Witches, Fairies and Ghosts: 28 Fantastic and Spooky Pieces for Children is a collection of simple piano compositions.  The selections tend more toward the magical and ethereal with works like "A Little Fairy Tale" by Aleksandr Grechaninov, "A Fairy Tale" by Dmitry Kabalevsky, and "A Night Voyage" by Cornelius Gurlitt.  But there is also spookier fare with little pieces like "Dancing Ghosts" by Mike Schoenmehl, and "Ogre" by Alec Rowley.

Harold Arlen and Ralph Blane's "Halloween" from the Dorothy Starr Collection is is a suave, sophisticated adult take on the holiday.  It anticipates what the holiday has become today, albeit with a mid-20th century feel:
Owls and bats, howls from cats
May scare the buttons right off your spats
Don't be afraid of a ghost
For the ghost may be your host.
C. W. Reid's "Halloween" is a self-published children's piano piece from the 1920s also from the Dorothy Starr Collection.  It includes optional words that may be sung or recited in a playful Halloween spirit.

A spooky chromatic figure in minor 6ths with the words that lands on an A major chord accompanies the sentence:
There's a ghostly figure floating down that shadowy lane.
Almost as mysterious as the music is C. W. Reid himself (or herself?).  Published in San Francisco, this is the only work by C. W. Reid in any library in the country.  There is also no such name in the 1926 City Directory.  Who was C. W. Reid?

The Halloween SongBOOk: 27 Frightfully Fun Songs to Play and Sing (Alfred Music Pub. Co., 2010).

"Halloween," by C. W. Reid (San Francisco, CA: C. W. Reid, 1926). [from the Dorothy Starr Collection]

"Halloween," words and music by Harold Arlen (Harwin Music Corporation, 1950). [from the Dorothy Starr Collection]

Piano pictures. 1, Witches, Fairies and Ghosts: 28 Fantastic and Spooky Piano Pieces for Children, edited by Monika Twelsiek (Schott, 2008).

Monday, October 21, 2013

We'll Meet Again - Musical Design the the Films of Stanley Kubrick

We'll Meet Again

Tuesday afternoon, October 22, 2013 from 2-4 p.m., the Art, Music & Recreation Center will present the program Stanley Kubrick: Secret Musician.  Kate McQuiston, author of the new book We'll Meet Again: Musical Design in the Films of Stanley Kubrick, argues that, for Kubrick, music is neither post-production afterthought nor background nor incidental, but instead is core to films' effects and meanings. Kubrick gave careful attention to musical works he used in his films, most famously in 2001: A Space Odyssey with Richard Strauss's tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra and in A Clockwork Orange with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.  She highlights the building blocks in Kubrick's sonic world and illuminates the ways in which Kubrick uses them to support his characters and to define character relationships

Stanley Kubrick: Secret Musician will be presented at the Koret Auditorium in the Lower Level of the Main Library.  All library programs are free and open to the public.

Kate McQuiston's book is on order at the Library and can be placed on hold.

We'll Meet Again: Musical Design in the Films of Stanley Kubrick by Kate McQuiston (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Animals on Screen and Radio

In an age when many believe that all human knowledge is becoming available online there remain two problems.  What about the information that gets overlooked?  And within this glut of information, how does one get to the heart of the information that one seeks?

Reference books are the answer.  A well-indexed reference book can bring together information on a topic in helpful and sometimes unexpected ways.

Animals on Screen and Radio is just such a reference book.  It is an annotated listing of  1373 theatrical and television films, 114 television series, 26 radio series.  While not all of these films have animals as their principal theme, the annotations look into the role of an animal or animals within the film.

The most useful feature of this reference are the two indexes - a subject index and name index.  The name index is a listing of an animal character's or an animal actor's name.  Who knew that the name Freddie could refer to a lion (in the Daktari TV series), a seal (in the Galloping Fish), or an animated frog (in Freddie as F.R.O. 7)?

It is the subject index that is most helpful.  It is both an index by animal species and by theme or subject.  In addition to the standard menagerie of the domestic and wild kingdoms, there are unexpected categories like Bacteria and Viruses, broader categories (Talking Animals, Show Animals), and supernatural categories (Aliens, Ghosts).

The themes and subjects included in the index provide a unique approach to this topic.  A very wide range of subjects are covered.  Just touching the surface there are listings for Adoptions, Advertising, Aging, Animal Rights, Children, Courtships, Cruelty, Devotion, Friendship, Gangs, etc...

Under the heading of "Reincarnation" we find Tale of Ligeia - a Roger Corman directed film of an Edgar Allan Poe short story, starring Vincent Price.  In this film a cat is possessed by a dead woman's vengeful spirit.

tomb of ligeia black cat poster spotlight
image source: Arizona Public Media website

In the category of "Tramps" we find the movie Down and Out In Beverly Hills where Nick Nolte's character befriends a dog.

DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, Nick Nolte, Mike the dog, 1986, on all fours
image source:

Animals and Screen and Radio promotes a broad understanding of the depiction of animals in films from the early silent days up through the 1980s.  This book is useful both for the film buff and for the animal lover, introducing them to new themes and situations highlighting our animal companions and the natural world.  Nowadays through recordings, television, and the internet, a vast range of film is available to us all.  A serendipitous browse through the index and listings of this work could introduce the reader to entertaining and maybe previously unknown or forgotten films.

Animals on Screen and Radio: An Annotated Sourcebook by Ann C. Paietta and Jean L. Kauppila (Scarecrow Press, 1994).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Weiferd Watts: a Dancer’s Form. Tribute to a beloved photographer

Weiferd Watts in his studio.  photo credit: Marvin Collins

Weiferd Watts passed away in 2010. Since then the library has been collaborating with the local dance community to exhibit a small collection of the photographs that tied Weiferd and the dancers together.

Three years ago I picked up In Dance magazine and read an obituary for Weiferd Watts written by a local dancer, Greta Schoenberg.  I got in touch with Greta hoping to curate an exhibit of Weiferd Watts’ work at the library.  This was easier said than done as Weiferd’s largest body of work was not readily available.  A group of dancer’s, including Greta, Selena Chau and Laura Serghiou put out a call to the local dance community for photographs that Weiferd had given to the dancers over the years. These photographs were gathered together and the Art, Music and Recreation Center, with invaluable assistance from the Exhibitions Department, curated the exhibit that is now on view on the 4th floor of the main library in the Music Center.
For over twenty-five years photographer Weiferd Watts captured an incredible array of dancers and athletes from around the US and abroad. He became a well-known fixture in the Bay Area dance community and counted among his subjects dancers from America’s top companies. Removed from the traditional setting of the stage, the intimate portraits he created required the eye of a choreographer. Without any dance training, he would contort his body in an attempt to demonstrate his visions for movement, which were then interpreted by his subjects, yielding extraordinary results. His vast body of work represents several generations of artists captured in magical, elusive moments created through collaborative experiments and pure serendipity.
Weiferd’s work captured the fleeting presence of a generation of dancers from our community and documented a unique collaborative process between two disciplines. Dance and photography were his passions and both fields will mourn his early loss for years to come. Let us enjoy what he left behind.
The exhibit will run from September 21st, 2013 through January 2nd, 2014