November 2, 2007


(L) View of the stage from the boxes. War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
(R) Light cast against the I-beam structure projects shadows extending to infinity. 

Stark sets and old-school lighting link the past to the present

    Although new chamber pieces and small-scale operas are frequently performed, new large-scale opera premieres are rare. First, there is the expense. In addition to the words and music, grand opera demands enormous resources, both onstage and in the wings. The company needs principal and secondary singers, a chorus, stagehands, dancers, choreographers, an orchestra, conductors, the stage directors, and the technicians and artists responsible for lighting, scenery, props and costumes. Repertory companies also have large administrative staff requirements. For the year 2005–2006, salaries for all San Francisco Opera totaled in excess of $40 million. Picture a big Broadway musical on steroids.
    Therefore, premieres of major new works are scheduled far in advance so that the artistic vision and the financial structure can coalesce at the required moment. For the 2007–2008 season, while other major U.S. opera companies are contenting themselves with new productions of familiar works, San Francisco Opera drew the long straw — a brand new work by one of the 20th century’s top composers.
    Appomattox, the new opera by American composer Philip Glass, had its premiere at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House on Oct. 5. The work is a look back at the end of the Civil War, a key moment in our nation’s history, and the social and political issues at its core and how they reverberate today. After four years of war, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to his Union counterpart Ulysses S. Grant in the town of Appomattox Court House, Va., bringing the Civil War to a close. The opera is a look at the end of the conflict.
    To tackle this enormous subject, director Robert Woodruff went to the Broadway stage for two key members of his creative team. He chose Lighting Designer Christopher Akerlind and Set Designer Riccardo Hernandez as collaborators; Appomattox was both their San Francisco Opera debuts, carrying on the tradition of opera companies poaching talent from Broadway and film.

August 16, 2007

Eat This Now: Trader Ming's Peanut Satay Noodles & Sauce

   In our busy world, there are numerous quick meals available to help get dinner on the table. However, most of them require adding meat. This is fine for the carnivores among us, but it’s really lousy for vegetarians, especially vegans. Trader Ming to the rescue. The Peanut Satay Noodle box is a delicious vegan-friendly entrée that can be eaten on its own or, for those at the top of the food chain, as part of a meal that includes dead animals.
   Mildly spiced, with a great peanut flavor, the noodles have decent texture that hold up during the cooking process. It’s great for those nights when you just can’t face cooking or even deciding what cheap and cheerful palace of fine dining to patronize. This little meal takes only two minutes in the microwave and is prepared in its own take-out carton for fuss-free cooking and no cleanup.
$1.99 (approx.)
Trader Joe's (multiple locations)

Originally published August 16, 2007, Las Vegas Weekly

July 12, 2007

Eat This Now: Chocolate-Covered Raspberries at The Chocolate Swan

   All of us at one time or another have to ferry the relatives or visiting friends to the Strip.  Sometimes they even convince us to go with them.  Your reward for being a good host/daughter/friend is The Chocolate Swan. This little bastion of civility is set apart from the slot machines and casino noise on the Mall Level of Mandalay Place and is a great place to relax mid-schlep. The store carries the usual coffee menu and interesting desserts, but it excels at chocolate — especially the chocolate-covered raspberries. These are not just some pureed or chopped numbers, but a single piece of fresh, sweet-tart fruit covered in smooth, creamy chocolate. Definitely not a two-biter; just pop the whole thing in your mouth — unless you want to wear the raspberry juice — bite down and wait for the flavor explosion. Accompany this with a double espresso, and you might even forget where you are.

(NOTE: Sadly, The Chocolate Swan closed a while back.)
Originally published July 12, 2007, Las Vegas Weekly