Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Some Berkeley-San Francisco Cultural Life

Berkeley was not to be outdone after my East Coast theatre and music experiences. Rather than photos, I have included links to some video clips in the text below.

The day I flew back to Berkeley from New York we had tickets to see Il Trovatore at the SF Opera House. I needed a suitcase for my 3+ weeks away, as that time had included some Synagogue and other occasions when I couldn't wear my usual jeans and a top and also had transitioned across seasons, so I'd needed both cool and warm weather gear. My flight got into SFO around 2 and I had established that the cloak room at the Opera House doesn't open till an hour and a half before the performance(therefore 6PM). Since 9/11, left luggage facilities seem to have disappeared, and I didn't fancy walking around San Francisco schlepping a suitcase. I also certainly didn't want to go back to Berkeley to dump my luggage only to turn right around and come back into SF, so I had been somewhat exercised by the problem.

There is a shuttle service I have frequently taken to and from the airport, so I called them from New York to ask whether they would take unaccompanied luggage, expecting that they wouldn't. But they agreed to take it from the airport and deliver it to my door in Berkeley for what they would have charged me, as long as there was a person at the other end to accept delivery. Like all these services, you have to call them when you have claimed your luggage and they arrange to pick you up at their assigned dock with their next available vehicle, which usually takes longer than it ought, and it worked out fine, leaving me free to take BART into downtown SF to look for something to wear to the Barmitzvah at the end of the month (not enough time for a museum).

In the end I only had an hour and a half at my disposal, as Sonya and Philip, whose niece Susan was visiting from the East Coast, had suggested we all go out to dinner before the Opera at Jardiniรจre, a highly recommended restaurant very close to the Opera House. Check out their web site, which shows off the decor and some of the food, though not the menu from the night we were there, of course.


They had arranged to pick Barry up at home in Berkeley and drive in together, and luckily the suitcase arrived literally moments before they did (he had a fail safe plan whereby the upstairs neighbours had agreed to receive the suitcase if it arrived after he left.) He called me just as they left Berkeley, and Philip suggested that as the traffic around 4 PM might be difficult, I should aim to get to the restaurant before 5 to ensure we secured the table. But as it was a longer walk than I had expected to get to the Opera precinct from the Westfield San Francisco Centre where I had been, and the traffic on the Bay Bridge was unexpectedly light, in fact they arrived before I did!

(I mention Westfield because as a shareholder in this Australian shopping centre development and management company, I like what I see of their shopping centres - maybe my shares will recover the value they have lost since I acquired them some years ago! It is a luxurious modern centre, anchored by Bloomingdales and Nordstrom, and I guess the new Chadstone is in a similar vein. The Powell Street BART station is right in the basement so it is very easy to get to.)

We had a delicious meal - with a lot of negotiation, the three women decided to share a number of starters (here they call mains "entrees" , which is confusing for Australians) , but I often find starters more interesting than mains. It is sufficiently long ago that I have forgotten exactly what we had, but there was a seafood dish , a beautifully balanced salad and a soup amongst other things, and our tasters of each other's mains were uniformly good- lots of fish, maybe Barry had duck, did Philip have venison or pheasant, I seem to recall it was game? I need to take notes! We did have several desserts including really outstanding sorbets and ice creams and a crumble, and probably something chocolate...all paired with excellent wines, but not so much as to make me fall asleep at the Opera.

It was new production of Il Trovatore. The famous Anvil Chorus was very spectacularly staged, and overall the singing and the orchestra were excellent.

Go to or cut and paste this link, where you should be able to look at and listen to video excerpts , including the Anvil Chorus.


I have found some of the performances this season a bit static and a bit too dimly lit, but this was a bit more lively with a very good set. The programme as usual was jam packed with information about the history of the work as well as a piece from Nicola Luisotti (the Musical Director of the SF Opera, in his first season) about it, the usual biographies of the performers and members of the production team, the season's new resident fellows etc., pages and pages of stuff about the sponsors and key contributors, in addition to the synopsis and cast details. We always feel like the poor cousins - it is rare for any of the performers ever to have sung in Australia, though occasionally the director in an expatriate Aussie. We are used to Opera Australia performances where it seems from reading biographies of the singers that the majority are locals and have perhaps appeared in a few European productions - yet we think they really sing as well as many of these very international singers, and I often think the productions are even better (especially ones which take advantage of the State Theatre's larger stage rather than the many which seem to be constrained to fit the small stage at the Sydney Opera House), though maybe the orchestra is less distinguished.

Philip had parked on the street very near the restaurant (and should have fed the meter once before they went off at 6 or 7, but fortunately had got away with it) so the car was just a block from the Opera House, and it only took about half an hour to get home. As we came into the dark dining room Barry tripped over my suitcase that he forgot he had left right in the middle of the floor, but I left unpacking it till the next day and crashed after a very long day still on East Coast time.

On the next evening we went to one of the plays we had booked from the Berkeley Rep season, American Idiot. Here is a link to a youtube preview of the show: turn your sound down a bit!


I had never heard of Green Day, the rock and roll band whose music the play was based around. The ushers were handing out earplugs at the door, and I used them but they weren't very effective. The action was centred around several young people as they moved out of school and small towns into the big city, through drugs, the army, moving away from home, unplanned parenthood, falling in and out of love... usual coming of age stuff. It was very high energy, rather interestingly staged with multiple video screens and an industrial style set, and though not exactly my cup of tea, it was better than I had expected. Next year I think I had better book the theatre events myself rather than leave it to Barry!

Much more to my taste was Michael Moore's film Capitalism: a Love Story. It was great to watch it in Berkeley, where there were lots of cheers and jeers from the audience as well as laughter and groans and sporadic applause. Ben saw it in Manhattan where there was not a peep from the audience! Vintage Michael Moore, self-indulgent and a bit scattered, I thought, and a cop out at the end where he proposes "democracy" as an alternative to capitalism (but he had just been critiquing the limits of the electoral system and who funded Obama's campaign, for example) but good to see on a big screen in the US anyway. So eyes, ears, mind and soul all stimulated in a single week - it was exhausting!

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