Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Towering inferno

Out There

Early model for the set of San Francisco Opera's Heart of a Soldier. (Photo: Courtesy San Francisco Opera)
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Last week Out There attended one of the final rehearsals for San Francisco Opera's world premiere of Heart of a Soldier, the so-called "9/11 opera" opening this Saturday night, Sept. 10, at the War Memorial Opera House. Prior to the rehearsal, there was a small press conference in the house's Intermezzo Lounge, a swank spot just off the box bar, where SFO general director David Gockley ; the premiere's conductor, Houston Grand Opera artistic director Patrick Summers; director Francesca Zambello; librettist Donna Di Novelli; and composer Christopher Theofanidis all took questions from arts journalists. The mood lighting and plush digs made the press event something like having a romantic date with five powerhouses of contemporary opera, simultaneously.

Gockley, the driving force behind such 20th-century operas as John Adams' Nixon in China, began by saying that we shouldn't be surprised by the appearance of another of what some wag somewhere once dubbed "CNN opera." "Contemporary events magnified by the power of electronic media create myths. We have grist for our mill, impressed upon us by the media, for new opera – music ennobling words," he said.

Zambello, director of this summer's acclaimed Ring cycle, was instrumental in bringing Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart's book of the same name to the stage. She was asked what it was about the true story of Rick Rescorla, who saved thousands of lives as head of security for Morgan Stanley at Two World Trade Center, that said "opera" to her. The story, she said, has operatic themes, of bravery and courage. The book is "a testament to those who have fallen for freedom."

Di Novelli said her first task as a librettist was to inspire the composer. For his part, Theofanidis said his focus was on creating "tonal, accessible music," an "opera in service of the drama." The cast features acclaimed baritone Thomas Hampson , tenor William Burden and soprano Melody Moore . Watch these pages for review and commentary.

Tenor Placido Domingo in the 1993 film Tosca, from Great Performances' Placido Domingo: My Favorite Roles. (Photo: Rada Film)

Find us a tenor

If they bestowed a prize for greatest male opera singer of the 20th century, surely Spanish tenor Placido Domingo would be first in contention. He has performed more operatic roles than any other tenor; has added a conducting career, and served as general director of both the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera . In Placido Domingo: My Favorite Roles airing on Great Performances (Fri., Sept. 23, PBS, check listings for time), he recounts his most memorable roles from a storied career.

These include his first appearance singing baritone, in Simon Boccanegra, which he says is "a longtime dream, and I wanted to do it as the last thing in my career. But now I hope it is not my last part." We see him as Don Jose in Carmen, which is "very close to my roots, because my mother was born in Basque country"; in his first La Gioconda, given in Madrid; in Luisa Miller, Andrea Chenier, and Zeffirelli's Pagliacci; and as Caravadossi in Tosca, the role he has performed more than any other. He stars opposite soprano Shirley Verrett in SF Opera's 1981 Samson et Delilah; and we see him in his signature role, the title character in Verdi's greatest opera, Otello, which he says "wears you out."

Domingo admits that, although he likes to be happy in his private life, his preference on stage is to suffer. It's a specific type of performance masochism, we guess.

Do ask! Do tell!

HBO Documentary Films, Frameline and GLAAD present the world premiere of The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on Wed., Sept. 14 at the Castro Theatre. After the screening, producer/directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato will take part in a question-and-answer session with the audience. Several local San Francisco LGBT and veterans organizations that appeared in the film will also have representatives in attendance, including Servicemembers Legal Defense (SLDN ), OutServe and The Palm Center.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell will premiere on HBO on Mon., Sept. 19, at Midnight, the very moment the repeal of DADT takes effect, with a prime-time encore on Tues., Sept. 20, at 8 p.m. Barbato and Bailey's credits include HBO's Wishful Drinking and the feature film Party Monster , which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. The screening at the Castro Theatre on Sept. 14 will take place at 7 p.m., followed by a discussion. The filmmakers will be in attendance. Free to the public, limited seating. RSVP to 1 (888) 745-7425.

Queen of PR

Here's a press release we want to re-print verbatim, it's so good! So we will.

"They're back, darlings. The comedy phenomenon Absolutely Fabulous will return to television with three brand-new specials, with BBC America and Logo serving as joint American co-producers for the series. Comedy sensations Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley will reprise their celebrated roles as Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone. The duo last teamed up for the BBC America comedy Clatterford, in 2006.

"Was it really 20 years ago that the world was introduced to Edina, Patsy and Saffron? It has never been quite the same. Eddy PR'd things. She was into every new fad and fashion imaginable, and was often to be found at the bottom of a champagne glass, actually more likely a bottle. Not much has changed. Her best friend Patsy worked in magazines and lived the high life. She still does. Eddy's daughter Saffy was hard-working, all but ignored by her mother and hated by Patsy. Eddy's mother was and is, well, her mother. They are all back for three new shows, 20 years after they first fell onto television."

Saunders said, "We are thrilled to be able to celebrate our 20th birthday with all of the original cast. We hope that, like a good bottle of champagne, we have grown better with age, but lost none of our sparkle. Viewers in the U.S. have been very kind to the show over the years, and we are very happy to return on not one but two U.S. channels at once. We fully intend to party like it's 1991. When we started filming in West London, it was like time had stood still. It was raining. Nevertheless, we are so happy to be working for an audience that has grown just a tiny bit older, like us, but is still willing to let us fall over on TV in the name of PR."

Celebrate porn!

Here's the lowdown on A Celebration of Sleaze! Gay Porn Panel, Clip Show and Screening coming on Tues., Sept. 20 at the SF LGBT Center as part of Good Vibrations' 6th annual Indie Erotic Film Festival. Featured panelists include Jack Shamama, product manager at NakedSword and GayPornBlog editor; Chris Ward , president of Falcon Studios /Raging Stallion ; Kent Taylor, vice president and chief photographer of Falcon Studios/Raging Stallion; Gehno Sanchez, director of PR, community development and production team member at Treasure Island Media; Michael Stabile , journalist and director of Smut Capital of America, a documentary on the adult-film industry's origin in SF; and John Karr, esteemed B.A.R. porn reviewer, co-founder of the SF Jacks and guest lecturer of gay sexuality and erotology at SF State University and the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.

The panelists will present a short clip from each of their studios, then explore questions about the changing landscape of gay porn, moderated by Good Vibrations' staff sexologist Dr. Carol Queen . For tickets and details, visit

Good cause

On Sun., Sept. 25, the On Your Feet Foundation (OYFF ) hosts its annual Wine & Wishes Celebration, a fundraiser to support the mission of the Northern California chapter. OYFF provides peer support, mentoring, vocational and psychological counseling, and educational scholarships to birthmothers who have placed a child for adoption. The event takes place at the St. Francis Yacht Club, 700 Marina Blvd. on the Marina in SF, from 4-6 p.m. Tickets start at $100. To purchase tickets, call (415) 515-4744, e-mail, or register at

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