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Super Humans by Ulrica PAGE TWENTY-SIX

Party Monster

Seems just a few days ago that Ulrica was reporting on the glamour of Opening Night and Un Ballo in Maschera. Now here she already is, reporting on the bitter sweetness of our end-of-season parties. Is time really rushing by so quickly or can she have been in a blackout these past two months?

The Grand Super Party

Although we Supers are not known to be a particularly nautical lot (unless riding the waves in Billy Budd or Death of Klinghoffer), the highlight of the Supers’ season took place, for the second year in a row, at the exclusive Golden Gate Yacht Club in the Marina, thanks, again, to club member (and Super) Sharon Castle.

Once again the event was costume-optional and both Kimberly Thompson and Irene Bechtel paid tribute to the Mystic East. Irene/Indira (recently back from a visit to the subcontinent) wore an especially gorgeous Indian sari and, as Principessa Turandot, Kimberly looked appropriately beguiling in elaborate headdress, black silk Chinese gown, and opera-length gloves. The ever lovely Priscilla Lore, wearing her grandmother’s gorgeous vintage-1930s black-lace gown, reminded Ulrica of a Thin Man-era Myrna Loy, all the way down to the martini in hand. Spearheader Lynn Meinhardt looked sensational in a bedizened gown and headdress from The Tsar’s Bride (worn by Anna Netrebko)It was nice to see one of our other émigré Supers, Bruce McNaughton (below right), in town for the various parties and openings of the last few weeks. Bruce has been elevated to Super Captain of the Toledo (Ohio) Opera and recently reprised his rôle in Carmen there.

After opening with a cocktail hour plus, we took our seats. In keeping with the toney setting, the Patrician A- and B-list tables wisely had little place cards, which helped prevent unseemly brawls amongst Super Committee Members and their spice.

Honored Guests

New General Director David Gockley made an early, but perfectly timed, appearance, and gave a standing-ovation-generating speech of gratitude for our efforts and commitment to the Opera. He then patiently and meticulously visited each and every table, shaking all extended hands.
Mr. Gockley was the lucky recipient of the limited-edition black-and-gold Super tee-shirt. My spies tell me that there are still a few available, but that they are going fast. If you still don’t have one don’t miss out, contact Committee Member and Super salesperson Katie Heibein immediately!

While some may object to the Yacht Club’s lack of a stage space that precludes having a Super skit, others welcomed the opportunity to enjoy alternate forms of entertainment.

This year, in a brilliant move (whose idea was it?) the Committee invited three popular members of the SFO chorus to entertain us by singing for their supper. First up was Super spouse (wife of Joe Giammarco) Claire Kelm, who looked absolutely radiant in cerise satin and filled the room with a ravishing "Musetta’s Waltz" and Nedda’s aria from Pagliacci.
Claire was followed by chorus tenor Siegmund Siegel (there with his Super consort Karen Goodwyn), who sang arias from Rigoletto and Faust, and then by Super favorite Fred Matthews who, in Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On,” insisted on “no more blue songs, only whoop-di-doop songs,” a sentiment Ulrica most heartily agrees with.

This year's seven Super Committee members had put together the biggest and best Super party yet, with excellent food (and lots of it) and a program that moved along swimmingly. Hammy Awards were handed out to winners Rob Wonder, Irene Bechtel (whose acceptance speech was funny and sweet), John F Martin (his third), and the entire Super cast of Manon Lescaut, which had opened that very afternoon. Hammy maker John Janonis must have put in many extra hours to produce so many spear-carrying piglets! Sadly absent were awardees Michael Strickland, Bradly Hamilton, Yvette Forte Rosedale and Tristan stage diver Kurt Krikorian.

(It seems as though Bradly has slipped out of town, unfeted. He is visiting family in New England before embarking on a six-month around-the-world journey and re-settlement in rural Vermont. Good luck, Bradly. Missing you already.)

But who was more worthy of a Hammy Award than Carmen’s Eddy Gordillo for his masterful performance at the top of Act One, carrying a huge side of pork across stage?
Thanks for services rendered went out from MC Katie Heibein to, among others, rubber stamper Renee De Jarnatt, aforementioned Hammy maker John Janonis, and Webmaster Mike Harvey and Editor Mark Burstein, together with the rest of the Spearhead team.

The undisputed star of the evening, however, was our new Super Coordinator, April Busch, whose heartfelt speech of appreciation, and popular choices for Super of the Year Award -- tireless, but
absent, Susan Anderson-Norby (above), diligent, and present, Joan Imbeau (below), and seemingly omnipresent Paul Szczesiul -- ended this wonderful evening on a very warm and satisfying note.

As everyone was filing out at 10:30, Claire Kelm, the evening’s star chanteuse, was spotted finally wolfing down her warmed-up chicken and polenta dinner.

Two days later it was whoop-di-doop time again at the Company party following the opening of Super-intensive Carmen. Another feast was at hand courtesy of the Company and patrons Annette Campbell-White and Ruedi Naumann-Etienne.

Again Mr. Gockley worked the room, visiting every table before embarking on a sincere and thorough list of thank-yous to the members of the Company or “stockholders in the Company” as he metaphorically referred to all of us. His thanks to “our corps of Supers” were extended at an appropriate point in the litany; not as an embarrassed mention at the very end. Never have we been thanked so much, by so many, in so few days.

Ulrica wistfully remembers the Pamela Rosenberg speech ending “And I am so grateful for our wonderful Super ... pause ...Titles” (sigh).

More on Our Parking Problems

A very welcome guest at the Company party was Channel 7 News anchor Dan Ashley. Dan had put together the wonderful, Super-inclusive news item on car break-ins and vandalism in the Civic Center which had aired on November 19th. Seems as though the subject is gaining momentum, with an editorial in the SF Chronicle (December 1st) and a KCBS radio report; a puddle of broken auto glass is becoming the emblem of this particular form of violence. Dan, who arrived at the party by cab -- wisely refusing to park in the neighborhood -- is planning a follow-up report on the problem within the next few weeks.

Unfortunately, one of Dan’s Channel 7 News colleagues had his car broken into just a few days after the report aired. Sorry to hear it, but he should have paid more attention to the Channel 7 News.

Our very own Michael Strickland gives the perspective on crime of a resident of the neighborhood in his most recent, Civic Centric blog. Coincidentally, Ulrica was hanging around outside Michael’s apartment a few days ago and fell into conversation with his car-broken-into-eleven-times neighbor, Holly. Apparently the inevitability of having her car broken into was less frightening to Holly than parking in Civic Center Garage and walking the two very scary blocks to her home at Franklin and McAllister after dark.

Laurel Winzler’s campaign to secure reserved parking for late-arriving Supers, however, seems to have been a success, with up to ten carpoolers reserving space for each Carmen and Manon Lescaut performance. Let’s hope Laurel’s efforts receive recognition at the 2007 Super Party Awards. We’ll never know how many broken windows -- or worse -- those efforts have saved.

Manon! Let’s Go!

A timely exit from an opera scene can often prevent a whole bunch of trouble (just think of La Forza Del Destino) and “Manon! Let’s go!” should have been Chevalier des Grieux’s insistence in Act II of Manon Lescaut. It might have saved our heroine from a lonely, lost, and abandoned fate in a very dry, pre-Katrina Louisiana. However, if Karita Matilla’s magnificent Manon Lescaut had left her Sugar Daddy’s house a few minutes earlier, she wouldn’t have been exiled to the pre-Purchase state, and we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the best Super scene we’ve seen in a long, long time – the roll call and branding of thirteen prostitutes. It was the most compelling and disturbing scene in the show thanks to the superb work of the Super women - and men - in the scene.

Each woman conveyed her own sense of dignity, sexuality, and degradation and the brutal actions offset and complemented the impassioned, lyrical duet between the principals going on at stage left. The direction of the entire opera, by Oh-so-Euro debutant Olivier Tambosi, was phenomenal, but this scene in particular left the strongest, most lasting impression.

Manon ladies - Bravi Tutti!

Bake Sale Madness

The October 29th Rigoletto bake sale has been thusfar unreported, due to Super documentarian Mike Harvey’s European vacation, but it pulled in a princely $682. Ulrica was there with her Instamatic, yet was seriously outshone by the wall-to-wall taffeta glamour and buxomness of the Rigoletto ladies, with be-snooded gals Laurel Winzler, Priscilla Lore and Pam De Weerd (below) looking strangely like the Andrews Sisters, Patty, Laverne and Maxine. Who would want to sit under the apple tree with anyone else but these?

The absolute scene stealer for that particular bake sale, however, was Xander Patnoe, the little son of erstwhile Super Chris Patnoe and his lovely, colorfully coiffed, make-up artiste wife, Lisa.

Sunday Carmen Bake Sale

The December 3rd Carmen bake sale was a sold-out smash! The sale attracted a huge crowd, and everything went really early – in fact, we could have sold lots more goodies. As it was, nothing was left over; the table completely bare.

At a special bake sale presentation, Charlie Lichtman was awarded the Rubber Chicken Lifetime Achievement Award for preparing untold thousands of his much loved Stuffed Eggs.

A Holiday raffle (a tradition from earlier years revived this season) offered a beautiful freshwater pearl necklace, generously donated by Honorary Super Denise Gutierrez, and two Holiday wreaths from Laurel Winzler. (photos)

During a lull in ticket sales, Orchestra 'bone player Don Keneally turned to the entire canteen and yelled “There are raffle tickets for sale over here – what’s WRONG with you people???”, garnering an immediate $50 increase in sales receipts – and a boost in morale for the Orchestra members who took home two of the prizes. Other winners included Jim Bowes, who wisely selected the stylish Super tee-shirt, and chanteuse Claire Kelm, who received the fresh wreath, in absentia (she was in her dressing room for a quick change at the time). The raffle brought in a total of $170 to help replenish the post-party Super coffers.

My spies tell me that there is a movement afoot to discontinue the long-standing tradition of fundraising bake sales, certain participants feeling that the work is done by a few but the results enjoyed by all. Although that seems, by nature, to be the case with most volunteer commitments, perhaps Ulrica’s faithful readers would like to make New Year's resolutions to contribute to one of the 2007 bake sales, dates TBA. Remember the cost of your admission to the annual party covers less than half of the expenses.

The Sound of Silence

Who leaked details of the latest, most baffling, Opera chorus union regulation to Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik? Supers, officially, can no longer issue any sound onstage. On opening night, however, a chorister dubbed in, a la Marni Nixon, a scream for branded Priscilla Lore, giving the impression that Priscilla was not only a hooker but also a skillful ventriloquist.

My Sevillean spies report something more to add to the silence onstage issue:

"Two Carmen soldiers sweeping up the garrison were replaced by chorus men after the Supers ad-libbed and laughed in character in Act I. Someone unknown reported that the Super soldiers were making sounds onstage and that this bit of acting should be done by union chorus members. The Supers were removed from this bit of staging and chorus members took their places."

Be that a warning to Supers to not vocalize in any way or you could lose your stage time.

Spotted at a San Francisco Silent Film event at the Castro this week: Super Jim Dyvad, absent from the SFO stage for some seasons, but thriving and busily pursuing his interest in European royalty, even meeting some members of the Saxe-Coburg line on a recent visit to Germany and Denmark.

On the subject of Silent Film, no, this isn’t Lillian Gish as filmed by DW Griffith, but our own Spearheader Lynn Meinhardt, photographed by the similarly talented Mike Harvey.

And what happened to scheduled first-night Carmen Marina Domashenko and her last-minute replacement by Cast B star Hadar Halevy? Carmen re-castings seem a part of SFO lore and remind Ulrica of the abrupt departure of the scheduled maestro for the 1998 production, following a dispute over the amount of noise the cigarette girls were allowed to make. She is reminded, too, of the 1991 outing of the Jean-Pierre Ponelle production when a lame Marilyn Horne was replaced by rising star Denyce Graves, who then broke her ankle at the orchestra run-through but, wearing a cast on her leg, gamely hopped off stage after freeing herself from Don Jose’s ropes.

Nice to see a very blonde Laurie Feldman Santoliquido back on the SFO stage, directing, after triumphing for so many seasons at the Met. Great to see production faves Sandra Bernhardt assistant directing, and Mark Streshinsky, just back from working in Los Angeles on the other Manon with Russian diva Anna Netrebko.

Supernumerary and thespian Grove Wiley is now branching out into the Visual Arts, continuing his studies in painting. Just like Rembrandt, his favorite subject is himself.

Glad to hear, too, that following the November 30th performance the “Der Barber von Bauhaus” production was dismantled, ne’er to be mantled again. It didn’t work for this viewer, and even less the second time around. Auf Wiedersehen to the offstage manhole cover, Gute Nacht to the dismantled Vespa.

Ulrica found herself sitting behind our General Director at a final dress a few days ago. Mr. G. is a very active listener, expressing more emotion through gesture than even the opera’s leading lady.

Seems the Chronicle carries nothing but items of interest to Supers these days, the latest being news that John Else’s documentary of the making of John Adams’ and Peter SellarsDr. Atomic will be screened, out of competition, at next year’s Sundance Film Festival, one of only two Bay Area productions thus honored (both, coincidentally dealing with the atomic bomb). Ulrica wants Robert Redford to know that the acting contingent from Dr. A’s 2006 debut will be happy to put in a collective personal appearance. You only have to ask, Bob, and we’ll be there…

Jon’s documentary Wonders Are Many: The Making Of Dr. Atomic is slated to appear on PBS in 2008, and there is good reason to believe that said Supers will be glimpsed during some of the rehearsal footage.

Incidentally, Ulrica plans on attending a performance during Dr. Atomic’s next US incarnation, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in early 2008. Anyone who cares to is welcome to join the field trip for mid-winter fun in the Windy City.

Speaking of Peter Sellars, John Adams, Pamela Rosenberg, and Leah Garchik, all four come together in Ms. Garchik’s recent item on the new Sellars/Adams collaboration in Vienna, A Flowering Tree. Pamela was there for the premiere.

Some things will never change

"The Supers" by Dick Dorgan, from the September 1922 issue of Photoplay magazine:

“What’s the Director yelling for?” asked a Super on the line.
“To call you in, to call you in,” the other Super opined.

“What makes you jump so, all ’round?” said a Super on the line.
“I’m dying to get to do my bit,” the other Super opined.

“What is it makes you fidget so?” asked a Super on the line.
“My first chance come, in months, in months,” the other Supe opined.

“Why did you wear that hectic hat?” said a Super on the line.
“To pick me out, to pick me out,” the other Super opined.

“I’ve got this mob scene stuff down pat,” said a Super on the line.
“And bearing spears and like o’ that,” the other Supe opined.

“I’ve played a guard a score o’ times,” said a Super on the line.
“And poured a million drinks or more,” the other Super opined.

“What’s that so heavy on my head?” said a Super on the line.
“It’s where the hero’s club did fall,” the other Super opined.

“Why did he knock me almost dead?” said a Super on the line.
“You stepped upon his noble bean,” the other Super opined.

In a few short weeks, Ulrica will be flying off in the night to the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java. No doubt a brand new obsession for gamelan and Balinese dancing will keep her happy during the opera-starved winter and spring.

But in the meantime, she’s signing off for 2006 and wishing everyone Happy Holidays and a rôle-rich 2007.

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