A headshot of a man with a moustache and chin hair.

If I had to come up with a case study of a curator or arts presenter exemplifying the maverick creative streak that keeps San Francisco’s creative scene thrumming, Michelle Chang would definitely be a contender. Since launching her SF Salon Music series at the Verdi Club last year, she’s put together a series of singular programs that juxtapose performers and writers versed in representing disparate art forms in a quest to see what they might have to say to each other. 

Chang’s latest program, “Primadonna! Exploring gender performance from Kyoto to Rome,” takes place at the Verdi Club on Sunday afternoon. It’s an East-meets-West encounter that explores the resonances between Japanese kabuki and baroque opera, particularly the unsettling practice of castrating pre-pubescent male singers to preserve their high voices. Since the last castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, died in 1922, liminal vocal practices will be represented by countertenor Dylan Benander with pianist Dana Maria Chan. 

Hardly immune to the zeitgeist, Chang was interested in putting together a program related to the performance of gender, “and it took months to come up with this pairing,” she said. “When I met a countertenor, I thought this is actually a great start for Italian castrati history. That gave me a boost to continue with this journey.”

Composers have written for countertenors, male baritones or tenors who sing in falsetto, since at least the 17th century. But, as interest in Baroque opera surged in recent decades, there’s been more work than ever for countertenors to cover roles written for castrati. The question for Chang was what to pair it with, “maybe some paintings or sculptures in Italy,” she mused. 

“I thought there must be some gender-fluidity in visual art. It doesn’t have to be performance, but I just never found a real connection. I can’t tell you how I came up with kabuki,” which is represented Sunday by kabuki aficionado Mark Frey and Nick Ishimaru, co-founder of Kunoichi Productions, a multidisciplinary theater with Japanese aesthetics. 

The highly stylized Japanese tradition blending dance and drama also dates to the 17th century, “and, even though it doesn’t involve castrati or singers, they are dancers,” Chang said. “Once I found that connection, I couldn’t stop reading. The beauty is watching these male dancers, dressed as women in beautiful costumes and makeup, who still use the male voice to talk.”

Chang has two more SF Salon Music events on the 2023 calendar, an Oct. 29 session pairing improvised music and in-the-moment painting by Peggy Gyulai, and Dec. 3, a program she’s developing related to the Verdi Club’s history as an Italian social club. 

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Red Poppy Art House

Speaking of venues with history, the Red Poppy Art House continues its tradition of presenting international musical hybrids Friday with a return performance by Croatian-born jazz vocalist Astrid Kuljanic, who’s joined by her husband, bassist Mat Muntz, and accordionist Ben Rosenblum, a stellar composer who also performs widely with Kiran Ahluwalia (and like Kuljanic is deeply versed in Brazilian music). 

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La Fiesta de Las Américas 2023

Celebrating the independence of various Latin American countries the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District presents La Fiesta de Las Américas 2023 Saturday on 24th Street between Bryant and South Van Ness. With arts and music ranging from Patagonia to the Arctic Circle, the festival highlights the cultural riches of the Latinx diaspora with folkloric dance performances, a lowrider car show, local vendors and live music. The acts that caught my attention were violinist Anthony Blea, a supremely versatile player who’s thrived playing salsa, Latin jazz, symphonic and chamber music; and percussionist Javier Navarrette, who’s deeply versed in Afro-Caribbean rhythms.

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Theatre Flamenco

Theatre Flamenco San Francisco kicks off a month-long celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month with a series of tablao performances in the company’s studio. TFST’s longtime artistic director, Carola Zertuche, was born and raised in Mexico, and she has nurtured deep ties with both Mexico and Spain’s flamenco communities. The four-part series kicks off Saturday with “Flamenco Sketches,” a program featuring three new short pieces by Zertuche (including one for seven dancers). The Oct. 7 program includes New Mexico writer and dancer Nevarez Encinias, a soloist in Albuquerque’s Yjastros: the American Flamenco Repertory Company, and the series closes Oct. 15 with a juerga flamenco party at Dance Mission Theater where TFSF students, fans and the public are invited to sing and dance with our artists (including Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancer Nol Simonse). 

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McLaren Park’s Jerry Garcia Amphitheater

The weekend’s best musical bargain can be found Sunday afternoon at McLaren Park’s Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, 12:30-3 p.m., when San Francisco vocalist Sandy Cressman and Homenagem Brasileira present Cantos do Povo: The Music of Milton Nascimento. A jazz vocalist who has spent the past three decades delving into the bottomless treasure trove of Brazilian music, Cressman is also a formidable songwriter who’s collaborated with masters such as Pernambuco frevo composer/bandleader Spok, rising Brazilian-American guitarist Ian Faquini, pianist/composer Jovino Santos Neto, and bossa jazz pianist Antonio Adolfo.

Cantos do Povo is the culmination of a two-year project supported by San Francisco Arts Commission, and the music and dance ensemble includes her husband, longtime Santana trombonist Jeff Cressman, and their daughters, trombonist vocalist Natalie Cressman and choreographer/dancer Julianna Cressman, with Samara Atkins and Molly Levy. The band also features guitarist Ian Faquini, bassist David Belove, drummer Dillon Vado, keyboardist Murray Low, and percussionist Ami Molinelli Hart. A smaller version of the project also performs Sept. 23 at the Monterey Jazz Festival. 

More events are listed here.


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