Sunday, October 30, 2016

Beware Your Fantasy -- It Might Just Come True!

Erotic dreams often take the human mind where no person can go in his conscious state. From artists like George Quaintance, James Bidgood, and Touko Valio Laaksonen (Tom of Finland) to Naoki Tatsuya, Sadao Hasegawa, and Naomichi Okutsu, the art that has come from their fertile imaginations has charmed and stimulated millions of fantasies.

A drawing by Naomichi Okutsu

I've recently been enjoying graphic novels by such gay artists as Patrick Fillion and Iceman Blue (whose hypersexualized plots feature chiseled, slightly dumb men with superhero bodies that have occasionally been morphed with other species). Whether a character is mostly man and part porpoise (with a dorsal fin on his penis); half-man and half-cat; or part human and part butterfly, their mightily endowed hero figures demonstrate what happens when science fiction merges with gay beefcake to create fantasy creatures of improbable proportions.

A drawing by Patrick Fillion

It's one thing to dream an impossible dream. What's infinitely more difficult is to realize that some dreams should be left in the realm of fantasy, where they belong. Let me offer a perfect example.

Two decades ago I belonged to a gay gym where one of the regulars was a hulking stranger whose generous endowment inspired lots of speculation from admirers who would gather to watch him take long showers. Although few people knew that this pumped up African American man was also a talented sketch artist, his inposing physique never failed to attract attention and generate gossip. His habit of standing in front of a local drugstore for hours on end so that people could ogle him struck some gymgoers as bizarre. But those who got up the courage to chat with the man discovered that he was happy to respond to their questions.

One night, when he showed up in a dream, his physique had undergone a remarkable transformation. His chest and abdomen were tighter; the muscles more ripped than ever before. His thighs and calves had grown even larger and, as he flirted with onlookers, the front of his gym shorts twitched with obvious excitement. However, as I raised my eyes toward his face, I had a shocking surprise. The part of his body above his neck had been replaced with the shaved head of a wart hog with curved tusks! "Better to leave that vision in Dreamland," I thought, "and let more talented artists supply the visuals."

A drawing by Hotcha

* * * * * * * * *
As part of the Left Coast Theatre Company's evening of short plays that had been "ripped from the headlines," Richard S. Sargent directed a new farce by Rita Long entitled Normal, Illinois. The premise was simple enough. Several years ago, two gay men adopted a baby girl whom they named Annabelle (Becca Ward). Like most female teenagers, Annabelle had become a sullen, scornful daughter who was absolutely mortified by her doting parents.

One day, Bob (Joel Canon) and Stan (Richard S. Sargent) had a brilliant idea. With same-sex marriage now the law of the land, why not adopt another child? Maybe even a boy! In no time at all, the two men were ecstatic to bring home their new bundle of joy. Annabelle? Not so much. If anything, she was now in a deep funk because the little brat had replaced her as the center of attention.

Annabelle (Becca Ward), Bob (Joel Canon), and Stan
(Richard B. Sargent) welcome a new addition to their family in
Normal, Illinois (Photo by: Ashley Tateo)

One night, two aliens (played by Connor Fatch and Neil Higgins) landed in the family's back yard and abducted Bob and Stan's new baby boy. While their crisis was perfect fodder for the tabloids, what happened next shocked everyone. Not only did the aliens return the baby but, by the time he was safely back home, he had aged 50 years and memorized every song ever written for Broadway musicals.

Suddenly, Patti LuPone had stiff competition. Idina Menzel was being drowned out. Kristin Chenoweth had been replaced by a true Broadway baby who, although still in diapers, had no trouble belting out everyone's favorite show tunes. If Annabelle was pissed before, this new turn of events left her furious!

Big City Baby (Chris Maltby) is the surprise star
of Normal, Illinois (Photo by: Ashley Tateo)

* * * * * * * * *
An old saying claims that "There's no fool like an old fool." While gold diggers have never gone out of fashion (and intergenerational relationships have achieved great popularity on social media platforms like Daddyhunt and Silver Daddies), there are still many older men who, with a steady supply of Viagra or Cialis at hand, are eager to find themselves a trophy wife. Some look to Donald Trump as a role model (he's had three trophy wives!) while others seek out the services of professional matchmakers or subscribe to websites like Goldigger Events and

Back in the heyday of bel canto, an older man's chances of snagging a pretty young woman as his wife were much more limited. Following in one of the traditions of the commedia dell'arte, some operatic composers had great success with opera buffa, a form of comic opera which often required singers with strong diction who could perform what would later become known as patter songs. The most popular of these works was undoubtedly composed by Gioachino Rossini in 1816: The Barber of Seville.

The San Francisco Opera recently unveiled its new production of Don Pasquale, an opera buffa composed by Gaetano Donizetti that premiered on January 3, 1843 at the Salle Ventadour in Paris. True to form, Donizetti's tuneful score includes a rapid-fire duet for its title character and his close friend, Dr. Malatesta.

Although he died at the age of 51, Donizetti composed 16 symphonies, 28 cantatas, three oratorios, 193 songs, and 75 operas (51 of which had their world premieres in Naples). While most of the productions I've seen of Don Pasquale used pretty simple sets and stuck to the 19th century, this new co-production with the Santa Fe Opera and Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona (featuring scenery designed by Chantal Thomas and costumes by Laurent Pelly) is set smack in the middle of the 20th century. As Pelly, who also directed the production, explained in his program note:
“The story of Don Pasquale is not exactly new. We can see these characters and elements of the action in the commedia dell’arte tradition going back hundreds of years. The humor in this opera is wonderful, but there is also truth in it -- truth that is a little sad. Norina and Ernesto are young and in love. Like us, they want it all: marriage and the financial security that only Ernesto’s rich uncle, Don Pasquale, can offer them. How far should we go to get what we want? How far is too far? In the end, they learn the answer. And so do we.”
Maurizio Muraro in the title role of Donizetti's Don Pasquale
(Photo by: Cory Weaver)
“For me, the period shown in Italian movies of the 1950s and ‘60s captures this complexity. They are set in an era that we think of as modern, but they are also visually simplified: the surroundings still show the shortages of World War II, and the films are black and white. That gives them a timeless, universal feeling we have tried to capture on stage in this opera. We can’t tell by looking exactly when it is taking place, but we have all seen homes like Don Pasquale’s. Perhaps it was once luxurious, with the big chandelier and the big upholstered chair he likes to sit in. But now things have gotten a bit shabby. It has not been renovated in a long time, and nothing seems quite right because the scale is off -- a little too big here, a little too small there. This puts the action into an odd perspective that makes us think.”

The production's set design also lends a greater sense of whimsy to Donizetti's opera by turning Pasquale's house upside down for the second act. Needless to say, I fell in love with Thomas's imaginative scenery and, not having seen the opera staged in nearly three decades, was delighted to rediscover how lyrical some parts of this score can be.

Lawrence Brownlee as Ernesto in a scene from Don Pasquale
(Photo by: Cory Weaver) 

Conducted by Giuseppe Finzi (with lighting design by Duane Schuler), this staging of Don Pasquale proved to be a surefire audience pleaser. The comedic bits flew over the footlights with ease, aided by the youthful appeal of tenor Lawrence Brownlee as Ernesto and soprano Heidi Stober as Norina. As the two older, more mature characters in the cast, Maurizio Muraro did a splendid job in the title role with Lucas Meacham serving as a reliable (and constantly scheming) go between for his sister, Norina, and his elderly client, Don Pasquale.

Heidi Stober as Norina in a scene from Don Pasquale
(Photo by: Cory Weaver)

I first saw Don Pasquale in the 1970s, when Western Opera Theatre -- a precursor to the Adler Fellowship Program which used to tour the western United States and Alaska (where its singers sometimes traveled to remote communities via bush plane and dog sled) -- was performing Donizetti's opera at the Palace of Fine Arts. With only four principal roles, it was an easy show to tour. The San Francisco Opera last performed Don Pasquale at the War Memorial Opera House in June of 1984 (more than 30 years ago). With this delightful new production, Bay area audiences can breathe a sigh of relief and sing:
"Hello, Pasquale!
Well Hello, Pasquale!
It's so nice to have you back where you belong.
We never knew, Pasquale
Without you, Pasquale
Life was awfully flat, but more than that
Was awfully wrong."

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