Best Bets: ‘Don Giovanni’, ‘Ragtime’ and a monthlong Bloomsbay celebration

The Bay Area is a hub of artistic expression, attracting artists, writers and musicians from around the globe to live, work and create. We highlight some of the offerings here.

Canadian baritone Etienne Dupuis makes his San Francisco Opera debut in the title role of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” (Photo courtesy Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)

That dastardly Don: Spoiler alert, opera lovers: A richly deserving evildoer gets dramatically dragged to hell in Mozart’s tragicomic masterpiece “Don Giovanni,” opening its eight-performance run Saturday night in San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House. The San Francisco Opera production, conceptualized and directed by Michael Cavanagh, is the conclusion to the company’s three-part set of operas from collaborators Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, launched in 2019 with “The Marriage of Figaro” and continuing with 2021’s “Cosi fan tutte.” All of them are set in the same house over a three-century span, beginning in postcolonial America and ending some 150 years into the future when the house, now a crumbling ex-country club, and society are in the grip of material and moral decay.

The production stars Canadian baritone Etienne Dupuis in the title role and bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni as his much put-upon servant Leporello. Soprano Nicole Car makes her SF Opera debut as Donna Elvira, as does Adela Zaharia in the role of Donna Anna. Performance time is 7:30 p.m., with repeats on June 10, 15, 18, 21 and July 2, and 2 p.m. matinees on June 12 and 26. Tickets, $26-$408, are available at (415) 864-3330 and Face masks and proof of vaccination and booster are required.

Actor Bruce Davison has multiple parts to play in the San Francisco Symphony’s digital production of Igor Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale.” (Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony)

Daring digital dynamics: Igor Stravinsky began working on his multi-genre theater piece “A Soldier’s Tale” at the end of 1917, as nations were in the grip of war and an incipient lethal pandemic. Much like today, reasons San Francisco Symphony music director Esa-Pekka Salonen, a great fan of the work, who has collaborated with British director and theater artist Netia Jones to mount a very unusual hourlong filmed concert piece that is airing for free on the SFSymphony+ streaming service at

Salonen conducts a septet of Symphony instrumentalists, while renowned actor Bruce Davison voices all three parts — the Narrator, the Soldier and the Devil he exchanges his fiddle with for the promise of great wealth. Meanwhile, large screens surrounding the musicians project the images of Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancer Adji Cissoko as she improvises choreography to the music and narration. The film was posted on the site on Wednesday and will remain accessible indefinitely. The participants describe their involvement in this short video:

Broadway performer Nkrumah Gatling stars as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in “Ragtime,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Wednesday-June 26. (Photo courtesy David Allen/TheatreWorks Silicon Valley)

Historical epic: Anytime someone mounts a production of “Ragtime,” it’s a big deal. The musical is an adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s sweeping historical novel that captures a changing America at the turn of the 20th century, featuring a book by famed playwright Terrence McNally and music and lyrics by the songwriting team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. The story follows an African American family, immigrant Jewish family and suburban white family as their lives intersect. A variety of historical figures, from illusionist Harry Houdini to author and intellectual Booker T. Washington to anarchist Emma Goldman, are thrown in the mix for good measure.

It was 20 years ago that then-TheatreWorks Silicon Valley artistic director Robert Kelley helmed an acclaimed production of the show (just a few years after its Broadway debut). And now Kelley, who has since stepped down as AD, is returning to direct a new take on the musical opening this week. Reportedly, the production and cast has been compacted somewhat for this production, but you wouldn’t know it from the A-list actors assembled for the show. Broadway performers Leo Ash Evens, Christine Dwyer, Nkrumah Gatling and Suzanne Grodner are in the cast, as are such Bay Area favorites Michael Gene Sullivan and Keith Pinto. And while the action takes place more than a century ago, the musical’s themes — racism, hatred of immigrants, the piercing gulf between rich and poor — are as timely as ever.

The production is in previews Wednesday through Friday, with the main run set for Saturday through June 26. All performances are at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, where a proof of vaccination is required, and masks must be worn inside the theater. Tickets are $25-$90; go to

Irish composer Brian Byrne will lead a “Ulysses”-inspired song cycle at Feinstein’s in San Francisco, as part of a Bloomsbay, a monthlong celebration of the novel. (Photo courtesy Brian Byrne)

Happy birthday, ‘Ulysses’: It was Feb. 2, 1922, on the occasion of author James Joyce’s 40th birthday, that his novel “Ulysses” was officially published (it had previously appeared in serialized form in the literary journal The Little Review between 1918-’20). With its stream-of-consciousness prose, sharp humor and liberal use of literary devices, the book to this day is considered a masterpiece of Modernist literature. Although “Ulysses” is annually celebrated with events and gatherings on June 16, the date on which the novel is set aka “Bloomsday,” this year’s centennial has inspired more ambitious merriment. In the Bay Area, for example, Joyce fans are invited to take part in Bloomsbay, a month-long series of events named for the novel’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom, orchestrated by the Consulate General of Ireland, San Francisco Public Library, Mechanics’ Institute, Irish Culture Bay Area, the United Irish Cultural Center of San Francisco and the Irish Studies Program at UC Berkeley.

A blend of streaming and in-person events, Bloomsbay will serve up everything from an exhibition of books inspired by “Ulysses” at the SF Public Library’s main branch (Wednesday through June 30); several discussions and presentations centered on Joyce and his masterpiece; a screening of the documentary “Shalom Ireland” and a follow-up discussion on Ireland’s Jewish community and its impact on the novel (Sunday); the performance of a song cycle inspired by “Ulysses” led by Golden Globe-nominated composer Brian Byrne at Feinstein’s nightclub in San Francisco (June 14); a virtual presentation by Daniel Mulhall, Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S., on his book “Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey” (June 17) and much, much more.

Organizers emphasize that events are designed to appeal to Joyce worshippers as well as neophytes. You can find a complete list of events at

Houston blues singer Diunna Greenleaf will showcase her new Little Village Foundation album “I Ain’t Playin’” during a Thursday concert at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage. (Photo courtesy Little Village Foundation)

It takes a Little Village: The Bay Area-based Little Village Foundation is on a noble mission, indeed. The nonprofit music label is dedicated to releasing albums from a wide variety of authentic American roots music artists, with two goals in mind: to introduce people to some awfully good tunes they may have otherwise never heard of, and to help bring together different cultures and ideas in the hope of encouraging empathy and understanding. On Thursday, the label is hosting a concert at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage featuring several artists who have recently released (or are about to) on the Little Village label. Among the performers are pedal-steel gospel guitarist DaShawn Hickman, appearing with former Bay Area guitar great and producer Charlie Hunter; Houston blues singer Diunna Greenleaf; El Cerrito-based Mexican American singer Marina Crouse; Americana singer-songwriter-guitarist Maurice Tani, who will perform and serve as host; South Bay guitarists Rome Yamilov and Henry Kaiser, whose new album explores the music of bluesman J.B. Lenoir; and Bay Area bluesman Mighty Mike Schermer. The concert begins at 8 p.m. Proof of vaccination is required, and masks are encouraged. Tickets are $20-$24; go to If you can’t make the show but are interested in the music, visit Little Village’s website,, where albums by these and a wealth of amazing artists can be purchased.

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