Best Bets: Maxwell, ‘Starry Nights’ ballet, ‘Tina’ musical

Soprano Hope Briggs is one of several singers who will perform at a free concert in Walnut Creek Sunday presented by Festival Opera. (Photo courtesy Hope Briggs)

Freebie of the week: It’s arias al fresco on the green lawns of Walnut Creek Civic Park Sunday afternoon, as Festival Opera mounts a free concert hosted by the company’s general director Zachary Gordin, himself an accomplished baritone. With Bay Area pianist Chun Mei Wilson providing the accompaniment, there will be highlights from a wide range of the operatic repertoire, performed by sopranos Hope Briggs and Lila Khazoum, mezzo-soprano Lily Bogas, contralto Sara Couden, tenor Taylor Thompson, and baritone Andrew Fellows.

One thing we can count on for sure will be excerpts from Bizet’s “Carmen,” which will be the centerpiece of Festival Opera’s 32nd season when it opens in mid-August at the Lesher Center for the Arts’ Hofmann Theatre. Briggs, by the way, will be singing the role of Micaela, and the production will also feature Bogas, Khazoum, Thompson and Fellows.

Opera in the Park performance time is 4 p.m. at 1375 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. Find more about Festival Opera at

R&B star Maxwell (Photo courtesy Cliff Watts)

Some soulful singing: Fresh off his sold-out performance last Friday at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre in Detroit, R&B star, Billboard chart-topper and three-time Grammy winner Maxwell is bringing his “Night – The Trilogy Show” to Davies Hall for back-to-back Summer at the Symphony concerts at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights.

The singer-songwriter’s backing band, led by guest conductor Steven Reineke, will be the San Francisco Symphony, and his vocal selections will be announced from the stage.

Ticket prices range from $89 to $209, and you can access them at (415) 864-6000 or

San Francisco Ballet dancers Sasha Mukhamedov and Joseph Walsh perform in Yuri Possokhov’s “Violin Concerto,” which will be reprised at Frost Amphitheatre at Stanford. (Photo courtesy Lindsay Thomas/San Francisco Ballet)

Dancing under the stars: There is something majestic and a little exhilarating about watching ballet or contemporary dance outside at night. Perhaps it’s the open-ended nature of it, or the feel of the outdoor elements that reminds you that the audience and performers are in this thing together. Or maybe it’s the beckoning glow of the stars (unless, of course, they are smothered by the fog).

In any event, San Francisco Ballet returns this week to Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater for another set of “Starry Nights” performances (and don’t assume that because they call it that the fog will cooperate).

The program includes two works introduced earlier this year during the company’s Next@90 Festival, which celebrated S.F. Ballet’s 90th anniversary: Danielle Rowe’s “MADCAP,” set to a carnival-like score by Pär Hagström; and company resident choreographer Yuri Possokhov’s “Violin Concerto,” set to Igor Stravinsky’s work of the same name and inspired by George Balanchine. Also in the mix are segments from William Forsythe’s “Blake Works I,” Christopher Wheeldon’s “Cinderella” and Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.”

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Frost. Tickets are $15-$250; go to

Animal Liberation Orchestra returns to Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda for concerts on Aug. 5-6. (Photo courtesy Jay Blakesberg/Animal Liberation Orchestra)

A jam band weekend: Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) is celebrating its 25th anniversary in style. The Americana roots-rocking group that has long been embraced by the jam band community and has ties to both the SoCal and Bay Area music scenes has been performing along the West Coast in what is dubbed the “Silver Saturdays” tour, named for ALO’s recently released ninth studio album that bears that title.

Soon, they’ll be headed East to play Woodstock, New York (which is NOT where the legendary music festival was held, in case you didn’t know) and other venues. But they have at least one more Bay Area stop left on their itinerary, a return visit to Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, home of the currently idle California Shakespeare Theater.

ALO played the venue last summer and has two shows there, 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Visitors can expect the same sort of lively, upbeat mix of improvisation-fueled rock, folk, blues, and other roots genres for which the band is known, delivered with the precision and passion that only a group of talented musicians who’ve loved playing together for more than two decades can accomplish. Both shows will feature pop-up performers, arts and crafts vendors, and more fun.

Folk duo Two Runner also performs on Saturday, and Jay Lane and The Mayhem, a new band fronted by Lane, a long-time Dead & Company drummer, performs on Sunday. Doors open at 5 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. The amphitheater is located off Highway 24 in Orinda. Tickets are $45-$75; go to or

Naomi Rodgers is one of two actors who portrays rock legend Tina Turner in the hit touring musical that’s playing in San Francisco and San Jose through August and early September. (Photo courtesy Matthew Murphy/BroadwaySF)

All hail the Queen: Think it’s easy playing the legendary Tina Turner in a touring Broadway musical? Hardly. The iconic “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” who died on May 23, was known for her full-throttle vocal delivery on such songs as “River Deep-Mountain High,” “Proud Mary,” “Better Be Good to Me” and “The Best,” not to mention her ball-of-fire stage show.

And that’s not even getting into her turbulent personal life – the early fame, the brutal domestic violence suffered at the hands of Ike Turner, and the return to triumph as a solo star. Imagine having to leave it all on the stage each night, only to return the next day. So the producers of “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” have an answer. They cast not one, but two stars of the show, who alternate —so you know the Tina you see on any given day or night will be at least moderately rested. The actors are Naomi Rodgers and Zurin Villanueva, and they are here as “Tina” kicks off an extended Bay Area run this week.

Fresh off a successful and acclaimed Broadway run, the musical features a live band, background singers and more showcasing Turner’s life and performing classic Turner songs from throughout her long career. It’s onstage at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco through Aug. 27 ($66.50-$179.50; and the Center for the Performing Arts in San Jose from Aug. 29 through Sept. 3. ($43-$113; 

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