Best Bets: SF Opera’s ‘Il Trovatore,’ free concert at McLaren Park and more

Tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, center, takes the title role in San Francisco Opera's production of Verdi's "Il Trovatore." (Photo courtesy of Cory Weaver)

One of the Verdi best: Say what you will about the impossibly convoluted, wrong-baby-on-the-bonfire plot that propels “Il Trovatore” along to its killer conclusion; when all four principal singers are excellent, there is no more glorious an operatic experience to be had.

San Francisco Opera, dusting off its 2009 David McVicar-designed co-production with the New York Metropolitan Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago of the Verdi classic, again shoots for the stars this week with its first offering of the 2023-24 season.

The talent lineup looks promising indeed: Double Grammy winner Angel Blue makes her debut in the role of Leonora, one of Verdi’s greatest tragic heroines. Singing opposite her as her beloved troubadour Manrico is Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, while the pivotal role of the gypsy Azucena (the baby chucker!) is taken by the great mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk. Romanian baritone George Petean is making his SF Opera debut as the Count di Luna, but he has taken the title roles on world stages in productions of Macbeth, Nabucco, Rigoletto and Simon Boccanegra. Music director Eun Sun Kim conducts, and John Keene directs the Opera Chorus, including in the famed Anvil Chorus.

Catch it this weekend at 2 p.m. Sunday at War Memorial; repeats are at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20, 23 and 29 and 2 p.m. Oct. 1, with the performance on the 23rd also offered as a livestream with a 48-hour access window. In-person tickets are $26 to $426; the livestream option is priced at $27.50. Go to or call (415) 864-3330.

Contralto Sara Couden. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Flora and fauna in song: Contralto Sara Couden joins forces with soprano Aléxa Anderson and accompanist Derek Tam on piano for a program of vocal music that takes inspiration from animals and nature.

So, at 7 p.m. Saturday in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walnut Creek, we’ll be hearing pieces such as Telemann’s “Canary Cantata,” which was commissioned from the Baroque composer, I kid you not, from a wealthy patron in Hamburg who was in mourning for his cat-slain bird and bore the original full title “Cantata of Funeral Music for an Artistically Trained Canary Bird Whose Demise Brought the Greatest Sorrow to His Master.”

Also on the program are selections from Zachary Wadsworth’s “The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts” (set to verses from Hilaire Belloc’s 1896 children’s book), the “Flower Duet” from Delibes’ “Lakme” and some nature-themed music by Schubert.

The suggested donation is $10-$20, either to attend in person at 1924 Trinity Ave. or to sign up for the livestream. Visit for details. And here is an excerpt from that lovely little cantata about the late lamented canary:

Freebie of the week: John D. McLaren Park is the second largest municipal park in San Francisco, after Golden Gate Park, yet many are unaware that this 313-acre gem with rolling hills, a golf course and pool, abundant wildlife, stunning views and lots of hiking trails (including one designated for philosophers) awaits visitors in the southeastern flank of the city. It’s named for the legendary Scottish-born horticulturist and park designer (1846-1943) who developed Golden Gate Park and served as the city’s parks superintendent. He is credited with planting some 2 million trees during his lifetime and famously insisted that no park under his jurisdiction would ever post a “keep off the grass” sign.

Singer, guitarist and San Francisco native Luz Elena Mendoza brings her band Y La Bamba to the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater. (Y La Bamba)

One of the other major attractions at McLaren Park is a nifty amphitheater constructed in 1970. In 2006, it was named the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in honor of Grateful Dead singer-songwriter and guitarist who grew up near the park. The venue recently underwent a $1.5 million renovation and is a lovely spot to hear music – which is exactly what city parks officials want you to do this weekend, when the Due South free concert series returns to the amphitheater.

Sponsored by the SF Parks Alliance and the Noise Pop music festival, Due South this year is hosting four free concerts at the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, including one this Saturday from 2-6 p.m. The headliner is the Portland, Oregon, Latin/indie-pop/experimental band Y La Bamba, fronted by singer, guitarist and San Francisco native Luz Elena Mendoza. The band this year dropped its seventh album, “Lucha.” Also in the lineup are Marinero and Loco Bloco.

The park is at 100 John F. Shelley Drive, San Francisco. Admission is free but reservations are recommended. You can register at (search for Due South) or via SF Parks Alliance,, which has more information about the event and how you can grab reserved seats.

Brady Morales-Woolery, left, and Dean Linnard star in Liz Duffy Adams’ “Born With Teeth” at Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. (Kevin Berne/Aurora Theatre Company)

Legendary collaboration on stage: It’s long been theorized that Shakespeare collaborated with others on some of his works, and that’s what is put forth in “Born With Teeth,” Liz Duffy Adams’ play presented by Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company.

The show finds Shakespeare (played by Brady Morales-Woolery), at this point a promising but unproven talent, working with already famous poet and playwright Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (Dean Linnard) on a historical-themed new play. This is an age where the British powers that be exert a near-paranoid control over portrayals of royal and historic figures, and so this undertaking, set in a tavern, is fraught with peril.

The show also depicts an uneasy relationship between the more uninhibited Marlowe and businesslike Shakespeare. As organizers put it, the partnership “becomes a dangerous dance of inspiration, artistry, seduction, and possible betrayal.”

The play, which premiered at Houston’s Alley Theatre last year, isn’t Duffy’s first work centering on the art of playwriting. Her acclaimed “Or” examined the life and work of groundbreaking British playwright Aphra Behn. Adams has been heralded for, among other things, her dazzling touch with dialogue and so it should be fun to see how she applies that skill to two of the world’s great wordsmiths.

The 85-minute “Teeth,” directed by Josh Costello, runs through Oct. 1 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $20-$65. The show will also be available for streaming Sept. 26-Oct. 1 ($20). Go to for tickets, more information and the company’s updated COVID policy.

From left, Constance Jewell Lopez, Darryl V. Jones, Antonia Reed, Juanita Harris and Phaedra Tillery-Boughton perform in Center Repertory Company’s production of “Crowns.” (Kevin Berne/Center Repertory Company)

Loving your legacy: In “Crowns,” the rollicking musical now on stage at Center Repertory Company in Walnut Creek, a young Black Chicago woman named Yolanda is sent to stay with relatives in the deep South, in the heart of a culture with which she is only vaguely familiar.

But she winds up getting quite an education. She is taken in by a community of strong-willed women who are first and foremost characterized by the stunning hats they wear to church and special occasions. The crowns in question are a gateway to a deeper understanding of a culture that celebrates its history, traditions and heritage – and music.

Tying the chapters of Yolanda’s journey of discovery together is a celebratory score touching on a history of African American music, ranging from traditional gospel and spirituals to contemporary hip-hop. The show, penned by Golden Globe Award-winning actor/director/playwright Regina Taylor, based on a book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, premiered in 2004 at the McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey and, thanks to its dynamic score and roof-raising song-and-dance routines, has gone on to be a popular staple at regional theaters nationwide.

Center Repertory’s production, helmed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, plays through Oct. 6 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. Tickets are $45-$70. Go to

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