Italian themes resonate here as our gentle spring segues into a fogbound summer this month, following several outstanding cultural events staged by our dance company and a remarkable waterfront museum.San Francisco Ballet’s 2023 Repertory Season came to a dramatic yet poignant end with the performance of Helgi Tómasson’s Romeo & Juliet. We especially enjoyed the duel.

From the Museo Italo Americano.

In a podcast “American” readers are certain to find engaging, the company’s fight Director Martino (Marty) Pistone describes the creation of the duels and other stage combat in the production.

He discusses the styles of fencing and the weapons used, as well as the process of teaching dancers the fight choreography. He also talks about working with the dancers for the crowd scenes during the fights, and his performing role as the Prince of Verona.

“Stage theater and combat training… striking the target with fencing foot work, is key to what I do,” he says in this interview. “I teach dancers to Act the Fight… endow it with passion. Otherwise, it means nothing. Furthermore, Romeo’s role as Prince of Verona is done by pantomime… the oldest style of acting. And every ballet is really a silent movie.”

Meanwhile, those of us who cherish all things Italian, are making our way to “Bravo,” an original exhibition celebrating The San Francisco Opera, at The Museo Italo Americano.

Established in 1978, the Museo Italo Americano is a non-profit institution governed by a Board of Directors, and it was the first museum in the United States devoted exclusively to Italian and Italian-American art and culture. Mark D. Schiavenza, a prominent member of the Board, explained that the mission of the Museo Italo Americano is twofold.

“First, it is designed to research, collect, and display works of Italian and Italian-American artists. Secondly, we want to promote educational programs for the appreciation of Italian art and culture, thereby preserving the heritage of Italian-Americans for future generations.”

San Francisco Opera’s 2023 Summer Season opened in June with Giacomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” at the War Memorial Opera House. Caroline H. Hume and Music Director Eun Sun Kim led the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and a brilliant cast in a new production by visionary Japanese director Amon Miyamoto. San Francisco Opera Chorus Director John Keene prepared the artists of the Opera Chorus.

Known for its many stirring melodies, including Cio-Cio-San’s aria “Un bel dì” (“One beautiful day”), the Humming Chorus and the passionate Act I love duet, “Madame Butterfly” is among the most famous operas from the composer of “La Bohème,” “Tosca,” “Gianni Schicchi,” and “Turandot.” Miyamoto’s production, staged with associate director Miroku Shimada, presented the story from the perspective of Cio-Cio-San’s child with Pinkerton, Trouble, who is now a grown man discovering the events that led to his American upbringing.

Director Amon Miyamoto observed that Madame Butterfly highlights the clash of cultural and family issues but also the abiding strength of love.

“In our staging, we see Cio-Cio-San’s son, Trouble, now an adult in his early 30s who has grown up experiencing discrimination as a biracial person in 1920s America. Trouble is on a journey to find where he belongs. Can he forgive his father’s mistakes by finding himself? This story illustrates the importance of valuing love as the key to a true understanding of people from different cultures and backgrounds.”

Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San), courtesy of San Francisco Opera.

The new staging, a co-production with The Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation, Semperoper Dresden, and the Royal Danish Opera, featured the work of set designer Boris Kudlička, lighting designer Fabio Antoci and projection designer Bartek Macias. The costumes are designed by the late fashion icon Kenzō Takada, founder of the global brand and fashion house KENZO, and developed by associate costume designer Sonoko Takeda.

Now in her second season as San Francisco Opera’s Music Director, Eun Sun Kim opened the Company’s Centennial Season last September with the world premiere of John Adams’ “Antony and Cleopatra” and also led Francis Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites” and a new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” along with numerous concerts.

Korean soprano Karah Son made her Company debut as the title heroine, Cio-Cio-San. Her voice spans innocent playfulness, intimate intensity, and unflinchingly thrilling moments, singing “Un bel dì, vedremo” with tonal purity and grace of line and without undue portent, say prominent opera critics.

As young men, we learned that “nothing good ever happens in a bar after 10 p.m.” While true, those of us now in the winter of our lives realize that when dusk creeps along, a saloon is just the ticket. The day drinkers are drifting out at that hour, and the bar flies have yet to arrive. A game of liar’s dice might be thrown in a distant corner, or a philosophical discourse takes place at the other end of the room. But mostly it’s just the gentle clinking of glass and ice cubes. At bars like this there are no blenders, espresso machines, or televisions.

Upon visiting the Libreria Pino in North Beach we came across, “The Bar at Twilight,” a new collection of short stories by Frederic Tuten. “In the Borghese Gardens” is one of the most satisfying tales, as it chronicles the journey of Nathaniel Hawthorne in Rome where he discovers “even the hungry cats sulking in the shadows of the Colosseum were more joyful than the grave clan of Transcendentalists and other propertied visionaries peddling optimism,” back home.

Twilight also reminded me of vespers, evensong, and benediction at San Silvestro in Capite, a minor basilica where the Irish Pallottine Fathers serve mass and other services in English. It was here that I first met the enchanting Roman scholar and dear friend, Maria Teresa. She explained that this ceremony was the most solemn office of the day and was composed of the psalms called Lucernales.

“When you come to visit me in San Francisco,” I replied, “we’ll repair to Vesuvio’s and indulge in a Vesper or two. This remarkable cocktail was made famous by Ian Fleming in his novel Casino Royale…best enjoyed just before nightfall.”