Of all the Astoria Music Festival events, I found the silent movie with music was the most fascinating. Shown on the evening of June 20, City Girl, by the renowned German director F.W. Murnau, was accompanied by a string ensemble.

The music was composed and conducted by John F. Paul of Marylhurst College.

The plot of this silent movie of 90 minutes was: Minnesota country boy goes to Chicago wheat exchange; country boy falls in love with waitress; boy and girl get married; boy brings girl back to family farm where she is rejected by the boy’s father. The movie ends with the young wife’s acceptance.

While indoor scenes were shot in Hollywood, the wheat harvest scenes were captured in Athena, which is about 15 minutes west of Pendleton. It was startling to see a moving image of an early 20th century wheat thresher being pulled by a team of some 30 mules.

Following the movie, I spoke with Muschi Mayflower and Karin Temple, whose German roots gave them an appreciation of Murnau’s large reputation. It seems that Murnau made only four films in Hollywood.

***

To portray Jesus on the stage is risky. Adding Mary Magdalene and intimacy raises the stakes. The composer Mark Adamo has done just that in his opera Mary Magdalene, which premiered in June in San Francisco. My wife and I saw it last Friday night.

While the opera’s music lacks memorable phrases, the drama is indelible. Seeing a crucifixion and a resurrection as part of Act III was quite startling. This opera is described as an intimate work, and that is fair. You would not call it a chamber opera, but it is largely dialogue between Mary and Jesus, Mary and the apostle Peter and Mary the mother and Mary the Magdalene.

Adamo has written what I would call a didactic or polemical work. He’s out to prove a point, which many writers about the Gospels have also addressed. Prior to its world premiere, S.F. Opera’s general director, David Gockley, reached out to the Catholic archbishop of San Francisco.

The operatic stage has periodically been a place of great political and religious controversy. The now-sainted Giuseppi Verdi frequently ran afoul of the Italian (Catholic) censors. So it was refreshing in a way to see a work whose message is at the edge of contemporary religious discussion.

***

While in San Francisco, we broke new baseball ground by seeing a new ballpark. The Oakland stadium was built in the 1960s and renewed in the 1990s. Its basic fabric is dated and lacks the kind of fan amenities that are common of the post-Camden Yards ballparks.

Oakland Athletics fans are fervent. We saw the A’s play the St. Louis Cardinals so, of course, there were members of Cardinals nation from the West Coast and Midwest. On our BART train to the park we visited with Cardinals fans from Tulsa, Okla.

The game was competitive until the Cardinals’ machine cranked up in the sixth inning. The night prior, however, Oakland took St. Louis to the cleaners.

***

Our last day at the opera coincided with the Gay Pride Parade, a monumental event this year, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling that stayed California’s Proposition 8. Across from the War Memorial Opera House is San Francisco City Hall, one of the most beautiful in America. It had been the setting for the first gay marriages following last week’s historic court ruling. On the night prior, City Hall was lit with colors of the rainbow.

What one observes in San Francisco on Gay Pride Day is that well beneath the level of celebrated people on floats and magazine covers there are very ordinary, plain couples who feel a bit more liberated on this day.

Across the street from the Big Happening, we saw Offenbach’s opera Tales of Hoffman. It was the first opera I saw, in 1964. It is a story of love and love and love – a fair companion to what was afoot on the streets of San Francisco that Sunday.

— S.A.F.

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