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Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Opening tonight: ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’

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There’s nothing quite like 18th Century French folks to give us revenge, manipulation, degradation and sex in style. Good Company Players on Thursday opens a new production of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” at the 2nd Space Theatre, so prepare yourself for all the delicious intrigue.

In Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of the famed French novel, two wealthy, powerful and brilliantly manipulative ex-lovers engage in amorous rivalries to exact revenge on their enemies, relieve their boredom — and perhaps win each other back. From the company:

Directed by Karan Johnson, the show features a cast of GCP veterans such as Tessa Cavalletto, Terry Lewis, Kaichen McRae and Brian Rhea, as well as some relatively new faces to the company like Neil Cusick, Ariana Marmolejo, Heather Parish and Haley White.

The production continues through June 15.

Tonight: a special Keyboard Concerts program with Vadim Gluzman

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I had fun catching up by telephone with the acclaimed Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman, who returns to Fresno after a four-year absence. The reason he keeps coming back? His good friend Thomas Loewenheim, who conducts the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra. Loewenheim talked Gluzman into taking a working “vacation” to Fresno. But with master classes, rehearsals and two concerts within a six-day window, Gluzman is going to be busy. From my story in Thursday’s Life section:

This week he’s in the hallways and concert spaces of the Fresno State music department working with students and performing in two concerts: one an intimate chamber performance tonight as part of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series; and the other Saturday as soloist with the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra.

At tonight’s Keyboard Concerts event, Gluzman will perform on violin with his pianist wife, Angela Yoffe, and Loewenheim on cello. It will be the first time the two old friends have performed together in public on their instruments.

Win tickets to the Fresno Film Festival

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Are you ready for the biggest Fresno Filmworks event of the year? The 10th annual Fresno Film Festival this weekend will feature seven programs of short and feature-length movies, including special filmmaker appearances, discussions, and more:

The festival opens Friday at 7 p.m. with the Japanese family drama “Like Father, Like Son,” a Jury Prize winner at Cannes that delicately tells the story of two sons mistakenly switched at birth. The movie will be followed by a champagne reception. Saturday at 4 p.m. will bring the Australian adventure fable “The Rocket,” which follows the journey of a 10-year-old boy trying to refute his bad luck in war-scarred Laos. Saturday at 7:30 p.m. features the political thriller “Omar,” another Jury Prize winner at Cannes that follows the story of a Palestinian baker who is forced to become an Israeli informant. On Sunday at 4:30 p.m., the American documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” explores the mysterious true-life story of a nanny who secretly took more than 100,000 photos of life on the streets of Chicago. The festival closes Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with the British dramatic comedy “Le Week-End,” one aging couple’s bittersweet ode to Paris.

I have a four-pack of passes to give away to a lucky Beehive reader. Each pass can be used for admission to one program. If you win, then, you can go to four different programs by yourself — or go to one and take three of your friends.

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us if you’ve ever gone to a Fresno Filmworks offering before — and if so, what was your favorite movie? Deadline to enter is 5 p.m. Wednesday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winner by email on Wednesday evening, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by Thursday morning, I reserve the right to pick another. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to be able to come down to The Bee’s front counter by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up. Rules are on the jump.

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Tonight: Woodward Shakespeare Festival reads ‘The Tempest’

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You’ll be able to hear an original composition by Emma Ferdinandi, a freshman at Clovis West High School, as part of tonight’s Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s reading of “The Tempest.” Ferdinandi won the 2014 Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s Young Composers Competition.

The event will begin 6:30 p.m. at the Woodward Park Regional Library.

Audiences for the summer production of the play may hear some of Ferdinandi’s music included in the upcoming summer production. All of the music will be performed prior to some of the 12 performances of the play.

Ferdinandi will receive scholarship funding from the Cultural Arts Rotary and the Bonner Family Foundation. Her scholarship includes $1,000 to attend the music camp or school of her choice.

Fresno Regional Foundation arts grants announced

The Fresno Regional Foundation has announced a new batch of arts and culture grants totaling more than $160,000 to 12 organizations.

A reception open to the public honoring the grantees will be held 5:15-6:45 p.m. Thursday at the foundation’s lobby at 5250 N. Palm Ave.

In partnership with the James Irvine Foundation, five of the twelve organizations are receiving Engagement Pathway grants for experimental programs that support how art experiences are developed for more audience relevance and create art experiences that are meaningful to the community.

Here are the recipients:

· Youth Orchestras of Fresno: $30,000 to expand free Accent on Access Violin Program giving second- through sixth-graders the opportunity to experience “Many Hands, Many Hearts, One Sound.”

· Fresno Arts Council: $28,000 for training to area artists so that they will be able to coordinate with area schools and teachers in order to provide Visual and Performing Arts Standards and Common Core Standards-based visual art lessons in Fresno elementary classrooms.

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Read all about it: Fresno State’s ‘Between the Pages’ a strong and fun exhibition

In my Sunday column I put the spotlight on a fine new exhibition at Fresno State’s Madden Library titled “Between the Pages: Intersections of Books and Technology.” From my column:

One of the delights of this clever and good-hearted exhibition, co-presented by the library’s Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and the Special Collections Research Center, and curated by Jennifer Crow and Tammy Lau, is the way it nudges the viewer toward a greater appreciation of the staying power of books, no matter the format or technology that made them possible.

Books come in many forms: printed, audio, pop-up versions, digital. You can trace their progression in “Turning Pages” — from the hieroglyphics on a facsimile of the Rosetta Stone to an iPad version of “Horrible Hauntings,” billed as an “augmented reality collection” in which readers are able to see and interact with 3-D ghosts.

I summarize my thoughts about the exhibition in the above video review version of my column.

Light and sky at Fresno’s Spectrum Art Gallery

In Friday’s 7 section, I feature two exhibitions at Spectrum Art Gallery: Sally Stallings’ “Everyday, the Light” and Virginia Wilson’s “Against the Sky.” From my review:

Sunlight is the great equalizer. You can live in a mansion or a shack, but a shaft of sunlight streaming through a window is the same the world over: clean, bracing, bright, even hypnotic.

The exhibition runs through April 27.

Tonight: North Fresno ArtHop

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Artist Richard Silva is a fixture on the downtown ArtHop scene, but tonight he ventures north. He’s the featured artist at the Vintage Market at 601, located at 601 W. Shaw Ave. The venue is one of a handful in the area, along with the Brush and Easel Gallery and Gallery II Pat Hunter Studio, trying to increase interest in North Fresno ArtHop happenings. From the Fresno Arts Council website:

Silva paints in an abstract expressionist style that has made him one of the most venerated Fresno artists. He was trained at the S.F. Art Institute in the 1960s, but states that the 1950s is the era that inspires him. He describes himself as essentially an action painter creating abstract expressionist images that stress spontaneity, gesture and movement. Silva will be showing a new collection of paintings and his unique wood sculptures that arouse one’s curiosity. Traditional bluegrass music will be performed by Jack Kinney and Eric Antrem.

Check out the ArtHop page on the arts council’s website for more North Fresno ArtHop happenings.

Audra update: Stellar reviews for ‘Lady Day’

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Another Audra McDonald opening on Broadway, another round of stellar reviews. McDonald’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” opened Sunday at the Circle in the Square theater for a limited run, and critics showered Fresno’s favorite Broadway star with raves. I liked this one from the Los Angeles Times:

When one recalls Holiday’s sublimely ruined sound at the end of her career, the period in which Lanie Robertson’s concert drama is set, one doesn’t think of McDonald’s soaring, Juilliard-burnished soprano, a gold medal voice still in its athletic prime.

But from the moment McDonald takes the microphone, a metamorphosis more striking than any in Ovid occurs. Gone is the shimmering operatic prowess that powered through “Summertime” in “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” the last of McDonald’s Tony-winning performances. In its place are Holiday’s distinctive jazz timing and idiosyncratic phrasing, qualities as singular as fingerprints.

I’ve always thought that McDonald had such a distinctive voice that I could recognize her signature style in a nano-second, but, once again, she rises to the occasion.

Here’s what the New York Times has to say. Playbill.com has a roundup of major reviews. And Broadway.com has a great photo gallery from opening night, including McDonald accepting flowers, above.

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” plays through June 1, so plan those New York trips soon.

A successful Mini Maker Faire

I enjoyed Fresno’s second Mini Maker Faire on Saturday at the Fresno Art Museum: great weather, interesting people, good entertainment, thoughtful exhibits. One nice thing about the event is that unlike most festivals, this one had more to it than just food booths and crafts booths. You could actually learn something. I made sure to engage with some of the Makers — who represent “innovation and experimentation across the spectrum of science, engineering, art, performance and craft” — and chatted with them about their work.

Highlights for me:

  • First time I got to see a 3-D printer in person and actually watch it print.
  • Meeting Kiel Schmidt’s baby goat, Abacus, and seeing the fresh produce grown at Tower Urban Family Farm.
  • Learning about FresnYoga, invented by Teresa Flores and Rebecca Plevin, and watching a group of yoga enthusiasts do their “High Speed Rail” pose. (Which kept getting delayed.)
  • Listening to Fresno’s poet laureate, James Tyner, recite his beautiful poem “Going North to Down.”
  • Checking out the bees on display thanks to the Busy Bee Honey Farm. (I’m always a bee fan. Obviously.)

Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss put together a nifty video, above, about the event, along with a photo gallery. I took a few photos on my own, too, which I’ve included after the jump.

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Slow down for art

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Some people race through museums so quickly there should be posted speed limits. Which is fine if that’s the way they want to do it. Experiencing art should be a matter of personal preference. But there’s also something to be said for slowing down and really lingering with a piece. For those who want that encouragement, the Slow Art Day movement was born.

Arte Americas and the Fresno Art Museum are participating Saturday in the national volunteer event, which this year includes more than 220 participating institutions. Organizers explain:

People all over the world visit local museums and galleries to look at art slowly. Participants look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience. That’s it. Simple by design, the goal is to focus on the art and the art of seeing.

At Arte Americas, participants will examine five works by San Francisco artist Viviana Paredes selected by Arte Américas Director Frank Delgado. The installation pieces are part of the exhibition “Navigating The Sacred.” Viewing will be 11 a.m.-noon. An optional lunch discussion is 12:15-1:15 p.m. and will take place in the shade of the outdoor plaza.

Admission to Arte Américas is free, and participants can either bring their own lunch, or order Mexican take-out from a nearby restaurant.  “We’ll even put people’s sack lunches in the fridge during the event,” Delgado says.

At the Fresno Art Museum, a ticket is required to the all-day Mini Maker Faire to participate in Slow Art Day. The art viewing is 11 a.m.-noon, and lunch discussion (lots of Mini Maker options) hosted by the museum’s Christina Rea will be noon-12:30 p.m.

Fresno’s Mini Maker Faire

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I got the chance this week to learn more about the phenomenon of Maker Faires, which have become popular since the first one popped up in the Bay Area in 2006.

Fresno’s second Mini Maker Faire is 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at a new venue, the Fresno Art Museum, and it sounds fascinating. More than 100 “Makers” will be on hand. Organizers describe the original Maker concept as featuring “innovation and experimentation across the spectrum of science, engineering, art, performance and craft.” In my roundup for Friday’s 7 section I preview the event and offer entertainment highlights. Here’s the full entertainment lineup for the event’s three stages:

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Here’s your chance to flee from Godzilla

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Come on, admit it. You have always had, tucked deep down in that place we keep our most primal movie desires, the wish to be in a crowd scene screaming your head off as you run away from Godzilla.

You’ll get that chance Sunday on the Fulton Mall. Roque Rodriguez of Fresno’s famed Dumb Drum writes:

We were contacted by Legendary Pictures (the studio behind the new “Godzilla” film opening in May) to help create a promotional video for an upcoming fan contest. We need as many people as we can get to pretend like they’re running from Godzilla on the Fulton Mall outside the Pacific Southwest Building this Sunday, April 13 at 6:30 p.m. There’s no pay, but this is chance to be in a fun video that will be promoted online by Legendary Pictures.  Come prepared to run!

I wonder how Godzilla feels about opening the mall to traffic? Perhaps that’s his acting motivation for a rampage.

Fresno State theater announces 2014-15 season

JACQUELINE ANTARAMIAN CALLAS MASTER CLASS

A rousing new season for Fresno State theater:

RACE
By David Mamet
Directed by Thomas-Whit Ellis
October 3-11, 2014

THE MAIDS
By Jean Genet
Directed by Ruth Griffin
October 31, November 1-8, 2014

CABARET
Book by Joe Masteroff
Based on the play by John Van Druten and
Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Directed by J. Daniel Herring
December 5-13, 2014

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The greening of Elphaba

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In the annals of Broadway greendom, I can now say I’ve hit a double jackpot.

Last year I got to sneak into a private dressing room backstage at the Saroyan Theatre to watch the actor playing Shrek in the national tour of “Shrek the Musical” go through the process of turning green.

I experienced the same kind of opportunity Tuesday when Bee photographer Mark Crosse and I watched perhaps the most famed green transformation on Broadway: that of Laurel Harris, who plays Elphaba, as she transitioned from normal pigmented human into the Wicked Witch of the West.

It might not be easy being Elphaba — have you ever tried belting out “Defying Gravity” in front of 2,300 people? — but thanks to veteran makeup artist Joyce McGilberry, it’s a cinch turning green. Here’s my take:

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The first step: With Harris sitting in her chair, McGilberry — who has been with the “Wicked” tour for seven years — starts with the hands. Harris sticks hers out to be slathered with Mac makeup, the hue of which is called Landscape Green. Her neck, shoulders, face, hairline and ears follow. I retain a lingering mental image of McGilberry, who works with the brisk efficiency of a Formula One pit crew member, thoroughly swabbing Harris’ ears with enough green to cover every possible crevice. It’s like watching a toddler getting her ears washed by a stern British nanny, only in reverse.

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PHOTO GALLERY‘Wicked’s’ Elphaba, Laurel Harris, gets painted green
VIDEO: Laurel Harris talks about the “greening” process
REVIEW: ‘Wicked’ remains wickedly good
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Facebook photo of the day: Primetime TV debut edition

Actor Miles Gaston Villanueva made quite an impression during his years in Fresno State’s theater department — and it appears as if he’s soon to be noticed nationally as well:

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He writes on Facebook:

My Primetime TV debut is coming to you NEXT WEEK! Believe it or not, my debut will come as a Double Feature: with BONES on Monday, April 14th, and NCIS on Tuesday, April 15th! Wild, eh??? I’m THRILLED to share these episodes with you, as I had the most thrilling, joyful, and unforgettable time on set with each team of creators. It was… INSPIRING! Please spread the word, check your local listings, and tune in!

My favorite performance by Villanueva: He made a terrific Officer Lockstock in Fresno State’s 2008 production of “Urinetown.”

Green light bonanza on Shaw Avenue?

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I’m a little sheepish to admit this, but there are times over the years when I’ve actually hated a street.

The object of my loathing: North Angus Street, between Fresno and First streets as you travel along Shaw Avenue to the north of Fashion Fair Mall. I drive this stretch of Shaw a lot, and I swear that every single time — every time! — I hit a red light. Just as I’m picking up speed from the Fresno Street intersection, I have to slam on my brakes and watch departing mall-goers toodle out of the parking lot.

Well, as Bee reporter George Hostetter tells us, my blood pressure should get a reprieve. The city’s Public Works Department recently finished the synchronization of traffic signals along a stretch of Shaw Avenue:

In the old days, it was stop-go pretty much all the way. Obey the speed limit now and you’ll see a lot fewer red lights.

“The signals are now working as a system,” Public Works Director Scott Mozier says. “This addresses a big frustration.”

I’ve already noticed green-light bliss traveling along Shaw between Palm Avenue and Highway 99, particularly at off-peak hours, after the first phase of the traffic sync project kicked in. Now I’m looking forward to driving farther east. The first time I sail by the dreaded Angus on a green, I will turn and say, “See ya, suck-ah.”

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Facebook photo of the day: ‘Wicked’ edition

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Kara Lindsay made her debut last Wednesday as “Wicked’s” Glinda in Fresno — and I thought she was terrific. It’s no surprise considering her sterling Broadway credentials. She originated the leading female role of Katherine in the Disney musical hit “Newsies,” playing the part for nearly two years.

Fresno’s Emily Estep became a big fan of Lindsay after seeing “Newsies” in New York, where she waited outside the stage door to meet Lindsay. Emily got to repeat the experience in Fresno after the Sunday evening performance of “Wicked” at the Saroyan, above. Her mother, well-known Fresno community theater actress Shannah Estep, writes on Facebook:

Ever since we saw Newsies in New York Emily has been fixated on Kara and her alter ego Katherine. She couldn’t wait until the end of the show just so she could go to the stage door! Let’s just say that whole thing is a lot easier to do here in Fresno!

After the jump: the “Newsies” stage door photo.

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CONCERT REVIEW: Wu Man and the Fresno Philharmonic

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The celebrated musician Wu Man on Friday introduced the pipa, the lute-like ancient Chinese instrument, to the Fresno Philharmonic audience.

It was exhilarating.

There are those, I’m sure, who would tend to steer away from a concert like this — Chinese music is just too “weird.” But I strongly encourage people with that avoidance mindset to take a chance and broaden their horizons. Wu Man’s performance of Tan Dun’s Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa was a mesmerizing and joyful romp encompassing two musical cultures. Beyond Ms. Wu’s polished expertise, it was almost as fun watching the members of the orchestra stray beyond their own comfort levels, joining enthusiastically in a performance that included stomping, plucking, tapping and vocalizing. The customary cool orchestral detachment melted away, giving us something that hinted at the primal.

What’s more, all this takes place in the intimate Shaghoian Hall, where you’re close enough to the musicians to really feel the impact. You have two more chances to experience this unforgettable concert, one of my favorite all-time Fresno Philharmonic experiences: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. (My only regret about Friday’s event that there wasn’t a bigger crowd.)

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Lots of classical music this weekend

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Wow, what a weekend for classical music in Fresno.

For the first time in its history, the Fresno Philharmonic will play a piece by a Chinese composer — Tan Dun’s Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa. And it will feature the world’s most foremost player of the instrument: Wu Man. Don’t miss my interview with her in Friday’s 7 section. This “East Meets West” concert also features two beloved Beethoven symphonies. The orchestra performs Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Shaghoian Hall.

Keyboard Concerts brings yet another famed pianist to the Fresno State Concert Hall: the British musician Stephen Hough. He will play a program Friday night that includes rarely performed pieces by Schoenberg, Wagner, Richard Strauss and Bruckner, as well as works by Brahms and the monumental Sonata by Liszt. Fun fact: Hough will appear on “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor on April 12.

Fresno’s Michael Krikorian, pictured above, who at age 12 began studying with Fresno State piano professor Andreas Werz, is now a graduate student in piano performance at Manhattan School of Music studying with Arkady Aronov. He returns for a hometown concert Sunday at the Fresno State Concert Hall sponsored by the Orpheus chamber music ensemble.

 The choral ensembles of College of the Sequoias, Fresno City College and Porterville College and Reedley College perform 3 p.m. Sunday at the Fresno City College Old Administration Building Auditorium. More than 180 singers and a small orchestra will perform Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” Tickets are $5.

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Wicked’

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Could any first-act finale have more visual and emotional punch than the extravagantly beautiful final two minutes of “Wicked”? At intermission of Thursday’s press-night performance at the Saroyan Theatre, I Tweeted that I wanted to hug the lighting designer.

Not to spoil anything for those who haven’t yet experienced this gorgeously produced and emotionally soaring Broadway show, but the song “Defying Gravity” turns light into something that seems tangible and material, with volume and substance — illumination with weight and heft, as substantial and big as a mountain. Plus: that last, gorgeous blackout, punctuated by a final split-second fadeout on the face of the defiantly green Wicked Witch of the West — the timing is exquisite, the rush of light and dark all encompassing.

I’ve seen “Wicked” three times now, and I swoon at this moment each time. The only other comparison I can draw in terms of the power of theater is the first-act finale of the (old) version of “Les Miserables,” with that last rippling fadeout to black on the big red waving flag. It is supremely satisfying to be in the presence of such confident visual precision. (In movies today, special effects are lavished upon our eyeballs so unrelentingly and with such visual digital sophistication that it can all seem rather ho-hum. But to witness live the stagecraft of a show like “Wicked” remains awe-inducing.)

When the national tour of “Wicked” first played in Fresno in 2011, I noted how it simply upped the ante for all other touring shows that come through the Saroyan. It’s Broadway quality. (With near New York prices to match, of course.) The second visit of the tour, which opened Wednesday, has maintained that high standard in every regard. “Wicked” is still wicked good.

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The Beehive Interview: Andrew Hernandez

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The Fresno State Opera Theatre, under the direction of Anthony Radford, on Saturday and Sunday offers the premiere of “The Secret of Luca,” a new opera by Evan Mack and Joshua McGuire. One of the cast members if Andrew Hernandez, who as a bass at 29 is finally beginning to mature into his voice. He will be going in the fall to one of the best graduate music programs for low voices. I feature him in an interview in Friday’s 7 section; here’s the extended version.

What is the show about?

Luca is released from prison after 40 years for a crime he didn’t commit and is returning to his home town. Suspicious villagers wonder why he has returned and set about trying to figure out why he would willingly go to prison. As the opera unfolds we learn Luca’s secret.

Tell us about your role in the show.

I am playing the police chief. He is is a gritty cop and is suspicious of change, especially when it comes to outsiders. He walks with a limp and his music is very rhythmic and angular.

What has it been like working with the opera’s creative team?

It’s been great to work with both Evan Mack and Joshua McGuire here in Fresno for the past week. When you have a question it is a real treat to ask the composer or librettist for an answer. In some cases Evan would tailor the roles to fit the singers in the ensemble. For example, the role of Lauretta, played by Maelyn de Fede, was originally written for a mezzo soprano, but Maelyn is a soprano. So he re-wrote the role to fit her voice. During rehearsal Dr. Radford would at times text the composer asking questions and Evan would text back changes here and there if we requested them. Evan skyped in for one rehearsal which was really cool.

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Watch dance live at Fresno State … online

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UPDATE No. 2: Performance is at 3:30 p.m., an organizer confirms on Facebook.

UPDATE No. 1: There’s a discrepancy as to the start time of this live-streamed event. It’s either at 2:30 p.m. or 3:30 p.m., depending on the link you click. This is what I ended up writing in a clarifying note on a Facebook post: “I don’t recommend buying a ticket for the online performance. It’s great to embrace cutting-edge technology by offering live streamed events, but botching the start time isn’t a good way of reaching new audiences. Kind of embarrassing, actually.”

ORIGINAL POST: This sounds interesting: The touring Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre company is at Fresno State today to present a live performance that will be broadcast live online, thus allowing “anyone from all of the world to engage in the creation of the performance.”

Performers dance in, around and on top of a 1961 vintage Oasis trailer, transforming it into an art-filled home. Live music and video projections are part of the effect. The performance, titled “From Time to Time — At the Oasis” begins at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the university’s Free Speech Area. You can watch it online but need to buy a ticket. (You pay what you want; suggested donation is $10.)

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ArtHop picks

I’ve already told you about the Jerry “Zits” Scott exhibition at 1821 Gallery & Studios — the “celebrity” show of the evening. Here are a few more picks on a busy ArtHop evening:

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FIRST LADY FRENZY: A set of portraits of the first ladies of the United States is featured at Fresno City Hall. All but one of the paintings are by famed portrait artist Lawrence Williams, known for his depictions of U.S. presidents and other world leaders.

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The collection was donated to the Fresno County Office of Education by the late Joe Levy, chairman of Gottschalks, the former Fresno-based department store chain. Levy purchased the set from Williams, who died in 2003 before the election of President Obama. To round out the collection, the education office commissioned a painting of Michelle Obama by local artist Ma Ly.

The exhibition, which continues through April, is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Fresno. Tonight’s ArtHop reception includes a 6 p.m. program featuring league member and Fresno State professor Diane Blair, right, an authority on first ladies.

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Tonight: ‘Zits’ and ‘Baby Blues’ cartoonist branches out with ArtHop

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You wouldn’t blame Jerry Scott — whose comics “Zits” and “Baby Blues” reach a potential 100 million readers daily — for resting on his laurels. The 58-year-old San Luis Obispo resident is at the top of his game.

But seven years ago, Scott decided that as a comic-strip writer he was feeling a little unfulfilled as an artist. He enthusiastically took up painting. And for his subject matter, he turned to one of his great loves: Western themes and the rodeo.

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You’ll get to see the results at ArtHop tonight. Scott opens the second exhibition of his career, “Roughstock,” a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Clovis Rodeo, at 1821 Gallery & Studios. He’ll be there to greet fans. I got the chance to talk with the amiable Scott for a story in today’s Life section:

Scott’s oil paintings are filled with images of cows, bulls and rodeo riders rendered in a mostly realistic style that often veers toward the impressionistic in terms of color and form. The fine-art approach is certainly a departure from the world of comics.

“I’ve spent the last 25 years being the guy behind the scenes,” Scott muses about how his comics career evolved. “That wasn’t my first choice, because I’m a visual person. So all this was sort of in response to being the writer and not the artist on my comic strips.”

I admire Scott’s drive when it comes to branching out creatively. He loves comics and is no way apologetic about what he does for a living. If anything, he’s cheerfully willing to use his celebrity in service of fine art.

After the jump: view photos by The Bee’s Eric Paul Zamora of the exhibition.

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