ARTS WATCH : PLAYHOUSE, OPERA DO WELL AT BOX OFFICE

San Diego County Arts Editor

Successful seasons at the box office for both the San Diego Opera and the La Jolla Playhouse seem to be shaping up well in advance. This suggests that the local audience is responding gamely to the risk-taking of two forward-looking arts groups, and that's worth noting in a town where, traditionally, one doesn't tamper with the tried and true.

Opera general director Ian Campbell reports that half of all available seating in the Civic Theatre has already been purchased by last year's season ticket holders. This despite the fact that Campbell has lowered the number of Civic Theatre performances in favor of a more diverse 1985-86 series that includes recitals and chamber operas at the Old Globe Theatre.

Already, three performances by opera satirist Anna Russell (in November) and two by soprano Renata Scotto (in May, 1986) have sold out. Campbell, who late last year unveiled a "five-year plan" to broaden the opera's base of appeal via such expanded programs, cites the subscription count and sell-outs as "the city's confirmation on my artistic decisions."

Meanwhile, La Jolla Playhouse marketing director Robert Friend has announced that the subscription campaign for the Playhouse's upcoming third season is "off to a phenomenal start, with more than 1,400 subscriptions sold in the first six weeks."

Indeed, the Playhouse has managed not only to transplant one of its creations--last season's "Big River"--to Broadway but can bask in the glory of the musical's 10 Tony Award nominations and strong reviews. And there's a lot of excitement being generated by Stephen Sondheim's planned Playhouse residence while it readies a new version of his "Merrily We Roll Along" for its June 11 opening. The eternal Old Globe--which is hardly hurting for subscribers--has to be smarting at such upstart, one-upping success.

Even so, these early reports of boffo box office are more the stuff of press-release drum-beating than of any foregone conclusion. The Opera and Playhouse still have to sell through season after season to approach the Old Globe's acceptance level. But the dire predictions have yet to come true: that the Opera would struggle to survive Tito Capobianco's leaving; that the Playhouse was too spendthrift to survive. Nerve and vision haven't always paid off for the arts in San Diego, but perhaps they're beginning to.

GODDESS: An ambitious seven-week thematic exhibition begins today at the Multicultural Arts and Humanities Center, 425 Market St. Entitled "Images of the Feminine," the show features work by local and nationally renowned artists such as James Hubbell and Beth Ames Swartz. In addition, a lecture series, poetry, films and workshops will further illuminate the theme of "the Goddess" and various mythological images of the feminine.

If, on the surface, the exhibition seems an extended exercise in feminist metaphysics, there is another, more practical, level. According to the center's co-owner, Daniel Orosz, who put together the exhibition with his wife, Yolanda Ariyana, "There's a social element in it as well--concerning the changing city here in San Diego. We see what's going on downtown as a kind of renaissance and the images in this show are symbolic of that in

many ways--the idea of a renaissance relates to birth, to creativity, and those ideas are strongly associated with the feminine."

Orosz and Ariyana have been planning the exhibition for about a year. Its primary theme will be addressed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in a lecture by Christine Downing, who chairs the Religious Studies Department at San Diego State University. In her book "The Goddess: Mythological Images of the Feminine," Downing writes: "In recent years many women have rediscovered how much we need the goddess in a culture that tears us from woman, from women, and from ourselves. To be fed only male images of the divine is to be badly malnourished."

PAAB: The city's Public Arts Advisory Board (PAAB) has voted to finance two projects. The first is a joint venture with public television station KPBS-TV to produce a pilot for "The San Diego Arts Awakening," a 30-minute documentary series on the arts in San Diego. The PAAB approved $27,658 for the series, to be matched by KPBS. In addition, the board approved a request by the Combined Organization for Visual Artists for $7,041 to create a slide registry to inventory the work of all San Diego artists. To carry out all this funding, the PAAB will have to go to the city's Public Services and Safety Committee later this month. The committee supervises the $140,000 in transient occupancy taxes that have been set aside for the PAAB.

MISHA: An agreement seems close in the wrangle between promoters Fahn and Silva Presents and the San Diego Arts Foundation. Fahn and Silva had booked ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov's solo tour for July 4 at the Open Air Theatre of San Diego State University. But the Arts Foundation has booked the American Ballet Theater, which Baryshnikov directs, for a March, 1986, engagement at Spreckels Theater.

Because Baryshnikov has an agreement with the American Ballet Theater not to bring his solo show to cities in which the ABT will also perform, the Arts Foundation has the option of preventing Baryshnikov from dancing for Fahn and Silva. The Arts Foundation has slated the Joffrey Ballet at the Civic Theatre for the week prior to the July 4 Baryshnikov date, and it doesn't fancy having its Joffrey sales suffer as a result of the July 4 show. According to Arts Foundation executive producer Suzanne Townsend, a joint sponsorship of the Baryshnikov show with Fahn and Silva is now possible. It could be announced Thursday.

ARTBEATS: Master flutist James Galway is set to perform at the San Diego Symphony Orchestra's Symphony Hall gala on Nov. 2, inaugurating the Fox Theatre as the orchestra's new home. Galway will be joined by other stars, to be announced . . . Tickets to the Aug. 1 Civic Theatre concert featuring the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, conducted by John Williams, go on sale today. Call the San Diego Symphony Orchestra for more information . . . Opening Friday at the Guild Theater is John Sayle's latest film, "The Brother From Another Planet." Coming May 29 (for three days) to the Ken Cinema is Bill ("Local Hero") Forsythe's new film, "Comfort and Joy."

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