Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970. Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and most recently the October 2018 "Fall of California Redux.")

According to Burton, Armageddon still looms in our future and when it finally arrives, non-believers shall perish while, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (recently expanded to 81 angels, including himself and his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci), Burton and his followers shall be spared, founding a new and more perfect civilization. Read more about the blog.

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Friday, July 24, 1998

A Night at the Opera

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Appeal-Democrat July 1998
Stephen Simmonds has a lot on his mind.
He’s got less than three days before the team of actors, musicians and stagehands under his direction take the stage. Entrances, lights, costumes, the small army on stage and behind the scenes - all have his attention. They’ve got to be sharp, they’ve got to be on.
The dress rehearsal, the company’s first in costume, will be the first true glimpse Simmonds and the other members of the company will have into what the public will see later on.
Apollo Opera took the stage in the first of two preview performances last Saturday evening in its production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at Renaissance Vineyard. The company will also perform Saturday and Sunday at the Fred Forsman Amphitheater at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley.
“Now it’s crunch time,” Simmonds said while preparing for last weekend’s opening. “It’s a bit like organizing an army, but tonight I feel like a corporal.”
His laugh shows that he’s been there, done that. A stage veteran of nearly 25 years, including stints with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, not much seems to faze him.
He’s not alone. Michael Goodwin, the company’s musical director, has conducted every Apollo Opera production since its first, 14 years ago. Artistic director Zoila Munoz has performed in Europe’s major opera houses and is renowned both there and in America.
“For four weeks, it’s extremely hectic, difficult, but very exciting,” Munoz said before the rehearsal. “If one doesn’t lose one’s head, then it’s all right.”
Other members of the company also have performed professionally or are formally trained. It’s a multitalented, multilingual group with a reputation that has continued to grow in recent years with its productions of “Carmen,” “Don Giovanni” and last year’s “Madame Butterfly.” Even in rehearsal, the chemistry of the married couple, soprano Camilla Pistilli and baritone Stefano Capaccioli, as the soon-to-be-wed Susanna and Figaro, is evident.
On this night, the rehearsal focuses on the little things, polishing cues, sound effects, costume and set changes before they have a chance to grow into problems in performance.
“Often you find things are running fine, then... it all falls apart, then it comes together again,” Simmonds said. “But we have to get it together and, when that happens, it all clicks.”
From behind his piano and a score the size of the San Francisco Yellow Pages, musical director Michael Goodwin waves off the chorus’ entrance into the scene. Something’s wrong. A couple of singers are dragging behind the tempo. The line must be perfect, or it jeopardizes the entire scene. Then he says what becomes a recurring theme through the rehearsal: “We can’t stop tomorrow night.”
The cast quickly regroups and runs through the scene without a hitch.
Later, when guest soloist Hope Briggs enters as Countess Almaviva, her talents are immediately obvious, her regal presence on the open-air stage.
Just nine years out of university - she didn’t even sing opera until she became a student at California State University, Fullerton - Briggs was a Metropolitan Opera National Council finalist last year and already has become someone to watch, performing with the Houston Grand, San Francisco, Dallas and Los Angeles operas.
“Who’d have thought all this was here?” said guest soloist and baritone Andrew Eisenmann backstage. He will perform the role of Count Almaviva. “They’ve got their arts down,” he said of Apollo. “It’s great to sing to an audience that knows.”
The performance is also a watershed for the company based in the foothill community or Oregon House.
Apollo Opera will not only use the popular Mozart classic to debut its artists-in-residence, Pistilli and Capaccioli, but also to illuminate the strengths of the balance of the cast.
It couldn’t have chosen a better opera to spotlight its talents, Simmonds said.
It’s accessible. It’s fun. It’s funny. This opera has played somewhere every month for the last 200 years,” he said, letting the sentence hang in the air for emphasis. “It’s fun. People like it.”
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Appeal-Democrat, July 24, 1998
Appeal-Democrat Entertainment Guide, July 24, 1998
Front page Linda Kaplan puts the finishing touches on her makeup
Linda Kaplan puts the finishing touches on her makeup before going on stage as Marcellina during a dress rehearsal for Apollo Opera’s production of “The Marriage of Figaro.”
Photos by Craig Kohlruss