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“Show Boat” opens San Francisco Opera’s summer season—discounted tickets options

San Francisco Opera takes the dive into big musical theater with “Show Boat,” its summer season opener produced by Francesca Zambello.  Photo  ©Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

San Francisco Opera takes the dive into big musical theater with “Show Boat,” its summer season opener produced by Francesca Zambello. Photo ©Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

It’s going to be a memorable summer at San Francisco Opera (SFO) as the company opens its Summer Season with a dive into big musical theater with “Show Boat,” a performance that promises to be a uniquely American hybrid of opera and rousing Broadway musical. Both a poignant love story and a powerful reminder of the bitter legacy of racism, “Show Boat” was a theatre landmark that contributed such now standard songs as “Ol’ Man River,” “Make Believe,” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.”  “Show Boat” holds a special spot in the history of musical theater in that it was the one of first musicals with a believable story where the songs existed to move the tale forward.  Under the baton of music theatre-maestro John DeMain, these songs will come to life.   Based on the 1926 novel Show Boat by Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Ferber, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, the story focuses on a performing troupe aboard the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River showboat in the late 1880s, and follows their turbulent lives over 40 years.  Captain Andy Hawks (Bill Irwin, Tony Award winning actor, with fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, the NEA, Guggenheim and Fullbright,  and a Bay Area favorite at A.C.T. ) and his bossy wife, Parthy (Harriet Harris, Tony Award winning actress), steer this floating company through its ragtag existence. But they cannot protect their stage-struck daughter, Magnolia (the ebullient soprano Heidi Stober), from falling for a dashing stranger, Gaylord Ravenal (baritone Michael Todd Simson), a riverboat gambler.  And then there’s mixed-race Juli, the emotional core of the story (Patricia Racette, SFO’s go-to soprano who has dominated the past season with several impressive title roles).  Illegally married to a white man, she is posing as white and just bound for trouble.

Acclaimed stage director and production designer Francesca Zambello’s scale production opened at Chicago’s Lyric Opera in 2012 and the Chicago Classical Review declared it “a triumph—a stylish, fast-paced and colorful show that had the capacity audience on its feet, cheering loud and long.”  A co-production of four major American opera companies, “Show Boat” has already sailed to the Houston Grand Opera in January 2013 and the Washington National Opera in May 2013, gathering accolades long the way.

Dance is the fabric of life on the show boat and the production will feature a lot of high-energy, high kicking punchy dance routines by choreographer, Michelle Lynch, who also worked on “Hairspray” on Broadway.  “Show Boat” spans some 50 years and Lynch has integrated popular social dances from the period into the production, which ought to be dazzling with Paul Tazewell’s plush period costumes.

The first edition of Edna Ferber's Show Boat which established the popular author as a first rate story-teller.  The story chronicles the lives of three generations of performers on the Cotton Blossom, a floating theater that travels between small towns on the banks of the Mississippi, from the 1880s to the 1920s. The story moves from the Reconstruction-Era river boat to Gilded-Age Chicago to Roaring-Twenties New York, and finally returns to the Mississippi River.

The first edition of Edna Ferber’s Show Boat which catapulted the popular Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (for “So Big” (1924), short story writer and playwright to further fame. The story chronicles the lives of three generations of performers on the Cotton Blossom, a floating theater that travels between small towns on the banks of the Mississippi, from the 1880s to the 1920s. The story moves from the Reconstruction-Era river boat to Gilded-Age Chicago to Roaring-Twenties New York, and finally returns to the Mississippi River. The opera closely follows the book.

SFO General Director David Gockley is proudly awaiting “Show Boat’s” arrival:  “Show Boat” will be done in grand opera fashion in the way the creators conceived. The Opera House is—I believe—the appropriate venue for these great classic musicals that require full-voiced, ‘legit’ singing.”

Approximate running time is two hours and 45 minutes including one intermission.  Sung in English with English supertitles.

Ten performances are scheduled from June 1 to July 2, 2014.

What were Show Boats?   Show boats or showboats were floating theaters that traveled along the major rivers of the United States from the 1870s to the 1930s. The performers lived aboard the vessels. With song, dance, and dramatic productions, show boats provided song, dance, and dramatic productions for small riverside towns that were otherwise quite isolated. Edna Ferber, who had never heard of show boats, was immediately intrigued when she learned about them in 1924 from one of a producer of one of her earlier plays.

Here, I thought, was one of the most melodramatic and gorgeous bits of Americana that had ever come my way. It was not only the theater—it was the theater plus the glamour of the wandering drifting life, the drama of the river towns, the mystery and terror of the Mississippi itself… I spent a year hunting down every available scrap of show-boat material; reading, interviewing, taking notes and making outlines. (Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure, Doubleday, 1960, pp 297-304.)

NOT a steamboat: In order to move down the river, a show boat was pushed by a small tugboat, which was attached to it. It would have been impossible to put a steam engine on it, since it would have had to be placed right in the auditorium. Ever since the box-office success of MGM’s 1951 motion picture musical Showboat, in which the boat was inaccurately redesigned as a deluxe, self-propelled steamboat, the image of a showboat as a large twin-stacked vessel with a huge paddle wheel at the rear has taken hold in popular culture.

In the spring of 1925, Ferber traveled to Bath, North Carolina and spent four days aboard one of last show boats in the country, the James Addams Floating Theatre, which plied the Pamlico River and Great Dismal Swamp Canal. The material she gathered fueled her novel which she spent the next year writing in France and New York.

 

2 Awesome SFO Ticket Deals:

SPECIAL TWO-DAY SALE Enjoy 40% Off Summer Operas!

Whether you’re still working on your tax return or your refund is burning a hole in your pocket, now is the time to treat yourself and your friends to this world-class opera and others from SFO’s summer season!  For two days only, San Francisco Opera is offering its biggest sale of the summer—40% off select performances of Show Boat, La Traviata and Madame Butterfly.  This offer is only available online and valid until Wednesday, April 16, 2014.    BUY TICKETS   Enter Code: TAX40

Save up to 30% when you buy tickets to all three of SFO’s summer operas.

Can’t make a decision by April 16th?  Call the Box Office at 415 864-3330 to select your own dates for all three Summer 2014 operas and save 30% on tickets.  This discount offer is not available online.

 

 

 

April 14, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stars in the Making…San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows perform “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes,” at SRJC’s Newman Auditorium this Sunday, March 9

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Lively, eloquent, and intensely determined, this year’s twelve Adler Fellows are literally the most talented young opera singers in the country and many will go on to become opera legends.  This Sunday, at 4PM, five Adlers will perform an intimate program of beloved opera arias, classical and cabaret songs at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Newman Auditorium as part of the college’s Chamber Series.  Performers are sopranos Maria Valdes and Erin Johnson; mezzo soprano Zanda Švēde, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu (former Adler 2005-6) and pianist Noah Lindquist. (Full program listed at end of article.) Normally, seeing the Adlers perform entails a lot more work—crossing the bridge and parking—but SRJC has brought these young singers right to our doorstep.

 

Former Adler, tenor Thomas Glenn (wrapped in blanket) and current Adler, soprano, Maria Valdes, prepare for their performance in Donizetti’s comedic opera, “Rita,” with the New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO).  Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg watches from behind the ironing board.  The Adler residency offers many performance opportunities. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Former Adler, tenor Thomas Glenn (wrapped in blanket) and current Adler, soprano, Maria Valdes, prepare for their performance in Donizetti’s comedic opera, “Rita,” with the New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO). Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg watches from behind the ironing board. The Adler residency offers many performance opportunities. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In February, I had the pleasure of seeing two Adlers who will perform Sunday— Maria Valdes and Eugene Brancoveanu.  They were involved in a rare performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s one act comedic opera, “Rita,” with dynamo Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and her New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO).  The venue was San Rafael’s intimate Oscher Marin Jewish Community Center where the audience sits at candlelit tables drinking wine and snacking while the performance unfolds just a few feet from them.  Soprano Maria Valdes was fabulous in the title role of Rita, a tyrannical and abusive wife who is tormented by two husbands.  She sang like an angel, juggling conversation, song, drama and comedy.  We had ample opportunity to experience her tremendous vocal reserve along with her ability to calibrate it to the setting, sustaining high notes without ever coming off as shrill or too forceful…a true star in the making.  The production was impressively staged and directed by former Adler, Eugene Brancoveanu, who also tweaked the script, adding spoken dialogue in English.  His modern set was minimal and included an ironing board and some clever space saving props.  Brancoveanu, born in Romania, has an unforgettable baritone and has sung at the Met, La Scala, San Francisco and Berkeley Operas as well for Opera Parallèle.  I heard him sing Sam last April in Opera Parallèle’s wonderful production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti, a role which tested his range and acting ability.  He was on top of every note, emotionally searing and impossible to take your eyes off…what stage presence  Oh, he’s also been mentioned several times in the blog Barihunks, enough said.  You’re in for a treat on Sunday.

It’s rewarding to see young artists perform early in their careers and to track them as they move on to the world’s leadings opera houses and concert halls.  Renowned sopranos and former Adlers, Deborah Voight (1986) Leah Crocetto (2009), are shining examples.  Both are coming soon to Green Music Center’s Weill Hall—Crocetto is in recital on March 9 and Voight on April 10 (Click here for details).

More About the Adler Fellow Program:  The Adler Fellows all go through a grueling national competition to enter the ranks of the Merola Opera Program, a prestigious summer resident artist training program in San Francisco sponsored by San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Center.  A select few perform so well that they are invited to continue their training in the elite two-year Adler Fellow residency program.  Named for the late great San Francisco Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler, the Adler Fellowship Program is the Princeton of performance-oriented residencies, offering exceptional young artists intensive individual training, coaching, professional seminars and a wide range of performance opportunities throughout their fellowship. Adler fellows frequently appear in SFO productions.

2014 Adler Fellows are sopranos Erin Johnson, (Washington, New Jersey), Jacqueline Piccolino (Chicago, Illinois), and Maria Valdes (Atlanta, Georgia); mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde (Valmiera, Latvia); tenors A.J. Glueckert (Portland, Oregon), Pene Pati (Mangere, Auckland, New Zealand), and Chuanyue Wang (Hei Long Jiang, China); baritones Hadleigh Adams (Palmerston, New Zealand), and Efraín Solís (Santa Ana, California); bass-baritone Philippe Sly (Ottawa, Ontario). Johnson, Piccolino, Glueckert, Wang, Adams, and Sly are returning as Adler Fellows. The two pianists selected for Apprentice coach Fellowships are Noah Lindquist (Brooklyn, New York) and returning Adler, Sun Ha Yoon (Seoul, South Korea).

Other Upcoming Adler Fellow Performances:  Select Adler Fellows will perform Schwabacher Debut Recitals on March 30 at 2:30 PM and April 27 at 5:30 PM. Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets online or call the SF Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330.  The season culminates with a special year-end concert featuring the singers in an evening of opera scenes and arias with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. This year’s concert, The Future Is Now: Adler Fellows Gala Concert, showcasing the acclaimed 2014 Adler Fellows, takes place in November, 2104, at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.

SRJC Chamber Concert Series Details:  An acclaimed annual series of six concerts featuring a musicians performing in an intimate environment, exactly how chamber music is intended to be heard.  After this Sunday’s Adler Fellows performance, there is one remaining concert in the 2013-14 series, Afiara String Quartet on Friday, April 25, at 7:30 PM at Newman Auditorium, Emeritus Hall, Santa Rosa Junior College.  Tickets are $25 adult/$15 youth. Parking is included for all performances.  Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets by Phone: (415) 392-4400. City Box Office Hours—M-F: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM or Sat: 12 noon to 4:00 PM. Order on the Web at www.cityboxoffice.com .   Parking is included in the price of the performance.

Details:  “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes” is Sunday, March 9, 4 PM, at Newman Auditorium, Emeritus Hall, Santa Rosa Junior College, 1501 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa.   Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets by Phone: (415) 392-4400. City Box Office Hours—M-F: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM or Sat: 12 noon to 4:00 PM. Order on the Web at www.cityboxoffice.com .   Parking is included in the price of the performance.

PROGRAM: “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes” SRJC Chamber Series

Songs of Travel – Vaughan Williams

The Vagabond                                                 Mr. Brancoveanu

The Roadside Fire Youth and Love

In Dreams

The Infinite Shining Heavens

Cinq mélodies “de Venise” – Fauré

Mandoline                                                       Miss Švēde

En sourdine Green

À Clymène C’est l’extase

from Floresta do Amazonas – Villa-Lobos

Canção de amor                                             Miss Valdes

Cair da tarde Melodia sentimental

from Cabaret Songs – Bolcom

Toothbrush time                                              Miss Johnson

Can’t sleep

At the last lousy moments of love Love in the 30′s

Waitin’ Amor

INTERMISSION

The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart

Crudel, perchè finora                                      Miss Valdes, Mr. Brancoveanu

 Rodelinda – Handel

Io t’abbraccio                                                  Miss Johnson, Miss Švēde

 Manon – Massenet

Je suis encore tout étourdie                             Miss Valdes

 Falstaff – Verdi

È sogno, o realtà?                                           Mr. Brancoveanu

 Le vespri siciliani – Verdi

Mercé dilette amiche                                       Miss Johnson

 Sapho – Gounod

O ma lyre immortelle                                      Miss Švēde

 The Merry Widow – Lehár

Vilja                                                                 Miss Valdes, tutti

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Chamber Music, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saturday, November 9, is Open House at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera is reaching out to families to build future audiences.  SFO hosts its second Community Open House on Saturday, November 9 and on November 24 and 30th, SFO will host “The Barber of Seville for Families,” a special two-hour long family-friendly production of Rossini’s hilarious opera.  Photo by Marie-Noelle Robert/Theatre du Chatelet.

San Francisco Opera is reaching out to families to build future audiences. SFO hosts its second Community Open House on Saturday, November 9, and on November 24 and 30th, SFO will host “The Barber of Seville for Families,” a special two-hour long family-friendly production of Rossini’s hilarious opera. Photo by Marie-Noelle Robert/Theatre du Chatelet.

San Francisco Opera (SFO) will host its second Community Open House at the War Memorial Opera House this Saturday, November 9, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  Free to the public, this special community event is structured for individuals and families who have a curiosity about opera and are interested in learning more about the world of opera, including production and artistic elements.  Children are welcome.

*  Musical presentations at 11:20 a.m. and 12:50 p.m. will feature music from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville conducted by Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi and vocal selections featuring Adler Fellows Laura Krumm and Joo Won Kang.

* Musical presentation at 12:10 p.m. will feature the San Francisco Opera Chorus, led by Chorus Director Ian Robertson

*  Activities include sing alongs with the Adler Fellows (10:30 & 11:20 a.m.), stage combat workshops (10:40 & 11:20 a.m. and 12:50 & 1:40 p.m.),  costume demonstrations (12:50 & 1:40 p.m.) and an opportunity to meet General Director David Gockley (1:40 p.m.)

*  Other activities in the opera house lobbies will include arts and crafts projects, a table exploring San Francisco Opera’s archives, a costume photo booth, opera videos on demand and wig and makeup demonstrations.

*  Attendees can enter to win tickets to SFO’s “The Barber of Seville” (11.13.2013 – 12.1.2013) or “The Barber of Seville for Families” (11.24.2013 and 11.30.2013).

Details: War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places.  Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.

For more information on San Francisco Opera and their upcoming performances, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx

Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a delay on Highway 101 South due to ongoing road expansion work.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up, especially when the San Francisco Symphony is performing on the same day.  Recommended Garages:  Two garages are very close to War Memorial Opera House— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block) (Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at San Francisco Opera through November 15, 2013

American baritone Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and American soprano Lise Lindstrom has her San Francisco Opera debut as Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013.  The production underwent a dramatic scenic overhaul with the last minute firing of its director/set designer and features bold video projections of turbulent waves, leaping flames and a myriad of abstract images.  Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

American baritone Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and American soprano Lise Lindstrom has her San Francisco Opera debut as Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013. The production underwent a dramatic scenic overhaul with the last minute firing of its director/set designer and features bold video projections of turbulent waves, leaping flames and a myriad of abstract images. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

In Richard Wagner’s early opera “Der Fliegende Holländer” (“The Flying Dutchman”), a ship’s captain is satanically cursed to roam the seas for centuries and is allotted just one chance every seven years to dock and come ashore and find redemption through the love of a woman.  San Francisco Opera’s (SFO) production, intended to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth, features lyrical music and beautiful singing but the over-abundance of video projections in constant churning motion detract from the music’s splendor.  Aside from this, last Sunday’s matinee performance featuring American bass baritone Greer Grimsley as the Dutchman and American soprano Lise Lindstrom as in her SF Opera debut as Senta, with Patrick Summers conducting and Ian Robertson at the helm of the chorus, was highly enjoyable.Behind the scenes, the waves had been quite choppy at SFO before the Dutchman opened. Petrika Ionesco, the original director and set designer of this co-production with Belgium’s Opéra Royal de Wallonie, was sacked by SFO General Director David Gockley just one week before the SFO premiere, with Glockley citing artistic differences.  A written statement from Gockley in our press kit mentions eliminating 40% of Ionesco’s scenic pieces, simplifying the staging, cutting down the use of supernumeraries, and providing more clarity.  Assistant Director Elkhanah Pulitzer stepped in and did the best she could.  Production designer S. Katy Tucker worked rapidly to refine and expand the video projections.

The production starts out quite promising.  While the orchestra’s lush Overture poetically conjures the turbulence of the tossing sea, captivating projections of surging waves fill the screens. In another early scene, Senta, who will become the focus of the Dutchman’s salvation, is by the sea with a toy boat and a lovely impressionist mood is evoked with. This scene foretells her sacrifice.  But very soon, it becomes too much. Coming from all sides of the stage; the projections are bold, immense, colorful, dizzying and far from simple.  Except maybe the color coding—red waves signified the Dutchman and his deathly realm while gray ones the bleak real world.  In Act I, we witness these projections whipping a violent storm and clouds while Daland (Kristinn Sigmundsson) stands in front of the chorus of roughly 25 sailors who are singing and swaying from left to right while the Steersman above them grips the ship’s wheel —I chose to close my eyes and just listen!  How far we’ve come though.  We used to complain about how static the sets were.  Now, with so much technical infrastructure at our disposal, it’s easy to get carried away.

The Dutchman, Wagner’s second opera, is full of lush passages and its dramatic music anticipates his future works. His leitmotifs are all introduced in the overture and it’s fun to listen for them as the performance progresses. Patrick Summers drew excellent playing from his orchestra throughout but, on Sunday, there were some occasional balance problems where singers were overpowered by orchestral sound.

Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and Lise Lindstrom is Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at San Francisco Opera through November 15, 2013.  This year marks the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.  Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and Lise Lindstrom is Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at San Francisco Opera through November 15, 2013. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Strapping Wagnerian Greer Grimsley sang the title role with passion.  He made his mesmerizing entrance in a tight black t-shirt with his long hair slicked back and sported a huge dangling pendant and provided most of the energy in the performance.  From his Act I duet with Daland/Sigmundsson, “Wie? Hör’ ich recht?” (where the treasure/daughter exchange is made), to his duets with Senta/Lindstrom, his voice reflected anguish, tenderness, power and clarity.  At intermission, I met a couple who had travelled from Seattle just to hear him sing again.  Originally from Hamburg, they remarked that his German pronunciation was impeccable.

Kristinn Sigmundsson’s strong bass as Daland is the first voice we hear.  Bold, deep and gravelly, it projected the maturity and evil-edged nature of his character—a father who is supposed to be protecting his daughter but instead sells her off to a stranger for a trunk of treasures.  Tenor and Adler Fellow, AJ Glueckert, as his Steersman, had a lovely lyrical tenor.  We’ll get a chance to hear more of Glueckert on November 27, when the current crop of Adler Fellows perform their always spectacular “The Future is Now” concert of opera’s greatest hits.

Tenor Ian Storey sung passionately as Erik, a lone hunter amongst a community of sailors, who is devoted to Senta and who tries to woo her at every turn.  Storey made his SFO debut in the Company’s 2011 Ring cycle as Siegfried in Götterdämmerung.  On Sunday, not only was his singing impeccable, he came across as a young man sincerely in love.

Ian Storey is Eric, the huntsman, who is jilted by Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013.   Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Ian Storey is Eric, the huntsman, who is jilted by Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Lise Lindstrom’s SFO debut as idealistic Senta, was strong in the singing and so-so in the acting.  On Sunday, she sang Senta’s ballad with vibrancy and her voice exhibited a lovely range.  As a young woman who is psychologically obsessed with an idealized love, and experiencing inner turmoil, she was wanting though.  As the opera’s lynchpin, her character has to channel those conflicting core emotions that drive the drama to her final sacrifice.  In this regard, she was flat as was her dramatic jump off the cliff into the icy waters, which was more of a hop.

Saturday, November 9, is Open House at SFO—SFO will host its second Community Open House at the War Memorial Opera House this Saturday, November 9, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  Free to the public, this special community event is structured for individuals and families who are interested in learning more about the world of opera, including production and artistic elements.  Children are welcome.

The 2013 Open House will feature onstage musical demonstrations including highlights from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” with the SFO Orchestra conducted by Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi and vocal selections (sung in English) featuring Adler Fellows Laura Krumm and Joo Won Kang.  The SFO Chorus, led by Chorus Director Ian Robertson, is also featured in an onstage musical demonstration.

Other activities include sing-alongs with the SFO Chorus and Adler Fellows; stage combat workshops; costume, wig and makeup demonstrations; a costume photo booth; an opportunity to meet SFO General Director David Gockley; and hands-on family activities throughout the opera house.  Costumes will also be on display.  Attendees can enter to win tickets to SFO’s “The Barber of Seville” (11.13.2013 – 12.1.2013) or “The Barber of Seville for Families” (11.24.2013 and 11.30.2013).

Details:  There are three remaining performances of The Flying Dutchman—Thursday 11/7 at 7:30 PM*; Tuesday 11/12 at 7:30 PM* and Friday 11.15 at 8 PM (* OperaVision performance: HD video projection screens in the balcony).  Tickets range from $30 (Balcony) to $385 (Box) and may be purchased at www.sfopera.com , at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, or by phone at (415) 864-3330.  War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places.  Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.

 For more information on San Francisco Opera and their upcoming performances, including Falstaff, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx

Free Pre-Opera Talks:  55 minutes prior to curtain time, music educators give 25-minute overviews of the opera.  These informative talks are free to ticketholders and take place in the Orchestra section with open seating.

Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute delay on Highway 101 South due to ongoing road expansion work.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up, especially when the San Francisco Symphony is performing on the same day.  Recommended Garages:  Two garages are very close to War Memorial Opera House— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block) (Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Moby Dick” DVD-signing after Sunday’s San Francisco Opera matinee

San Francisco Opera has just released a new “Moby Dick” DVD.  Composer Jake Heggie’s and librettist Gene Scheer’s opera earned rave reviews at SFO in 2012 after opening to accolades in Dallas and San Diego. (From L to R) Stephen Costello as Greenhorn, Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab and Jonathan Lemalu as Queequeg.  Photo by Cory Weaver.

San Francisco Opera has just released a new “Moby Dick” DVD. Composer Jake Heggie’s and librettist Gene Scheer’s opera earned rave reviews at SFO in 2012 after opening to accolades in Dallas and San Diego. (From L to R) Stephen Costello as Greenhorn, Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab and Jonathan Lemalu as Queequeg. Photo by Cory Weaver.

After Sunday’s matinee of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman at San Francisco Opera, composer Jake Heggie and Maestro Patrick Summers will be signing copies of the new Moby-Dick DVD, released October 29, 2013.  No tickets required – just come on in to War Memorial Opera House on 301 Van Ness Avenue directly across from City Hall at approximately 5 PM.  The new DVD (RRP $24.99) and Blu-ray Ray (RRP $39.99) editions are being distributed worldwide by Naxos and will be soon be available from major retailers.  They are now available for purchase directly from SFO’s Opera Shop, and they can be also mailed to you.  Click here for more information about purchasing from SFO.

Recorded in October 2012, Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s universally praised Moby-Dick, an adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic novel set for the lyric stage, features tenor Jay Hunter Morris in the role of Captain Ahab, Stephen Costello as Greenhorn, Morgan Smith as Starbuck, Jonathan Lemalu as Queequeg and Talise Trevigne as Pip.  Principal Guest Conductor Patrick Summers conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. The San Francisco Opera presentation reunited composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer with the original creative team of director Leonard Foglia, set designer Robert Brill, costume designer Jane Greenwood, video projection designer Elaine J. McCarthy and choreographer Keturah Stickann.  Moby-Dick was co-commissioned by San Francisco Opera in partnership with the Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, Calgary Opera and the State Opera of South Australia, and premiered at the Dallas Opera’s Winspear Opera House in April 2010.

November 2, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A big Verdi week—San Francisco Opera celebrates the composer’s bicentennial in grand style with the “Requiem,” performed by 312 choristers and musicians from Naples and San Francisco, as the magnificent “Falstaff” continues to mesmerize

Giuseppe Verdi's 200th birthday is being observed by San Francisco Opera on Friday with a huge and historic performance of his choral masterpiece “Messa de Requiem.”  Nicola Luisotti, Music Director of both the San Francisco Opera and Italy's Teatro di San Carlo of Naples will conduct 320 singers and musicians from both companies on stage at War Memorial Opera House with vocal soloists Leah Crocetto, Margaret Mezzacappa, Michael Fabiano and Vitalij Kowaljow.  Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Giuseppe Verdi’s 200th birthday is being observed by San Francisco Opera on Friday with a huge and historic performance of his choral masterpiece “Messa de Requiem.” Nicola Luisotti, Music Director of both the San Francisco Opera and Italy’s Teatro di San Carlo of Naples will conduct 320 singers and musicians from both companies on stage at War Memorial Opera House with vocal soloists Leah Crocetto, Margaret Mezzacappa, Michael Fabiano and Vitalij Kowaljow. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

San Francisco Opera’s Music Director Nicola Luisotti is preparing to conduct the performance of a lifetime on Friday— Giuseppe Verdi’s choral masterpiece “Messa de Requiem” which will be jointly performed by both his companies—San Francisco Opera and Italy’s Teatro di San Carlo of Naples.  Talk about an of embarrassment riches!  In case you haven’t heard yet, this month marks the bicentennial of the composer’s birth— he was born October 9 or 10, 1813 in the Italian village of Roncole—and the entire world is celebrating.  And the Bay Area is not to be outdone.   Our silver haired maestro will conduct 312 singers and musicians from both companies in the Requiem Mass at War Memorial Opera House on Friday evening—161 choristers (90 SFO  and 71 Teatro di San Carlo (TSC)), 146 orchestra members and four soloists.  In the interest of true cultural exchange, Luisotti has interspersed the SFO and TSC choruses so that a SFO chorus member sits by a TSC member.

An exacting combo of fury and fear, punctuated with hammering chords and explosive bass drum bangs and soft, chillingly quiet moments, the Requiem Mass is one of Verdi’s most striking choral works.  Just as its music is characterized by wild undulations, its message too moves from the otherworldly to the fire and brimstone of inevitable mortality and judgment and back again, making for a deeply penetrating spiritual experience when performed soulfully.  Vocal soloists are soprano Leah Crocetto, mezzo soprano Margaret Mezzacappa, tenor Michael Fabiano and Ukranian bass Vitalij Kowaljow.   It was Crocetto, a former Adler Fellow, who gave an astounding and emotionally riveting performance as Liù in SF Opera’s Turandot  in 2011, working in perfect harmony with Luisotti who seemed to pull every tender ounce of lyricism she had to give.  She’ll have plenty of solo time on Friday as well.

The highly-anticipated performance of the Requiem has been sold out for months.  SF Opera donors and subscribers and those with Italian cultural connections got first dibs on the tickets, leaving slim pickings for regular attendees.  ARThound pounced and was able to purchase some real estate in an outer corner of Row X in the Orchestra, normally nothing to brag about because it’s beneath the dreaded overhang, but cause for celebration in these circumstances.

This unique presentation of the Requiem is offered as part of the worldwide Verdi bicentennial celebration and in recognition of 2013 The Year of Italian Culture in the United States, an initiative held under the auspices of the president of the Italian Republic.

Verdi’s Messa da Requiem premiered in May 1874 in Milan and was composed to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Alessandro Manzoni, the celebrated Italian writer and one of the leaders of the Italian Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement.  Verdi himself conducted the world premiere of one hundred twenty chorus singers and orchestra of one hundred musicians. The work was immediately hailed as a masterpiece and quickly made the rounds to the world’s leading music capitals where it garnered critical and popular acclaim.  Verdi’s Requiem is set in seven movements: Requiem and Kyrie; Dies Irae; Offertorio; Sanctus; Agnus Dei; Lux aeterna; and Libera me.

Fantastic Falstaff:

SFO also continues its acclaimed run of Verdi’s comedic opera Falstaff.  If you haven’t been to the opera this season, Falstaff is the opera to see—it stars the great Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, today’s definitive Falstaff, in the lead role, supported by an outstanding cast which includes American contralto Meredith Arwady masterfully singing Dame Quickly.  This Lyric Opera of Chicago production, directed by Oliver Tambosi, with scenery and costumes by Frank Philipp Schlössmann, premiered in 1999 but still feels fresh.  ARThound was lucky enough to catch last Sunday’s (October 20) matinee, the most delightful SFO performance I’ve attended since the inventive Magic Flute in summer 2012, which showcased the fanciful creativity of visual artist Jun Kaneko.

Falstaff, played by Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel, schemes to make some extra money by romancing a pair of wealthy wives in Verdi’s comedic opera.  Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Falstaff, played by Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel, schemes to make some extra money by romancing a pair of wealthy wives in Verdi’s comedic opera, “Falstaff.” Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

After being wowed by Bryn Terfel’s intimate recital of British sea poems, lieder by Schumann and Schubert, and Celtic songs at Green Music Center on the 13th, experiencing him sing Falstaff at SFO the following weekend was even more special, as I got a taste of the range of his artistry.  His fluid transformation into the fat, lecherous scoundrel Falstaff, is mesmerizing.  His rich voice is so powerful that he filled the expansive War Memorial Opera House as easily as he did the much smaller Weill Hall.

Falstaff was Verdi’s last opera, written when he was near 80 and still at his creative peak.  His only other comedy had been written some 50 years earlier.  Ialstaff is based on Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and parts of Henry IV.  In a nutshell, Falstaff, the main figure, is running out of money and looking for a quick solution.  He sets his sights on two rich women at once— Alice Ford (Basque soprano Ainhoa Arteta) and Meg Page (American mezzo soprano and Adler Fellow Renée Napier)— and writes them both love letters.  Of course, he doesn’t fool anyone; the crafty women of Windsor collaborate and out-scheme him and ultimately the “fat Knight” learns his lesson.  Along the way, while dressed in his best red finery, he is stuffed in a laundry hamper by the women and dumped out a window into the Thames, a scene which Terfel mines for all its worth.  

American contralto Meredith Arwady (L) as Dame Quickly and Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel as Falstaff.  Arwady’s powerful lower register, charisma, and comedic heft make her a scene stealer. Here, she argues that Falstaff’s being dumped into the River Thames from a large laundry basket was not planned.  Photo: Cory Weaver

American contralto Meredith Arwady (L) as Dame Quickly and Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel as Falstaff. Arwady’s powerful lower register, charisma, and comedic heft make her a scene stealer. Here, she argues that Falstaff’s being dumped into the River Thames from a large laundry basket was not planned. Photo: Cory Weaver

While all the women are in top form, Meredith Arwady, a former Adler and Merola alumna, grabs the spotlight as Dame Quickly, the pivotal emissary between the women and Falstaff.  Aside from a rich and glorious voice, she’s got that magic “it” factor that makes her memorable despite the size of her role.  She is on par with Terfel in her contribution to the opera’s magic.   Her Act III invitation to Falstaff/Terfel to get to Herme’s Oak, leaves us wanting more from the duo who are delightful together.   

Nicola Luisotti’s impassioned conducting is one of the production’s main draws. The characters’ words direct the metre and melody of the ensembles in this masterpiece and orchestra helps tell the story with an array of cheers, sighs, grunts and screams.  Last Sunday, Luisotti kept it brisk and energetic and the singers, chorus and orchestra were in perfect sync.  There are many musical highpoints, but Kevin Rivard’s penetrating horn call from Box Z—a distant sound that wafts over the audience—adds rich atmosphere to the Act III recreation of Herne’s Oak in moonlit Windsor Forest.

The magnificent singing, music, staging, and costumes make this the perfect Verdi experience. Sung in Italian with English subtitles.  (4 remaining performances—Thursday, 10.24 at 7:30 PM; Sunday, 10.27 at 2 PM, Wed 10.30 at 7:30 PM and Saturday, 11.2 at 8 PM (all have OperaVision except Sat 11.2)

Details:  The Verdi Requiem is completely sold-out.  A limited number of $10 Standing Room tickets go on sale at 11 A.M. day of performance.  For more information on San Francisco Opera and their upcoming performances, including Falstaff, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Classical Music, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ao Li, of Adler and Merola fame, walks away with first prize at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia in Verona

Chinese bass-baritone Ao Li just won the top prize at Operalia 2013 competition.  Here, he is performing a Rossini aria at the Marin Opera Guild's Champagne Gala in 2011.  Photo: Susan Malott

Chinese bass-baritone Ao Li just won the top prize at Operalia 2013 competition. Here, he performs a Rossini aria at the Marin Opera Guild’s Champagne Gala in 2011. Photo: Susan Malott

On to greatness!…Chinese bass-baritone Ao Li, a third-year Adler Fellow and graduate of the 2010 Merola Opera Program, just won First Prize and $30,000 in Plácido Domingo’s international singing competition, Operalia, which concluded Sunday in Verona’s spectacular Arena di Verona.  This year’s competition included 12 finalists from around the globe. Called the “Olympic games for opera singers” by Domingo, the grueling competition includes successive elimination rounds—of competitors singing arias of their choice and those given them by the prestigious jury of comprised, for the most part of, international Opera house’s General and/or Casting directors. Participating or even winning a prize in this competition is only the beginning of every singer’s relationship with Plácido Domingo and the jurors who will invite them to perform in upcoming productions being scheduled in their opera houses and theatres.

All these talented young singers walked away with a cash prize but Ao Li, 25, walked away with the top award—“Male First Award”—which he shared with Russian soprano Aida Garifullina—“Female First Award.”  Li sang Sergey Rachmaninov’s “Ves tabor spit” from Aleko (Aleko’s Cavatina).

Ao Li has sung a number of roles to rave reviews with San Francisco Opera including Lorenzo (Capuleti e i Montecchi) and Sciarrone (Tosca) and Ben Weatherstaff (The Secret Garden)—all 2012-13 season.  He made his debut with the Company in 2011 as Ascanio Petrucci (Lucreia Borgia).  Teatro ZinZanni fans will never forget his late-night Cabaret Lunatique performance (2011) with Shanghai Pearl, the sultry strip-tease artist.  He is also a frequent recitalist in China where he was a past recipient of the Youth of China award and the bronze award in the Ministry of Culture’s Eighth National Vocal Competition.

How lucky we are to have two important Bay Area programs—the Adler Fellowship Program (Adler Fellows) and Merola Opera Program—nurturing and creating the vocal stars of the future.  Operalia moves to a different city each year and next year, it is in Los Angeles. The annual competition was founded by Domingo in 1993 and has helped to launch the careers of several renowned singers, including Rolando Villazón and Joyce DiDonato.

Ao Li’s glorious performance at Operalia 2013 of Rachmaninov’s “Ves tabor spit” from Aleko

Here is the future of opera…the names to remember:

  • CulturArte Award: $10,000 to 26-year-old Belarus tenor Vladimir Dmitruk
  • Don Plácido Domingo Sr. Award for Zarzuela: $10,000 to 27-year-old American tenor Benjamin      Bliss
  • Pepita Embil Domingo Zarzuela Award: $10,000 to 29-year-old South Korean soprano Hae      Ji Chang
  • Birgit Nilsson Remembrance Award (for German Wagner/Strauss Rep): $15,000 each to 31-year-old English contralto Claudia Huckle and 27-year-old American soprano Tracy Cox
  • Male and Female Third Award: $10,000 each to 30-year-old American soprano Kathryn Lewek and 29-year-old American tenor Zach Borichevsky
  • Male and Female Second Award: $20,000 each to 29-year-old French soprano Julie Fuchs and 28-year-old Italian baritone Simone Piazzola.
  • Male and Female First Award: $30,000 each to 25-year-old Russian soprano Aida Garifullina and 25-year-old Chinese bass-baritone Ao Li
  • Audience Award: Rolex watches to 30-year-old American soprano Kathryn Lewek and 28-year-old Italian baritone Simone Piazzola

Plácido Domingo in Berkeley September 7, 2013:  The world-renowned tenor, Plácido Domingo’s makes a local appearance at the historic Greek Theatre with the Berkeley Symphony, in a program of operatic favorites from Verdi and Wagner and American classics from Rogers, Loewe, and Bernstein, and Spanish popular songs.  September 7, 2013, at 8 p.m.  The event is sponsored Another Planet Entertainment, Cal Performances’ partner for the Greek Theatre. Click here for information and tickets.

ARThound’s previous coverage of Ao LiSan Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows Perform Opera Favorites for last Sunday’s Marin Guild Gala (August 9, 2011);  No Commute! SF Opera’s Adler Fellows are performing classical favorites this Friday, October 12, at SRJC’s Petaluma Campus (October 10, 2012); Stealthy Soprano Nicole Cabell climbs a sink and balances on a wall in her debut at SF Opera’s “Capulets and Montagues,” through October 19, 2012 (October 11, 2012)

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Last minute shuffle for SF Opera’s new Steven King opera, “Dolores Claiborne”—Dolora Zajick withdraws, Patricia Racette steps up

American mezzo Dolora Zajick was slated to sing the title role in Tobias Picker’s new opera “Dolores Claiborne” which has its world premiere at San Francisco Opera on September 18, 2013.  Photo: Cory Weaver

American mezzo Dolora Zajick was slated to sing the title role in Tobias Picker’s new opera “Dolores Claiborne” which has its world premiere at San Francisco Opera on September 18, 2013. Photo: Cory Weaver

Late night Monday, San Francisco Opera (SFO) announced that mezzo Dolora Zajick, cast in the title role of Tobias Picker’s new opera Dolores Claiborne, slated to have its world premiere on September 18, 2013 at War Memorial Opera House, had withdrawn from the production due to her ongoing knee problems and the vocal demands of the role.

“The opera proved to be more challenging physically and vocally than I had anticipated and, exacerbated by my knee problems, I feel it is best to withdraw at this point rather than try to push forward. I sincerely wish the cast, the incredible production team and Tobias good luck with the remaining rehearsals and the opening. I will miss being part of it.

American soprano Patricia Racette, who is currently in San Francisco preparing for her dual roles as Marguerite and Elena in Arrigo Boito’s Mephistopheles, will now assume the Dolores Claiborne assignment for the first four performances—September 18, 22, 25 and 28. Ms. Racette will continue to sing all eight of the regularly scheduled Mephistopheles performances.  Fresh from those SFO performances, the energetic soprano will then perform “Diva on Detour” a cabaret program of Gershwin, Sondheim and Porter at San Francisco’s JCCSF on October 4.

The final two Claiborne performances, on October 1 and 4, will be sung by Catherine Cook, who is role cover, in rehearsals since Aug. 9, and having sung the role in last year’s workshop performances.

The sixth commissioned work by SFO General Director David Gockley, Dolores Claiborne is the first Stephen King novel adapted for the lyric stage. The libretto is by J.D. McClatchy and the opera tells the story of a feisty Maine housewife who kills her husband after learning that he molested their daughter.  The role was memorably played by Katy Bates in the 1995 movie.

David Gockley commented, “We were aware earlier this summer that there was a problem when Dolora cancelled her engagement at the Orange Festival and had hoped her pain and mobility issues would be less problematic here. We’ve been working on how to adjust the Dolores Claiborne staging and production in order to find a middle ground, but it ultimately proved to be too physically demanding. This decision for Dolora to withdraw from the project was mutually agreed upon and she regrets having to bow out at this late date.”

Patricia Racette has just agreed to take over the title role in “Dolores Claiborne.”  She will now sing three roles in two operas this September at San Francisco Opera.  Photo: Cory Weaver

Patricia Racette has just agreed to take over the title role in “Dolores Claiborne.” She will now sing three roles in two operas this September at San Francisco Opera. Photo: Cory Weaver

Gockley also expressed his gratitude to Racette for stepping in at this late date in the rehearsal period and agreeing to take on this very demanding role, especially while she is also performing in Mephistopheles.  Racette is familiar with Tobias Picker’s works having performed in two of his earlier operas Emmeline and An American Tragedy.

The Dolores Claiborne cast includes soprano Elizabeth Futral as Vera Donovan, Susannah Biller as Selena St. George, Wayne Tigges as Joe St. George, Greg Fedderly as Detective Thibodeau and Joel Sorensen as Mr. Pease. In his Company debut, conductor George Manahan leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this two-act opera sung in English.

Details:  Tickets for Dolores Claiborne range from $23 to $385 and may be purchased at www.sfopera.com , at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, or by phone at (415) 864-3330. Performances—Sept. 18 (7:30 p.m.), Sept. 22 (2 p.m.), Sept. 25 (7:30 p.m.), Sept. 28 (8 p.m.), Oct. 1 (8 p.m.) and Oct. 4 (8 p.m.). Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance for $10 each, cash only. Casting, programs, schedules and ticket prices are subject to change. For further information about Dolores Claiborne and San Francisco Opera’s 2013-14 Season visit www.sfopera.com.

Free Pre-Opera Talks:  Music Educator John Churchill converses with Dolores Claiborne’s Composer Tobias Picker and Librettist J.D. McClatchy before the Sept. 18 performance, and one-on-one with Picker before the performances Sept. 22 through Oct. 4. These 25-minute overviews of the opera are free to ticketholders and take place in the Orchestra section 55 minutes prior to curtain.

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview: Marin artist Michael Schwab discusses his artwork for Mark Adamo’s “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” at San Francisco Opera through July 7, 2013

Marin artist Michael Schwab was commissioned by San Francisco Opera to create the commemorative poster for Mark Adamo’s opera “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” which has its world premiere at San Francisco Opera June 19-July 7, 2013. Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

Marin artist Michael Schwab was commissioned by San Francisco Opera to create the commemorative poster for Mark Adamo’s opera “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” which has its world premiere at San Francisco Opera June 19-July 7, 2013. Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

While mixed reviews pour in for Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, at San Francisco Opera through July 7, 2013, Marin artist Michael Schwab’s commemorative poster for the new opera, is a huge hit.  It features a bold image of Mary Magdalene wearing a golden halo against a warm brown background.  Her triangular silhouette, framed by long flowing black hair, is like a mountain and her glowing halo is like an orb—the sun.    Depending on where you perceive the horizon line, the sun is either rising or setting on her.  The artwork has a strong psychological impact and is long-remembered.  But that’s what Michael Schwab does best—he uses bold color and simple shapes to create iconic images.

From his studio in Marin, Michael Schwab has established a reputation as one of America’s leading graphic artists. His work is easily recognized by his signature use of large, flat areas of color, dramatic perspectives and bold, graphic images of archetypal human forms.  He has created award-winning images, posters, and logos for numerous clients, including the Golden Gate National Parks, Major League Baseball, Robert Mondavi, Muhammad Ali, Nike, Robert Redford, and most recently, the poster for the America’s Cup 2013 in San Francisco.  His previous collaborations with San Francisco Opera include posters for the Company’s 2011 Ring Cycle, Boris Godunov in 1992 and Nixon in China in 2012.

His Mary Magdalene artwork is available as a limited edition poster, reproduced in two sizes, and is also featured on the cover of the Company’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene program book. Schwab also created a special version of his poster with a red background which San Francisco Opera General Director David Glockley presented to Mark Adamo following the Tuesday, June 25, 2013 performance.

Just before the opera opened, I had the pleasure of talking with Michael Schwab about his creative process, something like a studio visit by phone.

What makes a really effective poster?  And, why are so many posters today so bad?

Michael Schwab:   Simplicity.  There’s way too much visual noise out there.  Graphic messages are conveyed much more effectively when the design is simple, bold and efficient.

The story and music were very much in the works when you were asked to create this poster for SF Opera, so what was your conception for the design?  How did you form an image in your mind of Mary Magdalene?

Michael Schwab:  My designs work better when they are very singular in subject matter.  It was pretty obvious that it needed to be a portrait of Mary Magdalene.  I tried not to bring a lot into the background, I didn’t want to tell too much of a story.  I wanted her to appear as downtrodden and troubled and to do that in a very graphically dynamic way.  Last year, my wife and I spent 10 days in Rome and we were seeing all of this amazing religious art work–images with gold, lots of halos and all of the rich colors in that old work.  I was very inspired. I kept thinking I want my Mary Magdalene to look like that, so the trip played a big role in how it looked.  I wanted the poster to look like opera, but in my style—very bold and simple.

What type of source materials do you normally use? 

Michael Schwab:  SF Opera has commissioned me to do five posters for them and this is my third.  In the past, I’ve been given the music to listen to and a lot more visual information.  Mark and I talked about it and I got a good taste of what he was looking for and how he wanted the opera to come across.  I was provided with photographs of the singers and I knew I was going in the right direction.  I was given a lot of freedom and that made the whole project so enjoyable.

You use color very dramatically, but there is also a very nostalgic feel to your works that harkens back to the idea of the woodcut.

Michael Schwab:  Several of my heroes were Japanese woodcut and old European poster artists—there’s a lot of graceful movement as well as drama in those works. I was never very painterly in my style.  I enjoy working with big bold shapes and it’s a challenge for me to get a message across using as few shapes and colors as possible.  I’ll continue working with the colors, combining them and fine-tuning, until they’re right to me. Mary’s skin is a French-blue purple and we lightened it and darkened it until it was just right and the same with the gold for the halo.  I tried to evoke gold leafing and the color was gradated to create that.

I really enjoy working on these opera posters because I can get very dramatic with them.  There’s no commercial client telling me to make them look happy or a certain way and I can really put down what the opera is about.  I’ve always felt that if I were not a graphic artist I would somehow be involved in theatre.

Michael Schwab’s limited edition giclée print poster for the 34th America’s Cup.  Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

Michael Schwab’s limited edition giclée print poster for the 34th America’s Cup. Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

You’ve endowed Mary with a halo, which is a sacred gesture.  According to tradition, she came from a family in high social standing but strayed from the good path.  She then transformed and it is her penance and devotion, and detachment from her past that make her worthy of that halo.  In Adamo’s opera though, her human urges are strongly emphasized.  What was it like putting a halo on her? 

Michael Schwab:  I was especially excited about putting a halo on someone.  I’ve been intrigued by halos ever since I was a little boy sitting in the Presbyterian Church back in Oklahoma.  There’s something about halos that say so much but you’re not even sure what.  Mark and I actually spoke about putting a halo on her and he gave the ok on that.  Here, it’s a symbol that can evoke a lot of meanings.

How did you go about other aspects of the design, like the font?

Michael Schwab: I wanted a typeface that felt historic, ancient and a little beat up.  Sometimes, I use custom fonts but here, I used “historical fell” and really like it.  Aside from that, I wanted it to balance really well, so it’s about stacking words you need to fit in.  “Mary” ended up large and it just worked.  “Magdalene” is a long word that filled the second line.  Mark Adamo’s name is quite small.   I love working with the opera.  They give me freedom to be a creative as I can and therefore it lets me do what I do well.

Details: San Francisco Opera’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene runs for seven performances June 19-July 7, 2013 at the War Memorial Opera House.  Tickets and information: www.sfopera.com. or call (415) 864-3330.

July 1, 2013 Posted by | Art, Opera | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marin artist Michael Schwab created a special “Gospel of Mary Magdalene” artwork for composer-librettist Mark Adamo—to be presented at the Tuesday, June 25th, performance at San Francisco Opera

Marin artist Michael Schwab created the commemorative poster for Mark Adamo’s opera “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” which has its world premiere at San Francisco Opera June 19-July 7, 2013. Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

Marin artist Michael Schwab created the commemorative poster for Mark Adamo’s “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” which has its world premiere at San Francisco Opera June 19-July 7, 2013. Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

Immediately following the Tuesday, June 25th performance of San Francisco Opera’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, San Francisco Opera General Director David Glockley will present composer-librettist Mark Adamo with a special commemorative artwork by Marin artist Michael Schwab.  Commissioned by SF Opera, Adamo’s opera had its world premiere at War Memorial Opera House last Wednesday.  And while the opera may have opened to mixed reviews, Schwab’s commemorative poster, featuring a bold image of Mary Magdalene with a golden halo against a warm brown background, is a huge hit.  The artwork is available as a limited edition poster, reproduced in two sizes, and is also featured on the cover of the Company’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene program book.  Last week, I had the pleasure of talking with Michael Schwab about his creative process and will be publishing that shortly.

From his studio in Marin, Michael Schwab has established a reputation as one of America’s leading graphic artists. His work is easily recognized by his signature use of large, flat areas of color, dramatic perspectives and bold, graphic images of archetypal human forms.  He has created award-winning images, posters, and logos for numerous clients, including the Golden Gate National Parks, Major League Baseball, Robert Mondavi, Muhammad Ali, Nike, Robert Redford, and most recently, the poster for the America’s Cup 2013 in San Francisco.  His previous collaborations with San Francisco Opera include posters for the Company’s 2011 Ring Cycle, Boris Godunov in 1992 and Nixon in China in 2012.

Michael Schwab “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” (2013) commissioned by San Francisco Opera as a special gift to composer-librettist Mark Adamo.  Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

Michael Schwab “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” (2013). Image courtesy: Michael Schwab

Schwab’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene poster is printed on archival fine art paper and is available as an 16″x24″ unsigned poster OR 16″x24″ signed and framed ($250) OR in size 24” x 36” signed, unframed ($150) or 24” x 36” framed, unsigned ($250) OR collector’s poster 24” x 36” signed and framed ($395)—all through the San Francisco Opera Shop at the War Memorial Opera House or online here.

Following the Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 8 p.m. performance of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Mark Adamo will be presented with a special version of the poster with a red background.

Details: San Francisco Opera’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene runs for seven performances June 19-July 7, 2013 at the War Memorial Opera House.  Tickets and information: www.sfopera.com. or call (415) 864-3330.

June 24, 2013 Posted by | Art, Opera | , , , , | Leave a comment

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